Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ministry of Muffled Thinking

Went to see Alone It Stands, (which tells of how the a provincial rugby team defeated the All Blacks) at Actor's Studio last night. I am actually reviewing it for StarMag so don't want to get ahead of myself and tell you all about it ... and besides I'm going again on Friday night because it's Abu's birthday and he's a rugby fiend. Had a good time too because I'd wandered along on a night sponsored by the Embassy of Ireland and it was great craic (excuse the Irishism) to meet up with so many friends including H.E. Daniel Mulhall and his wife Greta, Datuk Shan, Raman and Lakshmi and make the aquaintance of a whole lot of new people.

Of course these days the scripts of all plays performed have to be submitted to the Ministry of Culture Arts and Heritage, so that the powers that be can "vet" them in the belief that they are protecting the moral fibre of the citizenry. The cuts the Ministry made to Alone It Stands were arbitary and daft. And rather than take all this silliness lying down, the correspondence between the Ministry and Gardner & Wife was displayed for all to read in the foyer. Diong Chae Lian for Gardner & Wife wrote an absolutely brilliant riposte to the proposed cuts and was kind enough to give me a copy. Only by waging this war in a consistent way might this censorship issue finally be put to rest.


We have received both your fax and letter dated 14 March 2005 regarding the upcoming ptay ALONE IT STANDS, presented by Malaysia Airlines and the Embassy of Ireland, specifically pages 2, 5, 6, 13, 17, 18, and 39 of the script and the censorship marked thereon.

Upon reflection, we realise that we may have given insufficient background of the vocabulary of the play to your Ministry for the assessment of some of the words used in ALONE IT STANDS. For this we apologize.
We respectfully request to appeal the ministry’s censorship. We base our appeal on the following points:

1. actual meaning of the words
2. consistency of policy

Please note that we do not deny the right of any government to censor. Our appeal is directed only at these specific censorships listed below, which have been deleted from the script on the grounds of “untuk menjaga tatasusila masyarakat umum yang akan menonton”.

ACTUAL MEANING OF THE WORDS

bastard: literally means no more than “a child of unmarried parents”. In actuality, it means a great deal less. It is something said playfully, as in ‘you silly bastard”. In fact, it has much less bite than bugger”, a phrase often used in Malaysia which literally means “he who sodomises”.
In addition, we would Like to point out that “bastard” appears no less than 54 times in Shakespeare’s plays, namely:

• HAMLET
• KING RICHARD II
• KING RICHARD I!I
• KING HENRY V
• AS YOU LIKE IT
• LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST
• THE TEMPEST
• KING HENRY VI PART I
• KING HENRY VI PART 2
• KING HENRY IV PART 1
• TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
• THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
• TROILUS AND CRESSIDA
• THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
• MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
• MEASURE FOR MEASURE
• TITUS ANDRONICUS
• THE WINTER’S TALE
• JULIUS CAESAR
• TIMON OF ATHENS
• KING LEAR
• CORIOLANUS
• KING JOHN - in which one of the characters is actually named Philip, the Bastard.

Several of these plays have been screened in our cinemas and many of them are studied in Malaysian schools.
We therefore respectfully suggest to the ministry that the use of the word bastard wiLl not offend or disturb “tatasusila masyarakat umum yang akan menonton” and that. our Irish visitors be allowed to use it.

... will shit themselves!: “shit” is an even older word than “bastard’ and can be found in the works of the great English poet, Chaucer (1343- 1400 AD), who is also studied in all English-speaking schools and universities around the world. We respectfully suggest that “shit” wilt not offend or disturb “tatasusila masyarakat umum yang akan menonton” and that our Irish visitors be allowed to use it.

...ye can kiss ye’re arses goodbye: is a reference to a phrase first coined at the height of the Cold War and the Cuba missile crisis. At that time, the U.S. government was attempting to reassure its citizens that crouching down (preferably) under desks or tables would save them in the event of a nuclear attack. A wit took this idea and talked about tucking one’s head between one’s legs during a nuclear attack in order to kiss your arse goodbye”. Those with a Western education will understand the reference. There are NO sexual connotations to this phrase.

But you go lickin’ up to your da: To “lick up” to someone is a reference to an earlier, more rural life where dogs, sheepdogs, etc. were a part of many European households. Dogs, when scolded or looking for food, lick one’s boots as a submissive reflex, “Da is the Irish pronounciation of “dad”. Therefore, ‘lickin’ up to your da” means no more than being over-servile to your father. There is NO suggestion of fellatio or any other sexual connotations to this phrase.

Shi bobilin mor aige; Ach do fuar Se ba Agus bhi se marbh ansin: will be sung in Gaelic and unlikely to be understood by anybody other than the Irish Ambassador, who is already fully familiar with the song. As far as we can tell, it is unlikely to disturb his “tatasusila”.

CONSISTENCY OF POLICY

In recent months, the performing arts community has been summoned to participate in forums initiated by the ministry. In those forums, the message has been consistently reiterated that it is the government’s intention to promote the arts in order to position Kuala Lumpur as a modern, international-class city.

We respectfully suggest to the ministry that banning words like "bastard" and "shit" cannot be combined with the objective to make KL an international "arts hub".

Like it or not, these are non-offensive words commonly used in developed English-speaking countries.

If the ministry has even the smallest intention of carrying through with their frequently- repeated ambition of having an international theatre festival, this kind of censorship will knock it out of the water!

There is a further question of fairness and consistency. Any child in Malaysia can pick up a Malaysian daily newspaper and read about “Michael Jackson masturbating young boys”; violent crimes and court proceedings with explicit descriptions involving semen” and vaginal discharges”; incest; and descriptions of murders. This is aU availab to anyone old enough to read so we are astonished that the ministry feels that while all this will not disturb “tatasusila masyarakat umum yang akan menonton" yet the use of words found in Shakespeare and Chaucer will! Respectfully, we beg to differ.

We therefore suggest, in the interest of consistency and the application of uniform standards, that at least the same editorial standards be applied to live theatre as other English-language mediums such as the Malaysian daily newspapers. In the theatre, younger people usually only attend performances with the explicit permission of their parents (who else will pay for their tickets?!). Newspapers can be picked up by anybody.

In conclusion, I would like to share something with you. As a theatre practitioner, I was recently invited to attend a schoot production. The audience was made up of about 500 appreciative parents, students and friends. The school chose to present a modern ciass It was a difficult play, touching on issues of colonialism, genocide, xenophobia arid religion. As some of the characters were sailors, they occasionally used words like bastard”. As a Malaysian, it’s very distressing to think that I have to go to a school to see adult theatre, It’s even more distressing to think that I may have to send my child to an international school in order to have a modern education here in Malaysia.

Again, we respectfully ask that your ministry reconsider your censorship rulings as marked on pages 2, 5, 6, 13, 17, 18, and 39 of the script for ALONE IT STANDS.
Diong Chae Lian
ChaeLian

4 comments:

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Sharon,
What a very clever and insightful entry.
I thoroughly enjoyed it but didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
What would the 'creative censors' make of Melbourne's culture with its famous highway billboard on the way to the airport? IF YOU DRINK AND DRIVE, THEN YOU'RE A BLOODY IDIOT! Bloody is standard Australian culture!

bibliobibuli said...

Yep, this censorship business really is a bugger, isn't it?

Laugh is the best idea.

Zafar Anjum said...

Hi Sharon,

Interesting entry. Reminded me of a personal anecdote. Couple of years ago, I used to live with a couple of guys in a shared flat in Delhi. One day, I used this word "bastard," in its playful sense, with one of my flatmates. I had hoped that, of course, my friend will be shocked first and then I will show him the dictionary and he will aprreciate the joke. We were having dinner when I used this word for my mate. He threw a fit of anger and a majot altercation followed. I insisted that he looked up the dictionary. He refused. He showered me with all kinds of abuses. The next day I left the flat for good. That word, bastard, cost me a friendship.

bibliobibuli said...

My goodness! It is strange that certain words carry more weight in some cultures than in others. I couldn't believe it when, way back in the '80's a TV mini-series of Shirley Conran's Lace began with the words "Which of you BEEEEEP killed my mother?"

The Malaysia censors took issue with the word "bitches".

In British and American English "bitch" is not considered offensive at all ...