Does One’s Opinion Really Make a Difference?

In August 2011, the Cultural Center of the Philippines closed down the main gallery where the controversial “Kulo” art exhibit is on display . According to a news report, “one of the artworks displayed in the gallery — artist Mideo Cruz’s piece, a mixed-media collage called ‘Poleteismo’ — was criticized as ‘blasphemous’.”

This was one of the very controversial issues that arose and many people debated whether it is actually right to sanction Mideo Cruz for his spontaneous attempt to create something he calls art. It would be very helpful to discuss this by using John Stuart Mill’s philosophy of absolute freedom of expression because I think that in our contemporary society, people’s ways change and expression has become more influential as it continuously transcends to social media.

Mill argues that it is legitimate for a person to express his own opinions and beliefs. He asserts that since humans are not infallible, they don’t have the right to suppress other people’s opinion and prevent them from coming up with their own judgments. Also, since people receive protection from the society, it is their duty to not injure interest of others which are considered their rights. Although, Mill also considers that there should be a limit to the freedom of action for the protection of community.

I believe that it was only right for the closing down of the main gallery where the ‘Kulo’ art exhibit was on display. Although one may argue that the art exhibit was only an expression by an artist, the portrayal of the images in such collection could be considered blasphemous because it involves the distortion of the image of Jesus Christ. Coupled with this, an executive director of the St. Thomas More Society (STMS), an association of Catholic lawyers, said that the organizers are liable for the violation of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) Article 201 on immoral doctrines, obscene publications and indecent shows. This act by the Mideo Cruz is covered by the absolute freedom of expression propounded by Mill but on the grounds that everyone is free to express himself as long as he does not hurt the interest of others. Therefore, the removal of the gallery was only proper because it served a natural punishment for the act done by the artist. By choosing to showcase the gallery, the artist has offended the catholic church and must therefore suffer such punishment. According to Mill, the punishment of an individual is not due to his act of offence because it is in his liberty to express and choose such as he wish but the punishment is given because in doing such act he offended others. Finally, Mill concludes that individuals may be censured by opinion, though not by law, for harming others while not violating their rights. I believe that the artist Mideo Cruz can only be punished through opinion because it was not in his intention to harm the Catholic beliefs of other people. For him, this was art at his own interpretation. However, not everybody agreed that this was proper which led to his reprobation. Overall, I believe when Mill stated that if people want to impose their morality, they must be willing to accept the imposition by others. It is wrong for people to extend their ‘moral police’ unjustly. Hence it was right for the collection to be removed based on the repercussions it gave the people that believe it offended their faith but it would be wrong to impose on the artist that his action was wrong because that would be a suppression of opinion which Mill regarded as illegitimate.


– Jeremiah N. Banzon



3 thoughts on “Does One’s Opinion Really Make a Difference?

  1. Well, as for myself, this is yet another situation wherein there is the clash of “the absolute” and “the relative”. Simply put, is there the right answer, or is it the case that there is a right answer with respect to a certain standard that formulates what to be “right” entails. Put another way, up to what extent can an individual/institution put forth his/her/its notions on what ought to be— which is, in essence, an opinion— as a universal truth until he/she/it has to respect the other, more often than not contradicting, notions as well as all their validities that are held by other individuals/institutions?

    This question doesn’t only have philosophical and moral underpinnings— those aspects are very apparent in the block of exposition above.

    There is the political aspect to it, for one can reason this way: the more persuasive and influential is the opinion, the more persuasive and influence is the one that formulated it. Politicians live and die by their opinion; in fact, everybody does. Just spout an opinion not-so-appealing to the society you’re part of, and you may face alienation therein.

    There too is the economic aspect. Well I’ll be: an economic interpretation— how nice! Think of it as a “monopoly of opinions”. Linked with the political characteristic, those with such monopoly in views get to call the shots— the policies— and they can get other people to act the way they see fit. It’s no wonder why we have institutions that state claim to such control on the onset, as they formulate their doctrines. Take the classic Papal Infallibility. Now I’ll leave the readers to extrapolate on that point.

    In any case, the issue of Mideo Cruz’s gallery can be fought on many fields of battle. What’s more, these battlefields can be further molded, quarried, and shaped in any way their participants see fit. To confound the point further, the differences in style and approach each participant may bring to bear as he/she rides to battle is as uncountable as the sand in the Gobi Desert, as unpredictable as quantum physics. In another words, it’s a very difficult issue to judge.

  2. I am a Catholic and I do not approve of this exhibit but a point of contention would be to question whether freedom of expression can be counted as blasphemy. I would never think of doing what Mideo Cruz did, however, is it still freedom of expression when it offends many poeple. Normally, the answer would be yes. But in the case of religion which stirs emotion in so many people especially in the Philippines- freedom of expression can be limited

  3. I feel the one at biggest fault here is the Cultural Center of the Philippines. They should not have given such a big platform to such a controversial art form in our country. Philippine society is not secular enough to accept such forms of art to be displayed in a place like CCP. The artist should also give more effort to protect himself, if he would display his works to the public he should try to understand what the public generally is. I believe in some ways there are lot of fundamentalists here in our country and although extremist activities are not widespread extra care must be given not to anger a still incredibly powerful church. Being an artist I am sure he can think of more subtle methods or more covert avenues to express his art. I still hope that one day our society would become more secular and art forms like these would be given more freedom and space for public display.

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