We are no longer the pliant children we used to be

By Luke Phang

We’ve passed the age of censoring, banning and silencing a subject. They no longer work in society today and would often result in an unintended effect. So what’s the best way forward?

If there is one thing that our government needs to learn, is that the more you try to censor or ban a particular subject, the more it will backfire and gain interest. Take for example the recent news of the National Arts Council (NAC) pulling the grant from the publication of a graphic novel. It has generated heated discussions online, which may not have been the government’s original intention.

NAC withdrew the grant because it “undermines the authority or legitimacy” of the government, according to the official statement. Khor Kok Wah, NAC’s Senior Director of the Literary Arts Sector, said that the sensitive content depicted in the book violated the funding guidelines but did not elaborate on what the sensitive content was.

Far from killing off the graphic novel, the grant withdrawal had the reverse effect. In what seemed to be a blessing in disguise for the novel’s creator, the novel sold out its entire first print when it was first launched this week. Long queues were seen during the book’s launch event, with plans to release a second print within a month according to the publisher.

The increased attention over the book may not have been the NAC’s intention. This is not the first time an attempt to censor a subject resulted in increased publicity. MDA’s recent ban on Jolin Tsai’s music video depicting same-sex marriage increased the video’s views, while the decision to charge Amos Yee promoted his videos to millions.

Singaporeans are no longer the pliant children that we once were a few decades ago. We no longer follow the government’s guidelines obediently, but instead want to know the whys behind every decision. Singaporeans are more like rebellious and curious teenagers now, who want to do the exact opposite of what we are being told. The Internet makes it much easier for us to search and obtain information too.

The days where the government knows best is over and today, ordinary citizens would want to think that they know equally well too. Rather than dictate what we can or cannot consume — which has the opposite effect through these recent examples — perhaps the government could consider a more engagement-driven approach. Instead of trying to wipe out a controversial subject altogether, a more inclusive solution could be to address the issues in a thoughtful and open manner.

Let the populace think for themselves and come to their own conclusion. The perception that the government is trying to control what we can or can’t consume, only sends the message that we as a people cannot be trusted. The government may mean well in its actions, but we’ll never know if all we see are decisions made with little explication.

After all, no one likes a controlling parent.

This article first appeared on Inconvenient Questions on 4 June 2015. It is reproduced with permission from its editors.


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