Who are to blame for the cancer of our moral standards?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-04-10
The recent passing of 1950s and 1960s film icon Elizabeth Taylor reminded your Chair Wrecker of how the moral standards of a society can adjust with the passing of time. In the case of Liz Taylor, a moral standard that viciously decimated the expected box office sales of her big movie Cleopatra is something we hardly see nowadays.

Cleopatra, which starred Liz Taylor in the lead role, Richard Burton as Marc Anthony and Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar, was considered the biggest costing production of Hollywood up to that period. Cleopatra was produced during a film era when epics like The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur were in big demand.

Per Wikipedia, Cleopatra was originally budgeted to cost $2 million but eventually reached a total cost of $44 million the equivalent of $320 million based on 2010 prices. Finally released in 1963, it was the biggest film grosser of that year at $26 million. However, its top grosser of the year feat was not enough to recoup the $44 million that it cost to produce.

Once touted as the most spectacular production ever of 20th Century Fox Cleopatra went on to become the studio’s most spectacular failure. To make up for the company’s accumulated losses, Fox had to allocate for real estate development a big portion of its Los Angeles lot. This real estate development is now known as Century City. The Fox financial health was only restored after David Ladd produced Star Wars ironically a film project that was previously rejected by Fox and other studios. 

The torrid love affair of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton during the filming of Cleopatra generated a lot of bad publicity. Conservative Christian groups mounted a boycott. This took a heavy toll on the box office receipts of Cleopatra. Another aggravating circumstance which added to the high cost was the reconstruction of the elaborate set from London to Rome.

Liz Taylor became a marked person after figuring in the love triangle that broke up the marriage of Hollywood’s favorite couple singer Eddie Fisher and actress-singer Debbie Reynolds. Star of the hit movies Tammy and Singing in the Rain, Debbie Reynolds immediately drew immense public sympathy when Eddie Fisher left her for Liz Taylor. That set the stage for the big backlash that the Liz Taylor and Richard Burton romance on the Cleopatra set subsequently reaped. Junking Eddie Fisher in favor of Richard Burton was tantamount to tempting the fates. The movie going public decided to punish Liz Taylor at the box office.

In the US and Europe these days, this type of a public backlash against perceived showbiz sinners is hardly seen anymore. In fact, your Chair Wrecker cannot recall when the entertainment consumers enforced a similar public censure as what Liz Taylor and Richard Burton had experienced. A public backlash these days is generated more by disagreeable actions and decisions of the showbiz personality rather than a perceived moral transgression.

In our country, we also underwent a similar erosion of moral standards after the 1960s, significantly under the unlamented Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. Up to the early 1960s, crooked public officials were ashamed to display their loot. Up to the early 1960s, even our showbiz personalities feared a similar public backlash as what Liz Taylor and Richard Burton reaped if ever they are linked to a scandal. They were so sensitive to public opinion that many of them would avoid generating public attention by wearing dark shades when they stepped out of their domiciles.

Today, in our 21st century Philippines, crooked public officials do not even attempt to hide the fruits of their plunder. You can see them enjoying their loot openly with the number of properties that they have purchased here and overseas, the many expensive motor vehicles that convey them and their kids and their first class vacation trips to many of the world’s most expensive destinations.

Today, our showbiz personalities are no longer scared of being linked to scandals. On the contrary, some of them even fabricate scandal stories just to be in media and become the talk of the town. Television programs that serve all the juicy tidbits about these showbiz controversies are enjoying big ratings. In fact, even the television newscasts allot a lot of time for these showbiz controversies precious airtime that could be utilized to bridge our country’s Information Gap.

The biggest damage that this had wrought on our culture is that our countrymen have developed an acceptance for what is corrupt and scandalous. Where decades ago Filipinos would look down on known corrupt public officials, even tell their kids not to associate with kids of known corrupt public officials, nowadays these corrupt public officials are admired for their ability to become filthy rich and get away with it. Where decades ago Filipinos would strive to preserve the sanctity of marriage and live by the virtues of loyalty, fidelity and honesty these days it has become vogue to emulate the scandalous lifestyle of the entertainers.

Media cannot escape a fair share of the blame for the erosion of our moral standards. Media have made it glamorous to be scandalous. Instead of condemning the scandalous lifestyles of the controversial showbiz personalities, media have made these scandals a commodity for promoting more consumption.

In the case of crooked public officials, media that have pandered to their well funded public relations campaigns are guilty of promoting public acceptance for what should be condemned. Normally, media would expose the crooked ways of public officials. With some media practitioners however, their attitudes somehow change when there is a big PR budget for sanitizing the crooks.

When a nation compromises its moral principles, when everything becomes transactional then the country undergoes serious decay and will face its eventual meltdown. When moral standards are prostituted that is the equivalent of a moral cancer that hits a nation.   

Our religious leaders cannot also escape responsibility for this sorry state of our moral compass. They are supposed to be the chief custodians of our moral compass, but they have wasted their time and influence by engaging in irrelevant causes and petty issues.

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