Man at His Best

A Thousand Words On Our Culture: Keeping It In My Pants

Jenhan gives us his opinion about opinions, and a starfish?

BY kuah jenhan | Jun 2, 2016 | Culture

I apologise for the read-bait title, but it’s relevant to this opinion piece, I promise. I am writing this in the majestic State Library of Victoria on my day-off from the 30th Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The other day, I attended The Great Debate, an annual event at the festival, where six no-table comedians discussed a given topic. Seeing that it is the festival’s 30th birthday, grandioso came in the form of one Barry Humphries as the moderator. Comedians will recognise him as Barry of the coveted Barry Awards, while the rest of you, laughter-loving folks, please curtsy before the one and only Dame Edna Everage.

The topic this year was: “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.” Instinctively, I found myself gravitating towards the Affirmative. It’s only fair that everyone is allowed to express themselves. Freedom of speech and all that. But could my opinion just be a product of modern society? Where did I opine that from? And then, slowly, the repulsiveness of the other side made it all the more mysterious and alluring to explore. Is this road less taken even accessible? Maybe everyone is entitled to their opinion, except stupid people? But who decides that? And please don’t say God. God’s busy doing stuff.

During the debate, the phrase, “Opinions are like a******s; everyone has one”, was flung around a lot. It is the perfect analogy, and I will refer to it many more times in this piece, so I’m going to re-place it with child-safe word. By the way, this took me the longest time to write, you guys, because I can’t reuse the word “opinion” or that’d just be too confusing so… poo-poo place? Bum mouth? Shame hole? James? I think I’ll just quote famous American poet collective, Limp Bizkit, and use chocolate starfish, or starfish, for short.

“S**t Donald Trump said” floated around a lot too. The Negative argued that he is a starfish who should not be entitled to his opinions. The Affirmative countered that there’s beauty in everything, even starfish Trump. To quote the leader of the Affirmative, friend and stellar comic Nazeem Hussain, “Trump wants the Mexicans to build a wall because he only has Mexico’s best interests at heart. Once he becomes president, in which direction do you think people will try to run towards?” Great joke!

My favourite point of the debate actually came from Barry Humphries himself. He said perhaps opinions should be treated like heavy machinery or driving. You’ll need a licence to operate one, and under no circumstances should you operate when drunk. “Don’t drink and think.” Damn, Dame! I know some people whose licences should be revoked.
For example, at home, we have Members of Parliament talking out of their starfish, by saying, for example, that child marriage is the answer to lustful teenagers engaging in “casual sex”. A real five-star(fish) opinion. Not too long ago, the Malaysian government also decided to hold legal street races to curb illegal street racing. How much do you hate starfish now?

Let’s say opinion licences, like any other licences, are earned, and that would mean you could lose it too. Can there be demerit points, like three stupid opinions and you never get published again? Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Until you ask: who then decides what’s stupid and what’s not? I seem to have dug myself into an abyss of conundrums.

Every time I get into an Uber in Melbourne, the moment they realise that I overuse “mayte” to compensate for my poor sense of direction, they’ll ask, “Where are you from?” “Malaysia, mayte” gets softer each time I answer because very often the response that I get is: “Oh. You guys were in the news lately… eh?” Which is really a polite way of saying, “Y’all messed up again.” How do I change their opinion of my country? Hold on, does this mean opinion is an agent of change, and am I arguing that their opinions are inaccurate? Why am I so eager to change their point of view, and is it really that important in the first place?

Undeniably some star(fish) shine brighter and swim further than others. Take the MP’s opinion on child marriages, for instance. It was published in the papers and, subsequently, went viral on my social media feed. He had bared his starfish but, in my humble opinion, it’s also important that we realise we are in no way obligated to call attention to it, let alone look at it. Maybe this isn’t a fight-fire-with-fire situation.

It may also not be fair to say that the main objective of an opinion is always to change a precon-ceived opinion, but regardless of intention, an opinion comes with consequences. It’ll cause some to gag, and others to say, “Gimme gimme gimme”. Pretty much just like showing people an actual starfish.

In an effort to answer most of the questions raised here, I think it’s imperative to realise the value of what is good or bad; right or wrong, everything has originated from a myriad of circumstances. Opinions are, after all, a product of one’s upbringing, culture, age, etc. With so many variables, does an opinion count for nothing, or everything? As history shows, they evolve over time. Take Ireland, for example. Did you know that divorce was only written into law in 1996 there, while Malaysia’s law on marriages and divorce was already in place in 1976? “Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots,” wrote Victor Hugo, a beautiful French starfish. As for myself, I think my stand on the topic is that opinion is indeed like starfish. I like to keep my starfish presentable. Although even the people that I love don’t get to see my starfish, I can’t imagine life without one. Forgive my analogies, buns and inyourendos; perhaps I’ll end on a more eloquent note by quoting another elegant French starfish, Voltaire: “The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.”

First published in Esquire Malaysia, the May 2016 issue.