Just as Donald Trump’s mockery of the US presidency is caricatured in the media, our politicians behaving badly should likewise be jabbed for a gag or two. If not as harmless entertainment, political satire is one way to flush the falsities from the political spin prevalent in the mainstream media.
At times I am amazed at how the media would treat as serious news the stupid statements of Ministers and their minions. The behaviour and intellect of our current leaders, however, are not any worse than their predecessors. It’s only that today’s social media apps and YouTube have opened a less censored space for Malaysian-style satire and memes to capture a growing audience turned off by the country’s politics of negativity and religious demagogues.
Going online we are able to skirt around the government censors – for now – and find a release from the feigned incorruptibility of our Ministers, their hypocrisy, the public corruption, political patronage and religious fanaticism since 1998 when reformasi became a household word. Listening to some of our Malaysian stand-ups on YouTube never fails to get me chuckling on the political circus back home.
I see a minority of millennials emerging across racial groups who have crossed the red lines to engage meaningfully with wit and humour in maturing the political process.
Some have made a name for themselves at home and abroad, a few chalking a level of notoriety for their snarky snipes on the corrupt and jabbing the demagogues, exposing falsehoods, and targeting their wit at any cultural and political figures whose public behaviour provide fair fodder for a gag or two.
Our political satirists and stand-up comedians may yet develop in form and style as Bill Maher (HBO Real Time), Jon Stewart (former host of The Daily Show), Stephen Colbert (The Late Show), John Oliver (Last Week Tonight) or the late George Carlin, who had inspired many of his fans with his 5As of life.
As an aside, in an interview with Jon Stewart, Carlin alluded to his childhood growing up in a broken family, schooled by nuns, and how he got involved with drugs and alcohol as a political satirist and stand-up comedian. He said: “In our school we did not have A’s, B’s, C’s and D’s, The only A’s I got (and this will be a little corny) I’ve got their Attention, Approval, their Admiration, Approbation and their Applause”.
Far from the Stewart-Carlin league are our Malaysian stand-ups, but nonetheless, funny and clever. Their informed comedic utterances –without malice – distilled from the public sphere and coupled with their sharp observations of human behaviour, do contain nuggets of wisdom and socio-political insights. For instance from the punnily named MACC, Comedy Court and Harith Iskandar among others.
Watching their YouTube clips, they certainly got my approval and applause for communicating the ‘news’, critiquing the country’s politics without deviating from the facts, and entertaining the viewers. Their Malaysian-style semantics and stage antics remind me so much of home.
But, there’s a limit to political satire and caricatures given our government’s penchant to sanction subversive humour. We certainly, for good reasons, don’t want to see a copycat of Charlie Hebdo or Jyllands-Posten cartoons in Malaysia. Nonetheless, our comedic political punditry and news satire – from Fake Malaysia News and Cilisos to Zunar and Fahmi Reza, from Namewee and Ahmad Nabil to satirical videos like ‘Onederful Malaysia CNY 2014’.
I look to the day when one or two of our leaders are willing and able to indulge in some form of self-mockery with class? For instance, in the likes of President Barack Obama. His comedic riffs at the White House Correspondents dinners during his presidency, and his easy engagement with comedians has certainly endeared him to viewers in the US and abroad as the “coolest president ever”.
Many of our political leaders are just too stilted, too much of themselves and lacking in ‘coolness’ to endear them to the people. To our political leaders, I’d say, chill and laugh at yourself once in a while. Make us laugh with you and we’ll like you more. We may even listen to what you’re actually saying. You’ll get our attention, approval, admiration and approbation.
Given that the series of Bersih protests and online petitions have so far achieved little in fundamental electoral reforms, satire and comedy could be a momentary comic relief from the reportage of unresolved 1MDB case and divisive political bickering. Political comedy without malice to anyone or party may just to be our lost jester now found, speaking truth to the king and the people through witty utterances and humour. The emperor has no clothes indeed. No wonder the government don’t find it funny at all.