Well, the most recent post, as of 19th June by Cherian George, about readers or consumers possibly needing a code of conduct really takes the cake this time. To be honest, I had to peruse the website’s heading of Cherian’s post a second time to ensure that it is “journalism.sg” as opposed to L’Observatore Romano, the semi-official newspaper of the Holy See, the Episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church.
Cherian says that readers need a code of conduct because he thinks a 17-year-old “flames the deputy prime minister (DPM)” and it “becomes a national event”. Cherian now wonders if our (in general, the readers) fascination for the frivolous has gone too far. In a condemning tone, Cherian wrote that the kampong spirit that we Singaporeans are cultivating is kay-pohish petty-mindedness, a small-town mentality that tells us that no event is too trivial to turn into a national issue, to quote him ad verbatim.
The question of whether this 17-year-old was flaming the DPM can also be asked of Linus Torvalds if he was flaming NVIDIA when he not only raised the middle finger at NVIDIA, but also said, “NVIDIA, Fuck you!” This is caught on camera and probably preserved for posterity purposes. Linus, the creator of the Linux operating system was clearly unhappy with NVIDIA’s, the chip-maker, lack of attempt to ensure that the NVIDIA hardware works with all versions of Linux. Linus began slamming NVIDIA, declaring it as the worst company that the Linux community has ever dealt with followed by the middle finger plus f-bomb. But, I tend to think Linus had a case for his unhappiness with NVIDIA, as Linux users who experienced issue with NVIDIA chips could testify. I am open to a public display of unhappiness, nothing wrong with middle finger or f-bomb or both.
At 49:00 to 50:00, a member of the audience voices her frustrations with NVIDIA’s failure to accommodate all versions of Linux, which prompted a middle finger and F-bomb by Linus.
The 17-year-old in question is a Saint Andrews Junior College student named Reuban Wang. He participated in a Pre-University Seminar where youths were engaged in a conversation with none other than Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. It turned out that Wang was less than satisfied with Teo’s input in the conversation, pointing out that the latter would answer questions with a question directed at the students “what do you think can be done?”
At other times, Wang felt that Teo skipped questions on freedom of speech, and topics that the People’s Action Party (PAP) will be loathed to discuss. To top that off, he dropped the f-bomb on Teo. Subsequently, he was counselled by his school with regards to his blog post, and initiated the apology with Teo. He has since taken down the blog post.
Now, Cherian thinks our fascination for the frivolous has gone too far, I reiterate again. A greater mystery though is why Cherian, despite his years as a journalist fails to develop a penetrative insight into the reason why the episode involving Reuban has turned into a national issue. I always thought journalists should be well-versed with certain societal truths as they practise their craft, and this episode involving Reuban displayed aspects of certain societal truths in it, and therefore, it is mysterious to me as to why they escape an esteemed academic like Cherian.
However, moving on, there is no better way for me to illustrate this with two examples from the military that I bet even Teo could identify with. For my first example, I will borrow a quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 2001 film, Pearl Harbour, directed by Michael Bay – “Ah…Submarine Commander…I like Submarine Commanders…they don’t have time for bullshit and neither do I.”
Submarine commander: What is the last coordinates of the enemy destroyer?
Deputy: What do you think?
Submarine commander: How many of our torpedo tubes are active?
Deputy: What do you think?
Submarine commander (in exasperation): Fuck you, understand!
Was Wang flaming Teo as Cherian alleges? Reading through a saved copy of Wang’s original blog post does not suggest so. I must admit that I sympathise with Teo being at the receiving end of an f-bomb, but at the same time, people have to understand why the f-bomb was dropped in the first place.
In truth, how Wang reacted is similar to how many of us would react in our daily lives and I am sure there will be people who can identify with it. There are those who want answers to questions they ask, they are not patient with let’s say, a person replying with another question, or deflecting the question back to them. These are the people in Roosevelt’s words, the “submarine commander”-types who do not have time for “bullshits”. Ironically, there is no prize for guessing Wang’s reaction to Teo “what do you think?” liner – “Flaming piece of bullshit”.
Teo may have wanted students to do more self-reflection and thinking of their own, but students like Wang also have their own expectations with regards to the conversation. So really, it is a clash of Wang’s expectations versus Teo’s intentions. Hence, we cannot really say Wang was flaming Teo. He is merely expressing impatience at Teo’s failure to meet his expectations.
Now, we come to the next puzzle, though it looks bleeding obvious to me, as to why readers turn this trivial issue into a national one, and so, now let’s move on to the next example.
There was once a sadistic naval officer. He takes extreme joy in torturing his men, and his men hated his guts for that.
Naval officer: Run to that tree and back again!
Men: (huffing and puffing, running to the tree and back again)
Naval officer: Why so slow? Run to the tree and back again, 10 times!
Tan Ah Kow (losing his cool): Sir, Fuck you, understand!
Afterwards, back in the bunk: Thundering claps of applause for Ah Kow from his fellow men.
In the first place, Wang dropped the f-bomb on Teo immediately after a major event – the Hougang by-election. Teo was to become the major driver of PAP candidate’s Desmond Choo’s campaign in Hougang. During the hustings, Teo chose to dwell on Workers’ Party (WP) candidate Png Eng Huat’s integrity and [in]ability to qualify for the lesser position of the non-constituency member of parliament (NCMP). This was to become a sore point among supporters and sympathisers to the opposition cause.
WP’s secretary-general Low Thia Khiang expressed his disappointment with the overall nature of the by-election campaign, which he felt was riddled with character assassination and baseless attacks. And if that was not enough, Teo suggested that Low could resort to legal means to resolve his grievances.
Clearly, unhappiness with the way Teo conducted the by-election campaign was evident. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that there are people out there who like to see Teo getting “fucked” (my apologies to Teo, but I am telling it like it is, and writing on a truth that I have observed), and conveniently, Wang provided the cannon fodder. It is similar to the second example where the Navy men would like to see their officer getting fucked, and applauding Tan Ah Kow who has done it.
Hence, this is the second truth I was hinting at. It was no accident that a seemingly trivial issue could escalate into a national one, starting with the differences between Teo’s intention and Wang’s expectations, the dropping of the f-bomb, and then, the unhappiness with Teo playing a huge part in the escalation.
To conclude, yes, Cherian is pontificating. The suggestion of readers needing a code of conduct is nothing short of ridiculous. Isn’t that how democracy works? For the use of a vulgar term, don’t the voters decide whether their political leaders should be “fucked” or rewarded? The truth is, if one politician deserves to get “fucked” in the voters’ eyes, there is no stopping him from getting “fucked”, or no preventing any applause of those who verbally “fuck” him in public. There is nothing wrong with “telling it like it is”. Bollocks to some readers’ code of conduct. However, if the chaps at Vatican City are looking for someone to draft 5 commandments on the Internet Code of conduct among readers who are followers of the faith, Cherian is the most qualified person.
Photo courtesty of Greenbyte.ch