4 questions on Marlou Arizala’s ‘death’

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Xander Ford fixed what’s been unjustly called his ‘ugliness,’ leaving us to wonder: When will we fix ours? Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The other week, Marlou Arizala — the most popular member of the teenage boy group Hasht5 — died a metaphysical death.                                 

It was probably the most celebrated local celebrity death of all time, considering that the person “dying” was celebrating his own death. The scale was nationwide. After all, the party was held on “Rated K,” with the full Korina Sanchez treatment, and Xander Ford — with his new, radiant, and chiseled face — coming out to much fanfare, smiling, and doing the Korean heart sign. On his official page, he has even set automatic responses to every single message, which go: “Hello, Marlou is dead! I'm Xander Ford! Will you marry me or follow me?”

Xander’s joy makes me joyful. That is absolutely sincere. Nevertheless, there are questions that need answers. Because amid a polarized conversation about rightness and wrongness, there’s much to be gained from sitting down and exploring the sadness of things.

Here’s a fairly obvious one:

If Marlou Arizala is dead, then who killed him?

Was it himself? Was it the plastic surgeon who performed the procedure? Was it us, the tone-deaf public, most of whom viewed his existence only as a chance to feel superior to someone? The word “death,” it seems, carries not much weight these days. But if we repeat the word to ourselves — death, death, death — then we might come to realize, amid all the autotuned Xander Ford videos online in which people tag their friends, that someone was killed.

All of us are armed with megaphones for childish cruelty, and only fools will disagree with the fact that Marlou Arizala took the worst of that cruelty.

Sure, it wasn’t a physical human being that died, but it was an identity, whose only fault was according itself a little more love than others thought he deserved. We might never come to an agreement about who’s complicit in all this, and the debate will carry on for a lengthier period. But at the very least, given the much-publicized “death” of Marlou, perhaps we can agree that this has all been a big display of violence.

Who were we to Marlou Arizala?

One of Korina Sanchez’s first questions to Xander Ford was: What do you have to say to your haters? And his response was: “Hu u kayo sa ‘kin.

I usually try not to read too much into a joke, but really: Who were we to him?

All of us are armed with megaphones for childish cruelty, and only fools will disagree with the fact that Marlou Arizala took the worst of that cruelty. For many of us, his existence helped silence the murmuring insecurity in our skulls. It was socially acceptable — for a time — to call someone pangit, as long as that someone was Marlou. What did Marlou see in us? Was he compelled to put us in our place or to win our acceptance? That he was abused is a given. The only question is what drove his behavior. Was it loathing? Was it insecurity? Was it sorrow?

Do you remember the first time you were called “pangit”?

Yes, I’m addressing this question to Marlou, but I’m addressing this to you too, reader.

I am thinking of that word — pangit. How children say it the only way they know how — direct and pejorative. The casual cruelty of it. How did that shape your idea of belonging? Your idea of pain and sadness and disappointment and identity? I am thinking of things we describe with that word, because there must have been a person early in our lives — a parent, a sibling, a friend — who saw a dog in the street with galis, a kontrabida, or a dumpsite, and responded with: “Ang pangit.

Was anyone there to tell you that you were not the dog, the kontrabida, or the dumpsite?

How important is facial discrimination in the grand scheme of justice?

Yes, the world is unkind. But it is more unkind to the ugly. At the same time, we are slowly learning to overcome the barriers of sex and race and class. While this process is taking far too long, the voices behind these causes are increasing in volume each day. Still, I can’t help but think we’ve failed Marlou. Because very few of us have thought of reassessing the things we find beautiful, and the things we find ugly. Because when those around us mock physical appearance, we hardly ever gasp at the mockery the same way we gasp at racial slurs or rape jokes.

I am thinking of that word — pangit. How children say it the only way they know how — direct and pejorative. The casual cruelty of it. How did that shape your idea of belonging?

Sure, there is an important difference in magnitude between racism, sexism, and lookism. There are actual body counts that distance the urgency of issues like racial discrimination, from that of “facial discrimination.” But while the intermingling of these issues is a complex discussion, what they do have in common is they are injustices all the same. They are all — in one way or another — failures of unkindness. And injustice, as we know, tends to fuel more of itself.

If there’s anything that we can agree upon, it’s this: Comments sections are the worst. But the death of Marlou Arizala has shaken us awake. I’ve seen the reactions. I’ve seen so many people who have realized the impossible physical standards we impose on each other.

The haters, of course, remain. But there is a conversation about beauty now in our country, and it is better than the conversations about beauty that we once had. Intended or not, that is thanks to Marlou Arizala. Somehow, this kid has moved a whole country to look into a mirror. And he has “fixed” what’s been unjustly called his “ugliness,” leaving us to wonder: When will we fix ours?