#NOSHOTS: Alive and Let Live

Sepang, March 17th 2012

Well, that escalated quickly.

It seems there’s been some contention as to the merits of the online video KL: It’s Alive; a few people have spoken out against its ostensibly lopsided depiction of youth culture in our fair city, and predictably, a whole busload of people have in turn risen up to defend it. Lee Lian Kong wrote a critique on the video for selangortimes.com, and the majority of the online outcry (not to mention the reason many people know of the KL: It’s Alive video in the first place, ironically) stems from her op-ed piece.

Look, not everything in Alive happens to be my cup of tea. I just don’t think I would fit on a Vespa, for instance, nor would I be able to withstand copious amounts of industrial strength dubstep without wanting to dropkick a kitten (but that’s another online video, methinks). I realise that I’ve a) grown up in a very different KL than the one most of the people in this video seem to be inhabiting, and b) I’m too old to be fussing over how bespoke my accoutrements are. How does one measure the bespokenness of one’s accoutrements, anyway? But I’m pretty sure I don’t agree that the members of KL’s youth culture avant garde are unoriginal, as has been repeatedly stated in Lee’s critique.

Yes, a lot of what we KLites do, creatively or not, originated somewhere else. We didn’t invent shopping malls, after all, and we certainly weren’t the first to jam a phone line into a typewriter and start “flaming” “n00b” “haters” on their “walls”. Club culture is not from Malaysia. Cafes and designer eateries are not Malaysian concepts. Taking nice photos of people with expensive cameras is not part of the social constitution of this country. But adopting and adapting all of that stuff, and more besides, is one of the most Malaysian things about Malaysians that I know of. In the KL I live in, rempits modify their modest Japanese motorcycles and turn them into hydrogen bombs on wheels. Roadside stalls localise burgers and chicken chops, Western dishes that you’d think would have no connection to Malaysia until you’ve had a hot plate of spaghetti spruced up with a dollop of sambal tumis. And despite being a lifelong hip hop fan, I had no desire to buy a baseball cap until The Swagger Salon designed one with a painfully original and Malaysian message that I could proudly display on my forehead: eh who are you, no I don’t want, go away. So Lansi.

Just as in my #NoShots piece last month, I’m more concerned about how Malaysians are doing than how “Malaysian” their activities are, because my yardstick remains dead simple: if Malaysians are doing it, it’s a Malaysian thing la. (So no, TorTor is not Malaysian.) To dwell on how original something is will just sap the energy out of a lot of clearly talented, driven individuals who need to do something “different” lest they end up working a 9 to 5 in an accounting firm and possibly shoot up the entire office. I’d be worried less about where a particular trade or discipline came from than whether or not the Malaysians who are practicing it here in Malaysia actually know what they’re doing. Believe me, there are wayang kulit performers who do not have idea #1 about what wayang kulit means to our national heritage, or what it represents. I’d rather ride with a local fixie crew that knows their sh*t than perform with a kuda kepang troupe that’s just doing it for 1Merdeka parades and government cash vouchers. Understanding the reasons behind your culture, adopted or otherwise, enriches your actions and validates your participation.

The depiction of KL in the KL: It’s Alive video is not representative of the entire city, its people, and what they do. It’s not supposed to be. I mean, c’mon son: the video, and the entire alive-my.com project is supported by a luxury car manufacturer. It’s not supposed to appeal to a general market. If it resonates most with modern fops and trust fund babies looking for something new to hop on to and oversaturate, the video will have done its job for its client. The things depicted in the video are not for everyone. The people in it might not be your favourite people ever. But that’s no reason to discount what they’re trying to do as being unoriginal. I mean, even when Malaysians turn you off for being pretentious and petty, they do it in a way no one else can. Respect.

WordsManifest copied this article wholesale from some Hollywood teen movie, he can’t remember which. He doesn’t even know why he did it.