From ‘Why orchid for Elton’? 26 Nov 2011, ST Mailbag
(Josephine Tay): I read with great disappointment that Elton John has been given the honour of having an orchid named after him (Orchid Named After Elton John, Prime, Nov 19). I am dismayed that his partner David Furnish and their adopted son Zachary (both right with John) were also publicised to ‘share his honour’.
There are other celebrities and dignitaries more deserving than this pair. Singapore would be seen in a much better light on the world stage if, for example, recent F1 champion Sebastian Vettel had been accorded this privilege instead.
Is homosexuality to be openly encouraged and endorsed by the Government?
That is SIR ELTON JOHN to you, Ms Tay. Not exactly a fan of his music myself, but what could be more appropriately named after a gay, knighted, man than a flower? I think the writer’s main beef is not so much that Sir Elton is homosexual, but that homosexuals are settling down and bringing up children and the media is treating such families as if they were normal. The ST report also used euphemisms like ‘partner’, as if it were applied in the context of how the Rocket Man himself had a songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin ( a collaboration that produced some of the most endearing Elton John hits), to subtly conceal the fact that these are two MEN IN LOVE, MARRIED and are bringing up a CHILD together. Incidentally, Zachary was born to a surrogate mom with Elton as biological father, and not ‘adopted’ like what the writer presumptuously states (The original ST text says ‘baby’ son).
There’s also a sense of sweet nobility in this, that Elton’s husband David was willing to forsake any contribution to Zachary’s genetic make-up, and that the spotlight will always be on the celebrity and his son but never himself. In some circles, that would be called love. To people like the writer, this will always be about two gay men picking up a kid from an orphanage, or buying it off parents who can’t afford to raise one. And naming a racecar driver like Vettel after an orchid is like giving a boy a doll instead of a firetruck for his birthday.
But talk about double standards; Earlier this year, there was much furore over how critically acclaimed film ‘The Kids are Alright’, which celebrates the fostering of children by a lesbian couple, was granted only a limited one-print release. Which makes this orchid honorific something of a hypocritical publicity stunt, not only to showcase our national flower and attract big names here, but to subtly tell the world how ‘progressive’ and open we are to gay relationships (when in fact we severely restrict any media promotion of gay marriages internally). Orchids were traditionally named after visiting royalty, heads of state including Prime ministers like Indira Gandhi, and First Ladies ( Aranda Barbara Bush AND Mokara Laura Bush). Most recipients are also female, with exceptions such as Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner, Jackie Chan, Nelson Mandela and Bollywood stars Shah Ruhk Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. In 2009, Dendrobium Thien Sein was named after a visiting ‘leader of the despotic military junta of Burma’, which means if Kim Jong Il ever came for a visit, he would be probably be given a similar honour as well, an orchid-Venus fly-trap hybrid perhaps. So it’s OK to dignify politicians with blood on their hands (Mandela and Thatcher included) but not gay singers who wouldn’t harm a fly?
It was only in 2006 that a local celebrity had an orchid named after her (Stefanie Sun). Which leads me to wonder why local music legend Dick Lee hasn’t gotten his. If anything, the man deserves a hybrid as flamboyant as Sir Elton’s. Doritaenopsis Sir Elton John isn’t the first flower to be named after an entertainer with a ‘complicated’ sexual history either. Renaglottis Ricky Martin (2003) was named after the Latino superstar of ‘She Bangs’ and ‘Shake Your Bon-Bon’ fame. Ricky’s also gay, based on a 2010 confession (Does that mean we should call the Renaglottis something else? Didn’t everybody already KNOW beforehand?) Dendrobium Bae Yong Jun (2004) was named after the star of ‘Untold Scandal’ and ‘April Snow’, Korean movies straddling the line between arthouse and flesh-flick, while no such recognition was given to our most successful local actor to make it to Hollywood mainstream to date, Ng Chin Han. What about drag queen diva Kumar? Hell, even dedicating an orchid to Singaporean porn star Annabelle Chong would be something, though a pink creation with spotty, flappy petals comes to mind.
In a recent Forum letter (‘In Search of Vanda Miss Joaquim’, Sep 2011), someone was wondering if our national flower Vanda Miss Joaquim was ‘going extinct’, and that she should be cultivated in all schools before it’s too late. Looking at the booming business of creating celebrity goodwill hybrids for foreigners , whether they are singers, actors, princesses or dictators, and displaying them in VIP sections of the National Orchid garden instead of lining our streets, it’s really not hard to see why people would think our Vanda has disappeared altogether.