Culture means a form or stage of civilisation of a nation: and it keeps changing
Sri Lanka has been quite notorious in the international arena with regard to undergarments. Lingerie in particular. BuzzFeed, a popular American internet media company picked up the story about a confusing advertisement on lingerie by Triumph in Sri Lanka on Fathers’ Day. And now an incident at the ‘Sex-and-Love’ concert has turned Enrique Iglesias into a household name in Sri Lanka with virtually no help whatsoever from his musical talents. In the light of the controversial act of a bra being thrown onto the stage and the ensuing eruption, the question which arises is what repercussions it will have internally and externally.
The incident was highlighted in President Sirisena’s speech at an event held at the Ampara D.S. Senanayake National School on December 27 where he vowed not to allow concerts which would destroy the Sri Lankan culture and morals of our society. However his stance did not meet with the reaction he hoped for with a large number of people commenting against it. Three things have to be looked at in the light of this. The purpose of such concerts, what our culture actually is and whether in fact our culture and morals are being destroyed.
As both Kumar Sangakkara’s and Mahela Jayawardene’s Facebook state, they were willing to support the event “considering the rich experience and the image-building potential for Sri Lankan tourism” (This is the only comment the Daily Mirror was able to get from the two as it was deemed to be their official statement regarding the event by their manager) If this was the aim of the concert the question then is as to how well the image of Sri Lankan tourism can be built if our culture is deemed to be ‘destroyed in the process’. Where is the line drawn since tourism in itself would damage a culture by opening the doors of a country to foreign ideals. If we want to protect our culture 100% then notions such as tourism and globalisation should not be even thought of as they dilute everything Lankan.
Whatever form of tourism that is being promoted it has to be done so in a responsible manner: Hiran Cooray, the chairman of Jetwing Hotels. “There is positive tourism and there is negative tourism. Of course a country’s culture has to be kept in mind in any tourist venture but I don’t see our culture being impacted much by this incident if this show was in the name of tourism. This incident could have even happened as part of a simple bet made by the lady’s friends. Our culture can be impacted in greater ways by television and the Internet. For example, simple things such as fast food chains can also be said to impact our culture.”
Hypocrisy at its best. This is merely the making of a mountain out of a molehill: singer Sunil Perera
The next question is whether our culture was in fact destroyed in the incident, and if so how. Renowned singer Sunil Perera seems to think that this is merely the making of a mountain out of a molehill.
“A simple incident has been blown out of proportion. The real issues in Sri Lanka aren’t seen. There are many incidents of assaults, stabbings and even murders that happen in concerts in Sri Lanka but these have never been spoken about. Just last week there was an incident where a man had been pulled away from work and assaulted under the orders of a politician. The murder of Thajudeen has still not been solved. Girls are raped at a rate; there is child abuse; but no one sees all that. This one incident has been made into a big issue. Our so-called culture is where politicians bribe their way into Parliament by attending funeral houses. Our culture is one where politicians demand top level permits and there is no declaration of wealth before elections. If this is our culture then it is rotten. I am disgusted at the state of affairs. ‘Ape kama’ is bullying and robbery. There is no culture at all. We are just trying to project a clean image to the rest of the world. It is hypocrisy at its best. International artistes should come to Sri Lanka. The organisers should be allowed to sell tickets at high prices since this is the only way that a foreign artiste can be paid back and costs covered. The public should be allowed to buy tickets even if they are expensive. Why should they be stopped if they are willing to spend? The government has so much more pressing matters to than this minor incident.”
The million dollar question however is whether our culture really is at odds with foreign artistes’ performances here? First what exactly is this culture or these morals and ideals that need to be protected? There is our pre-colonial lifestyle and our post-colonial lifestyle; presumably the ‘culture’ being referred to is the latter. The first thing that would come to mind when you speak about Sri Lankan culture would be Kandyan dancers or a perahera or festivals during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. But let us not forget that our culture especially in present times has within it aspects such as infidelity, bribery and underage marriages which are devoid of any ‘musical-concert-influence’. Our culture is one where women are harassed in buses, in trains and roads. Let us also not forget that we are a culture which topped Google as the country that searched the most for ‘sex’ over four years, beating many bigger countries. And interestingly, looking at the report of the search, the majority of the countries are actually Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, which are considered to be more ‘conservative’ and having a tighter grip on their morals as opposed to Western nations. Is this evidence of an evolution or revolution of our culture? No-one can deny the fact that we are living in a world where more traditional values and ideals have been questioned and they have changed.
Prostitution is legalised in areas, marijuana is accepted in others, and groups of people who were marginalised are now being liberated by the very religions that marginalised them. In the light of many people calling for a ‘futuristic Constitution’ maybe it’s time for our ideals to evolve as well.
Irrespective of what our culture is, an act of throwing an undergarment onto the stage could be hardly considered harmful to a 30,000-year-old culture that has survived over such a long period of time. As Hiran Cooray pointed out, the morals of Sri Lankan society and its culture are already diluted by television, the Internet and people who return after living abroad.
Interestingly however, our original as portrayed by the Sigiriya frescoes in Sri Lankan culture was very much ‘bra-less’; lingerie was a Victorian concept. Therefore the action of the lady at the concert is contrary to western ideals and not to our bra-less history. Maybe this was the same cultural shock our ancestors had to deal with when Queen Victoria visited us. Forget history; loin cloths are still worn and even paraded in protests in front of bigger audiences.
Unfortunately, even though we may not admit it, Sri Lanka has become a frivolous and promiscuous society encompassing ideals that are part and parcel of western liberalism.So, there doesn’t seem to be any practical way in stopping such behaviour in this country when it is hard to judge what should be allowed and what shouldn’t. We could opt for another alternative which is to follow the style of governance in Middle Eastern countries that is conservative to the core. But then we don’t have oil.
Thirdly morals, as subjective by nature, are difficult to deal with. Conservative individuals may frown upon such behaviour, but the bitter truth is that morals are getting looser than bra clasps. Chivalry has flown out of the window and knee-length dresses only look good in a wardrobe now. The ‘redda hatte’ kit considered Sri Lankan is only seen in urban areas during ‘Avurudu’ time. If this is the way society is evolving won’t an artificial stop to it cause problems? And how possibly can a country filter such ideals seeping in? Feminists may view the act of the bra-throwing lady her act as a form of self-expression with the lady herself possibly viewing it as a form of individuality. The organisers and the singer may view it as an expression of enjoyment and a job well done in entertaining people.Conservatives may disagree. Who’s right? And who’s to say who’s right?
Dr. Sepali Kottegoda, felt that the incident was stage managed. However even if it was not, the act was entirely the lady’s decision.
“If it is offensive to anyone then a conversation should be had with the person who removed her clothing. There are more pressing matters such as the innumerable cases of women being abused in public transport. I wish there is such an uproar when these incidents take place. Acts of sexual molestations in public transport seem to be acceptable to our culture because nothing is said about it. It would be excellent if more focus is given to such everyday violations of women’s rights.”
Keeping those principle aspects aside let’s look at its practicality. Working on the premise that our culture is indeed damaged how do we make efforts to stop such incidents? ‘Sex and Love’ should have been denied permission at the earliest stage. But then again a fan could have acted in the same way at an opera if high notes aroused her feelings. How do we stop such an act then? Who takes the blame? President Sirisena stated that his criticism was directed at the organisers and not the singer. What sort of an effect will such a stance have on tourism as a whole? The party found to be at fault will be less likely to get involved in the process again. Can such ripple effects be handled by a country trying to develop while focusing on tourism? These questions need to be answered; if not we would find ourselves on a slippery slope.
It would be excellent if more focus is given to the everyday abuse of women in public transport; Dr. Sepali Kottegoda, the director of the Women and Media Collective
Without a culture a country loses its individuality and steps should be taken to prevent flotsam seeping into it. It is irresponsible to sit back and say; ‘Hey it’s okay, this is how the world works’. Culture, and moral values are not governed by law and there is no right and wrong. Regulating it therefore becomes that much more difficult.
The bra incident deemed ‘shocking’ was perhaps due to the heightened attention it received but there are countless decaying morals and values that are not given equal attention.Furthermore, if we desensitize foreign forms of entertainment, demands of the people should be met locally. However the undue attention given to the incident has resulted in one benefit; a constructive debate on culture and morals in Sri Lanka.