Thursday, October 2, 2008

Blocked TV: Am I a bad programme?

I was celebrating the upcoming public holiday (Hari Raya) at Botak Jones in Braddell/Toa Payoh with a friend on Tuesday night, but later went to my wife's place to watch the taped version of Channel News Asia's BlogTV "Am I gay?" episode.

Being a GLBTQ-focused media studies researcher, you have to be really sensitive/sensitised to texts, images, news and representations of sexual minorities across various media.

My wife also figured it be an interesting segment, because it is not very often a Singaporean television programme deals with such issues.

We endured the excruciating opening music and the pre-advert fillers. The quality of opening music in almost every English programme from Mediacorp is not just bad, it's painful. Maybe it's there to build some character in our viewers.

There we sat watching, hoping to hear something interesting about homosexuality and how people would deal with homosexuality. After all, the title of the segment was "Am I gay?", so it definitely had to be about gay-ness/homosexuality and its accompanying struggles. Given it is mainstream television programming, at the least they should have discussed and debunk the myths of homosexuality and provide suggestions as to how we can be more accepting of homosexuality.

Thanks to cutting-edge editing, which means they have cut out probably most of the rigorous and critical engagements with the issue of homosexuality, the programme devolved into a discussion on sex education. Sure, homosexuality is and should be a component in sex education in Singapore, but isn't the programme about homosexuality itself, rather than a (un)related topic?

I remember (later) watching American Pie: The Naked Mile on HBO after that and it was cut/censored very badly, that the transition within and between scenes was so abrupt it made the viewing unenjoyable. I suspect CNA's BlogTV has done the same. The discussion could have been way longer than the 20+ minute show that was aired. The final product is unfocused, disoriented and shallow, and made the "schoolboy error" of not keeping to the topic. Worse, they had to torture us with the bad music.

It didn't help that there was not enough discussion on debunking the myths of homosexuality, such as its association with paedaphelia, sexual transmitted infections and so on. There was only a presentation of the problem: the populist associations. But no engagement with the problem.

Perhaps the aim of BlogTV was not to discuss issues seriously, but to flex their technological savvy muscle. They did a good job demonstrating video-conferencing and all the fancy gadgets. In staging the discussion on a young and hip backdrop, they would have thought they would engage the larger youth population. Maybe if they tried doing a hip-hop dance for an intermission, wore some bling-bling and spoke like a sub-urban African American, they would have caught the attention of ALL Singaporean youth, and CNA's ratings would have skyrocketed.

When the show closed, the two hosts gave their opinions and I felt, given the editing, they should not have invited the 4 guests at all. They should have just let the two hosts talk to the camera and I do not think there would have been a difference. Who are the two girls any way? Are they BlogTV viewers who got invited on the show?

At the least, the show could have made some effort in using the proper respectful and maybe politically correct vernaculars. They could have not used "homosexual" as a noun but as an adjective, because a "homosexual" is more than just his/her sexuality. "A homosexual man/woman" is a better term. In fact, "a self-identified homosexual man/woman" would be a lot more respectful. The same goes for "gays" (as a noun) when it can be used as an adjective, e.g. "a gay man/woman".

In listing the stereotypical and misinformed associations with disease and social ills, BlogTV has reinforced the stereotypes that are associated with homosexuality, because it did not deal with them critically and talk about how these stereotypes have originated and been perpetuated.

BlogTV has been way too ambitious, thinking they could tackle or problematise homosexuality in Singapore in less than half an hour. Perhaps they might have got the "cheap pop" they wanted in ratings by airing a show that deals with a contentious topic. But the development and ending of the programme simply shows the lack of substance and direction, and myself as a viewer feeling that the four guests have wasted their time being on the show.

I remember doing a post-production interview for Channel Five's "A War Diary" in 2001. Remember that show? I was the bespectacled writer of the diary (but there was no mention of the diary until the last of the 20 episodes!). The interview lasted about half an hour, but in the "behind the scenes", I "spoke" for about 30 seconds. Of course, the gaze were on heavyweights Tan Kheng Hwa, Tay Ping Hui, Whinston Chao and the emerging Fiona Xie. No sour grapes there, but it was definitely a waste of time and saliva (used for speaking).

If I had the opportunity to run a segment on "Am I gay?", I would invited the anti's and the pro's. I would invite various religious and racial representatives to give their views and rationalities on homosexuality. There will be panels of experts from both sides to give their views too. Essentially, the show could conclude that for every perspective on homosexuality, it may have a political or religious background. Whatever the case may be, it is up to questioning/struggling individuals to decide from whom they would want to seek help/attention, and these individuals deserve to be fully aware of the resources that are available for them.

On the sex education part, I think Singaporeans need to be open about it. Rather than being authoritative and using sex education as a scare-fest of disease-ravaged genitalia, they should teach responsible sex. At the most, if they wanted to moralise, they could discuss and moralise sex with/without love/commitment, and their consequences. Responsible sex is safe sex. Responsibility is safe sex.

"We don't care what you do with your body, so long as you are responsible from the beginning to the end, and do not cause harm and distress to yourself and your loved ones. Don't be a statistic for some phenomenon." would be my message.

Other thoughts: The role of the school has changed too. Seems to me the school is the third parent, which says a lot about parenting today.


Agagooga said...

I would not say greater chance of STIs is a myth, at least among gays.

Anal sex, which homosexuals are statistically more likely to engage in than heterosexuals, is associated with a higher chance of STI transmission.

And gays have a higher rate of sexual activity with a higher number of partners than heterosexuals, which means there is greater potential for STI spreading.

If "homosexual" should not be used as a noun, what about "man" or "woman"? Even "person" might be problematic. So a gay should be called a "self-identified homosexual male individual entity". But that's a huge mouthful, so we use "gay" or "lesbian" instead.

What's in a name?

A rosa pimpinellifolia flower by any other name would smell as sweet.

Sam Ho said...

that is why i propose the usage of "homosexual" "gay" "lesbian" as adjectives.

for example, "gay man" would be fairer a 'label' than "gay" or "homosexual".

because there is more to a person's identity than just the qualities of the adjective, in this case the adjective that denotes/infers sexual preference/identity/sexuality.

that should be the anchor, although we could critique it by saying we still reproduce gender dichotomy (man/woman).

as for STIs, there are facts, but the constant association with a social ill/disease present another issue altogether. it depends on how it is framed.