Monday, March 26, 2007

The Queer Sensibilities of Singapore's Wordscape

The media is in overdrive. Spinning and spinning. Telling us the reasons why we have to pay 55% more to the Ministers and the top civil servants, of that stream known as the Administrative Service. No one expects an objection from the media. But not even a "concern" has been raised this time.

Instead, its a monopolistic narrative that calls upon the hallowed traditions of the Singapore Wordscape. The sense of crisis, of siege that will soon befall the Government if they are not paid more. That there will be a vacuum in Government. That the talent will leave or will not come. And without the talent, the Government suffers. And if the Government suffers, Singapore suffers. And if Singapore suffers, the Singaporeans suffer most of all.

This sense of impending doom, of competitiveness, that forces the Government to review salaries, forces them to accept the ignonimity of accepting 55% more money. It almost makes this salary review become noble. A form of noble-ness that is almost surreal. It is a review that becomes a ceremonial sacrifice by these talents to accept this necessary money. It is for the sake of Singapore that they make this sacrifice. Ultimately. It is for the good of Singapore. They take this 55% not because they need it, $290 is enough after all, but because the survival of Singapore needs them to accept this. So the narrative rolls across the Singapore Wordscape.

And the citizens look on, listening to and watching as this narrative embraces the Singapore Wordscape. Formulating their indignations, their counter-narratives, mostly in silence. Forming words, mostly in silence. Only in new media does dissonance surface. That this narrative, flattening the Singapore Wordscape with its moral loud-hailing, is perhaps only one side of the picture, one side of the fence, one level above in the hierarchy of political meanings in Singapore. But it is new media after all, where lies and truths are enmeshed in an adulterous embrace. Let this dissonance dissipate, as it always does, into the digital slipstream. This Cyberscape never ripples over-much into the Singapore Wordscape, never causes so much dissonance as to the tear the fabric of meanings in the Singapore Wordscape.

Many years ago, a counter-narrative was put forth by a writer of Singapore literature. A concern was raised. An affective divide was postulated. It happened in the old media. The traditional media. And Hell was unleashed. The OB dogs were born. These invisible OB hounds patrolling the Singapore Wordscape, sniffing for objections, sniffing for "concerns", sniffing for contrarianism. Since then, any counter-narrative cannot fail to escape the shadow of these hounds of Obaskerville, and it has come to be that the shadow of these mythical hounds overshadows subsequent attempts at counter-narrative. It is no longer worth the risk. And so a new sensibility is set in Singapore's Wordscape, and we forget how to articulate our "concerns". The illusion of chains weighs much heavier than the chains themselves.

When the hallowed traditions of the Singapore Wordscape are invoked : crisis, siege and most of all, Emergency, there is very little space to argue. The space for the articulation of "concerns" is diminished into font one. In an emergency, when survival is at stake, something drastic needs to be undertaken. Something painful. Something sacrificial. In this case, the salaries of the top talents of Singapore, those who define Singapore, have to be "reviewed" upwards. It is an emergency. Just like the emergency predicating the raise of GST and the cut in corporate tax.

When the hallowed traditions of the Singapore Wordscape are invoked, the invisible hounds are patrolling, sniffing and for that moment in Singapore Time, anomalies become normal. Right is right. Wrong is lost. Action does not lead to reaction. It leads to further affirmative action. Reality becomes skewed. Contradiction is logical and Time is suspended like a Trauerspiel. Only a futurity is in sight. A certain uncertainty of doom imminent if we do not accept the narrative, or buy into the constructed surrealism. And the citizens look on, mostly silent.

In an emergency, the Singapore Wordscape gives birth to contradictions and conundrums. They become exigent norms. And the citizens are supposed to understand that. They are supposed to be angry. But like the top talent, they sacrifice too. For the good of Singapore, they sacrifice their anger. A ceremonial sacrifice just like the top talent who sacrifice themselves to accept that 55%.

When the hallowed traditions of the Singapore Wordscape are invoked, a comforting silence envelopes the land. Soothing the seething, smothering the smoldering. The hounds of Obaskerville perform their perpetual vigil on Singapore's Wordscape while their fork-tongued* masters devise the meanings of crisis, siege, emergency, sacrifice, review for the good of Singapore.

* A term taken from Phillip Yeo in Aaron's blog. If anything, at least Phillip Yeo, who this author has termed a nomos empsuchon, is direct, has candour and, in his own way, more engaging than the politicians on display in blogosphere. Perhaps his engagement in its current form, as opposed to his previous method, suggests a newer understanding that the word "defamation" has many meanings, many inflections unique to the Singapore Wordscape, so much so that a win, loses its semantic meaning and becomes a loss instead.


Quote of the Day --

"... as he discovered in the course of his uncountable years that a lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth, he had arrived without surprise at the ignominious fiction of commanding without power, of being exalted without glory and of being obeyed without authority when he became convinced in the trail of yellow leaves of his autumn that he had never been master of all his power, that he was condemned not to know life except in reverse, condemned to decipher the seams and straighten the threads of the woof and the warp of the tapestry of illusions of reality without suspecting even too late that the only livable life was one of show ..." -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch


Anonymous Truth said...

Very well written.

How true it is !

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you can really write, this is a awesome entry. it is really this this "spin" which makes us all want to puke. bravo

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi comrade You make the impending pay increase of civil servants so sinful

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheem. Can make it simpler or not ah?

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


2:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, this is the first time I'm reading your article. Could you use more visual-friendly colours? White fonts against a black backdrop is definitely too contrasty and strains the eye.
I do enjoy your article but sometimes I have to stop reading halfway when my eyes become fatigued...

May I suggest a green backdrop and black fonts which I think would place less strain on the eyes?
Thanks. ;)

4:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Writing style like JRR Tolkien, leh. Nice flow with all the right punches. Sibei power man!! Keep it up!

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:14 AM  
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7:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"when right is right and wrong is lost" i love this line

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Now I understand the term "Absolute power corrupts absolutely".

I fear for Singapore when we begrudge our fellow citizens an increase from the $290 public assistance but not begrude our Ministers with $2.2 million.

The salary of 1 minister at $2.2 million can help 632 Singaporeans on $290/mth for 1 year.

How did we ever let our country become so materialistic? Singapore is one of the few places where public office is handsomely rewarded.

We need more people like you Xenoboy to strip away the hypocrisy that is Uniquely Singapore!

You rock!

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Singapore Administrators have to be paid millions of dollar anually TO BE GOOD(supposedly CLEAN efficient and effective i guess) to rule a Tiny Dot Island how much do GOVERNMENTS of larger nations have to be paid?

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And was there proof that leaders of other nations who are paid much lesser as leaders are NO GOOD?

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we want to compare salary with the private sector then perhaps the minister's pay should be tied to the performance of Singapore and raising the well being of all Singaporeans!

1:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliantly written Xeno, you're getting better at this. Most Singaporeans do not believe in self-empowerment and has absolutely no clue on what a REPUBLIC of Singapore means and "to build a democratic society".

5:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So next time when price for a cup of coffee increased, there will be comparison to top 6 coffee chain in SG or around the world... Then the bus fare.... etc.... etc....

7:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"five popcorns out of five..." - politically savvy dude

8:15 AM  
Blogger J D TOH said...

"Obaskerville", hehe. Are the hounds not a sham? Are we so afraid of dogs that we dare not leave our names?

A good read as always. Keep writing.

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Ninja in White ! said...

Haiyeah !!!

Xenoboy is the other blogger targetted by the White Ninja Clan.

It is amazing that Xenoboy can talk about Singapore's wordscape without alluding to the fact that he belongs to it as well !

So you have an issue with ministerial salaries. Why don't you propose a solution ?

Other bloggers wanted to peg minister salaries to the median income. What's yours, ministers to have salaries pegged to useless poets ?

You see, folks, this is clearly what the blogoshere is like. The poet writes well, but is generally devoid of content.

Xenoboy should make himself more useful to Singapore by becoming a family salary man and collecting the 5 Cs.

But no, education gave him the abiity to write excellent drivel. Drivel which you stupid readers lap up like bird's nest soup.

Kiss my elite, uncaring ass.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is more saddening are that the oppositions, with the exception of Dr Chee, are so quiet on this issue. The Workers Party and Chiam See Tong have all gone to sleep!

7:28 AM  
Anonymous Stoned said...

Eh, Ninja in White, I've never met a walking strawman before. What's it like?

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Ninja in White ! said...

Hey Stoned,

Maybe if you'd stopped taking marijuana and have less anal sex like the whining losers in the blogosphere, you'd be able to meet the straw man of your dreams.

If it is'nt for the efforts of the White Ninja Clan in the blogosphere to right the wrongs of the gay apologist, welfare-loving and underachieving sheep fornicators, Singapore would have long sunk into the sea.

Kiss my elite uncaring ass.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Stoned said...

Oh, come on now, Ninja in white. Surely you can do better than that. You're currently only slightly less convincing than Anwar's sodomy charge, and slightly more convincing that the existence of Iraq's nuclear program.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous sieteocho said...

You may not believe this, but I like to touch myself.

My reasoning prowness is also first rate. No one can stand against my arguments.

11:10 AM  

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