Friday, October 11, 2019

"Comedy is subjective.'" - Arthur Fleck, Joker (2019)

Forget about putting Arthur Fleck into the 'good' or 'evil' box. I personally think that this movie isn't about seeing what is good and what is evil. I also think that we have to throw out all morality out the window when analyzing this movie and sympathize with him. If we were to view it with our sense of morality and utopian ideal, of course the definite answer will be 'killing is not right even if you find it pleasurable and it meets your self-interest' or 'killing people who have caused your depression is not the answer'. It's a rule that is already set in stone. However, I don't think that is the point of the movie. Therefore, we have to view Arthur's actions like that of a psychiatrist who is willing to listen to a mentally ill patient's side of the story. After all, this movie is about him. The title of this post, which is also a quote directly taken from the movie, reflects the manner in which how we should analyze what Arthur is going through - which is by being subjective. 

There is a little detail in the movie that I find intriguing. The funny (pun intended) thing about society is that they tell us to smile often. Phrases that indicate 'smile always' is plastered throughout the movie but the irony is that mere written and verbal phrases do not seem to help. This is one of the little details that intrigued me in the movie. It is a form of toxic positivity. Of course smiling activates our happy hormones called endorphins, but external factors do not seem to support for such an action to be continued without effort. It will only result in a discontinuation of the feedback loop. Furthermore, the politicians are corrupt, the rich is exploiting and marginalizing the poor, the economy is breaking down, people are losing their jobs, etc. Being sandwiched among these types of world problems, is there still room for happiness and feeling content? Does smiling really help? Is that the only advice and support that a broken society has to offer? 

Negative thinking can lead to self-destruction. One of the ways to have a healthy mind is to remove all negative thoughts that have caused us to think of such thoughts. However, it is easier said than done. As for Arthur, he didn't remove the negativity in his mind, he removed all of the things that made him thought of the negativity by 'physically removing' those who have caused those negativity. Only after that did he finally find pleasure in his mind. The irony is, what he found pleasurable was pain for others. This is where his subjectivity about the situation lies. 

When there is nothing funny or pleasurable left to see, in desperation for laughter and humor, when only chaos and destruction are the only things that are at our vicinity, with the ability of our minds to interpret and perceive things however we want it, chaos can be seen as a comedy to someone. Hence, comedy is subjective.

In the end, Arthur Fleck finally became Happy (a nickname his mother gave him).

p/s: I do think that certain types of audience will have certain types of responses after watching this movie. Those without any knowledge of mental illness or mental health awareness will see this movie as Joker being crazy and not having the sense of control, while those with the knowledge of mental illness or mental health awareness will try to slowly understand where Joker is coming from. However, this movie just implies that as a society, sometimes being kind and empathetic is the least that we could offer to people with mental illness.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Why is it so hard to practice free speech?

Last week I got into an online discourse with a random stranger on Twitter. My tweet was about free speech. I was criticising of how race, religion, and royalty are issues which are liable for punishment if they were being provoked by individuals. I contend that this is a violation of principles of free speech. As long as criticisms of those three do not involve threats or violence, it is still within the scope of free speech. As for the stranger, she was a proponent of getting the police involved which serves as a prevention of racial riots from happening. However, this approach in itself already criminalises free speech. Throughout the course of our exchanges of tweets, this question got me thinking - what makes an intellectual approach to criticisms and insults so hard to be practiced in our society? Why punitive approach is the easiest way to sweep sensitive issues under the rug?

The first reason is the lack of intellectual dispositions among the members of the society. As Syed Hussein Alatas had mentioned in his book 'Intellectuals in Developing Societies', the phenomena or characteristic that plagues our society is called 'bebalisme' or 'Oblovoism'. It simply means the dispostion to not be inquisitive of the situations that are happening around us. It is a disposition that is equal to that of a parasite that affects the educated and non-educated groups alike (Alatas, 2009). It does not discriminate and sometimes intellectuals and professionals fall victim to this type of disposition. To relate 'bebalisme' with how one potentially reacts to criticism of their race and religion, most people would react in a way that when any form of criticisms is directed toward at any race or religion, one would immediately be offended instead of using their intellectual caacity to think. Being offended would be an initial reaction but what follows would be to get the police involved and reporting certain statements to the authorities. If we have a habit of doing research or getting into a civil discourse regarding certain statements, then reporting to the police wouldn't be an option. The purpose of employing this apporach is not to be quiet when people insult our race or religion, but to offer a counter-arguement for the said insults and criticisms. This is how senstive issues such as these should be dealt with and it comes in the form of a dialectical process. 

This might be a cliche but always a valid reasoning for us to look into the reason why intellectual disposition isn't a dominant attribute of our society - education. Based on the previous education system, many of them are based on route learning and are exam oriented. It's based off on taking in whatever the teacher delivers to you. The generation that underwent teacher-centered lessons, prior to shifting to student-centered lessons, lacked the opportunity to apply critical thinking skills and engage in facilitated problem-based learning which was the process of justification and validity of arguments as opposed to just the given reason themselves (Kompa, 2012). Teacher-centred learning often times do not employ an approach whereby an open enquiry is inserted in any stage of the learning process. This does not prompt the students to think for themselves as the opportunity to do so is scarce. Other than that, based on the current system, there isn't a module in the school syllabus that addresses how the students should respond when sensitive topics casually get thrown at to the students. Teachers are also not allowed to ask sensitve questions in class because in our society,  it is an implicit social rule to respect other races and religions. While this is a noble cause, it does not prepare the students to face and respond intellectually to certain insults regarding race and relgion in the real world out there. 

The third reason is the inability to detach oneself from the insults and criticisms that is directed at their racial and religious identity. We grew up with the racial and religious group that we have been conditioned with since little. When someone insults us, it felt like our whole existence has been violated. This becomes all the more complex when the race and religious group that we've identified with has been criticised. According to Merer (2017), 'identification requires a feeling of attachment, it is instrinsically social.' Group-level emotions are stronger than individual emotions because on experienes it as objectively true. Therefore, group-level emotion would usually trigger one to be upset because our identity and emotions are intertwined with one another so it's difficult to divorce how we feel about what we identify with. Insults and criticisms are a form of negative evaluations and feelings of anger or resentment emerge upon the event where the racial or religious group has been criticised or insulted. This will mean that the group has been offended. 

The reasons above could be the factors that cause an intellectual approach to insults and criticisms to be challenging. There needs to be a way for us to gain intellectual disposition and not become overly emotional when people criticise the racial or religious group that we belong to. These are the criterias needed for the practice of free speech. 


Alatas, S. H. (2009). Intelektual Masyarakat Membangun (2nd ed.). Kuala Lumpur,             Selangor: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka.

Kompa, J. (2014, February 20). Disadvantages of Teacher-Centered Learning.   Retrieved from             teacher-centered-learning/

Mercer, J. (2014). Feeling like a state: social emotion and identity. International     Theory6(3), 515–535. doi: 10.1017/s1752971914000244

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Sebuah puisi untuk Malaysia - 'Tetapi ada yang masih sama'

Perpaduan disorakkan
Tetapi politik identiti dilaungkan

Dahulunya orang-orang asing yang mengasingkan
Kini seorang orang asing boleh memisahkan

Multikulturalisme yang ditegakkan
Tetapi kadang-kadang etnonasionalisme yang dihebahkan

Perjuangan perpaduan tetap diteruskan
Tetapi diskriminasi sistematik dikekalkan

Idealisme bertingkat-tingkat
Tetapi realiti membungkam matlamat

Elakkan rasisme kata mereka
Tetapi permainan bangsa tetap direka

Ramai kata kita sudah berubah
Tetapi ada yang masih sama

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Writing activity: Writing via 5 senses (for intermediate level ESL learners)

Subject: English
Level: Intermediate (CEFR level: B1-B2)
SOLO taxonomy level: Multistructural  (Describe, list, combine)
Previous knowledge: Simple tenses & continuous tenses
Teaching materials: Mahjong papers, markers pens, dictionaries

Learning objectives:
1. List down a list of words related to the 5 senses.
3. Combine verbs related to the 5 senses and objects.
2. Produce a narrative in one paragraph by using the verbs of the 5 senses and the objects related to it.


1. Introduce students to the 5 senses - touch, smell, sound, sight, taste

2. Relate the senses to verbs. Give one example and then ask students to give other examples for each sense. (Eg. sight - watch, see, observe, look)

3. For each verb given for the senses, ask students what objects they can relate with the particular verb. (Eg. sight - watch (movie), observe (people), etc.) 

4. Explain to students that they are going to list the 5 senses and the verbs related to it together with objects. 

5. Tell students that they are going to draw a table such as this one below. Draw on the whiteboard and model for the students as to how they should proceed with the activity. This is to be done in their individual notebook.

An issue during the implementation of this phase in my classroom:

As for 'touch', my students tend to use only 'touch' as the verb as they have limited vocabulary. During the presentation phase, teach them that the vocabulary of verbs for 'touch' is wide. Give multiple examples of verbs that are related to 'touch' and then proceed with asking them with a few verbs that are related that they can come up with on their own. Refer to the dictionary if they have to. 

6. Divide students into groups in order for them to engage in discussions. Assign each group different situations for them to describe using the 5 senses (eg. concert, festival celebration, wedding, at the beach). Tell them that they only have 20 minutes to complete the task.

7. After they are done, instruct the representative of the group to write what they've discussed on the whiteboard. Check their work with the whole class. Below are pictures of my students' work on the whiteboard:

During writing:
1. Briefly refresh the rules of simple tenses and simple continuous tenses with the students.

2. Tell the students that they are going to produce a narrative essay of not more than 100 words based on the previous task that they have done.

3. Distribute mahjong papers and marker pens to each group. Tell them they only have 20 minutes to complete the task.

4. After they have completed the task, instruct students to paste the mahjong papers on the whiteboard. 

5. The students will be the ones to detect the incorrect verb forms. Instruct students to raise up their hands if they spot any grammatical mistakes.

Rationale: Instead of the teacher who is the one doing the correcting, this approach will allow the students to participate actively and apply their understanding of the correct verb forms. The role of the teacher is to just give prompts and write the corrections on the mahjong paper.

Below are pictures of my students' work after the post-writing phase:

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Bullying is wrong. Yet why do some still do it?

In a typical Malaysian school setting, you'll see posters on anti-bullying plastered around the corridors of schools. They serve to create awareness on how bullying negatively affects people. Teachers will also once in a while talk about how bad bullying is. However, posters alone and teachers talking about them are insufficient efforts in tackling the issue of bullying. At the time of writing this, 2 days ago, a court hearing was conducted for the death of Zulharfan Osman Zulkarnain, a UPNM student who received 80% burns all over his body from being bullied by his college mates due to a dispute over a laptop (Azmi, 2019). It is a case of bullying which had led to an individual's death. Apart from this extreme incident, Malaysia has its fair share of bullying cases in schools in which a few of the reasons include but not limited to ethnic differences, purchasing cigarettes outside schools, and jealousy of their peer's success in academics (Salleh and Zainal, 2014). So, why does bullying happen anyway even if it has been widely acknowledged that it brings no good to the second party?

From an evolutionary point of view, we humans live according to a hierarchy. We tend to bully one another because within a hierarchy, there is a power struggle going on. It's all about dominating (Boehm, 2012). It also helps to set up resources, increase status/reputation, and attracting sexual partners. This is beneficial from the perspective of the bully. What results from this is that bullying and physical aggression have persisted because of natural selection (Simon et al., 2016). This is no wonder that bullying still happens due to what the bully can gain from it.

Bullying also persists because of defensive egotism and self-esteem. Following the discourse on Twitter regarding Zulharfan's case, the university that he went to had bullying as a norm. The students who have committed bullying might have been bully-victims themselves which means that they were the targets of any forms of bullying in the past while they were enrolling in the institution. For them to commit the act of bullying, they first became the victims. They acquire high defensive egotism as a direct result of their victimization ( Simon et al., 2016). So, this kind of norm perpetuates within the institution to the point that it had led to Zulharfan's death. 

Although research have explored the reason behind our tendency to bully others, we would be committing a naturalistic fallacy if we were to conclude that just because we are evolutionary designed to have bullying tendencies, we should condone bullying. It is evident enough of what could have been the result if we were to succumb to this fallacy. Bullying can lead to deaths, and I regret that a norm of bullying has led to the death of an innocent individual due to a dispute which could be resolved peacefully and amicably.  


Azmi, S. N. (2019). Kes bunuh Zulfarhan, 18 penuntut UPNM dipanggil bela diri. Retrieved from

Boehm, C. (2012). Moral origins: The evolution of virtue, altruism, and shame. New York: Basic Books.

Salleh, N. M., & Zainal, K. (2014). Bullying Among Secondary School Students in Malaysia: A Case Study. International Education Studies,7(13). doi:10.5539/ies.v7n13p184

Simon, J. B., Nail, P. R., Swindle, T., Bihm, E. M., & Joshi, K. (2016). Defensive egotism and self-esteem: A cross-cultural examination of the dynamics of bullying in middle school. Self and Identity,16(3), 270-297. doi:10.1080/15298868.2016.1232660

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