When Mark flashed cue cards of his feelings to Juliet in an infamous scene in Love Actually, we cooed and nursed the butterflies fluttering in our stomachs in response to their missed fling. We also selectively forgot that it’s inappropriate to make a move on somebody who’s married but hey, who wouldn’t confess to Keira Knightley?
Now when Xian Gaza (alleged millionaire CEO of Hong Kong-based Guanxiqian) mounted a billboard asking Erich Gonzales out to coffee, this grand romantic gesture fit for classic rom-coms suddenly became problematic.
Without a plot that asked us to suspend our disbelief—and an artist who could’ve designed the ad better than my half-baked computer class project in sixth grade—Xian wooed Erich with long posts, viral headlines, and a hashtagged campaign that divided netizens. Some called the effort sweet. The others called him a manipulative, showy creep.
Romantic media, from rom-coms to K-dramas, has it easier as fiction. That way, we dismiss questionable scenarios and instead, get distracted enough by the attractive people on screen. But when real life throws us a potential pair—one half’s a celebrity, the other an expressive bachelor with a geeky grin—the context becomes clear. We don’t always frown upon flamboyant gestures for simply displaying scale and excess. Sometimes, we doubt or approve them based on biases we refuse to acknowledge.
Months ago, Ellen Adarna got an interesting proposition from a hunky male model-slash-math teacher Pietro Boselli. He mentioned, both in a conference and in a video on Instagram, just how much he looked forward to meeting her during his time here. While it didn’t happen, his enthusiasm was met with overwhelming fondness. Ellen was deemed “winner of the race.”
If Xian were of Western ancestry—and he got the chance to keep his money—would we have viewed him differently? If he looked more like a male lead in an Asian telenovela or worked out to get abs we objectify men for, would all of us wish him the best? Sure, Pietro didn’t pull out a billboard. But he got people to tag Ellen, the same way Erich was asked to respond. Our white love is showing in our choices, and in the people we root for. We don’t even notice it sometimes.
In a rare moment of wokeness, people have expressed their concern for Erich and rightly so. She was being pressured, either to say yes or to simply acknowledge Xian’s costly efforts. Although, I can’t help but think that we’re undermining her position, too. In some ways, she’s a victim of coercion. But she’s also comfortably sitting in a spot of privilege only girls of her stature could afford.
One look at local showbiz and we’ll realize that we’re living in a lookist culture that coddles the handsome and the pretty. Erich is blessed with beauty and a fandom that looks out for her best interests. That may mean protecting her from strangers who proclaim their love on busy streets.
Now consider: Had Erich looked too plain and boring by conventional standards, it’s possible that some of us would’ve encouraged her to take up on the next best scenario her love life could offer. Supposedly unattractive people are expected to be grateful. How many times have we heard people say “Choosy ka pa!” as a backhanded jab that invalidates their right to choose?
So who, then, deserves a classic rom-com moment? Who passes for a modern-day Lloyd Dobler and what’s the boom box he lifts?
As much as it has become a spectacle, Xian’s grand romantic gesture for Erich prompts us to look inward. We go beyond challenging his actions, and pitying her for not having the chance to decline in private. We redefine the romantic by questioning the standards we’ve blindly dragged into this age of consent and correctness.
Real life isn’t always riddled with sparks as it is in a Jose Javier Reyes film. It’s brimming with contradictions we perpetrate ourselves. But if the steady influx of Pinoy rom-coms ever taught us anything, there’s hope for grand gestures becoming romantic again. I’d like to believe we’re not tired of it yet. The next time we see one, though, I at least hope the girl (or the guy) knows and no lame pick-up puns were used.
Photos courtesy of Xian Gaza’s Facebook account
Art by Anfernee Dy
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