By Donovan Choy
If you are Singaporean and you are reading this, I have a question for you. Have you, as a Singaporean, ever lamented about our mediocre and subpar arts industry - whether it be film, music, theatre arts, the written word, visual arts, video games or even clothing fashion?
If you are born and bred as a Singaporean, then surely this thought must have crossed your mind at some point in your life. Why do you think our media preferences lean toward American television series, not Saudi Arabia’s? Why do you think Hong Kong dramas are more popular and well-received than Mediacorp shows? Why do you think the young enjoy Korean media like Running Man and Descendants of the Sun? Why do we listen to Western music, not Middle-Eastern music?
Do you really think that out of sheer coincidence - that all our media preferences gravitate toward art that is produced in FREER societies?
No, coincidence has nothing to do with it. We enjoy Western movies because these films are superior in filmmaking techniques, have more engaging story plots and exponentially more talented acting. They are superior not because 100 talented individuals in a film team met by a stroke of luck and put it together, but because generations and generations of artists, unrestricted by petty censorship, have experimented, failed and succeeded, giving birth to an entire industry whose sole purpose is to put out the best in cinematography, thereby inspiring millions and millions more to, very simply put, create.
Where do you think the Marvel and DC films that we so enjoy today came from? They were adapted from comics and graphic novels originally created by comic book artists in the 1940’s and 50’s America - where freedom of speech was the bedrock. The films (and TV shows) which release dates we excitedly keep track of, the shows that dominate our meal discussions, are all the consequential by-product of decades and decades of artistic freedom i.e., freedom of speech. Do you think that the Superman and Batman characters, synonymous with pop culture today happened to be created by Americans, purely out of chance?
Why are our favourite novelists George R.R. Martin, George Orwell, Suzanne Collins or J.K Rowlings, not novelists from authoritarian nations like Indonesia, Afghanistan or Cuba? Is it a coincidence?
Hong Kong cinema and South Korean dramas reign today. Both countries rank at the top of any free speech or free press rankings you can Google. Is it a coincidence?
Why do you think the Internet is the centre of our lives, especially so for millennials? Why are we constantly tuned into the Internet through social media? Precisely because the Internet is a space LEAST impeded by censorship; where the collective efforts of the masses are graced with the very simple essence of freedom. Where free speech is the least restricted, is where you will find the most vibrant and original content constantly being created.
So why should you care about the just-passed Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill that seeks to further curtail the freedom of speech in Singapore? Because ‘it doesn’t affect me’? ‘It’s too complicated’? Because ‘I can’t do anything about it?’
The correct question is: Why shouldn’t you?
This was first published as a Facebook post by Choy and reproduced with permission