Thursday, July 27, 2006

Comfortably Numb

In the Di Caprio version of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare is snazzed up with thumping music, fast cars, cool guns. In a scene where Romeo musters his strength to approach Juliet, he slips a pill into his mouth. The movie plays through like a MTV video. Shakespeare was made hip and happening in the 90s. But the universal themes in the movie remain. Lost love. Irony and tragedy.

And so too must we understand what PM Lee really means when he wants a revamp of the PAP's image to be "hip and happening". The themes of the PAP will remain. Unchanged. When the crunch comes, the State will still raise its mandate, its monopoly on discourse to determine what is acceptable and what is not. To make me, to make us. This call is eerily like what STOMP is all about. It makes the appearance more approachable, more in sync with current fads and trends, but the messaging is the same. Nothing will change. This call then betrays the recent flurry of overtures between Government and the young Singaporean. Looks good politically, but never lacking the depth, the thinking overhaul that is needed. Its changing the screensaver not re-booting the system with necessary patches.

The human mind is constructed to recall soothing memories. It pushes away pain. This is the basis of trauma, of the silenced victims who cannot recall horror without a collapse of consciousness. So this remake of the PAP will be soothing for many Singaporeans, not all, but many enough. There will be a perception of change, of relevancy. But as it is stated, change is only at the surface. The themes will not change. The song will remain the same.

What is worrying is this. The objective of this "change" is to engage with a younger set of Singaporeans. Engagement as I can now fully understand based on PM's remarks is this : simply to talk and persuade, cajole, bribe them to the State's cause. Its not a discourse to effect any real change. Its engagement discourse is designed to include you into their policies of exclusion. And this remake of the PAP for greater engagement translates to making young Singaporeans more receptive to the State messaging insturments. Programmed to receive.

Your lips move
but I can't hear what you're sayin'.
When I was a child I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I got that feeling once again.
I can't explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

So for those who pursue an alternative narrative for Singapore or who envision a different possibility for Singapore, the task becomes harder. They will not be able to hear what you are saying. They will not understand the urgency. They are just comfortably numb.

It is not sinister, just politics. As the ruling party understands its growing disconnect with the future crucial demographic of Singaporeans, it puts in place its remedies. It is a simple way of ensuring that its captaincy of the ship is assured. Its like the campaign of 4 million smiles, phase 1 this route, phase 2 another angle. Final phase : 4 million perfectly crafted smiles.

But as the State goes down this road, it creates the counter-discursive possibilities. To get under and between this engagement strategy and challenge the core of the message. We still have the space in cyber-space to mount this challenge. Yellow boxing this space appears to be beyond the abilities of the State. And so far as it is unable to, we have this opportunity denied to many Singaporeans in the past.

And so we can gather all these strands of alt discourse, alt culture activities, and cast these strands into a network of windows in cyberspace for the confortably numb to feel unconfortable. Create little disjunctures, like flickers on your screen, in the transmission of this newly dressed State discourse. And let this dissonance take its course and see where it leads the Singapore consciousness. It will definitely be better than here and now.

Quote of the Day --

"The experiences of the 25 people recorded in this book will, I am sure, jolt the reader's mind ... if we are to surmount the crisis of the nuclear age, we must begin by chiseling deep into our minds the cruel events that the survivors have put into words for us." -- Naomi Shohno, Hibakusha : Survivors of Hiroshima & Nagasaki


Blogger Mykel said...

"The culture of a consumer society is mostly about forgetting and not learning."

Zygmunt Bauman

We seem to have forgotten the term "co-option" in light of the shiny and soft looking "engagement" rhetoric. Hip and happening? I still remember the news footage last year of a spirited Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan dancing at DXO with some undergraduates in a bid to be "in". This is the same person that said "if you feel there is a problem with cost of living, say so, let's collectively explore solutions, [b]ut don't in the name of humour distort or aggravate on an emotional level," when asked about the recent mrbrown-Today episode. The themes will not change. The song will remain the same.

It is perhaps the state's undying desire to micromanage obsessively every aspect of life here, be it blogging/ media and what not, that denies the citizens opportunities of self definition. Systematically, we are denied access to the full spectrum of perceived 'choice' offered in consumer culture and all that it offers in terms of self-identity. Revisiting your earlier post on "What makes me me?", the question is not exactly what makes me PM Lee, but why I'm offered so little opportunites to be anything else. This goes beyond mere self identity, it covers even the aspect of consumerism in Singapore: the housing we can afford, the cars we drive and the movies we are allowed consume, etc. There is no choice, simply. Even though the Worker's Party had told us that "[we] have a choice" in the recent GE, the polling results reflect a culture that is mostly about forgetting and not learning. We are, as you said, comfortably numb.

"Its engagement discourse is designed to include you into their policies of exclusion."

Inclusion by means of exclusion? Perhaps an allusion to bare life, Xenoboy?

2:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but there will ppl who say there is enough choice. dat its reasonable. not too bad laaaah ... dat kind of mentality. it even creeps into some of those academic bloggers in singaporeangle, like dat kway teow man.

dis is the challenge, and ppl like me leave becoz i find dat there are not of enuff like me to really make any difference in sg unfortunately.

anyway xeno good writing, i think as a diaspora singaporean, i find ur writings most well-reasoned and strangely compassionate and urs is a rare activist current affairs blog which is actually a joy to read coz ur prose is smooth as silk and not too boring academic. A problem that somehow always tend to befall "serious" blogs.

6:40 AM  
Blogger crankyed said...


Come on, now.
I hear youre feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain,
Get you on your feet again.

7:06 AM  
Blogger *The Lunatic Fringe* said...

Dear Xenoboy,

I cannot recall any of the Shakespearean plays or prose I read in my A levels having the same level of resonance as your blog posts does...

I for one lost my soul for quite some time as my dream was to engage in the programmed endless patterns of chasing after the consumerism and materialism that is Uniquely Singapore.

As I grow a little older, I start to see how life takes on meaning only when it touches another's in a way that leaves a indelible positive mark in one's consciousness and memory. I believe we are put on this earth to enrich other's not materially but spiritually and humanly, to recognise one another as a fellow human being, worthly of existence because just because he is.

Our political system imposes its will through the subtle and not-so-subtle matrix like conditioning and reinforcement of the proper incentives to channel our energies into this endless cycle of consuming and ultimately letting us be consumed by our own soulnessness.

3:10 AM  

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