We’re coming to the end of the third year of the New Normal. (Assuming that year 0 is GE 2011). I haven’t really been following the news ever since the shock WP win in the PE by-election, because I’m away and I have my business to take care of. But this video that has been making the rounds recently gave me something to think about. The headline pissed me off: why I’m not proud to be a Singaporean. I couldn’t really articulate what’s so wrong about that statement. Of course she knows that the statement is clickbait. She knows that a lot of people will talk about her, although I’m sure that the sheer scale is a bit of a surprise.
I couldn’t stand that angmor accent and the vain pottiness, and the cleavage. But I carried on looking at the video because you know, she has a really fine pair of bazongas and medical research shows that looking at boobs everyday can improve your health. She says that Singaporeans are small minded and not creative. She says that the government is repressive and does not always tell the truth in the media reports. So after 10+ minutes of feasting my eyes on the exquisite shape of her tits, I’ve come to think hard about this.
I actually don’t disagree with her point about Singaporeans lacking creativity. I don’t disagree with the small-mindedness and the government censorship. When I was her age, I was ranting about the same things that she was ranting about. I suppose I’m disappointed for two reasons:
First, I was disappointed that I had ranted about these things 20 years ago, and it doesn’t seem to be very different. Maybe we have made baby steps. When GCT took over LKY in 1990 there was a mood that things were going to be different, that it would be a kinder, gentler era. In some ways it was, but the rate of change left much to be desired. It was a more creative, more open era, but still short of what could have been achieved. And in many respects, things went backwards during the Goh Chok Tong era.
Second, and these comments are directed at Steph Micayle, or whatever the fuck she wants to call herself on youtube. All these problems about Singapore do not really build up to your conclusion. OK, I’m constantly aware that in Singapore I’m surrounded on all sides by people who are not really creative. But it has never stopped me from being creative. I have always been one of the most creative people in my circle, and I’m quite happy for it to stay that way. I don’t have a problem that I can say distressing and shocking things to my friends and family and have them burst out laughing. It’s not a problem because this vacuum of creativity is exactly that thing that creates a niche for my own creativity. A truly creative person will not look at the lack of creativity around him and see a problem. It is at worst a problem that creativity itself can solve, and even better, it gives him plenty of material to work with.
Which brings me to the next point. Why are you not proud about Singapore, especially if you are an artist? Of all the qualities of an artist, I regard patriotism to be one of the most important thing. Because the nation is your canvas. It is your material, and the source of your inspiration. You will be writing about people around you. You will be telling people stories of your life. You will derive your own personal identity from the nation. In the words of the dearly departed Lou Reed, “anybody who ever played a part would not turn around and hate it”.
In his classic book “Imagined communities” Benedict Anderson paralleled the rise of nations in the 19th century to the rise of the novel as an art form. The structure of a novel creates the context for us to think about the nation. As a rendering of the world around you, albeit a very specific part, rooted in time and context. Just like the nation, just like the people around you. While it is possible to disregard your immediate circumstances and your surroundings in the pursuit of your art, it is nearly impossible. It is like saying goodbye to Mother Earth. Mother Earth is the source of everything.
Even the dissidents love their country to such a great extent. Take somebody like Alfian for example. No matter how bitchy he is about the ruling party, I don’t doubt that he’s a patriot. I don’t doubt that there’s a lot about Singapore that he loves, and it comes through in his writing. And even a band like Humpback Oak, one of Singapore’s favourite alternative bands. Yes, the music sounds somewhat like REM or American Music Club. Yes, it’s very 90s alternatives. But the lyrics are about Singaporean themes – claustrophobia, anxiety, loss of freedom. You’re not supposed to like everything about Singapore. But if you don’t identify with being a Singaporean, you’re not really being true to yourself. And you can’t really be a real artist if you’re not true to yourself. You might come up with some pretty plastic shiny bauble, you might be the unprecedented first Singaporean in the finals of some K pop competition I have never ever heard about but you will never be something that has a real soul.
And most recently and most importantly – Anthony Chen with his prize winning movie “Ilo Ilo” painted a not flawless portrait of Singapore, but one with great love and tenderness. He’s gotten far enough to reverse decades of our government trying to nuke the arts scene.
I don’t disguise my Singaporean-ness in America. I try not to rub their nose in it (not always successful I’m afraid) but I’m not going to hide the Singaporean-ness in me just because. Sometimes they don’t know or understand what it’s about, or they don’t care. There is always this response to it: I DON’T GIVE A FUCK. I try to pick up Americanisms but I can’t unlearn my Singaporeanness, because it keeps me rooted.
At the same time, though, the first time around when I was in the states, in Snowy Hill, I had maybe read too much anti-imperialist, anti-American propaganda. I probably had a huge chip on my shoulder when it came to mainstream American culture, the loudness, the gaudiness, the in-your-face-ness, the crassness. But later on when I learnt to love it, I saw the good things about it – it’s also pretty warm and fluffy – sorda. So in a certain way, I was like a citizen of the US, and I had to, if not become an outright patriot, learn to make peace with it. Not being able to do so was one of my biggest mistakes in Snowy Hill, and one that I tried to overcome in the intervening years I spent in Singapore.
But that aside - what a lovely pair of boobs* you have!
* sorry dear if you want to be respected as more than just a sex object you have to earn it.