February 2, 2013
Malay Politics and Ramleeology
by Azly Rahman @ http://www.malaysiakini.com
“Alif-Mim-Nun-Wau… sarkis!” – said a character in P Ramlee’s movie Pendekar Bujang Lapok.
My last column on Malaysia in the 70s was an enjoyable piece of journaling and from the numerous comments I read from all the blogs that carry it – my own blog Between Cybernetics and Existentialism, my Facebook page, Malaysia Today, etc – I feel that there was a time when a good Malaysian spirit was about to be forged.
This was that sense of a historical block, until May 13, 1969 came, of course; whether it was orchestrated or a victory campaign that went wrong we are beginning to find out, as alternative accounts of it continue to be written.
After languishing in sweet memories of the 70s, I next thought of the 60s; the time when I was growing up in Johor Baru and how the kampong and the city and the school I went to became my “global classrooms”.
My fond memories always go back to a “multicultural Malaysia I knew – especially how I owed my interest in learning and insatiable urge to acquire knowledge through the selfless work of my teachers – Malay, Chinese, Indians, Sikhs, and even my Peace Corps American teachers.
Without them, I would not have been able to write honestly about the need not just to “tolerate” other cultures but to learn from each one of them, embrace the dynamics of each, and to bring out the universality of the values, and next to design good learning systems and environments that will nurture these differences into commonalities and to hybridise the wisdom we will acquire.
This is what has been lacking in our education system – critical sensibility and the embracing of the idea of “cultural action for freedom”, as the Brazilian educational philosopher Paulo Freire would say.
A P Ramlee movie
Of late, too, I have been watching P Ramlee movies – reminiscing my childhood days as well with my memory of the black and white television, that “machine to call upon far away vision” (tele + vision), or on a more theoretical basis, anthropologists of technology would call “a fantasy-machine in the garden” and in this case, a “TV in a peaceful kampong”.
I watched and “read closely” Malaysia’s great humanist-social-philosopher P Ramlee’s, classic of the 60s Pendekar Bujang Lapok. I found something interesting in there worthy, in fact, of a full-blown dissertation on the anthropology of the Malays. Here is what I discovered about the first 17 minutes of it:
There is an intellectual framework in “reading” this movie; one that could be a hybrid of political-economy of development and underdevelopment (see the work of the Dependenistas/Dependency Theorists of the 70s), World-Systems Theory, Marx’s idea of “technological determinism”, i.e. technology as the shaper of social relations of production (see my dissertation Thesis on Cyberjaya, on the origin of Cyberjaya and the concluding discussion on Marx and technology and culture), semiotics of power, as in the notion of “habitus” (see Pierre Bourdieu’s work on “symbolic power”) and a study of post-colonialism emblematic in the work of Albert Memmi’s Colonizer and the Colonized, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks, and others in the genre of psychological studies of oppression.
Ramleeology as method
Syed Hussein Al Attas’s work is also instructive of a framework in looking at the idea of how the image of the native is constructed, as lazy, obedient, and imbued with “bebalism” and “tolol-ism “ (feudalistic Malay idiocy and moronism); constructed by the rich and land-owning class that drew inspiration from “divide and rule” – from the British colonials.
Indeed there is a lot to “read” in this movie; provided we deconstruct it to its minute detail (dialogue, characterisation, symbolism, plot, discourse of power, language play, irony, metaphor, etc.). Herein lies the rejuvenation of my interest in developing “Ramleeology” as a “method of cultural critique based on radical social theory that can be applied to a trajectoric landscape of history such as Malaysia of this ‘hypermodern’ era”.
In just that 17 opening minutes. I saw the entire history of the evolution of the feudal and neo-feudal Malay mentality being displayed; from pre-independence to this day as we count the days to a regime change.
P Ramlee showed me what authoritarianism, stupefication, Malay gangsterism, crude kampongism, corruption, and arrogance mean. These can be seen in today’s display of political idiocy, as a legacy of Mahathirism.
But at the end of that “kampong jetty scene” of Pendekar Bujang Lapok, I saw “counter-hegemony” in the form of a revolt of the Malay masses against the oppressors, as if poetic justice must always be with the alienated and humiliated Malays at different epochs of history.
The last “revolt scene”, like a storming of the Bastille, and the overthrowing of Louis Capet and Marie Antoinette, I saw rallies upon rallies such as those we have been seeing in the last few years beginning from the first Bersih rally.
The Malays these days, the enlightened ones, in collaboration with their brothers and sisters of different race, religion, national origin have all become the new “pendekars” or “warriors” such a the three “pendekars” headed by P Ramlee.
But the final scene is not here yet. The deconstructionism mart is there; Malaysians are able to “read” what has been delusioning them vis-a-viz the dread called “Mahathirism”, the idiocy called “Ketuanan Melayu”, and the rhetoric called “social contract”, framed according to a truncated Malay view and not like a vision suggested by the social philosopher of the French Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
I had fun watching that particular P Ramlee movie. I think he is a visionary, somewhat like a modern Malay prophet speaking up truth to power for Malaysians of all races, for the oppressed, for those dehumanised by those who owns the means, methods , machinery, and media technology of oppression.
Watch the movie on YouTube - we Malaysians are all in it!