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Sunday, July 31, 2022

With bans and shutdowns, best to stare at a brick wall

 


The other day I went to look at a wall. Indeed, I paid good money for the privilege of staring at nothing for one and a half hours.

The one and a half hours is roughly the duration of time I might have spent at a comedy club, indie rock gig, cultural event or cinema hall.

Needless to say, such options have been increasingly clamped down upon as your beloved Ismail Sabri Yaakob regime moves with aplomb to crack down on comedy, toughen up on Thor and raze rock venues.

The fact that the backward Taliban lovers of PAS are part of this coterie is doubtless an accelerating factor, but we are clearly paying the price of allowing the corrupt, racist and stupid to set the pace and tone for this country’s future development. Or lack thereof.

If it sounds like I am being melodramatic, just take a close look around you. The great Malaysian diversity of voice is being killed off on so many fronts in so many ways.

When I was a kid living in Cold War-era Europe, I learned to embrace the idea that figureheads of politics, royalty and religion should be treated as fallible human beings. The alternative is allowing them a free hand to dictate our lives.

Now we have never had that level of openness here, but it’s getting from bad to worse as mindless right-wing propaganda and half-baked religious fantasies appear to be the way forward for young Malaysians.

Bon Odori, Oktoberfest, Thor: Love And Thunder, Crackhouse Comedy, Fahmi Reza, Turun, etc. There is a wide range of things that we can’t do because some simple-minded people want to defend their narrow interpretation of the way life should be lived… at our expense.

Amazingly the censors and police never seem to clamp down on the hate speech of the Mahathirs and Hadi Awangs of this country, allowing them free reign to pit Malaysians against each other on the basis of race and religion.

The truth is that a developed and sophisticated society needs satire, criticism, creative expression, and open questioning. We have nothing of the sort. What we have is this conservative paternalistic attitude from our leaders who seem determined to keep us stupid and unquestioning.

As someone who was raised Christian, I found the philosophical questions of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and the Monty Python satire Life of Brian to be absolutely stimulating philosophically.

We need to be able to ask the right questions to find answers.

The alternative is listening like some automaton to a charlatan telling you he knows exactly what the afterlife is like and asking for money and membership for his cult.

The silly thing is that most of the censorship doesn’t even make sense, considering what sort of material is easily available on the internet.

Reinventing the music scene

On a personal level, I feel really frustrated for those musicians who want to create but can barely get a venue to play it. The simple truth is that indie music venues are not money spinners because the audiences are not loaded.

Thus they cannot afford the proper entertainment licenses and/or the regular kopi money that is part of the rotten system.

Recently we lost indie venue Angkasa and the comedy platform Crackhouse, while Merdekarya had its own share of problems.

The thing is that with the post-lockdown situation, clubs hosting live music have an opportunity to reinvent the scene and move beyond the tedious model where music acts merely regurgitate top 40 numbers of today and yesteryear.

Our musicians are currently constrained as there are few venues for them and the revenue model for recording original music is piss poor, if you pardon my language.

However, to encourage creativity and to get fresh audiences in, venues should consider allocating a night a week to local bands performing largely original material. This is something that should be backed by authorities who recognise the importance of art instead of being suppressed by the close-minded attitude.

Last month, I sat through the Jit Murad vehicle Spilt Gravy and Rice – itself a movie that spent 10 years in the vaults due to various censorship issues.

I also played and attended various rock shows at packed venues, indicating that there is an audience that is willing to pay for entry tickets as well as order food and drinks on the night.

If anything, Malaysians are starved for entertainment and free expression, which is a real shame given how much talent there is out there.

In the meantime, I’ll just go and stare at the wall. - Mkini


Martin Vengadesan is an associate editor at Malaysiakini.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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