by Azly Rahman
I like the fact that Jackie Chan is now a Malaysian ‘Datuk’. I think he is funny. I like some of his movies. Some are bawdy, though. I hope his partner, the African-American actor Chris Tucker in ‘Rush Hour II’, will also get a datukship.
But I think posthumously my most favourite and bestest of the best actor I grew up trying to be, Bruce Lee, a student of Philosophy, should be given a Datuk Seri. He has so much influence in my idea of anti-colonialism that if I were not an academician, I would have been Bruce Lee.
I love his movies and watched them a plenty. I wanted to learn kung fu or karate but unfortunately my mother (bless her soul) did not allow me, in fear that I would beat up the kampong kids for no reason.
And why is Bruce Lee (right) as an anti-colonialist much appreciated by Malaysians? That will be a long essay and analysis on characterisation and representation required, after watching all of his movies again. But simply put, his original philosophy of the martial arts and inner strength is well used to fight for justice
But I liked to also suggest Muhammad Ali the boxer, the champ, the pretty-face fast-talking greatest of the greatest American hero be given a Tan Sri or any Malaysian award of the highest degree. He, too, was an anti-colonialist. He beat up Joe Bugner, Joe Frazier and Antonio Inoki.
He was also in Kuala Lumpur that one day in the mid-70s and I remembered my high school cancelled class and brought its only black-and-white TV to the dining hall and all of us watched ‘a black man beat up a white man’ - symbolic of decolonisation and Malaysia’s entry into ‘modernisation and progress’ modelled after theories produced by the best and the brightest of the Office of the Kennedys.
So, Muhammad Ali (left in photo, during his fight with Joe Bugner), who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee should be given a Tan Sri. He is more famous than Jackie Chan or Lady Gaga.
If we consider those international figures that has a great influence on Malaysian culture, I’d nominate all the members of the Rolling Stones to get Tan Sris, too. I think they taught us, especially Johoreans like me, what liberalism and being free means. They taught us liberal democracy through their lyrics, music, and the free-spirit they embody.
They may have taught many of us that even in rock and roll there is a hidden message of spirituality; a much needed guard against beheading-happy jihad-calling loonies.
And I’d also nominate the best guitarist in this Newtonian galaxy for a Tan Sri. He is Jimi. Or Jimi Hendrix. Because Jimi is not only a Cherokee but he is against Christopher Columbus and his Spanish conquistador cronies. So, Tan Sri Jimi Hendrix will be an appropriate hero for Malaysians - just like Datuk Chan the Jackie.
Just imagine that
So - imagine, Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, Rolling Stones, and Mr Hendrix the Jimi all wearing baju Melayu and songkok in a solemn and calming ceremony, accepting those state honours. Just imagine that.
And don't forget to give one to Sean Connery, who played in the movie ‘Entrapment’ with Catherine Zeta-Jones; a story about a con-man stealing money from the Petronas Twin Towers. Now it is a reality. Money stolen aplenty as in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) - just like in the movies. But Datuk Seri Sean Connery will be a good one to be.
But I will campaign one for Mr Bean! Definitely. Even kids love him and wouldn’t mind calling him Datuk Kacang (‘Easy Datuk’).
We are getting better at rewarding entertainers of international stature for reasons we do not fully understand. We must also start rewarding critical thinkers, activists, public intellectuals, and groups that have been calling for sensible and peaceful changes without fear or favour.
These are the real deserving folks in our midst we are failing to honor. Their work is more long-lasting that these international performers who might only be interested in expanding their cultural hegemony in the matrix of culture industry profiting big entertainment businesses primarily.
We must be wiser in identifying patriots - those, as Thomas Jefferson would say, who dissent and in the process, provide us with a set of critical eyes and perform the highest acts of patriotism.
Those giving the state rewards, take note.