On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Spiky hair and pony tails of yore

The five, who grew up in the idealism of the 60s
rebelling against the Vietnam War and the poverty of the Baling peasants, are
all amused at the hysteria over the punk culture in Malaysia.

The long hair was a symbol of rebellion against authority. The Flower Children
or hippies, with their tie-dyes and long hair, spoke about peace, love and
sharing after the ravages of Vietnam.

Parents then had reason for sleepless nights, what with all that talk about
free love, drugs, Woodstock and John Lennon's sleep-in with Yoko Ono.

Overnight, the sleepy Teluk Bahang fishing village in Penang turned into a

"Our parents and teachers gave us an earful about our hairstyle, saying we
will be failures, but I think we have come out okay,'' another of Ramli's
friend said.

Of course, his parents didn't tell him that they, too, were reprimanded for
screaming over Beatles and Elvis Presley.

"One day, I was looking for something in my father's drawer and I came across
all those Elvis stuff he still kept. In one photograph, my father had the same
ridiculous curry puff hairstlye like Elvis then.

"He lectured me on the evils of Jimi Hendrix though,'' Ramli's friend mused.

His grandmother would tell him later that his father was told off for  wearing tight-fitting “drain-pipe

A prominent politician proudly displays in his office a black-and-white picture
taken in the 60s with Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The
politician, who had shoulder-length hair then, was next to Anwar who was
wearing traditional baju Melayu and skull cap.

"Corporate figures like to show off photographs taken with Dr Mahathir or
Anwar to impress their visitors but I think this one beats them all,'' he

He explained that he got caught up with the fashion of the 60s while  Anwar kept his conservative “Islamic look''
as a student leader.

Some of us might recall that in 1969, Singapore banned anyone with long hair
from entering the country. Malaysia tried that as well.

How serious is the punk culture in Malaysia?

No one had talked about it until Utusan Malaysia highlighted it on the front

Earlier in November, entertainment magazine Day & Night had carried a five-page
feature on punks in Kuala Lumpur.

At this point, it is safe to say that punk culture is confined to the  Klang Valley. Unless you take a trip to an
underground punk gig, you can't find punks at your teh-tarik stall or see them
walking in Jalan Bukit Bintang, unlike their counterparts in London.

A TV station producer, planning a talk show on punk culture, had no  problems getting critics on the show but was
desperately looking for a punk.

"Can you help me look for a punk with spiky hair? Where are they? I  can't seem to find them in any shopping
complex,'' he asked over the telephone.

Most of our punks are clean-shaven or sport the crew-cut. Unfortunately, such
hairstyles are associated with those staying at Pusat Serenti drug
rehabilitation centres. It's a case of long hair is out and so is extremely
short hair, sometimes.

According to Day & Night writers, only a small number have Mohawk
hairstyle, which Misbun Sidek once had, or the spike-and-dye look.

Unlike their British counterparts who took a violent approach, Malaysian punks
have cleverly stayed out of religion and politics in their music.

But the hairstyle, loud songs, ornamental safety pins and bondage  clothing are the same.

Their crime, of course, is that they are an embarrassment to all of us who
pride ourselves in maintaining conformity.

Those of us who grew up keeping long hair are also upset that these  teenagers look silly with their
green-and-orange hair.

Worse, they are 20 years behind time! Most of the members of the infamous punk
band Sex Pistols are either dead or out of work. The punk bands which grew out
of Britain's deep recession in 1976 found a niche among working-class youths
living on the dole.

The young Britons had reason to be angry, frustrated and anti-establishment.
But punk is almost dead in Britain today. The only spiky-hair punks are those
asking money from tourists who take their photographs.

So what are our youngsters protesting against in a country having  double-digit economic growth, near-zero
unemployment, great consumerism and heading for developed status?

The answers they gave during a recent interview seem vague and nothing to do
with economics or politics. Claiming to be non-fascists ("we hold no racial
prejudices'') and clean-living ("we don't do drugs''), local punks say they
“just want to be punks.''

These Malaysians simply want to be different and stand out in the crowd.

Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad was right on target when he told our youngsters
to stop copying the West. They have no issues, no direction and no stand.

In all likelihood, it is just a passing fad.

The Government is right in banning punk styles in schools. There are rules to
follow and the best place to start is at school.

But the adults, especially politicians, should loosen up a little to  separate the two issues of punk culture and
men sporting long hair.

The latter, especially those who are decently dressed, have since  received greater acceptance by the public. As
for the so-called punk  culture in
Malaysia, surely it is over-reaction on the part of those who want punks
rounded up.