opinion : Praba Ganesan

The beast in presumed beauty

Praba Ganesan

MARCH 16 — Let’s be clear. It would require sedatives and hired thugs to seat me at a Beauty and the Beast screening. I’m not sitting home in protest over the ban or temporary delay. Plus, it’s St Paddy’s weekend.

Disney’s elaborate effort to sell tickets, merchandising, Big Macs, video on demand play and DVDs around an exploitive story aside, yes, aside from my general queasiness, there are far-reaching questions for Malaysia’s official attitude towards content.

The battle for democracy is not as enthralling as the one for content, for the latter is for keeps.

It requires a global cinematic event to trigger a centre-stage debate, unfortunately.

Disney built up enough traction among children that disconsolate parents turn their ire towards the censors. Indeed, the censors have responded in record time, as they are equally aware of the cumulative power of domestic tantrums in upper middle-class homes.

Malaysia’s Lembaga Penapis Filem (LPF/Film Censorship Board) is likely miffed by Disney’s rebuff to its olive branch of just a minor snip to set the movie straight.

It’s a sharp edge but not as much as being the tip of the censorship iceberg.

How much can the state protect us from content, far more pertinently when it is in electronic form? Or is it superfluous to say, for what is strictly non-electronic these days?

It’s quite the trek from my uni days in Bangi where a specific letter from a specific lecturer was necessary to flip through a specific banned book in the specific banned sections in the campus library. No photocopies, just notes the student copies down.

It appears Malaysian authorities ― I’m sure the LPF is filled with those who mist up when recollecting the old days ― is struggling to cope with a world gone strange by their standards.

Twenty years ago, Disney would have rolled, played dead and jumped through hoops with Wagner playing in the background if a movie was to be approved with just a single cut. Then again, back then, Disney would not have countenanced a movie with such social flamboyance.

Don’t throw the censor overboard

To have better minds decide what I consume is an anathema to me. I appreciate my content accompanied by advice, rating, critic and synopsis, it tells me if it will be a waste of time or caution is necessary or it will upset most viewers. Then I decide.

I may regret my choice, but I favour the right to regret rather than others acting on behalf of my adult self.

That’s me, but I’m in the minority.

It is difficult, through the lens of a man of my time, to foresee society forgoing censorship in its entirety. No less, the present surge of political correctness clamping content and proliferating historical revisionism, which I revile as liberal overreach.

Quite simply, it is difficult to sell substantial glaring censorship, in the same manner as to market zero censorship. Society wants the pause button but not an overbearing Nurse Ratchet in the guise of government.

Facebook does it, so does Google and the rest of the online Rat Pack. Indulge in censorship.

For us, where does Malaysia want to position itself? To our credit, there has been a colossal increase in permissibility here. The Disney movie’s rapid-speed to and fro over minor differences ― when couched in our historical terms ― is proof of progress. The sex, violence, nudity and explicit language in our cinemas today would stupefy our censors of yore. Remember Deadpool?

And what does censorship do in real terms?

Data in the sky

For Beauty and the Beast, it prevents family moments at the cineplex. Though, torrent sites can substitute the experience at home.

The amount of resources expanded to cull suspect content is usurped by backchannels. It is a Pyrrhic victory.

LPF gets props for not giving official sanction to the movie. Malaysia does not approve Beauty and the Beast, even if any Malaysian and a large group of Malaysians will view it.

It’s Malaysia at its finest — if it is not official, it is not real. 

Will the following be allowed to be real?

The existence of supreme beings from other dimensions determining the future of all species (Guardians of the Galaxy); a woman running around in her undergarment decapitating men, originating from a biology-defying all-female island (Wonder Woman); an animal species evolving to dethrone man on his planet, pseudo-morphing of evolution and emergence of simian faiths (War for the Planet of the Apes); and wrapped up noble corpse rises from the dead as part of pagan lore and proceeds to decimate the living (The Mummy).

They are the expected blockbusters of 2017.

The scenes can be cut, perhaps seamlessly, but what if the premises are dangerous? How does LPF deal with ideas, when LPF guidelines would forbid local production houses touching these themes? Which is why KL24: Zombies bypasses censors with an Internet release.

If taboo subjects are receding and cultural sensitivities increasingly open to interpretation, how much more before LPF turns into an anachronism, if it has not already?

A paradise for children

The young are convenient excuses for the shroud of secrecy.

“It’s not us, it’s just that we have to protect the children,” is the rallying cry.

It is misdirected. It is not about shielding the young, it is about who decides what is real security, parents or the system.

The system is a complex word to denote governments, rating agencies, content companies, content platforms and law enforcement.

Parents, the term, is not convoluted.

The former should not defer to the latter, not when primary care is in their hands.

How much Beauty and the Beast in its current form affects adversely the young is for parents to decide, because there is too much content and too little time to expect government to reside in living rooms to determine “wholesomeness.”

Movies are part of the larger family of content ― TV series, games, apps, user-generated entertainment and the next thing around the firewall.

Here is the challenge: deny our children the wide spectrum of education crossed entertainment crossed engagement content in English laced with liberalism including homosexuality, with parental consent remaining a cornerstone; or shut, contain and limit content to local, with strong guidelines enforced.

Is the rainbow of the world a threat, set to prevent us from the remaining colours of the world?

Our children are not going to lose from having more colour in their lives. Nothing is straightforward anymore, though I prefer us helping parents develop skills to understand content and the nature of their decisions which interplay with the opportunity costs rather than retaining an overarching pretentious omniscient state organ deciding for all of us.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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