An extremely short defense of ‘Let’s Play’ (and dispelling the myth of sports cultures’ innate superiority)

I used to sneer at anyone who watched sports for fun. Like, come on! What’s so fun about watching others playing sports which we can do ourselves? Shouldn’t it be fun if we are actually physically involved in the activities? I thought sports spectators were a bunch of imbeciles with feeble grasps of reality.

One day, I found Youtubers. It didn’t take me long to idolise some of this ‘unusual’ breed of entertainers. Not surprising considering their humour and intellectualism (*self-praising cough*) were similar to mine. But, I was surprised that some of them were ‘Let’s Play’ Youtubers, aka Youtube gamers.

As the name suggests, they upload videos of themselves playing video games and millions love to watch them. I was never a video game enthusiast myself and yet, I found myself enjoying Let’s Play. But, one day, I had a realisation: it was surprising that I was surprised by this.

Uhm, that’s confusing. I am sorry. Let me explain.

Growing up, I actually enjoyed watching other people playing games. I loved watching adults playing those difficult games, my cousin playing Suikoden II and my sister playing Pokemon Ruby (a reason why my mom bought me Game Boy Advance SP; Pokemon Ruby was the only game I ever played on the device). I was excited as the actual players. To sum it up, I was already a fan of Let’s Play before Youtube existed. So, my love of Youtube gamers should never be a surprise.

Then, I had another realisation: Let’s Play and sports spectatorship are conceptually similar! Both are about us getting excited by watching others doing activities they (seemingly) enjoy! Throughout the years, I constantly looked down on people for embracing such a ridiculous-sounding concept, not realising I have been embracing a similar one throughout my life! Hypocrisy shredding me to worthless, tiny pieces.

(Side note: I realise how the conceptual comparison is a bit flawed. Let’s Play is not always competitive while e-sports always are, just like what we consider to be traditional sports. But, the spectatorship aspect still stands. I hope…)

Brilliant enough to be the first to have such thought, I am not. Countless Facebook comments have pointed out the same thing. They counter equally countless comments that demean Let’s Play videos and anything ‘nerdy’ in general. Sports fans cannot accept that their beloved culture can be similar to the nerd one.

Never mind the denialism. The hostility is unbelievable and unnecessary. In any similar situations, my old self would react in an even more hostile manner. But, nowadays, I try to replace my hostility with something else: pity. Why? Because one does not have to be a genius to see the mindlessness of their anti-nerd culture rhetoric.

One stupid argument states how sports cultures encourage physical fitness. Sports fans love to believe themselves as people who are collectively in good shape. Somehow, loving sports make them instantly fit. Yeah, no.

Sports culture is all about the reverence of teams and athletes, akin to how nerd culture revere creators and their creations. Embracing the importance of physical fitness is and will never be the core. Can you convince me that every single sports fan is in good shape? Can you convince that those fat sports fans are just my hallucinations?

Fat nerds do exist, including the ones on Youtube. But, there are also people who are both nerdier and fitter than me. Some of the nerdy Youtubers I am subscribed are physically fit, way more than most sports fans will ever be (their physique is often credited for their physical attractiveness).

Going back to Let’s Play format, sports fans love to dismiss it as nothing but the worship of ineptitude, unlike sports spectatorship which is absolutely about admiring talents. Yeah, about that…

Admittedly, untalented Youtubers exist; the constant yelling and crude jokes is their way to compensate. But, being Youtubers can also be challenging. You have to be your own host/actor/voice actor, writer (if a script is needed), editor, director, graphic designer (if one needs catchier thumbnails) and PR person; if you are a Youtube gamer, you have to constantly make commentaries when needed, you are often pressured to upload videos daily and actual gaming skill is an asset.

You know what? I really cannot say whether some professional athletes are actually talented or not; I even don’t have the most basic knowledge about them. But, I can say that the spectatorship also includes watching amateurs playing sports; it is often the case in villages, neighbourhoods and schools. As condescending as it sounds, some amateurs are not talented! Watching untalented players is fine. Pretending that sports spectatorship is all about the appreciation of talent is dishonest.

From all anti-nerd culture arguments in existence, probably the most common one argues about nerds’ supposed lack of maturity. Their obsession with fictional worlds is seen as a sign of unwillingness to grow up. Real grown-ups have learned that only real world things matter. Things like sports cultures. Yeah, again, no.

Immaturity does exist among nerds. But, it is less about their supposedly feeble grip of reality and more about their intolerance of differing tastes (yes, the former is actually a rarity). Interfandom conflicts are excessive in nature and unfortunately abundant. Everyone must love what we love… or else.

… And the same mentality exists among sports fans. They also constantly clash with each other. In fact, their conflicts are more dangerous because they occur on the public spheres. Ensuing vandalism and fatalities are never in shortage. It has been covered too many times by the news. How often do you encounter nerdy fandoms inciting brawls in public spaces?

Also, sports fans cannot claim to be more grounded in reality than nerds are. What is tangible about sports cultures? Nothing. The sports indeed are. But, the cultures that revolve around them aren’t. I repeat, sports cultures are about fans getting excited about sports being played by others, not by themselves. They are excited about teams and athletes who don’t know them personally and probably never will. Their excitement is all about irrational emotional attachments. They are excited about nothing.

I was serious about every single one of my statements…. except for the last one. How can I say that sports fans are excited about nothing? Not only it contradicts the beginning of this article where I acknowledge my own hypocrisy, sports fans are clearly excited about something real. I was just using others’ emotions to vilify them.

Yes, when they substitute reason, emotions can be the path to our own downfalls as shown by many sports fans and nerds. They can fiendishly hate anyone and anything who shatters the divine image of the things they love. Imperfection is blasphemous. Their zealotry is comparable to religious fundamentalists’. Unrestrained emotions are dangerous.

But, when healthily composed, emotions are lovely. Our healthy emotional attachments to certain entities show how we are still able to find things to love. They are confirmations of our humanity, in spite of our constant cynicism.

Or maybe the paragraph above is just me projecting myself on others, falsely believing that what I am experiencing is universal. Did I just my article futile?

Oh, and one more thing before I end this worthlessness: emotions are actually tangible. They are the results of the chemical reactions in our brains. They are not as abstract as I wanted to believe.

I am not sure how the fact contributes to this article. I just want to point out the science.

What? 2

I don’t know why. But, I don’t always enjoy shopping for groceries, even though I love to eat. Not to mention that my mind used to be plagued unnerving thoughts while shopping.

At the ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetable sections (In urban Indonesia, fresh produce is not bountiful), I often looked at certain vegetables and thought, ‘there are people who use these as sex toys!’. I don’t know why I had that thought in the first place, considering food sex is not a kink of mine and I hate wasting food.

At the fruit, vegetable and frozen meat sections, I often looked at the produces and thought, ‘I could people with these. I could use them to beat people to death with this!’. This violent thought lingered a lot longer.

One hour and forty-five minutes later.

My mind loves to go everywhere. Instead of thinking about continuing the previous paragraph properly, I prefer to focus on the music I am listening right now (John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine) and to smell the food someone is cooking right now (flour-coated deep fried shrimps and stir-fried broccoli and carrot).

God, now I am distracted again because I am listening to the orchestral rendition of a musical composition written by a Brazilian.

Three days later.

I love to let myself distracted by everything. Foods, music, Youtube videos, life in general. Maybe it’s ADD, maybe it’s Maybelline. I try my best to not be distracted…… and that’s why I am playing an MP4 video right now on my computer instead of typing. Slow claps for me.

I have to pause it now. The video is an almost two-hour-long PBS documentary about Darwin’s evolution theory. It talked about how even Darwin himself didn’t know how evolution happened. But, he knew it happened based on his observations about the physical world, which in this case were the finches on Easter islands.

I hate how people use the word ‘theory’. A theory is not a guess. A theory is something that we come up after the research, not before. A theory is something that can be supported by further researches. When people think about theory, they actually think about hypothesis. Wait, no. Even a hypothesis should be followed by research. It sets off the research; it is not the ending. So, when people think about theory, they actually think about mindless guessing.

As annoying as it is, this ain’t surprising. People love to think scientists are professional guessers because they are projecting. They love to make mindless guesses in their daily lives. To justify that flaw of theirs, they accuse scientists, the so-called educated people, of doing the same. They want to feel good about their horrendeously imperfect selves.

I hate it when people romanticise each other. When certain public figures become more famous because of their good deeds, we love to make Gods out of them. It is unthinkable that they can commit any sins. In fact, we will guilt trip anyone who don’t follow those celebrities’ footsteps, anyone who refuse to admire them. This is reflected in our pop culture.

More of than not, you will encounter lots of highly-moral protagonists, so moral that they are unrealistic. The more critical-minded among us will be repulsed by such unnaturally perfect beings. The villains and anti-heros are more real. Apart from their flaws, they also possess positive traits that can be useful for the good guys.

Traits like the ability to see the shades of grey in life. The villains and anti-heros often have more nuanced outlooks. Not only they are more real, they are more competent! Like it or not, that is why those dark characters can still have large fandoms, sometimes bigger than the ones for the good guys.

I don’t get the Potheads

No, not stoners. Harry Potter fans.

Well, I have yet to read the first three novels and all but one supplemental book. I have yet to read The Cursed Child, the official HP fan fiction. But, I know that I am a fan.

Harry Potter is one of the things I love the most in life. Love the characters. Love the thematics. Love the vast world-building. I’ve also made my own (borderline pretentious) interpretations about the series. Harry Potter is a huge inspiration in my life.

But, if you have read my past articles (as if!), you would know how I despise fandoms, especially the ones where I supposedly belong to. I did a whole article dedicated to bashing my fellow bros aka Pewdiepie fans. I am going to do the same thing to my fellow potheads.

Just like how bros misunderstand Pewdiepie as a persona, I believe Potheads also do the same thing with their beloved series. In this case, they distort the messages to be the complete opposite.

Hogwarts school of hypocrisy and misguided elitism

Potheads love to lump themselves to the four Hogwarts houses. Gryffindor for the courageous, brave and determined ones, Slytherin for the ambitious and cunning ones, Ravenclaw for the witty, learned and wise ones…. and Hufflepuff for the sad, soon-to-be-nobodies weaklings.

Hufflepuff is a sad story. It has an unflattering image not because its values are debilitating, but because they are empowering: Hard work, patience, loyalty and fair play.

It is arguable whether loyalty has an important role in it. But, you cannot deny how important the other three are in our learning experiences, in and outside the classrooms. Learning requires efforts (hard work), time (patience) and ethics (fair play). Hufflepuff’s values are essentials in education.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think every single Hogwarts house cherishes commendable values. We must thrive to embrace them in how we live our life. But, Potheads often forget that Hogwarts is a school and knowing our priorities is key.

You may be a courageous Gryffindor who thinks you can brave the exam. But, if you think you can do so without sparing time for after-class study, you are a prime example of the blurred line between bravery and idiocy. You may as well start a magical duel while wandless.

You may be a knowledgeable and intelligent Ravenclaw. But, if you are too lazy to put them into use and too lazy to learn more, your knowledge and intelligence would have less worth than trolls’ diarrhoeic shit. Do you seriously think mere brain equals instant success?

You may be an ambitious Slytherin who competitively pursues academic achievements. But, if you are willing to cheat to get what you desire, you don’t deserve the rewards. You are not entitled to something just because you feel so. In fact, outside the school setting, you would be considered a felon. It is surprising that Death Eaters are not dominated by Slyther… oh, wait.

I believe that elitism can be a force of good. Demanding the most skilled and learned to perform the most important jobs is reasonable and perfectly human. Not only such elitism is perfectly fine, I think it should be encouraged in our lives. But, that is not the case with Hogwarts.

From all of four Hogwarts founders, only Helga Hufflepuff understood the essences of education. The rest thought education should only be reserved for anyone who possess those irrelevant traits. It is the same as making Gods out of people for simply being rich (whose money may also be inherited). It is a misguided form of elitism.

And just like any forms of misguided elitism, those three Hogwarts houses are racked with barefaced hypocrisy. Despite constantly patting themselves on the back, not every Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Slytherin embodies the values of their respective house.

Peter Pettigrew was a Gryffindor. He did not have the gut to face his ‘best friends’ whom he betrayed, did not have the gut to face Voldemort whom he swore loyalty to. He was too much of a coward to confront the consequences of his own actions.

Slytherins like Draco Malfoy, Severus Snape and Horace Slughorn are strongly driven by sky-high ambitions. But then, there are also Slytherins like Crabbe and Goyle whose only ambitions is to be the ‘little’ bitches of Draco Malfoy, world’s number one Daddy’s boy.

But, by far, Ravenclaw is the worst house regarding this. From all the Ravenclaws that have interacted with Harry, none of them seem to embody wits, wisdom and love of knowledge. Despite her magical prowess, Luna Lovegood is also a conspiracy theorist and literally the Anti-Hermione. Cho Chang is an expert in being a guilt-tripping bitch. Gilderoy Lockhart is a narcissist whose only skills are obliviating others’ memories and stealing their works (I have to give Flitwick a pass. Apart from his magical prowess, we know little about him).

But, the worst thing is, all of the intelligent characters in the series are non-Ravenclaws. Hermione Granger, Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Ginny Weasley, Cedric Diggory, Severus Snape, Lily Evans, Tom Riddle aka Voldy, Remus Lupin, the Weasley twins, just to name a few. Heck, even Harry and Draco seem more intelligent than those Ravenclaws.

If you value something so much, why don’t you practice it instead ? Why keep preaching to resisting ears? Is it about trying to impose an air of superiority while simultaneously sneering at others because you suffer from insecurity and trying to compensate for it? I guess we will never know.

Yes, I know this is unconvincing. It is never addressed either by the characters or Rowling herself. This is purely my interpretation. But, I have another opinion about the series, which I am more confident about.

Marauders’ so-called integrity

Say ‘Wormtail was a cowardly traitor’ and every pothead would nod in agreement. Say ‘the Marauders were a bunch of remorseless bullies’ and you would encounter polarising reactions.

Regarding that, the HP fandom community is divided into two factions: one who sees the Marauders (apart from Wormtail) as heroic angels and the other sees them as a gang of bullies.

I belong to the latter.

It is explicitly shown in Order of Phoenix and Deathly Hallows how they made Snape’s life a living hell. They even started bullying him before their first arrival at Hogwarts. They didn’t see him as a human being worthy of respect.

“But, Remus Lupin didn’t participate in the bullying. Also, James and Sirius stopped bullying Snape after the former dated Lily.”

Remus was not a bully. But, his friends were ones and that didn’t seem to mind him. It does not matter if you never participate in it. If you tolerate any acts that harm your fellow human beings, you are also a complicit.

And yes, they did stop bullying Snape after James dated Lily. They did mature as individuals. But, there is still no indication of remorse. End of torment does not mean repentance. It just means the tormenters stop giving a shit about their victims.

In fact, when reminiscing about their past in Order of Phoenix, Remus and Sirius saw themselves as nothing but misbehaved children. I don’t care if you are a six-year-old or a sixty-year-old. If you are a bully, you are a fucking bully! Do not sugarcoat it! Your age cannot and will never absolve you from your sins!

After learning the truth, Harry didn’t end up hating James and Sirius. I mean, one is his biological father and the other is a surrogate. Some of us cannot stop loving our loved ones even after their horrible deeds; it is a human thing. But, Harry also stopped seeing them as perfectly angelic figures. Harry has learned to accept that humans are creatures of many shades of grey.

Closing statements

My identity and a bit of Newt

If I have to choose one house, I would definitely choose Hufflepuff based on the reasons I stated above. But, deep down, I am not a Hufflepuff. I am a Ravenclaw.

My idea of fun involves having intellectual conversations, watching documentaries and arthouse films, visiting museums (another reason why I go out, besides foods), reading and googling (mostly googling) for knowledge that has no practical purposes, (over-) analysing works of arts and entertainment and pondering about everything that intrigues me. People have called me a pretentious little prick, which is not that inaccurate to be honest. I often look down on others for simplistic thinking which I sometimes feel guilty about. Sometimes.

That proves how not only I am staunch Ravenclaw, I can also be anti-Hufflepuff at times. And still, if I am enrolled at Hogwarts (as if!), I would choose Hufflepuff over any other houses. As much I love them, my values cannot be of any service or even appropriate in every setting. I have to admit that mine are far from perfect.

Oh, and don’t preach me about the so-called perfection of Gryffindor. It is a house where self-righteous pricks congregate their self-righteous arses from which they preach their self-righteousness. Instead of genuinely courageous beings, I often see Gryffindors as the fictional equivalents of Social Justice Warriors, constantly derailing their own progressive causes.

I am going on a tangent here.

On Pottermore, there is an article called 7 ways Hufflepuff are way better than you realise. From the title alone, you can tell it is one of those amateurishly-written blogs (yes, I am projecting). Some of the points make sense, albeit weakly argued. Others are unfounded altogether. I would be disappointed if Rowling wrote it herself. But, there is one point that attracts my eyes: the house’s lack of conventionality.

The article uses Tonks’ appearance as a representative of said unorthodoxy. But, it is too shallow of an example. We need something that goes beyond the physicality, something more profound and.. I can think of one example: Newt Scamander.

Google ‘Newt Scamander masculinity’ and you will see articles about how the magizoologist defies the traditional masculinity. Instead of being conceited, insensitive and showy, he is nurturing, emotionally sensitive and unassuming. He is a deviant male lead. Even in this regard, Harry Potter is still a cliche character. Unsurprisingly, deviance like this one is not universally loved.

In his Pop Culture Detective video, Jonathan McIntosh shows how film reviewers from mainstream media outlets criticise the character for his supposed lack of charm. Their minds are still indoctrinated by the cultural establishment to love – and only love – what we have been accustomed to. Feel pity for them.

What is surprising about Newt Scamander’s ‘deviant’ personality is not the deviance itself. Many works of arts and entertainments have violated the norms since the beginning of time and will always do. As zealous as they are enforced, disobedience should be expected once in a while.

What is surprising about Newt Scamander is him not being a major character in an indie or arthouse film. He is a major character in Harry Potter, a profitable franchise with strong mainstream popularity. Pop culture is infamous for its obedience to the establishment. The fact that a form deviance can exist in such sphere is a marvel in itself.

I am disappointed with myself. As someone who loves to analyse entertainment and hates traditional gender roles, I should have spotted it myself.

The lesser bullies

Snape is indeed a well-crafted character. He has sacrificed his body and soul for the sake of defeating Voldemort. It is dishonest for us to dismiss both. But, at the same time, they cannot erase one absolute fact: he is a fucking horrible person!

He abuses his power as a teacher, he preys on vulnerable students and he finds pleasure in torment! Praise his heroism. Praise how well-crafted he is as a character. But, there is no sound justification for us to romanticise someone who can be described as a heartless bully…

… And the same mindset should be applied to the Marauders.

Yes, I know. In comparison (Wormtail excluded), they are a lot kinder, warmer and more virtuous than Snape will ever be. But, again, you cannot ignore the facts that James and Sirius are also remorseless bullies and Lupin consciously tolerates them. They are the reason why his heart is ravaged with a sickness called bullying.

Despite everything, some of you still lay your eyes on the Marauders through rose-coloured lenses. This blog is not the first time I spout such rant. It seems nothing will convince you to take them off. But, I will keep trying.

I have this one trick, though. A trick so painfully obvious, anyone would have thought about it long ago: stop comparing them with Snape! Of course, they would look angelic with him in the picture. From now on, remove him out of it! Judge every single one for who they really are, not for someone else is.

The greater bully will always look worse than the lesser bully. But, like it or not, the lesser bully is still a bully.

It seems to contradict what I said in the beginning about how I love the characters. Well, I do love them because they are very grey.

Okay, a few characters are indeed black and white. The series also has the cliche ‘good vs evil’ theme. But, pay attention and you’ll see how complex many of the characters are.

When we think we know them, they suddenly reveal ‘new’ aspects about themselves; they are like infinite onions where every layer embodies a surprise. They also possess wonderful imperfection; their strengths and weaknesses make them feel more relatable, more human. Real humans are always more complex than we like to think. It’s sad how I have to point out this obvious fact.

We cannot completely hate many of the characters. We also cannot romanticise them as well. Once again, they are of many shades of grey. That’s the reason why I love them.

BvS: a never-ending, action-infested clusterf**k… with moments of surprising depth (a shamelessly late review)

From the title alone, one can tell I will be bashing the film which many people have relieved themselves on for the past two years. So, if you are a fanboy or fangirl who only see imaginary flawlessness in your beloved motion picture work, click away.

Or don’t. Besides bashing the hell out of it, I am also planning to discuss about the film’s positive aspects AND attempting to persuade you to reflect on the dissenting voices. I don’t care if I will be persuasive or sound like a self-righteous prick. Okay, now let’s start with the beating.

First of all, the story is horrendously tedious! Not slow-pacing, but tedious. A slow-paced story encourages us to patiently wait or even to not expect anything at all; we are encouraged to relish the present. This is more common in arthouse films where immersion is crucial and non-negotiable in every scene.

A tedious story, on the other hand, keeps lingering on the same points despite its promise of incoming fresh scenes. It is nothing but a spawn of broken promises and aesthetic disappointment. Unless you are easily awed by mindless jam-packed actions, there’s nothing that can save us from a film’s tiresome pacing.

In fact, BvS is unbearable because of its mixing of tedious pacing and high octane actions. The three-hour-long duration makes it even more gruelling. I left the cinema feeling mentally exhausted. Personally, I don’t mind the exhaustion as long as it is legitimate. A film may provoke strong emotions that last for hours (or days). It may also provoke us to think hard as it is either loaded with information or confusing at the first watch.

Confusing. Also what BvS is to me. On this part, I am not sure if the problem is with me. Maybe I failed to pick up vague hints that can enlighten me about the story. Maybe I was (and still am) unfamiliar with the original source material. If it’s the latter, we have a problem.

An adaptation must be able to stand by itself. The original source materials are its inspirations, not its extensions. If we need to explore them for more info, why bother adapting them in the first place? Is the entertainment really less about quality and more about profit-making? Did I just ask a rhetorical question where I seemed to fake some level of profundity? But, as I said, I am still not sure if the problem is with me.

Oh, and I am going to end the bashing with something predictable: Martha. Arguably one of the most mockable moments in the history of mockable entertainment. Two individuals immediately bond with each other just because their mothers share the same name. The heartwarming charade is so brazenly displayed, its so-called warmth becomes hollow and insincere.

And yet, meaningless and deceitful facades still dupe us. We still hate subtlety because it requires understanding of life beyond what the basic senses tell us. That’s unfortunate since subtlety is one thing that brings depth to works of arts and entertainment. Subtlety helps us to dodge traps like self-conceited pretentiousness, sickly sweet sentimentality or, in the case of Martha: the movie, shameless idiocy.

Enough with the bashing. As I said in the beginning, I will also talk about the film’s positive features. Just because I hate something, that doesn’t mean it absolutely lacks any redeeming values. In this case, it is the not-so-subtle menace shown in two scenes.

The first one is Batman’s nightmare scene. Apart from the drastic change of setting and Batman’s voice, it doesn’t feel dreamlike at first. The ensuing chaos also seems normal. But suddenly, in the middle of the mayhem, winged-demons are arriving from the sky, snatching every single human that is seen as a threat. It literally looks the beginning of God’s wrath.

Except they are not demons; they are not even supernatural. Once you take a close look, you will see they are mere human soldiers, completely clad in black armour and adorned with mechanical wings. But, how the scene was crafted really does wonders.

Camera angle, showing the ‘demonic’ soldiers’ daunting arrivals from the sky. Background music, laced with droning male vocals. The limited colour palette of light brown and black, evoking hell on earth and man’s inner darkness respectively. As a result, those flying soldiers look like they were born among hellfire. Even the wingless and more human-looking soldiers look demonic as well. It is a very nightmarish. But, not the scariest scene ever made.

Heck, it’s not even the peak of the film’s disquieting atmosphere. For me, Lex Luthor’s painting scene is the winner for possessing greater subtlety and requiring more in-depth dissection. The said painting depicts the biblical angels and devils, with the former emerging from the sky and the latter soaring from the underworld.

Its appearance on the scene is very brief. Brief, yet assertive. Once again, the background music was well-composed, this time with haunting string sounds. But, what makes the painting domineering is the remarks of Lex Luthor, who exudes a menacing aura (if I may use the word). He said:

“[The painting] should be upside down. We know better now, don’t we? Devils don’t come from hell beneath us. No, they come from the sky.”

That’s not randomness. If you try to interpret it (using logic, of course), the results would be so fitting to the narrative… and internet users have done so. Some think it represents Superman who is probably seen as the devil by Lex. Others think it represents Lex, who sees himself as the ‘angel’ who fell from grace, aka the devil. Symbolism is one boundless space, always open for any sound interpretations.

Subtlety. Yeah, I know. Said that a zillion times before. Bla bla bla bla. But, I want to keep underlining its importance in conveying depth, as proven by the two scenes. Subtlety is the only reason why I don’t hate BvS completely. In fact, I am now open about the possibility of me hating the film less in the future. I might have missed other hidden messages!

Let me change the topic for a while and tell you a story:

I am a Harry Potter fan. I love most of its characters, their quirks and surprising complexities. I love the expansiveness of the fictional universe. I love the thought-provoking thematics, unpretentiously expressed throughout. I love its progressive social stances. I even have made my own analyses about the series, encouraging the growth of my critical thinking skill.

And because of that skill, I cannot unsee its flaws.

Apart from the inconsistencies (which is common in any long-running series), there are also defects like lack of novelty, unexceptional writing style and hasty series finale. I hate how Goblet of Fire and Order of Phoenix, especially the latter, are given poor film adaptations by having their depth thrown away. I also believe Half-Blood Prince understands the HP spirit more than the original source material itself. That’ll stir up the fandom.

I hope you, BvS fans, are still here. I know some of you are rational enough to not make a God out of your favourite film. But, for those of you who do and still adamant about its absolute perfection, let me ask you something:

If I have the ability to shit on Harry Potter, one of the things I love the most in my life, why can’t you accept that BvS, your beloved film, has its faults?

You don’t need to be a pretentious snob to criticise the film. No need to be a Batman and/or Superman hater. No need to be a hardcore Marvel fan. Heck, you don’t even need a highly intellectual mind.

All you need is to accept that imperfection is inherently inescapable, even for the things you love dearly.

A brief description of the outlooks of Indonesian Muslims

Based on a university assignment I made recently. Improved and translated from Indonesian:

Ahok is charged with two years of imprisonment for a blasphemy he was never guilty of. Habieb Rizieq, who blatantly and clearly insulted the Christian faith and desires for Sharia imposed on every citizen, has yet to be touched by the anti-blasphemy legislation. Worse, Ahok is considered to be the nation’s divider and Rizieq to be a unifier by some Muslims.

Unfortunately, this injustice is not surprising. First of all, Islam is the biggest religion here, venerated by 87.18% of the population; so easy for the majority to rule. I obtained the data from a census published by the Central Agency on Statistics (BPS) in 2010. Minority religions were also mentioned. But, the balance in religious studies was not always embraced.

Overall statistic studies of the whole country published in 2016 mentioned the numbers of government-run Madrasahs (Islamic schools) along with their students and teachers; there are also numbers for the people who did the Hajj (pilgrimage). Same thing with the 2015 and 2014 publications. The studies were executed to comprehend different aspects of the country’s life, including its ‘key socio-demographic’ characteristics, as stated in the introduction page of every said publication.

Demographic studies should include every single section of a society, not just the majority ones. Other religious groups are not mentioned at all while the study of the Muslim one is quite in-depth. The Indonesian government seems to treat the others like step-children. Maybe I look petty for making a big deal out of statistical researches. But, that lack of impartiality is also shown in the government’s administrative works.

From its name alone, the ministry of religious affairs should serve all religious groups. But, in reality, they only serve Muslims. The ministry is being ruled by Muslims, including the ministerial rank. If they only want to serve Muslims, at least they change their name to ministry of Islamic affairs. No need to be deceptive.

Of course, I cannot completely accuse the government of making Islam the golden child. Besides it, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism are all officially recognised. Despite being dominated by Muslims, the ministry of religious affairs still possesses organisations that represent minority religions. Publicly-funded universities affiliated with other religions can still be found. Ministerial positions can still be held by non-Muslims. Despite the tendency to be religiously one-sided and to mix religion with politics, the Indonesian government has yet to be tainted by Islamist ideology.

I also believe the problem can also be found on the people. In the post-Soeharto era, Syahrin Harahap notices how the Indonesian society possesses three distinct images: harmonious, open and fair interreligious image, secular, liberal and western-oriented image and conflicting, in tension and terroristic image. (2006, p. 32-43).

The observation shows how a nation, especially one as diverse as Indonesia, always consists of distinct collectives. But, at the same times, those said images are very black and white and I find that unnerving.

Indonesian liberals are not thought to prioritise harmony even when they openly oppose religious sectarianism; Ulil Abshar Abdalla even supports the Ahmadis. We also forget about how, as I mentioned earlier, Habieb Rizieq is being praised by so-called harmony-loving citizens. The mask we wear is often deceitful.

Rationality, which is embraced by some Muslim thinkers, is considered to be a highly-western thing. Such assumption gives the impression that rationality is antithetical to eastern cultures and most Muslims are easterners themselves.

Rationality is also not considered as a factor for openness. Rational thinking is just a path towards blasphemy, a path towards atheism. As a result, many Muslims see it as something that we should refrain ourselves from embracing.

We also forget about how popular the western culture is in Indonesia, even among citizens who oppose liberalism. Even the Islamic pop culture is highly westernised, with its commercialism and hedonism that attract conservatives’ distaste (Saluz 2009).

In addition, a load of preachers have attained celebrity status. Every sermon is a generous money generator. They also have appeared in countless commercials. In many ways, they are not unlike the televangelists from the United States, a western country.

Those liberal thinkers are considered too westernised because they studied in western universities. People with such petty assumption don’t realise how modern Islamic education in eastern countries is based on the western one; Islamic universities in the east have followed the results of the Bologna Process. Oh and Gus Dur graduated from University of Baghdad and Quraish Shihab from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. They studied in Arab education institutes. Why weren’t they accused of being too Arabised?

Besides accused of being too western, the liberals are also labelled as secular, despite how open they are about their religious beliefs, how often they give religious sermons and how some of them teach in Islamic educational institutes. Besides, can we guarantee all of those opponents of liberal Islam pray five times a day, do the zakat, fast every Ramadhan, abstain from alcohol and pre-marital sex?

The images shown by Syahrin Harahap, despite referring to the ones foreigners see, also exist among Indonesians. We love to stamp black and white labels on each other, not realising how humans are more complex than we like to imagine. I also feel Syahrin Harahap used the wrong approach to this issue.

I appreciate how he acknowledges Muslims’ extremism problem. But, at the same time, he was an apologist; he seemed to blame the rise of fundamentalism on forces from outside the Muslim world by stating that Islam is an inherently peaceful religion.

As a Muslim myself, I would love to believe that. But, in reality, those extremists genuinely believe their views are completely aligned with Islamic teachings. We should accept the possibility of our beloved religions being far from perfect.

I do agree with his proposal that teaching globalisation studies to students will help combating domestic extremism (p. 43). It is true the ideology was born overseas and spread from one country to another. But, the academic discipline does not cover the whole issue; it does not study how something spreads internally once it reaches a country.

I propose for all Indonesian Muslims, including the moderate ones, to take a look at themselves in the mirror regarding how we decipher Islamic teachings and how we treat our fellow human beings, especially ones whose outlooks contradict ours. Even though the moderates incite neither violence nor discrimination and will call out anyone who do so, their tendency to make infidels out of liberals and unwillingness to admit Islam as the inspiration for extremism have already given birth to possibly long-lasting negative consequences.

Like it or not, the moderates are indirectly responsible for the injustice that befalls Ahok.

 

 

Badan Pusat Statistik 2010, Hasil sensus penduduk 2010: kewarganegaraan, suku bangsa, agama dan bahasa sehari-sehari penduduk Indonesia, BPS, Jakarta.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2014, Statistik Indonesia 2016, BPS, Jakarta.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2015, Statistik Indonesia 2015, BPS, Jakarta.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2016, Statistik Indonesia 2016, BPS, Jakarta.

Harahap, S 2016, ‘The image of Indonesia in the world: an interreligious perspective’, The IUP journal of international relations, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 30-44.

Saluz, CN 2009, ‘Youth and pop culture in Indonesian Islam’, Studia Islamika, vol. 16. no. 2, pp. 215-242.

Lowbrow elitism

I still refuse to call myself a big fan of Progressive Rock. I have yet to listen to the works of every legendary Prog Rock band. My knowledge of the genre is still minuscule. But, I know that I am overwhelmed by it. I know about how robust intellectualism and virtuoso mastery of instruments are the non-negotiable prerequisites for its musicians. That’s why I was thrilled to find a BBC documentary titled ‘Prog Rock Britannia’.

For me, it was deeply compact. It concisely retold the chronicle of the wonderfully bizarre genre from start to finish. From the startling emergence to its disgraceful downfall. Oh and about the downfall…

According to the documentary, the cause of its demise was related to the public perception. Prog Rock had been regarded as another form of elitism that dismiss the everyday life of common people. When financial crisis struck Britain in the 1970’s, the distaste finally climaxed. It was no longer socially acceptable to love Prog Rock. It was finally proven how the genre did not represent the people while the more pop ones did.

Yeah, about that…

Prog Rock disgusted them because it encouraged intellectualism and higher artistic appreciation, not because of its supposed elitism. If elitism was indeed the reason, they would not have chosen pop music, an inherently escapist genre that discourages any forms of contemplation, as the music of the people.

In his article Popular culture: a useful notion?, Willem Frijhoff laid out six dimensions of pop culture, one of them is it being everyday culture. Even before I read the article, I already had that thought in mind. Pop culture is what the common people instinctively embrace… and that is it.

We often do not realise how culture is something that we preach and does not always practice. In many cases, a culture represents a society’s loudly-expressed ideals approved by the Establishment, not the actual day-to-day practice of the ordinary people.

If a culture is always the photographic representation of a society, sexually conservative societies would not have high rates of teenage pregnancies, sexual assaults and STDs. Self-proclaimed free societies would not have politicians that advocate violation of freedom. I’d love to call out specific countries. But, I am already going too far on a tangent.

Anyway, I don’t mind pop culture. I genuinely understand why it is loved by many. In fact, I find it to be mentally relieving at times. But, pretending that it represents who we are is extremely dishonest. We should always remember pop culture’s main purpose: pushing escapism.

Pop culture’s idea of entertainment involves abducting us from our loathsome earthly existence to a world of bewitching illusions. That’s nice, isn’t it? If we want a culture to represent us, pick one that can’t even be bothered to allude to reality. Never pick ones that encourage contemplation. Ever.

A disclaimer: when I said pop culture, I was referring to the low-quality kind. There are times when pop culture works successfully combine both escapism and contemplative depth. The Golden Girls is one good example, with frequent social commentaries and occasional emotional moments. Anyway…

If you hate the highbrow because you hate intellectualism and artistry, just say it! Don’t say that your hatred is motivated by genuine anti-elitism when it isn’t. Using such pretext makes you a fraud. Nobody with sane state of mind would want to be one…

Wait, maybe you want to be one. Maybe you are one of those pathetic nobodies who believe life is all about others’ superficial recognition. You will do anything to be the so-called voice of the common people. Fondling your fragile ego is more important than being truthful.

Either that or you just from cognitive dissonance. Maybe you genuinely believe pop culture is not escapist, never was and never will be. You believe intellectualism and artistry are escapism in its purest, unadulterated form. You’re unable to acknowledge your defective mental clarity.

This anti-highbrow sentiment is hypocritical and self-defeating. You exclude anything that you consider highbrow and anyone who embrace it. But then, you exclude. You are committing exclusion. Your efforts to combat elitism ends up creating another form of elitism, where the lowbrow is the only acceptable norms. As I said, hypocritical and self-defeating.

What’s the point of this article? Well, first of all, writing insults is fun for me. Second, I believe our expressions of distaste for certain things should be properly constructed. Our attempts to appeal to the masses should be based on sincerity, not pandering and deceit. Our reasoning should also be sound and coherent; always reconsider every single one of our thoughts. Critical thinking is undeniably arduous. But, it is possible to do and worth the efforts.

Note about the referenced article:

I initially wanted to make a complete citation of Willem Frijhoff’s article. The problem is I forget where I got the article from. I did find a Dutch academic also named Willem Frijhoff. But, his area of specialisation is history and there was no indication that he ever dealt with pop culture studies. Academic studies can be interdisciplinary in nature which still makes me wonder if he is the Willem Frijhoff I am looking for.