One Extraordinary Asian Spectacle for Sale! – Part I

February 25, 2009


[Before we begin, please take some time to check out the new Brotherhood Press portal in I know many of you have heard many negative things about Wayang, but I say, you owe it to yourself to find out first hand by yourself   – this new portal will go a very long way to enhance your accessibility as we now have  Ekunaba; PBK along with SLF1 to SLF2 – check it out!)

Recently when Channel Neuter Asia, celebrated its 10th anniversary year, Mr Lee floated the idea there is a need for a channel which is not wearing what he termed “Western spectacles”.

He went on to add, in this new landscape of news; there was scope for reportage from the perspective of the Asian eye. One which hopefully would not promote ideology or a doctrine, but just present the facts.

Well, I guess if you gut out the gobble-d-guk, what LHL is trying to say is: the western press simply isn’t willing to play ball with the government of the day; they are really a loose canon – that’s to say they have a habit of calling a spade a spade (I wonder why duh!) and that fear is perfectly understandable when you consider how things haven’t really been going that well for us – with many of our great plans giving way like the river to the sea – the Byzantine losses incurred by both Temasek and GIC recently – along with ricketty idea of the 1st division dream team – all these dissonances can only continue to get the electron microscope treatment; so I guess one way of countering the influence of the western press is to create an alternate universe of “news.” Yes, throw out the rule book and write a new one – from where I am standing; that’s really how I see it (but please prove me wrong, if you dare).

Now as some of you may already know; I am not a very big fan of cultural hyperbole and it doesn’t really matter whether its from the East, West or the planet of the Apes – and one reason why I think that’s a bankrupt strategy is because it’s so pastry light; it doesn’t  even have the resilience to stand up to a decent kung fu panda kick.

For example if you begin to pick at lets say any homegrown icon like (e.g Peranakan values = where it seems their only preoccupation in of a Nyonya is torture chamber maid no end) our much vaunted Asian values – and begin to peel away the layers of embellishment; what you’ve eventually discover is the whole idea is really predicated on a myth rather than anything resembling anecdotal truth.

Having said, that I don’t discount – the fuzzy idea of Asian values is still very much the preferred crowbar for politicians whenever they run out of bullet points; only lets be clear; it’s never because Asian values or heritage is reliable purveyor of solid reasons to do or not to do something, but rather it’s the direct opposite: bias is the very point of heritage – and there lies the danger when the idea of Asian as an idea or construct is juxtaposed against the broader canvass of what we normally term as news.

And let me tell you another thing: why when you combine heritage in the form of Asian, Persian or Planet of Apes values into something as malleable as news – then you will never be able to get an open inquiry and even less of a comprehensive truth that may even keep scrupulously close to the anecdotal evidence – since the idea of Asian is essentially a term that invokes heritage – and heritage excels on bending, exaggerating, inventing and embellish the whole idea of the truth –what sort of news do you think you are going to get – a la rojak lah or maybe primadelli chocolate kanasai cake variety?

The other bunfight that bothers me about mixing heritage with news is unlike history, heritage is never open to critical challenge – as it doesn’t seek to compromise as much as assert its raison detre  – its very much the stuff that belongs to that grey area of faith, hijab, taking off your shoes before you enter, eating rice with your hand that you dont wipe your ass with yada yada yada yada yada yada lah/ You get my point lah – if you really want real news – then the last thing you want to do is go down that road of this cannot think – that cannot say – because it is patang or soey – no thank you .

And this should prompt us all to consider whether it’s such a good idea to combine the two – as even the timing may all be wrong –  at a time when the world is besieged by conflict, enmities, and recently loss of faith in so many of cultural set pieces, like wall street, government and corporate leaders – the whole idea of combining news with heritage /  doesn’t open up our minds to solicit deeper understanding – as much as it narrows our already myopic vision further by focusing on homily sugary hear only the good news stuff – as I said when you begin to peel off the lid on something like Asian values; that’s all it really is – bottled air – it’s a cloud; not unless you want to be served up with soundbites and doggy sized vignettes instead of whole disquisitions that may be able to provide an intelligent explanation for the before, during and after (like how did Temasek lose so much money – come on down here and debate with me – I will put you in a nice citrus smelling pine box – unfortunately, I dont know, as it was really like Haley’s comet when it was featured in our beloved rag)

I am not saying for one moment heritage doesn’t have the capacity to work it’s spell; it does; only what we need to be mindful of here is it leverages specifically on our emotional strengths and weaknesses. No doubt that’s a good thing sometimes (why do you think,  I invoke it at the end of every month when I run out of money and need my woman to pay the bills), without it countries cannot win wars; they would have the moral stamina to see the through the tough; governments will capitulate and anarchy will rein unbridled. Only what we need to be mindful of is when we talk about heritage; its not eu de cologne as it’s very much parfum – a little goes a long way; and if tipped over the scales – heritage has every capacity be oppressive, decadent and sclerotic – trapping us all in obsolete attitudes and promoting xenophobia and blind nationalism – and the danger is amplified considerably when its combined with such a capricious thing as news.

Besides the whole idea of Asian values and the logical extension of Asian news – is hardly a settled matter – historical observation may suggest even something as ram rod no nonsense as Asian values may in fact have more to do with fairytales and even less to do with listening to our elders; personal sacrifice and towing the line obediently – all too often when comparatives are made between the decadent West and Asia – the Asian values bullocart is often rolled out to account for our moral rectitude along with probably our iron willed work ethic to why Asians can survive on a diet of insects and twigs – and usually the song and dance is cued to suggest; if good triumphs over evil; good prevailed over bad by the narrowness of margins and this could only be purchased with endless self sacrifice to freedom, democracy and free speech – all these were placed before the altar of necessity to deliver us the good life – here what you may need to ask yourself is whether this simplistic account of to get the good life – you need to stop sticking out like a nail is such a good idea – dont get me wrong; I am a willing tax payer; only why should I give any governments the card blanche to do anything they want in return for the good life? I will not and its really as simple as that. Again its something to consider. 

And this leads me to the kicker – history may even suggest our understanding of Asian values – as a body of knowledge – or school of thought – may actually have nothing to do with how it’s commonly sold and marketed by politicians ; during the dark ages for example when Europeans were busy chasing vampires around country sides to stake them and burning heretics; Emperor Akhbar Khan had enacted the most comprehensive laws guaranteeing freedom of worship along with creating a haven where intellectuals of every genre were encourage to revivify the arts and sciences – bottom line: truth reveals real Asian values has nothing to do with blind sacrifice – blind obedience – or valuing the idea of the community in such a way where none of us may be willing to rock the boat. If anything it illustrates that we should continue to go and question boldly and confidently.

And that’s what I am doing now. You chew on that for the time being (to be con’t)

Darkness 2009 – The brotherhood Press 2009

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