Dinosaurs and subliminal messages
by Zaharom Nain. Posted on October 2, 2011, Sunday
SOME years back, when Komtar in Penang was bustling with business, there was this particular store selling kitsch artefacts, including framed digital images.
These included, of course, those especially tacky ones of cascading waterfalls, often found hanging on the walls of many mamak eateries in Penang.
My partner, Jackie, was especially taken by one of these graphic creations that had a monotonous pattern etched or painted on the canvas. It looked terribly ordinary and boring.
But, all of us gullible onlookers were advised by the storekeeper, if we were to stare deep into the graphic, focus on one particular spot, the image of a dinosaur would come into view.
But, stare as hard and as long as she could into the image, Jackie could not see the dinosaur. To end her misery, one day as she stared yet again into nothingness, I asked her, “Do you see a dinosaur?”
“No”, was her frustrated, predictable response.
But this time I felt I had the perfect comeback.
“Of course you wouldn’t,” I said. “Because they are extinct.”
Jackie never bothered again with staring into those silly pictures. And it was a good week or so before she finally decided to talk to me again.
This past week, however, one particular event and numerous individuals and institutions have made me eat my words about extinct dinosaurs.
The event was the banning of the Pete Teo-produced public service video, ‘Undilah’, from being broadcast on any of our television stations.
The individuals, unfortunately, include our esteemed senior minister of Information, Communications and Culture (ICC).
First things first.
‘Undilah’ (Vote-lah), clearly a public service video urging all Malaysians to vote – and to vote wisely – in the coming 13th General Election – is a four-minute plus production that is freely available on YouTube.
But the all-powerful (though certainly not all-knowing) MCMC (Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission) decided to pull the plug on the video being shown on local television.
As with many of this type of incidences in Bolehland, no reason was initially given, perhaps in the forlorn hope that nobody would notice or would bother.
Yeah, right. Like I said, there are clearly dinosaurs in our midst. Of all entities, you would think – quite appropriately, right – that the MCMC would be technically-savvy.
And that, equally-importantly, they would anticipate the responses to their action, and be ready with at least half-intelligent answers.
Instead, the MCMC came up with the feeble explanation that it had barred the showing of the video on Malaysian television because the video had not been approved for television broadcast by them.
But, as Pete Teo retorted, he had not even talked with the television stations, let alone sought approval from MCMC. In other words, MCMC had issued a pre-emptive directive asking broadcasters not to use the video before the producers had even spoken to the broadcasters.
Then the air went really stupid.
Some politician – with utmost sincerity, I’m sure, and not because he wanted to jostle his way to the front of the queue as a candidate for the next GE – said that the positioning of the PM in the video near a Jabba the Hut poster was an insult to the PM.
How he came to such a conclusion escapes me. I’ve always informed my children and my students how endearing Jabba the Hut is. Indeed Jabba has been described by one film critic as a “cross between a toad and a Cheshire cat.”
Then, the honourable ICC minister decided to get a word or two in, to resolve matters, I’m sure. Many of us remember the honourable minister as a bit of a Twitter celebrity, after comments he made about the dangers of Twitter and Facebook in early 2010.
This time around, he will be remembered for passing two comments about ‘Undilah’. First, that “it had contents which offended certain segments of society.”
What these contents were was never explained, which, again, is par for the course for many of these ‘official explanations’. Indeed, it would seem that they assume such explanations would go above the heads of us mere mortals.
Second, the minister tells us that ‘Undilah’ contains “subliminal messages”.
Oh, sure! Now we are really talking some serious. Indeed, now we can have the music from that 1960s classic, ‘Twilight Zone’, playing in the background.
Seriously, though, folks, having spent some time teaching subjects in media and communications at tertiary level – and teaching them damn well, I dare say – I’ve always found this idea of ‘subliminal messages’ a bit problematic.
It’s often thrown into an assertion to frighten people off. Like the idea of some unknown, unseen, metaphysical force watching our every move. Like the idea of the Bogeyman. Or Freddy Krueger.
Indeed, when something like ‘subliminal messages’ is thrown at us, surely the onus is on the person doing the throwing to also explain what these purported ‘subliminal messages’ are?
Next, surely there is then a need to illustrate in what way these ‘messages’ may ‘harm’ us?
Indeed, while there may still be dinosaurs roaming this earth, even if disguised as politicians and MCMC officials, surely it’s time they justified their existence as highly-paid 1Malaysia creatures?