In traditional Filipino culture, communication is about transaction, a give and take of messages and responses that are mutually beneficial for and acceptable to all parties.
When the discussion gets tangled in complications that are unanticipated and often undesired, many Filipinos still negotiate to avoid confrontation.
The latest to test the limits of civility is Pura Luka Vega, who dressed up as Jesus Christ and performed in a local bar a rock version of the “Ama Namin,” the Filipino song rendition of the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Based on the 2020 Census of Population and Housing, 85.65 million of the 108.57 million Filipinos who took part identified themselves as Roman Catholics. This represents 78.8 percent of the Philippine population in 2020.
For Roman Catholic Filipinos, the “Lord’s Prayer” is one of the prayers learned in childhood. Even among Catholics living in Visayas and Mindanao, the Filipino translation of “Ama Namin” is committed to memory from eucharistic celebrations where the congregation sings the prayer Jesus Christ taught to his disciples.
The Britannica describes the “Lord’s Prayer” as a “‘canonical prayer’ of Christianity, used in nearly all denominations of the faith,” adding that the prayer “is considered a model of how to pray.”
Taking to social media, where images and posts about Vega’s drag performance first surfaced, many Roman Catholic Filipinos condemned the act as a “blasphemy.” From pulpits, priests urged in their homilies that the faithful must fortify themselves against those who attack the faith.
Given Catholicism’s hold on nearly 79 percent of the nation’s population, the drag performance had a predictable reception, applying Stuart Hall’s theory that media texts contain representations that are far from faithful reproductions of realities.
Pura Luka Vega’s drag performance of Jesus Christ performing the rock version of the “Ama Namin” was rejected and condemned by Filipinos, who, unconscious even of the artist’s statement behind the drag performance, interpreted in the act meanings that could not co-exist with their religiosity.
Hall theorized that an audience decoding a message may agree or disagree with meanings encoded by the sender. Aside from the “dominant” or “oppositional” reading, a third reading may have the audience negotiate with the sender about possible interpretations of the communicative act that create, rather than disrupt, a connection between the sender and receiver.
In a tweet last July 13, Pura Luka Vega said she “understood” the backlash over her performance but disagreed with citizens dictating how she should practice her faith or perform drag.
“It is my experience and my expression, of having been denied my rights,” commented Vega at the close of the July 13 tweet.
Beyond the perception that drag is a form of entertainment involving men crossdressing to exaggerate femininity, this form of popular culture embeds a history of resistance to oppression.
According to MasterClass.com, men impersonating women in plays to work around the ban imposed on female performers was practiced during ancient Greece until Shakespeare’s time.
In the 1990s, drag culture was embraced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and others community as part of the Gay Liberation movement asserting gay pride, rights, and empowerment to resist marginalization.
While men, often gay or queer, dominate drag culture, trends show an openness to include transgender and cisgender women as drag queens, notes MasterClass.com.
From expressing a host of issues from self-acceptance of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to living with human immunodeficiency virus and hate crimes, drag artists use art to reach beyond the campy and entertaining: advocacy for voices that are stifled, ignored or erased.
July 16, 2023
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