It’s been ages since I felt moved to write a letter to The Editor. The urge to air my views in print has been building up since the Nude Squat furore erupted (seems like the only “legitimate” way you can see people naked is to arrest them first). City Hall’s declared intention to penalize folks caught smooching or even holding hands in public was irksome news to me (some of my fondest memories involve exactly that). But the final straw was the email I received announcing that free screenings of international films organised by Kaki Kino at FINAS have been suspended till further notice, after a shrill complaint about uncensored “babak lucah” (nude scenes) appeared in a leading Malay daily.
Now imagine a fast-motion sequence showing Tokyo commuters at rush hour – all respectably dressed in office apparel and suffering from gastritis. Or a slow-motion montage of KL traffic after a heavy afternoon downpour. Cut to the gory aftermath of a car bomb attack in Baghdad and then crossfade to a wide-angle closeup of an American-made Israeli bulldozer, demolishing a Palestinian neighborhood, as terrified women clutch babies to their hearts and wail in despair. Hellish scenes, for sure – but they would get past the censors, no problem.
Why is this so? Are we being indoctrinated to perceive pain as okay and pleasure as not? Is it any wonder that crime reports are getting more gruesome by the day? Maybe it’s time to reassess what sort of messages we’re being programmed with.
We live in the hot and humid tropics. The sort of place where clothing is merely a fashionable option. You won’t find too many nudist colonies in Alaska or Tibet. Arab women have traditionally had to cover up to protect themselves from desert sandstorms, camel farts (possibly radioactive since Gulf Wars I and II) and temperature extremes. Were it not for fear of their control-freak husbands, don’t you think they would celebrate being in their own skins if they were magically transported to a balmy beach in the South Seas? Talk about “inappropriate attire”... being wrapped in thick cloth from head to toe on a sweltering day in the city sounds like a portable sauna to me. But to each his or her own - I’m happy in my sarong and flip-flops.
Immaturity has its place, I grant that. However, let it not be exalted as the arbiter of our behavior and our moral code. There’s no immorality in portraying the human form in various stages of dress or undress in the adult cinema. What’s truly immoral is imposing on others our own limitations and limiting beliefs. Do we really value the grotesque hypocrisy censorship encourages? Are we to blinker our cinematic vision (like the proverbial katak under a tempurung) in a knee-jerk reaction to the poisonous outpourings of a pusillanimous prude?
Kuala Kubu Bharu
27 April 2006
[First published 12 January 2007, reposted 1 July 2012]
Excerpt from an open letter to Akmal Abdullah, deputy editor of Berita Harian (published 1 August 2006)
Please heed these words if you'd rather be greeted by decent folk with a pat on the back instead of a kick in the butt.