Complaints Choir "firing cheap political shots"?

Straits Times Forum, 8 Feb 2008

‘Uniquely Singapore’ does not mean embracing all things uncritically

I FULLY support the decision of the Media Development Authority (MDA) not to grant a licence to organisers of the Complaints Choir Project.

This, despite the views of certain netizens that MDA should have allowed the public performance of this choir, since a version of this performance could be made available on the Internet.

Not all kinds of ‘arts and entertainment’ have artistic value. While it is true that an excessively heavy-handed approach towards censorship may stifle creativity and artistic expression, this does not mean that there should be no censorship or licensing at all.

Censorship has a legitimate purpose. We live in a community and we should be mindful of what may undermine the common good.

The Complaints Choir Project puts forward a version of common grouses in our society. Foreigners are involved in this project.

Lau Ai Ling and Lee Siew Peng, writers of the ST forum letters ‘Complaints choir penalised undeservedly’ (ST, Feb 1) and ‘Why squash singing bird amid renaissance drive?’ (ST, Feb 2) respectively, asserted that MDA’s decision undermines Singapore’s initiatives to become a ‘global’ and ‘renaissance and graciousness’ nation.

This reference to the term ‘cosmopolitan’ is a frequently misused and misunderstood refrain. Totally free ‘arts and entertainment’ does not necessarily advance our society’s interests, nor does it reflect an arts renaissance. Not all forms of expression are of value in terms of communication of ideas or even of artistic value.

‘Art’ is not defined exclusively through its ‘shock quality’; whether it is edifying is also a relevant consideration. Freedom of expression in all societies has limits and, to ascertain these limits, we need to examine the specific content of each expression and ascertain its artistic and social value. Firing cheap political shots in the name of ‘art’ or providing entertainment that titillates does not automatically qualify as creative and worthy ‘art’.

It is prudent to draw a line against certain initiatives involving foreigners who seek to impose their opinions and their own version of morality on our society. These foreigners leverage a small select group of disgruntled individuals who masquerade their grouses as views of the average Singaporean. Contrary to their misrepresentation, their values and opinions are not widely held and remain controversial even in their respective countries. We welcome foreign talent and perspectives only to the extent that our society’s interests are advanced.

Clearly, being ‘Uniquely Singapore’ does not mean embracing all things in an uncritical and unthinking fashion. One hopes that Singaporeans as a cosmopolitan people exposed to a wide range of ideas will preserve the discernment to consider what best serves the good of our society where we live and build our lives.

Christine Ang Cheng Moy (Ms)

Well written Ms Christine Ang! Get ready for an invitation to tea by the PAP!

Come on! Who is being uncritical and unthinking? Has Ms Ang even seen the lyrics of the Complaints Choir’s jingle? They are so benign it makes the police ban on it seem ludicrous.

“…this does not mean that there should be no censorship or licensing at all.”

I don’t think netizens are asking for no censorship at all. To make that assumption to counter criticism of the govt’s decision on the Complaints Choir is to cast a hyperbole.

“Firing cheap political shots in the name of ‘art’…does not automatically qualify as creative and worthy ‘art’.”

Spoken like a true minister in the making! But wait…that kind of accusation is supposed to be used only against opposition politicians, not a group of amateur singers which includes even civil servants.

“Totally free ‘arts and entertainment’ does not necessarily advance our society’s interests, nor does it reflect an arts renaissance. Not all forms of expression are of value in terms of communication of ideas or even of artistic value. It is prudent to draw a line against certain initiatives involving foreigners who seek to impose their opinions and their own version of morality on our society.”

I agree that free-for-all arts is not necessarily in Singapore’s interests — but where it concerns public morality, not in the context of the Complaints Choir, which is political expression. Ms Ang is conflating immoral expression with political expression — a common and convenient line of argument used by the governing elite to justify the continued restrictions protecting themselves from criticism.

Censorship is supposed to protect the weakest members of society (e.g., children), not the strongest (e.g., the political elite).

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Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

5 thoughts on “Complaints Choir "firing cheap political shots"?”

  1. Dear Gerald,

    It is a fine line between foreign interference via the arts and artistic expression. While I am strongly against foreigne elements – diplomats, media, activists, from commenting and interfering in Singapore’s state of affairs, yet, the Complaint Choir fiasco is a real slap in the face for Singapore by the authorities. How it was handled, from the approval of the performance to the subsequent refusal of allowing the foreigners to perform really shows how insecure and amateurish the authorities are.

    I am saddened as the image of Singapore had taken another beating. I am all for banning unsavoury entertainment, immoral and sexually explicit performance and foreign interference….. but something as inncuous as Complaint Choir’s self-deprecating lyrics has really made us the joke of the world.

    Perhaps, Jack Neo’s movies that made fun of Singapore at various parts of the movie should be banned as well. In fact, I am certain that there are many foreigners and PRs who had assisted in the production of Jack Neo’s movies, they too should be removed from the crew.

    Its time the authorities (read Political Elite) examine themselves long and hard on this issue. Flip Flop by various goverment agencies only serve to show how inept we are at dealing with arts, entertainment, criticism and how much freedom of expression we have.

  2. If you dont want ppl to complain, then dont tax them lah, but when you take money from people, then I think you should be customer focussed.

    If I go to McDonalds and order a burger and I get served a prata, do I not have a right to complain.

    Be more customer focussed, then you will see that ppl will stay, if not dont ask why singapore is regarded as just a stop over

    Dr Oppy

  3. If You Do Not Want PPL to complain don’t take $ from FT’s, don’t tax the shit out of us. We r not your slaves, we work honesty to earn a wage based on agreed terms.

    Dont tax and you will get just very happy sheep blah blah, we dont mind

  4. newcastle, you said:

    Flip Flop by various goverment agencies only serve to show how inept we are at dealing with arts, entertainment, criticism and how much freedom of expression we have.

    I see this ‘flip flop’ not so much as indecision, but differing views even within the establishment on what to do with these types of “dissenting views”. It’s obvious whose views prevailed this time. Some agencies are just more powerful than others.

  5. One may venture a guess that the offensive lines were:
    “What exactly are we voting for?
    What’s not expressly permitted
    Is prohibited”
    As I understand it, the Finns were merely collating the complaints from Singaporeans and putting it into music. Surely they can’t be accused of foreign interference? And the Malaysian conductor was just involved in the musical elements, not political orchestration. But ah, as we learnt from the Gomez episode, the minister of home affairs is pretty thin skinned.

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