Friday, November 2, 2007

Dancing Filipino prisoners

By now there is a good chance that you have seen this clip or heard about the dancing prisoners of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines. It has already attracted over 8 million hits on youtube after it was posted by Byron Garcia, the prison warden. Garcia forced the prisoners to participate in dance routines in order to encourage physical exercise and divert their energies away from violent behaviour. And apparently it works, with levels of antisocial behaviour said to have reduced dramatically and a more communal spirit seeming to take place amongst the prisoners. And aside from that, it's funny as hell.

Of course that may not be the full story; a report by ABC in America (below) implies a sinister side, in that the fearful prisoners have been forced against their will by the megalomaniacal Garcia.

So it's either a good news story of a model prison system, or a cruel and unusual punishment. The truth as usual is probably somewhere in between, but let's be optimists for a moment and assume that it is a good thing. Clearly, many of the prisoners in footage I have seen seem to be enjoying themselves.

What I have been wondering is this: obviously if this works, other countries might be tempted to try it in their prisons too. But could it actually work in any other country other than the Philippines?

There would be no chance of getting that to happen in an Australian or American jail, even at gunpoint. Most men in general, and especially prisoners, are simply too macho to engage in such an activity. Can you imagine the "Chopper" Reids of this world getting down to some choreographed calisthenics in the prison yard?

Yet Asian culture, and particularly southeast Asian culture, is rather more conducive to that kind of thing. I could see this happening in Indonesia or Thailand or India, for example. Asian culture, while oppressively male-dominated in its own way just like any other culture, has a different take on masculinity than the rest of the world. For an example, look at that great Asian export to the world, karaoke. The idea of average blokes getting up on stage and singing tender cheesy ballads is alien to most Western males unless they are extremely drunk. Yet karaoke is an enormously popular pastime throughout the Asian region. Likewise, in countries like Thailand, cross-dressers are accepted to a greater degree than almost any other place in the world. Even in Indian culture, which is extremely patriarchal and macho in many ways, males are passionate about dancing in a way that puts most other countries to shame. Just go to a Punjabi wedding or watch a Bollywood movie and this will be evident. Indeed, if any country could top the Philippines in a prison dance-off, my money would be on India for sure. But Western countries? Nah.

So while I don't hold out any hope for this method of rehabilitation in the West, I do long for an episode of "Oz" or "Prison Break" where all the inmates boogie down to "Fame", or Spandau Ballet's "Gold". Now that would be something.

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