I spent four months in South East Asia; two and a half were spent working in Vietnam, but I also got to go to Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Although it has been the longest time I’ve been away from the UK, it would be impossible and presumptuous for me to generalise the arts in the whole of South East Asia, or even just one country. Instead, this will be a reflection on the things I experienced whilst travelling.
Disclaimer: mentions violence against women, casual racism
Last week, the Internet was sent into its usual frenzy over the latest political correctness issue. Amidst the now sadly all-too-common Western-centric controversies, such as actress Rose McGowan raising the issue of the use of casual violence against women in movie posters to market ‘X-Men: The Apocalypse’, the Internet also reacted strongly to a television advert from China that was making its rounds on social media. The ad, featuring national detergent brand Qiaobi, contained levels of racism considered disturbingly casual by most standards.
In the commercial, a pouch of Qiaobi cleaning liquid is forced into a black actor’s mouth by a Chinese woman, who goes on to bundle him head-first into a washing machine. After a few cycles, she opens the lid and in his place, a Chinese man emerges instead. He proceeds to wink at the camera before the tagline appears onscreen: “Change begins with Qiaobi”.
One novel I’ve always been meaning to finish is the the award-winning sci-fi classic Neuromancer by William Gibson. Since the initial publication of the counter-cultural novel in – of all years – 1984, it went on to inspire the ‘cyberpunk’ movement in the science fiction genre, as well as the ‘high-tech, low life’ type neo-noir aesthetic that often goes with it. Neuromancer has also gone on to inspire popular films such as Ghost in the Shell and The Matrix.
But what makes the novel so prominent in popular culture is that fact that it was the first to coin the term ‘cyberspace’, i.e. a ‘consensual hallucination‘ replicated artificially by millions of interconnected computer users – which in turn makes up the Internet as we know it today. The story revolves around a washed-up computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack (not dissimilar from Keanu Reeves’ original role in The Matrix). This in itself can be seen as an allegory for counter-cultural movements literally taking place within this ‘Matrix’ – a term first coined by the novel way before the movie of the same name was released – a world within the world, similar to the setting of the Tron films.
The recent Rohingya crisis in South East Asia is nothing new — clashes between the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar, have been ongoing since 2012 through a series of riots. By October of that year, Muslims of all ethnicities had begun to be targeted.
The riots were supposedly triggered by widespread fears among Buddhist Rakhines that they would soon become a minority in their own ancestral state. Riots sparked after weeks of sectarian disputes, which included a gang-rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by Rohingyas and the killing of ten Burmese Muslims by Rakhines.
It is the refusal from fellow South East Asian nations to
take in tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees which
has been the main source of recent controversy.