The Italian poet and novelist, Cesare Pavese, widely considered as among the major authors of the 20th century in Italy, left a brief note before his suicide.
The last sentence in that brief note says, “don’t gossip too much.”
Malaysians, and I must say, especially the Malays, are obviously not taking that advice to heart.
It is simply amazing that nowadays Malaysians are so caught up by the need to know what somebody else – especially celebrities - is doing. We have become a nation full of kepohs!
The advent of information technologies in the 21st century and of course the near free availability of connectivity in our country currently have contrived to elevate gossiping to something of a national obsession. Day in and day out all of us, to a certain extent, partake in acts of gossiping, be it political, social or even economics in nature.
However, what is really irksome is the proliferation of blatant breaches of privacy by way of the publications of, more often than not, photographs of some celebrities on the internet. This is often followed by unsolicited and gratuitous form of self righteous comments about the photographs and the celebrities in question. Ultimately, there will also be the usual self-righteous advice such as “kembalilah ke jalan Allah” aimed at the celebrities in question.
Yesterday I read about a certain young lady singer whose pictures in a wet long t-shirt were splashed (no pun intended) all over the internet world. Those pictures were apparently taken during a private pool party. I also saw a picture of another lady actress wearing a bare-back dinner gown making its round on the internet.
Needless to say, both set of pictures drew the usual “you-are-a-bad-Muslim-gal-kembalilah-ke-jalan-Allah” kind of comments from the moral nazis.
Today I visited a news portal and the major “news” on that portal today is about a Malaysian top student who is now studying abroad – who inevitably must be of the female gender (this kind of things actually only happen to the female sex. The males are quite obviously less interesting and significantly of no gossiping value) – who posted some pictures of herself on her fb page.
Apparently, before she went abroad, she used to wear the tudung. Her current picture shows her having blonde hair and wearing laced up legging.
Almost instantaneously, the closet mullahs began attacking her on her fb page with the usual “kembalilah ke jalan Allah” advice. She has since, apparently, deleted her fb page as a consequence.
Which begs the question, first and foremost, why are we so kepoh about whatever others wear or do? The next question, why are we not only so kepoh, but are so quick to judge other people simply by what they wear? I mean, we don’t even know these people and yet we are so quick to draw a moralistic line, compare that line to that of ours and impose ours on hers.
What makes us believe that a girl in tights or bikinis or a wet t-shirt is of lower moralistic value than those who wear the tudungs, hijabs or baju kurung?
Which brings all of us to the next frightening conclusion and that is, to the contemporary society, externalities are more important than the internals. It is like our whole moral compass is dictated by what we can see in three dimensions and that’s it. Nothing else matters.
And so if a girl wears a tudung or a baju kurung, she is quite obviously better, moral wise, than a girl wearing a plunging neck-line t-shirt. Little do we know the plunging neck-line girl works 2 hours a day as a volunteer worker at a day care center as opposed to the girl in baju kurung who don’t even think to help anybody in this world.
Umberto Eco, in his speech, “The Loss of Privacy” (published in “Turning Back the Clock”: Harvill Secker, 2007) noted, with accuracy if I may add, that “the first thing that the globalisation of communication through the internet threatened was the notion of boundaries.”
He then cleverly pointed out that the globalisation of communication as such shows two aspects of ourselves which were hitherto not quite as obvious. Firstly, there reside in everyone of us, what I would call, a “flasher” tendency, ie, the need to be seen. Secondly, there is also correspondingly, a need to see, which I would call the “voyeuristic” tendency.
He might be right on both counts.
Facebook, for example, serves to prove that most of us, if not all, feel the need to constantly exhibit ourselves to the world by uploading our own pictures or “updating” our status profile, no matter how inane they are or might be. Eco himself referred to a website where a person felt the need to post pictures of his own colon notwithstanding the sheer insignificance of such pictures.
Thus we would have pictures of ourselves eating nasi lemak on our fb pages. Or a profile status which reads “I am now at MARA building, KL.”
Correspondingly, there is also a desire to be a kepoh voyeur, ie to know what others are doing or to pry on others. How else do we explain the popularity of the so-called reality tv shows which portray the live of an entire family 24 hours a day? Most of us, it appears, are closet voyeurs!
But of course, in Malaysia, as in any other things, we have to take it a step further.
After blithely exposing ourselves on the internet with our pictures, thereby satisfying our primordial flasher tendency, we would go on prying on others, thereby satisfying our voyeur instinct. Most people in other societies would stop there.
No. We, Malaysians will not stop there. We than have to satisfy our yet-to-be-scientifically-or-philosophically-explained “Mullahistic tendency”.
We would then judge the person in the pictures which we have – morally and rightfully, to our mind, pried upon – and offer her (inevitably it is a “her”) our advice, which we consider, is our God given right and in fact is the one and only right thing to do.
“Kembalilah ke jalan Allah.”