The unwholesomeness of ‘goodness’

Everyone who has watched The Incredibles (and pay attention to its dialogues) know one thing about the film: it denounces the elitism of superheroism.

Well, the villain does that. In the film, every single superhero character was born with their power. It us undeniable that elitism based on something biologically innate is unfair. Those superheroes obtain an unjustly earned special status. They are almost treated as Gods. The villain has a point.

Of course, you may argue the superheroes have actual contributions to the societies they live in. Without them, who is going to protect the citizens from the bad guys? Who is going to bring the collective sense of security?

Well, The Incredibles 2 answers the question: the ‘ordinary’ citizens should be the ones who have help themselves!

The villain equates superheroes-worshipping with consumerism. Superheroes are extremely handy products the ordinary citizens become too dependent on and the dependency discourages them from doing anything to improve the societies they live in.

Improve the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies, make use of the armed forces for domestic purposes (instead of constantly sending them overseas), enquire into why the crimes exist in the first place. The ordinary citizens should have done those. But, as those require self-introspection and acknowledgement of unflattering truths, they prefer to do the easy thing: sticking to the status quo. Once again, the villain has a point… and one of the good guys is naive.

As heroes-worshipping is liken to consumerism, heroism in the sequel does not parallel to heroism in real life. For me, it is more of a commentary about our misguided approach regarding making the world a better place; it reminds me how some people still think social media can bridge the gaps between different human beings, still unaware the problem lies on humans’ sectarian tendencies, not on technological limitation.

In the first film, on the other hand, heroism is liken to undeserved elitism. That has a direct parallel in real life… which can be extremely contentious to point out, even in very liberal societies. I am thinking about soldiers.

I am proud to say I was never guilty of the ‘all-soldiers-are-heroes’ mentality. Not only it feels like worshipping conceitedly unprogressive institutions, it also does not make sense. Somehow, simply joining a formal and rigidly-structured collective instantaneously make you worthy of any honourable titles associated with it. Your labels determine your worth.

Yeah, no.

Many soldiers in some parts of the world are conscripts; in countries without alternative services, the citizens only have two options: enlistment or jail. Soldiers have the right to benefits which are reserved exclusively for them; poverty is enough to motivate people to enlist. It is also no secret that soldiers have committed countless human rights violations; it is either they become desensitised by violence or they were already suffering from bloodlust in the first place. Not to mention that even in relatively small countries, soldiers are huge collectives of distinct individuals. Believing heroism exists in every single one of them betrays facts and reason.

Of course, as it is the case with unreasonable creatures, those military worshippers also suffer from cognitive dissonances. My mom is a big admirer of the military; she was a military brat who was born merely a few years after Indonesia’s independence, who was a teen when the Indonesian-Malaysia Konfrontasi occurred, who thinks Indonesia was absolutely way better under the authoritarian rule of General Soeharto, who thinks soldiers only care about doing service for their countries.

She also wants me to enlist for the financial benefits, manliness and social status. No explanation needed for the first two. With the third, it is both baffling and frustrating. Baffling because she somehow thinks that I, her disappointingly rebellious and underachieving son, will easily climb up the ranks. Frustrating because it is a reflection of her irrationality and classist tendency. Not once she expresses a desire for me to be a patriot; she only cares about the so-called perks of military life. In the US, however, there is a cognitive dissonance worse than this one.

Being loud and obnoxious about their so-called love of soldiers also means ridiculing PTSD-suffering and/or homeless veterans, supporting budget cut for VA, dodging conscription during the Vietnam War era and worshipping those dodgers. When they say ‘support the troops’, they refer to the dead ones… and any pro-military ‘patriots’ who never enlisted and will never have the desire to.

The older I get, the more I realise how ‘goodness’ and any can related concepts damaging; in many cases, ‘goodness’ is meaningless. I believe it is rooted in our debilitating upbringing. At least, that’s the case if we use my anecdote.

Since I was young, I have been bombarded with guilt-tripping rhetorics about the greatness of virtue and the sin of not falling for those guilt-tripping rhetorics. That’s one of the many ideals I was indoctrinated to. For many years, I fell for it. The indoctrination climaxed when I became an internet addict. Not long after I reached adulthood, I started to realise how questionable this mindset is.

Instead of encouraging genuine altruism and social consciousness, it champions self-righteousness, reward-seeking open-handedness, the unfounded belief that artistic preferences and our level of ‘wokeness’ are inherently correlated and the mindlessness that makes us exploitable enough to fall for meaningless articulation. It also puts off cynical humans from seeing the beauty of benevolence and earthly cognisance; eventually, their cynicism intensifies, not subsides.

To exacerbate the nauseous feeling even more, those loud and self-praising zombies have the gut to direct the heroic light on themselves! Unfortunately unsurprisingly, they see themselves as the enlightenment the unkind world needs and does not deserve. They are literally one of those humans who unknowingly make living parodies out of themselves! Instead of invigorating the world they supposedly love, they only give it more burdens to bear!

This is why I love entertainment where morality is depicted a grey entity. This is why I have a strong inclination to admire aloof, crass, cynical and/or sarcastic public figures.

It is lovely when popular entertainment subtly encourages the audience to rethink their stances regarding good and evil, when it cunningly reminds us of our own ill-defined reality. The two The Incredibles films are great examples.

Those unpleasant individuals may not be unpleasant as we think they are; even though it is not always the case, we may be able to identify courtesy, down-to-earth intellect or even heartfelt virtue once they uncover their true colours… or once we actually pay attention. Felix Kjellberg, the most subscribed Youtuber and the media’s favourite Youtube punchbag, is probably one of the best examples.

So, to sum everything up: characters, NOT labels, should be the basis of our judgement of fellow human beings! Of course, like everything in life, it is easier said than done. But, I have some inadequate, anecdotal and scientifically unproven tips that may or may not improve your perceptiveness.

When a film you just watched seems to have extremely kind protagonists and a perfectly happy ending, be suspicious. Re-watch it, pay attention to the characters, dialogues, settings and plot.

Once you notice the small details, you will realise how our beloved main characters are shrouded in unexpressed sinfulness, the ending only serve them and the villains may not as bad as they seem. This can be a result of deep OR shallow thinking on the filmmakers’ behalf. The subtext betrays the film’s true nature.

Yes, a scripted film involves fictional characters. But, that can prepare you to be more observant and critical when assessing the facade of your surroundings. Obviously, using real humans as our ‘subjects’ is a lot better.

When a public figure attracts your attention, try not to let his/her public image clouds your judgement. Instead, try to enquire about him/her yourself.

If he/she is known for his/her obnoxious and unsavoury personality, watch and listen to his/her interviews; if he/she acts surprisingly nice and polite, it is possible you just encounter his/her real personality.

If he/she is known for being open-handed and moral, investigate him/her; research about the charity he/she has supposedly accomplished, find out if any of his/her claims have factual and scientific validity, break down the soundness of his/her philosophies and find out if he/she practices what he/she preaches. More of than not, such public figure habours unmistakable yet ignored ungodly qualities.

While both individuals intentionally manufacture their public images, they are driven by different objectives. One believes in the ‘bad-publicity-is-good-publicity’ mantra while the other wants to build a strong, highly-devoted following and a pristine, almost saint-like persona, disfiguring the wholesomeness of ‘goodness’.

Guess which individual is more menacing.

I am such a hopeful person, am I not?

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Ringkasan sudut pandang umat Muslim Indonesia

Berdasarkan tugas kuliah saya. Versi Bahasa Inggris dapat dibaca di tautan ini. Entah kenapa, saya lupa menerbitkan artikel Bahasa Indonesia.

Ahok dituntut dua tahun penjara karena melakukan penistaan agama yang tidak pernah beliau lakukan. Habib Rizieq, yang dengan lantang dan jelas menghina agama Kristen dan menginginkan semua warga Indonesia untuk tunduk kepada hukum Syariah, masih belum tersentuh UU penistaan agama. Bahkan, Ahok dianggap sebagai pemecah kesatuan bangsa dan Rizieq sebagai pemersatu oleh sebagian umat Muslim.

Sayangnya, ketidakadilan ini bukanlah hal yang mengejutkan. Pertama, Islam adalah agama yang besar di Indonesia, dianut oleh 87.18% penduduk; mudah bagi kelompok mayoritas untuk berkuasa. Saya mendapatkan data tersebut dari sensus penduduk yang diterbikan oleh Badan Pusat Statistik (BPS) pada tahun 2010. agama-agama minoritas juga disebutkan. Tetapi, keseimbangan dalam pengkajian agama tidak selalu dipegang.

Kajian statistik menyeluruh Indonesia yang diterbitkan BPS pada tahun 2016 menyebutkan jumlah sekolah, guru dan murid Madrasah yang dikelola pemerintah dan juga jumlah warga yang melaksanakan ibadah Haji. Begitu juga dengan kajian terbitan tahun 2015 dan 2014. Kajian-kajian tersebut dilaksanakan untuk memahami berbagai segi kehidupan negara, termasuk ‘perkembangan sosial-demografi’, seperti tertera pada halaman pendahuluan setiap kajian tersebut.

Kajian demografi seharusnya meliputi semua kelompok-kelompok, bukan hanya kelompok mayoritas. Umat beragama lain tidak disebut sama sekali sedang umat Islam dikaji lebih dalam. Pemerintah Indonesia terkesan menganaktirikan agama-agama minoritas. Mungkin saya picik karena memermasalahkan kajian statistik. Tetapi, sifat ketidakberimbangan tersebut juga ditunjukan dalam tata kerja pemerintahan.

Dari namanya saja, kementerian agama (kemenag) seharusnya mengayomi semua umat beragama. Tetapi, pada kenyataannya, hanya umat Islam yang dilayani. Kementerian masih dikuasai oleh orang-orang Muslim, termasuk jabatan menteri. Setidaknya, jika mereka hanya mengayomi umat Islam, nama kementerian agama seharusnya diubah menjadi kementerian agama Islam. Tidak perlu bermuslihat.

Tentu saja, saya tidak bisa menuduh pemerintah Indonesia terlalu menganakemaskan Islam. Selain Islam, agama Protestan, Katolik, Buda, Hindu dan Konghucu juga diakui secara resmi. Kemenag, walaupun dikuasai orang-orang Muslim, masih memiliki badan-badan yang mewakili umat beragama lain. Universitas-universitas negeri beragama non-Islam masih dapat ditemukan. Jabatan-jabatan menteri masih bisa dipegang oleh penganut agama-agama lain. Walaupun ada kecenderungan untuk tidak berimbang dan mencampur-aduk agama dengan politik, pemerintah Indonesia masih belum dicemari paham Islamisme.

Saya juga yakin bahwa permasalahan juga dapat ditemukan di masyarakat. Di masa pasca-Soeharto, Syahrin Harahap melihat bahwa rakyat Indonesia memiliki tiga citra yang berbeda: citra keterbukaan dan kerhamonisan, citra sekuler, liberal dan kebarat-baratan dan citra konflik umat beragama dan bersifat terror (2006, p. 32-43).

Pengamatan tersebut menunjukan bahwa suatu bangsa, terutama bangsa yang sangat beragam seperti Indonesia, selalu terdiri atas berbagai macam kelompok yang berbeda. Tetapi, pada saat yang bersamaan, citra-citra yang beragam tersebut juga bersifat hitam-putih.

Kalangan liberal dianggap sebagai kalangan yang tidak mengutamakan keharmonisan, walaupun tokoh-tokoh liberal seperti Ulil Abshar Abdalla mendukung kaum Ahmadiyah. Kita juga lupa menyebutkan bahwa, seperti yang saya sebutkan sebelumnya, Habieb Rizieq dipuja oleh para warga negara yang mengaku mencintai keharmonisan. Topeng yang kita gunakan hanyalah alat untuk bermuslihat.

Rasionalitas, seperti yang dipeluk oleh sebagian para pemikir Islam, dianggap sebagai hal yang cenderung kebarat-baratan. Anggapan itu membuat rasionalitas terkesan bertentangan dengan budaya timur yang dipeluk oleh sebagian besar umat Islam.

Rasionalitas juga tidak dianggap sebagai salah satu unsur citra keterbukaan. Pemikiran rasional hanya dianggap sebagai sesuatu yang menjauhkan kita dari agama, bukan sebagai faktor pendorong keterbukaan. Akibatnya, umat Islam akan melihat pemikiran rasional sebagai sesuatu yang tidak pantas dipeluk.

Kita juga lupa bahwa kebudayaan barat sangatlah digemari di Indonesia, bahkan di antara warga-warga yang menentang liberalisme. Budaya pop Islami Indonesia-pun sangat kebarat-baratan, dengan komersialisme dan hedonisme yang mengundang kritikan dari kalangan-kalangan konservatif (Saluz 2009).

Ditambah lagi, banyak para penceramah yang memiliki derajat sebagai selebritas. Setiap ceramah yang mereka berikan selalu menghasilkan uang yang berlimpah. Mereka juga sering muncul di berbagai macam iklan. Mereka sangat mirip dengan para televangelists yang banyak ditemukan di Amerika Serikat, sebuah negara barat.

Para pemikir liberal tersebut juga dianggap kebarat-baratan karena mereka belajar di universitas-universitas barat. Orang-orang yang memiliki anggapan tersebut tidak menyadari bahwa pendidikan Islam modern di negara-negara timur menggunakan model barat; universitas-universitas Islam di timur juga mau mengikuti hasil pertemuan-pertemuan Bologna Process. Gus Dur adalah lulusan Universitas Baghdad dan Quraish Shihab lulusan Universtas Al-Azhar di Kairo. Mereka belajar di perguruan tinggi Arab. Mengapa mereka tidak pernah dicap sebagai ke-Arab-Araban?

Selain dianggap kebarat-baratan, para pemikir liberal tersebut juga dianggap sekuler, walaupun mereka selalu menonjolkan identitas agama mereka, sering melakukan ceremah-ceramah yang sangat berbau agama dan mengajar di perguruan tinggi Islam. Lagi pula, apa kita bisa menjamin bahwa para penentang Islam liberal rajin shalat lima waktu, berzakat, berpuasa setiap Ramadhan, tidak meminum miras dan tidak melakukan hubungan seks di luar nikah?

Citra-citra yang dipaparkan Syahrin Harahap, walaupun mengacu pada orang-orang asing, juga sangatlah lumrah di masyarakat Indonesia. Kita masih suka memberikan cap-cap hitam-putih terhadap sesama, tanpa menyadari bahwa manusia jauh lebih rumit dari pada yang kita ingin bayangkan. Saya juga merasa bahwa Syahrin Harahap menggunakan pendekatan yang salah terhadap permasalahan ini.

Saya menghargai bahwa beliau mau mengakui bahwa umat Islam memiliki masalah dengan fundamentalisme. Tetapi, pada saat yang bersamaan, beliau juga terkesan menyalahkan munculnya fundamentalisme kepada kekuatan dari luar umat dengan mengatakan bahwa Islam adalah agama yang penuh kedamaian.

Sebagai seorang Muslim, saya juga ingin percaya itu. Tetapi, pada kenyataannya, orang-orang beraliran keras tersebut sepenuhnya yakin bahwa paham mereka sesuai dengan ajaran agama. Kita harus menerima kemungkinan bahwa agama yang kita cintai sangatlah jauh dari sempurna.

Saya setuju dengan usulan beliau bahwa penyelesaian masalah aliran garis keras ini dapat dihadapi dengan mengajari para siswa ilmu kajian globalisasi (p. 43). Memang betul bahwa aliran tersebut lahir di luar Indonesia dan menyebar dari satu negara ke negara lainnya. Tetapi, ilmu tersebut tidak mencakup tentang cara penyebarluasan aliran tersebut di satu tempat.

Saya mengusulkan agar umat Islam di Indonesia, termasuk kalangan moderat, untuk bermawas diri tentang cara kita menafsirkan ajaran-ajaran agama dan cara kita memerlakukan orang lain, terutama yang berbeda pandangan. Walaupun kalangan moderat memang tidak pernah menghasut kekerasan dan diskriminasi, kecenderungan mereka untuk mengkafirkan kalangan liberal dan tidak mengakui Islam sebagai ilham aliran keras sudah memberikan dampak buruk yang jelas-jelas sudah bermunculan dan mungkin akan berkepanjangan.

Suka atau tidak, kalangan moderat secara tidak langsung juga bertanggung jawab atas ketidakadilan yang dialami 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.

Defending my bias for English… walaupun masih hidup berdwibahasa

Not long ago, The Jakarta Globe published an article about Indonesian writers who publish their works in English. It asked its readers if English-language literature can still be considered as Indonesian. In the comment section, as an Indonesian who writes his blogs in English, I obviously answered yes. I believe the nationality of literary works should also depend on the heritage and the people they are depicting, not just on the languages being utilised.

It seems like a relatively harmless statement, right? Well, me being me, I followed it with a more provocative one.

I also described the Indonesian language, describing it as a lifeless, unyielding language with overtly-simplistic grammar, skin-deep vocabulary and clinginess on loanwords whose only purpose is to express pretentiousness, vulgarity and anger, unlike English with its richness and versatility which eases people’s efforts to express themselves. That’s how much I love my mother tongue. Of course, people weren’t happy with me and typical internet squabbles ensued.

Days after the arguments ended, I realised that I made errors in my reasoning. First of all, I implied that language was inherently sterile and rigid; I was trying to represent my opinions as objective facts. I am constantly guilty of this sin.

Second, every language in the world, even ones that have endured strict purism, has loan words! As someone who spends his free time on Wikipedia reading articles about languages, I should have realised that my ‘loan words argument’ is indefensible! If I remember correctly, I think one commenter called out this ignorance of mine. But, this is where I stop with the self-criticisms.

I still stand with my hatred of the simplistic grammar. Yes, English grammar is erratic. But, it is still quite detailed with its grammatical tenses and cases, lowering the chances of unintentional ambiguity. In Indonesian, if you want to make your sentences to be more specific, you have to elongate them by adding more words… and I hate that! But, what infuriates me about the squabble is my opponents’ false assumptions about me.

They argued that my distaste of Indonesian was motivated by hatred my own heritage. Yeah, no.

The older I get, the more I actually appreciate it. I love the unique ingredient and flavour combinations of Indonesian dishes; even ones of foreign origins taste uniquely Indonesian. I love our rich history, showing the drastic human changes the archipelago has endured. I love how we still retain our Hindu heritage, despite being predominantly-Muslim. I love musicians who make actual efforts to fuse traditional Indonesian sounds with western ones. I love the ethnic and cultural diversities; growing up with them, I often feel sorry for every person who sees diversity as a disease. Heck, to make it random, I even find myself enjoying performances of traditional Indonesian dances, despite never having any inclinations to dance!

So, when someone says I am a self-hating Indonesian because I bitch on my mother tongue, I call bullshit on that. In fact, my ability to see flaws in something I love indicates how my appreciation is still within reason and not motivated by blind love.

Oh, and speaking about blind love, one of my opponents, who constantly insulted me, explicitly said that anyone who dared to bad mouth his beloved language deserve nothing but ridicule and harassment; he considered my condemnation of the language as a personal attack against him. Not only he never bothered to hide his irrationality, he was deeply proud of it! Mentally, he is not unlike those religious fundamentalists. I am glad that my love of heritage is not plagued by such mindlessness.

The second thing they assumed about me was my Indonesian comprehension, guessing that mine was poor, which explains my inability to see beauty in the language and express myself with it. Yeah, again, no.

Long before I found comfort in English, I used to have no problems writing in Indonesian. But, as I get older and actually become more fluent in my native tongue, I find myself feeling more restrained writing in it and feeling more at ease doing so in the foreign one, even though I still could barely understand its basic grammar.

In fact, to this day, my Indonesian is still better than my English! I am more likely to open up the dictionary when reading English texts than I am while reading Indonesian ones. I have written two Indonesian-language blogs and it took me only a day or two to finish each, compared that with my English-language ones which can take weeks to finish. Until last year, I didn’t know that ‘sheep’ was both singular and plural, didn’t know how to spell ‘privilege’ and I still don’t know how to spell ‘prostelize’! I use online bots to proofread my blogs!

Also, unlike many Indonesians I have met, I know how to say words like ‘download’, ‘upload’, ‘online’, ‘offline’, ‘computer mouse’, ‘link’, ‘server’, ‘edit’ and ‘orange’ in Indonesian*. I prefer the word ‘penelitian’ over ‘riset’**. I also know how to use ‘di’ properly; as a suffix, it should never be separated from the root words while as a preposition, it should remain a separate word***! Even Indonesians with university education still get this basic grammar wrong!

So, the idea that my preference of English has anything to do my language comprehension is also bullshit. Also, unlike my opponents, I proved my fluency as I made one rather long reply in Indonesian! But, they are too blind to see it, too simple-minded to acknowledge that distaste does not always mean lack of fluency.

Let’s go back to my mistake I mentioned. Besides shamelessly presenting subjectivity as objectivity, I also forgot that I still can enjoy the beauty conveyed through my native tongue.

There are no shortages of time when I listen to Indonesian oldies and indie songs and think, ‘damn, those are beautiful lyrics!’. People like Guruh Soekarnoputra, Eros Djarot and Titiek Puspa made me realise that songwriters are also poets! As a student, I often had to analyse excerpts of literary works that, judging from the richness despite the small number of words, were clearly written by accomplished writers.

Besides foods and music, Indonesian language is one tool I utilise to get in touch with my roots. Using it makes me feel closer to them, unlike English which seems to widen the distance. This is why I refuse to let go of my native tongue…

And still, I cannot manifest my inner self through it.

No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I expand my vocabulary, my native tongue always fails to satisfy my intellectual and emotional needs; my Indonesian writings always end up rigid, sterile and skin-deep. In spite of the cultural detachment, English embodies my thoughts and feelings with greater perceptiveness by seizing their more abstract and indistinct peculiarities. It also allows me to be more playful and light-heartedly sarcastic (even though contemptuous sarcasms are more pleasing to spurt out) and minimises my likelihood of sounding pretentious.

How did this come into being? Well, I am confident it has something to do with my identity. I do have Indonesian citizenship. But, personally, I identify both as a highly westernised Indonesian and a global citizen. This weird concoction of selfhood requires a somewhat culturally inclusive language to manifest itself through letters. Between Bahasa Indonesia and English, guess who wins?

Adding to my already-unconvincing anecdote, I also happen to know Indonesians who speak English better than they speak Indonesian and yet they still find their own native tongue more pleasing to make use of. Knowing them, those people definitely don’t share my cultural identity crisis!

Someone (I forgot who) told me that a language is just a communication tool. Emphasise on the word ‘just’. Focus on what the tool can do, not on what category it belongs to. Yes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But, what we choose to convey our deepest thoughts and feelings is none of other people’s business! Unless we are dealing with snowflakes, our trivial personal choices do not and will never harmfully impact humans with whom we share the world!

My plan is to keep writing in English and, to lesser extent, Indonesian, to learn at least one regional Indonesian language and one more foreign language. But, if I am more idealistic, I would love to learn six regional languages and six foreign ones, not including classical languages like Kawi and Latin and more obscure ones like Gaelic and Ainu which have been intriguing me for years! Oh, and I would love to write children’s books in Indonesian under a pseudonym; seriously, I would love to write calm-paced and imaginative children’s stories that contain assertive yet non-preachy messages about the importance of curiosity, reason and tolerance.

But, realistically, I will probably stay bilingual, will never be fluent in any of those classical or obscure languages and probably will never write a single book.

Oh, well. One can dream!

 

 

 

*’Unduh’, ‘unggah’, ‘daring (dalam jaringan)’, ‘luring (luar jaringan)’, ‘tetikus’, ‘tautan’, ‘peladen’, ‘sunting’ and ‘jingga’, respectively.

**Both words mean ‘research’.

*** ‘Di Jakarta’ and ‘di rumah’ mean ‘at Jakarta’ and ‘at home’, respectively. ‘dibuka’ and ‘dimakan’ mean ‘(being) opened’ and ‘eaten’, respectively.

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The missed opportunities of Harry Potter films

Obviously, spoiler alert. Also, I have to make this disclaimer: I have not read the first three books. So, the only thing I can criticise about the first three films is their cinematic quality, not their faithfulness (or the lack thereof) to the source materials. But, I am more confident regarding the other adaptations.

Here, I will solely talk about Goblet of Fire (GoF) and Order of the Phoenix (OP). So far, they are my favourite books in the series and I love them for distinct reasons.

In spite of dark and intense moments here and there (especially during the climax, falling action and resolution), GoF is still a generally cheerful book. To this day, I am still gravely excited about the Quidditch World Cup, the Triwizard Tournament and the Yule Ball, even though the real me is far from a sports spectator and a party animal. I also adore the expansion of the magical universe where it is portrayed as a global community in which our hero’s home country is a tiny part of it, not its entirety; I am a sucker for such theme. It is mostly a festive of jolliness that makes the child in me rejoice… unlike its direct successor.

OP is gritty AF. In contrast to its more colourful predecessor, the fifth book is nothing but a barrage of grey and ferocious socio-political disheartenment. Dangerous misinformation. Political restrictions of the academia. Institutionally-sanctioned prejudice. The establishment embracing unsavoury individuals, opting to make enemies with ones who are innocent and/or more tolerant. Those are real life issues. To top it all, our hero has to deal with them while suffering from PTSD, adding the emotional severity. For the standard of escapist literature, this novel is a tough read; a reflection of the reality is inescapable.

I have high praises for both and I also had HIGH expectations of their screen adaptations. GoF was literally the first film I watched whose original source material I read beforehand. I was deeply disappointed because, back then, I expected any good adaptations to be literally exact copies of the source materials, albeit in different formats. Took me some time to recognise my own stupidity.

But, even after the slap on the face, I am still disappointed. The feeling of excitement is the only thing it got right. Well, not entirely. It explicitly depicts the Triwizard Tournament and the Yule Ball, two of the three main sources. But, it does not show a single second of the Quidditch World Cup match!

Like, why? No, time constraint is not an excuse! Even when shown in snippets, it still could exude the feeling! Exclusion of the entire match means the audience members who have not read the book cannot experience the excitement in its totality. Therefore, they don’t know the whole story and I am still scratching on the surface here.

I mentioned that GoF is a cheerful book with dark moments. Well, those moments give the story more layers of depth. Ludo Bagman, Bertha Jorkins, Dobby and Winky! They are characters with secrets and their erasure from the film is regrettable, considering they have the potentials to expose the tangling webs of secrets and deceit that grip the novel. I find it intriguing when lightness and darkness balance each other out in a work of fiction. As a result, the film’s darkness is still very lightweight in comparison. But, at least, it is still partially faithful to its source material, unlike its successor.

The novel’s embodiment of desolation mostly did not make it to the screen. Instead, the film is more of an adventure-comedy. Yes, I said comedy. Admittedly, I love its youthful sense of humour and I believe, when done correctly, it would blend well with the bleak storyline. But, the filmmakers preferred to drench the story in sickly sweet syrup, removing the acquired tastes for the sake of palatability.

Where’s the socio-political grittiness? Where’s the mental anguish? Never mind that they are the driving forces. They are the reasons why Order of Phoenix possesses such outstanding profundity! They are the reasons why the novel stands out! They are the soul of the story! The film may call itself Order of Phoenix and some moviegoers believe that. But, deep down, it has an entirely unrecognisable heart. It is a fraud who is beloved by the ignorant and most gullible among us.

Also, the climax of OP the novel is not the fight at the Ministry building; it is, in fact, Harry’s outburst at Dumbledore’s office. It is an accumulation of the suffering he has been experiencing for the past twelve months (and possibly his entire life) and Sirius’ death triggers the cascade of negative emotions. Its climax centres on raw emotions rather than superficial physicality. It can only be achieved by the embrace of emotional depth. You know, something that the adaptation refuses to do.

God, I sound like a total fanboy. I even haven’t reached to another problem present in both adaptations: how they conclude the plot lines.

The novels’ endings are rather bleak. GoF’s marks the beginning of the sufferings our protagonist will endure in the next volume. OP’s shows that, even after everyone believes and starts revering him, he still cannot feel joy because of his godfather’s death. Oh, and I said rather bleak, not completely so. For me, there are still shreds of warm yet unsentimental hope in them. How about the films’ endings? Horrible, of course.

GoF the film ends with a cheerful farewell for the foreign students and Cedric’s death as the only moment of sorrow; there is no foreshadowing of Harry’s own incoming misery. OP the film ends with a sentimental monologue by Harry; his own grief is given a half-hearted presentation. They are all about cloying sweetness. Again, no depth.

Okay, this is the part where I pretend to know what my readers are thinking (LOL! Who reads my blogs, anyway?).

You may argue I am being too harsh against OP and I sincerely acknowledge the possibility. You may also argue that not everything has to be profound which I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I feel sorry for those proudly flatulent dweebs who think having fun is beneath them. But, after much contemplation, I can say I am fair with my judgement.

People will hate me for saying this: I believe that an adaptation can still be faithful even with significant alteration to the characters and the storyline, as long it cherishes the source material’s deep-rooted spirit. In spite of being a fantasy novel, OP’s spirit is neither escapist nor fun; the narrative commands us to acknowledge our own wretched earthbound existence. Based on what I illustrated before, it is clear how the film refuses to share such burden.

Also, it feels like its script was written by an elitist Pothead with no experience in filmmaking who thinks Harry Potter films must be exclusively made for anyone who have read the books and inclusivity besmirches the prestige of his/her beloved series. To simplify my words: the film’s confusing AF.

Yes, exposition makes a horrible storytelling. But, the audience deserves any implicit hints about why and how the story came into being! Also, Tonks is not properly introduced, Lupin is not properly re-introduced and Percy suddenly appears out of nowhere, inexplicably working for the corrupt ministry! If an adaptation cannot stand on its own and still needs the source material for intelligibility, why bother making one in the first place? Oh, wait. Never mind! Of course, it is all about money…

Now, I am going to be slightly SJW-ish here.

In GoF the film, the Beauxbaton and Durmstrang students make a hell of an entrance. Of course, I am referring to the gender stereotypes-affirming scene that portrays women as unnaturally tender and men as laughably brute. Disappointing, but expected from a Hollywood film. But, in this case, I am infuriated because the original scene is actually very gender-less (I made up that word).

When the visitors enter the school ground, they just walk straight in! No spectacles whatsoever! There is nothing about it that makes us think about genders! If I have to make an assumption, it feels like someone involved in the filmmaking read the books, became infuriated with their debatably feminist nature, decided to transform the co-ed schools into single-sex ones and shoved outdated gender stereotypes to one gender-less scene. It is too PC! Too liberal! We must protect our traditions of lumping complex human beings to superficial and repressive boxes!

See? I told you I would sound SJW-ish.

Now, to finish up my winding rant:

If only GoF the film also has the same complimenting and intricate subplots as the novel does and refrains itself from unabashedly committing gender pigeonholing…

If only OP the film opens itself to non-HP fans and embraces the novel’s dark and fierce spirit that makes it great in the first place…

If only both films do not conclude on such unrealistically positive notes…

I can confidently say that not only they would be of outstanding quality, they surely would elevate the merit of Harry Potter films or even the entire franchise! Even if they fail to elevate the artistic prestige of fantastical and commercial cinema, they surely would have special places in it.

GoF the film would probably not be hailed as groundbreaking regarding this. But, surely, it would not elongate the already-long list of motion pictures that unintelligently depict genders!

If the existing OP film balances its childlike humour with the novel’s sense of desolation, it could result in a high-quality drama-comedy. Who knows? Maybe the film’s merit could surpass the novel’s! Such a rare phenomenon would historical, convincing fans of certain works of fiction that film adaptations have the potential of reaching excellence!

After watching those wonderful adaptations, some Potheads would probably end up being blessed with higher sense of cultural sophistication, enriching their lives through inquisitive musing and love of cinematic beauty.

But, none of those matters, of course! The only noble goal in life to earn profit! Who cares if you have to exploit the feelings of devoted fans?

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Sentenced to stupidity

I graduated from senior high school almost eight years ago. At that time (assuming nothing’s changed much), senior high schools in Indonesia were given two pathways by their second year: social sciences (IPS) path and natural sciences (IPA) one. Social sciences students could only study social students at university level. The same applied to natural sciences students, right? Nope.

After high school, IPA students could choose any disciplines they wanted. They were always higher on the formal strata than their social sciences counterparts. The former were always seen as rugged intellectuals who love and were capable of learning everything. The latter were always seen as imbeciles with non-existent ability and love of learning. People had their academic standing degradingly died down and choices unjustly limited, all because what they preferred to study in senior high.

Never mind the pro-caste mentality. This tendency also reinforces falsehood among ourselves. There is no evidence that formally studying natural sciences instantly make us smarter. If truth be told, I have encountered many IPA graduates who are nothing but imbeciles who suffer from severe cases of scientific illiteracy.

There is no shortage of cases where those geniuses make horrendous fallacies. They are proud of their intellectual defect; the zealous protection of beliefs and traditions is worth the annihilation of reason and rejection of knowledge. Biology, physics and chemistry could not save them from such idiocy.

Oh, and they are not even scholarly in the disciplines they always brag about! Instead of being scientifically profound, they wholeheartedly embrace long-disproven pseudosciences. They also think natural sciences are absolutely precise with its wisdom, stagnant and ever-conclusive. The more I properly study them, the more I realise that they can be very intricate and even grey at times. They are not something to be taught solely through soundbites.

I should also tell you that I am an IPS graduate. I chose this path solely because I used to hate natural sciences… or so I thought. Years after graduating, I realised I hated the educational system, not the disciplines. I am an internet addict and a large chunk of my time online is spent on reading online articles and watching documentaries about natural sciences. I study them because I want to learn. Some people study because they want to be ‘smarter’.

Of course, when they think about being ‘smart’, they think of obtainment of high grades, memorisation of formulas and extremely categorical information and absolute obedience of authority figures, including teachers. Never mind lateral thinking. Even the more ‘traditional’ critical thinking is not seen as essential for intelligence. This is what you get when your education is all about rote learning and worshipping the establishment. But, not everyone has the desire to be smarter. Some only fancy the appearance of it.

For them, image is everything and substance is nothing. Any efforts to gain pristine image are halal, no matter how dishonest they are. In this case, that effort is choosing the IPA pathway. Add that with high grades, the most gullible creatures would never know about your true anti-intellectual selves. A splendid persona is worth the deceit. This is what you get when your education is all about embracing undeserved prestige.

Admittedly, I am a horrible student. Even saying that I am average is an overstatement. Laziness, low grades, constant clashes with teachers (even when they were right) and the fact that it took me eight years to get a bachelor’s degree. Only idiots think I am worthy of a scholarship.

But, at the same time, I also love ‘learning’. Not to be confused with ‘studying’, though. The latter is what one does in formal education while the former can be done everywhere at any time. For me, both are mutually exclusive and are not related to each other in any way.

In spite of my hatred of studying, I still find myself morbidly curious. Not only I constantly ponder about how life works, I also read a lot about it; I even read papers published by actual peer-reviewed journals (assuming I can get hold of them without draining my pocket). Then, not satisfied with rote learning alone, I also make my own half-baked conclusions using the knowledge I have.

They are half-baked because, with the arrival of more knowledge, they will be replaced with better ones. I encourage myself to be open to the prospect of being proven wrong, no matter how ‘hurtful’ it can be. I have experienced that many times in the past and I will certainly experience it again in the future.

When it comes my interests, they are quite extensive. Primarily, I am into languages, foods, culture, arts, politics, history and media. In spite of their mostly intangible nature, we owe ourselves to them. Alongside their practical benefits, they are also affirmers of our identities as human beings. Our relationships with them show our human essence, both on individual and societal levels. But, as luring as they get, I am not drawn only to the intangible.

Even though they are not as strong, my interests also extend to natural sciences, particularly evolutionary biology, geography and astronomy, and applied sciences like medicine (can’t explain this). I am intrigued by the workings of our tangible world, how it can be utilised for our survival as a species and how our understanding of it affects the way we see ourselves as earthlings. With the right outlooks, one can gain wisdom from the tangible and the intangible.

As you can read from my writing, I am still heavily flawed. I am pretentious, self-righteous and I also cannot help myself from rushing to conclusions. But, every time I encounter any of those Indonesians who ‘love’ natural sciences for shamelessly superficial reasons, I always feel better about myself. At least I am actually learning. At least my sense of wonder is sincere.

No, I am not saying there are no intelligent IPA graduates with heartfelt inquisitiveness. They do exist. But, they find learning more appealing than boasting. Boasting is a sign of insecurity, not self-assurance. Besides, how can you learn anything if you spend too much embracing vanity?

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A case against swearing

*dons the veneer*

Or, as a sage would utter, a postulation for counterpoising malodorous confabulation.

Equitably, it bespeaks a meagreness of erudition. We blaspheme owing to the verity that our cerebrums are destitute of immaculated and unblemished lexicon. Blasphemers anathematise the supposition of being transmuted to personages of letters.

If they are veritably lingually chivalrous, then why wouldn’t they ply more opulent locution? ‘F*** you’ can be transposed with ‘fornicate thee’. ‘Motherf*****’ with ‘lady-parent copulator’. ‘Son of a b****’ with ‘descendant of a feminine canine’. One can be edified by the opuses of synonyms.

Barring my articulation above, there are no assurances for any personage to raise our modulation and unhand our decolum, let alone blaspheme. Not even in the middle of parlous quandary. Instead of declaring curses or having recourse to nefarious somatic undertakings, one could have said something like, ‘Dear, fine sirs. I am privy to the certitude that each and every one of you is sexually titil;ated by the visibility of my ménage. But, would you be so forbearing to not ravish them? Prithee, cogitate about my solicitation. Thank you’. I am 100% assured that they would not acquit themselves of anything peccable. Who knows? Mayhap there could be a concordantly- espoused coital soirée thereupon.

Sinfulness is not caused by sinful intentions. It is caused by rudeness.

*disengage from the veneer*

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I love sarcasm and/or satire

Arts

It is a great tool to deal with human beings, God’s most regrettable creations.

Obviously, sarcasm is an asset for comedy. Without it, there would be no satires that call out the ignorance and prejudice possessed by humans, especially the powerful ones. Without it, comedy would just be a completely escapist form of entertainment. But, I also love for it another reason.

For me, it is a great outlet to vent my anger. It is healthier than vandalising properties, angry-eating and mean-spiritedly insulting my fellow human beings. Besides having a more appropriate venting outlet called satire, my sarcasm also successfully calls out the people I am angry at.

Well, because my satire can be very mean-spirited, I still sound malicious. But, at the same time, I have also compellingly (I hope) illustrated how empty-headed and jingoistic some opinions can be. Took me over 365 days and many satirical blogs to get the picture. At the beginning, I only cared about emotional satisfaction.

I am not surprised that I end up writing satires. Satirist Stephen Colbert is one of my favourite comedians; I can relate to his takes on politics, religions and anti-intellectualism. A few of my favourite Youtubers are also known for their sarcastic comments. Either they affirm my love of sarcasm or they are the reason why I love it, I am still not sure. But, I am sure about something: not everyone gets them.

They are accused of possessing undesirable traits when, in reality, they possess ones that are the complete opposite. I have been trying to comprehend why people misconstrue them when I, far from being the most intelligent organism in the neighbourhood, can easily spot sarcasm.

My methods to detect sarcasm is not ‘peer-reviewed’ and their validity is purely anecdotal. But then, almost every single one of my blog posts is anecdotal. So, adding another anecdote should not matter. Anyway, here we go:

Maybe, just maybe, people misconstrue sarcasm because it is not always detectable. In the case of internet comments, some users are skilled at masking sarcasm as sincerity, fooling even the most intelligent among us. But, there are times when the satire is blatant.

The ridiculing comments usually start with deceptive sincerity. Then, either midway or at the end, they ‘punch’ themselves by pointing out their own glaringly shiny irony; by this point, anyone would chuckle (assuming you agree with the comments’ messages). But, strangely, there are also sincere comments unintentionally disguising themselves as satires.

Even though they seem indistinguishable to satirical ones, they are actually easy to detect. Instead of starting with a tone of sincerity, they immediately start with an ironic one. In fact, the entire comments are 100% irony. No punchlines and self-mockery whatsoever. By the time you finish reading them, you are not sure if they are being serious or not.

You probably reply, expecting the commenters to confirm their sarcasm. But, their replies seem to be mere extensions of their original comments. By this point, you are great in disbelief. Surely, it is impossible for anyone to be that ignorant, it is impossible for anyone to be that prejudiced….

And yet, it is possible. Soon, you realise that you just encountered humanity at its lowest moment. You realise that satires don’t always exaggerate their portrayal of mankind. You are terrified that humans can be their own caricatures. When life imitates art…

(Side note: I am pretty sure this so-called method can also be used to detect sarcasm in videos. But, personally, I have only used it on internet comments.)

Even when the sarcasm seems blatant for some, it is still not obvious to others. It is all about subtlety. We must not read and hear words as they are. We must dig deeper to determine whether there is an underlying merit. Took me years to recognise (and appreciate) understatedness. But, such skill is not always needed when watching Youtubers.

Many Youtubers are entertainers and entertainers in general are known for establishing public personas who may be an exaggeration or the antitheses of their true selves. Correct me if I am wrong. But, I notice that ‘traditional’ entertainers often don’t show their true selves when performing. With Youtubers, it is a bit different.

Many Youtube videos are indeed scripted. But, scriptless ones are also bountiful because either some formats should never be scripted (e.g. gaming videos) or the content creators prefer to ad-lib everything. That situation makes it easier for Youtubers’ true selves to surface from time to time.

The shifts between personalities are very noticeable. Just pay attention to their body languages, facial expressions, speaking intonation and choice of words. They often drastically change from time to time. How does one identify which persona is the real one?

It probably does not apply to all Youtubers. But, in many cases, their true selves are more introverted, more thoughtful, more inhibited and kinder than their obnoxious, loud and mean-spirited personas. Even without sarcasm, the contrast is too glaring for one to ignore. The art of subtlety spotting should be futile here. Well, ideally.

In reality, those characters are still seen as the actual personalities, despite mounting evidences to the contrary! More sarcastic Youtubers have it worse because they are accused of non-existing sins! I still don’t know why this shit happens. But, I have a hypothesis.

Maybe some people do not see the transformation intentionally. Maybe they know about the Youtubers’ real personalities. But, they love to hate. Being haters is the only thing that gives their sad, worthless lives meanings. Hate is beautiful, they believe.

Either that or they are just a bunch of dumbfucks who cannot separate facts from fiction, whose intelligence is comparable to one of flies-covered faeces, who ideally should not be allowed to breed even though, despite my obvious hatred of idiocy, my personal ethics still prevent me from embracing eugenics with fucking wide open arms!

But, anyway…

Earlier, I talked about genuinely ignorant and prejudiced people who unintentionally make their statements look borderline satirical. Well, there is another breed of humans who do the exact opposite: self-proclaimed satirists who don’t know what a satire is!

Instead of displaying idiocy and bigotry lampooningly, they do so in a very matter-of-fact manner. There is no embellishment that indicates any traces of ridicule whatsoever. Their statements sound sincere. Maybe, just maybe, they are skilled in making their satires look real. Yeah, no.

Upon meticulous appraisal, those earnest-looking satires disclose their veritable quintessence. That’s not how things stand with those unadulterated utterances which, even after a profusion of enquiries, still look unfeigned with their indiscretion and dogmatism.

Sorry, I am being unclear here. Let me show you some examples.

Example one: Let’s just say I want to mock anti-Semitism. Ideally, I would say something like, ‘All Jews are evil! If they are not, then how come these cherry-picked articles and videos say they are?’. Not the best satirical statement. But, it is still satirical. Clearly, I was badmouthing anti-Semites and their lack of cognitive soundness. Only imbeciles declare otherwise.

Example two: What if I go to the streets and opted to suddenly blurt out ‘All Jews are evil!’? What if I opted to suddenly dress myself as a Jewish caricature, complete with a yarmulke, a prosthetic crooked nose and speak with a stereotypical Yiddish accent while holding the Israeli flag in one hand and a bag of money in the other? You would call me an anti-Semite straight up. No hesitation. In the latter, alternately, some of you would accuse me of being offensive for the sake of it. You would noall me a satirist, not even after a close scrutiny. Why? Because context.

Mind the word ‘suddenly’. The people on the streets were strangers. Nobody knew who I was, let alone being familiar about my social stances. Nobody expected my supposedly satirical anti-Jewish statements. My audience should know about them being my audience. Never ever catch them off guard! They ought to be respected… and even that it’s not enough.

Instead of berating anti-Jewish outlooks, my statements merely exhibited them. Straightforwardly. No ornaments to materialise any lampooning quality whatsoever. In truth, purposefully or not, I endorsed anti-Semitism. I would emotionally torment Jewish people and empower anyone who yearn for their extermination.

I am actually one of the few people who believe motives matter. They are the reasons why we do anything in the first place. Dismissing them is being untruthful. One must always thrive to grasp the whole stories or risk ignorance.

But, one must also thrive to take the outcomes seriously. They should correspond to the intentions. If the dissonance is caused by people’s idiocy and saviour complex, which may happen with example 1, then the problem’s on them; nothing I can do to fix their sorry-ass brains. But, if it is caused by my own tactlessness, which may happen with example 2, then it’s on me.

No matter what my intentions are, nothing can defend me from the explosive wrath of my fellow human beings. Even saying, ‘it’s just a satire!’ won’t cut it. Actually, that would aggravate the situation. I would look like I am putting the blame on my ‘stupid and fragile’ audience. Worse, I would look like an anti-Semite who exploits satire for the sake of indulging his prejudice. The only way for me to fix everything is to repent.

Sincerely. Gullible creatures may be fooled by my fake apology. But, observant beings can smell lies from miles away. If I am not sorry, don’t bother to apologise at all! At least, I am honest about my inconsiderate nature… and more considerate people will understand that I am to be avoided.

Anyway, my point is this: think before you act! If you are going to do a satire, make sure you understand it first! If you do things like shown in example 2, then you don’t know the proper techniques and therefore, you don’t know what a satire really is! Antagonistic reactions to your brainlessness are still within reason and decency. A victim, you are fucking not!

Oh, and speaking about that…

Since the start of the article, I have been making one mistake: using the words ‘sarcasm’ and ‘satire’ interchangeably. They are not.

Satire is a genre of the arts and entertainment that mock certain people for their apparent flaws which the targets seem to be insensibly unaware or even proud of. Sarcasm is a confrontational method of communication in which our words may convey the complete opposite of their literal meanings and it is also one of the many techniques used in satire-making. So, how did I end up with this factual inaccuracy?

Well, regardless of the fact, my mind still cannot set the two apart. Sarcasm is the reason why I was attracted to satire in the first place. Heck, because of the sarcasm, some of my favourite Youtubers’ videos have strong satirical touch to them. Their lampoons are unquestionably rooted from their sarcastic inclination. But, I also have another reason to possess such mindset: because I love being mean.

For me, sarcasm is the reason why some works of satire are laced with raw meanness. It is the reason why satire has that strong and blunt punches to their targets’ faces. Obviously, some people find this objectionable, thinking that even mockery must always be polite, respectful and civil. Yeah, no.

Unlike journalism and the academia, arts and entertainment do not have codes of ethics. There is no inherent obligation for artists and entertainers to embrace those “positive” adjectives, like “neutral” or, which is relevant in this case, “nice”.

Okay, I admit that niceness should be compulsory in some cases. If our targets are ones we truly care about and have no ill feeling for, we should express genuine playfulness instead of pure malice. Well, duh. This is what we call Horation satire.

But, if our targets are ones we not only resent but are also corrupt and powerful (in a general sense), niceness is unessential. In fact, if we are being too nice, we would not be distinguishable from toothless tigers, embarrassingly impotent in exposing the sinfulness of our targets. Call me self-righteous. But, being too nice means we are mere usable bitches of the establishment. Ferocity is a must in Juvenalian satire.

And the article ends here. Seriously, I still don’t know how to make conclusions properly. Besides, as a computer document, the article is four pages long. Quite lengthy for my blogs.

 

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Primer: when a film feels close to home

The first time I knew about Primer, it was around the year 2010. It attracted my attention because it is a highly-acclaimed, low-budget sci-fi film, directed and written by Shane Carruth, a software engineer who has a degree in Mathematics and who hadn’t made a feature film before, with the help of a small crew of five. At that time, I did not have the desire to watch it.

Seven years later, I encountered the title again and, this time, I was livid to watch it. I finally watched it on December 9. I had heard many good words about Primer. But, even after reading countless positive endorsements, I was still emotionally unprepared.

I am not ready to dissect its unconventional and deeply complex narrative; it will probably take me years and many buckets of tears to untangle the devilishly-intricate chronology. Heck, I will never start on dissecting the science and evaluating its soundness; kudos to Carruth for not dumbing down the jargon-laced dialogues. But, I am ready to talk about its ‘realism’.

Of all the films I have watched, this has to be among the most realistic. I am deeply immersed in the story to the point of almost feeling at home. When I thought other films were bona fide, Primer brings it to the next level. The fact that it is sci-fi can be surprising to some people. For me, it is partially surprising. Let me elaborate.

Believe it or not, speculative genres like sci-fi are able to embody realism. Not literally, of course. Instead, they make use of allegories and ideas to illustrate the real world. In fact, the so-called more ‘realistic’ genres often fail to explore real life issues. So, I am not surprised by the sense of realism.

What surprises me is how near-perfect the immersion is. Despite dealing with real life issues, the audience is still emotionally detached from the characters and stories in most fantastical films. Thematically, Primer is not special as it deals with unethical use of technology, a cliche of the sci-fi genre. But, I have my own ‘theories’ about how the immersion came into being (I use the ‘t word’ very loosely here).

The directing and editing were so neatly-done, they look like the works of an experienced professional. The cinematography, however, is grainy at times; it still reminds me about the film’s micro budget. But, that seems superficial. I am sure there are other elements, more abstract ones that contribute to the immersion. (Oh, and condescending tone in this paragraph is unintentional. My apologies).

The special effects are almost non-existent in Primer, unusual for a film of such genre. Apart from how impressive it is to convince the audience that this special effects-deprived film is sci-fi, I also believe it’s a contributing factor to its realism; the audience knows how special effects are just visual ‘fabrication’. I am not saying that special effects ruin the immersion. I just think that, more of than not, they are only used to emphasise escapism.

Previously, I mentioned about how Carruth refused to dumb down the scientific jargons. Besides its praiseworthiness, it also entices me to believe in the authenticity of the science. In many sci-fi films, the lack of technical language make them look disproportionately more ‘fi’ than the ‘sci’. The rest of the dialogues, however, are very down-to-earth.

When the main characters are not speaking jargons, they are speaking in an everyday language. No floweriness, just mundanity we are familiar with. Don’t get wrong. I do love poetic language; it can make great narrations and monologues. But, admittedly, it can be uncomfortably artificial in dialogues.

Oh, and the acting. For me, the lead actors’ performance radiated sincerity. They effortlessly performed dialogues that were cut off mid-sentences and overlapped each other, which parallel real-life casual conversations; I wouldn’t be surprised if they improvised their lines. Also, despite not being overly-animated, they were still able to convey emotions; not every normal living person is loud and extroverted.

I believe those elements contribute to my wonderfully sublime experience. Their audibility and visuality make them relatively tangible. But, I should not forget one abstract element which can be easily missed: the depth.

In this case, it is less about the depth itself and more about its presentation. Some films, both commercial and arthouse, try too hard to look profound, they end up bearing an image of pompousness and superficiality. Primer is the complete opposite.

Instead of a film with deep and hidden meanings, it merely presents itself as a story of two men who accidentally invented a time machine, which they use for their selfish gains. Basically, humans who become corrupt when the opportunity arises. Even when you are not one of them, I am sure you are mindful of how irresistible the dark side can be. Quite mundane if you think about it.

As I said before, with its theme of technological abuse, Primer is not thematically groundbreaking. But, instead of dwelling on it, the film treats the overused subject matter as nothing more than an accessory; it prefers to accentuate the genuine human story.

I really wish more films (and TV shows as well) follow Primer‘s footsteps. More mundane languages, more natural acting, more sincere human quality. Obviously, such motion pictures exist. But, I just wish they were more bountiful and more widely-accepted. One can dream.

Oh, and as I am typing this, I have only watched the film twice. In the future, after watching it for the umpteenth time, I will certainly change my opinions. It would be disappointing if I fail to refine my reasoning and knowledge.

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.