Who does Mak Yong serve?
Apr 10, 06 12:10pm
I have always wondered why the traditional highbrow art form called Mak Yong was banned in the Islamic state of Kelantan. I have also asked this: who do the court dances or tarian istana serve? The dichotomy is obvious: the dancers dance and the king and the queen get entertained. There is a class relationship forged, harmoniously.
But there is a deep structure of inert insensibility, imprisonment, and inequality underneath - one that characterises the world of the dominator and the dominated, of the powerful and the powerless. Beneath this lies the structural violence to be preserved. It is about power, knowledge, and ideology. There is a class and caste dichotomy at play. The one seated owns the means of intellectual, cultural, and economic production the one serenading are the cultural workers enslaved by the system build as a ‘culture’. The one performing the act is preserving this complex structure of domination.
I had one vivid cultural experience.
Growing up as a child in Johor Bahru I was always mesmerised by the kuda kepang dance and marvelled at the fact that, through dance and mantras, thinking and feeling human beings can evolve into horses. I actually saw the dancer, in trance, fed with what looked like flower petals-salad for Malaysian horses, perhaps. The enslaved mind is the one of the kuda kepang dancer, the owner of the enslaved mind is the guru/bomoh/shaman who owns the mantra (know-how) of domination. The pieces of flower petals become the opium.
Now that I am deeply involved in the study and the teaching of some aspects of the theories of mind control, state-inspired totalitarianism, and structures of hegemony, I think I have some answers to the question I posed on the Mak Yong. My search for answers on Mak Yong and the tarian istana brought me to the terrains of post-structuralist theories of language and symbolic power and the role of art in the development or retardation of human consciousness.
Whether one watches Mak Yong, Mawi (photo) or M Daud Kilau, or listens to Led Zeppelin or Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the impact of mental colonisation can be explained. What is the perfect state of human liberation? How must one walk as a free person individually and culturally? How do cultures control those enculturalised? Through what means are the human mind controlled? Who does ‘cultural transmission’ serve?
"Culture of mind control"
The cybernetics and poetics of mind control is not difficult to understand. Research findings in the neurolinguistic programming aspect of brain functioning tell us how the human mind can be conditioned to alter perception. This is done through the process of numbing of the senses and by the manipulating the alpha-beta-delta-theta waves. This process contributes to the setting the stage for the production of the conditions of mental domination.
Step outside of ourselves. Watch a 30-second television commercial and observe how we get gladly glued to the mind-controlling machine and analyse how much the brain cells get excited and bombarded by the split-second messages and images. These images will be imprinted into the consciousness that will help the mind become conditioned to be reconfigured to suit the needs of those who attempt to dominate.
Look at the advertising billboards around us - on our streets and in the physical and mental landscapes of the world surrounding us. Why are they there? What and who do they glorify? What impact on the human consciousness are the producers of these images trying to create? Elements of culture are like synapses that bind the message linking the producer and the consumer. One becomes addicted to the junk produced on Malaysian television, be they entertainment, infotainment, talk shows, or cleverly biased documentaries.
Cultural artifacts are the markers of identification that demarcates the classes of people. They become manifestations of the structure of economic dominance created in society. They amplify the idea of feudalism. The ancient feudal state continues to be transformed into the modern state and next into the post-industrial neo-colonialist state that witness the collaboration between state and international actors conveniently called ‘glocalists’ (global-local entrepreneurial matrix).
"High culture and hegemony"
Mak Yong mesmerises the masses into thinking that this is the reality of culture of their spiritual lives they are constructed by. It is entertainment for the masses, like wayang kulit or the plays based on the Ramayana and Mahabharatha, that has been enculturalised and Malayanised as medium of spreading the ‘propaganda’ of those who owns the means of producing propaganda.
In Southeast Asia, we see for example, the enculturalisation of the Ramayana - in the shadow and non-shadow puppet plays of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Kampuchea. They preserve the cultural tradition of the epic, preserving the cultural contradiction built into the complex matrix of supernatural-ideological informational code of cultural continuity. In other words, they preserve the life-force of mental domination.
Propaganda is produced by institutions build to create what the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci called "hegemony" or the intellectual leadership that makes cultural and class oppression seems natural and pleasurable Those who owns the means to mentally oppress will produced modern versions of artifacts of high culture in the form of the "preservation of tradition", without realising that it is this transformation of ancient fetishism into post-modern fetishism that facilitates the imprisonment of the docile mind of the masses and makes them happily indoctrinated into the ideology of submission.
Aristotle banished the poets. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) warned against the hegemony produced by the poets. Mao ZeDong created a counter-revolutionary plan of action to educate the masses of the continuing dangers of sublime influence of counter-revolutionary movement in the form of ancient Chinese culture that particularly glorifies Confucianism and promotes filial piety. One needs to read the work of French existentialists and the debates of the function of art to understand the nature of cultural domination and how they create the ‘authoritarian self’.
Our nation needs such a debate.
"Cultural revolution needed"
Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator writes about "cultural action for freedom" and to ask people to think of how language structures our reality and creates the structure of domination. Education for critical consciousness is needed. We need to teach people how culture is produced and how artifacts, rituals, and reproduction of these imprison or liberate the human mind. We need to deconstruct the inner working of the minds of those in ‘state-sponsored cultural institutions’ that continue to push ‘preferred cultural ideologies’ onto the masses so that the latter will continue to support institutions and maintain hegemony, power, ideology and control in the subtlest of all ways.
In this age of Malaysian mentally-damaging reality television shows, we need to teach our children how the broadcast and digital revolution has helped speed up the process of transmission of ‘decadent cultures’ that ‘numbs the human mind’ so that the children of this generation will not be able to critically reflect upon the forces that are carpet-bombing their senses.
Today's television is pervasive in the way it colonises the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi and the mind of any nation. One can see for example in the way old Malay movies are produced; how myths are turned into award-seeking motion pictures.
The character of the unthinking and unethical feudal slave-warrior Hang Tuah is now played by pan-Asian looking actors that "mystify and mask" the mentally-paralysing feudal culture and produce yet another artifactual-cultural-dynamics trajectoried in the age of digital broadcast - all with the intention of transforming mental colonisation into its highest art-nouveau-est form. This is a complex phenomena of what perhaps cultural critic Walter Benjamin would call, culture of domination in the "age of mechanical reproduction".
It is an absurd situation but can be explained to the masses in simple terms - that propagandists of high culture conspire to reproduce domination so that the docile mind will continue to be docile and will fail to reflect upon the crisis of the subject and the object inherent in the field/habitus of cultural contradiction. A docile mind is also good for the state and modern Malaysian media corporation to funnel useless information.
Culture is never static. A dynamic culture is one that is always undergoing evolution or even revolution. Must we remain in the superstitious and violent-subconscious realm when our mind needs to be freed to evolve into the greater Spiritual Heights - beyond those of the libidinal and cerebral.
Cultural preservers of Malaysia I ask you this: Who does Mak Yong and all forms of tarian istana really serve? Must we let these genre survive?