Freedom of speech is one of the most important rights we enjoy under our Constitution, and one that we must protect at all costs. However, this right has its limits. For instance, you can’t scream “Fire!” in the middle of a crowded theatre, because of the harm it can cause others around you. And promoting statements that instigate violence against a group of people is another clear example of the limits of our right to free speech.
Are we going to blame rape victims because they dressed provocatively? Are we going to justify hate crimes against illegal immigrants because they broke the law?
- Robert Deposada
When it comes to the Puerto Rican TV Show “SuperXclusivo,” outrageous comments and inflammatory statements have been the key to its success as the most watched show in the island (which also airs in the U.S. via WAPA America). Its main character, a puppet named “La Comay,” has insulted most public officials and personalities in Puerto Rico. Many, if not most, of the puppet's most controversial insults have had racial and homophobe overtones. But that’s the price we pay for living in a free country. If you don’t like it, simply change the channel.
That was my attitude until earlier this month. That’s when the puppet crossed the line, in a big way. The puppet, operated by comedian “Kobbo” Santarrosa, made extremely crude and controversial comments regarding the brutal murder of a local businessman, José Enrique Gómez. This gentleman was brutally beaten and burned alive. The crime was so horrific and inhumane that it sent Puerto Rican residents into a state of shock.
That’s when “La Comay” decided to take advantage of this drama to increase ratings. The puppet stated that the brutal murder was justified, because he “was looking for it.” She started allegations that the man was gay and that he had been seen in an area frequented by homosexual prostitutes. The puppet went on to say that if the victim had been engaging in that dangerous behavior, then it’s a whole different ball game. In other words, the victim deserved to be brutally assaulted and burned alive simply because he was gay.
Are you serious? Are we now blaming victims for the brutal crimes of sick individuals with no sense of decency or humanity?
If so, the question then is, what’s next? Are we going to blame rape victims because they dressed provocatively? Are we going to justify hate crimes against illegal immigrants because they broke the law when they entered this country? Should women be able to castrate their adulterous husbands because they cheated? I know that sounds absurd because the victim of a crime should not be the one on trial. But “La Comay” clearly disagrees and does blame the victim.
What makes this statement from “La Comay” even more disturbing is that by justifying a crime against a victim, just because they might be gay, it sends a message that violence against gays is acceptable. In other words, you are instigating others to commit similar crimes. And that’s not language protected by the First Amendment.
The outrage among the public has generated a full-scale boycott against the show, and most of the advertisers are withdrawing their sponsorship dollars. Mainland civil rights organizations like the National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC), GLAAD, Media Matters, National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), and celebrities like Ricky Martin and Willie Colon have already denounced the 15 years of hate imparted by this show. However, the president of the TV station that runs the show, Jose E. Ramos, says the puppet is here to stay, due to its increased ratings. He told The New York Times that the advertisers’ decisions to pull the ads “was emotional”.
Mr. Ramos also stated that he wanted to apologize to those offended by the puppet’s statement, suggesting that the brutal crime was partially the victims' own fault. His exacts words to ABC/Univision were as pathetic and irresponsible as could be expected from a money-hungry executive that cares more about ratings than basic human decency: “We sincerely regret if comments made on the show are ever taken out of context or misinterpreted to be deliberately hurtful.”
That’s the worst case of a non-apology apology that I have ever read. Mr. Ramos and WAPA-TV had an opportunity to stand up and condemn hate crimes. He could have taken a stand and defend victims of violence. He could have shown courage and decency, but he chose profits and ratings. What a shame!
With WAPA’s airing license up for renewal in 2013 maybe it is time for Chairman Alan Sokol and InterMedia Partners, the parent company of WAPA-TV, to consider the risk of keeping such a liability before Hispanic advocates file a complaint to the FCC and pressure cable carriers to drop WAPA America from its Latino lineup in the U.S.
If we don’t stand up against this type of incendiary and irresponsible rhetoric that has a clear potential of instigating a new wave of crimes against a minority group, then we will all be responsible the next time a young man gets beaten to death for being gay, or a young woman raped simply for wearing clothes that a criminal finds provocative, or for any crime that an irresponsible TV character decides is “justified because of the victims' behavior.”
Let’s stop this non-sense and stand up for decency, for the rule of law and for victims of hate crimes. Change the channel and don’t support WAPA-TV or the “SuperXclusivo” show, until the money-grabbing hogs that are keeping this show alive suffer the financial loss they deserve.
Robert G. Deposada is the founder and past President of The Latino Coalition and Latinos for Reform, and served as Director of Hispanic Affairs at the Republican National Committee under Chairman Lee Atwater.