Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mas Selamat was at my ROM

(Again, please do not take the title in a literal sense. There are tons of sensitive people out there, but the possibly larger number of mis-readers is what frightens me. Post is about the omnipresence of the said person's posters.)

While serving my compulsory national service reservist training, I was greeted with a decent number of Mas Selamat posters.

Such are the quantity and branding of Mas Selamat posters that they far outnumber and perhaps outdo other posters and portraits of say, the President of Singapore, S.R. Nathan.

Mas Selamat, an alleged terrorist, is a wanted fugitive. The state, with a poster campaign that would embarrass any incumbent Member of Parliament campaigning for votes for his/her constituency, has turned him into a celebrity.

Mas Selamat is portrayed as dangerous, but he is equally as mysterious because most of us do not know who he really is and what he does. Though not very well-liked since he is viewed as the “bad guy”, he is wanted (pun intended). Is that not considered ‘sexy’ for any modern day celebrity?

The message in the posters is dead serious, but I am amused by the way in which these posters find their way in every nook and cranny of our daily lives. He lies there in the background, watching all of us; watching a society that should be watching out for him.

When I went to school, Mas Selamat was there.

When I got married, Mas Selamat was there.

When I went for my reservist, Mas Selamat was there.

When I made my way to the toilet, Mas Selamat was there.

Such ubiquity of a single individual is probably only matched by the silent presence of the state in our daily lives.

Though portrayed as the villain, the machinery that has established the omnipresence of Mas Selamat has inadvertently made him into a hero and a powerful being.

Campaigners for political power and dominance have put up posters. Fans have put up posters of their idols. We have pictures of the President and the First Lady in most government places.

Pictures of individuals that are prominently positioned in public places (nice alliteration, huh?) usually mean either one of the following two things, to generalise a bit: The pictured is either in a position of power, or wants to be in a position of power.

If going by this general reasoning, where does Mas Selamat stand? Is he already in a position of power such that his imagery is so potent? Or are we wanting him to be in that position of power?

It is apparent everyday is Election Day wherein the sole candidate is Mr Mas Selamat. We do not need to go to the voting booth to vote for him because he is already in our minds and hearts.

It may seem like the straightforward nationwide campaign to engage the public to assist in finding the fugitive, but in a twisted sense, we have glorified and promoted a new hero and celebrity. It is almost fetishistic that a short man with a limp becomes the centerpiece of mass production.

Perhaps the sheer number of posters will divert the publics’ attention towards one (and I stress, one) villain. The whole purpose is to villainise and demonise the man, but if the process actually turns him into a hero, it will come to a point where the machinery that turned him into a hero, will be seen as villainous.

Mas Selamat has a greater presence than S.R. Nathan, Zoey Tay and probably Lee Kuan Yew, just simply because of his posters. Even Huang Na in her media frenzy heyday could not rival Mas Selamat. Starhub with its early aggressive marketing campaign will also take a hat off to the poster campaign that has launched Mas Selamat into superstardom. I shall refrain from talking about Jesus because John Lennon had made a point about it in the mid 1960s.

It is a nationwide effort that brings Singaporeans together for one cause – to help find the mystery man. Now we can draw comparisons between the imagery of Mas Selamat (not the person) and other important figures in history. Imagine that, a poster of a man is being used to unite people. Even if that does not take Singaporean nationalism to another level, we can be sure that individuals like Lee Kuan Yew, Otto von Bismarck, Mahatma Gandhi, William Wallace, and more, probably had to sweat and sacrifice a lot more to spread/convey even half a message.

Posters of persons are put up because of another set of two reasons: We either love them or fear them (and sometimes both). Do we fear Mas Selamat? Probably, because he is after all thought to be very dangerous. Do you love Mas Selamat? Given the fetishistic campaign and media frenzy, it seems there exists a fixation with the personality.

Will this campaign end if he is found? Or will Mas Selamat be inadvertently immortalised?

3 comments:

Ganga said...


Haha, you should read my entry Mas Selamat NOT In Bintan Resort and also another one on Selamat Wafers that I read.

PS >> I 'clicked through' to your blog because of precisely because of the words 'Mas Selamat'...

Sam Ho said...

thanks. somewhere in our hearts, or at one small corner in our minds, there's a mas selamat.

Ganga said...


Not to mention, lift lobbies, toilets, and any place with a semblance of a wall! Hahaha, thanks for the read man...