Saturday, 31 August 2013

Why I Really Dislike This Year's Merdeka/Malaysia Day Petronas Advert

This year's Petronas Merdeka and Malaysia Day Advert (a two-for-one value deal) is wonderfully made. More than 3 minutes long, it is a sweeping panorama of multiple communities, varied Malaysian locations, and intergenerational histories. Filled with wide angle slo-mo shots set to sweeping music, it is epic in scope and has been variedly praised as "moving", "beautiful" and "the best advert Petronas has made in a long time".

Allow me to be a contrarian here: I am not a fan. In fact, I'm surprised not more people find the underlying narrative and subtext of the advert deeply disappointing.

"Our lives may be different, but our hopes and dreams are the same", goes the ending slogan.

At first this seems both a fitting and reconciliatory reminder that deep down we as Malaysians are all one and the same despite our surface differences.

But when you look at the advert closely, you notice that the main characters (all from different ethnic groups) really do live different lives; they simply happen to live in the same country.

They do not have friends from other races. They live apart from each other. They do not intermarry. The only time they "mingle" at all is in a bus on their maiden voyage to university (Universiti Petronas, naturally). Then they each focus on their own courses and after they graduate, they move on with their own lives.

If art is a mirror to life, then perhaps this advert mirrors a deeply saddening truth of contemporary Malaysia: after 56 years of independence and 50 years of nationhood, we have nothing to show other than different groups of people who share nothing in common besides citizenship in the same country. We live parallel lives that do not intersect and we know and care very little of each other. We are our own "Others".

According to this advert, our hopes and dreams are the same only on a superficial level: we want our children to do well academically and career-wise, to enjoy stability, to have families of their own. There is no hope for anything more than a better life for our kids. Not a better life for all Malaysians, just our kids. There is no shared Malaysian future, no common aspiration, no intersecting lives.

There is no Malaysian dream.

How can we not notice this deficiency? How can we lap praise at this advert? It's showing us our shortcomings as if it were our strengths.

Yasmin Ahmad, in her short advert where two women spoke to each other in different languages yet understood each other perfectly well, showcased a far more humble but beautiful and (genuinely) moving vision of our country, one which perhaps, in the time since her passing, has unfortunately become more like the Petronas Merdeka/Malaysia Day advert of 2013.

Happy Merdeka Day, and Happy Malaysia Day, my fellow Malaysians.


M said...

Agreed. We seem to be stuck with the idea of Malaysia as a multiracial country with parallel cultures instead of focusing on a single Malaysian identity where everything is shared. When we talk about the races we like to show them being as 'pure' as possible, nevermind the fact that we share very little with our forefathers. We watch a video with snippets of all the races and then applaud it for being multi-racial. What a load of garbage.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joshua,

I think you 'choose' to take a negative view. I think, an even bigger problem in Malaysia, is more and more, people immediately takes a negative view on any corporations advertisement, or any work that is malaysian. Tanda Putera, and that other communist movie, are both getting heat because of the narrowmindedness by both pro-government and anti-government. Everyone has got a different view of how 'Malaysia' should be seen by the public. I think everyone needs to get a better perspective.

It's an automatic response in the current generation of malaysia today.

Racism, can be seen from any angle. Talking from an intellectual point of view, sure.. This ad, really racist la. Never show intergration oso.. Never intermarriage oso.. WHERE ARE THE SABAHANS? Are they not malaysian? Sure, we can look at it from a negative point of view.
But Ah Mei from Batu Pahat, and Raju from Brickfields, looks at this ad, and gets goosebumps all over. And this is testimony on their comments. Because they feel like they have taken a peak into other cultures. That they understand other races better. That they are no different than he/she is. I think there is far more beauty in this ad, then ugliness. And you choose to only see that ugliness.

Yasmin Ahmad was a great woman. But had she still be living today, and coming out with adverts, your article will still be up here slamming her work. Because back in her time, internet wasnt like it is now. And malaysians have gotten way more cynical, sensitive and angry.

In retrospect, this commercial touched so many hearts, and something that is difficult to do, especially since after election and sentiments are really bad now.

I understand where you are coming from Joshua, but I am sorry, i do not agree with you. I applaud petronas for continue-ing to champion unity even after Yasmins passing. I applaud the makers of this TVC. Great Job.

Selamat Hari Malaysia everyone

Joshua Chong said...

Dear Anon,
Thank you for your comments and taking time to write them. I appreciate the feedback and take what you wrote in good faith.

I did not mention anything about Tanda Putera or anything besides two Petronas adverts, so let's leave all that out for now.

To imply that I immediately took a negative view on any corporations advertisement or Malaysian work is inaccurate.

I am part of We Are Malaysian Made, a website that proudly promotes Malaysian creativity. I know many local performing artists and creatives who do excellent work.

I loved Yasmin Ahmad's adverts for Petronas. Those adverts are no less part of Petronas' oeuvre than this one. I loved them because they touched me; they were genuinely groundbreaking in their honesty, simplicity and profundity. I disliked this one because of the reasons I stated.

Petronas has made great adverts, bad adverts and mediocre adverts. So have Maxis, MAS, Apple, IBM, Honda, etc. Their inherent qualities have nothing to do with the corporations that commissioned them.

Malaysians, likewise, have the capacity to produce good and bad work. I don't take a negative view of local work by default any more than I take a positive one.

I love Yasmin Ahmad's work. Between me and my sister we have all her films on DVD bar one. I loved her work when she was alive and, perhaps because her sudden passing drew attention to what a creative person and wonderful Malaysian we lost, I loved her work even more when she passed on.

So no, I certainly would not be slamming her work now had she been alive.

I do not "slam" things. I have never written anything on this blog out of maliciousness; at most anger but never hate. I am not here to criticise for the sake of criticising, so to say my negative comments are "an automatic response" is also unfair.

Yes, perhaps Malaysians have gotten more cynical, sensitive and angry, but I do not see how that relates to my writing this. I also do not see how the internet back in her time (she passed away in 2009) was particularly different or even if it were, how that connects to my writing this piece.

I do not think the advert is "racist" in the sense that is it discriminatory or inflamatory. Let me be clear on that. I am sure the people who made it had the best of intentions.

(On a side note, if you watch carefully, East Malaysia is represented.)

I do agree that people need better perspectives. That's why I wrote this piece and also appreciate your views. We have different perspectives and both are open to dialogue with the other.

We must neither accept everything presented to us in popular media nor must we reject it without considering its merits. This is what it means to be free minded and critical; not critical in the "complain and protest all the time" sense of the word but in the sense that we consider alternative interpretations and views, re-examine popular wisdom and official narratives and that we look and think deeper about issues.

If people are moved by it and see how others are just like us, that is great and yes, very, very beautiful.

But what saddens me is that after all these years of living together, we still can't see each other as one and the same? We still need an advert like this to tell us that all mothers love their children and all fathers want their sons and daughters to do well? Shouldn't this be a given? How far apart have we gotten?

Yes, I choose to see the ugliness, to be negative. I don't see that as wrong or that the ugliness is absent or that my points are inherently suspect. I stand by my views as much as I respect yours.

My writing this is me contributing (albeit in a minute way) to the critical discourse of our country. I felt I should point out the issue as I saw it. Simply because people are moved or that it enjoys popularity does not mean it must be accepted willynilly as praiseworthy.

oyunlar 2014 said...


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