Friday, October 5, 2018

DING DONG THE WICKED WITCH IS DEAD!


That’s what the Munchkins gleefully sang in the wee hours of May 10th, when it became apparent that Barisan Nasional had finally been voted out after 61 years. As we celebrate Merdeka three months and three weeks from the epic and euphoric Great Reset of 2018, let’s grab a drone’s eyeview of what grand promise regime change may hold for the nation in general and the Arts in particular.

For a start the fraudulent toad of financial excess has been forced from its comfort zone - the odious tempurung of identity politics, founded on false notions of tribal supremacy and monoculturalism. Bare their reactionary fangs and beat their atavistic breasts all they will, they can’t turn back the quantum wave of evolutionary change that swept them off the ramparts of their crumbling fortress. The sheer energy and exuberance of millennials who proudly posted pics of blackened fingers on election day, combined with the tenacity and passion of elders who never lost their youthful idealism, will ensure that things will generally improve rather than worsen (although not as swiftly we’d like).

Now, the essential difference between practitioners of Commerce and the Arts is that while the unrepentant entrepreneur compulsively seeks to privatize what’s public (for instance, fencing up a forest, installing a turnstile, and selling tickets to the waterfall), the true artist feels obliged to transmute private experiences and insights into public displays or performances (turning a painful romantic breakup into a catchy folk ballad, or some childhood nightmare into a blockbuster horror movie).

The sneaky and destructive urge to exploit, control, anesthetize and enslave is shared by the bureaucrat, corporatocrat, technocrat, aristocrat and plutocrat; while the inherently creative artistic impulse seeks to excite, awaken, enlighten and liberate. We can gauge the maturity, sanity, vitality and wisdom of a nation by the value it places on the future-shaping dynamic of cultural and spiritual ferment generated by its arts practitioners and sociocultural visionaries.

As a rejuvenated nation (and who doesn’t feel young seeing an acerbic but grandfatherly nonagenarian reinstated as prime minister?) celebrating its hard-won freedom from the mental shackles of a murky feudal past, Malaysia would do well to encourage and nurture creativity and innovation in all its diverse forms - even if fresh ideas and a revitalized national narrative may horrify a few stick-in-the-mud Keepers of Outmoded Tradition.


Only an inept and timid fool would drive into an unknown future with eyes glued to the rearview mirror of a dysfunctional past. So let’s look forward in confidence, calm and clearheaded, and trust in the innate decency, creativity, resourcefulness and wisdom of all Malaysians.

Failure to seize the moment and ride the momentum of metamorphosis will lead to cultural paralysis, intellectual stagnation and political disintegration. If we wish to witness a reverse brain-drain and a resurgence of true patriotism expressed creatively, then we would do well to embrace the enthusiasm, optimism and positivity of a Dorothy Gale, whose close encounter with the dreaded Wizard of Oz ends happily with his being exposed as merely a bogus god, fearfully hiding behind expensive machinery and massive propaganda.

[Originally published in The Edge Merdeka Supplement, 31 August 2018]


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