Kian, Carl, Reynaldo, Will You Marry Me?
So this happened last week: A young man in love was dragged away by policemen, ostensibly as part of Oplan Tokhang. His girlfriend, along with a small crowd of bystanders, try to stand in the way of the uniformed officers, asking for a warrant. An indignant voice off-camera says, “Nasaan yung warrant? Hindi puedeng ganyan-ganyan na lang!” This ticks off the police officer, who forces the man to kneel. The crowd becomes agitated, because it all seems like it’s about to go very, very wrong.
See it for yourself:
Given the events of the past few weeks, given the political climate, given the outrage and the grief and the confusion surrounding the murders of Kian Loyd Delos Reyes, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, and, just yesterday, Reynaldo de Guzman, to call this proposal crass and offensive would be an understatement. To see the brutality of their deaths, and to know the gravity of the implications surrounding them, and then to see it juxtaposed with something as carefree as a prank and as celebratory as a marriage proposal is jarring, at the very least. At most, it’s a symptom of far more dangerous ills.
This two-minute proposal video is hardly remarkable, and it’s not, to be honest, even terribly sensational. All things considered, it is what it is: it’s juvenile, it’s narcissistic (see how the groom-to-be throws the spotlight at himself), self-serving (at the expense of everyone else around them), insensitive (vis a vis current events), and ultimately in poor taste. This is hardly worth debating.
At the end of the day, perhaps the proposal is their business. As a few news outlets joyfully noted, the bride-to-be accepted, calling the engagement ring “one of the best presents” she’d ever received in her life. That’s her business.
The video, however, has gone viral: a number of websites have picked up the story, along with a couple of legitimate news outlets—the video above, from Pilipino Star Ngayon, has been viewed 6.67 million times. “Just wanna show you guys how sweet this is,” goes the caption on one repost. “No thanks on raising the bar, bruh.” “Dpat binaril at tinaniman ng shabu kunwari tokhang.. tapos sabay tatayo ung bangkay sabay propose”. Etc.
For once, it’s worth contemplating the image that social media throws back at us. Over six and a half million views—and of those who bothered to cast their reactions online, 91K expressed their Likes, 34K Loves, 29K LOL, 3K Wow. Those Angry and Sad only number 173 and 141, respectively, as of this writing.
By comparison, a video on the same site that explains the writ of habeas corpus scrapes by with 1,500 views; another that shows CCTV footage of a robbery earned over 28,000; a report on the arrest of a man impersonating a police officer to extort money from drug suspects, 7,872 views. Footage from the Belo-Kho wedding reception, only 6,825.)
One has to symphatize with the few commenters on the thread who manage to express their incredulity and confusion, offering variations of, Congratulations to the happy couple, but what the hell were you thinking? (But congratulations nonetheless.)
The few who express disgust are attacked: “If you’re going to be offended all the time, maybe the Internet isn’t the place for you.” “Your attitude towards this post is like a Rumor Monger whose purpose in life is to create factions and divisiveness among people who live in harmony.” “So this is how an educated person sounds like ok” “Kausapin mo nalang si de Lima, sya lang ang makakaintindi sayo kuya”.
The overwhelmingly positive response to the video tells us that we, as a whole, have become acclimatized to fear
We keep telling ourselves that these days of warrantless arrests, of guilty-until-proven-innocent, of summary executions are “not the new normal.” But increasingly, it’s these cultural signposts that tell us that this has all very quickly woven into the fabric of daily consciousness, so much so that we can hardly remember a time when it wasn’t like this, when we had better.
The overwhelmingly positive response to the video tells us that we, as a whole, have become acclimatized to fear. A policeman comes to drag away a presumably innocent man, forces him to kneel; and indeed, everyone watching—his fiancée-to-be, we at home in front of our screens—are first angry and afraid. When the joke is revealed, all is forgiven because fear has become the natural state of things, so it is no longer offensive to be made fearful. And the sliding scale of what’s acceptable has accelerated over the past months, so that we find ourselves accepting new outrages as part and parcel of daily life: abusive police officers, unwarranted arrests, violence; and then the forced disappearances, the deaths, the murders. At first all of these made us angry; and then it was acceptable as long as it happened to other people.
Now the frequency of the things that ask for our outrage has inured us to even this. Where do we draw the line? The unspeakable as a fact of Filipino life—it’s all right as long as it happens to others, and then only if it happens to other people’s children; and then, look, it’s fine when we’re threatened with it, as long as it doesn’t push through. We accept less and less every day.
Let’s call it what it is, finally. This is evil.
I think this is a time to hold on to our outrage, no matter how much we’re shamed for our anger.
When Adolf Eichmann, Nazi war criminal and one of the architects of the Holocaust, was finally brought to trial, it was clear that he did not fit the traditional concept of a villain, and indeed he didn’t think he was one himself. Brought to trial in 1961, Eichmann was a thin, bespectacled man with the air of an efficient accountant. Every biography of him will contain the word “unremarkable.” All six of the psychologists who assessed him before his trial would say that he was exceedingly normal, perhaps even pleasant especially when it came to his relationships with other people. The only thing extraordinary was that he was extraordinarily normal.
Eichmann expressed, to the very end, no regret or remorse at being either directly or indirectly responsible for the murders of millions of people. “I have believed in God. I obeyed the laws of war and was loyal to my flag,” he is quoted to have said.
It was the trial of this unremarkable man that the moral philosopher Hannah Arendt observed and reported on, for which she coined the term “the banality of evil.” Eichmann’s brand of evil was made possible because of a deep lack of originality: Unable or unwilling to rely on his own discernment or conscience, he abdicated all responsibility for his choices. Eichmann didn’t think he was guilty of genocide; he insisted that he was only following orders. He wasn’t a very bright man, so he relied instead on stock phrases that he would repeat over and over, fall back on the same tired lines of reasoning. He saw other people—some smarter and more powerful than him, others just as ordinary—sign off on the Final Solution, so he absolved himself of any further struggle with his own conscience: “My heart was light and joyful in my work, because the decisions were not mine.”
How far away is a badly conceptualized marriage proposal from the Holocaust? Seventy years away, and also not far enough. We’re witnessing the same abandonment of one’s conscience that allows us to accept, little by little and then by leaps and bounds, the previously unspeakable. First we make light of police abuses, and that helps us accept that outrage as normal. And then we make light of deaths and of murders, as long as it doesn’t happen to us. That is how evil takes root and becomes flesh in this world—not only through the actions of evil men, but from the inaction of exceedingly normal human beings.
I think this is a time to hold on to our outrage, no matter how much we’re shamed for our anger. This is the time to hold on to our humanity, not our humor. It’s a serious time with serious problems, so please forgive me if I don’t laugh along with the millions of others who cannot remember or imagine the time when life was better, when we Filipinos were better.
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