Reality blights


  • Romance At Short Notice
  • Tuesday, 05 Nov 2013

Country singer Brad Paisley's (left) song Accidental Racist features hip hop artist LL Cool J (right). - AFP

On Malaysia's position in a post-satirical world.

And so the planets aligned, the constellations dimmed, and it came to pass that there was a song called Accidental Racist. If your ears have remained unmolested, please set aside the next five or so minutes for the most affably poisonous manifesto of this or any other year. Go on, I'll wait.

(Yes, that is LL Cool J. Keep going, you're almost done.)

If you're done, and you're not sure how to react, I have a handy five-step process. First, I googled the lyrics. Then I checked Wikipedia to make sure it wasn't a joke. Then I checked the Wikipedia edit history. Then I laughed a little, cried a little, and aimed an angry fist at the firmament. And then I couldn't stop thinking about Malaysia.

Before the nostrils of various legal teams flare in anticipation of new German automobiles, it must be categorically stated that no one is calling anyone racist because as we all know there are absolutely no racists in 1Malaysia, and anyway that song has cured racism. We have far saltier ikan bilis to fry, namely Malaysia's position in a post-satirical world.

There is a great deal to be said about echo chambers, but rarely a day goes by without my encountering some glorious example of national pride via antisocial media. Here is a brief sample from the recent past:

There are the guns that were first lost at sea.

There are the guns that were not lost at sea but were instead lost in various places including the toilet.

There was the time the USA and the UK banned Grand Theft Auto V.

There was HELP University's decision to award an economics doctorate to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

This is not my opinion, contrary to what the disclaimer at the bottom of this page will tell you. All these things happened. People from all over the world noticed that they happened. And a great deal more happened, but I'll stop there.

This, however, is my opinion. What these things have in common with the musical stylings of Brad Douglas Paisley and Ladies Love Cool James is a firm commitment to content so earnestly misguided, so tone-deaf to reason or logic, that they are beyond the flailing reach of snark or wit. They are beyond satire.

Satire used to be useful. It was a rapier wielded when speech was not free, a catalyst for art and literature to soften the dull thud of oppressive regimes. But there's no value in satirising something that is inherently satire. Baudrillard was right. Morpheus was right, and had cool sunglasses. This is the desert of the real.

The outrage that accompanies much of this reportage is also enduringly fascinating – it has this tone of befuddlement, flavoured with the belated realisation that this is the age of the Internet and you will be held accountable for the things you say and do.

Then again, it's also fun to raise the drawbridges and huddle for the night in a castle built on perceived persecution. In fact, that's probably the best reason for this very Malaysian habit of yelling at someone for shooting at you after you've gift-wrapped the ammunition.

I really want to close with a paragraph exhorting collaboration and cooperation and colour-blind casting while linking arms with a multi-ethnic family posed in radiant sunshine atop Tugu Negara, but I don't have a solution.

What I do have, however, is the power invested in me by LL Cool J's decision to name-check Abraham Lincoln in the aforementioned progressive bastion of tolerance. Here's something else Honest Abe probably said: I laugh because I must not cry. That is all, folks.

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