How ‘The First Purge’ mirrors the Sedition Act

AUGUST 13 — I caught The First Purge the other day... it’s the latest in the series and I have watched all the others. 

Without a doubt, it’s one of the great modern cult classics. Okay, granted, the acting is so-so, there are almost no “famous” stars, most of the movie(s) happens at night, the dialogue is cheesy, the ideological narrative adopted is blatantly Leftist, the action is not bad but often unnecessarily gory (like a cheap rip-off of the Halloween films), the characters are bland, and it’s always the same lame plots i.e. bad guys chase good guys through the streets until more violent good guys come to the rescue.

But, nevertheless the movie’s premise is fascinating. 

A once-a-year event in which America opens a 12-hour window during which crimes (including murder) are permitted. Why? So Americans can purge the hate, anger and bitterness in their souls by inflicting violence on their fellow Americans. 

You’re pissed off with life, with society, with “The Man”? Here you go, take these 12 hours off to maim and murder whoever you can find. Hope you feel better after that so you can endure another 364 days of modern capitalism.

No wonder there are already four instalments of the series since the first came out in 2013. Because ultimately the Purge spotlights that universal characteristic of human societies: Sacrifice.

A violent Ctrl-Alt-Del

You know when you’ve opened too many programs on your notebook and the whole system starts getting shaky? The solution is usually to hit the Restart button — sacrifice is like that Restart button. 

Or if you’re in a painful or abusive relationship and you make a decision to end it? Sacrifice is like that. It takes us back to a “Square One” position.

Or take a business organisation. For many years the company has been suffering losses, the directors and managers accusing each other, back-stabbing, politicking, scheming and so on. 

Everybody wants to kill each other. Then one day, a very innocent fresh-grad executive is charged for a sensational fraud or scandal. This person is summoned to a high-profile Domestic Inquiry, found guilty and fired. 

There is a lot of hoo-haa and the case is even passionately and enthusiastically discussed at the monthly staff meeting. 

At the end of this? An amazing result occurs: Everybody starts working well with each other again. There is teamwork, camaraderie, synergy, the business starts profiting  until, a few months later, all the trouble and in-fighting resumes and YET another staff has to be fired.

This is sacrifice in the corporate world. It mirrors the ancient world in which tribes used a scapegoat to restore their polluted and shattered community back to an original pristine state.

Football teams should be familiar with phenomenon too. Not getting enough wins? Low morale all around? Sack the manager.

The scapegoat and the Sedition Act

Sacrifice is essentially an attention-shifting device. By distracting everybody’s obsession and focusing it on to a particular person (or entity known as the scapegoat), sacrifice helps ensure that everybody no longer needs to focus on each other’s problems.

The scapegoat takes on the accumulated pain, anger and hatred of the community. Instead of Tom lashing out at Dick, they both lash out at Andy. Instead of Dick destroying Harry, they both destroy Andy. 

Andy is the sacrificial lamb on which “redemptive violence” is visited; redemptive in the sense that it redeems the Tom-Dick-Harry community from self-destruction (by destroying just one person).

For the sake of “unity”, the innocent suffer. For the sake of “harmony”, people grieve who don’t need to. For the sake of “cleansing” ourselves, the harmless are put in harm’s way.

Just like the Sedition Act. 

A few years ago Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai remarked that the Sedition Act was required to “ensure unity”; a short while later, an MP mentioned that the Sedition Act “helps Malaysians stay united.”

Thankfully, New Malaysia leaders haven’t quite spoken in such a manner yet. The signs, though, aren’t promising.

The continued existence of the Sedition Act today swings much-needed attention away from questions like “How do we creatively encourage more freedom of expression?”, “How can we deal effectively with corruption and cronyism?” — questions which give our New Putrajaya a headache.

Crisis in the country? Simple. Just jail someone who deviated just a little bit from the party line. Problems with the economy? No issue. Let’s charge that fellow who dares to do precisely what we want our school-kids to do: Think.

End of the day, the Sedition Act won’t cut it anymore for the government, not if real unity is at stake. We have to stop sacrificing the innocent. The only people we need to purge ourselves of are the true criminals.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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