I’m going to be a wet blanket here.
I admit, I personally have a thing against forced dancing. And singing. Basically, I’m against forced performing of any kind. It’s perfectly acceptable in a school setting, as I think one must learn the arts as well as the sciences. However, I draw the line at having to sing at office parties. I know people who work at offices where their teams pitted against one another in “dance contests” or “singing contests”. My idea of a party is where you show up, eat your fill, get drunk and make out with the cute guy from accounting. If you have to spend time rehearsing weeks before and sew on sequins to a perfectly good blouse, someone should be paying you. I think this whole “make the employees sing/dance at parties” thing was cooked up by talentless people who want an excuse to get on stage. Since they have no talent, getting everyone else to sing/dance with them offers them a kind of humiliation buffer.
So everyone is amused and delighted with the videos of the dancing prisoners. People are especially touched with the recent ones where the prisoners do a tribute to Michael Jackson, complete with nun costumes, MJ portrait and waving national flags. I was amused too, at first, until I found out that the dancing was not exactly a heartfelt offering. Also, when I saw them come out in the nun costumes. At that point I was so appalled I nearly wept. Mostly out of embarrassment.
These prisoners are forced to dance. Well, yes, they could’ve refused, but if they did, they would’ve been punished with the loss of certain privileges, such as conjugal visits. Apparently, violence had gone down since the mandatory dancing started, and that’s a good thing, of course. But means don’t justify the end — if it did, we might as well just keep the prisoners sedated 24 hours a day, and that would keep the violence down too. Forced, uh, dancing to me seems like cruel and unusual punishment. The cultural mindset here does not see anything wrong with humiliating prisoners this way — as a rule, these guys are usually poor, and from the lowest classes of society (yes, we still have social classes here). The Philippine justice system is so badly run that it’s very rare that criminals who have money ever go to jail. As a matter of fact, the worse criminals in the country aren’t dancing to “Thriller” in a jail yard, they’re in government. Or thinking of getting back in government. Can you imagine the prison authorities forcing Erap — who’s been convicted of crimes more heinous than what most of these dancing prisoners have done — to dance?
The one good thing is that because of massive media exposure and the popularity of the videos, any reluctance these prisoners may have had is now probably gone, replaced by the excitement over being featured on CNN and other news shows, and watched all over the internet. I hope they kept the nun costumes, who knows when they might be called upon to dance again.