Ever wondered who are the finest citizens of Singapore? Answer: No doubt about it, they are the editors of our national press.

"Everyone has a horror story," Kelvin Tong said in his column, In Transit, about Singaporeans’ lack of civility (The Straits Times, Feb 4, 2003). His editor(s) had used the following as a blurb for his story: "Singaporeans need to realise it’s time they start being nice to one another again if they want to be able to tide over these hard (economic) times together." (So what, less need for courtesy once hard times are over?) Tong urged our dear fellow citizens to practise courtesy 'cos it’s "for free, so let us splurge" (what a flaw in argument, Singaporeans can’t be fooled that something can be free!). Of course we know what he’s talking about — the pedestrian rudeness of our people. His editor(s), however, believe in describing it in a more civil way: "Stop being sullen, Singapore" — was the headline for Tong’s essay. How sullenly put! I’m sure no one cushions blows better than our editors of the national press. (I wouldn’t call it just their job, when it’s more a case of shelf life!). They are, surely, the finest specimens of nation-propping Singaporeans.

Look, others are also getting in on the act: "PSA to lay off staff in bid to stay competitive" (a headline on Straits Times’ front-page). I guess the truth is — when NGOs lay off staff, they’re simply in the red. PSA, too, hasn’t lost sight of the big prop.

On that matter, there was this Insight piece in The Straits Times on Feb 22, 2003 written by Paul Jacob. The headline for it went: "We sayang you too, Dr. Mahathir." In the article, Jacob likened the Malaysian Prime Minister’s jibes at Singapore to "street entertainers of old who could spin a good yarn." Not that we remember what those entertainers are like since they’ve long disappeared from the face of our urban-development Singapore. (I mean, I’ve heard it said that if you, yourself, dare spin a derogatory yarn about our city-state for all to hear in the Chinatown coffee-shops, some commonly-dressed blokes will come ‘round with a cautionary word and some ID-checking.)

Anyway, Jacob pointed out that these "street entertainers of old" are the sort "telling tales… that will make the crowd forget their daily hardships, distract them from the state of their country’s economy, for that brief time at least." Funny he should demean such tactics 'cos I thought they’re precisely stuff that nation-building is made of. He also added, not un-ironically, "I’ve also heard that in those places, you can’t get away easily with slagging off their leaders." Yeah, we should know.

Then came the finger-lickingly delicious thrust of the Insight piece: "Mr. Goh Chok Tong is one of the best-loved, if not the most liked, politicians here." (I should hope so, otherwise, why is he our leader? But, of course, that’s not the point for exemplary citizens’ lickingly good show of support.) "Mr.Goh himself mentioned that grassroots leaders said Singaporeans should do something. Boycott Malaysia perhaps. But it’s a measure of the man and his office that he didn’t say, ‘Let’s do it!’," Jacob declared. That’s precisely the point of Jacob’s role in all of this, isn’t it?

But in this case, his over-zealousness received a "strategic" slap in the face — for how can we ever allow such undiplomatic views to be uttered quite so shamelessly on our oh-so-diplomatic shores? Hence, the put-down from our PM’s Press Secretary the following day in The Straits Times: "I refer to the article by Mr. Paul Jacob yesterday. The article was in poor taste. It is an example of the type of articles that the media, on both sides of the causeway, should avoid. Whatever others may say about us, it is better to reply in a dignified manner and set the record straight by stating the facts." (And when it comes to the facts in Singapore, who’s to argue?)

But no worries, Jacob, we see your well-intentioned, institutional-service as something rather noble in these parts, albeit a little too enthused. I’m sure our PM knows it too, just that protocol calls for the right measures from the man, you understand.

When the pushed pen comes to Jacob’s shove, I’m sure our master recognises him as a shining example of sheer hardcore nationalistic rant. And that’s all that matters. But I bet Jacob already knows that. Just gotta work that bit harder to move from Insight (in the Home section of the paper) to the Comment/Analysis in the main paper, dear chum. (Shelf life, darling, shelf life!). — X'Ho

Picture by fFurious.

Visit X'Ho's official site at www.xhosux.com.


FEBRUARY 2003: Ungracious? How Dynamic

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DECEMBER 2002: "Absolute Power Corrupts"

NOVEMBER 2002: Never Mind The Sodom, Here's The Moolah

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