The Kids Aren’t Alright, But We Can Pretend They Are

Singapore’s yearly budget was released on Friday, so Saturday’s newspaper had a special supplement, which included articles “Building an inclusive society”, “Towards a first-rate developed society” and “$365m a year for the arts”.

All great stuff, but I found it in marked contrast to this article last Tuesday: “Only one print for Kids”

“If you think R21 is the strictest classification a movie in Singapore can receive, think again. The Oscar-nominated drama The Kids Are All Right has been rated R21 and has also had an additional condition imposed on it. The Board of Film Censors (BFC) says that it can only be released on one print.

“This is likely to be the first time an R21 film will be screened under such a condition outside of a film festival. The film stars Best Actress Oscar nominee Annette Bening and Juliane Moore as a lesbian couple raising two children.

“The BFC stated in its decision: ‘The majority of the members agreed with the board that the film normalises a homosexual family unit and has exceeded the film classification guidelines which states that ‘Films that promote or normalise a homosexual lifestyle cannot be allowed’.’

“In addition, the committee said the fact that the film is allowed for release in Singapore at all was already a concession.

“It said: ‘Imposing a condition of one-print serves as a signal to the public at large that such alternative lifestyles should not be encouraged.’

Former Singapore International Film Festival director and programmer Mrs Lesley Ho’s response was short and pointed: ‘Good grief, I thought we had grown up. I really don’t know what to say. I am flabbergasted.

Just recently of course, our Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew has been talking about homosexuality in his newly released memoirs, Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going. He’s jiggy with it and it’s all cool by him, apparently. The problem he says is that the invisible majority of Singaporeans just aren’t as progressive as he is, and it’s not the government’s place to try to force changes of attitude or behavior… they just follow the will of the people. If he’d made that the government mandate 46 years ago, imagine the time and money that could have been saved on all those endless social engineering campaigns and people-planning policies.

So, we have a generous budget but a hyper-economic-realist budget. We’ll be working on closing the income gap by lifting productivity, but some citizens will be cared for and others would be best to just drop off the radar. It’ll be an “inclusive society for all” as long as “all” is tempered to “all who fit the norms laid out by the government as being visible”. And to help that along, the censorship board makes sure that certain things are not reflected on the big screen.

Which could be a problem, really, because $365m wouldn’t help the arts one bit if all the gay people in the arts stopped playing ball. It’d be wrong to name names, but let’s say an astounding percentage of plays, films, television, writing, painting, sculpture and fashion here would disappear. Our advertising industry would dry up, most major events wouldn’t be staged and arts venues (and the ministry that governs them) would close from lack of management. You could throw as much money as you wanted at that because it wouldn’t change a thing.

As with many things here, it’s presented as a take-it-or-leave-it package. You have to accept it or reject it in its totality, because through fear and rhetoric it’s made to seem like a delicate house of cards. You can’t have good governance without draconian censorship. You can’t have religious and racial stability without having quota systems or sidelining a few minority rights along the way. You can’t have economic growth without having population growth, which means traditional family units. Move any of those cards and the house collapses.

I wondered for a long time how a public service that is so thorough in its research and planning, and so plugged in to the international gestalt, could so continuously get it so wrong, and my answer came last week in the form of the Tanjong Pagar Residents Dinner. It was held behind my apartment, and it’s Minister Mentor Lee’s ward, so he was guest of honor. I watched for a week as they set up the tentage, then the electronics, and then started rehearsing for the night.

Although the event itself was bilingual, in English and Chinese, the entertainment was of the type you’d expect in Chinese nationalist posters. Children singing in harmony with fingers held up to their dimples, that kind of thing. And I realized they were giving him just what he wanted. Over a multi-course Chinese meal, he could well have still been in the 1960s. The technology may have changed, and those at the back of the room got to see the speeches on a big-screen live feed from the front, but the depiction of society hadn’t.

I’m not a big pusher of change. It will come when it comes. This budget certainly wasn’t it, but maybe there’ll be something in the next one, or the one after that. The frayed edges are showing in the tapestry and it won’t be too long before someone trips over it and falls flat on their face.

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