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‘Badut’ and ‘dedak’ - satires laugh at us laughing at our national buffoons

Tan Zi Hao

Published
Modified 26 Dec 2016, 3:46 pm

COMMENT As keywords such as ‘badut’ and ‘dedak’ enter into our political vocabularies, we are driven into an age of satirism. Political satire is not a novelty. So too are the descriptors ‘badut’ and ‘dedak’. What is new, however, is their increasing relevance and their explanatory power on the present political fiasco.

With the recent crackdowns on graphic artist Fahmi Reza and cartoonist Zunar, satire has become more vibrant and alive. Any attempt at suppressing political satires often fuels more sarcasm. The defensiveness of satirism is its best offence - the more oppressive the government, the more relevant the satires. And of late we have welcomed both Fahmi’s and Zunar’s caricatures with rejoicing.

But our optimism seems to come a little too quickly. We have omitted the radicalism intrinsic to satirism. Surely, if taken at face value, political satires are ‘weapons’ against an obvious enemy. But the targeted assault of satirism should extend beyond the usual suspect. Political satires are a double-edged sword. Like a cunning mirror, satires laugh at us laughing at our national buffoons. We laughers are the ‘collateral damage’.

There is a kind of reflexivity in satirism that makes political caricatures truly radical. That our sardonic laughter is only self-deprecating and bittersweet at best, if not a sigh of temporary relief against a dismal future, should reflect the sense of irony that underpins satirism.

If Najib Abdul Razak’s administration is responsible for launching us into the age of satirism, it is we, the laughers, who crowned and clowned him. It is convenient to appreciate the various sarcastic renditions of Najib as signs of mischief hostile against him, but satires leave no one untouched. Satires know no friends.

Satires decry the rulers as much as they mock the readers. We are not the only one laughing. The persistently slick smiles of Fahmi’s clowned Najibs and Zunar’s beaked Donald Dedaks are telling. These bastardised Najibs are still smiling because they are unwreckable. With cunning grins on each of his faces, our cynical laughter serves only to buttress his staying power as we ignore our own ignorance.

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