Pang Khee Teik goes deep into Ning like only Pang can.
Here’s a new video by Ning Baizura that is both fabulously problematic as it is endlessly fascinating. (Do watch it before reading my reaction below.)
If you can get past the bad acting and sloppy editing, this video is rather fascinating. In the music video for Ning’s Bukan Wanita Sempurna (Not A Perfect Woman), Ning’s character is portrayed as a fag hag (apologies for using a disparaging terminology for describing women who fall in love with gay men) who pines after her husband while he pines after another man.
There are many layers to peel in this short daring video. The portrayal of the husband, who moves from looking at online images (porn?) of men to falling in love with a real life man to blatantly walking in front of his wife with his male lover, makes for very interesting interpretation. Did his heart shift from secrecy to openness to defiance? It seems this is as much his story of self-discovery as it is her story of heartbreak.
After all, did the video want us to first think that the model might be her fantasy only to reveal that they are actually the husband’s reality? Was he first seduced by the virtual, the fantasy, or was he tempted by the make believe world of tacky talent agency studio lighting of model promo videos? Was her husband’s desire always already that way inclined, forcing him to seek his desire in secret, in the virtual, until some moistened muscle manifested before him?
Observe also the other-ing of his desire. Why is a non-Malay model used as the tempter? Was this an attempt to displace the source of seduction as a foreign object — not from within us but from outside, coming in to corrupt? In fact, so foreign was this lust that the apex of her husband’s infidelity is signified by his being completely submerged in water, in that other realm where humans can’t breathe.
Notice how her love is spoken through the song, while his lust is projected as a mediated image, a fantasmatic desire, seen only in the video. This separation is uncanny because it reinforces the notion that our different ways of loving and lusting can be distinguished, as if there is no overlap, but that the video is able to marry together. It is hard here to know which is made real: is love made real by utterance, or is lust made real by visibility, or both? Love becomes the voice through which she is heard, thereby distinguishing it from the ‘lust’ lens through which the husband is being viewed. So complete is their separation that they occupy different symbolic orders!
Yet, what is most amazing is that by the end of the video, she seems to want him back. It is rather radical. Given the fact that many would think that his being gay (or bisexual) justifies her dumping his ass, she actually wants him back. It almost suggests that she is disregarding the sex of his object of desire — which has an interesting effect of equalising both possibilities, as if her reaction would have been the same whether he had an affair with a woman or a man. I mean, notice how the song itself makes no reference to the gender of the man with whom her husband falls in love (the lack of gender pronouns in Malay has allowed for many of its love songs to be adopted by gays as anthems). Is she broken-hearted that he is in love (lust?) with someone else, or that he is gay? It seems more like the former to me. She is in sorrow that she is being ‘ditiadakan’ (erased), she is made to feel as if she doesn’t exist. What does she want? To exist through an acknowledgement of her love for him. While some people may say this seems really dumb of her, to want a man who cannot love her back, I think the other way of reading this is: she doesn’t care if he lusts after men as long as he accepts her love, acknowledges her existence, no matter how naive it seems to others.
What I like about this then is that it first tells the woman’s story. We often talk about gay or bisexual men being forced to marry to women due to social pressure. As if the men are the only victims. What about the women they marry? Are they not victims too? Does the pressure not result in everyone being hurt? Women in these situations are doubly hurt that they are not good enough a woman for their husbands, and their love not enough to win them back. By extension, it becomes a song about the men in these situations too.
What is interesting then for me is the title and the chorus in which she says she is not a perfect woman: Does she think that if she was a perfect woman, the husband wouldn’t have fallen in love with a guy? Does she think her faithfulness could compensate for her inability to be the one whom he desires? The video starts out with her putting on make-up, spraying on perfume and making breakfast — except her coffee sucks. Is it saying that if only her coffee was better, ie. she was a perfect wife, he would have been faithful, or that he would have never liked her coffee no matter what? Could it be that the things women do to be perfect are nothing if their men are not interested in women?
Or is she saying that she is not perfect, just as he is not perfect, and in fact, nobody is — but love overcomes all imperfections? But if she were truly a perfect woman, would she not be able to just walk away, never needing a man to make her feel complete?
Therefore, the song’s notion of one’s existence being validated by love is interesting if we take it further — if it is true for her, it must be true for him too. His existence was finally validated through love with another man. In a meta way, the song speaks of the invisibility of men and women who desire the same sex. People who desire the same sex are often invalidated and silenced, made to feel as if they don’t exist, left to seek their desires through fantasies or in secret. Can our love be enough to justify our desire to exist? Will we exist only if we cease to be seen as lustful aliens but as loving humans instead? Will it take society’s love to validate our existence? Will Ning’s love be enough?