OPINION – Twilight of the idols

Macau Business | August 2021

Keith Morrison – Author and educationist

To the delight of pundits, speculators and media watchers, here we go again on the merry-go-round of the upcoming election for Macau’s Legislative Assembly. Who will emerge in a blaze of success in September, basking in the sunlight of public acclaim as the anointed ones to ensure Macau’s future? Who will sink quietly, or, indeed, noisily, into the sunset of oblivion and despair, having failed to be elected or re-elected? I can hardly wait to see.

Whilst the results of the election are a wonderful occasion, it is the run-up to it that is more fascinating. How it grips the imagination! How it fires our dreams and fantasies!

What creativity can we expect in this year’s fashion line-up: the brilliance of the yellow T-shirt brigade; red-shirted conquistadors; designer face mask flaunters; buttoned-up yet smartly casual jacketed vanquishers of all opposition?

Look at presentation. Who are the new Busby Berkeleys of the magnificently choreographed chorus-line of election teams, all demonstrating stunningly synchronous dexterity in a group thumbs-up, accompanied by a mile-wide team-smile and maybe a ridiculous slogan or two? Look at the simultaneously outstretched hands to all of us, offering us . . . hmmm, I’m not really sure what. Which team wins the Kitchener prize for the most concerted finger pointing at an undisclosed audience? Who puts on the most earnest, serious look of the would-be devastatingly winning team? All pledge their commitment to public service; well, that’s the rhetoric. Oh, the thrill of it all is overwhelming. I swoon with rapture.

Election speculation abounds. Setting rhetoric aside, what and whose motives are in the hearts and minds of the candidates? What lengths will they go to in order to court public opinion, to achieve prominence, to get votes? How many meals and other inducements will be bought for voters? Magician-like, how many surveys will candidates pull out of a hat to support their case? What staged, media-frenzied coverage of a new project or a new promise will they announce? What will they do to be regarded by the public as ‘on their side’? Where will they suddenly be seen supporting the poor, the oppressed, the weak, the displaced, and the have-nots? How will they suddenly pop their heads out of the sand, ostrich-like, to support workers’ rights, incomes and employment protection? How will candidates canvas votes from previously unheard-of associations and organizations in Macau?

How will election candidates suddenly welcome anyone who approaches them with a ‘good cause’, a wish, a hardship, a request, a complaint, regardless of its worth or, indeed, truth? What untruths, scandal and misrepresentation will they create on almost anyone and anything, as long as such sensation-seeking behaviour puts them in the public eye in the run-up to the election? Mercifully, this has not been too widespread in the past.

Or go into a murkier world of intrigue. Who is aligned with whom, visibly or behind the scenes? Who supports whom? Who arraigns whom? Who is in whose pocket? Who owes whom what, and why? What under-the-table deals, if any, are being made? What is really going on? What and who is masking what or whom? Here, in face-obsessed Macau, candidates wear masks to prevent infection whilst simultaneously concealing what they actually think and feel, protecting their wearers whilst hiding the truth. Enjoy Macau’s reworked Bian Lian season; see how quickly the wearers change masks as election day draws near. Who are the best dramaturgical artistes here, the show-stoppers? As Nietzsche writes in his ‘Twilight of the Idols’: ‘Art thou genuine or art thou only an actor?’ Whom do we applaud, boo and hiss in this glorious pantomime?

Roll up, roll up. The circus is back in town. Fred Karno, eat your heart out. Barnum and Bailey, weep bitter, bitter tears of envy. Macau’s show is on the road. Marvel at the spectacle; catch your breath as performers risk life and limb; gasp as tight-rope walkers balance watchfully, controlling forces that could destroy them; or, maybe, as Sondheim’s song puts it: ‘send in the clowns’, and, Pagliacci-like, pity them.

Maybe I am being too frivolous; after all, Macau’s election is a serious matter, with some serious-minded, committed players and protagonists of the public good. So, put the twilight of the idols to rest, and focus on those who really, honestly, have the disinterested pursuit of the public good at their heart.