I figured I should join the crowd of spectators, and gather around a recent exhibit that has garnered considerable cyber attention.
It appears, in the case of Miss Singapore World 2009, Ris Low, there is an intimate - yet boredering on obsessive - relationship between the exhibit and the audience.
On the surface, it is plain to see how most of us will examine the exhibit. We individualise its qualities and view it in isolation. This makes it easier for one to make esteem-damaging jibes at the 19 year old, and all the more are we inclined to do it given recent news of her committing credit card fraud
At another but unpopular and inconvenient level, we see her as a possible window to what is wrong with society, and under what circumstances and conditions that have led to such a spectacle.
And then, we turn our attention to the audience. Wee Shu Min and the Intellectual Snob persona have already revealed some interesting qualities of us people. It already has been revealed to us how individuals and people react to certain things, and frame their arguments and criticisms.
The more that is said, the more that is revealed about how they think, how they are morally oriented, how they are socialised and perhaps what their characters are.
The more that is said, we come to know how people perceive certain issues and what areas of concerns they are more predisposed to.
I believe that the "actor" on the "stage" only tell less than half the story; for the audience is key to the narrative.
The actor holds an advantage over the audience, as when they have come to exist in the theatre, it is the audience who more readily and unknowingly, surrender their ability of self-reflexivity. The audience becomes too preoccupied with the drama, and as the drama entwines itself with their respective subjectivities and predispositions, they are taken in, relinquishing any thought of introspection during the performance.
Unfortunately, I think Ris Low is equally as disadvantaged as the mob that makes her newsworthy, for she probably had not intended to be a spectacle outside the domain of beauty pageantry.
Inadvertently, she has not only revealed how malicious and/or unforgiving we are, but also the social standards we use to judge others.
She reveals how people in a nation, that continually and conscientiously celebrates difference, has on an ad hoc basis, come to impose categories and expectations of what is the 'right' way of being. This is a paradox: On the one hand, we promote diversity, but on the other, we demand some standardisation and streamlining that omits people of the same demography as Ris.
People see what they want to see and interpret things according to how they see it. And that is how some have come to associate my discussion on Ris Low with my discussion on the person, when my focus is actually on the circumstances that led to us to giving her the unhealthy attention in the first place. In simple words, I don't really care about Ris Low, but am more interested in the people who "care" about her and how they represent themselves when they enter the discussion.
It is very much similar to coffeeshop talk about how evil the government is. In this case, we give attention not to the evil-ness of the government, but rather the subjectivities that underlie such a discussion, as well as the relevant relationships.
By convention, we are often more preoccupied with the discussed than the discussor. A topic of discussion doesn't exist without someone saying something. And after something is said/discussed, the sayer/discussor fades behind the discussion.
Quite a number of Singaporeans, as already acknowledged by some netizens, speak like Ris, if not "worse". On the one hand, we try to promote Singapore as cosmopolitan yet "uniquely Singaporean", and on the other hand, we are appalled by the extent to which Ris Low has (seemingly) naturally localised - but destroyed - the English language.
Through the criticisms, we have come to realise that in certain domains, the localisation of certain things are prohibited, simply because of image - we worry what others might think of us.
Well, "boomz" is probably a spontaneous concocted onomatopoeia that explains eye-catching flambouyance and extravagence. The Tamil, Bahasa Melayu and Mandarin languages on television are also seeing some lax in 'standards' from a linguistically conservative point of view. English is borrowed into the dialogue, and so are various colloquial expressions/exclamations, like "lah", "lor", "hor" in Mandarin dialogue.
There is also the cultural element, when Chinese pop cultural slapstick enters the domain of Mandarin dialogue. When a person says something outrageous, his two friends will "fly" backwards as if they were literally hit by a train. They go "biiiissshhhh". When someone says something ludicrous, the more anglicised folk will go "roll my eyes" while the Chinese slapstick folk will go "diaozzz".
It is probably most accidental (and most natural) that Ris reveals such intersections of cultural expressions. On the one hand, we observe a lack of English vocabulary, but on the other, there is some degree of amalgamation. We may see amalgamation, or we may see corruption of the English langauge. As if we owned it, right? And who are we trying to impress when we attempt to enforce it? Sure, there's some economic value in speaking proper English, because of its linguistic (and to some extent, cultural) hegemony.
There are tensions in how we manage culture - we push for homogenisation and heterogenisation/diversity at the same time, and in certain contexts or domains of political correctness, we place more value in the adoption of certain positions.
It is unfortunate that Ris Low is guilty of credit card fraud, not because of the dishonest and morally wayward act of committing fraud, but the extent to which the news of it validates existing and unconnected criticisms of her.
Like Season One and Two Phua Chu Kang, Ris has become the whipping boy, or girl rather, for the "problem" that is broken English. Yet, we probably will never fathom how much more authentic Ris is compared to say, Irene Ang's Rosie Phua.
It reveals the extent to which we apply (or remove) the concession of "nobody's perfect" in certain contexts, and for others, we impose a "you better be perfect" mantra.
Ris and the accompanying drama both present us with the opportunity to critique and rethink beauty pageants. However, there still remain those who treat beauty pageants as unproblematic, and any problem would lie in and be isolated to the contestant. As we unravel the "problem" with pageants, we begin to realise the extent to which we ordinary people, members of society, are related to these pageants. Of course, in the case of Singapore, it is somewhat an apathetic relationship, which explains the dismal sponsorship for our Miss Universe and Miss World local competitions, unless there is something really scandalous about the contestants worthy exploring in cyberspace. And again, from where I am coming, a "scandal" does not exist in isolation, but require the socially desirable attributes of sensationalism and the fixation of an audience base. Fetish is a two-way relationship.
I wonder if Ris will have a release or do an interview in light of recent events. Maybe she'll do a Cantona and talk about seagulls.