Thursday, March 26, 2009

White Posterkid for Cheena-pore: WTF

Pardon my language. Please read with a parent or a mature member of parliament if you are under 21 years of age. Please also note the label of this post: "HUMOUR" and "society". You know, there have been some kids who thought that I really meant what I said. For example, when I wrote a long article which discussed that "Mas Selamat does not exist" in 2008, some kid from the group Loyang Social Studies club (alias JoanaLJ from class 3E3), maybe from Loyang Secondary School, took it literally and said I denied his existence (see link, refer to post #4).

Damn. I am just a bit pissed off that the students did not take their assignment seriously, never mind actually reading what I wrote or implied about the Mas Selamat issue (link). Do check out what they have said about news reliability. Three of them have cited my blog for review, but unfortunately, I do not provide many facts, but rather opinion (and ideas). Check out their assignment website and look at entries #4, #6 and #22. Mind you, blogs are not obliged to provide facts nor report issues; they are a source of opinion. Perhaps the assignment given to them by the teacher could have been better articulated. Facts can be checked for reliability, but when it comes to opinion, it's a whole different ball game.

Urgh, so angry. Back to the topic. I have watched one "Promote Mandarin Council" advertisement. I find it hilarious that our ethic Chinese Singaporean raging anglophilia has manifested itself in a television commercial that utilises Caucasian/white children to teach people to speak Mandarin.

I think there are other advertisements out there to show that the Mandarin dialect is a global language. But I shall focus on the one with the white kids.

Of course, such a campaign is sparked off by the wise words of political demi-god Lee Kuan Yew. That old man can see the future. He believes in renewal and all that. It is a pity that the "Promote Mandarin Council", the bastard child of the "Speak Mandarin Campaign", had to deliver his message using the texts and images they have used.

To be fair to the sinophiles (we can't call them "rice queens", can we?), the use of non-ethnic Chinese actors to promote the use of the Chinese dialect, called Mandarin, tells all of us that the Mandarin dialect is not merely confined to the domain of the yellow-skinned people they call the Chinese.

That's a brilliant idea! (sarcasm added in the exclamation mark too)!!! Why not, get a race/skin-colour that most Chinese people would look up to. Perhaps we are still cowering in the shadows/glory days of colonialism. The "whities" will provide the much needed authority voice, the much needed instruction that us Asian/ethnic Chinese savages would heed to.

I was wondering, why not get an ethnic Malay or Indian child to star in the advertisement? Is an ethnic Malay/Indian child less useful/relevant in getting the message across than a Caucasian child? I want my token Malay/Indian child!

Must the white race be the posterchild of a Mandarin-speaking population? I am not insinuating that Mandarin is indigenous to ethnic Chinese, nor is it indigenous to Asians (but they are, any way), I am concerned with the invisibility of the usual politically correct set-up. You know what I mean. I am wondering what happened to beaten dead horse of a usage of the 4 kids - the Chinese kid and the 3 other tokens they call the ethnic minorities.

Of course, this cultural campaign and initiative is a mere subset of the Singaporean economic imperative. The idea of renewing the country, reinventing, being relevant and all that, all boils down to economic sustenance, survivability and the wet dream of every middle-class Chinese folk, prosperity!

We may be peons in a nanny state, but you cannot deny that no matter how much our government treats us like dehumanised digits, they are always preparing us for changes ahead. Maybe, perhaps they need slaves to row the ship they are steering. The peasants willingly share the PAP government's dream of a skills-based industry, something so relevant and logical, it warms the heart of each and every technocrat in the land. Being proficient in Mandarin is one such relevant skill, they say.

Sorry my non-Mandarin speaking Malay, Indian and Chinese friends. You are excluded. The advertisement shows that even the non-Asian Caucasians are ahead of you. Of course, coming from better established civilisations, the Whites are better than all of us, so their expertise and Mandarin demonstration are required to teach us inferior races the correct cultural ways.

I can't help, in viewing this advertisement in isolation, but think this strategy is not as innocent as it seems. The whole thing reminds me of how Singaporeans enjoy 69-ing with Colonialism.

We got our constitution and education from the British, and we used it against the British. We try to promote an idea (rather, PAP's, or rather Lee Kuan Yew's) of an Asian culture, and we use a white-skinned kid to teach us.

Sure, Mandarin should not only be taught by and taught to yellow-skinned "chinkies". But I have yet to see Malay and Indian and Chinese kids in the advertisements. Maybe there are, I am not sure. But for the sake of being consistent with the cultural rhetoric, I would love to see them.

Historically, us Asians have an inferiority complex. When meeting a whitie, or a pseudo-whitie, we change up our accents, so they can understand us better. We adjust for their comfort. I get the feeling that some of us are proud to be inferior. What the caucasians say is closer to the truth than say, what an ethic Malay or Indian will say to an ethnic Chinese dude, isn't it?

What we don't see also implies what we think about the invisibilised race/class of folk. Some might throw up in their mouths at the thought that a Singapore could be possibly run by a bunch of Chinese elites. And these Chinese elites have played the multiracialist card very well, such that it fits hand-in-glove with the grand economic scheme of things. Even ethnic minorities have caught on the disease that is the middle-class ethnic Chinese aspiration, well disguised as the Singaporean dream. The Chinese elite have created a system, the rewards of which are akin to this Singaporean dream. To cover the cold and uncompromising capitalist schemes and intentions, we load heaps of warm and fuzzy nationalist and multiculturalist rhetoric on it, not knowing they serve as fertilizer for larger insidious and divisive atrocities that may/will arise from it.

The campaign to promote Mandarin is a proxy for the Singaporean economic imperative. It is a function of our Chinese elite leadership and ideology. Nevertheless, it is what works in such an age of global capitalism and trans-national economic integration.

By writing this, I seek not to drive a wedge between Singaporeans of various ethnicities, whether assigned to them by the state, their families or themselves, but I want to point out the wedge that is driven by the campaign in the community.

Having gone post-colonial on the aforementioned advertisement, I believe that the advertisement marginalises the non-Mandarin-speaking. The campaigners may have progressed from thinking of Mandarin as a domain of the Chinese, to Mandarin as a global language. But they stop short at reassuring the non-Mandarin speakers that they will not be left out, nor be not treated as inferior.

Why is the government/leadership, so obsessed with retaining local talent, giving every Singaporean a passport to the world? All the more when your (favoured) ethnic Chinese population are not procreating enough for your machinery (yes, this is the PAP Matrix, where our butts are plugged into the system, so that it can screw us any time it likes!). I am sure most of us would have thought that the "3, 4 or more if you could afford it" rhetoric applied to ethnic Chinese Singaporeans, right?

Is there a future then, for the English-speaking monolingual ethnic Chinese Singaporean? Won't you feel lonely when in a population of 4 million and one Singaporeans, that 4 million of them have jumped on the Chinese bandwagon, or as our press will call "China" bandwagon, and you are the only one left on the island, along with the better-appreciated foreign talents?

Are our ethnic Chinese children going to be marginalised in schools? Are we going to perpetuate a system and a mentality where ethnic Chinese children who speak poor Mandarin are mocked and disadvantaged. Sure, they are the Chinese B's who would get F's any way. What other opportunities are there?

The state machinery needs the slaves to row the boat. With such a broadbased cultural campaign, they can achieve the critical mass they need. Who cares about minorities such as the Malay and Indian folk, or the under-the-borderline Mandarin-manglers of the Chinese? The success of the campaign obviously does not rest on the Mandarin proficiency of every ethnic Malay and Indian child, and I feel, that no matter how many white posterchildren you put in your television advertisements, you can never bridge that cultural divide. Speaking of divide, this campaign creates a larger one, and in many dimensions, race/ethnicity, age/generational, class/socio-economic status, linguistic diversity/minority dialects and so on.

If there should be a cultural-linguistic campaign, it should be a "be yourself campaign" and each one of us will say "fuck you" in our respective mother tongues to this divisive Speak Mandarin Campaign. On a serious note, I feel that we should not drive minorities into their own spaces and lock them up where they are. They become less accessible as a result.

Take for example, some of my ethnic Chinese friends. Some think that all Indians speak Tamil. Yes, what... the... fuck. There was one who thought Tamil was a religion. Some think that "Hindu" (should be Hinduism) is a religion, partly correct, and that there's no such thing as Hindi. And of course, the usual Indian jokes come a dime a dozen. Heck, Sri Lankans and Sikhs are Indians too, according to some Chinese friends. And cue the obligatory thick Indian-accented English. Who cares about Singaporean Indians? Most Chinese/Malay kids think that they are no different from the South Asian migrant workers that roam that part of town Little India. Bah, just less than 10%, this numerical minority is a political minority. They are also not very capable in stoking religious tension, so there need not be much pluralistic policies to accommodate them. But mind you, South Asian and Indian cultures are as diverse, if not more diverse, than your Chinese culture. But it is sad most of us do not know it to be so. There is no effort on our part to want to know about other cultures (myself included), and this effort/responsibility is rationally externalised/outsourced to the education system.

And there is also the myth of the lazy Malay (interesting piece by the way if you have read it). It is severe injustice to the ethnic Malays when one naturalises/reduces their "laziness" to their genes or ethnicity. Ouch. They just happen to live in a colonial economic system "'roid up" by the Jew-rivaling money-minded Chinese (another stereotype by the way). Nevermind the void-deck-roaming cheap-glue-sniffing guitar-strumming 'relak'-one-corner Malay subcultures, we see our Malay friends through the middle-class ethnic Chinese lens and judge them that way. It is through the very same lens the middle-class ethnic Chinese see themselves - they see no fault, apparently. It is sad that some of us ethnic Chinese, English or Chinese educated, have so isolated ourselves that we see the other 30% of Singapore as consisting of "mats" and "ah nehs", sometimes too unidimensionally. Our "ethnic Chinese" cultural campaigns get to permeate/desecrate/rape their cultural spheres, but their cultural campaigns are relatively invisible in our privileged cultural sphere. And sometimes, we can tell if a cultural campaign is truly for culture, or used as political or economic strategies. At the same time, ethnic minorities should not be heard for the saking of being heard, just like they should not be visible for the sake of being visible.

Why not have an advertisement of non-Mandarin-speaking kids of all ethnicities speaking their minds on the Promote Mandarin Campaign? We can create a montage of sorts! I would love to hear the sweet childlike voices saying stuff like, "I think you are full of shit", "You are destroying my culture", "Now I feel like a minority (weeping)", "I feel left out!", etc.

Remember, my dear PAP leaders, the people who vote for you are diverse. Some follow the Singaporean dream you have woven, others do not. This democracy is not only a "majority wins" kind of game, but one that needs to take into consideration the voices of, in this case, the non-Chinese-speaking. And with that in mind, don't abuse pluralist politics so that only your security and economic goals are met. There are other goals that society has, but the leadership has only chosen to take up the few that would benefit it the most. Extend your pluralism beyond these areas too, for cultural diversity, sexual diversity, religious diversity and so on. Must I get a white kid to tell you these things?

Mandarin is only one way to go. But I believe that difference and diversity is THE way and THE future. So corny, but it's true. It is not only about difference and all the soapy political correct tokenistic get-together hand-shaking phallus-fellating stuff, but the idea of difference being embraced. Unfortunately, this is not possible in a world with liberal democracies where lesser minorities get stifled, and "Asian democracies" where authoritarian regimes manipulate pluralism to stay in power.

We (I mean, especially our leadership) have a love-hate relationship with the West/Whites. Of course, this is where the rigorous act of 69 love-making comes into the picture. We reject the perceived liberal and morally corrupt West/Whites, ban them, sue them for defamation and so on. We even reject "foreigners" from spreading crazy ideas in our shores; they are never welcomed because of their crazy Asia-insensitive ideology, unless they fly thousands of miles and come here to praise our PAP government and do other political hand-jobbing they call diplomacy. There's also this strange thing that the Singaporean can never be a "white"; it can be the colour of the Chinese, Malay and Indian, but it is unfathomable to most laypersons that a Caucasian can be a Singaporean! So, for the time being, the dominant discourse is that all whites are foreign/external to Singapore. But hey, amidst all the "white rage" our government has, the Promote Mandarin Campaign says it is okay we get a white kid to teach us Mandarin!

(endnote: I've already checked this article for any potentially seditious statement, because I've caught the "chills" of the government's "kill one scare hundred" tactics. If you feel offended at any race or religion-related statements I have been interpreted to make, please let me know. If you laughed or cursed under your breath, please let me know too. If you manage to read the entire article and get to this last paragraph, you're a minority, so please let me know that too!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Films Act: Let us embrace ambiguity

(Does anybody have Richard Magnus' contact? I could be on the PFCC, serious. Just want to make some enquiries about the requirements and stuff.)

I partially applaud the partially lifted ban on party political films.

And what good timing too. I mean, who cares about political freedom in such bad (economic) times?

And when the Act does get amended, will it be in time for the next Elections, the date of which are as uncertain as always, and subjected to the discretion of the powers that be?

It is amazing how our leadership has been able to disguise greater iron-fisted oppression as freedom. This is a snail's sluggish crawl forward and an Olympic gymnast backflip-plus-somersault backwards, stiff headfirst crash-landing notwithstanding.

This is a blow for citizen journalism. Any one who takes a video of a political activity/procession, namely anything that is non-PAP (which citizen would take a video of a PAP procession any way?), may be liable.

We should call for a ban of news material and releases that distort information and intentions. They create what is government-approved 'fact'.

The idea of allowing party political films to be made by licensed broadcasters is plain ridiculous and tautological. After all, the government-linked agencies approve these licenses.

Surely, a leadership should be fearing that its people are not taken care of, rather than fearing its own mortality.

The (proposed) implementation probably has taken into consideration what Channel News Asia did a few years ago, when it profiled PAP members. This would now be considered legal.

The PAP governmental tactics and rhetoric still haven't changed. They are strategic and calculative in their political approach, ensuring that the execution of measures, constitutional and legal, will ensure their political stranglehold on the alleged democracy they call Singapore.

Knowing they can't control political discourse, they seek to control the spaces for discourse. If you are a Catherine Lim, join politics and make your noise. If you want to speak, go to speakers' corner and make your noise. If you want to make a video, get a license.

Different tactics throughout the years, but it is the same strategy and approach. The dictating of discursive spaces is a better way of control political discourse, rather than addressing political discourse directly.

Previously dispersed and inaccessible citizens who create political counter-discourses are now "captured" by the new system, fitting into an amusement park machine they call "whack the mole". Given the nature of the game, it is only a matter of time the mallet-wielding PAP government leaders can whack the mole they want. And this is simply because the mole is trapped in the machine.

The rhetoric of "creating new avenues" disguises the actual narrowing of avenues and increase in boundaries for political discourse.

The PAP government has also created a "get out of jail" card, in the form of ambiguous wordings (in the Act). Everything hinges on their discretion and interpretation, both of which are unambiguous in intention and ideology. They can decide what is in "public interest".

I say "Pfft" to the PFCC, the Political Films Consultative Committee. Are these people voters too? If you are a voter, can you not be neutral? Of course, unfortunately in the Singaporean brand of democracy, the kind that other countries will call authoritarian, some Singaporeans do not get to vote.

Whoever gets selected for the PFCC, should have their entire employment history and other demographic and professional background revealed to the public. Sure they may be from the private sector, but are they representative of the interests of the public. Are they representative of Singaporeans? Are they all going to be old fogies, or persons who are unconnected with the increasingly media literate generation of Singaporeans?

We see an improvement in the system of representation of Singapore on the one hand, but on the other, we see the slow and cunning destruction of participation. Our participation becomes blunted and impotent even though our voices and ideas get "represented".

Citizens are the eyes and ears of society and they also serve as watchdogs for any possible abuses of power or corruption of the system. And we are now creating new systems to restrict them.

It's strange and it's exasperating. All films are political. They create certain brands of politics and discourses that benefits some and oppresses others.

Is the National Day Parade not party political? Is the video montage of our "history" not party political? Is the participation of the PAP contingent in the march not party political?

To plug the social science, humanities and media disciplines, I believe the PAP government needs to get a social scientist, or a historian or a philosopher, or maybe a media scholar to make them look good and their policies/rhetoric less ambiguous. They are too obsessed with do-ers, too obsessed with getting musclemen who can row the boat, when they should be getting thinkers and getting people who can steer the damn boat.

Even if members of the PFCC feel a contentious film, say a Singaporean version of Fahrenheit 9/11, gets passed. Do they have to make justifications in the rhetoric of the government? (as in they have to elevate, or stoop down, to the language and logic of the ruling party?)

Moreover, will the decision-making processes of the PFCC, being an "independent" group, be made transparent to Singaporeans? And how can we be certain that there is no surveillance or intimidation, in any sense, made on the members of the PFCC? You know, the kind that will coerced/whip them into the "right" ideological state of mind. Is PFCC obliged to be in line with say Lui Tuck Yew and his ministry's views?

I think we will never know how all these will unravel. Unless, well, unless I am part of the PFCC and get to experience what being "independent" is like.

I am tempted to enquire whether a person like myself may qualify to be on the PFCC. After all, they need a "kid" to be on board. They might also appreciate someone who appreciates ambiguity. Does anybody have Richard Magnus' contact?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Teenage Mutual Fornication!

Teenage sex is becoming an issue in Singapore. With its moral baggage and sensational newsworthiness, it proves for a good distraction from other atrocities and injustices committed by the government. And that probable proves my point, because I'm not going to talk about the state, but about teenage sex. I can now imagine Nelson from the cartoon, The Simpsons, pointing his finger at a random person and mockingly exclaim, "HAH HA!"

The dominant rhetoric is Westernisation and the influence of the morally liberal/loose media. Blame it on the media. Unfortunately, I believe this is true to an extent. Media images do sometimes give us new ideas. However, teenage sex is not new.

(mind you, I refer to teenage sex as in sex between teens, not adults and teens, although inter-generational sex is an interesting topic on its own)

Yes, our George Lim Heng Chye's (love that guy) and other moral policemen/women will claim that our values, and in some instances, our Asian values are eroding. For those of us who know a little bit of Asian history, we Asians were probably the most sexually liberal "savages" around. Kama Sutra, pillow books, old Samurai teaching young boy Samurai the "ways" of the Samurai, young boys fellating older men in Papua New Guinea, ethnic Malays and Chinese children getting married, and so on. (heck, spitting can also qualify as an Asian value, so too is squatting to excrete.)

The reason why these observations fly off the radar of the "Asian values" rhetoric is not because this sexy bit of our history is censored out, but rather the term "Asian values" is constructed. It captures the ascension of the East Asian and recently South East Asian economies. It also serves to counter the "liberal Western democracies" by making exceptions to our generally authoritative governments which claim to have their own "Asian democracy". Perhaps what is authoritarian, totalitarian, or fascist to the "morally corrupt Western whities" is considered an "Asian brand of democracy".

And somehow along the way, when Victorian values of morality crept into our Asian lives through our colonial masters and became accepted as the norm and thought to be natural, we stretched the vulvae of "Asian values" and stuffed it with sexual morality. So nicely intertwined, seems credible and legitimate. What was previously socially constructed has been naturalised, left unquestioned and unchallenged.

So it is a bit ironic when we discuss teenage sex and talk about Asian values for example. We are using conservative Western ideas of morality to challenge Western ideas of sex. We "Asians" are merely vessels and subjects of "Western" discourses.

Teenage sex is a weird thing too. Attention was previously focused on kids from lower socio-economic homes, lower education, lesser-to-non English-speaking, and preferably ethnic minority. Of course, these serve to legitimise the Confucian brand of education and our general education system, with morality tales like "if you don't study hard, you'll be a screw-up".

So police (and moral police) stakeouts will be at HDB flat staircase landings, and various nook and crannies of the heartlands and malls frequently by the lower-to-middle income populace. Just like in Little India, when you have more surveillance and police around, you will have a proportionately larger number of "crime" and arrests.

What we know little of is of kids of privileged homes made possible by hardworking working parents, making good old teenage love in the comforts of their rooms. How can the moral police budge in and "arrest" them?

Actually, I personally believe that teenage sex is not wrong. Sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies are the problem, not teenage sex.

The problem of teenage sex is the same with HIV education and gay sex. You cannot teach safe teenage sex when teenage sex is illegal.

Teenage sex is socially not acceptable because of its socio-economic implications. If you have unwanted pregnancy from teenage sex, the couple concerned are unable to make the financial commitment, and there is a financial domino effect in the (extended) families affected.

Moreover, we live in a country where the most privileged from of pregnancy is adult wedded pregnancy. Wonderful perks and incentives. But you get little or none if yours is premarital and/or teenage. Such an institutionalisation makes teenage sex and pregnancy all the more stigmatised.

In the industrial period, where there is a segmentisation/division of labour (in the case of the factory), children are stripped of their previously "adult" privileges, that is smoking, drinking and having sex, because they are not required to work. Children and teens become dependents. It did not help that Victorian morality also dominated and created the discourse that healthy children are asexual and void of erotic feelings. The loss of "adult" freedom is balanced with legal and constitutional infrastructure that sought to "protect" this "vulnerable" group.

Teenage sex disrupts the middle dream of pursue good education, getting a good job, in the Singaporean case, getting the 5 or 6 C's, earning that million, then finally getting a spouse of similar stature/achievement and squeezing out 2, 3, or more kids if you can afford it/them.

I can't use the word "moral" here, because we might define in accordance with how someone like George Lim Heng Chye would. But I would like to ask, what is ethically wrong about teenage sex? What is ethically wrong about a teenage sex that observes an adult standard of responsibility and safety, or love for that matter?

In 2004, newly appointed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong s/o Lee Kuan Yew @ founding father of modern Singapore (such a long name, huh?) identified our Singaporean youth to be the future. It is your normal political rhetoric that holds an almost universal truth. Youth IS the future any way. Ironically, it is the youth who are almost as, if not more sexually active than us adults.

The government wants Singaporeans adults to bang for babies, but most of us are not heeding. At the same time, we take out our frustration and give attention to teens who fuck for fun. I love the alliteration. That's the plight of our population today - adults just want to fuck for fun, and some teens deliver the babies. Ironic, as I said, because the youth are truly the future.

Still, I do not understand why all the attention is on teenage sex and the attempt to "solve"/"cure" it. Teenage sex is not the disease. Society is the disease (what's new from me, right?).

The idea and presence of teenage sex challenges a lot of authority, ideology and assumptions that we support and hold, and upon which many systems, structures and institutions stand. Their relevance are all questioned and challenged. Teenage sex shows us and also exposes the institution of marriage for example, that OMG WTF 0_0 :o!!!! there can be sex without marriage between two adults? What travesty? What blasphemy?

Again, what is wrong with teenage sex? What is wrong with a teenager who is sexually active, but is not (or not related to) pregnant or infected with an STI?

Why are we so obsessed with disciplining sex any way? We have famine, homelessness, wars, political turmoil, genocide, gang violence, death penalties, economic downturn, exploitative sex, slavery and we want to take care of teenage sex too?

Much of the rhetoric is concerned with how teenage sex is bad based on its sanctions, punishment, and outcomes. What about addressing the inherent wrong-ness of teenage sex? What about addressing how teenage sex is ethically wrong?

I think that we Singaporeans are not dealing with teenage sex properly. I liken it to a thirsty Singaporean who travels to Johor Bahru for a glass of orange juice. Yes! It doesn't make sense, you can just drink the damn water from any tap in Singapore!

Teenage sex is so stigmatised, considerably taboo and morally/religiously contentious. There are so many authorities, societal (and its history), legal, religious and economic, that emphasise its wrong-ness. We dare not question why it is wrong in the first place. It is wrong because of its consequences, and that's all we know about it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Photo op

Just took my passport photo recently at home and did an online application to get the new biometric passport. If only ICA can support Firefox. I hate doing administrative stuff.

Any way, here is how I've grown so far.

1990 (7 years old)
1990 - The comb had not entered my life yet. Neither has most of the stress and life's troubles. The more socialised we become, the more stress there is because there are more standards to adhere to.

(1998 - 15 years old)
1998 - The comb became my friend. Not exposed to much sunlight. Looked sickly, because I was. Thin face, unblemished by the troubles of society and the world.

(2001 - 18 years old)
2001 - No comb. With shorter hair, you can mess it around still look okay. Played more tennis. I can see my jawline! More chiselled (Late stage puberty? More exercise?). Eyebags beginning to appear.

(2005 - 22 years old)
2005 - Sideburns out. Post-NS. 10kg heavier than previous picture. Eyes become deeper-set.

(2009 - 25.5 years old)

Now - I look older, sleepier and jaded. Nazi hairstyle, so says the wife, but it's just any other comb-back. More flesh on the face. Not as wide-eyed as before (in every sense). Apparently my ears seem to be a little bit hidden by my growing face. But this face is going to be a canvass for more lines. I don't recognise myself when I'm clean-shaven. See below (in a webcam in January this year).

As we (most of us men) age, our jaws seem bigger. Wonder why (arts student asking bio question)?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dying to make a point

I realise I might be the seagull following the trawler, waiting for the sardines to be ditched. That's what Eric Cantona said about the media. But I'm just following the affairs here.

There is some serious eyebrow-raising situation happening here. Maybe it is blown out of proportion by internet users, maybe it isn't. They are mainly directed at the credibility and agenda-setting of our local newspapers. And most of these analyses and speculation are done by folks not trained in media studies, yet they raise enough questions for us to doubt the 'truths' that are spun by mainstream press.

The case of NTU student David Widjaja. There have been facts, no doubt. But people have pointed out the manner in which these facts have been pieced together. The manner in which a news medium stitches a story is called an angle. It is a particular spin put on the information.

The case of Dr Allan Ooi also prompted some netizens to point out certain media blackouts on some details. The official reason for a 'blackout' is usually the news organisation's reluctance to engage/report speculation until they confirm it with credible sources. That is textbook journalism and journalistic integrity. But what if these "credible sources" are dubious themselves.

The media, as many local media scholars and scholars of local media would claim, is expected by the government to play a role in nation-building. Perhaps it is a single political party's definition and discourse of nation-building. You have internet users creating a counter-discourse by providing other "facts" and speculation, other "spins" and angles.

We live in and are part of a very fragile system. A system that is reactive. A reactive system is one that listens to the dead. Someone has to disappear to make a point. Given the intelligence and leadership we have, it is a shame that martyrdom (to stretch the definition) has a larger voice in (possibly) effecting changes in the system.

Even if the mainstream press may do their customary blackout, spins and agenda-setting, there will be netizens who will provide alternative "truths" and make us question the system. It appears that few are moved and are rallied around causes championed by the living. The symbolism of death appears stronger, more moving and influential in creating newer (counter)discourses.

I find it ridiculous that we continue to individualise and medicalise such cases. Blame it on depression, blame it on gaming, blame it on gambling. This is how we attempt to rationalise and neutralise death and disaster. We check not the foundations upon which we stand and on which our system also sits. At the same time, it may seem a little far-fetched for most of us to continually politicise everything we experience, resulting in an over-rational and bordering-on-speculative externalisation of our problems.

I read Dr Allan Ooi's email prior to his suicide. Strangely, I identify with it. You don't need to be depressed to think of such things. Frustration and hopelessness should not be conflated into depression. We can medicalise all we want to rid the system of its responsibility and complicity. It is still very unfortunate we see such individuals as not being able to cope, and never consider that it might be the system/establishment itself that is the one that isn't coping well.

In the information age now, death creates large reverberations than before. Death is what all of us mortals, some lesser mortals, can identify with. Other than bringing us together, the knowledge of death makes us question more.

Although we are firmly entrenched in the capitalist system, there are a number of us who are beyond materialism and high wages. Such things can no longer provide the appeasement nor the happy (and false) consciousness. These are the people who are problematic to the capitalist state. In such a context, these guys have nothing to lose because they are not as tightly bound (and blackmailed) like the rest. And when you have nothing to lose, you do not conform to the rationality of the system; you become unpredictable. Unpredictability is uncertainty, and uncertainty is always a challenge to any one, never mind a leadership or a system.

We can now no longer individualise suicide and rationlise it as "cowardly", because there are sufficient counter-discourses that validate "purposeful" death. They link death to social and political phenomena. They link death to oppression. People see suicide as not the result of individual sickness, but also the sickness of the system. (but of course, given the economic downturn, more care less)

Sometimes I see terrorism or terrorist martyrdom as a reaction to the illness of the system. We may be able to neutralise threats to the system by labelling them as terrorism, but they do not go away. Death is not (and should not be seen and rationalised as) only independent, in the sense we link it to nature and the gods. Death should be seen, among other perspectives, as dependent. (Premature) deaths (by societal standards) tell us something about people.

Hypothetically, if I were to take my life, I will write a long note too. But I haven't reached a critical level of frustration and hopelessness yet. Furthermore, suicide is highly disincentivised in society today. It is firstly against the law. It doesn't conform to social norms, and when you break it, society will neutralise it and make sense of it in a pathological or religious way. Various institutional boundaries are erected to forge more bonds and networks, such that the stakes (and obstacles) are raised should one attempt suicide. There is too great, too complex and too far-reaching a social, economic and emotional bond created, so suicide now requires more deliberation (econometrics, any one?). Conversely, the message becomes even stronger in the event of suicide.

We live in a world where we over-romanticise and nostalgia-lise living. It also does not help that the media help perpetuate this discourse that "life is fragile and precious". Politically, it diverts attention away from the fragility of the system, the establishment, the rules and so on. Furthermore, the uncertainty of death roots us into the discourse. Imagine if we knew when our death will come (other than planned suicide), we will become empowered and our decision-making will change. The system that thrives on the uncertainty of death (and other related dominant discourses) cannot deal with this kind of situation.

We are bound to a culture of political correctness, such that large-scale self-censorship (superego... away!) prevails. So the advocacy of suicide and (interpretive forms of) martyrdom is socially unacceptable. But does it make it morally wrong?

Suicide sends a message, and sometimes it might be a message independent of the "author"'s intention. Nevertheless, it reminds us not about life, but about the conditions of life, and to an extent, how people and institutions (media, medical, political, economic, etc.) create and/or deal with these conditions.