Sunday, January 25, 2009

Defending what's (y)ours!

Singapore faces devastating exodus of foreigners (

When I read the above, I thought about the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) television advertisement, Defending What's Ours.

For more information, male Singaporeans are forced into National Service and most have reservist obligations. They also take an oath (a verbal social contract with the state):

"We, Members of the Singapore Armed Forces, do solemnly and sincerely pledge that: We will always bear true faith and allegiance to the President and the Republic of Singapore. We will always support and defend the constitution. We will preserve and protect the honour and independence of our country with our lives."

I think the oath has to be revised. We need to protect our economy, our foreign talents and do the jobs foreigners cannot and do not want to do, i.e. National Service. Mind you, time and again, the government has force fed us with the rhetoric and reason that foreign talents in Singapore are recruited to do the jobs Singaporeans cannot and do not want to do. Well, that is true to a large extent. If we saw beyond the xenophobia, we (us Singaporean men, who also happen to be voters, *hint hint*) will come to realise, "Hey, is it worth it defending what's 'ours'?"

What on earth is "ours"?

Maybe defending Singapore is about getting the injuries and post-injury conditions like rheumatism (I have that in most parts of my left leg any way) after National Service.

Maybe defending Singapore is about getting your head dunked in the water till you die from drowning, and I am sure that figures very well in defending the economic imperative. And since we like to "re-enact" and re-create history during the huge propaganda party (with fireworks) that is National Day, why not we reenact every accident and death that have occurred during National Service, right smack in the middle of the performance grounds? After all, Singapore needs to remember its forgotten sons, right? The Singapore story we are told are void of the pains and failures of Singaporeans, and that is why some of us do not identify with it.

Are Singaporeans defending the PAP government and its interests? Are we defending the stratification of society? Are we defending the large income divide? Are we defending the institutions that cause elder people to continue to work when they can retire, to continue to be rubbish bin scavengers and all?

I do not share the same definition of "ours" as the government and its self-professed state-independent military organisation do.

Most of us will not buy one morsel of the advertisement/infomercial. It is merely to justify what is already there. If such a segment is to advertise and provide information, then let it stand in a country where military service is voluntary. Let us see how many Singaporean men will sign up (maybe since times are bad, more will sign up voluntarily, we won't know).

Make National Service voluntary, and you will see the extent to which people identify with the government's message of "defending what's ours". Make it voluntary and you will get what people think about how things are run. Maybe in the advertisement/infomercial, there was a minute parenthesized "y" before the word "ours". It sort of speaks from the perspective of the Singaporean male, wherein we are asked to defend the second person (yours) that is the state and its interests.

I personally do not believe in National Service. It tears me away from my family, my work and the things I love to do. I do not want to be part of any organisation that promotes and reinforces dominant gender norms and structures.

I am not willing to do defending what is "yours". Because we have seen the way our Singaporean sons are forsaken and forgotten, and could have known even more, if not for the state secrecy and media machinery that protects the military organisation.

When times are bad, it is the (immobile) Singaporeans that stay behind, while foreign talents will become foreign talents in other places. But I guess Goh Chok Tong's "quitter/stayer" binary does not apply to foreign talents, because such a rhetoric would clearly disincentivise their arrival or thoughts of coming to Singapore in the first place. Such a binary would be a better guilt-trap and consciousness manipulator for Singaporeans. Horses for courses, and the Singaporean horse is the better horse for doing the master's bidding.

You can't buy loyalty, but you can create legal institutions to enforce compulsory loyalty. And since you have that infrastructure, you can abuse this loyalty. There is nothing any government can do if its people do not believe in its message and ideas, but to enforce rules that sanction, disincentivise and punish these non-believers.

National Service is like pouring thinner down the back of Singaporeans and setting them alight - and there's nothing any one can do about it. Our families and loved ones will also get burnt trying to put out the flames that engulf the remainder years of our youth.

National Service is currently better than going to jail because there is a greater social stigma and discrimination associated with going to jail. The only things that work in favour of National Service are external to the consciousness of some/most Singaporean men, that are the institutions and infrastructure that compel and threaten these men into service. This reminds me of the trafficking of human bodies (live ones of course), but in this instance, within borders.

I will never want to serve military service even if the SAF could give me back my confidence and sense of self-worth, my sanity, and restore my left ankle and knee to its pre-NS condition. I will also not give you son(s) if I had children; you can go "buy" other children, and defend what's yours.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sacrebleu! Singapore is classed

When I read the Straits Times Life! article featuring Tan Yong Soon, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, and his family vacation, I could not have imagined the impact it would have on the envious "lesser mortals" of Singaporeans, especially those who have sufficient education and internet connection to make a nice French meal out of it.

My first thoughts of the article was about how nice a family man Tan is. I always have an interest to know what goes on in the lives of top officials, what they are like in the company of family and love, and so on. More often than not, omnipotent and infallible depictions of top/senior government officials are fed to us. We are under the impression some of them are superhuman, talented and capable and rose up the ranks in such a competitive system that is Singapore.

I don't speak for fellow Singaporean citizens, but I would like to see, to use an example, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a family moment (They had one during one of his son's National Service officer commissioning ceremony reported in the newspapers), or talk about his love life and courtship. Hierarchies and strata are created by the system they call meritocratic, but that does not mean harmless private information like "the softer side" of the politician/official should be hidden from the public. After all, showing that you are human and a family (wo)man gets you connected with the hearts of people like myself.

I mean, after all, we are a voyeuristic culture, so why not have a Singaporean politician/government official equivalent of E! Entertainment. I have had enough of the demonising, dehumanising, pathologisaing and trivialising of opposition party members and political dissidents here. I would want to know more of what "people at the top" do in their free time (hobbies and all), and what are their families like (activities and dynamics), and perhaps how well they sleep at night knowing that they get paid a salary some claim to be obscene.

I watched Singapore Rebel, a documentary on Dr Chee Soon Juan, and was amazed to see the familial side of the man. We are far too acquainted with Dr Chee as someone whose "family" includes merely an equally politically dissident and misbehaving sister, Siok Chin. The film, banned because it was deemed by the authorities to be party political propaganda, reveals the father and husband that is Dr Chee.

Of course, my second thoughts after reading the ST Life! article were something along the lines, "Life is not fair! I want that kind of money too!" I personally do not think Tan was boasting, nor that the article came across as a boast. I'm sure the guy has paid his dues (hard work, apple-polishing, or whatever works) and got to where he is, and the same applies to the most of us, although the outcomes may vary.

There is always the dream, I call it the middle class dream, to be continually upward mobile. We want to have luxury and more money, because we believe it correlates with lesser suffering. And when we attain this position, why are we obliged to keep it secret even if we do not have the intention to be loud and proud about it?

It is the influence and trendiness of political correctness culture and the oppression Olympics that has made us side with the margins and lesser privileged, where we have created a double standards for ourselves. We glorify and celebrate the low income, but when it comes to the higher income, we join the Robin Hood gang and demonise and dehumanise them, even though some of us aspire to be in that position, earning that income.

This is a classed society where all the classes below the next class aspires to rise to the next (upper) class, the higher socio-economic status. In view of this, I think there are no individual/unique sets of values/ethos that define each class, since everyone (a bit sweeping though) is aspiring to be richer.

The alleged "boast" of Tan was deemed inappropriate given the economic context and that Singaporeans, thanks to Wee Shu Min, are well oriented to the idea of elitism. The only boast I saw in the article was Tan "boasting" that he was a family man, that he wanted to do something different with his family. He may have the means to do what he did, but we should not discount the fact that he took time off to do it with his family (never mind the many minions in the civil service who are able to cover for him during his absence). Like in the Adam Sandler movie, Click, "family comes first" (that of course depends on whether you want a family). It was journalism (ST Life!) that tells this story.

There are a lot of people who are working their socks off and have no time for family. These people should be represented too, and I am sure they have been. The newspapers have done a decent job, but can do more by telling their stories. They are silenced because they do not have the means to tell their MPs they are in trouble. They are probably working their second/third job during the meet-the-people's sessions.

For the rest of us, who are considerably privileged (and argumentative and sometimes picky), we should at least welcome the representation of the upper classes like we welcome the representation of the low classes.

The newspapers are (indirectly) doing society a favour, making us reflect on our classed society. Previously the extremely rich and extremely poor did not get their due representation, leading everyone to believe we're all (more or less) in the same boat. Our harmony and progress depends on the lack of the knowledge and awareness of how stratified our society is. We are farm animals with government-built blinkers, and we move on the instruction and whip of our political leaders, plowing their land for them.

It is thus a disaster for the government when the newspapers reveal such social stratification. "The people are not supposed to know, because they can be angry. They will remove their blinkers and we will be fucked. Let us be secretive. Let us lead our lives silently."

The newspapers' job is to feature role models that reflect what the state want its citizens to be, for all of us to embrace and internalise the dominant ideology and values. Tan is not your normal role model, and people (who are also voters) will come to know what they should not know.

The state may distract its people with materialism, so that they would not interfere with its political affairs. But this materialism has made people more class conscious, and it might undermine the state's power in another way.

The only thing a people who have told to "STFU", "be grateful", etc. by the government is to vote and either say yes/no to STFU.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not an EZ link to the grassroots

I exchange my old EZ-Link card for the newer version yesterday. This card is the paperless (though not exactly moneyless) solution to using public transport facilities in Singapore, namely the buses and Mass Rapid Transit trains.

Unfortunately, I could not top up the card's value at the train station top up machine. The new card can only be topped up at the external top up machine, the one that has an external sensor on which you place your card. And another unfortunate problem is that the new card cannot be automatically topped up (the service of which will be available in a month or two).

I think it is a bad case of planning leading up to the gradual phasing in of the new version of the card. The Land Transport Authority might not have anticipated the incompatibility of the existing top up machines with the new EZ-Link cards.

Well, after all, the higher-ranking officers who approved this improvement of technology are probably not regular users of the public transport system. And if they did, they probably risk being set on fire by the random clinically insane member of the public.

Politicians and policy officers are only in touch with the ground through the slow trickling/crawling up of information from the ground. The vertical flight path of feedback and information is often impeded by bureaucracy and various institutional filtration. Some are deemed not worthy to be of notice or concern to the higher rungs.

Experts, academics, investors and (higher ranked) government officials will always be quick to push and promote new technologies, thinking they will have a positive effect on society, and in most cases, immediately. But sometimes, the expertise and enthusiasm cannot replace the empathy and understanding of how things work on the ground.

Just look at the "IT Push" in our public schools, where information communication technologies are integrated into the curricula. There are some staff and students who feel that we are not ready for e-learning, and that existing (and newer) digital divides are being exacerbated.

The leaders of Singapore are too caught up with benchmarking, following the good and successful practices of other countries, following the trends experts, early adopters and industry veterans (they together form a rigid paradigm for technology and business) "predict". Our leaders think that since ICT integration is the way to go, we should integrate it into everything we do. Buzzwords like "synergy" are replaced by "interaction" and "new media". It's all rhetoric that displaces other pressing problems like how Singaporean society is polarised, stratified, fragmented and unhappy.

Yes, I am just pissed off that I cannot auto top up my new EZ link card.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Off-pitch: Hitting a bad note in SIngapore

Times have changed.

I still harbour the childhood dream of recording an (music) album, as do many people. But is this dream relevant or feasible in this day of age?

Before the advent of the internet, talents and aspiring musicians will ply their trade in the jamming studios, and play in concerts. The rites of passage normally involve connecting with your audiences, getting new fans and all, but also equally as important are making the contacts who hang around such venues. Some of these process continue till today.

With the internet, how relevant is recording and releasing an album in Singapore? How relevant is this dream? Does an album matter any more?

Listeners (not fans) go for the really good songs, and hence compilations, acquired either by legitimate or illegitimate/"democratic" means, become more marketable. This phenomenon does give a kick up the musician butt, making him/her pull up his/her socks and write better material. Even if this results in a music album of considerable quality and potential, is it marketable to the point it covers the costs of production and post-production, and perhaps give the musician enough money.

In the internet age, do making and selling albums matter? Are they a satisfying financial goal as they are a personal artistic goal?

Furthermore, what does the future hold for studio musicians (i.e. those who are not into performance, but just into making music)? Most notably, The Beatles did that in their later years, but of course, they rode on their earlier mega-popularity and big bucks.

For a musician to be rich and famous (and respected), he/she now has to do more than just making good music, but appear on various media platforms, have showmanship and have a well-oiled public relations machine. You cannot just let your music do the talking.

YouTube and most video aggregator websites may seem to provide a popular even playing field, but I feel it has become a domain for the better-looking musicians. Perhaps it is the way visual culture has developed and the way with which we have grown into it. Music alone does not do the talking for music.

Sure, there are more talents coming out of their musical closets and showcasing their material, but is music a lucrative business, a viable livelihood for any aspiring Singaporean talent?

Here's a hypothetical question, if all musicians were visually anonymous, had no pictures, no flashy promotions, no concerts, will our selections weed out the better ones?

Will Radiohead be as popular if 'Kid A' was their debut album? Or 'Magical Mystery Tour' for The Beatles' first album, or 'Revolution No. 9' for any aspiring musician's first single?

It is a reality that music stores such as HMV and Tower Records are continuing to shrink in size, perhaps also due to their prices. Obviously, that is strong enough a signal to indicate that there is something different about music these days, and the way it is developing.

What does the future hold for music, for music in Singapore? Is it just all about live concerts and part-time musicians (we have too few full-time musician/performers because it does not put food on the table for them)?

How can we get people today to consume music in a way that it benefits musicians?

Some musicians dream of the rock n' roll lifestyle, myself included. It is a life guided by the belief that there are and there should be no rules, wherein norms, beliefs and labels should be continually challenged.

Our ideas about life and the need to live on and perpetuate the same cycle the social machinery wants us to perpetuate, are all founded by these norms, beliefs and labels. Why are we so afraid of questioning the purpose, continuance and existence of this cycle?

But like most people, (I and) we are sealed shut into our own shells. We are subjected to the rules of society and the economy, hence our current identity and current fetishes. If the rules of society and the economy hold no relevance or importance to us, will we have the same identity and fetishes?

I see music as art, for it embodies a message and a philosophy, and also serves as a critique on our conditions. Unfortunately, art (and criticism) does not put food on the table in Singapore.

At the same time, I feel the pain of socio-economically under-privileged musicians/talents who forsake their musical development because they have to get "real" jobs. Singaporeans are missing out on a class/stratum full of talent thanks to our mindsets.

Before I end this, I would like to qualify that by "music", I mean English music.

Another note, it is quite peculiar I said "Singaporeans", because we spent most of our time (4 decades and more) developing our economy and all that we have not forged a strong national identity. And it does not help that we are becoming more cosmopolitan. The word "Singaporean" could have meant a lot more.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Burned by the system

Member of Parliament for Yio Chu Kang, Seng Han Thong, suffered a horrific and fiery attack by a 70-year old former taxi driver, Ong Kah Chua, on Sunday.

Ong, deemed mentally unwell, pour thinner on Seng and used a fire-starter gun to torch the 59-year old Seng.

I read that Seng suffered 10-15 per cent burns on his body following the frightening attack.

Carrying thinner and a fire-starter gun already signifies premeditation. At the same time, this event is chillingly ironic given the recent government calls for active ageing citizenry.

I do not wish to be offensive, but I see the symbolic implications of the incident. Bureaucracy was getting its scorching feedback.

My mum, who lives at the top floor of a HDB flat in the PAP (ruling party) side of Hougang, is very angry and equally helpless at the fact that following lift upgrading and related renovation works, there have been dark and wet patches on the ceiling of the flat. According to the gospel (of Town Council and HDB), if this occurred between two neighbours (one living above another), each will share 50% of the cost to fix this problem. Since no one lives above her, should HDB or Town Council bear the other 50%? Oh wait, my mum has to bear 100%, and that has vexed her to the point that she, like most disempowered Singaporeans, are resigned to their fate.

First and foremost, I do not recall my mum hiring the contractors to do the lift upgrading and renovation works at her flat (I am being sarcastic). She has nothing to do with it. If water were to leak through our ceiling, we end up bearing the cost and Town Counil and HDB get away with it.

I advised her to ask Town Council about it, but she told me that did not help. Furthermore, there is no point going to the Member of Parliament because she had a rude encounter with him.

The whole lift upgrading scheme was/is an unbelievably ridiculous thing. Lift-landing residents could not vote (fair enough) and they did not have to pay, even though they will enjoy a newer elevator.

From my mum's observations on the day of balloting/voting for lift upgrading, not many people turned up. To be fair, there were four days of voting. Your absence (in representing your unit) already indicates a "nay" vote. We heard from neighbours (lift-landing included!!!) that there were people who allegedly knocked on their doors to allegedly get them to vote. I wonder how whether that was the right thing to do or not. But if this is true, it can prove to be potentially very embarrassing. The flat eventually had a minimum majority vote (68 yes to 11 nay) for the lift upgrading scheme to take place, even though some of the neighbours had either not voted at all, or chose "nay" - perhaps they were the vocal minority, perhaps perhaps perhaps.

I have spent about 12 years living in the white side of Hougang, where there is indiscriminate littering, where cars get vandalised in the carpark (at least up till the late 1990s), where middle-to-old aged men are carefree enough to baptise the concrete pillars at the void decks, where the place would be surprisingly clean whenever Yeo Guat Kwang or another MP makes a visit. It makes us wonder to what extent Members of Parliament are truly in touch with the ground.

They are not superman, so they have their arms and legs in grassroots leaders and volunteers. This is where the hierarchy and bureaucracy is reproduced as well as established.

The mantra of a bureaucracy is "There is only so much I can do for you", which of course, defeats the purpose of making promises and declarations that you will help the people. What is the point of saying that you want to help people and improve things, various generic promises when "there is only so much you can do"?

This may, or rather, it does come across as an unreasonable statement, but I believe it has become a reasonable cause for frustration at the grassroots. If people were honest with themselves and unbound by legal code, there would be more Members of Parliament who will be torched, other than exponential increases in occurrences of other crimes.

Authority will always encourage you to follow the chain of command, escalate your complaint only when necessary, approach the higher-ranked person when you cannot resolve your problem at the current level. We have already observed hapless and frustrated individuals who have taken matters into their own hands and upset the natural order of things by challenging bureaucracy. For example, Lee Hsien Loong's son had written an email to big shots in the armed forces, and of course some allegedly crazy man torching Seng, who is now probably very well-acquainted with violence.

It is not easy being a leader. The decisions you make may benefit one class of people, one race of people, one generation of people, more than another class, race or generation of people. In the end, you get pissed off voters. But given "good leadership", you have managed to lower the number of pissed off voters to a minimum, a minority. Shrouded by the rhetoric and workings of the democratic system, this numerical and demographic minority becomes a political minority, a.k.a. marginalised. That is cool, so what if 33.4% do not vote for the ruling party? 66.6%, Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast, is good enough a mandate. And among the 66.6%, how many voted out of love, respect, fear, or guilt?

Sidenote: Would it not be a lot more interesting if there are a considerable number of pissed off folk who have nothing to lose (based on social status and age)? In a modern society, having "nothing to lose" would be equivalent to being diagnosed as crazy.

It seems you do not need an unsound mind to torch an MP. There is sufficient frustration on the ground, and the system needs to change to accommodate not just feedback but dialogue (maybe it already is changing).

I too have my frustrations. Now living in the red side of Hougang (Workers' Party ward), my wife and I are not exactly very happy in our neighbourhood. We thought it would be a peaceful neighbourhood, but the neighbouring family living above us seems to enjoy their shuttle runs and somersaults, making pounding noises up till two in the morning. We had a couple of Saturday morning sleep-ins, the silence of which has been shattered by the monotonous Indonesian cultural dance, gongs, whips and plywood horses wedged between your legs. Such a 12-14 hours trance-like "cultural immersion", ironically in a historically ethnic Chinese-dominant neighbourhood, drives both of us mad. We also have neighbours from above showering us with cigarette buds, cigarette packets, tissue paper, satay sticks, (used) sanitary pads and so on. It is not as if complaining to the National Environment Agency and the local Town Council will help, although we have already done so three times. Writing my thesis is going to be very challenging, given such an environment.

I believe that whatever the leadership, we still live in the same shithole we grew up in, unless attitudes, particularly those pertaining to that of community, change.

At the same time, I believe that our leadership is partly to blame for causing our people the lack of a community spirit. We are institutionally and continuously reminded of our ethnic and age differences (such that we think Chinese is Singaporean, and China is China), subjected to religiously-charge polarisation given our religious freedom, and systematically (also rather regimented) paid according to our paper qualifications. How then to forge a community spirit when we are so fragmented and that some people think it is okay to throw cigarettes out the window (I am just sore about that)? It is like an emperor asking eunuchs to procreate.

There are more deeper burning issues aside from Ong's attack on Seng. It is a frustrated (albeit clinically insane) reaction to the rigid bureaucracy, to the community leadership. Some of us might share the aspirations of culturally and legally unacceptable retaliations, but our subscriptions to cultural, legal and medical norms are strong enough to prevent large-scale torchings.

It is very unfortunate that you get attacked for doing your job. You bear the brunt of the frustration and madness that were initially targetted at the system you are part of, and unfairly so. It is a system problem as much it is a people problem, and both screw one another. If you are part of the system, or part of the people, you get burned in the midst of the screwing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A gaze on staring

I read the newspaper yesterday, oh boy, about an unlucky man who died from his injuries after being assaulted following a "staring" incident. Very appalled.

"Kwa si mi?!" is a common Chinese dialect - Hokkien - phrase, often said with mild anger, irritation and masculine gusto. It is occasionally accompanied by a sudden head tilt, resulting in the speaker's chin pointing slightly upwards, his/her eyes piercing back at the intended target and his/her mouth slightly gaping in a manner almost communicating that the recipient owes him/her a living.

"Kwa" means "look". "Si mi" means "what".

Staring is a social action. But how is it a cause of insecurity and behavioural changes? Why, in some contexts, is it considered undesirable, and to some extents, requires violent corrective measures such as the aggressive assertion of cultural masculinity?

In pseudo-psychology, trouble-makers are commonly understood to be insecure with their identities and pasts, and they need attention. It becomes paradoxical that they reject the attention they get from "staring" and trade it with violence, perhaps to get the attention they prefer.

What are the thoughts running through the mind of the person being stared at? "Do I look weird?" "Do I look like I do not fit in?" "Do I look undesirable, in terms of fashion, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, social class, social association, etc.?"

Okay, I am bad with (pseudo-)psychology. But one thing is certain, people are generally uncomfortable with being stared at, unless they enjoy voyeurism and various types of exhibitionism.

Why are such social meanings attached onto where one's eyes travel and fixate? Why is it socially undesirable that I stare at a stranger's (covered) breasts and she knows about it? Why does that set in motion a set of actions, including the labeling of "pervert", disgust and so on?

Perpetrators of violence arising from staring incidents are mostly male (I acknowledge female gangsters too), and displaying cultural male traits, bordering on or even representing hyper-masculinity. The desire to be a more-than-male man, the hyper-masculine man or the alpha-male, already sets the person apart from the rest of the tribe.

This becomes an anomaly, warranting a cultural response. One cultural response is a social sanctioning in the form of a culturally agreed upon action that is staring.

In the cultural action of staring, the starer is able to otherise the stared-at, i.e. create an "other" out of the stared-at. The stared-at's desire to be the subject in his/her cultural environment has been derailed by his/her objectification by the staring incident, preventing his/her ascension up the informal social hierarchy, a system that is contingent on the specific spatial context at that point in time.

This is very much similar to public executions or sanctioned acts of punishment/humiliation, all of which prevent the concerned person(s) from attaining their desired level of subjectification - being a subject.

Once impeded an denied access, and encountering some (identity) dissonance, the person becomes frustrated (something along the lines of status frustration). It is not a case of upward status mobility in this instance, but rather the want to be established as a subject being hampered by objectification.

Women have a long history of objectification. They are outside the boundaries of cultural masculinity and are kept so. For a man (we might also have to consider a woman who identifies with cultural masculinity) to be objectified in such a social situation, it might be signify his emasculation.

The (stereo)typical perpetrator of violence arising from staring incidents would also engage in cultural masculine activities such as staring at women. This is known as "beo zha bor", I believe.

To attain a position of (masculine) power, he beings staring at women, along with social cues such as whistling and engaging in a monologue with the woman who will eventually leave that social space. This resultant objectification of the woman is believed by the male to be empowering.

I am attracted to the idea of status frustration (although it may not necessarily be solely socio-economic). The typical perpetrator of violence arising from staring incidents seeks other forms of empowerment because of his/her existing situation of political, social and economic disempowerment. Deviance theory will tell us that this type of person will seek avenues of expression and empowerment following the systematic and institutional rejection. The inability to identify with and the inconsistencies of dominant values and rituals result in such an adoption of "newer"/"different" values. (Well, the dominant system would not condone violence as a corrective action for staring incidents). So, staring becomes a threat to the sustenance of these values, as it is culturally understood to be a tool of objectification.

The overall problem, in my opinion, is our subscription to the meanings and "values" attached to the social action of staring, such that we allow staring to affect or regulate our behaviour - we have become our own police.

There is also some historical baggage, when kings/queens and emperors and people in fearsome positions of authority are not looked at. To be looked/stared at (in that context) warrants a loss of authority (although in the context of the internet, you would gain more authority).

Another concern would be the distraction from the horrible act of violence. I totally condemn the act. But we need to understand the conditions that cause such violence, the conditions that cause the perpetrators to behave like this, to internalise such values (which include violent retaliation to being stared at). Could socio-economic status and degree of political disempowerment contribute to how they cultivate their masculine identity? (Or, would middle class "better"-educated folks, or those who are happy to identify with the values of the middle class and "better"-educated, have an equal chance of engaging in violent retaliation in staring incidents?) We should be thinking about these things too.

We should not be too quick to pathologise violence, for it merely masks the social problems that underlie them.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Club Mad-ness

What is the rationale of having or going to parties?

Having been to and also organised my fair share of parties (at clubs and residences/homes), I really wonder about the meaning and relevance of clubbing and partying, or for some, par-tay-ing.

Is it a rite of passage for most youths to break into adulthood, or what they perceive as adulthood?

Or is it for random strangers to hook up and if they are lucky enough, can engage in anonymous sex (not that it's good or bad)?

With reference to the (heterosexual) clubbing scene, I feel that clubs in Singapore are one of the few platforms for youths (and most people, of course) to flaunt and strut and pose.

It is a meat parade, all the more facilitated by certain club promotions/policies such as "ladies' night", and free entrance depends on how a woman fits into her cultural (and hegemonic) femininity/ladylike-ness.

"Ladies' night" attracts the men (and their money). This promotion obviously plays on the conventional understanding that men will assume the active role, in this case, courtship at the club.

The club is not a natural environment, and furthermore, such preening and posing and meat-parading seldom exist in any natural environment, although gender norms and roles are continually and thoroughly perpetuated.

You take the (over)dressed up patron out of his/her club and the means and strategy of "courtship" (for emotion and/or sexual reasons) have changed.

The club is just a domain ascribed with meanings and understandings that allow such behaviours. More importantly, it allows for the dramatic (re)enactment and reproduction of one's gender identity (and the sexual identity that comes along with it).

A good example of the embodiment of gendered norms and values would be the clubbing girl, or the chick. The daring ones dress to impress. The skirt represents the petals of a flower, the shorter the more teasing, teasing for fertilisation or the act of fertilisation (for those who are not child-ready). Sorry for the male-oriented perspective (a perspective deemed not very academically politically correct these days).

The clothes of the daring girl/woman will not show her breasts, but rather show that she has breasts. A commonly biologically/physically stimulating/stimulated anatomy of the body, the breasts are also as much a cultural pleasure/attraction as they are a cultural taboo (to most Singaporeans).

It takes two hands to clap. The girl/woman wears the things and behaves in ways ascribed/prescribed to be alluring and sexy. The cultural traits of sexiness and attractiveness are worn by them.

The (heterosexual) man validates the existence and longevity of these cultural traits. When the development and cultivation of such traits become necessary since most of society subscribes to this set of traits, there will be a market to exploit it. We are all paying good money to look what we think is good and good for us.

There are another group of people who know they (physically) possess culturally good looks. Good looks, in my opinion, are not universal, but an agreed-upon type of aesthetic within specific cultural boundaries. To expand or sustain these cultural boundaries, there are mechanisms such as validation from men and women alike, as well as the media, which have time and again serve as cultural imperialists, spreading another cultural idea of what consists good looks.

More doors are opened to people who possess culturally good looks, and the decisions made by them are contingent on the extent to which they know they possess the good looks, for example, the (non-exclusive, I stress, NON-EXCLUSIVE) decision to cam-whore and also be "in the scene", going to parties and all.

The club is a social space created to gather together like-minded individuals who share the same subscription to the gendered cultural itinerary.

The thing is, if we already have these subscriptions, beliefs and values internalised, why do we need the space that is the club to exhibit/manifest them? Is it because there is a certain image and set of expectations attached to the club?

The categories of gender are still rather fixed in our society, so why do we continue to seek assurance and validation?