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A pig-headed perspective

(Pic by theodore99 /
JUST recently, pigs’ heads were left in mosques, after previous arson and vandalism attacks on churches, a Catholic school, a Sikh gurdwara and two surau. These attacks on places of worship are apparently related to the ongoing tussle over the “Allah” issue.

In the last edition of Merely Playing, I wondered if Christian and Catholic imagery in movies and theatre productions would now be received with less tolerance in light of all this violence. This week, I continue the line of questioning by looking at the controversial, misaligned pig. Would the humble pig and mild boar be a subject of even greater hullabaloo if it were to be featured today on the big or small screen, or on the stage?

The pig has long been a disputed figure in Malaysian entertainment. Many of us remember when the movie Babe and its sequel were banned due to the title character being a talking piglet. Apparently the film was not “halal” and the title bore too much resemblance to “babi”, the Malay word for pig. Oy.

As a child growing up, one of my favourite Saturday morning cartoon shows was Garfield and Friends, which featured a segment called Orson’s Farm. The title character in Orson’s Farm was a pig who loved to read and would often get caught up in imaginary flights of fancy, bringing his fellow farmyard friends into his fantasies. As a superhero, Orson was Power Pig. Orson tackled Shakespeare by being Hamlet.

DVD cover featuring Orson the pig
In the series, which lasted for seven seasons, Orson encouraged children to be good neighbours, and also to read and to exercise their imagination.

The show only aired in Malaysia up to season two.

This is pure conjecture on my part, but is it so much of a stretch to imagine that Orson’s species had a part to play in the show being taken off the air?

Sadly, if they were to release another Babe movie or another innocuous cartoon series featuring characters with flat noses and curly tails (et tu, Porky Pig), I’d bet my bottom ringgit it may not see the light of day in this country.

“By josh, by jove, by Jeeves”

In 1997, my schoolmates and I decided to put on a production of By Jeeves, a musical by UK composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and writer-lyricist Alan Ayckbourn. Based on the Jeeves stories of PG Wodehouse, By Jeeves features the earnest but bumbling Bertie Wooster and his faithful sidekick Jeeves, the butler who would come to Wooster’s rescue time and again. I played Jeeves and got to attempt pulling off a quasi-British accent. How splendid.

By Jeeves did well as a high school production, but what was most interesting was that it featured a potentially contentious scene that somehow did not trigger off any negative reactions.

To help an old friend — who threatens blackmail if he refuses — Wooster is talked into climbing through an open window in the middle of the night pretending to burgle Totleigh Towers, where the characters are staying. To avoid being recognised, Jeeves convinces Wooster to wear a mask. But the butler tells his master: “Alas, they were out of costumes down at the rental place. Fortunately a production of The Three Little Pigs is currently playing at the local theatre…” See where I’m going with this?

Footage from the writer’s 1997 high school production, complete with
porcine disguise and inflammatory cross-dresser

Remarkably, nobody was offended or induced into picking up pitchforks and flaming torches by the incredibly violent lyrics of the song:

It’s a pig! It’s a pig! It’s a housebreaker pig!
It’s a pig with criminal intentions!
Once he’s caught there’ll be talk: we’ll reduce him to pork
In a way that’s too terrible to mention!
Can’t escape! Now he’s caught
he can grunt, he can snort!
It’s a great new game, chasing porkers for sport.
Now we’ve got him cornered there’s a lesson to be taught
To the pig! To the pig! To the pig!

Scene from a filmed UK production of By Jeeves, 2001

Even more surprisingly, nobody commented that there were Malay Malaysians in our musical, including in the cast. Then again, perhaps this isn’t so surprising since it never even crossed any of our minds that it could have been an issue — because it simply wasn’t an issue.

Many people came up to us after to tell us how much they’d enjoyed the show and to congratulate us on a job well done. Our Malay-Muslim Malaysian classmates, too, told us they’d laughed their heads off: “Oi, kelakar lah!”

It didn’t matter whether the actors were Malay, Chinese or Indian Malaysian, or whether the characters wore pig masks or penguin suits. All that mattered was there was an entertaining story to be told, and there were lessons to be learnt through that story, and that it brought people of all ages, ethnicities and religious affiliations together to appreciate a collective effort by young people.

If the British filmed version of By Jeeves were shown on Malaysian TV, would the hilarious pig-mask scene be cut? Or would the whole film be censored for, perhaps, being a threat to our culture?

And if we were to try staging a local production of By Jeeves today — pig mask and all — especially in a public venue such as a government school, would it be as well-received as my high school production had been? Or are tensions just so high now that we would need to censor ourselves in order to be sensitive to the hypersensitive demands of certain quarters?

Nick Choo is looking forward to Chinese New Year, though he wishes this were the Year of the Pig.

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One Response to “A pig-headed perspective”

  1. Jill says:

    Damn those hypersensitive quarters for being offended by pig heads placed near a mosque.

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