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
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
© 2006 TV SMITH
Link to this article: http://www.tvsmith.net.my/duasen/110606_discourse.html