By Howard Lee
Insipid, boring, scripted, stone-faced, wooden, emotionless, uninspiring, reading from a script, forced to do it, bad acting, are they even acting – those were some of the comments made online about the video produced by, and staring, members of Young PAP (or YP), the youth wing of the ruling People's Action Party.
The amount of derision (and subsequent calm-faced queries about its legality) the video received was, in retrospect, a very good thing for the brave men and women who put the effort into producing it. Because if the bulk of the population had bothered to look beyond the stylistic aspects of the video – which to be fair, is very much a matter of subjective opinion – they would have notice something that is far more disturbing than zombie-eyed youth leaders mouthing words from cue cards.
That something can be summed up in two observations: The lack of engagement with the ground, and the undying belief that the PAP has the right solutions to the woes of the nation.
For bad acting and even poor sripting can be excused. Instead, what we should really be concerned here is the intent of the video and the attitude of the “leaders” involved in it.
“We are engaging the community... Say, where is the community?”
The first thing that you would noticed instantly is the almost non-existence of anyone other than the folks dressed in all white. Granted, that might have been the purpose of the video – as a means of reaching out to fellow YP leaders and activists. To feature fellow activists, then, would not too too much of an error.
We call for the party to be more effective and impactful when communicating with our activists. Our communication should be simple, concise and easy to understand. Communication should be targeted, so that it can resonate better with our activists. - Chua Chu Kang Region YP
A unilateral way of communicating to party faithfuls is acceptable, if you believe in dogmatic indoctrination. But the reference to the community out there in the very same terms of reference - as a target to whom the message must be made clear - is valid cause for concern. It suggests that the party is more interested in talking at the people, rather than listening to them.
As the branch chairman, it is my duty to check whether they are listening, and if they are not listening, what is the reason. - Aljunied Region YP
We must continue to serve with a locally grounded heart, by taking a pro-active approach in reaching out to local communities to ensure they are future-ready. We must therefore present policies in a format that is simple and easy to understand. - Aljunied Region YP
In short: The policies are right, and the people need to get it. If they don't get it, then we need to help them understand it. To do that, they must listen to us. If they don't, we need to tweak our approach. Nothing wrong with what we need to tell them, we have important stuff to tell them! Let's tell them, let's tell them...
It is all the more shocking that such views are coming from the people in the Aljunied region. As General Elections 2011 edged to a close, Mr Geoge Yeo who was heading the Aljunied GRC team opined that the government needs to listen hard to the people. Three years from then and the leaders in the same ward seemed to have learnt nothing, or forgotten everything.
If the YP leaders have indeed bothered to engage the ground, then it is surprising that such footage has not been included. What has been the mode of engagement, then? One fears that it is very much the monologue that we are seeing in this very same video.
“I pledge my allegence to the People('s Action Party)!”
Which brings us to the next cause for concern: What are these YP leaders thinking when they head out with the party's message?
“Re-inforce (sic) our heritage that we are the party for ALL Singaporeans”, shouted the on-screen text. We need “diversity is social mindsets” and this can be found in “diversified (sic) PAP MPs”, declared the East Coast Region YP team.
Granted, this view might be little more than chest-thumping bravado to rally support within the ranks, mere internal propaganda that the PAP is the one true party. Perhaps it should never have gone public, then. But the impact that such a world-view would undoubtedly spill over into how these YP leaders plan to engage the public.
We will mobilise the community to develop its members holistically. Education enables us to create opportunities for all and to build a better society... We will strengthen the community to identify, assist and actualise the potential of its disadvantaged members. - Tampines Region YP
These are the same lines that the PAP has preached: The mantra of self-help, the avoidance of social assistance, the very same mindset that has drawn the indignation of the people in 2011 and, by the looks of it, is in no hurry of changing.
It is this unstinting support for what the party does, without any intention of expressing original thought or differing opinions whatsoever, and that Singaporeans should be very concerned about, rather than the quality of the video produced.
It is not too difficult to imagine that one of these white-clad people featured in the video could very well be fielded as Members of Parliament in a general election of the future. If we cannot count on them to listen to the people, speak their mind and be ready with alternatives, what hope do we have that PAP MPs of the future would be able to shore up against anything but the party line? Why then do our current Ministers and MPs prattle on about PAP MPs being the alternative voice in Parliament?
Ironically, the video ends with a line that contains the same chest-thumping bravado that typified the entire narrative: “If not us... Then who?”
Doubtlessly, it is an important call to action for party activists. But it also belies a continued ignorance of the very issues that led to the party's bruising in GE2011. The PAP clearly does not have all the solutions, and it is folly to continue believing so. The solutions lie with the people, and it is a sad day that the potential leaders of tomorrow do not have the foresight to see that.
The editor endured watching the video at least twice to bring you this commentary. If you feel that it was a worthy sacrifice, please donate to TOC so that we may continue to do the impossibly unbearable for you. Because, if not us, then who?