19 June 2015

ON social media there lurks a creature called the troll. What a troll aims to do is to make life miserable for someone.

He (and sometimes she) does this by posting nasty comments about that person, or instigating others to also troll the person.

Wikipedia describes a troll as “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chatroom or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion”.

I was at a recent forum listening to an American woman, Lindy West, who had a real problem with trolls on Twitter.

Suffice to say that women are often the target of trolls.

West seemed to have been a specific target, mostly because she is a large-sized woman with very confident feminist views.

One troll was particularly vicious, attacking her relentlessly.

But to cut a long story short, West finally met the troll and he admitted to her that the reason he trolled her was because he hated the fact that unlike him, she was a confident happy person despite being plus-sized.

In other words, he trolled because he had his own issues.

Which is a useful thing to remember when one gets trolled.

It’s not you that has a problem, it’s them.

And you have two choices of what to think about them: ignore them or feel sorry for them.

While West managed to sort things out with one troll, it is of course not possible to, as she said, hold hands with every single one.

Ultimately, you can’t solve their problems for them, especially when they don’t even think they have problems.

In our dear country, the advent of social media has given rise to not just one troll, but a multitude of them.

They snipe at you for any reason at all, for what you say, or don’t say, for what you wear or don’t wear, for whatever you do.

They seem to spend their entire lives thinking up nasty things to say, frequently misspelled and with the sort of perverse logic that only people with damaged frontal lobes can muster.

Nothing pleases a troll more than to whip others into one big hysterical mob over an issue that they made up in their own sick minds.

And because people know that trolls punish non-followers by then training their sights on them, most people conform and join the mob. It’s safer that way.

Our Malaysia seems to have become a nation of trolls.

At the slightest thing, without any provocation, a troll makes a suggestion and suddenly a heaving mass of hysteria begins, aided by a media ever-watchful for sensationalism.

Like a ball of dough, the troll gathers more and more adherents until it grows into one seething globe of rage, spitting venom at the poor victim, uncaring about what hurt might be caused.

Yet, these same people would be the first to feel insulted should anyone have the temerity to suggest that there may be something wrong with their moral compass.

Hiding behind self-proclaimed piety, they shout their indignation with name-calling, insults and insinuations.

You have to pity the Malaysian troll. What poor unfulfilled lives do they lead that the only joy they can get has to come from making someone else miserable?

How boring are their lives that someone else’s hard-earned achievement is taken as an offence to their own suspect morals?

While their target can list “Won two gold medals at the SEA Games” on their curriculum vitae, what can they put on theirs other than “Looked at her outfit and imagined her private parts”?

There is a certain psychosis that afflicts trolls.

And when there are so many trolls in this country of ours, you can’t help but think that the entire nation is suffering from a psychosis as well.

And what is so surprising about it?

We have leaders who are often no better than trolls, making up issues when there aren’t any.

What is a minister who claims that a design on a telekung that looks like a crucifix is a plot to convert Muslims but an official troll?

Is not a religious leader who declares so many things haram that one can barely get out of bed without sinning nothing more than a troll in a robe?

With these types of leaders, who can blame the masses for their madness?

We need to recognise that it is a madness that we are experiencing and having to bear these days.

And like lunatics in the asylum, there can be no happy end to this.

05 June 2015

Taking on another culture could result in the obliteration of our own

WHEN I was in university in Britain, I was always very irritated with one particular fellow student. She was English, pale as a lily, with reddish hair but she had a habit of always dressing in a sari complete with a pottu on her forehead.

What particularly annoyed me was whenever we had a student disco, she would be on the dance floor doing her version of Indian classical dance. Imagine doing the Bharata Natyam to Carl Douglas’ Kungfu Fighting!

It took me a while to understand why I was so incensed by her. To me, her wearing a sari and dancing in a disco the way she did was insulting to an ancient culture. I had grown up watching Indian classical dance and I knew what a refined and sophisticated art form it is. Therefore, I found this bastardisation of such an art form, which dancers take years to perfect, a real insult not just to India but to all of Asia.

I now know that what incensed me is something called “cultural appropriation”. This means the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture. This would include wearing certain ethnic clothes in totally inappropriate settings or using cultural items for the wrong occasion.

Of course, in our globalised world where we know a lot more about different cultures and very often appreciate them for their beauty, we incorporate all sorts of things from all over the globe into our everyday lives. Some people now live in homes described as “Balinese-style” for example, although few realise that the modern version of the Balinese home is already a form of cultural appropriation by Westerners who moved to the island.

We might wear Indian jewellery with western gowns or quilted jackets with frog buttons in places other than China.

In Asia, we are used to borrowing from each other in so many ways – in our clothes, our language, our food, even some of our customs.

Let us not forget that we also appropriate much of Western culture into our daily lives. We wear Western dress such as jeans, we dance to hip-hop music, eat burgers and pizzas and even celebrate some holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Admittedly, most cultural appropriation is very shallow; we rarely know the origins or history of anything we take on. Mostly we simply join in the fun and there’s little harm in them.

Westerners too are often ignorant of the origins of our cultural elements but then they often profit more from them than we do, which should be a source of concern.

But what if some of the cultural appropriations we do are actually harmful to us? What if we appropriate another culture so completely that we obliterate our own?

By the strict definition of cultural appropriation, a dominant culture appropriates elements of a weaker one. But in Malaysia we find a weak culture appropriating elements of stronger ones. Mostly we have been taking on the easiest elements of Western culture such as the dress, music and food. But we have not taken on other elements such as being on time, general cleanliness or driving safely.

Some of us on the other hand, in not wanting to take on Western cultural elements, have instead taken on that of the Middle East. Mostly this has taken the form of dress but also sometimes in language and even music.

For instance, clothing meant for dry desert climates is now used in our hot and humid one. Arab words have replaced accurately descriptive Malay ones.

As cultural appropriations rely on stereotypes of the foreign cultures being taken on, the understanding of these is often shallow. Some see everything about Western culture as dangerous and bad, while at the same time seeing all that is Middle Eastern as good.

This is partly because of the perceived religious flavour of Middle Eastern influences. Some even think that the language spoken in paradise is Arabic.

Whichever way one sees it, our own culture is undoubtedly being eroded. How many people know much about Malay history, language or the arts? So many of our authentic performing arts are no longer allowed to be performed.

The craftspeople that carve, weave and sculpt are getting harder to find. All the elements that make up our culture, including our dress, architecture, customs, are disappearing through neglect.

Yet are our champions of racial superiority fighting for these? While they constantly blame others for the inferiority they feel, what are they doing to keep the true elements of their once-proud culture alive and well?