Friday, August 11, 2006

Singapore Idol flashes the Japanese flag on National Day | forgotten idols

Leviathan-like thesis has assumed more cetaecean proportions, so I'm taking a break.


Amidst the screeches of kelong!!! that erupted after Thursday's results show, I wondered if anybody noticed that little bizarre blip that occured during the group performance. No one's talking about it, which isn't a great surpris since RAHIMAH RAHIM IS OUT AND THAT FREAKING TUNELESS JOACHIM IS STILL IN. Seriously, look at the guy! He can't sing! And what kind of Singapore Idol has a name that no one in Singapore can pronounce?? And he's soooooo boring - he's a "good boy", with family values - ok, I supppose he could be a Singapore Idol after all. We'd never dare show him to the rest of the world, which means that as a Singapore icon he'd be in good company with the Merlion, Budget Terminal, Sentosa, and Annabel Chong. Scratch the last - we would show Annabel to the rest of the world, since most of the world's seen most of her already.

Anyway - the results show on Thursday, 10 August, had a National Day theme. National Day, Singapore Idol, I can see how it works. It goes together like garlands and MPs - everyone agrees it works, but we were quite happy when they were separate too. Thursday was the results show, where the idols have a group performance. Since it was National Day, they broke out in red and white costumes, which must have cost Mediacorp wardrobe quite a bit, since the contestants probably didn't own red and white outfits.

It's a Singaporean thing. No one truly Singaporean wears red and white anymore. Except the Nanyang High girls on occasion, and they'd rather not talk about the time they accidentally flew the flag of Japan.

And speaking of the flag of Japan, guess what I spied during the group performance?

Just behind the contestants - the backdrop, actually. And in case you don't get it, here's another pretty pix:


Well, konichiwa Japanese Flag-san. We haven't seen you around in Singapore for a bit - it's been such a while. When was the last time you were around - oh yes, you were with this guy:


Seriously. On the National Day special, Mediacorp decides to flash not just the Japanese flag, but the Japanese Rising Sun, the symbol of Japanese wartime aggression. Aggression that resulted in Singapore's own private little Holocaust, known as the Sook Ching Massacre. When 20,000 Chinese men were rounded up at the point of a Japanese bayonet, or sold out by self-interested neighbours seeking to settle old scores, and sent to that one way journey through the present day Hong Lim Complex, the journey that ended face down with a bullet to the head as the tropic waters of Changi Beached lapped idly over them. If you were lucky. Otherwise you'd have to dig the trench for your mass grave yourself, but those were war times, so must gotong royong a bit.

It's quite funny, actually. I mean, we talk about Singaporeans not knowing their history, but there's no doubt that it's produced several giggle-worthy moments and WTFness that probably were nation-bonding experiences.

Other countries are equally screwed when it comes to their own history, so I don't feel inclined to rant about Singaporeans not knowing their own history, a sort of exceptionalism which I consider anti-nationalism, which is just as goddamn poisonous as nationalism. We're special and unique and ok and screwed, just like everyone else!

But back to the Mediacorp faux-pas: I can't help wondering what the heck was in the technician's mind when he/she decided to programme the flashing backdrop to display that bitter reminder of Singapore's living nightmare under Japanese Occupation. Then again, I figured everyone who would have had a post-traumatic stress disorder attack brought on by that flashback to the past probably wasn't watching the show, on account of being 80 years old.

This isn't the first time that Singaporeans have displayed a lack of historical knowledge - remember the Mr Brown flashmob? The one that asked people to wear brown shirts and hang around City Hall? The one where the organiser made a Freudian slip because he/she didn't seem to realise that brownshirts were the symbol of Fascist oppression? Actually, come to think of it, that was probably very thick or very brilliant. Referencing the Nazi stormtroopers in a protest against government oppression of the media - like I said, very thick, or very brilliant - oh who am I kidding, I'm going for thick because it's funnier that way.

Oooh! I remember another good one - remember the Mein Fuhrer incident? The secondary school team who decided that Hitler would be a great team name? They argued that he was a great leader - that's the Singaporean pragmatism for you - seriously. The man's a right bastard, a racist, has megalomania issues, but he ruled Germany with an iron fist, cleverly dispensing with all opposition parties. And he wept when his delusions of ruling Europe were crushed. I can see why Singaporean youth might think he's a great leader.

So Singaporeans and their knowledge of history - still funny. Inadverdent Japanese war flag on National Day show - doubly funny.


I had a flashback of my own, to the last time I saw something Japanese.

I was down at Pagoda Street, Chinatown the other day. There was a signboard there, an STB affair, meant to give the tourists a brief taste of Olde Chinatown. It talked about incense and slave markets, ginseng root and coolies, an Orientalised image of Chinatown. About racial harmony in the early days, and the tip-tic-tap of the street hawkers and the rich, rare scent of spice that always seems to accompany the old sepia photos of Singapore.

And as I read this Disney version of events, I felt the breath of 20,000 condemned men on the back of my neck. I smelled the sick stench of fear rising off the men crammed into that narrow street under a pitiless noon-day sun, their barely-restrained terror rising in tumorous mists and corroding the pretty pastels off the shophouses. And I heard their silent dread of the second death, that of being forgotten, in a country far away from home, that had become their home.

I wondered why it wasn't included in the tourist signboard, before realising that the signboard had the history portion in three langauages, one of which was - yes, Japanese. It wasn't convenient or profitable to remind wealthy Japanese tourists that their ancestors had conducted a massacre right where they stood.

And then I wondered which other portions of history would be carefully edited out because it wasn't convenient. Or pragmatic. Or desirable. The people and deeds that SIngaporeans would never learn about, who would soon die, and die again when no one remembered them.

And suddenly Singaporeans not knowing their history wasn't quite so funny anymore.


Here's the Singapore Idol Results Show special.


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