I realise I might be the seagull following the trawler, waiting for the sardines to be ditched. That's what Eric Cantona said about the media. But I'm just following the affairs here.
There is some serious eyebrow-raising situation happening here. Maybe it is blown out of proportion by internet users, maybe it isn't. They are mainly directed at the credibility and agenda-setting of our local newspapers. And most of these analyses and speculation are done by folks not trained in media studies, yet they raise enough questions for us to doubt the 'truths' that are spun by mainstream press.
The case of NTU student David Widjaja. There have been facts, no doubt. But people have pointed out the manner in which these facts have been pieced together. The manner in which a news medium stitches a story is called an angle. It is a particular spin put on the information.
The case of Dr Allan Ooi also prompted some netizens to point out certain media blackouts on some details. The official reason for a 'blackout' is usually the news organisation's reluctance to engage/report speculation until they confirm it with credible sources. That is textbook journalism and journalistic integrity. But what if these "credible sources" are dubious themselves.
The media, as many local media scholars and scholars of local media would claim, is expected by the government to play a role in nation-building. Perhaps it is a single political party's definition and discourse of nation-building. You have internet users creating a counter-discourse by providing other "facts" and speculation, other "spins" and angles.
We live in and are part of a very fragile system. A system that is reactive. A reactive system is one that listens to the dead. Someone has to disappear to make a point. Given the intelligence and leadership we have, it is a shame that martyrdom (to stretch the definition) has a larger voice in (possibly) effecting changes in the system.
Even if the mainstream press may do their customary blackout, spins and agenda-setting, there will be netizens who will provide alternative "truths" and make us question the system. It appears that few are moved and are rallied around causes championed by the living. The symbolism of death appears stronger, more moving and influential in creating newer (counter)discourses.
I find it ridiculous that we continue to individualise and medicalise such cases. Blame it on depression, blame it on gaming, blame it on gambling. This is how we attempt to rationalise and neutralise death and disaster. We check not the foundations upon which we stand and on which our system also sits. At the same time, it may seem a little far-fetched for most of us to continually politicise everything we experience, resulting in an over-rational and bordering-on-speculative externalisation of our problems.
I read Dr Allan Ooi's email prior to his suicide. Strangely, I identify with it. You don't need to be depressed to think of such things. Frustration and hopelessness should not be conflated into depression. We can medicalise all we want to rid the system of its responsibility and complicity. It is still very unfortunate we see such individuals as not being able to cope, and never consider that it might be the system/establishment itself that is the one that isn't coping well.
In the information age now, death creates large reverberations than before. Death is what all of us mortals, some lesser mortals, can identify with. Other than bringing us together, the knowledge of death makes us question more.
Although we are firmly entrenched in the capitalist system, there are a number of us who are beyond materialism and high wages. Such things can no longer provide the appeasement nor the happy (and false) consciousness. These are the people who are problematic to the capitalist state. In such a context, these guys have nothing to lose because they are not as tightly bound (and blackmailed) like the rest. And when you have nothing to lose, you do not conform to the rationality of the system; you become unpredictable. Unpredictability is uncertainty, and uncertainty is always a challenge to any one, never mind a leadership or a system.
We can now no longer individualise suicide and rationlise it as "cowardly", because there are sufficient counter-discourses that validate "purposeful" death. They link death to social and political phenomena. They link death to oppression. People see suicide as not the result of individual sickness, but also the sickness of the system. (but of course, given the economic downturn, more care less)
Sometimes I see terrorism or terrorist martyrdom as a reaction to the illness of the system. We may be able to neutralise threats to the system by labelling them as terrorism, but they do not go away. Death is not (and should not be seen and rationalised as) only independent, in the sense we link it to nature and the gods. Death should be seen, among other perspectives, as dependent. (Premature) deaths (by societal standards) tell us something about people.
Hypothetically, if I were to take my life, I will write a long note too. But I haven't reached a critical level of frustration and hopelessness yet. Furthermore, suicide is highly disincentivised in society today. It is firstly against the law. It doesn't conform to social norms, and when you break it, society will neutralise it and make sense of it in a pathological or religious way. Various institutional boundaries are erected to forge more bonds and networks, such that the stakes (and obstacles) are raised should one attempt suicide. There is too great, too complex and too far-reaching a social, economic and emotional bond created, so suicide now requires more deliberation (econometrics, any one?). Conversely, the message becomes even stronger in the event of suicide.
We live in a world where we over-romanticise and nostalgia-lise living. It also does not help that the media help perpetuate this discourse that "life is fragile and precious". Politically, it diverts attention away from the fragility of the system, the establishment, the rules and so on. Furthermore, the uncertainty of death roots us into the discourse. Imagine if we knew when our death will come (other than planned suicide), we will become empowered and our decision-making will change. The system that thrives on the uncertainty of death (and other related dominant discourses) cannot deal with this kind of situation.
We are bound to a culture of political correctness, such that large-scale self-censorship (superego... away!) prevails. So the advocacy of suicide and (interpretive forms of) martyrdom is socially unacceptable. But does it make it morally wrong?
Suicide sends a message, and sometimes it might be a message independent of the "author"'s intention. Nevertheless, it reminds us not about life, but about the conditions of life, and to an extent, how people and institutions (media, medical, political, economic, etc.) create and/or deal with these conditions.