The talented Mr RPK
APRIL 30 — You could be forgiven for confusing RPK with the comedian Harith Iskandar. While it’s true that they both have shaved pates and ethnically indeterminate looks, it is their shared devotion to the punch line which makes them hard to tell apart.
However, with his latest gambit, I am not certain when RPK’s punch line is going to land. And frankly, I am tired that individuals like him who hog headlines and, otherwise, shape the larger political discourse. So I don’t much care what his punch line will be.
However, many citizens do care. In fact this royal scion lays claim to many a Malaysian heart and far too many minds. You might blame it on a potent mix of feudal and modern authoritarian cultures. And you would not be far off the mark.
But I prefer to see this princeling’s popularity as a consequence of the undisciplined Malaysian mind. Mistakenly vaunted as someone who “speaks truth to power”, RPK instead parlays his privilege in that very Malaysian game of passing on stories.
And it is these stories, from the inner sanctums of power no less, that excites us.
Since the political convulsions of the Reformasi period, RPK’s talent has been in establishing his “public” voice. A voice he has lent to this game of telling the best political stories.
Earning himself a reputation as a political blogger and all round maverick, RPK is otherwise an unknown quantity. I know next to nothing about his education, his profession or his social commitments that must constitute the man.
(From the Reformasi period I vaguely remember a website with references to Malay College Kuala Kangsar and Harley Davidson motorcycles but surely this is not sufficient to make the man.)
Perhaps in the game of story-telling these are not so important.
What is important in this game, however, is one’s proximity to power which is essential to the truth of one’s claims and the sincerity of one’s intentions. To put it bluntly, RPK doesn’t so much “speak truth to power” — which is a mark of social courage — but rather tells stories about the powerful.
Thus are RPK’s credentials burnished: Najib, Rosmah, Anwar, Ku Li — all are merely characters in his stories from the crypt. This crypt is our collective unconscious.
(I must admit that I once asked a friend for an executive summary of the Khairy Chronicles but I was rebuffed. So I went to the site but found it largely indigestible.)
I personally think there are more important issues than the truth or falsehood of RPK’s latest side-show in the mainstream media. But I know I am in a minority on this matter, as the public is often herded hither and thither when some new “controversy” emerges in the press – mainstream or otherwise.
So why do Malaysians care about what he says?
Is it because he spent some time under the Internal Security Act and wears it as a badge of honour? Or is it because he has “royal blood”?
For a certain set of people this perhaps comes into play but that’s not the heart of his status.
In fact, I think it has little to do with RPK.
We lap up the stories of people like RPK and hold them up as heroes because, believing ourselves to be powerless, we are nonetheless happy voyeurs of our own enslavement.
We delight in listening to conspiracies hatched in the homes of the ruling elite — some looking curiously like replicas of the White House — even when the “punch line” confirms that it is the public and tax payers who are the ultimate dupes.
We have a perverse desire to know how the ruling class rules us but we reject those forms of analysis — especially class-analysis — which don’t at the same time redeem the ruling class as our betters.
We want know who the “bad guys” are but we also want to be rescued by the “good guys.” Stories which don’t have “good and bad” guys don’t make the cut.
We want to know that things will get better but we don’t want to really understand the often multiple how-to-get-from-here-to-there scenarios available and what sacrifices each scenario entails.
Of course, there have been some in this collective “we” who have long rejected these basic tics of the Malaysian mind. And throughout our history as a modern nation we have had those who have stood against this kind of politics.
And unfortunately even the so-called “new politics” that has emerged since the Reformasi years has not grown out completely of the politics purveyed by the likes of RPK, mired as it is in personality and gossip.
This “new politics” might reject the simple-minded formulations of ethnic representation but it has a long way to go when it comes to all the other twists and knots in the Malaysian psyche.
This is not to suggest that existing democracies cannot survive alongside conspiracy theories, cults of personalities and the otherwise lunatic political fringe. In fact, as long as it remains in the fringes it might even be amusing, something akin to comic relief.
Unfortunately, in Malaysia, too many clowns have taken centre stage.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.