TV SMITH's Dua Sen: Off-Course Discourse
TV Smith's Dua Sen
TV Smith's Dua Sen. The politically incorrect irregular columnist combines his idiosyncratic observations and tangential commentary into a blog...


by TV Smith

I attended a public forum entitled Panic Buttons at the Actors Studio today. The blurb on the invite was quite enticing:

A range of cultural and social "conflicts' have emerged in Malaysia. While many of these "skirmishes" involving censoring and censorship have been in the field of the arts and culture, others have involved issues of law, human rights and the Constitution.

Are these separate events connected and do they, as some suggested, signal a deeper crisis? Or do the challenges to the dominant narratives of national identity and to hitherto 'accepted' forms of governance (such as authoritarian paternalism and moral policing) signal a maturing public eager to reclaim their sovereignty?

The forum started off with noble intentions but soon descended into a direction-less group rant. Understandably, no one wanted to point any accusatory fingers. However, there was a suggestion that the mainstream media is partly responsible for the current state of affairs.

Ironically, Jacqueline Ann Surin (in the mainstream The Sun) addressed the 'crisis' more succinctly in her recent open letter to the PM. Her one-page letter did what seven learned panelists could not do in four hours (with expensive parking).

One of the panelists tried expounding the shifting definition of public. Who is the public in this context? Are they the outraged liberals with vested interests, the self-proclaimed moralists who write protest letters to newspapers or people who are simply unconcerned with their eroding rights?

Unfortunately, the remaining panelists went off-tangent, with rhetoric either too academic or abstract. While some of the individual anecdotes were interesting, the main issue was never really addressed satisfactorily.

Like many such platforms (blogs included), the preachers are again preaching to the converted. Half the people who showed up were the people directly involved in the preceding private roundtable. The rest were mainly activists, academicians and their students. Notable attendees on the floor include thespian Jo Kukatas, dancer Ramli Ibrahim and artist Sharon Chin.

Someone pointed out that the local arts community is fragmented and not as supportive of one another. He cited the example of filmmaker Amir Muhammad selling tee-shirts outside, all by himself. None of his fellow filmmakers were there to support him.

Heck, the arts practitioners don't even support discussions on issues that affect them directly. Many of the invited did not turn up. If those forum-crashing thugs were to barge in, they'll slap themselves silly.

Maybe in reality, it's seldom about altruism or free expression. It's usually about personal crusades or money. One will only protest vehemently when one's own play, book or film gets banned.

While I commend the organisers and panelists for their timely effort, I left with another sense of deja vu. When the arts community ejaculates, the jizz is never sticky. None of it will stick on the public, whatever its definition.

© 2006 TV SMITH
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