The Pinoy macho stripped–and feminized?

By Johven Velasco – Recently, I wrote about how the contemporary Filipino woman has assumed a stronger disposition and a tougher demeanor as presented on mainstream Filipino films, at least in the romance dramas and romantic comedies of the leading film outfits, notably Star Cinema.

On the other hand, the Pinoy macho has certainly paled in comparison. He has shown weakness in character spine and resolve, unlike the traditional screen macho we used to see on the big screen, often portrayed as the action hero whose manliness was hinged on physical strength and skills in hand combat and fight stunts, or in his hero-and-redeemer-like resolve. As exemplified by the likes of Fernando Poe Jr., Joseph Estrada, Lito Lapid, Rudy Fernandez, and much later Phillip Salvador and Bong Revilla, the traditional macho on screen was the mythical or the working-class hero out to save his townspeople from oppression and bondage caused by “evil forces” by the ruling class and their ilk in films of social realism.

Traditional macho was also the debonair matinee idol of romantic films and musicals, the likes of Leopoldo Salcedo, Rogelio de la Rosa and Jaime de la Rosa, Nestor de Villa, Armando Goyena, Luis Gonzales and Eddie Rodriguez of the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s. They were the morally upright lead male characters who may not have been spared from temptation (particularly Eddie Rodriguez of the mid sixties in husband-wife-mistress domestic triangles such as Sapagkat Kami ay Tao Lamang) but who, after succumbing to one if ever, has the courage and integrity to amend and atone for his sins.

Christopher de Leon (Relasyon, Broken Marriage) and Richard Gomez (Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin) continued the tradition even as they also started the image of the sensitive male on screen, fraught with as much emotional problems their female counterparts, openly shedding tears—as none of the earlier and older leading men would be caught doing on the big screen—or rage in brat-like tantrums and irrationality. Man enough to admit his faults and oftentimes a good family provider, it is when he is not the latter that he undergoes a personal emotional crisis of self-worth. In other words, we still find these characters as traditionally feudal and patriarchal in outlook, ever protective of his macho pride as family head and chief provider.

Aga Muhlach continued the sensitive male image. His is a cross between the suave, debonair and the man-child types, unembarrassed in showing some “softer” qualities (Ano Ba ang L8test, Kung Ako Na Lang Sana, Kailangan Kita), naturally starting with sensitivity and extra tenderness and sweetness—close to being soft—expanding but not limited to engaging in what are traditionally regarded as largely female preoccupations such as cooking and housekeeping. More significantly, the sensitive male is willing to share with his woman some limelight, especially as partner and contributor to the family’s material upkeep. Here, somehow, traditional boundaries set for gender roles and demeanor are transgressed and blurred.

Much later, the sensitive male would morph into a variant, the androgenous “beautiful boy” projected by Piolo Pascual and Sam Milby especially in the early part of their careers (see their publicity pictorials). Besides the suave leads and the bad boy machos, there is another “macho” on screen—that of the beefcake actor who showed more muscles and flesh in sex-oriented movies from the late 70s through the 90s. Leading the pack were the Seiko hunks: Gardo Versoza, Leandro Baldemor, Leonardo Litton, Rodel Velayo, and Anton Bernardo. Much earlier, in the 1970s and 80s, there were Vic Vargas, Ricky Belmonte, Ernie Garcia, Al Tantay, Orestes Ojeda, Gino Antonio and Daniel Fernando. Even the “sweet-faced” young boys like Patrick de la Rosa and Albert Martinez; and serious young actors like Christopher de Leon, Mark Gil, Michael de Mesa, Phillip Salvador, Richard Gomez and Cesar Montano were all stripped of their clothes on the big screen and in fan magazines. These days, the stripped machos—actor-turned-models and model-turned actors—are seen on the covers and the inside pages of glossy fashion and gay-oriented magazines or endorsing skimpy underwear in posters and larger-than-life billboards on national highways.

And let us not forget the film ingénues. They are the innocent, adolescent boys initiated into the mundane and corrupt adult world where they eventually take center stage as macho dancers, masahistas, or call boys. These were the characters that launched to stardom Alan Paule (Macho Dancer), Lawrence David (Sibak), Coco Martin (Masahista), and most recently Tyron Perez (Twilight Dancers) via films directed by noted filmmakers like Lino Brocka, Mel Chionglo and Brillante Mendoza, and which made the rounds in the international film festival circuits abroad.

The male ingénue on the local movie screen is a crossover of gender boundary lines. His prototype and female counterpart was the nubile nymphet of the early 70s, Alma Moreno, as she appeared in Ishmael Bernal’s Ligaw na Bulaklak and Menor de Edad.

Curiously, in paintings and sculptures such as, for example, Michelangelo’s murals on the ceiling of no less than the Sistine Chapel in Rome, or in the Spanish artist Goya’s Maja Desnuda (The Naked Maja), the naked human form abound. No big deal! But the nude male or female on the screen is fair game to voyeuristic gaze and pleasure. It must be the nature of film, a medium which is inherently voyeuristic, where an spectator, through the camera, can enter into the privacy of a character’s bedroom, be privy to her most intimate secrets, and probe into his mind and feelings in more expressionistic cinematic styles.

Once thought to be a symbol of virility and sex liberation, the male sex symbol on screen and in magazines is now deemed “feminized,” not necessarily because disrobed, he looks more feminine—although some of them do—but because he becomes a commodity as much as the female sex symbol before him. By stripping him of his clothes, he is consigned to an object position, no better than where the naked woman on screen has been. Similarly, he becomes an object of the controlling gaze and desire, this time not of the patriarchal male but of the liberated female as well as of the male gay. Some of the latter have joined the ranks of film directors, writers—producers even—and many of them now stand to be openly counted among the audiences for films showing naked male bodies, unlike before when they sat discreetly in the dark among the other members of the cinematic audiences, mum about their true sex fantasies and desires. Could a similar one also be a reason why these days we have stronger female characters on the screen—the “masculine” females—who become, on the other hand, subjects of identification? Or characters created in the image and likeness of their creators?

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