EVERY month, I make it a point to go to the newspaper/magazine shoplot at the Cold Storage supermarket in KLCC to get my fave mags: the delightfully twisted antics of Toyfare, the excellent and informative weekly newspaper The Economist, the very-useful-and-cool-but-ridiculously-expensive-in-Malaysia Computer Arts and occasionally the geektastic SFX. But if there is one mag that I will get first before all else is the wonderfully edgy mag that was born at the dawn of the Internet age: Wired magazine.
I actually remember when it first came out all those years ago, as I was a student in Swansea back then; they had a penchant for radioactive colours schemes so toxic that (to paraphrase Robin Williams) it would make even a blind gay man go, "Oh, dear Christ, honey, no; is this carnival? Cause that is LOUD." They have changed the layout and design gradually over the years, and they seem to pull off the trick with flying colours — their layouts are always fresh, stylish and a pleasure to behold.
But it is always the content that makes you come back for more (yes, I believe in quality over quantity). The wit, the incisive investigative reporting, the stimulating analyses and fascinating insights into ideas that are far-reaching are impressive enough on their own; coupled with the magazine's cool covers, lovely layouts and gorgeous graphics and you get something to look forward to at the tail end of the month.
For those who have not lived in Malaysia, allow me to reiterate one of the many problems that I have with the country that I was born in: the price of books and magazines here is ridiculously high. Relatively speaking, books are so much cheaper in the UK — even as a student on a bare-minimum government scholarship, I could still afford to buy new books, never mind the fantastic fun of car-boot sales. So, nowadays, since I am making enough money to indulge this habit, I expect to get full value for what I pay for.
Alas, I don't get quite what I want; as can be seen from this week's graphic, there is a page missing — and it is cut in such a way that you cannot help but notice that the page is missing. The page happens to be for a cigarette ad (you don't need to be as savvy as Sherlock Holmes or possess the cleavage of Vallery Irons to figure it out), but I have seen pages from Dolce&Gabbana ads ripped out, among others — and quite often, any hapless stories that are on the back of those censored pages are lost forever to the reader.
And then there is, of course, the ubiquitous use of the black marker pen to censor even the slightest hint of a woman's exposed décolletage (in case you have no idea what that means, here's a small sampling of synonyms: boobies, hooters, jugs, tatas, sweater puppies, the twins and many more. In other words: breasts). Seriously, they even mark out the picture of bare breasts from works of art — even that of the Picasso variety (which is pathetic, frankly).
Now, I am a total non-smoker — but even I find that a bit too much. It doesn't help that the authorities here in Malaysia have forced all cigarette boxes to be "decorated" with pictures of the effects of smoking: emphysemic lungs, mouth/throat cancers and, most gruesome of all, premature babies. These gross images are apparently supposed to get people to quit smoking — but anyone with a sense of decency would be appalled by the depravity and disgusting horror of such virtually-pornographic pictures. Despite all this, they still want to mangle a magazine for which we have had to pay good money to read. Are we going to get a tax refund as a form of compensation? Suuuuuuuuuure...
After discussing this with some friends at work, we found that this seems to happen more often with the mamak bookstores (Mamaks are Muslims of Indian heritage, for those who don't know). These self-appointed guardians of our morality partake of this vandalism, and yet sell local magazines which are utter junk, filled with stories of ghosts/demons, magic or sex (more often involving all three at once).
And how is this for a freaky coincidence: in this very issue of Wired that has been castrated is this sentence from its cover story: "Looking back over human history, rationality has been the anomaly." I am inclined to agree with that sentiment; mankind has never been content with being fully rational. Judging by Malaysia's efforts over the decades, rationality has never been a strong point.
Malaysia is silly when it comes to lots of things; I remember growing up in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, and censorship back then was not only moderate, it was smartly done. We could watch Benny Hill on TV; nowadays, the common word for the human derriere (ie, the alternative donkey) is still bleeped out on Malaysian TV, never mind its by-product.
We even have a "ratings" system that is absolutely useless because they still censor the movies anyway. The ratings never made any sense anyway — I remember Starship Troopers (which was rated R in the US) being given a universal U here in Malaysia! And speaking of movies, the local authorities seem to be quite silly when it comes to names: Daredevil was banned purely because of the "Devil" in the name (when it should have been banned purely due to its excreable storyline and acting), and the movie Hellboy had to be called Super Sapiens (strangely, Hellboy was still called Hellboy in the movie itself).
You want to stop people from smoking? Why not just ban cigarettes in the first place? As my friend Eddie told me, there are many reasons for smoking that you can give, but there is no GOOD reason that you can give. You want to police our minds? Do it properly and consistently. Either give us movies with proper ratings and no censorship, or stop bothering with the ratings system if you're going to go gaga with the snip-snip.
What really grinds my gears (all you Family Guy fans can start giggling now) is the fact that you can mutilate a magazine; you might as well have a Farenheit 451 party while you're at it. And Wired is not a vacuous fashion magazine, but an entertaining and enlightening journal. If you can live with yourself for defacing knowledge, I am not sure that you deserve to live. So, if any of those censorship people there actually happen to be reading this, I only have one thing to say: cut it out. And I don't mean literally...
Ahmad Azrai would like to snip something off from the idiots who snip off pages...