Of Culture and Hegemony

Today, I attended a luncheon organised by the Malaysian Institute of Directors. No, this has nothing to do with film directors. These are company directors. Since I am not a company director nor am I a film director, my presence there is quite awkward, but making a couple of new friends and catching up with some old ones felt quite good. At least I know that I am still alive. If no one in this world knows that I exists, I will cease to exist. Phenomenologically speaking, yes, I am still physically here but what is the point of me being physically present but not one being, no matter from what strata in this universe, is aware of my existence? I am connected, therefore I am.

Anyways, coming back to this luncheon. The topic for the luncheon is about culture, with the title, “Malaysian Culture – Dream or Reality”. The guest of honour is our Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage, Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim. Tun Dr. Ling Liong Sik was also present. From his speech, one can see that Dr. Rais is a substantial and learned man. I hope he can do something to promote and inculcate a nation that is proud of its own culture and heritage. (Oh, by the way, after the event, Dr. Rais came and we shook hands and he called me “young man”. Young man!? I am on the verge of a mid-life crisis and he called me young man. That made me postpone the start of my mid-life crisis.)

But what exactly is “Malaysian Culture”? He defined culture but what is Malaysian Culture? Is it the mamak culture? the orang asli culture? the malay culture? the chinese culture? the indian culture? a blend of all the above? What are these cultures? To be able to protect and promote something, that thing at least needs to be defined in a concrete way. If it cannot be touched, it can at least be felt. If it cannot be touched and felt, then does it exist?

Responding to a comment to my previous blog entry re the Hollywood hegemony, yes, Hollywood films are dominating the world and imposing the American way of life, the American belief and world-view on others, mostly unsuspecting kids, or those people who are intellectually lazy. America always saves the world. Those who are against America are terrorists (used to be Russians, then Chinese, then Osama, then north Korea, etc. etc.) America and American English is THE language the whole world should speak. You speak French? Slap her, she’s French. You speak Chinese? Yah, kungpow, kungpow. You speak Japanese, yah, Yamatei. Non-American things/culture is often being made fun of and belittled. The media is a powerful vehicle to “hypnotise” people into believing certain things.

Why are Hollywood films generally considered bad? Are we just simply film snobs, with a believe that anything that comes from Hollywood is bad but not knowing why and anything that comes from obscure directors, is in black and white and/or comes from poor, remote countries are good and cool, and those people who does not agree are culturally and intellectually backward? Well, consider the following two points:

1. Hollywood stories are stale. They have run out of story ideas, so they do sequels, prequels, remakes, copy ideas from other parts of the world.

2. Hollywood films suffers from its own power. Blame the marketing chief. He is the culprit. One of the rules that I heard these marketing people use to check the commercial worthiness of a film is if the films raises more than 3 questions, it will be banned. Another one, according to a friend who is a film critic based in Montreal, is that, if a film cannot be understood or cannot hold the attention of a 9 year old, it will be banned. Tell me, what good and profound films can come out of such models?

And films deserve so much more.

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