Thursday, June 01, 2006

When a Minister Laughs

It is a blessing that Minister Lee Boon Yang will serve only half a term as Minister of Information, Communication and the Arts. His vacillations in public assessments of new media since GE2006 betray a lack of appreciation of his portfolio, belied perhaps by his age, perhaps by the context he has evolved from. In his latest proclamation on the Internet and new media, despite the media slant that there will be a "review" of regulations, the spirit in which the review will be undertaken remains very much in doubt. At least if the same Minister is in charge.

As others have mentioned, the Minister's remarks on Mr Brown's podcast is the undercurrent we have to note. In his assessment, the podcast in question masks the key issue and parodies what was actually a very serious issue of intention and integrity. This is the first point to address.

Mr Brown's podcast which highlights an exchange between a hawker and customer, drives home the message that people make mistakes and that the hawker was being overly belligerent about it. The hawker figure is at once representative of both Elections Department and the army of PAP heavyweights who refused to let the issue go during GE2006. The hawker figure was indeed right in his assessment of the customer's mistake, but the manner in which the hawker went about hammering nails into an already sealed coffin was what turned the favour away from the hawker. A slip from the moral high ground. From a position of righteousness, the hawker is gradually transformed to one of an utterly unreasonable figure because the hawker just refused to let the matter rest. This is directly reflective of how the PAP/ED went about the Gomez issue until it ceased with a stern Police warning.

This is the point which Minister Lee Boon Yang missed in his address, whether deliberately or not, as Mr Wang astutely states.

The reason why this podcast becomes a "classic" is because it resonated with the people's feelings. When people heard the podcast, they did not dismiss it as a trivialisation of the Gomez issue. They saw it as an accurate depiction. Thats why it became a "classic". Thats why some movies become "classics". Thats why some songs become "classics". Thats why some works of art achieve "classic" status.

A piece of art/artifice, whether in tragic form, whether in comic form, distils the essence of human experience and seeks to convey that experience into its bare form. Mr Brown's podcast did not achieve "classic" status because it was the most funny production in GE2006. It achieved "classic" status because in barely 5 minutes, the podcast summarised the entire Gomez saga and more importantly summarised a significant portion of the people's feelings of the issue into an accessible form. If votes were turned to Gomez, it was not Mr Brown's podcast which did it, it was the failed PAP media strategy of demonising Gomez. The podcast did not "mask" the issue. It dissected the issue into its barest form. Made it clear as day. As how the people saw it. thats why it became a "classic".

From this podcast, Minister Lee arrives at another assessment which is symptomatic of the nature of the Internet. That it is irreverent, that it trivialises, it occludes the important issues, it pokes humour and ultimately, the nature of the Internet masks and obscures the important and serious issues. If this is the nature of the Internet and its symptom, than Minister Lee would do well to leave office now, as he truly does not even understand the concept of media and mediation.

What he really means with this shockingingly ignorant statement, is that the Internet cannot be managed, like how Singapore media is managed -- in a responsible and serious way. Parody exists in all mediums of mediation, it is not only symptomatic of the Internet. His assertion is ironically, a veiled, a masked way of saying that the Internet is such because it cannot be managed. Rather than say that parody is particularly prevalent in the Internet, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that parody is particularly symptomatic in regimes of totalistic control, but that would be overly seditious wouldn't it?

You cannot laugh. What did your laughter mean, Minister?

It is no laughing matter. So why did you laugh?

Humour and satire cannot mask key issues. But they do not mask, they reveal.

Humour and satire do not mask key issues. What they do is to showcase and illuminate key issues into their essence. Reveal the issues into their essential Form. Comedy is always subversive. The fundamental narrative structure of comedy is to set a not so talented comic hero/heroine against authority figures who are dimwits. In comedies, the not so talented comic hero always wins and the auhtority figures end up as what they are -- dimwits.

You cannot laugh because laughter is fundamentally subversive. In Umberto Eco's book, The Name of the Rose, the main theme which was obscured in the movie adaptation is why the murders in the monastery were being committed. They are committed to prevent a very powerful book from surfacing. Aristle's Book of Comedy. Because this particular book explains and legitimizes the Comedy Form, it gives the philosophical arguments on laughing and laughter. That even God laughs. And the Catholic Church then would not want that. How can God laugh? If God laughed, then why would people fear Him and his instruments on Earth?

"Today I realize that many recent exercises in "deconstructive reading" read as if inspired by my parody. This is parody's mission: it must never be afraid of going too far. If its aim is true, it simply heralds what others will later produce, unblushing, with impassive and assertive gravity." -- Misreadings

Umberto Eco has many observations on the form of parody and what it means. The above quote is the most precise and most apt response to our Minister's assertions of the symptomatic nature of the Internet. And perhaps it should be that he will leave half through his tenure as Minister of Communication, Information and the Arts, as the fruits of parody may come much later with the necessary impassive and assertive gravity that he so craves for.

Quotes of the Day --

"When all the archetypes burst out shamelessly, we plumb the depths of Homeric profundity. Two cliches make us laugh but a hundred cliches moves us because we sense dimly that the cliches are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion . . . Just as the extreme of pain meets sensual pleasure, and the extreme of perversion borders on mystical energy, so too the extreme of banality allows us to catch a glimpse of the Sublime." -- Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality

" But why doesn't the Gospel ever say that Christ laughed?" I asked, for no good reason. "Is Jorge right?" "Legions of scholars have wondered whether Christ laughed. The question doesn't interest me much. I believe he never laughed, because, omniscient as the son of God had to be, he knew how we Christians would behave. . . ."

"... Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth."-- The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco


Blogger *The Lunatic Fringe* said...

I really dig your writing! :-)

Hadn't got my brain to work hard to understand prose since my JC literature days. Thanks for the intellectual exercise!

I think yourself, Molly Meek and Mr Wang have really nailed the crux of the issue this round, which is Dr Lee Boon Yang and MICA really don't "get it" with the internet.

It is getting clearer with the help of your analysis, along with Molly and Wang that the PAP Government does not understand the internet and is still trying to lead the 66.6% to believe it can and will control it, albeit with a "light touch".

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant analysis! That's why I'm reading you guys & not the MSM.

What a waste of taxpayers money for all these so called 1st class scholars.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sir, you fucking rock

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so when the min laughed after hearing the podcast, it meant that he found it funny too right? which then means that it at some subliminal level, the truth makes him laugh and i think thats what worries him. because, if he believed in what they were doing over gomez, he should not have laughed.

12:29 PM  
Blogger sei-ji rakugaki said...

tks for the very well written article and indeed , humour is subversive..that is also the reason Singapore`s own cartoonists does not engage in real political cartoons like the venerable Pat Oliphant and when they do,as our only world class political cartoonist, Heng Kim Song did. He rather do political cartoons ON other countries, except Singapore.(other countries(syndicates) paid better too;) .There are "humourous" OB markers and landmines...around here

6:52 PM  
Blogger prettyplace said...

laughter, the best form of defence for man...and to cry, the best way to win sympathy, for a child....

they are lost but not so lost..... to add that, there is going to be a review.....shows how serious they do take the internet....
now to wait & watch

what will be the boundaries drawn, for cyber SPACE.

9:49 PM  
Blogger visceral said...

Lets not belittle our leaders, who are prone to take things too seriously
`He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision`

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A quote from Voltaire seems aprticularly apt here:

God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.

Alfian. : )

3:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You know your culture is in deep peril when your politicians are sad jokers, and the comedians are founts of wisdom".

Well, I probably mangled that quotation quite badly; it was originally a comment on the current state of American politics. Don't remember the source, nor can I seem to find the reference on Google, but I vaguely remember this coming out of the aftermath of Stephen Colbert's lampooing of GWB and his administration at the recent White House correspondents' dinner.

Perhaps someone else has seen this? The Economist perhaps?

10:06 AM  
Anonymous imp said...

the New Media is free form. the govt is not. it is structured and almost rigid. it is almost horrifying to make it fit to free form.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

govt will never submit to free form, they are left with no alternative but to mould new media into their rigid structure ... or more likely their illusion that new media is controlled like wat happen in last GE

1:12 AM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Only one question: Why is Lee Hsien Loong always photographed laughing? Well, maybe not genuine laughing, but he is always shown with this synthetic grin, like it was botoxed for perpetuality. Is he trying to mask something?

2:12 AM  

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