by Jennie S. Bev
I once attended Robert "Hollywood Guru" McKee's screenwriting class in downtown San Francisco. During the analysis session Casablanca (starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid) was played on the projection screen.
I was taken to Casablanca in the 1940s, but the movie was in fact shot in a studio, Van Nuys airport and Rick's Cafe, which belonged to Rick Blaine played by Bogart.
In one of the first few scenes, McKee emphasized the importance of viewing films critically. This Oscar-winning film is full of symbols, hence the notion of films as symbolism in action. And one of the most remarkable symbols was the upside-down lamp shade. I was astonished as I had not paid attention to that small detail until he mentioned it.
From the beginning, the skillful cinematographer Arthur Edeson (who was also nominated for an Oscar) wished to convey a strong message: Casablanca was an upside-down society at that time. Of course, this was seen through the eyes of a western filmmaker, whose values and lifestyle were likely to be opposite to that which he was portraying.
Today, I see the world the way I analyze films, only the scenes are alive and the actors and actresses are real people. Scenes, plot, and chapters will eventually create internal and external structures intertwined in a manner which may or may not construct an enjoyable film.
This year, Indonesia is celebrating its 63rd anniversary of independence –a big number for a populous country. If Indonesia were a person, he or she would be a grandparent with much wisdom to share with his or her grandchildren. And it is pertinent to recall John F. "Camelot" Kennedy's classic inauguration speech made Jan. 20, 1961, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Very romantic. Now let's be realistic. It is now more relevant than ever, to reflect on what Indonesia has become after 63 years of independence. Are we going somewhere? Anywhere? Are we all completely free in this state of "independence"?
To answer such questions, Edmund Burke suggests: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely". While this may seem to contradict Kennedy's wise words, Burke makes a lot of sense. A country, after all, is no more than a social contract among individuals residing in a particular region and as Benedict Anderson attested, nationality is an imagined community. Remove these concepts, what do we get? Random crowds in some accidental regions.
Still, we have unconditional love for our country, just like our love for our parents and children. Good or bad, they are our family. Sometimes we encounter individuals who are very hard to love, but we still love them anyway. We have no other choice but to love them, as part of our predetermined destiny. Just like this old adage, "Right or wrong, it is my country.”
This kind of love is the foundation for layers of other types of love –earned and reflective ones. Both must exist for a complete circle to materialize.
Blind love for a country is as venomous as it is to spoil a child. Patriotism should be based on reflective actions, so the ideal and the reality are aligned with each other, as Dinesh D'Souza elucidated in What's So Great about America. Thus, pride and nationalism come with substance, not merely empty rhetoric.
An ideal love for a country is because it is mine and because it is also lovely. That black-and-white movie titled Casablanca speaks volumes on choosing between love and virtue. In the end, virtue wins. The same also rings true with our love for our country. Is love what it takes to move forward and carry Indonesia to a higher ground? Or virtue? Or both?
I believe in the power of virtue and the mother of all virtues is compassion. If we love Indonesia, there is one single thing we can do to express and internalize it within our soul –to show compassion to our fellow countrymen and women, whoever they are, regardless of their differences –to treat others just like we treat ourselves. It is that simple.
The greatest country, after all, is one that respects and protects minorities. The opposite of compassion should not be used as the basis for policy making, since it would breed evil offspring and create more violence, chaos, and anarchy. Policy makers must be aware of such consequences and should emphasize virtuous politics with substance.
In my simplistic and idealistic mind, a philosopher-ruler like Marcus Aurelius would be ideal. He once said, "Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours". Simple advice that still rings true today.
Until Indonesia is free from persecuting its minorities, I can only love Indonesia because it is mine. I will reserve my other love for loveliness –after all minorities can live and breathe without bending. Till then.
The Jakarta Post, August 15, 2008