‘Citizen’ - a bitter reminder of Merdeka
“When everything gets answered, it's fake.”
― Sean Penn
COMMENT | Did filmmakers Pete Teo and Liew Seng Tat make the ultimate downer Merdeka movie? In other words, did they make a Merdeka film worth watching instead of the pablum that passes as art in the alternative and mainstream scene here in Malaysia?
Unlike most other folks, I really did not enjoy the late Yasmin Ahmad’s oeuvre that defined the mainstream definition of what it means to be Malaysian and by that, I mean the propaganda of the 1Malaysia and Bangsa Malaysia kool-aid that mainstream politics assures is what Malaysia is all about.
When we talk about films and themes like these, we are talking about a specific demographic. We are not talking about the rural communities who have no idea that the 1Malaysia and Bangsa Malaysia canards exist. To them, what Malaysia's urban electorate are fighting for is a foreign country.
Pete Teo may have said the six-minute film is about hope but you do not really get much hope in this short mediation about futility. My reading of the film is a little different. The discussion between the ‘politician’ and the ‘citizen’ in this short film is not really about how politics have failed the people but rather how people have failed politics.
When the politician makes himself at home by making a cup of coffee, he is bewildered that the citizen asks why he would do such a thing. The answer is simple. For decades, a majority of Malaysian citizens voted in corrupt officials without ever thinking of how their votes were destroying the country. In other words, we made these politicians feel at home. We made them feel that their corruption, racism, venality, but most importantly their arrogance, were welcomed in our homes.
When the politician speaks of his dreams for Malaysia, that is total horse manure. Politicians do not dream of a better anything. What they dream of is power. How to get it, but more importantly, sustain it. Citizens are supposed to be the gatekeepers to that power. Citizens are supposed to be the ultimate check and balance to the dreams of power of these politicians, and if we continue failing as a democracy it is because we do not take our jobs as gatekeepers seriously.
Citizens are the ones whose dreams matter. Their dreams matter because they define their waking reality. If citizens are deceitful in their dreams, they will continue voting in politicians who sustain those dreams. If they do not really believe in equality, they will most likely vote for politicians who pay lip service to such ideals. If they do not believe in anything - and by this, I mean willing to risks everything for those beliefs - they will enable politicians who tell them that partisan victory is the panacea for all that ails this country.
When the citizen gripes about corruption and racism, it is like the tantrums of a child unwilling to accept responsibility for his or her actions and blaming authority figures for all that it wrong. Typically, in this type of mindset, it is the authority figure that could have done better. That could have changed something. That could have lived up to expectations. The child/citizen merely makes demands but has no real idea of what it takes to fulfil these demands.
Give us a better country. Give us a system free of racism. Give us system free of corruption. Give us all of this and all we will do is vote for you. So, politicians say those things. They say they will give us a better country. They say they will give us a system free of racism. They will give us everything we claim to want. And in the end, they know that their lies serve our apathy.
Quest for change
Think about it this for a moment. Forget that it is an MCA personality (Liow Tiong Lai) that is giving the “I had a dream” speech. Does his speech sound more like what opposition politicians tell us they dream of in their quest to change Malaysia? Does not this sound like the dream stuff that fuels opposition dogma?
What if this encounter between the politician and the citizen is actually a future encounter between a citizen who voted for change and the politician who he entrusted to make that change? What if all this talk of racism and corruption is actually the dashed dreams of people who voted for an alliance that was extremely like the alliance citizens voted out years before?
What if the politician’s excuses were something that we have heard before because the former establishment politicians that were voted out had made the same excuses? What if the citizen hurling the sweets at the politician is a rejection of sugar-coated political placebos that he had swallowed when casting his vote thinking he was voting for medicine that would change this country?
Remember when I told you to disregard the fact that the politician was played by a MCA operative. Well, do not. Maybe that is the point. Maybe the point is that beneath the progressive masks, the real visage of politics remains the same. The MCA did not start out as “running dogs” to the establishment, they evolved into that role.
Maybe that is the warning. That if left unchecked, that if not sustained by principles demanded by their supporters, non-Malay political power structures will evolve into MCA or MIC or any other race-based power structures that define mainstream Malaysian politics.
And if people take exception to my reading of the film and my obsession with race-based politics, this film in Pete Teo’s words was about the "fear, anger and helplessness especially in the non-Malay communities right now”.
The problem is, of course, nobody wants to change the paradigm of race-based politics but that is the topic for another film.
Hope you are having an enjoyable Merdeka.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.