Yawning Bread. November 2007

Fees or fines, we make it all the easier




By now, most Singaporeans who get their news from the internet would know about the rap video produced by the senior management of the Media Development Authority (MDA). By now you'd also know that the unanimous opinion in the blogosphere is that it was skin-crawlingly bad.

These MDA people must be inhabiting a parallel universe to have ever conceived of doing something like that and not be aware that they would end up looking stupid. It shows how little they know about the sociology of popular culture.

Worse, they couldn't even get the technical aspects right. Streaming was painfully slow and intermittent, and the lyrics had no art whatsoever. At about the two-thirds point, the video even boasted that "Fees and fines, we make it all the easier"! How does one improve one's image by reminding people that they are bullies and enforcers first and foremost?

In a remarkable bit of sleuthing, the Decay on Net blog pointed out some uncanny similarities between the MDA's rap video and another by KRS-One, a professional rapper. Noting the overlap, he wrote on his blog, "MDA said 'Get creative' in the rap. Now... How creative can they be?" Interesting, he didn't use the "plagiarism" word.

After the Straits Times reported -- very gently, of course -- that the video "got some media industry players tickled and others bewildered" [1], reader John Rachmat wrote to the newspaper's editor:

Get S'pore creative? Action speaks louder than words

I refer to the article, 'Clever video or bad rap?' (ST, Nov 22), which discussed a four-minute video depicting the Media Development Authority (MDA)'s head honchos rapping in an effort 'to get Singapore creative and connected'.

I applaud the MDA for reaching out. However, action speaks louder than words. Thanks to it, Singapore is now known as the only country that banned the video game Mass Effect. Yes, it repaired Singapore's reputation somewhat by retreating swiftly and applying an age rating - but the message is the same.

Singapore has to decide whether it wishes to join the 21st century, or whether it wishes to cling to 'traditional values'.

Creativity promotes economic development, but it also offends. So long as MDA does not accept that fostering creativity can succeed only when it does not reach for its censorship scissors the moment it sees anything remotely offensive to the sexual mores of the supposedly conservative Singaporean society, all its efforts will remain less than successful.

John Rachmat

-- Straits Times print forum, 24 Nov 2007

* * * * * 

Stupidity is one thing, chillingly sinister is another

In my earlier essay When the wind blows, thank the government, I mentioned that the MDA was approving the upcoming Hope concert, scheduled for 13 December. Appearing in this concert, meant to raise funds for the charity Action of Aids, will be Jason and deMarco, two gay Christian guys in a relationship.

Here is a video of them doing a version of Simon and Garfunkel's 1969(?) hit Bridge over troubled water.



The MDA had banned them from singing in April 2005, on the grounds that "alternative lifestyles are against the public interest", in effect demanding that gay people should never be seen in public. This ban only proves letter writer John Rachmat's statement that the MDA reaches for "its censorship scissors the moment it sees anything remotely offensive".

Actually, if you look at the video above, you'd have to be highly imaginative (delusional?) to see anything offensive about it.

According to this blog, "The MDA Senior Management Rap video was produced earlier this year and intended originally for MDA staffers at an internal conference. Following an enthusiastic response from the staff, the video became public when it was distributed as part of MDA's annual report and posted on the organization's Web site."

Enthusiastic response from staff!

What does this show? Ivory tower groupthink. Fawning sycophancy. The whole organisation is rotten to the core.



However, if you read our print dailies, you would know by now that unlike the last time, next month's concert has been given the green light. It was right on the front page of 'Today' newspaper, and also carried in the Straits Times the following day. This may sound very hopeful but I will show you how sinister it still is.

What may interest readers is that the story in the newspapers [2] came out of a press release issued by the MDA, not the organisers. The organisers didn't initiate contact with the media themselves because they were not allowed to. The MDA imposed on them the condition not to publicise the concert in the mass media.

(Yawning Bread is not an organiser and does not consider himself bound by any such absurd condition. In fact, if you too think such a condition is absurd, please publicise it on your blog as well, to show your contempt for such attempts at censorship.)

This background thus gives you a better understanding of this cryptic part of the news story in Today:

Explaining its change of heart, the MDA said that the organisers had assured the authority that the aim of the Dec 13 concert is Aids education and HIV prevention.

"The organiser for this concert has rated the performance R18 and has given the assurance to MDA that the concert is targeted at the high-risk group," said Ms Amy Tsang, MDA's Deputy Director (Arts & Licensing) of the Media Content Division in an email reply to Today.

-- Today newspaper, 22 Nov 2007, Once-banned gay pop duo given green light for concert here

You can assume that this so-called assurance was virtually coerced out of the organisers, on pain of being whacked with another ban. How a concert can be a commercial success when publicity is to be restricted appears to be a question MDA cares not a twit about. You can therefore also say that the MDA doesn't care a twit about lending a helping hand to the fight against Aids.



  Tickets at $28 and $68 (includes cocktail reception) can be purchased by sending an email to information@oursafehaven.com

or through the website



And what is meant by "the high-risk group" as stated in the report in Today newspaper? In the first version of this essay, I took issue with the use of the singular and definite article "the" which suggests that gay men are the only group at risk of Aids, and consequently connoting that Aids is a gay disease.

I have since been given a copy of the actual email sent out by the MDA. It said,

The Media Development Authority has approved a one-night HOPE concert organised by Safehaven and Action for Aids. The concert aims to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS among the high risk groups in Singapore. 

In 2005, a similar concert featuring the pop duo was disallowed because the concert was open to general members of the public. Unlike the 2005 concert, the organiser for this concert has rated the performance R18 and has given the assurance to MDA that the concert is targeted at the high risk groups. The organiser has also assured MDA that the aim of the concert is AIDS education and HIV prevention. 

Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts, and Foreign Affairs, will be the Guest of Honour for the concert in his capacity as Chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on HIV/AIDS.

Evidently, the mistake lay with Today newspaper. They changed the MDA's "high risk groups" to "the high risk group". That's is quite unforgivable for a newspaper.

However, that still leaves the question of why the concert must be "targeted at the high risk groups." HIV prevention efforts should reach everybody, and everybody can help out with fundraising, so why must the organisers' hands be tied that they cannot publicise the event more widely?

The inference from such a restriction is that only gay men need to care about HIV prevention and helping those already infected. Heterosexuals don't need to get involved; they don't need to care. In fact, the MDA actively stops the message from getting to them at all.

However, what is sinister is this: barring the organisers from promoting the event via the mass media, yet at the same time, the MDA speaks to the media about the concert. You think the MDA was so concerned about helping the fight against Aids that it went all out to publicise the event for the organisers?

Don't be fooled. The MDA went out to the mainstream media in order to preempt what the organisers might say. It was using its power to monopolise the way the event is framed in the public mind.

They were taking a leaf out of a Stalinist Ministry of Propaganda's books. And that really sticks in my craw.

Yawning Bread 




  1. Straits Times, 22 Nov 2007, Clever video or bad rap? 
    Return to where you left off

  2. See Jason and deMarco Ok'ed by MDA 
    Return to where you left off