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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A (Very Special) Open Letter to the NLB

Dear National Library Board,

Before I begin my letter proper, allow me to provide a little relevant background: I’ve noticed that open letters are quite popular these days, and so far, I’ve managed to avoid writing any myself. You see, I’m too much of a hipster to do anything “cool”, so you must know how special you are, that I would actually jump on the open letter bandwagon for you. I’m also the only hipster I personally know, which truly cements my hipster status. Furthermore, it’s my birthday today, and the first serious thing I’m writing is an open letter to you. In other words, I hope you are just as honoured as I am that I am writing this letter to you.

But on to my actual letter: I have learnt that, in addition to the first three books you removed from your shelves on the grounds of complaints that they are not “pro-family”, you have removed 22 books by Robie Harris (author of Who’s In My Family?, one of the first three banned books), several of which focus on child-friendly sex education and just so happen to feature single parents and non-heterosexual couples.

The authors of two of the banned books have responded to your removal of them – Justin Richardson, who wrote that gay penguin book, also known as And Tango Makes Three, has dared to question our great government. Jeanie Okimoto, who co-authored The White Swan Express, has boldly disputed the infallible concept of family as purely heterosexual, a stance advocated by the complainant, Teo Kai Loon.

Clearly, these professional writers are woefully misguided and misinformed. Alarmingly, they have their supporters, many of whom swarmed your hallowed atrium on the holy Sabbath day for some anarchist “reading event” to protest your decision to have those books removed and pulped.

Fortunately, Teo Kai Loon has his supporters, too, as evidenced by this Facebook page. And I must say, NLB, I truly admire your firm stance in the face of such fierce opposition from these literary contrarians. Despite being deeply disheartened by these warriors of Satan, you have stood your ground. So, in an expression of my undying love for you and unwavering support of your worthy cause, I have decided to aid you in your mission to rid your shelves of demonic, anti-family books. The following is a list of titles you should ban and pulp (BAP) to cleanse your stock of all that is unholy:

1. Aesop’s Fables
This is technically not a book, but a collection of many stories which have been poisoning children for generations. How are they not pro-family? Take for instance a story like The Man With Two Mistresses. From its title alone, you can tell this book is not pro-family. Other Aesop’s fables have suggestive titles such as The Ass and His Masters (most likely about the licentious practice of BDSM), The Beaver, and The Cock and the Jewel (clearly euphemisms for female and male genitalia). Tsk tsk tsk. I suggest all books containing these stories be removed and pulped, just to be safe.

2.  Grimms’ Fairy Tales
Like Aesop’s Fables, this is a dangerous collection of stories venomous to young minds. Let me give you a few examples

  • Hansel and Gretel: The children’s abusive stepmother, afraid she and her husband will starve during the famine because the kids “eat too much”, hatches a plan to abandon them in the woods. Worse, their own father eventually agrees to go along with this wicked plan! And they later encounter a witch (obviously an agent of the Devil himself) whose candy house entices them (gluttony), and they very nearly get eaten (cannibalism). Surely, this is not pro-family.
  • Cinderella: In the famous version of the story as we know it, Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters mistreat her daily for many years. Then, one fine day, her fairy godmother appears and magically transforms her rags to finery so she can attend the prince’s ball. She loses her shoe at the ball as she is leaving, and the prince does not even know her name. Still, he finds her the next day, after which they marry and live happily ever after. Child abuse, magic, and marrying someone you barely know? Blasphemy! BAP!
  • Sleeping Beauty: A king and queen have a daughter, who is cursed to die on her 16th birthday by a spiteful sorceress. A good fairy alters the curse, and when it is fulfilled, she arrives in a chariot of fire drawn by dragons. Dragons! How can we accept such servants of Lucifer being trumpeted as heroes aiding the good guy in her mission? Also, the “good guy” is a fairy, which means she practises magic, and is therefore evil. Worse, the princess is later awoken by a kiss from a prince, who is a complete stranger to her. This is clearly sexual harassment, and behaviour in which only harlots engage.
  • Snow White: Snow White’s jealous stepmother sends a huntsman to kill her so she will finally be fairest in the land (though there is no guarantee this will happen upon her death), but he spares her. She takes refuge in a house shared by seven dwarves, who agree to let her stay after she promises to do all their housework. Her stepmother soon discovers she has been deceived, and tries three times to kill her herself, finally succeeding with the help of a poisoned apple. Laid to rest by the dwarves in a glass coffin, she is discovered by a prince who, like in Sleeping Beauty, wakes her with a kiss. This story is the worst so far: envy, vanity, murder, co-habiting with seven strange men, and being kissed by another strange man? Torch it, I say!
  • Rumpelstiltskin: A miller lies to his king that his daughter can spin straw into gold, leading the king to have her locked in a tower to prove this, or face a beheading. An imp, Rumpelstiltskin, magically appears and does the job for her, saving her life. He does this twice more when the king gives her more straw to spin into gold, and, after having paid the imp with her ring, she has nothing left to give him. He makes her promise him her firstborn child, and returns to collect his payment when she has married the king and had her first child. She tries to avoid keeping her promise, and he compromises by saying she can keep her child if she can guess his name within three days. She does, and in a rage, he drives one foot so far into the ground that he gets stuck. The story ends with him grabbing his other foot and tearing himself in two. Avarice, violence, and promising to give up one’s own flesh and blood to some demonic magical creature? Sacrilege! BAP!

3. The Bible
Actually, all religious texts. I could pick out all the (predominantly Old Testament) verses that mention incest, slavery, patricide, infanticide, fratricide, regicide, homicide, suicide, sexism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, concubines, adultery, and so on and so forth. And while some may argue that such horrors are mentioned in the Bible to show us what is wrong and let us form our own opinions, others may feel the Bible actually condones such behaviour.

But I think this letter is already long enough, and I wouldn’t want to take up any more of your precious time. I’m sure you have more important things to do, like scour your shelves for more books to BAP. But Singapore is a secular country which happens to have citizens of many races, religions and cultures, so in order to avoid exposing any of us to “conflicting content”, I think the best approach would be to BAP all religious books. It’s simple and requires hardly any thought – perfect for your busy schedule!

I do hope you consider my suggestions. I am a concerned member of the public dedicated to seeing family values constantly promoted in our country, and am well aware that the subversive, Satan-worshiping LGBT community seeks to rip apart our social fabric, starting with the most impressionable components of society: our children.

So, please – spare a thought for the children! They are our future, and God-approved censorship is the path to their success.

Yours Faithfully,
A Pro-Family Singaporean