That Old Melody

I was in a mall a few days ago. Walking around, I heard this old song No Touch by the legendary Juan Dela Cruz band. It’s one of those songs that as a Filipino Millennial I usually hear my titos play, on either their prized karaoke or their audio component system that came with them from the Middle East. Titos sing it, titos love listening to it. I never had any problems with it since it was catchy and fun to listen to.

Well… it was not a problem until the lyrics sank in.

It feels really different from the first time I heard it. It feels more… creepy… more “rapey”, so to speak. It was just a catchy tune when I was young. But now, it sounds like something else.

The lyrics seem to be about a guy who is obsessed with a certain girl to the point of sexually harassing her. I don’t really know if I’m being overly woke or there is really something wrong with it. I mean, even the title implies that the girl does not want any of it.

In any case, allow me to quote a few lines from the song.

Dead na dead talaga ako
Sa mga pakembot kembot mo
Kapag ikaw ay ngumingiti
Ako’y medyo nakikiliti

This roughly translates to:

You’re killing me when you move your hips
It pleases me whenever I see you smile

It sounds pretty harmless until you reach the chorus:

Kailangan ko ang iyong labi
Kailangan ko ang iyong pisngi
Kailan kaya kita maiuuwi (Sige na…)

Which roughly translates to:

I need your lips
I need your cheeks
When will I be able to take you home? Come on now…

This sounds like catcalling to me, to be honest. But of course, context is everything. So what made me think this is a song about unwanted sexual advances? There are 2 things. One of them is this part:

Nuon pa man ikaw na talaga
Ang pangarap ko sa tuwi-tuwina
Kailan kaya kita maiiskor
Kailan kaya kita maaarbor

This roughly translates to:

You really are the one I want since forever
When will I be able to smash you?
When will I be able to snatch you?

…and here is the other one:

Pahipo naman
Pahawak naman
Nang ‘di na kita ma-tiyansingan


And this roughly translates to:

Let me fondle you
Let me touch you
I can’t even accidentally feel you

I bet someone would argue that this is nothing but flirting between two people. Maybe even a story about a guy who can’t say how much he loves the girl. But I don’t think that is the case. There are way too many elements there that would indicate that the sexual advances are not consensual, and anyone in their right mind would already know that consent is king.

But let me get this straight. I’m not trying to cancel Juan Dela Cruz band in any way by “exposing” the meaning of the lyrics of a song that’s fairly obvious to start with. There’s not even any shrivel of figurative speech here. It’s as straightforward as it can be. So what is my point in showing this? It’s really simple. But I want to lay down a few facts before I proceed.

The song No Touch was a part of the album Himig Natin, released in 1973. The 70s was the time of Ferdinand Marcos, martial law, the Thrilla in Manila, and bomba films, just to name a few. There are at least a few things that you will read about the 70s online. But one thing that is not very often mentioned is that this is the heyday of machismo in the Philippines. It’s the heyday of machismo, of toxic masculinity, and of trophy wives.

Now that I think about it, perhaps the reason why it’s not at all mentioned to be a “hallmark” of the 70s is that it never really left the Filipino culture at all. It’s been there and never really left. But I digress.

The reason why I’m showing this to you is that this is a perfect example of art holding antiquated social views. This is a piece of art that came from an era where the objectification of women is the norm. This came from an era where gay marriage is nothing but a fever dream. Wokeness is not even a thing in the 70s.

I find it foolish that certain people expect modern views from old films or presume that woke points of view can be found on old pieces of music. Art is basically a historical document that portrays the kind of society a certain generation had. It gives us an idea of how a certain generation went on with their lives: their entertainment, their political views, and their social norms. Sure, you may find a few woke elements there. But you can’t expect old pieces of art to capture the culture and norms that current modern society has.

Humans evolve, and in due time, society does as well. Your grandparents’ jaws most probably dropped when they knew about the smartphone. In 50-60 years, we will definitely be surprised about the next piece of technology humanity will come up with. The same goes for society. I bet my left nut that in 50-60 years, the future generation will feel the same (or worse) as us when we think about the people 50-60 years ago.

So what can we do? I believe that cancel culture is only good when it’s done right (e.g. preventing a serial rapist from performing again). At certain times, I find cancel culture to be toxic and counterproductive. I believe that having these dated views on record is a good thing. Instead of canceling artists like the Juan Dela Cruz band, we can instead use their art as a cautionary tale. Make young people listen to songs like this and start a discussion. Allow them to process it. Give them the right to think for themselves. Do all of this with love and concern and we can be very sure that we’re raising a better generation of humans: not just better than the previous generation, but also better than our own.

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