There a certain controversy ongoing in Singapore. (We’re getting one every week, nowadays)
It’s complicated. For the sake of those who haven’t read about it, here’s what happened.
Singapore-based comic artist Sonny Liew recently won three Eisner awards for his masterpiece, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. Being the first Singaporean artist to be awarded so, this would have been a joyous event except Sonny Liew had a fracas with the Singaporean government two years ago. Sort of. In 2015, shortly before his book’s release, the National Arts Council (NAC) withdrew its grant of eight thousand bucks, citing “sensitive content” which it believes could undermine the government’s authority. Naturally, Sonny’s win is now the stuff of revenge movies, the ultimate get-back in every way. For a few days, government haters have been pouring scorn by the hour. Those on the other side of the spectrum continue to insist that the NAC did no wrong.
Something like that.
Oh, wait. Larger issues have been dragged in. Issues such as, is it right for the government to restrict access to taxpayers’ money i.e. public funds in order to protect its own reputation? Should the government withdraw all such funding and focus on developing platforms to support the arts? Would it be better for artists to concentrate on securing private patrons, instead of always relying on the government for money? And so on.
As I said, opinions are flying about. Since I like the arts, I naturally have quite a basketful of my own opinions, which I then wrote a lengthy post about. However, after reviewing what I prepared, I decided to change everything, because I concluded it’s meaningless to support or lament any side involved. To put it in another way, I decided to just state what I think this whole matter represents. I’d also highlight why this whole argument ultimately saddens me.
One word. Singapore.
In more words, this whole Sonny Liew winning the Eisner after being dissed by the Singaporean government represents the daily, irresolvable tussle strangling the country.
What’s the tussle? It’s this.
On the other hand, you have the anti-government factions and the so-called activists. Passionate, devoted people, so to speak, all claiming to care so deeply for the common people. Yet, whichever way one is to look at it, it’s glaringly clear that many of these folks desire only to be mouthy, revered critics. Many of them are trapped in the illusion, the delusion, that the Singaporean government would bow and cringe in shame in the face of stern chastisement. A good number, simultaneously, also expect the Singaporean government and its many engines to support their campaigns and communications. It’s like, would that ever happen? Would that ever happen with any government in the world? Would these activists themselves donate money to an author writing a 300-page critique on how shabby they are?
The situation is unbelievable. But it happens every week and every day in today’s Singapore. An all-powerful father expecting children to sit down and behave, while the rebellious children yell at daddy and expect a hug at the end of the day. It’s unbelievable, ridiculous, and to a great extent, tragic. It is also why I find it increasingly hard to have interest, any interest at all in the country and its affairs.
Down the road, I believe the same situation would repeat with other Singaporeans, should this absurd tussle continue day after day. The common Singaporean would stop caring. They might even stop loving the country, if only because the fiery words flying about make Singaporean life so ugly. With it not exactly being easy to make a living here, and it not exactly being hard to move elsewhere, would such mentalities then become highly attractive? Would being apolitical become the preferred lifestyle, the preferred branding?
Disaffection aside, I think it’s just simply tiring to have every damn issue involving some kind of impending disaster. In Singlish, support book, disaster. Don’t support book, also disaster. Here’s the question, if the country is so vulnerable, if every issue is a catalyst for irreversible doom, what’s the simple solution for any person? Flee, isn’t it? Or if one can’t flee, stop bothering. More and more so, I find it tempting to withdraw from the Singaporean socio-political arena. Maybe someday soon, I’d withdraw from other aspects too. Frankly, the thought of doing currently feels very dreamy.