It was Isaac Newton who said it best: For every action there is an equal and opposite overreaction. This week’s overreactors: the Filipinos. Every last stinkin’ one of ’em.
Last week’s episode of “Desperate Housewives” caused a stir in some sectors when people heard about it and said, “‘Desperate Housewives’ is still on?! I quit watching that show two years ago!” And the people who actually saw the episode were even more upset. It seems the desperate housewife played by Teri Hatcher went to her doctor for a checkup and was shocked when he said she might be going through menopause. She replied, “OK, before we go any further, can I check those diplomas? ‘Cause I would just like to make sure that they’re not from some med school in the Philippines.” And guess who got offended? That’s right: diploma manufacturers.
Just kidding. Filipinos, of course! It was front-page news in the Philippines, and national leaders spoke out angrily against it. Everyone was in an uproar! Why, you would think no one had ever insulted the Philippines before, which seems unlikely. One fellow, Kevin Nadal, a Filipino-American college lecturer in New York, posted an online petition demanding an apology from ABC, and it garnered more than 30,000 online signatures. He told the Associated Press he was so shocked by what he heard in the show, “I had to rewind it over and over again to make sure I heard it right.”
Mmhmm. What, did she mumble when she said it? What else might she have been saying that only sounded like “some med school in the Philippines” but would have been less offensive? A sampling of possibilities:
“Some dead fool on a hill of beans.”
“Cement’s cool in Philip’s peen.”
“Some med school in Vietnam.”
Anyway, Nadal painstakingly determined that Teri Hatcher had indeed said “some med school in the Philippines,” and he sprang into action. His online petition called the statement “hateful,” “hurtful,” “racist,” and “racially discriminatory.”
Uh, hang on. The statement is not racist. Why? Let me break it down for you. “The Philippines” is not a “race.” It is what’s known as a “country.” Now, if she had said, “I don’t want some dirty Filipino doctor touching me” or “Those damn Filipinos, sneaking across the Pacific Ocean and taking our jobs,” that would be racist. Making a crack about the quality of medical schools in the Philippines is a slam against the Philippines. It makes no comment about the race of the people who live there.
Nadal’s petition concludes with this:
“We demand a public apology to the Filipino American community, and we demand the episode be edited to remove the ignorant and racist remark. We will not allow hateful messages against our community (or any other oppressed community) to continue.”
If I were running things at ABC, my response would have been to politely inform Nadal and his 30,000 signers that they can smooch my bum-bum. The day they start paying my salary, that’s the day they can start “demanding” things from me. If you don’t like something on a TV show, you have every right to stop watching it, to encourage others not to watch it, to boycott the advertisers, and to write letters expressing your disapproval. You’re on very solid ground in all of those respects. But issuing demands to the network? Sorry, no. You’re in no position to demand things from something you get for free.
The Associated Press story notes that Nadal didn’t even see the episode when it aired. A friend told him about it, and he watched it online. If I’m ABC, that makes me even less inclined to respond. What do I care what some guy thinks who doesn’t even watch the show?
But I am not ABC. If I were, you can bet “Lost” would have picked up the pace months ago. ABC immediately caved in and apologized for the fictional joke made by the fictional character on its comedy TV series.
“The producers of ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ABC Studios offer our sincere apologies for any offense caused by the brief reference in the season premiere. There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines…. As leaders in broadcast diversity, we are committed to presenting sensitive and respectful images of all communities featured in our programs.”
Translation: “Next time, we’ll make a joke about a country that isn’t so touchy.”
It’s kind of sad to realize that “All in the Family” could never make it on the air today. Every time the fictional character Archie Bunker said something ignorant or derogatory, you’d have a thousand phone calls from cranky people with nothing better to do than flip channels looking for things to be offended by. And the network would apologize every time, because that’s how we do things here. The whining of the .01 percent always outweighs the opinion of the other 99.99. One parent complains that Harry Potter is evil? Take it off the school library shelf! One Muslim is bothered by a Christmas tree in the town square? Remove it! Thirty thousand people type their names in a box expressing disapproval about a stupid joke on a TV show, while the other 20 million viewers didn’t care? By all means, fall on the ground sobbing as you apologize for the slight!
As it turns out, they actually have fairly good medical schools in the Philippines. Thousands of doctors in the United States were trained there, came to the U.S., passed our licensing boards, and now practice medicine here. Think about it: The Philippines is in Asia, and you know how good them Asian doctors are. I would have no problem being treated by a doctor who had gone to a med school in the Philippines, as long as he didn’t steal my wallet while I wasn’t looking.
The way I quoted the "Desperate Housewives" line is exactly as it was spoken by Teri Hatcher. The Associated Press got it slightly wrong: "OK, before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Just to make sure they aren't, like, from some med school in the Philippines?" Subsequently, most other news outlets (mis)quoted it the same way. The show itself isn't on YouTube, but several TV news stories about it are, and many of them include the clip in question (for example: here), so you can see for yourself that I am a more reliable reporter than anyone at the Associated Press. (Wait, what?)
I tried to think of some Filipino stereotypes that I could exploit for some cheap jokes, and then I realized there aren't any. When you think of Filipinos, what do you think of? Nothing? Yeah, me too. I finally had to go with the Philippines being a Third World country and extrapolate from that for my insensitive, racist remarks.
By the way, the gynecologist in "Desperate Housewives" was played by the delightful Nathan Fillion (of TV's "Firefly" and the movie "Serenity" fame), who also played a gynecologist in the film "Waitress." I hope he stays on "Desperate Housewives" for a long time -- not because I'll watch, but because the guy deserves a comfortable gig on a popular show.