Let not the mob and other detractors make us fall out of love with the arts and intellectual freedom, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
Quite often, a form of artistic expression, such as a theatrical performance, inadvertently gains more public prominence arising from an outburst of protest against it rather than as an outcome of its own publicity initiatives.
This is not to say that producers of artistic expression should be thankful for such “small blessings” especially when the upshot of such an angry protest is sheer censorship of their creative works.
A case in point is the play (not a film, as wrongly claimed by the protesters) Love in Georgetown City, which was staged at penangpac recently. Repeat performances after the first night of their artistic presentation were cancelled under mob pressure.
The protest was mounted by a group of self-styled moral guardians who apparently had not even watched the play; neither did they feel assured by police that the play does not promote free sex, the LGBT lifestyle and other forms of sexual aberration that they curiously envisioned.
It is most unfortunate that the Penang government stood silent over this violation of artistic expression. This is tantamount to acquiescence, which doesn’t augur well for the government’s professed desire to make George Town a city that is culturally vibrant, as exemplified by its well-known annual George Town Literary Festival.
Indeed, succumbing to such mob pressure is giving a wrong signal to those who are bent on placing obstacles to the growth of the arts in Penang and elsewhere in the country.
It is important to note that the arts are as important as commerce, industry and science in the social, political and intellectual aspects of a progressive nation. Moreover, theatrical performances, just like film, dance, music, visual arts, photography and literature, are part and parcel of freedom of expression.
Thus, the banning of the this play in Penang should be the concern of not only theatre activists and buffs. A play is generally a popular art form as it can, if done deftly, tackle contemporary issues head on in a way that the audience can relate to, especially if it is executed through satire and humour.
True, the arts are an arena of struggle because they often allow space for experimentation to a certain degree by the producer. The arts can also provide a platform for various interpretations and many degrees of appreciation from the audience. Hence, one would expect the arts to elicit praise as well as provoke criticism, disagreement, controversy or even public protest.
But disagreement over a particular form of artistic expression should not border on threats of violence to the point of having it banned indirectly by an unruly mob.
Let’s take an example. Certain quarters in our society may not like the screening of horror or ghostly movies in cinemas – many of them have broken box office records – because, to them, it panders to superstition and the realm of illogic, which are considered unscientific and even insensitive to certain beliefs.
Although some individuals may want to stage protests in the cinemas concerned, it would be more intellectually beneficial if such protests take the form of civilised film reviews, commentaries or public dialogues.
The banning of various forms of artistic expression is generally easy, but it is the epitome of intellectual laziness, if not shallowness – or even sheer arrogance.
It is only through intellectual engagement, such as literary criticism and dialogue, that public can be enlightened about the issue at hand. At the same time, such engagement can help to strengthen our intellectual tradition, if any. Brain is much preferred to brawn in this regard.
A nation is enriched in various ways, including the hard work and determination of creative people.
Let not the mob and other detractors make us fall out of love with the arts and intellectual freedom.