The 'victim' treatment: a self-fulfilling prophecy

Ye Thu

Apr 7, 2009 (DVB), There's a tendency in the global media to portray Burma as a primitive country, held back from modernisation by the psychotic generals who would rather line their own pockets than promote the advancement of society.

Thus, to the outside world its citizens are forever seen as 'victims', given the usually negative news that filters out of the country.

And there is little done to bypass this idea. Few journalists explore the effect that globalisation has had on youth culture in the country, which is now evolving rapidly. Do we wear traditional clothes on stage whilst jamming on weird, ancient instruments? Do our youths get their kicks in local moonshine places instead of hanging out at shopping malls? Yes, but not always.

We like hip-hop and break dancing, and we are on Facebook and Hi5. We know Paris Hilton and have seen her sex-tapes online, and we love The Simpsons. Maybe we are not travelling at a full pace with the globalisation, but we are on the right track.

But there are obstacles to our progress that aren't created just by our government. We live in a country where older generations desperately cling on to 'traditional values' while youths rush to grab hold of the Western world's finest exports, and it creates conflict. Nowhere is this more potent than in the realm of freedom of expression. Even in youth culture, many of those who originally sought to embrace it have shunned it. Why? Because we failed to accept that freedom of expression exposes different opinions, a phenomenon that has been in stark contrast to the recent past when opinion that swam against the current was nullified.

Until a decade ago Burma's entertainment industry was under pressure by its ruling military dictators. They created the censor-boards to slam us with overly strict regulations, limiting broadcasters from using colloquial slang and wearing modern western garments on-screen.

Yet rapid changes occurred in show business following the introduction of internet in 2000, and we have now evolved to a stage whereby we search for lyrics and score sheets of our favourite foreign songs on the internet, rather than trawling the city for someone who can get a hold of paper copies.

With the rise of hip hop, DJing and break dancing also became familiar scenes. I remember seeing kids in back alleys behind nightclubs battling their break dancing skills at just about the same time I first heard dance music that mixed popular Burmese rap, pop and even traditional tunes into electronic dance.

Compared to the music scene, the film industry, which was heavily dominated by Hollywood films and Chinese and Korean soap operas, seemed to come forward a bit slower. If you look at it now, however, you notice the changes: we are seeing more flesh and cleavage, and we are hearing more slang on-screen and in songs.

While this may go against the majority of the population whose conservative ideals are well ingrained, we must not take it as a bad thing that this change is happening to us. It is a form of freedom granted to our society, and we can use it as a means to open up more space to express our opinion.

Yet there has been a flip side. Over the past few years, numbers of Burmese hip hop artists have freely distributed tons of un-released albums on the internet containing explicit lyrics, sexual references, and the portraying of daily life for Burmese youth frustrated at being members of a nation under poverty and ruthless military rule.

And surprisingly, the censor-board turned a blind eye to that, allowing them to continue releasing their underground albums. That was until earlier this year, when we started complaining.

Some exiled Burmese bloggers and media organisations accused the government of letting through material that are inappropriate for the traditional Burmese ear. It was not long before the censor boards clamped down on this potential threat to 'traditional values.'

Now, the kids can no longer sing what they want to. But shouldn't we ask whether anyone really cares, given that they are just pitching insults that carry no political message?

Or are we missing the point? These young people are the generation who will soon take over our duties, while we just pass criticism on what we like and don't like without taking note of the younger generation's thoughts. I think we are starting to sound hypocritical.

When we look at modernisation and freedom of expression, we have to realise that it has positives and negatives for everyone. We have to accept that there will always be another part of the crowd who might have a different opinion. For how long are we going to keep complaining and refusing to embrace what is given to us?

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