Sittin’ up in my room, chillin’ and thinkin’

August 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Listen carefully,

Neither the Vedas

Nor the Qur’an

Will teach you this:

Put the bit in its mouth,

The saddle on its back,

Your foot in the stirrup,

And ride your wild runaway mind

All the way to heaven.

–          Kabir (translation by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra)


Interesting days in Malaysia. Lots of things happening here and there, happening here, happening there. Most recently – and by recently, I mean yesterday – there was the 8TV ad thing. The 8TV ads are no longer available to watch on YouTube because it has been pulled by Media Prima and removed from all networks after a hue and cry by the irate people twitterers of Malaysia.

For relevant information, I point you towards Free Malaysia Today’s article ‘Of armpits and morality’, mainly because the title pleases me.

Due to a lack of time and the abiding belief that once things are on the internet they stay on the internet FOREVER (what’s wrong with me?), I only made time yesterday to catch one of the ads as soon as I caught wind of a potential controversy, thinking that I’ll watch the rest later. Later was already too late, because Media Prima pulled all the ads much too soon.

I was still thinking about it today because I found it interesting that the creators chose not to feature, say, a man doing all the wrong things. Instead, the ads featured a woman, who, presumably because she’s Chinese, is not Muslim.

But, you think, so what if she’s Chinese? Could she not have been Muslim?

No, of course not. Religion and ethnicity are so interwoven in Malaysian political and social imagination that one cannot expect a Chinese woman to be Muslim. The complex identity of ‘Muslim’ is shoehorned to ‘Malay’, and that is that.

The ads were meant to be funny, someone might interject. Chill and don’t overanalyse, someone might say.

Oh, wait. Someone did say it:

Chill guys. Don’t overthink the ads. It’s written, produced and directed by a multi-racial team. If you overanalyse, anything will be bad.

Those words came from Media Prima’s  head honcho dude, some chief-something-or-other. These are also words that are of interest, or depending on your point of view, words that compel one to smash a head against the wall. The irony in exhorting people “to chill” in defence of ads that didn’t, in fact, take its own advice and chill but purported  instead to send a “message” (the ads were displayed as PSAs).

Who gets to tell someone else to chill? The creators of inane, unimaginative ads are the ones who tell the intended audience to “chill” and to refrain from “overanalysing”. In other words, ad people say: don’t think, just experience it for what it is – a reductive, harmful, and essentially bigoted view of the rich and complex tapestry of the Malaysian population.


(On another note, those ads were not funny because those ads were not funny.)

But, anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes. Woman, not man. This ad doesn’t take kindly to female underarms. Secondly, it assumes the inherent differences in how men and women occupy public spaces as natural; the female body occupies visible space and is always-already an error.

The ad revealed the ever-present logic of gendered relations in Malaysia, and sent a subliminal meaningful message to us members of womankind. The message is this: your body is not a wonderland but an ever-present faux pas[i].

Furthermore, it appears we are constantly fighting multiple wars on multiple fronts. We have to grapple with unchecked Western hedonism of SEX! NUDITY! ORGIES! BAD THINGS IN GENERAL! and our “own” traditional Asian Values which are about PROPRIETY! PROPERNESS! APPROPRIATENESS! GOOD THINGS IN GENERAL! and also the tug of war between ISLAM! IN MALAYSIA! AND ALL OTHER RELIGIONS! YOUR GOD! OR MY GOD! WHO WINS?

In these many wars which Malaysians apparently wage on a daily basis, the 8TV ad was an unconscious poke that burst the imaginary 1Malaysia bubble, the bubble which sees people from all genders of all races and religious backgrounds living together in smiling, linked-arm harmony with nary an underarm exposed at the wrong time or at the wrong place.

The poke is perhaps necessary. But it matters how we’re poked, and by whom. And where.

The next time someone asks you to “chill”, you tell them you’re riding your wild runaway overanalysing mind all the way to heaven, and that is why you will never make an ad like the one they just did.

Your wild runaway overanalysing mind is a thing of beauty, and look at that horse!


[i] (Unless it is revealed at the right time, unless it is revealed the way I like it, unless it is a body I like and want and desire –which is, of course, is the very essence of a faux pas: the wrong place and time, except in this case with the added caveat of the male gaze: and the wrong/undesirable body.)

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