Screaming for Silence

There’s a lot going on in the world today. Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland, the anti-vaccination crowd endangering innocent children, the Vatican shielding paedophile priests, Huffington Post UK’s boastful exploitation of its writers, raw food fanatics making themselves ill…and Madonna’s impending Singapore stop on her upcoming Rebel Heart world tour.

Now why, you may ask, would I mention that last item after listing a series of grave issues affecting our world in this day and age? After all, Madonna has long been irrelevant (I realize my opinion is completely subjective), and I believe the people who intend to attend her concerts are mostly long-time fans of hers, i.e., adults who have been listening to her music since they were teenagers.

Well, I mentioned it because it seems to be the most relevant and prevalent issue right now in my country, Singapore. Weird, right? Granted, it will be her first time performing here, and I know concerts can be a huge deal for fans; heck, I get uncharacteristically excited and excitable whenever I find out a band or artiste I like will be coming to Singapore. But an upcoming concert is rarely the most newsworthy event in any country…until now, that is.

First, there were fears the concert would not even happen. When those fears proved unfounded, there was the censorship to which the local authorities subjected the show. And now, the religious fundamentalists of this great nation have come out in full force to protest the concert, exhorting their fellow faithful not to partake of this debauchery.

There has been a flurry of opinion flooding the newspapers and Internet. Archbishop William Goh has discouraged Catholics from attending the concert, members of the public have made their disapproval known, and  — surprise, surprise — Singapore’s resident leather-clad, homophobic Baptist pastor has voiced his support for the Archbishop regarding this matter. On the upside, there has also been humorous commentary, like this one from satirical “news” website New Nation.

I see two main problems with this fervent moral policing: first of all, if you want as many people as possible not to attend the concert, drawing more attention to it by constantly talking about it is hardly the way to go about things. Also, Madonna has dedicated much of her career to trolling the Catholic church and in general, to being as provocative as possible. None of the religious criticism she has gotten over the years has led to her changing her act, so why would it make a difference now? And if one’s faith can be eroded by a pop singer aiming to be controversial, it must not have been very strong in the first place.

Secondly — and more importantly — who died and made these people the Approved Moral Police of Singapore (AMPS)?

Allow me to digress a little here. Contrary to what some of the more conservative people who (think they) know me might believe, I am not some immoral hedonist. Though I am not as religious as I once was, I am still a Catholic who tends towards tradition and even conservatism in several aspects of my life. For instance, I personally do not see the appeal of polygamy. I still attend Mass (though not every week). For the most part, I refrain from consuming meat on Lenten Fridays. I am against the use of hard drugs. I dislike certain uses of religious imagery and symbolism in entertainment. And I am definitely not a Madonna fan.

And while I am no moral relativist, I do not seek to prevent others from doing what they want, or to look down my nose at those whose lifestyles differ from mine. I also understand that any attempt to impose the nuances of one’s moral code on another person, let alone an entire community or country, is little more than an exercise in self-righteousness, moral superiority and delusions of grandeur.

You see, the problem is not conservative people. People should be free to lead their lives however they please, so long as they are not harming anyone. Conservative or liberal, it should be entirely up to the individual. In fact, I believe people should also be able to enjoy absolute freedom of expression without fear of police action, regardless of how controversial or even abhorrent their views may be. The problem is people who think they are qualified to tell others what to do, sometimes even to the extent of trying to censor or ban everything they deem “offensive”. Yes, this also happens in the “liberal” world.

This brings me to perhaps the most common overused excuse for that special brand of hyper-conservative finger-wagging:

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Ah, yes. “The children”. Whenever a group of grownups with the maturity of pre-schoolers can’t handle the existence of something they dislike, their go-to defence is “the children”. Children, who, up to a certain stage, rely heavily on their parents to speak for them.

As mentioned in my opening paragraph, there’s a lot going on in the world today. Just how much can one protect kids from the realities of life? That is not to say we should willingly and purposely expose children to ideas and content more suitable for adults, but at the same time, we should not assume the role of moral police, or attempt to censor from everyone what we would rather children not consume.

If you don’t want to go for a particular concert, don’t go. If you don’t want your children to go, tell them and explain why. Don’t write letters to the media to urge the authorities to “act with principled resolution to uphold those values cherished by many Singaporeans”, when what you really mean is “everyone should be made to comply with my superior, conservative beliefs”. Don’t rail against liberalism and progressiveness and accuse those who disagree with you of being “regressive”, when your need to coerce everyone into living in the Dark Ages with you is what is truly regressive.

This may seem crazy to you, but your gay colleague’s relationship with his boyfriend won’t ruin your heterosexual marriage. Your neighbour attending Madonna’s concert won’t cause you any personal catastrophe. Your niece’s Harry Potter books won’t make you turn away from your Abrahamic faith to a life of devil worship.

I shall end with a quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold The Moon: “The principle (of censorship) is wrong. It’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t have steak.”

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