Saturday, October 24, 2009

The mob has spoken: Ris is over, who's next?

Most of us are predictable. We pounce on and drain the blood of errant characters in the Singaporean ecosystem, surfing the snowballing wave of newsworthiness, maximising its utility and eventually discarding it.

We leave behind footprints of our characters as we trample on others in the frenzy of the mob.

Like the torch of every lynch mob, every lynching has a short shelf life.

What is interesting is there seems, to me, to be a trend in the victims of the internet lynch mob. Well, we also have the internet lynch mob to thank for, for making news newsworthy.

I predict the next victim of the internet lynch mob to be an ethnic Chinese woman.

In recent times, we have noticed a succession of ethnic Chinese women, who have fallen foul of, and lynched accordingly by the mob:

Wendy Cheng, Wee Shu Min, Mrs Goh Chok Tong, Thio Li-Ann and Thio Su Mien, Wong Kan Seng, and Ris Low.

We seem to have a fascination with women. As in the blogosphere, female bloggers are more appealing than male bloggers, and probably are not subjected to the homosexual stigma should they post a critical number of photos on their blogs.

The "common man" on the internet is more fixated on women. Well, that's one trend for starters.

Until the first coming of Ris Low, our sense of political correctness, as inferred from internet musings and discussions, reflects the preservation of working class values (paradoxically by the middle-class who can afford time and resources to go online and make some noise), as well as the disdain for extravagance and hints of elitism.

Having made comments reeking of elitism, Wee Shu Min and Mrs Goh Chok Tong were quickly shot down like crows in your HDB estate by cullers.

A growingly stratified Singapore, a situation the government probably acknowledges but will not do anything about, is probably causing strain on some segments of the citizenry.

The ones who have access to the internet are representing their views, as well as views from the underclass. And we see some degree of solidarity between the working class and middle class (just to generally categorise), for they have a common enemy, or at least created one.

Netizens complain about the financially irresponsible government, losing/abusing taxpayers' money and all that, even though a majority of netizens pay relatively little or no tax. As pointed out to me by another person, that which helped me get revive some common sense, the richer (folks in the higher income brackets) pay far bigger amounts of taxes, but the netizens are the ones who are most vocal. Maybe they are displaying the nationalistic solidarity the government so badly needs.

Faults of the upper strata of society are considered more wrong than faults of the lower strata, if our culture of politically correctness even allows us to recognise these faults at all.

Perhaps, conscious or ignorant expressions, deemed elitist by the "common man", hit a nerve in the "common man" and his lived reality.

When Ris Low came, I see how the working and middle class solidarity divorced. In the criticisms of Ris Low, people ridiculed her poor spoken English. Such an action is, in my opinion, microcosmic of middle class cultural bigotry against the working class, a section of people in our society who do not have privileges and access to "proper language", in a stereotypical sense.

This is very generalising, of course. But I believe the "true colours" of the Singaporean netizen, or internet lynch mob, are revealed, thanks to the Ris Low episode. We reveal our disgust, impatience and intolerance of poor spoken English, limited vocabulary and her "Ah Lian" aesthetics, in our criticisms. These are the areas the working class Singaporeans are trying to address as they seek, like any one else in our rat-race society, upward mobility and a comfortable life.

We are ashamed and embarrassed that Ris was going to represent Singapore, indicative of the extent to which we are selective in deciding how multi-cultural and diverse Singapore is. Diversity in Singapore, in this case, obviously excludes the girl with poor spoken English.

To negate this, we state that this is in the context of an international beauty pageant, and we risk being embarrassed by such a person. All the more this shows our desire for readymade products, rather than unpolished gems, a reflection of our society and economy today, an ideology impressed onto us and eventually internalised and reproduced in our criticism of Ris.

I see a food-chain of elitism. On the one hand, we despise elitism and extravagance; but on the other, we are embarrassed by folks who speak poor English, because we are concerned about the image we are projecting to other nations.

What happened to this solidarity where netizens care about the lesser "privileged" (access to resources and education)? By privilege, I am refering to the comparison of others to the "common man" netizen, who generally has the privilege to education and access to the internet.

I feel animosity towards society and the government is grounds for such solidarity, a push, rather than an attraction on the part of being together. It seems like it is almost a parasitical relationship we netizens have with classes "below" us, as we focus on exposing what is wrong with society and the government.

How the ethnic Chinese woman victim of the internet lynch mob fits in here, I don't know. But we are highly strung to the tune of political correctness, which we assume to be a safeguard against attacks on a culture that is more right than other cultures.

For example, the working-to-middle class is more "right" than the elite culture. The former's visibility should be at the expense of the latter, because that is politically correct. But again, the whole idea of well-spoken English, perhaps a hallmark of middle-class Singaporean life, surfaces between the enlarging cracks between the working and middle class, or rather and unrelated, the English and non-English educated folks. It is after all a middle-class thing when English is enforced and supported as the primary language, followed by your second language or mother tongue.

It is very interesting to see what happens next and see who will be the next person to be lynched, not that I personally want to see someone lynched. Prejudices will be revealed each time someone gets flamed by the mob.

We have tensions brewing, such as sentiments against elitism, what we feel are poor representations of Singapore (so diverse, yet we want "proper" representations, paradoxical, huh?), we have Christianophobia (not the hatred towards the footballer), and we love our social policing. Since the government is more preoccupied with political power and the economy, we are left to socially police ourselves. We have Stomp! to thank too.

Perhaps, given how politically and economically disempowered most of us are, we relieve ourselves by playing social police and thief, where we let self-righteousness, under the guise of political correctness, pull the reins of society.

You say something out of line, you get lynched, and you get immortalised in Wikipedia and you become a hot Google key search word.

We have an intolerance for mistakes and imperfection towards some segments of society, while we are more gracious and flexible in the same area towards other segments.

The more folks that are lynched, the more we will come to know the make-up and psyche of the internet lynch mob.

Honesty is not a virtue so long as political correctness is mandatory.

As we bully others into conforming to the political correctness we subscribe to, we forget that we ourselves have been bullied into conformity in the first place.

It is interesting we have had issues of money, class and culture being part of the public discourse in view of cyber lynching. I look forward to religion being talked about and it will most probably be Christianity, given the government appears to care more about policing discourses and movements concerning Islam than that of Christianity. There are some fixed conditions for someone to be the next victim of the internet lynch mob.

And religion is probably one of the very few items that could further divide this internet lynch mob. But of course, the vocal anti/non-religionists might claim a larger territory. And I think that people with faith, should just keep their faiths and religious doctrine to themselves.

We just enjoy finding the next pinata to smack, the next cultural icon to make t-shirts, lampooning videos, generate discussion forum participation and visits for blogs. But what do these trends say about our personhood, our society and our relationship with one another in society?

For me, I personally feel that it just boils down to our dislike of the government and the decisions they have made that put us in our place in society - the unhappy place that is middle-class-dom. Such a place is limiting, and we are unhappy as a result. We either suck our thumbs or use it to thumb-choke (that's a chokehold technique by the way) someone else. So, who is next?

Hmmm MinDEF still has not got back to me on my question - whether they would pay for my school fees in the event my scholarship expires and I am unable to complete my course on time in view of the 2.5 weeks I have sacrificed for reservist. My thumb is for sucking.


airworm said...

we have noticed a succession of ethnic Chinese women, who have fallen foul of, and lynched accordingly by the mob:

Wendy Cheng, Wee Shu Min, Mrs Goh Chok Tong, Thio Li-Ann and Thio Su Mien, Wong Kan Seng, and Ris Low.

I did not know HE has been displaced into the women category.

I do not think that people are out there to cyber lynch someone, but just opinions and varying views similar to coffeeshop talk, but now merely put to words displayed on a wider platform. So indeed care and concern is needed before publishing a personal view, but then again we Singaporeans are known to be quiet and less passionate about things. All the lynching seems to bring about a common interest and much needed voice in our local community. Personally I feel that any voice is better than no voice at all.

Sam Ho said...

glad you noticed the joke. no prizes though haha. you make it sound so serious.

FeedMeToTheFish said...

Ris Low may be a better representative of Singapore than hypocrites who call themselves politicians representing Singapore.

With her 'boomz' and 'shingz',
she appears more honest than some politicians I know.

All the polish and justification (heard the latest that Singapore is no longer a country but a city?) doesn't mean squat when all they do is "chui kong lumpar song".

It's so tiring to hear politicians change their tunes (sacrificing principles) to fit the different occasions.

Let's give Ris a break.