Amazing. I mean. Outstanding.
Ris Low has drawn flak and harsh criticism in cyberspace for her poor diction, basically her poor English. Since the YouTube video has been taken down, you can give SPH's RazorTV the visits they need at http://www.razor.tv/site/servlet/segment/main/lifestyle/32776.html. If you're not too visual a person, you may want to check out The New Paper's report.
Firstly, I would like to say that when people (this time, a large number of people) start criticising, they reveal more about themselves rather than the person they are criticising.
What is revealed is our bias towards a certain kind of representation/ambassador of Singapore. Yes, we do not like Singaporeans with apparently broken English to carry our flag. We want women with education, or a certain class (in almost every sense), to represent our nation.
But the reality is, in doing so, we further invisibilise other segments of the community, who may not have the upbringing or opportunities that endow them with good English.
It is obvious to me that the English language may not be the primary language of Ris Low. There are many Singaporeans whose primary (and comfortable) language isn't English. Why should we be ashamed of this? Is there anything wrong with this?
Why should our local pageant winners speak fluent English when they could speak better in another language? Maybe their ideas and messages would not become diluted or distorted by their otherwise limited vocabulary and/or poor diction.
Ris Low could have done the interview in another language, but at least she is the one who is trying.
Singaporeans, so disempowered and generally impotent in many areas, are just too quick to deny credit to people who try.
I get mocked for speaking poor and broken Mandarin, but I still try. And recently, I tried speaking Mandarin to a taxi driver, who told me to continue speaking Mandarin and "heck care" people who react in a mocking way to me.
Others: Sam, you're Chinese. Why don't you speak Chinese?
Sam: (It's Mandarin, fuckwit) Ke yi. Wo .... bla bla bla bla Mandarin stuff....
Others: Ok. I think you better don't speak Chinese. Ha ha.
Whether this is said trivially or seriously, it reveals how trendy it is not to give credit to fellow Singaporeans.
As reported in The New Paper, one interviewee asked critics to put their money where they mouth is: Join a pageant and see for yourself.
I share that sentiment, but feel that is a little unfair, considering everyone has different talents and comforts.
I can say that doing interviews require some degree of experience and PR savvy. I do feel nervous when I am interviewed by the press. Sometimes, simple questions become tough questions, and other times, I distort my intended message with some fluffs. People do that. It is very much similar to unscripted public speaking, or scripted public speaking and presentations.
What is more important is how the criticism reveals our society and the people we are.
We are apparently ashamed of other breeds of Singaporeans. We want to dust the broken English-speaking folks under the carpet. We want a quarter Chinese, quarter Malay, quarter Indian, quarter Eurasian girl to represent us, not some alleged "Ah Lian". Why? Because we are uncomfortable with what we see are the "imperfections" of our society - apparent "Ah Lian" subculture/aesthetics, poor English and all that.
So what if her pronunciation is atrocious and comical? There are so many Singaporeans who speak like that too - pronouncing "fifteen" as "feev-tin": "EE"s are not stressed, "k"s become "g"s, "r"s become "l"s. So what? These reflect their position and socialisation, and why are the rest of us ashamed of it?
It is not as if they are lying, preaching hate, or revealing how evil they are.
I used to be critical of Singaporean representatives, asking "How the fuck these guys/girls get to represent Singapore?"
But now, I ask myself the standards and criteria I use to determine what is right. And I realise how my prejudices, both personal as well as informed by socialisation, play a huge role in how I think.
Sure, a woman like Ris Low is definitely not aesthetically appealing to me, not because she is ugly, but that judgement is due to individual taste. I realise, perhaps given my exposure to media and socialisation into various English-speaking Singaporean (sub)cultures, that Ris Low will fall outside what I like as a woman, and national representative. There is a cultural and social class dimension to all these, but of course, people do not like to self-interrogate, and that is why we probably have religion.
Yes, I support Ris Low, not because of Ris Low, but because the criticism is stupid and reveals how stupid and insecure we all are. Maybe Ris Low is the unintended performance artist who draws out reactions from all of us to reveal the condition of our society and psyche.
(picture from Lancerlord.blogspot.com)