A: I feel that there is something wrong with underwear billboards but I just can’t figure it out.
B: Why, do you look at them?
A: Yes, sometimes, but how can I avoid it? Don’t you look at them too?
B: Well, I see them but I do not really look at them.
A: But isn’t that the same?
B: No, not exactly. Images may come past you without your intending to look at them. That’s seeing.
A: How about looking?
B: Looking implies some deliberation. To play with words a little, it means intending to see.
A: Which means…?
B: That you are responsible for what you look at but not necessarily for what you merely see.
A: Now I understand why I feel more guilt when I look at an indecent billboard than when I just happen to see it.
B: What is it that you want to ask me about underwear billboards?
A: The whole reasoning behind it. Why do models have to pose naked?
B: Why do you think so? They are modeling underwear…
A: Oh that’s right. Hmmmn. So it’s not wrong after all?
B: Think further. What is underwear?
A: Well, it’s a piece of clothing that you wear under your clothes.
B: Precisely, that’s why it’s called underwear or even innerwear as another company put it. Well, I would argue against using the word “inner” vs “under” but that’s for another chat if you are interested.
A: But how do they advertise underwear then? Companies have to earn, you know…
B: Of course they have to earn. Otherwise, no one would produce underwear.
A: So how should they advertise?
B: I am sure that there are many creative people out there who can advertise these products without having to resort to showing over-exposed skin.
A: But that’s unrealistic!
B: Well, what is real about underwear is that, as you said, they are worn inside… under one’s clothes. Let me give you three examples. My favorite ad was “as you wear”. It just shows the face of its models. No over-exposed skin. The next one is a pair of jocks held up by a famous basketball player. No over-exposed skin either. And the third one is a photo of a panty and a bra. No models. I saw it in Italy. I was a bit surprised the first time I saw it. But upon thinking about it, I realized it’s a legitimate way of advertising their product. Don’t you think it’s more unrealistic to walk around in underwear?
A: Well, no one does that at home. It’s kinda weird.
B: If that is not done at the privacy of one’s home, why should it then be paraded around our streets?
A: And in underwear shows!
B: Exactly. All these billboards and shows with models in skins and skimpy clothing promotes a culture of voyeurism…
A: A culture of what?
B: Voyeurism. Which is not just paninilip in Tagalog but it means, on a broader scale, a certain craving for titillation—seeking pleasure on the nakedness of other people.
A: Really? You seem to be getting too far.
B: Not exactly. I have seen the development of these ads through the years. From the time a particular brief’s garter, which bears the name of its brand, was allowed to be posted on a billboard with a topless male model, the ads kept on getting worse. And you can’t imagine how quickly young people pick it up. I still remember the time a student told me how uncomfortable it was to see the garter of his classmate’s underwear coming out. Later on, it became something like a fad—well, a rather cheap fad—but a fad nonetheless. As a young boy, I still remember that my mom would bring me wherever she went (dad was abroad). While shopping, one of the places we inevitably went to was the lingerie section. Back then, I do not recall being exposed to immodest ads at all. My mom didn’t have to feel uncomfortable bringing me there.
A: Perhaps it was just your mom who raised you well…
B: Maybe… and I am grateful to her for that. But it could also be because these immodest ads didn’t exist at that time.
A: Were there no billboards then?
B: There were… but they started to sprout up everywhere when I was in grade school. I remember one of the things I liked to do then was to read all the billboards from Pampanga to Manila along the new North Luzon Expressway. I still remember my teacher telling me in one of our field trips that I would grow up “bright” because of that practice.
A: In effect, she encouraged you to look at billboards.
B: Yes, but that was back then. I won’t advise kids to do the same nowadays. We have to petition first advertisers and advertising companies to think outside the box to help create a wholesome environment for the development of virtues. At least one company seems to be aware of it.
A: Which one?
B: I don’t know the company but I saw this ad along EDSA saying, “To your preschooler this highway is a classroom.” I hope that will start a widespread realization on the effect of ads to kids.
A: Well, going back to the culture thing…
B: Oh, yes. Promoting a culture of voyeurism will never do any good to society. It reflects the way we see ourselves… In as much as the way you dress up reflects the way you see yourself.
A: Is that why you always encourage me to dress up modestly?
B: Exactly. It’s because I think you are a very respectable person. And I want to maintain that high regard for you. I remember a friend telling me (he was in medical school) that when it was a no-uniform day, his crush came to school with very skimpy shorts. He said, “Why does she have to dress up like that?” Instead of becoming more interested in her, seeing her too exposed turned him off.
A: Perhaps he’s gay.
B: Not at all. You think real men are merely driven by sexy images?
A: Aren’t they?
B: I cannot completely blame you for thinking that way. That’s how many movies seem to portray men. While there are men like that, being a real man means knowing how to master oneself, tempering one’s basest instincts. Even sensual men know how to distinguish between a slutty woman and a woman who will be their future wife. Perhaps what disappointed my friend was that the girl he liked started dressing up immodestly. He was not the sensual type—he is a real man—and so he was not looking for a slutty woman but for a partner, a future wife, a woman who will be the mother of his children.
A: Oh, who is that friend of yours?
B: Sorry, I don’t give names. Let me just give you another anecdote. While I was undergoing my pre-operative procedures at the hospital for my tonsillectomy, the nurses in the waiting area were watching the news. A lady was complaining to the police that she was harassed by a man on the street. And when the lady was shown on TV, the nurses gave their verdict which I never forgot. They said, kaya naman pala eh (loosely meant as: “well, she asked for it”). The lady was wearing skimpy clothes. And what really struck me was the reaction of the female nurses watching the news…
A: That to command respect from others, we have to dress up modestly?
B: Perhaps better put: to command respect from others, we have to behave respectably, and part of that is dressing up… modestly.
A: But you are jumping into conclusions. How could billboards affect the way we dress up?
B: That’s what advertising is all about, to catch our attention and stir up an inner desire to make us want to buy the product. Subliminally, it also makes us use the product in the same way as it is advertised. Take note of this example: Recently, I have been observing that many guys are walking around in their boxers. Then, I realized that I read in the newspaper some time ago of a movie by a young actor who was only in his boxers most of the time in that film.
A: But I guess that’s for those whose values are not strong enough.
B: Well, it is the business of society—of government in particular—to safeguard the weak, those who could be easily swayed… those who could be influenced badly by what comes out in public… including people like you who think they have strong values so that they don’t get watered down in the process…
A: Is this what they call the moral fiber of society?
B: Well, partly, yes.
A: And it’s the duty of our government to protect it?
B: Not only the government, but every member of society, especially its leaders: government, business, socio-civic, church. Of course, it is the government that should provide rules and regulations to safeguard it. On this note, let me read to you what political science professor Thomas G. West of the University of Dallas said on an issue related to what we are talking about (he was referring to the thoughts of the Founding Fathers of the American constitution):
“The Founders viewed prohibition of obscene or pornographic materials in the same light as the regulation of, e.g., sexual behavior and public nudity. Sex is by its nature connected to children. The political community cannot be indifferent to whether and how children, its future citizens, are generated and raised. That is why the laws prohibited or discouraged non-marital sex such as premarital sex, homosexuality and adultery. Obscene words or pictures were banned because they tended to promote the idea of sex apart from marriage and children, dehumanizing sex by making men and women into ‘sex objects.’”
But with or without those rules, a basic sense of decency and modesty should be enough to guide our actions and to react when they are violated.
A: How do I react? I’m a mere student.
B: You can always do something in your own little way and you should never be remiss in this duty… yes, no matter how little it may seem.
B: You may for example write a simple letter to the mayor of the city where the billboard is posted, the board of advertisers and the company itself and tell them about what a young person like you think about their advertisement.
A: Is that all?
B: Well, ask your friends to do the same.
A: What if the billboard remains?
B: Well, persist in your petition. If it is clear to you that you are doing something for the good of society, and not just for your personal benefit, I am sure you will persevere. Of course, don’t forget to pray for it too. Want a true story?
B: Our conversation reminded me of another young fellow who likes this particular brand of clothes (I won’t mention it here) so much ever since he was in high school. But later on, they started to make daring and provocative advertisements which makes you ask yourself sometimes whether they are really selling clothes or bodies. They even started selling perfumes whose ads are not just immodest but have subliminal immoral messages.
A: What happened to the fellow? He liked the brand so much, right?
B: Yes. And so, he asked his friends to write the company. He thought he was not capable of doing it himself. But to his surprise, the company insisted on its ads. And they even became worse… And so he thought he had to make a decision.
A: Which was?
B: From then on, he stopped buying clothes from his favorite brand. Another friend changed a toothpaste brand he was using for years when it started organizing a kissing-spree event bent at getting the most number of participants, without regard for their marital status.
A: That’s too much. I can’t do that!
B: He also thought he could not do it. But thanks to our free market, he realized that there are many other brands to choose from. In fact, he discovered a youth and values-friendly brand that has better quality apparel than the previous one.
A: You mean he would not have discovered that one without this incident?
B: Yes, because he was too attached to his favorite brand. But he realized that there is more to life than just giving in to your favorites.
A: What are those?
B: Values. The need to make a personal effort to defend and protect the moral fiber of our society. Not theoretically but practically, in one’s daily life.
A: Oh, he’s brave.
B: We can perhaps say that his priorities are clear. And he wants to show his care for society by concrete deeds… In fact, whenever he has a chance, he tells his story to his friends and convinces them to support products that help strengthen the moral fiber of our society. Many have opted out of his favorite brand as well and have shifted to the values-friendly one.
B: Sounds too good to be true but as I told you, it’s real. You may not be able to do big things to change our country, but surely, you can do little things like that.
A: Oh it made me think of the bags I carry around. I did not quite realize that some of them have rather indecent and provocative images. But they are my favorites…
B: And you want to stay on spending your life just giving in to your favorites, even at the expense of these timeless values?
A: I never said that. I said they are my favorites, but I guess I have to start acting more maturely now and not just give in to my likes and dislikes.