Saturday, December 05, 2009

Thy Kingston Come, Thy Wimbledon...

This week, I thought that I'd go and see what all the fuss is about and took myself down to Planet Hollywood to watch “2012”. What better venue could there be in which to take in a Hollywood movie about planetary destruction? “2012” has caused much controversy here and Indonesian clerics have urged that the film be banned as only God himself knows when the end of the world will come.

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that these are self-proclaimed guardians of public morals (the MUI or Indonesian Council of Ulema is not an organization that anyone votes for), they clearly haven't learned the lesson that such adverse publicity only makes people want to go and see films such as "2012" even more.

The blasphemy argument is an interesting one however. This week, the new Indonesian Minister for Communications and Information, Tiffatul Sembiring, claimed that the recent string of disasters which have befallen the country were due to the general population’s, "Moral decadence". Appropriate as it may be for a Minister of Communication and Information to have a direct hotline to the big man upstairs, it's interesting that those who decree it blasphemous to claim to know the mind of God seem to be having a jolly old time making exactly the same claims themselves.

What we are essentially getting here is the age old sectarian refrain: you were created sick, humankind, now cure yourself. Well, I for one will not be spoken to and told what to do in this way, and so a trip to the flicks it was.

Leaving aside the film's bogus scientific pretext and hokey family drama, "2012" does feature pretty much the best special effects that I've ever seen. This is pure hyper reality. One particular scene, in which the movie's main protagonists fly a plane through a Los Angeles that is collapsing around them and sliding into California Bay, is quite simply jaw dropping on the big screen. The real end of the world would surely be an anti-climax after this. The moving image is now more real than real.

There is however another movie, admittedly slightly lighter on the pyrotechnics, showing at the moment that is also trying to attract the seasonal box-office crowds. It's the umpteenth remake of Charles Dickens's classic "A Christmas Carol" and it also makes predictions about the future. In fact the story's main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. I haven't heard any objections being raised by the thought police on this movie yet although popular Indonesian TV shows that feature ghosts have received a fair amount of flak in recent years from the clerics.

"A Christmas Carol" is a tale of personal redemption of course. Scrooge isn't commanded to be good by the ghosts on pain of eternal suffering. Instead, the spirits reveal Scrooge’s avarice and coldness to him as they are reflected in the lives of others. Eventually his redemption and rebirth come from within, despite the seasonally religious theme, make of that what you will.

I wonder what a ghost of Idul Adha future would have to show Indonesia's elites, who seem to so totally embody the Scrooge ethos, if they too were whisked forward to a vision of the country in 50 years time. Our spirit may show these privileged few a country completely denuded of forests. A land whose felled trees have released the locked in peat carbon of millennia into the atmosphere at a rate of a billion tons per year (emissions equivalent to the whole of Germany's output).

Our putative ghost would reveal the consequences of the runaway greenhouse effect that this venal deforestation has contributed to. He may also show our leaders a barely educated population struggling for resources with many on the edge of starvation and dying of preventable diseases. He would also show the elites their children, themselves now the country’s leaders, circling the wagons and facing down the rabble with guns.

Our ghost of Idul Adha future will expose a country racked with conflicts and all but broken up. And Jakarta itself will show itself as one of the world's most utterly hopeless and completely failed mega-cities. In fact, this vision may end up looking pretty much like "2012" itself. It would be "A Christmas Carol" shot through with a hallucination of the Apocalypse with squadrons of helicopters buzzing the ruins of the Scrooge Empire. Actually, if any local film directors are interested…

Science remains our best method of seeing into the future and, by definition in fact, has to make predictions. It also has the saving grace and humility to admit that it's not perfect. We can all look forward to the certain death of our planet, however, with complete confidence. A time will come when our dying sun will expand into a red giant and engulf the Earth in fire. Don’t cancel your Globe subscription just yet though as you’ll have to stick around for another five billion years, as opposed to just three, in order to enjoy this cosmic barbecue. "Bah, Humbug" as Scrooge would say. Still, I'm sure that the movie will be better than the real thing anyway.