I had this strange dream once, like long ago. I was sitting in my living room, way past midnight, and our local television was broadcasting porno. I mean like hardcore stuff, wet and sticky right in your face, so graphic that the obscenity threatened to ooze out of the screen. I woke up safely just a little confused as to where I was, for erotic programming just a step milder than that already exists in Europe, and nobody complains because children should all be tucked up in bed by those hours. Anyway if you don’t like it, just switch the channel or turn it off to avoid offending your own senses. Of course, I don’t imagine this happening in Singapore any time soon, at least not unless they charge you a $100 subscription per month in order to help reduce the negative social impact on your family. Then again, this would probably make no business sense at all, since you can access all the porn you want with a click on the internet!
The point is this, the floodgates have long been opened with the advent of communications technology, so there is simply no use in exercising control over information today unless our country is so efficient and watertight that it can stop a deluge in its flow. Even if you can match China’s draconian measures in damming the streams of information, the young corruptible minds that you so worry about will still find their own outlets. The times they are a-changing, nanny. Start denying them access to porn now and they will make their own videos instead to circulate. Forbid discussion of race and religion in the official media and you may find them making racist remarks or ridiculing other religions on Facebook or Youtube. So you just fine them, confine them, and consider it job done? Do we see a real strategy in education here? All right, let’s just say now that we really need to make a firm stand here to send a message out to the Singapore society on the need for the preservation of the integrity of our multicultural society, by asserting law and order. By all means, jail the person who is denigrating other religions in a congregation and through the internet! But if we ignore that and go banning a play and arresting the stage director instead for play-acting on stage that smacks of denigrating other religions, wouldn’t that be a most cruel joke?
Can it be true, that while our nation is unable to reconcile conflicting views on social reality, or sees no possibility in narrowing the rifts in society, that the arts are once again becoming the hapless victims of the censors’ scissorhands? See no evil, speak no evil? The authorities with such anal personality ought to get past their hygenic toilet habits and step out into the real world for a good look, maybe then they will understand what a playwright or a filmmaker is trying to reflect. Perhaps there really is gratuitous sex or violence that is unnecessary; the community can then all act as moral police by condemning the work as bad taste through active criticism. At least have a good talking with the artiste if something seems beyond comprehension. But to adopt a covert strategy of keeping quiet till the last minute and then taking actors and the production crew by surpise with demand for impossible cuts, refusal to grant permit to stage or screen a show, or withdrawal of funding when all has been planned, this comes across almost like a tactic of sabotage by moral terrorists who think they are out to do good. Well as a consumer I would be damned pissed off if I book tickets in advance and travel all the way to a theatre only to find that the show is cancelled or is not the unadulterated product that I have paid to watch.
Now I am not interested in politics and I shall not muddle the matter here by delving into cases like the raid on a private screening of documentary One Nation Under Lee, or the recent barring of Vincent Cheng from speaking at a National Libray seminar. Let’s just assume these involve matters of national security and there are reputations and credibility seriously at stake. I can even see how logical it is when a government, being depicted as totalitarian in a political play, responds by punishing the theare company involved. But when it is merely Orwellian humour derived from a classic like Animal Farm, it is hard to decide whether to lament or to laugh on. Does humour in the arts and entertainment warrant sanction by the state?
I suppose there are people who operate in the mode of treating the body as a temple, and it is possible to respect them for their state of mind. But we may have to say with regret, that in the beginning there was the Garden of Eden, and then the virginal innocence was soon lost. There are those who would insist on mounting the high horse of morality for a symbolic gesture of chastity and inviolability, but they should realise that they have come to the wrong arena where the arts are concerned. If the people who dominate Comprehensive Sex Education today have their way, we may soon have to cover a subject like Michelangelo’s Statue of David so comprehensively that not only the genitals be hidden by a fig leave but the arse as well, for anxiety of penetration. Well we can all practise our own sanitation in the values we worship privately, but if the creative arts are meant to liberate the minds, the maturing minds of a younger generation will need to be exposed to the good shit and the bad shit and discover the real gems for themselves. Don’t imprison creativity. Respect the sanctity of the arts.
Sign to support the Arts Community Position Paper on Censorship and Regulation:
No to censorship, regulate instead