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Thursday, May 11, 2006

71] Old and Modern Ganja

Old and modern 'ganja'
Azly Rahman
May 8, 06 3:48pm


A reader recently wrote an interesting letter apologizing the bourgeoisie-ness of Mak Yong.

I read with concern H Muhammad’s discovery of humor in my writing on the Mak Yong, concerned because of the level of comprehension of the foundational ideas behind my analysis of the decadent art form.

Serious readers with enough knowledge in cultural theory would find my piece dead serious. Had the reader been introduced to the work of cultural critics such as Raymond Williams, Max Horkheimer, and Theodore Adorno he would not have found it ‘humorous’. There is a deep seriousness in the nature of art form that continue to mesmerise and ganja-ize the masses with the idea of the supernatural. The writer I assume marvel and find it deeply profound that Malay politicians seek the help of bomohs in maintaining their statuses or even winning elections, without realising that the real power lies within oneself.

What the writer did was, as I suspect, to internalise the argument in my article and use the flow to counter-critique unsuccessfully. I sense that throughout the letter, the discourse seem to suggest an imitation of my original discourse on mind control. Of concern is a question of originality. But let me highlight a more serious flaw in the reasoning of such apologists of lowbrow cultural production.

"Culture is dynamic"

Culture is not static. If it serves the ideology of decadence, it needs to be first deconstructed and next, reconstructed. There is danger in perpetuating a genre that is useless to the development of imaginative faculties of the masses. Let me quote a very recent example. The movie Gubra is a good example of a filmmaker’s inability to understand the difference between highbrow art that celebrates virtue and lowbrow art that glorifies moral vandalism.

The producer is the author of things. Whatever that is authored comes from the consciousness that produces it. Consciousness is shapde by the economic condition and serves the dominant classes. In this sense, junk movies and cultural performances will sell well if the economic condition is ripe and is controlled by political forces that sanction the flourishing of decadence. Mak Yong, Tarian Kuda Kepang, postmodern movies that mock religion, music that are inspired by devil worship, and reinterpretations of religious doctrines that denigrate the message of the Prophet and great sages – all these are product of creative minds that do not have a strong moral upbringing. In fact, the proliferation of different variations of 'pulp fiction' including movie versions type of tabloid is good for quick profits but bad for sustained ethical productivity.

"Culture of the lazy thinkers?"

Mak Yong, Black/Death Metal Music, and Gubra-type movies are cultural forms not meant for the thinking person. They are an adulteration and bastardization of their respective genre of artistic production produced to further subjugate the already economically depressed minds. The human mind needs newer forms of entertainment – ones that are not cluttered by postmodern mumbo jumbo or supposedly 'fresh new' interpretations of issues.

If a movie such as 'Gubra' is merely a feature presentation of 'product placements' in the form of 'ideologies' such as 'radical and confusing versions of feminism' and a platform to promote this or that 'feminist or male chauvinist or sexist or racist” groups, then the movie maker or the storyteller is a transparent coloniser. One can see this technique of product/ideology-placement in cheaply produced Hollywood movies such as Back to the Future or George of the Jungle or even in the earliest Tarzan movies. In the case of the Mak Yong, one need not be nostalgic if the intention of 'withering it' by 'culturally revolting against it' will do more mental good than preserving it.

The apologist’s argument that Mak Yong is to be preserved for generations to come is like saying that art forms that will bring money to the state and please the tourists, although decadent-producing, must be preserved at all costs. Of course, this is a similar argument mounted for the production of Bangsar-type movies such as Gubra that will certainly make money if enough hype is created. This is the Hollywood formula.

Culture, broadly speaking has its enabling and disabling tendencies. We need to find the most progressive forms and not have the fear of creating newer and more ethical versions.

As to the question of for who does Azly Rahman serve, it is best to leave it to the imagination of the humorous mind.

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