By Richard Boughton
In the old Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau classic The Odd Couple, there is a scene where Felix Unger (played to perfection by Lemmon), newly separated from his wife and uncomfortable in his new role as a bachelor, is left in the living room by his buddy, Oscar (Matthau), to entertain two women, the Pigeon sisters – their “dates” for evening – while Oscar departs to mix drinks in the kitchen.
After enduring a painful period of silence, one of the Pigeon sisters tries to break the ice by posing a question to the fidgety, slightly sweaty-browed Felix.
“What do you do for a living?” she asks, uncrossing her legs, sitting forward in a properly anticipant attitude.
“I write the news,” Felix answers.
“Ooooo,” the Pigeon sister returns, appropriately impressed. “How interesting! Where do you get your ideas?”
“My ideas?” Felix begins, obviously nonplussed. “I get my ideas … Well, from the news.”
Silly, isn’t it? But I understand what the Pigeon sister meant, just as I understand Felix Unger’s unavoidable reply.
This, then, is the news in the news. It’s right before your eyes, by the day, by the week; and it tells its own story. One hardly needs lift a finger. It’s just there.
Take the story of the disappearing pig, for instance, as reported in The Bali Times. Babi Ngepet is the pig’s name and as is well known throughout the island, he comes to steal your money when you are asleep, out of the house, or otherwise unaware.
The pig has been spied and pursued on occasion, but always disappears before he can be apprehended – not into a field or a forest but into thin air. The delightful thing about this story is that it is reported as news, right alongside the rest of the news – foreign affairs, economic forecasts, disappearing pigs. I infer from this that the aforementioned pig is a fact, and I remain, therefore, watchful.
Does it seem unworldly, too strange to be true?
Well, then, how about the story of The Obedient Wives Club, a Muslim organisation which advocates its members become like “first-class prostitutes” in the marital bed in order to discourage their husbands from cheating?
Maybe one has to be a Westerner to appreciate the fullness of the hilarity here. Talk about a cultural divide. Can you imagine the existence of such a club in America, or England? It might strike a man as funny, but for the Western woman it is heresy most foul.
Hypocrisy seems big in the islands; so big, in fact, that I haven’t space here to do more than scratch the surface.
Consider, for instance, the story of the “Islamic scholars” and their reaction to worldwide criticism of the light sentences (a couple months in most cases, minus time already served) handed down to Islamic extremists who killed members of the “heretical” Ahmadiyah sect in recent religious violence. What was the answer given by the Council of Ulemas? Why, a counter-criticism, of course (if they weren’t inclined to face the facts – and the videotape – in the first place, why would they be so inclined in the aftermath?).
“Western countries must respect another country’s judiciary system,” the council said, and then cited the case of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik as if he had provided some kind of legal or moral groundwork. The council noted that Breivik will face a maximum sentence of 21 years, while in Indonesia a terror suspect would be facing a death sentence.
Ah, shame on us. We had obviously mistaken a time period of 21 years as something essentially different than a period of two months.
Being a body of fair-minded men, the council concluded with the following:
“It’s okay if they (the Western countries) want to have a say, as long as they are not applying any pressure.”
And that’s the news in the news, folks. Goodnight.
Richard can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.