Malaysia’s Mega Hit Production: How Will Sockgate End? – OpEd


Hollywood/Bollywood scripting is unlikely to be able to better Malaysia’s ongoing controversy over socks for the twists and turns that have riveted the public’s attention since the discovery of what has been deemed as ‘religiously sensitive and incorrect’ socks in a grocery chain store. Now referred to as the country’s ‘Sockgate ‘, the report of an apparently fortuitous find of a small number of socks bearing the name of Allah by a Muslim convert preacher quickly went viral and has stayed on the front pages of media since mid March. It has now necessitated the intervention of the country’s king, Yang di Pertuan Agong, Sultan Ibrahim ibni Sultan Iskandar, in an effort to cool down the highly combustible religious and racial passions ignited. 

Was it sabotage? If so, this has the makings of a cloak and dagger or Agatha Christie mystery drama that requires a Hercule Poirot to solve it, seeing that it appears to be well beyond the capabilities of the police and other authorities to resolve it. 

Is there a big business, big political angle to it? Movie goers today are looking to view and enjoy productions that go well beyond simple gangster plots which this one may well have. Sockgate does it well as it contains the possibility of behind the scene hidden hands with political and business forces in conflict; and the manipulation of race and religious sentiments. But which are the political parties involved, which are watching and waiting on the sideline, and how are they benefitting? 

Blockbuster Requirements 

Any blockbuster production must feature starring actors that combine creativity with the talent to beguile; as well as have the potential to generate mass appeal. The two leading ‘heroic’ protagonists fighting for what they claim to be a beleaguered and disrespected religion appear to have the x factor in their extraordinary ability to light fires for whatever production or issue they select. 

The first protagonist is a relatively new arrival to the screen. An accomplished orator fire-brand aspiring to win a Malaysian Oscar for his debut film outing, the actor has rapidly built a national fan base outside films, with his views on other aspects of politics and life sought for and closely followed by his adoring supporters.

The second has had a chequered career but is renowned for his religious ‘piety’ which is increasingly an asset in Malaysia where secularists are alleged to be running amok and responsible for causing division and chaos. 

The absence of a lead female actress may be seen as one of the weaknesses of this production. In the rigidly controlled environment that filmmakers face today in Malaysia, a strong female lead could have added another story line to the plot. But it is also possible that the producers were concerned with over-cooking the complexities of this production; and worse, be accused of pandering to foreign concepts of gender equality. 

Also lacking is the song and dance appeal that a Bollywood production could have provided. Reviewers, however, have pointed approvingly to the dramatic scenes of female characters engaged in poignant defence of their rights and standing their ground against enraged customers. 

Perhaps the most powerful and electrifying moments in Sockgate come from the fire bombing scenes. The introduction of these visually stunning actions provide a provocative dimension to the production. It also highlights a key dilemma which every director and producer of a movie or even budget video is confronted with. This is, should Sockgate have a sad or happy ending? Or should the answer be left in abeyance to await the production of yet another episode in what has the potential to become a long running hit. 

Sockgate’s Aftermath 

Meanwhile Sockgate has generated strong supporters as well as those seen as sceptics or even opponents, although the latter are generally quiet in openly voicing their disapproval. Trying to occupy the middle ground in this production with its backdrop of racial and religious tension are ‘neutral’ viewers attempting to pacify sentiments and reconcile the two opposing fan bases by appealing to universal values of seeking and giving forgiveness. The latter appear to have little resonance and others see them as quite irrelevant or pandering to the appeasers and apologists of disorder. 

What next for Sockgate? In the coming future, investors in this production are mulling on plans for follow up. A Netflix type series? Selling it to the Middle East and an international market? Reconstituting it as a tragicomedy?

Sockgate in fact is already having ripple effects beyond the film world in Malaysia. The diplomatic circuit is abuzz with the news that this production has gotten the Biden and Trump camps excited for its original and highly effective approach to choreographing and manipulating race and religion issues. With “Watergate” rapidly receding from American minds, this is provoking thinking about how the Sockgate strategy can be exploited in the US presidential campaign; and even in global geopolitics. 

Post script 

From a friend on the innocent beginning of Sockgate 

I was in this kind of business. This was probably a stock clearance matter. Otherwise, there can not be just 5 pairs amongst an estimated 30,000 pairs being sold in all KK Marts. 

So, someone in China wants to clear old stocks. This Malaysian importer says, “ok, I’ll order all your stocks for USD 0.20 cents, lock, stock & barrel. In other words, there are 10 pairs of this design & 983 pcs of that design & 588 pieces of another design. He doesn’t have time to go through every design (neither does the importer, the retailer, nor the customs officer), he just knows the “general look.” He goes back & sells them at, say, RM3.00 to a retailer. The retailer then sells them for, say, RM5.90. 

This is very common. 

I did this for shoes, plates, glassware, etc, many times many years ago. People still do it. Those who simply comment that it’s a deliberate attempt to provoke have zero & zilch business sense. Who has the time to think of ways of reducing their business through irritating their customers ?!

Lim Teck Ghee

Lim Teck Ghee PhD is a Malaysian economic historian, policy analyst and public intellectual whose career has straddled academia, civil society organisations and international development agencies. He has a regular column, Another Take, in The Sun, a Malaysian daily; and is author of Challenging the Status Quo in Malaysia.

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