29 August 2005

Wednesday August 24, 2005

Another take on reality shows


The other day, while reading the newspaper, a light bulb went off in my head (not a common occurrence). It dawned on me that there must be no stupid people in Malaysia.

How did something so profound occur to me so suddenly? I figured that everyone who merits a quotation in our papers must be very smart, no matter what they said, because surely otherwise the media would not quote them.

It occurred to me that if a person with some sort of title says something, and the papers actually take them seriously, they must have at least some modicum of intelligence. Otherwise surely the appropriate reaction is to fall down laughing. But there they are, all over our papers, taken very seriously indeed by our media as if they were founts of genuine wisdom.

Is it only me who thinks it is supremely ironic that while various government types are denouncing reality shows as unIslamic and should be haram – especially because there are open demonstrations of affection between people – those on the other side of the political fence are happily wooing the winner to their state to give concerts to his fans there? How weird is it that someone who spouted a government slogan (albeit unconvincingly) on the show should then accept hospitality offers from the Opposition?

I am not one of those people who cannot go out on Saturday nights because I have to get my weekly dose of tears. But I did take a belated interest in this show because I think it is something of a phenomenon with all sorts of social implications. It is a show about dreams where ordinary people, the kids of the average Malaysian with the slightest glimmer of talent, can become famous. People of all walks of life follow this real life drama every week, willing their favourites to make it (and of course helping them along with millions of SMSes.)

One look at the audience every week will tell you that to cast aspersions on any of the contestants is to risk alienating a substantial portion of the population. Not only the mothers and aunts in the audience adore these kids but also thousands of others at home. Witness the tumultuous welcome they received when they went home, even the ones who didn’t win.

Has someone forgotten that these are voters? Why on earth do we alienate them?

I think we need some perspective about reality shows. By all means, we should not copy everything blindly especially the more useless ones where one has to find the perfect man or woman from a selection of pretty dubious candidates. Or the ones where they test couples’ fidelity to each other by putting all sorts of temptation in the way.

But what exactly is the harm of these talent shows? Oh sorry, there were some wise words about how cavorting on stage with the opposite sex makes one want to take drugs. (Personally I think you need to take drugs to be able to watch some of the cavorting.) Does everything lead to bad stuff? Does everything have to be immoral? Aren’t our people able to simply have fun?

I’m sorry, I refuse to think that the makciks in the AF audience are participating in immorality. What are we saying about their darling Mawi? He likes nasyid and girls who wear the tudung, after all.

I think it’s not a bad thing to have reality shows that have some educational value beyond the purely voyeuristic appeal. It would be interesting to have a Malaysian version of The Apprentice though I’m not sure I can think of a local Donald Trump. Besides what are they going to teach besides needing to know all the right people?

Would it be too much to ask that we read about really smart people in our media? Or aren’t the really smart people saying anything? Are we afraid that that old saying about keeping your mouth shut when you don’t know anything rather than opening it and confirming to everyone that it’s true actually holds water? But then there are any number of people who are happy to spout off on everything, while at the same time denying other people the right to say anything about their so-called area of expertise. Why on earth should we treat them with such reverence?

Unless they are right, we’re too stupid to tell the difference.