Wednesday, 7 March 2012

It boils down to discernment

Brave New World (The Star)
7 March 2012

In a way, film and film appreciation is a reflection of real life, with the world becoming more and more enamoured by the flashy surface at the cost of any real substance.


THE Artist won best film at the Academy Awards recently. I haven’t seen it because it has not come to our cinemas, but I have been told that it was a clever idea and little more.
A film in black and white and totally silent, like the days of Harold Lloyd, is indeed novel, but apparently there is little else.
I won’t say anything about it because I have not seen it. But I find the Oscars to be farcical anyway. It has little to do with my life as it is, but it is usually quite a fun little distraction when it does happen.
This rather neutral feeling I had towards the whole thing changed many years ago when Titanic won the best picture award, beating LA Confidential. The gritty and complex story about corrupt cops in Los Angeles, set in the 40s was, to me, utterly brilliant.
It was beautifully shot in a distinctively noir style, had a plot which twisted and turned, amazing characters played brilliantly, and yet it lost. And lost to what? A mushy pile of steaming sentimentality.
James Cameron sure knows how to handle slam bang special effects, but apart from Terminator, Aliens and arguably T2, that’s all he is good for.
Titanic was filled with dreadful lines uttered in the most cliched manner. It was filled with moments of cringingly bad stereotypes and ended in the most ludicrous fashion.
I mean, I know the heroine was quite a big girl, but come on, there was plenty of room on that chunk of wood she was floating on.
It was as if the Academy was populated by 12-year-old girls.
I suppose it is inevitable. Film and film appreciation is in a way a reflection of real life. The world has become more and more enamoured by the flashy surface at the cost of any real substance.
To continue with my Cameron bashing, let’s look at Avatar. It seems to me that the wonders of the special effects blinded people to the positively colonial tone of the entire film. Poor little natives, so simple yet so noble, need mighty but enlightened colonials to help them. They are too childlike to help themselves, you see.
Now, at the end of the day, you can watch whatever you want. No one should stop you from taking your pleasures where you find them.
I myself am very partial to rubbish movies. I rather liked Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance, for example. But I hope that I am discerning enough to notice that it is utterly forgettable fluff and not the best movie in the history of movies.
I suppose that is what it boils down to: discernment. In the movies, just as in life, are we able to make that distinction between something of real worth, and something that may make us feel good for a little while but is ultimately of little value?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

BFM interview on intellectualism

6 March 2012

Nation of idiots in the making

Going The Distance (Selangor Times)
2 March 2012


We are on the brink of becoming a nation of idiots.
An argument is made, and if one disagrees with it, one makes a counter argument. This is the rational way. The intelligent way.
The idiot’s way is to scream, shout, honk motorcycle horns, let off firecrackers, hurl racial abuse and physically attack the person who is saying things you disagree with.
Sometimes the idiot’s way is loud and obnoxious as in the example above; other times it can be more measured, for example by countering an opponent’s point not with reasoning but with that lowest form of wit: sarcasm.
Whichever method is chosen, the idiot’s way does seem to be on the rise.
The people of this country deserve to be able to listen to different points of view. They have a right to listen to different points of view.
It is bad enough that they have to turn to the Internet and alternative media to obtain some semblance of balance, but when mobs can break up peaceful gatherings then we know that any thin facade of a civilised nation that we may have worn is slipping away.
What makes things worse is that there appears to be no sense of outrage from those who hold the reins of power. The people who froth at the mouth about how public gatherings can degenerate into chaos say nothing when those who commit such acts wear their shirts and are their minions.
Developed country by 2020? At this rate we should be lucky if we are not a failed state by then. Forget elections, forget human rights. Whichever group can yell the loudest and threaten the most harm, they will rule. They will determine the fate of the nation.
If you don’t like something, don’t bother coming up with a coherent argument against it, just say you will create violence and the powers that be will skitter and scamper to do your bidding.
Which raises the question, are the powers that be truly the powers that be? Or are they now mere playthings of the loutish, the crass and the crude? I have to wonder.
If one believes in freedom and human rights, one must believe it holds true for everyone. And as hard as it may be to swallow, nobody must be stopped from saying what they think, no matter how disgusted you may feel at what they have to say.
It is the burden of those who truly cherish and understand freedom to not allow personal or intellectual distaste from infringing upon the rights of others. Unfortunately such noble aspirations are not shared by the thuggish.
Yet, not for one second must we be tempted to retaliate and stop others from expressing themselves for that means we are lowering ourselves to the guttural level within which they lurk.
There is a limit to freedom however, and that is when you use your freedom to infringe upon the freedom of others.
In the past few weeks we have seen this happening many times as the boundaries of freedom are breached again and again by the mob. If this trend continues, it does not bode well for the future of Malaysia.
I said at the beginning of this article that we are on the brink of being a nation of idiots. I stopped myself from saying that we already are because I want to believe, I want to have hope, that there are enough of us who will not let it happen.
That there are enough of us who will stand up and say that we have no time for those who seek to suppress others by brute force and we have no time for those who through inaction and political cowardice let them have their way.

Practising the state of being impartial

Brave New World (The Star)
23 February 2012

Impartiality is a simple word and many of our problems can be solved by just appreciating and practising this term.


IMPARTIALITY is defined as being not biased for or against any party; free from favouritism or self interest.
It is a fairly simple concept, one which I think most people would be able to understand.
Of course, there are times when one is incapable of being impartial.
If you support a particular team, you will consider your team as the greatest, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Once I saw a banner at some dinky little football game with the words “Brighton Hove Albion: The Best Football Team in the World”. Really? Better than Barcelona? And where is Brighton Hove Albion anyway?
It sounds like a brand of bread. “A loaf of Brighton Hove Albion please”.
Having said that, I understand the impartiality of BHA fans, in fact I am equally guilty of being totally biased and prejudiced when it comes to supporting my football team.
But at the end of the day, this sort of blinkered attitude does no harm apart from the derisive laughter and taunting we get from far more successful clubs.
The same can’t be said about other situations however.
Impartiality, and perhaps even more important, the perception of impartiality is vital in some circumstances. Sometimes it just makes for a better end product.
A political debate for example must have an impartial moderator and preferable questions to the debaters ought to come from that moderator. Even questions from the floor should be directed through the moderator who can then choose the best ones.
That is why he is called the moderator. He moderates.
In academia, we are expected to be impartial. This is in order for a better quality of research to be produced and following from this better teaching.
Often I have been asked why I am critical of the Government especially since I work in a so-called government university.
Well, I think I work in a public university paid for by tax payers’ money and one of my responsibilities is to be critical of laws which I think are unjust; with academic reasoning, naturally.
If I don’t do that, then I will be perpetuating a wrong and I won’t be doing my job properly.
Those who work in the civil service however, have different responsibilities because they are directly answerable to the elected government and their job is to implement the policies.
In that sense, they have less freedom in their jobs compared to academics.
However, they still have to be impartial because their duties are to basically carry out the decisions of those who are currently their bosses. They are expected to be impartial regardless of their own political leanings.
If they think the policies are poor, they should have the right to voice their concerns but ultimately they have to do what is required of them. Besides, if their bosses are rubbish, they can be voted out, civil servants can’t.
In my last example, impartiality is absolutely imperative for without it, there can be no law and order. I am speaking of course of the police.
In the past few weeks there have been uncomfortable stories of thugs attacking people because they are saying things which they disagree with.
For some this is grist for the mill in their argument that public displays of political expressions must be controlled.
That is a spurious argument. The wrongdoers are those who disrupt the freedom of expression, not those who are simply practising their right. Any trouble will only be made worse if the police are not seen as impartial in their dealing with the situation.
Their job is to enforce the law equally, and not only for those who are deemed a threat to the current political masters.
This applies whoever the political masters may be. It is only where bias or prejudice is perceived, does real trouble erupt.
Impartiality is a simple concept. Perhaps our problems in this nation are not so intractable. Many can be solved by just appreciating and practising this simple little term.
It is only when we have lost faith that such a basic idea can be ignored, then we know that things are truly bad.