Jack Neo isn’t Tiger Woods.
There has been lots of buzz in the repressed nation they call Singapore surrounding the latest developments of Jack Neo’s affairs and attempted affairs with almost a dozen women.
What makes it so shocking and yet so newsworthy (or gossip-worthy for that matter), is the man most of us know as Jack Neo. He is a cultural medallion winner, comedian, actor, director, and feel free to insert in many other entertain industry-related accolades and achievements. The same guy is also a married man with four children.
He committed the moral crime against monogamous marriage and strayed.
We often seem to enjoy the kinds of stories that break the mundanity of daily life. Not everyone has access to the riches. Not everyone can be in a position of considerable power. Not everyone have the talent, opportunity and luck to excel and succeed. Jack Neo is one special guy, an entertainer with whom we have come to be smitten, and an industry (local) personality most have come to respect.
That said. Jack Neo found himself in darker, less talked of places in the entertainment industry. We know of entertainment hubs like Hollywood and its sex and sleaze, and we have come to associate a form of white-ness and Western-ness to this debauchery. People and the paparazzi in Hollywood are open to sex, and talk about sex.
Elsewhere in the East Asian entertainment industry, there are talks and rumours of sex and sleaze too, dispelling the myth of the square peg that is the concept of “Asian Values” that has for a couple of decades now been shoved into the round hole of Asian societies. Just because we don’t see sex, but hear talks of it, does not mean it doesn’t exist.
If the entertainment does follow an Asian-ness, it would be the respect for hierarchy. But then again, so does Hollywood. Executives and producers have the power to make or break careers, and many seem all too aware of the importance of being in their good books.
Similar to the Singaporean elite education system, wherein students with straight A’s are a dime a dozen, talents in the industry are various periods of time are almost equally as gorgeous, equally as promising. What set you apart are your extracurricular activities and the evaluation of your “performance”.
Jack Neo is in a different situation than Tiger Woods. Neo is in an industry and found most of his women within the industry. Woods, on the other hand, lives in the sporting world, and most of his trysts come outside this world. Woods had a choice, as a disciplined athlete, to limit his engagements with this domain. Neo had a choice too, but he had to make it in a domain that was also his livelihood.
The two share a similar situation. Married with kids and committing adultery.
It is intriguing that Neo had a situation of “affairs”, while Woods had one of “sex”. Perhaps this is due to different reporting styles?
Still, Jack Neo’s case is not unique to the entertainment industry, and probably not unique at all in any industry that has a hierarchy (every industry has, by the way). It is only flame-baiting-ly damning that he is a famous – if not even more famous now – personality, who happens to be married with kids.
For the women within the industry he had affairs with, they could have rejected him, but there would always be the fear that that might have repercussions on their careers. If you don’t sleep with the big guy, he or she will find some other “promising” talent to do and finish the job. The entertainment industry is just a microcosm of society today, because sex is everywhere, and is sometimes either a means to something greater or a result of another thing.
There will be one segment of the interested population who might feel that there is an overcompensation in the reverse victimisation of Neo. The female flings will enjoy/suffer their moment, only to quietly anticipate the day they can bring the man down. What are their reasons for not saying “no”? That will speak of the industry, if it doesn’t speak of the characters of the “victims”. I liken this “suffer first, complain later” mentality to be a (stereo)typical Singaporean mentality. It shows that people are too obedient, too fearful, sufficiently so that they choose to suffer first, pretend that it is perfectly normal and then complain later.
The reason why adultery is morally wrong, religious dogmatism aside, is that it is an irresponsible non-consensual promise-breaker. And every family member and friend that is socially and emotionally involved in this is an important stakeholder. This is a broken contract, which is why we frown on adultery. Of course, to enshrine adultery as an even more severe and evil crime, we ascribe symbols onto it that people fear and do not readily question – religion.
Whatever happens between Jack Neo and his wife and family is up to them. We should take their (or rather, her) calm façade as it is and respect that. None of us are in a position to tell Neo how to live his life or run his family.
It is interesting that from various media, we get various personifications of the women in his life. I’m not talking about the Virgin-Slut portrayals, but close. We are being made to read and watch the quiet strength of his wife versus the aggressive vindictiveness of some of the women. So much diversity in character that it puts a Mediacorp Channel 8 drama series to shame.
It polarises our society. Some feel the women are all victims, and all men, as rightly affirmed by Neo, are scumbags.
A reverse discourse, if I were to use it loosely, emerges when some of us stick out heads out on the feminist chopping block and say that some of these women should have known better and not get involved. As part of the industry, they would have known or heard of these things and could have had been better prepared for instances like these if they ever wanted to carve out a career. Of course, in Singapore, sometimes criticising a woman is like attempting to block a kitana with your palm – you can block it, but you’ll still lose your fingers. Man-bashing is the dominant discourse because it sits comfortably on the right side of the fence that separates political correctness and everything else.
That said, Neo’s case speaks of the importance of marriage. You don’t use marriage and kids as an excuse to change (your previous ways). Marriage indicates a shift in priorities. And with respect t o priorities, Neo has got it all wrong. He now pays for his past crimes. It is inconvenient that he lives in sunny little Singapore, because we are a society that unfortunately derives pleasure from the shame of others even though we are very much fearful of the mechanism of shame itself (see Chinese and the concept of “face”).
It is also a feel-good thing for Singaporeans too to revel in the ongoing demise of Neo. Some of us live our lives through the destruction of someone powerful. It is our very own World Wrestling Entertainment. We get to live our lives through heroes, villains and anti-heroes because in the “real world” in which we inhabit, we are in no position to do such things, and even if we could, it is not without repercussions. We cheer when Stone Cold Steve Austin flipped the middle-finger at the WWE chairman Vince McMahon, because we want to do that to our superiors and bosses, to our government and the people who control our lives. We live our lives through Hulk Hogan and John Cena, because they always get back up whenever they fall or get beaten down.
The ongoing tomato-pelting of Neo and his women (seems that no one is spared) appear to reflect how the different people who identify with different elements of the story. The identification with the (archetypal) characters is sometimes accompanied by the process of living our lives through them. We become invested in the saga because we need to identify a hero and a villain.
I believe a hero and a villain both have to exist in a context. And one context is the entertainment industry. The industry needs to clean up and stop this tradition of sex. I hope more personalities can come forward with their experiences to tackle this problem. Anyway, this problem is something not many of us will understand even though it is reality for some. But I believe sex can and should be made a smaller factor in the decision-making in the industry, so much to the point that it is not used.
Jack Neo and Tiger Woods tell a story of power and sex. The ascension to and stay in power grants you access and excesses. However, I feel the contexts are different. And if we wanted to prevent, or rather minimize the occurrences of such things, we should not only tackling the subjects, but the context in which these subjects reside.
My word to Neo is that you can say you’re sorry and be sorry, but a million apologies will never help. You are still a husband and a father, and you still have remnants of your career. These are things that you should work for. One reason why you do this (career) is because it gives you the money to raise your family. This is why most of us strive to earn an honest living. The ugly record will stick, but there are still many more empty pages to be written with achievements.
Some men (although according to some, ALL MEN) have their problems staying faithful. Neo has undergone his rites of passage, baptism of fire, to being that guy now, and hopefully he is no longer the person the newspapers and flings have described him.
In a couple of weeks time, the rest of us will probably go “now what?” as we search for the next victim to lynch or pelt.