Satire ...  is a literary genre, chiefly literary and dramatic, in which human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to bring about improvement.  It is used in graphic arts and performing arts as well. ... Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, the purpose of satire is not primarily humour but criticism of an event, an individual or a group in a clever manner.from Wikipedia.
Does satire flourish in Asia?
One of the most entertaining panel discussions of the Ubud Writer's and Readers' festival debated the question. Besides our own Kam Raslan, we met Sri Lankan author Manuka Wijesinghe who writes beautifully about the absurd in her novel Monsoons and Potholes, and Indonesian Isman Hidayat Suryaman who talked about how he hides his criticism of authority in humour since he cannot do it openly. He added a nice detail for us, Indonesia doesn't have a "censorship board" it has an "enlightenment board!" which does the same job! The session was moderated by Nury (who gets everywhere!).
Kam talked about how satire has become increasingly popular in Malaysia, and he read from Amir Muhammad's book to illustrate the fact that in Malaysia actually satirists are not needed because politicians do the job beautifully for them!:
Our job is to mock authority and our politicians make it too easy ...he said, talking about how the politicians provide most of the material for KL's Instant Cafe Theatre for which Kam also writes skits.
When it came to question time I asked the panelists if they felt that their audiences really get their satire? As Instant Cafe founder Jo Kukathas (who was in the audience*) pointed out, of course Malaysian audiences understand satire ... otherwise why would their own company have been so successful?
I was actually thinking about satire on the page, particularly when it doesn't have a box around it saying "This is meant to be funny". And I was thinking specifically about this post on Amir Muhammad's blog on a spoof column he wrote as Ambi Mohan for the New Straits Times - the reactions from angry readers who didn't understand that their leg was being pulled actually makes funnier reading than the articles themselves!
Jo actually took me to task about the question I'd asked a couple of nights later, at the party at Blanco's house, and gave me plenty of examples of her own to support her argument. Somehow (might have been on my part the wine) we managed to entangle the question of "Do Malaysians get satire?" with "Do Malaysians get irony?" (which is a somewhat separate one, but nevertheless worth considering ... and I would say much of Kam's humour is gently ironic.)
On satire, with censorship so tight, and self-censorship added to it, there really is little tradition of making fun of authority figures here by means of the written word ... although happily the blogosphere is becoming increasingly good at using satire, much to the discomfort of politicians.
(It's worth noting too is that Kam's deliciously satirical sense of humour was shaped by TV programmes like Monty Python, as he grew up in the UK.)
My question then, is there a tradition of satire here, particularly on the printed page?
The issue is still knocking round in my own head. Would love your views.
(Incidentally, Isman has a very amusing blog calld The Fool Has Landed and wrote this session up very well himself. And Deepika writes a lovely piece on Manuka.)
*Now can you guess who the obnoxious politician was?