Ashley Madison banned in Singapore

From ‘MDA blocks access to Ashley Madison’, 8 Nov 2013, article by Mohd Azhar Aziz, Today

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) announced today (Nov 8) that it will not allow the Ashley Madison website to operate in Singapore and has blocked access to the site. In a press statement, the MDA said that the website was banned in Singapore as “it aggressively promotes and facilitates extramarital affairs”.

“It is against the public interest to allow Ashley Madison to promote its website in flagrant disregard of our family values and public morality,” MDA said.

Life is short. And so is Ashley Madison’s ill-fated attempt, as creator Noel Biderman explained, to ‘migrate infidelity to a platform wherein two like-minded (Singaporean) adults can explore what it is they are seeking in a discreet manner’.  One Today writer described such a move by the MDA as a ‘paper tiger’, only to raise the forbidden fruit status of AM, though there are various tricks to bypass the censors altogether, Go Away MDA being one of them.

Pressure from Minister Chan Chun Sing aside, the 27,000 strong petition community known as ‘Block Ashley Madison‘ on Facebook yesterday fired a bellowing tirade at MDA for allowing AM to tag ‘sg’ in their domain address and ignoring the threat of weak-minded Singaporeans succumbing to the moral cesspit that is adultery. The page owner, ‘Mr Tan‘, also issued a stern warning to AM that they’ll ‘not have the last laugh’, would get what’s coming to them ’10 times harder’, and that the ‘light will always overcome the darkness’, with all the evangelical fire-and-brimstone passion of a grandmaster exorcist coercing Satan out of His human vessel. Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone, I say. Or in this case, a boulder.

Well, now that the site is blocked for good, mission accomplished BAM! You all can rest easy knowing that your spouses are safe by your side, divorce rates won’t skyrocket, that our children can focus on their PSLE with a loving stable family behind them all the way, while the rest of us continue to watch Desperate Housewives reruns on cable, reliving torrid fantasies of Eva Longoria screwing her gardener in the kitchen while her hubby is at work. Without AM’s corrupting influence, we shall no longer have the urge to take our foul thoughts a step further, log in to find the perfect willing partner to come over wearing nothing except mud-streaked overalls and getting frisky right next to the sink. Hallejulah!

I believe BAM supporters are not THAT naive and generally acknowledge that infidelity will continue to happen anyway, with or without AM. A chance meeting with an old flame, a colleague in the office, a business partner, your own student, sometimes right under the nose of our Almighty lord God. The last thing they need is something to facilitate such taboo relationships further, especially one ‘aggressively marketed’ like the Facebook for Flings with a brand name that sounds like one of the Olsen Twins or a spinoff Victoria’s Secrets catalogue. Alas, like the 100 sites ‘symbolically’ banned by the MDA, AM too has become the ‘whipping girl’ among the many platforms available for people to fool around at the swipe and a click. Like adultfriendfinder.sg, for example, where you can choose to have a ‘discreet relationship’, which isn’t exactly mystery pen pals in this day and age. Is there going to be a BAFF petition now?

Not sure if this is a case of MDA caving in to high-horse orthodoxy, or they sought guidance from moral philosophers and religious leaders before dropping the axe on AM. They’re forgetting about other debauched sites though. On the same day that AM announced its launch here, 5 Singaporeans were caught in a sting op offering to pay ‘Sweetie’, a computer generated TEN YEAR OLD GIRL, to perform very naughty things. We’re so caught up with something that’s technically not ILLEGAL that we forget about portals that encourage men to defile girls young enough to be their daughters, some granddaughters even.

Temptation to commit sins of the flesh are everywhere, whether it’s an adultery app, online casinos, a sleazy spa or a 7 Eleven selling booze and cigarettes right around the corner. It’s like restricting sex shops or R21 movies from heartlanders, or a nanny stowing away a child’s favourite toy because he’s playing with it too much. Nobody’s doing anything about our gay spas either, which harbour death traps that kill you while you’re trying to strangle yourself for erotic kicks. MDA’s ‘light touch’ regulation is really an excuse for ‘we can’t do anything about it’. Yet when something like AM stands out and should be made an example of, they pound on it like Thor’s hammer on a protruding nail.

Bye, Ashley Madison. You could have been the flirty girl next door, but the neighbours are welcoming you with burning stakes, pitchforks and crucifixes instead of wine and roses. Now that you good folks have done Singaporeans all a proud and just service that we should be eternally grateful for – expelling this wicked temptress from our doorsteps – you can all take a much-deserved break from the complaining and go back to knitting sweaters and hunting eggnog recipes for Christmas, thank you very much.

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MDA’s light touch regulation is an overkill

From ‘Views published on blogs not news reporting:MDA’, 31 May 2013, article by Leonard Lim, ST and ‘New web rules amount to overkill’, 30 May 2013, Voices, Today

…From tomorrow, news sites with significant reach and which report on Singapore regularly must be individually licensed. Currently, most websites automatically fall under a class license scheme. The new framework makes clear that license-holders must remove content that is deemed objectionable within 24 hours, if notified to do so.

They must also post a $50,000 performance bond. Ten sites are on the list of those who have been formally notified by the MDA. They include seven run by the Singapore Press Holdings. The MDA statement added that it would only step in when complaints are raised to their attention, and the content is assessed to be in breach of guidelines and merits action.

“Takedown requests are not common. In the past two years, MDA has only issued one take-down notice for the “Innocence of Muslims” video,” it added.

(Vincent Law): …The Media Development Authority (MDA) statement, “as the sites are already subject to these requirements, no change in content standards is expected to result”, suggests there will not be any real advancement in quality control. What is new is that online news sites have to put up a S$50,000 performance bond, and are expected to comply within 24 hours with the MDA’s directives to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards.

Given the current healthy state of affairs in cyberspace, except for occasional skirmishes which the authorities have been able to deal with decisively, the new regime appears to be overkill.

He sees you when you’re surfing

MDA, in its Facebook announcement, maintains that the ‘framework is not an attempt to influence the editorial slant of news sites’. It’s actually the counter-intuitive ‘performance bond’ and annual renewal fees that may turn current news reporting to either self-censored mediocrity or tabloid trash if news makers compromise journalistic gung-ho or integrity for safe news or sensation in order to survive. As if having one New Paper isn’t enough.

MDA assures news providers that it tries to minimise drastic intervention, but this so-called ‘takedown’ of the Innocence of Muslims video wasn’t very successful anyway (you can still watch it on Youtube), an example of futile enforcement which proves that MDA is powerless when it comes to Internet regulation and imposing rigid standards on new media doesn’t guarantee quality or ‘clean’ media. Some whiz kid even outsmarted the government’s filters by inventing a program that allows you access MDA-banned porno sites and nobody has done anything about it to date. If there’s any little good that comes out of internet clampdown, it’s how it spurs creativity in hackers to surmount it. The ‘regularization’ of news as we know it will not be any different. They may have stunted the news, but they forget about the classic rumour-mill that is the ‘grapevine’. In fact, you don’t even need the news to spread information about an Islam-hating video. We have Facebook to thank for that. Try regulating THAT, Yaacob.

What rankles the ‘alternative voice’ community is how this whole thing was set up and communicated. Minister Yaacob once told us in 2012 that an internet ‘code of conduct’ should be a ‘bottom-up’ approach initiated by netizens, but this MDA move was clearly a bomb dropped from above without any warning signs, with the affected sites given just days to prepare for shellshock. He also once advised social media users to ‘use common sense’ in verifying the accuracy of online reports. It seems that within the space of a year, Yaacob and his lot have lost their trust in the public’s sense of discretion entirely, that if we read something about UFOs circling the sky the entire nation would immediately crumble to their feet to pray for mercy from our tyrannical alien overlords.

MDA also presumes that traditionally licensed media that is the bread and butter of the agency is naturally ‘responsible’ in their news reporting. Say what you will about the ST being a propaganda machine, but conducting a snap poll before a by-election isn’t exactly something a responsible, role-model newspaper would do whatever party they’re sympathetic to. And it appears they have gotten away with it despite having the police knocking on their doors. If there’s any media that needs MORE regulation it’s probably the mainstream media itself. MDA, unsurprisingly, was silent about the whole polling affair despite being the ones responsible for ST’s licensure. $50,000 to keep mum when regulations are flouted, well, that’s a JOB, apparently.

So I viewed the MDA rap video once more and wondered how they’d feel if I randomly censored their work.  This was the outcome:

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The image above is strangely accurate in terms of MDA’s regulatory stance. Chilling stuff.

Singapore Shiok ad makes Caucasian look like a schmuck

From ‘Singapore Shiok, or just silly?’, 28 April 2013, article by Nicholas Yong, Sunday Times

First, Singapore was marketed as uniquely itself as a tourist destination. Then, it became yours. Now, it is “shiok” too. The Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) latest marketing video on YouTube revolves around the Singlish expression – derived from the Malay word “syok”, which means nice – for extreme pleasure. Cold ice kacang on a hot day? Shiok. The adrenaline rush of sky-diving? Shiok! Being massaged at a posh spa? Shhh…iok.

…In the Singapore video, a Caucasian man struggling to pronounce “shiok” – defined helpfully on screen as “a Singaporean expression denoting extreme pleasure or the highest quality” – opens the clip. When he finally succeeds, his Singaporean friends applaud him…Branding expert Tim Clark, a Briton in his 60s, thinks “using the local language to help visitors to connect with a country is a good thing”.

…Professor Gemma Calvert, a British professor at NTU’s Institute for Asian Consumer Studies, agrees with Mr Clark that the video makes the featured foreigner struggling to pronounce “shiok” look “a bit of a shmuck“. She says: “The phrase isn’t particularly difficult to pronounce and therefore may come across as slightly patronising to outsiders. As a Caucasian myself, I admit I cringed to some extent at the representation portrayed by this particular individual.”

…Creative director Hanson Ho, in his 30s, of H55 studio also notes: “‘Shiok’ is sometimes expressed somewhat artificially in certain scenes, making it seem quite unnatural.” For instance, having a little boy whisper “shiok” at the sight of zoo animals at the Night Safari seemed to be stretching it a little.

…Lawyer Samantha Ong, 31, wonders if the video could have varied its local vocabulary a little. “There’s a serious overuse of the word ‘shiok’ that’s kind of cheesy and annoying,” she says of the yelled, purred and breathed incarnations in the video.

“Aren’t there other ‘uniquely Singapore’ words or ways to express pleasure, such as ‘sedap’ or ‘ho chiak’ (delicious in Malay and Hokkien)?”

Shiok

By attempting to globalise the word and sell it to visitors, ‘Shiok’ has become as problematic as ‘Lah’: Both also ‘ANYHOW use one’. If a kid exclaimed to me that watching animals in a zoo is ‘shiok!’ I would instantly correct him that he should have used the more generic ‘Wahh’ instead. I may even tolerate the Americanised ‘Awesome’ or ‘Whoa!’. Other scenes where the use of shiok is exaggerated and unnatural include Singaporeans showing off their shopping haul, ‘shioking’ at a club, or marvelling at the LV island in MBS. A simple ‘Wow’ or ‘Niiice’ wouldn’t stick as well, but these poor examples of shiok are as misplaced as getting locals to yell ‘Yahoo’ or ‘Yippee’ while exhibiting ‘extreme pleasure’, though ‘yahoo’ is something I often say in my head with an imaginary fist-pump whenever I manage to board an MRT train during peak hour.

Singaporeans also tend to be bad teachers of their own beloved lingo. When UK boyband The Wanted popped by to perform, fans cheered when they said ‘Singaporean girls are SHIOK’. Totally wrong and even demeaning in today’s context, but the fans don’t care, and this mistake will be perpetuated to every celebrity the world over, who’ll pepper their concerts with forced Singlish like ‘You’re such a SHIOK audience, LAH’. Ugh.

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When singer Demi Lovato was in town, DJ Divian Nair decided to teach her how to use shiok (like ‘awesome’) as a warm-up during an interview, with the superstar obliging with ‘I’m feeling shiok right now’. Lucky Divian. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine says Singapore is ‘like, TOTALLY SHIOK’. Neither of these Caucasians has difficulty pronouncing the word, which is like replacing the C in Coke with Sh- (unless you want to be picky and insist that there should be a ‘-yee-ok’ sound). We seem to have an obsession with trying to get foreigners to speak Singlish with the same sadistic enthusiasm as teasing a kitten with a laser pointer. It may well be pride on our part to promote Singlish, but it does make a sporting goon out of non-Singaporeans when they mutilate it, be it shiok, lah or ‘Ho-Say’.

The worst abuse of shiok, however, comes from our Board of Censors. In 1999, when they found the use of ‘Shagged’ in the movie title Austin Powers:The Spy who Shagged Me objectionable, they proposed to replace the offensive word to the verb-form ‘SHIOKED’, as in The Spy who SHIOKED me, which would suggest to those unfamiliar with Singlish that shiok is a euphemism for the F-word. Thanks to our authorities, IMDB now thinks that shioked means ‘to be treated nicely’. If they had really pulled the title edit off, this ad, with the zoo kid whispering a potentially foul word into Daddy’s ear, wouldn’t exist. Max George from the Wanted would have said: ‘I’m here to Shiok some Singapore Girls’. To some cheers still.

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Yet, it’s not so simple defining when exactly shiok should be used. It’s like trying to teach someone when to use ‘lah’, ‘leh’ and ‘lor’. We have been known to use it in various contexts outside of food from which I believe it originally evolved (Humorist Paik Choo described ‘shiok’ mee rebus in a 1979 ST article). Enjoying rainy weather, lying on a hard cold floor on a blistering hot day or even sprawling out on a king-size bed in a hotel room may qualify as ‘shiok’ activities today. It’s often an interjection ejaculated reflexively, like the opposite of ‘Ouch’, and preceded by a period of anticipation or suffering, specific to a relatively quick, pleasurable stimulus. Nobody goes to a club and yells ‘SHIOK’ while dancing, nor experiences shiok-ness after staring at a fancy floating building for minutes. A massage after a long day? Shiok. A hot bath after a marathon? Lagi shiok! But saying ‘Singapore is SHIOK’? GET LOST LAH.

Go Away MDA bypassing porn filters

From ‘Web add-on bypasses porn censors’ filters’, 28 Feb 2013, article by Lim Yan Liang, ST

A WEB browser add-on that lets surfers bypass the Media Development Authority’s Internet filters to access pornography and other sites has been gaining popularity online. The free tool, for Google’s Chrome browser, has been downloaded more than 6,300 times since it was made available to the public in the browser’s Web store on Feb 16.

It lets users access sites that would normally be blocked in Singapore by masking their true location. The MDA maintains a list of 100 websites that Internet service providers have to block. The creator of the browser extension, a National University of Singapore (NUS) computer science graduate, said usage figures have been growing thanks mainly to word of mouth.

While he had dedicated the tool to users of the popular Eat-Drink- Man-Woman forum of the HardwareZone discussion portal, forum threads discussing his creation have since been deleted or locked.

“There is no need for the word to get out, I can barely manage the traffic as it is,” said the 26-year-old, without giving specifics on the amount of traffic. He does not want to be named, citing previous run-ins with the law. “And it’s running off a server that I’m paying for.”

He added that the tool was “merely a fun hobby project” he set up during Chinese New Year as he was learning about a set of Web development tools.

Soon to be a thing of the past

Soon to be a thing of the past

While your run-of-the-mill hacker defaces government websites and replaces them with porn, the creator of Go Away MDA (you can download the tool for free at http://getgom.com/) hands you the golden key to online forbidden fruit. If the MDA hadn’t themselves went on a limb to declare war on the 100 objectionable sites, there wouldn’t be a need to device a tool to smash their firewalls down, nor would we proceed to satisfy our natural curiosity to see if unlocking Playboy.com with this actually works (It does at time of writing). There are many hidden treasures yet to be picked up by MDA’s internet sniffer dogs which are far more gratuitous than the softcore goodies of the Playboy empire. The complete list remains a mystery, but the folks at MDA clearly missed out the nefarious CHURCH OF SATAN (google it) website. The horror!

Porno material is generated so effortlessly maintaining a ’100 banned sites’ list is like fencing up a grapevine to keep out the starving foxes but leaving the rest of the sprawling bush unscathed. They haven’t even got a list started on mobile sex apps yet. To many men who spent their formative cyber years journeying through erotic utopias, this is a godsend, like a reunion with an old flame which they’ll greet with an euphoric  ‘Come to PAPA!’. Some would laud this anonymous ‘hacktivist’ the equivalent of porno Wikileaks, tearing down the barriers to the revolutionary ideal that is ‘internet freedom’.

In 2005, two gay sites were clamped down by MDA. They banned one featuring explicit sex and photography while fining another gay dating site called ‘Meet Gay Singapore Friends’ (no longer exists). Three years later porno versions of Youtube were added to the list. When queried about the usefulness of keeping this blacklist when it’s near impossible to block out undesirables without killing the Internet completely, an MDA spokesperson replied that this ‘mass-impact’ censoring was a ‘SYMBOLIC statement of our CORE SOCIETAL VALUES’. In 2010, then acting Minister for Information and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew regurgitated the same reasoning, that the ban ‘serves as a reminder that there is a significant body of material on the Internet that is unsavoury and unedifying’. That’s as enlightening as telling people there are wild plants and mushrooms out there that you shouldn’t be putting in your mouth. It’s like a clueless puppy chasing its own tail; the hydra of porn is always leaps and bounds ahead of you. Nobody goes to Playboy for their fix anymore. A random amateur sex video from a couple of local students may score more hits than all 100 banned sites combined.

Now that the banned sites are being liberated by a tinkerer’s electronic Get out of Jail Card, this ‘symbol’ of all things good and moral about our society has come crashing down like the terminal stage of a badly played Candy Crush game, though our spate of sex scandals has made enough mockery of this surface gesture of moral policing. It’s like putting a helmet on a baby strapped with explosives in a bid to protect it from harm. The more likely reason that this ‘symbolic’ banned list still exists, even if you could find SEX.COM on it, is that it would be an admission of utter failure to take it back. If there’s one consolation for MDA, it’s that their eagerness to ban stuff has given rise to talented, enterprising, rebellious individuals with this inventive drive and mad skills to crack smutwalls, a skill that would make you a top draw for secret military projects, or for hacking into our Ministers’ accounts to see what they have been doing with their million-dollar salaries.

Victory for the high-priests of Internet activism, for Google Chrome, tech geeks and anyone who feels that MDA deserves to be embarrassed for its vile treatment of artists and filmmakers all this time. MDA, you got ‘pwned’. Big time.

MDA banning Elangovan’s Stoma

From ‘Media Development Authority bans Elangovan’s play Stoma’, 9 Jan 2013, article by Huang Lijie, ST

Singapore playwright Elangovan’s first play after a three-year hiatus will not be staged. The play, Stoma, which tells the story of a Catholic priest defrocked over sex abuse charges, was denied a performance licence yesterday.

It was originally slated to run at The Substation in Armenian Street from Jan 17 to 19. In a letter to Mr Elangovan, artistic director of theatre company Agni Kootthu (Theatre Of Fire), the Media Development Authority said a licence was not issued because the play contains “sexually explicit, blasphemous and offensive references and language which would be denigrating to the Catholic and the wider Christian community“.

This is the third time that a play by Elangovan has been denied licence to be staged here, after Talaq (2000), a play about a Muslim-Indian woman’s experiences of marital violence, and Smegma (2006), which comprises 10 mini plays that explore the control and exploitation of disadvantaged groups of people.

Elangovan’s earlier banned work Smegma sounds like a biography of a punk metal band or a sex-heavy meditation on puberty secretions, but it’s actually drama composed of 10 vignettes, including:

  • Three men in a prison cell making fun of  the Singapore flag
  • Kindergarten children calling their MP a PIG
  • Singaporeans sexual escapades with underaged girls (How prescient, this Elangovan)

But it was the Arts Consultative Panel’s fear that it would ‘create unhappiness and disaffection amongst Muslims’ that pulled the plug on Smegma. Interestingly, Smegma was initially granted a licence under a RA(18) rating, but got banned less than 30 HOURS before it was scheduled to play. 6 years later you would see MDA pulling the same last-minute stunt on a film that allegedly mocks Indians called Sex. Violence. Family Values. This followed a consultation with a similar panel of ‘experts’ AFTER MDA had made the more forthcoming decision of granting M18 instead.

The synopsis for Smegma contains the following line: “When the comfort zone is shattered, ugliness rears its head like SMELLY SMEGMA”, and so it is with MDA coming down hard on Stoma for its priest-sex associations, like a libido-killing, shameful splotch of spermy grime on a male porn stud’s scene-stealing manhood. What is the difference between Stoma and another similarly-themed production Doubt (performed here in 2006) anyway? Does Jesus Christ cameo in it totting a shotgun? Or perhaps it features sexy nuns showing more leg than habit?

The controversial Talaq (Divorce), which earned the playwright and even its lead actress Nargis Banu DEATH threats, was based on true stories of Indian-Muslim women getting battered and raped by their husbands.  The theatre company clashed with the National Arts Council (NAC) for inviting two deeply religious Muslim men from the South Indian Jamiathual Ulama (SIJU) on their panel, one of whom, Haji Marican, reportedly objecting to the play not so much that it depicts Muslim husbands as violent rapists, but that involuntary sex  should NOT be considered rape in the first place:

In Islamic law, a husband cannot rape his wife as long as the marriage continues. He need not ask permission from his wife for sexual relations each time he wants to have it. Even if she is angry or not in the mood, he has the right to it. In any event, a husband can have sex with his wife without her consent and that will not be rape

I’m no scholar on religious matters, but I wonder if these guys were intimidating the NAC into making an unfavourable decision not with choice religious words, but with wooden clubs that could beat off the most rabid sabre-toothed tiger. Elangovan’s wife (S Thenmoli) and president of his theatre group also got arrested for trespassing after holding a private rehearsal of Talaq in 2000. Maybe if I had threatened to nail Stephenie Meyer shut in a coffin and bury her alive, and MDA intervened accordingly, disgruntled boyfriends and husbands in Singapore would have been spared the torture of sitting through 5 soppy, draggy vampire movies which also promulgate bestial-pedophilia love between wolfmen and little girls. And all that got was a PG rating!

If there’s anything that should be banned, it’s this promo rap video below which MDA produced in 2007; for giving the arts-loving public the false impression that they’re cutting-edge and cool. I rather scrape dried smegma off a rapist’s corpse with my fingernails than listen to this. They just don’t stop, y’all.

Postscript: Barely a week after this ban, a sex scandal involving a pastor from an unnamed church and an underaged girl surfaced. Oh the irony. Elangovan’s fiction is eerily close to the inconvenient truth. Looks like the year of the Scandal is stretching past the Chinese New Year.

Sex Violence and Family Values NOT allowed for All Rating

From ‘S’pore film yanked from release over offensive racial remarks’, 9 Oct 2012, article by John Lui, ST

A LOCAL comedy that had originally been given an M18 film classification has had its release pulled by the Media Development Authority (MDA) over offensive racial remarks, just days before it is due to open in cinemas. Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, a compendium of three short films by first-time director Ken Kwek, was handed a Not Allowed For All Rating last evening, a rarely used classification. A film given such a rating is not allowed to be screened.

…Of the three shorts in Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, Porn Masala is the most controversial, revolving around the making of Singapore’s first “arthouse porno”. In a trailer released on the film’s website a few weeks ago, a boorish film director played by Adrian Pang and an Indian porn actor played by Vadi PVSS are seen trading racial insults, based on gross stereotypes.

…The MDA statement said: “An overwhelming majority of the panel members have expressed that the film should not be allowed for public exhibition in view of its overt racial references, which are demeaning and offensive to Indians.”

In the ‘dirty’ version of the movie trailer, Adrian Pang’s porn director makes reference to sex and alcohol in relation to  Vasantham actor Vadi PVSS’s race. This ‘unkindest cut of all’ comes fresh after Amy Cheong got sacked for posting remarks about Malay weddings on Facebook, except this time it’s another minority race bearing the insult. Lionel De Souza is probably drafting a police report against the cast and crew as we speak.

At this rate of heavy censures being handed out for any form of stereotyping, where you could fire an NTUC assistant director or pull someone’s movie off local cinemas, you wouldn’t expect anything less than sacking radio DJs for mocking Indian accents, dismissing ST writers referring to ‘often- drunk Sikh priests’, or closing down Breadtalk for selling bread named ‘Naan the Nay’. You might as well clamp down on Kumar’s comedy routine, or ban all Bollywood DnD theme parties. Now, even being ‘politically incorrect’ is hazardous to your mental health not to mention career. But as if losing your bread and butter isn’t enough, your former employers use blame-shifting phrases like ‘I DID what WE had to do’(Lim Swee Say), and then ask people to ‘spare a thought’ for you after what they did to you. That’s like pushing you off a cliff and then throwing a pillow down in the hope that it would somehow cushion your fall.

The ‘Not Allowed for All Rating’, or NAR, is slapped on films which MDA describes as follows according to their Film Classification Guidelines:

  • Themes that promote issues that denigrate any race or religion, or undermine national interest will not be allowed.
  • Themes that glorify undesirable fetishes or behaviour (e.g. paedophilia and bestiality) are not allowed.
  • Promotion or glamorisation of homosexual lifestyle.

Which puts Sex Violence in the same league as donkey porno. How did Sacha Baron Cohen’s films like Borat, Bruno and The Dictator get past the censors then? Did anyone miss the screaming Chinaman stereotype in films like the Hangover and Ted? Why wasn’t Mike Myers’ THE GURU banned? How about the discriminatory banter between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour trilogy? Did MDA ignore all these elements because these were blockbusters and Ken Kwek’s film is a small indie movie, or did they all assume that some races are better at taking potshots than the others?

But it’s not just Hollywood movies that have the potential to fall into NAR territory. Even our local productions are full of disguised ‘racism’, with Chinese being overrepresented in dramatic roles. In National Day videos, you’ll invariably have singing Indian prata men, and nobody said anything about Alaric Tay’s portrayal of a ‘Mat Rocker’ in the Noose. The only reason why nobody considers making the latter into a full-length feature is because MDA may NAR it too, on the grounds of ‘overt racial references’. Hence the I Not Stupid sequels. I suppose it’s better to have horrible English than being, you know, RACIST.

Moving along. Under ‘Language’, you have:

  • Language that denigrates religion or is religiously profane (e.g. Jesus F**king Christ).

Fair enough. Except that in Ted, I believe there was a scene where the exact same wording as above was used, but the middle profanity was muted out. In the 25th hour, a good few minutes were sliced off Edward Norton’s ‘fuck the world’ rampage against the various ethnicities in New York City (for a R21 rating). Isn’t the NAR rating in this case like decapitating a patient who has a stye in the eye, firing a bazooka into a mouse hole, or using a samurai sword to peel a banana? Did someone lose the censors’ chopper and decided it was easier to ban it altogether? How about delaying Sex Violence’s slated release to talk to the producers about possible re-shoots? You know, a CONVERSATION perhaps? Maybe there could be two versions of the movie, an internationally acclaimed one called Sex Violence Family Values, and an edited PG 13 one for the domestic market that is ‘community-friendly’ called, well, FAMILY VALUES. Instead of Porn Masala, you could replace it with an episode of Jacintha’s ‘Mum’s not Cooking’.

Whether Sex Violence is considered satirical art is irrelevant. As with all banned videos, thousands of curious Singaporeans will be googling Porn Masala as we speak (Don’t do it at work, you’ll get ACTUAL PORN as the top search hit instead), but it’s unlikely that we’ll see the original version on Youtube, what used to be a trusted treasure trove of stuff that MDA’s censor panel can’t deal with after a century of co-mingling with other races (Well THANKS A LOT Innocence of Muslims!). At the expense of being annoyingly cordial to each other where any suggestion of discrimination has to be repressed, we’ve sadly lost the ability to laugh at ourselves, which is the way most developed countries deal with the idiosyncrasies of their racial melting pots. Forget the National Conversation. I want our national Humour back.

Yet, ironically, some good may come out of this. If Ken Kwek continues the run on the international circuit and ride on the publicity of the ban, Sex Violence will garner more attention than Sex:The Annabel Chong Story. And nothing will put the MDA to shame more than this movie picking up festival awards, or better still a selection for the Oscars Foreign Film nominations. By then, the best thing that could happen to local film is not that MDA passes it UNCUT, but that it BANS it altogether, like a Chinese film about the Nanjing massacre or tainted milk powder, covering up for ‘fault lines’ that exist no matter how you preach otherwise.

Postscript: While the producers are appealing the ban, MDA responded that they left the decision to a Films Consultative Panel, which consists of ‘volunteers of various professions, age groups, religions and races’. Of 24 members, 20 gave a thumbs down to the release, while 4 opted for the strictest rating possible R21. There have also been complaints of the depiction of a schoolgirl in a CHIJ uniform in Porn Masala, which could have been a cynical reference to convent girls being branded as sluts in need of a ‘one night stand’.

So, who’s in the FCP? My first impression was that this is a secret Oracle of know-it-alls who wear white hoods brandishing sceptres or a council of hologram Elders like those you see in the Superman movies, but they’re actually mortal human beings, according to details in the MDA website.

The Council of Elders says no to Porn Masala

Let’s look the kind of people you need to speak about morals and ethics on behalf of 5.3 million people. For starters, the CHAIRPERSON Vijay Chandran is INDIAN, and ironically belongs to a company called ELASTICITY Pte Ltd. Another striking feature is how a majority of these members hold high positions in society, directors, doctors, CEOs, lawyers and a couple of obligatory housemakers, entrepreneurs, artists and students. Would a panel vote objectively if the chair belongs to a race that is picked on in the movie? How representative is such a panel anyway, and why is it there’s not a single moral philosopher or sociologist in the team? Why on earth do you need a POLICEMAN on the panel (Steven Moorthi)? How ELSE would you expect a cop to vote on race issues?

It’s obvious by glancing at the composition of the panel that the FCP is not a one size fits all arbiter of moral values, whether it’s gratuitous sex and violence, religious, race or gay issues. The very presence of an Indian leading the team already suggests bias in decision-making. Sex Violence deserves a second opinion, and whatever the final outcome, I for one, will be begging to watch it.

Postscript 2: The film eventually got passed with cuts under a R(21) rating. Don’t rush to book your tics yet, though, you’d never know if the MDA may decide to pull the film again days before screening. Today, you may download the entire Porn Masala scene from Youtube. 

No Arts and Sports in reshuffled Ministries

From ‘Keep Arts and Sports in ministries’ names’, 3 Aug 2012, ST Forum

(Ace Kindred Cheong): I AM saddened that “Sports” and the “Arts” have been omitted from the names of the new and restructured ministries (“No ‘sports’ in name sparks debate”; yesterday). The omissions will lead to doubts about whether the Government is still as committed to supporting the arts and sports.

It is also ironic that it happened in the middle of a historic Olympics in which Singapore won its first individual medal in 52 years, after the fantastic bronze medal achievement by our top women’s table tennis star Feng Tianwei. It would be more sensible for the Cabinet to retain the titles of the two ministries – the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, and the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.

This will send a clear signal that sports and the arts have not been sidelined by the Government.

The new ministries have been named MCCY (Culture, Community, Youth), MSF (Social, Family Development) and MCI (Communications, Information).  It’s made more confusing than it already is and drives one MAD (Ministry of Arts Defunct) just trying to tell one other apart. Ministries of ‘social affairs’ tend to be rather wishy washy over what they’re supposed to take charge of historically. ‘Culture’ is a catch-all term that is itself archaic in its usage. Established in the late fifties, the job of then ‘Ministry of Culture’ was responsible for brainwashing people with film propaganda. They were also the state censors, precursors to our current Board of Censors and MDA, who glued objectionable pages of books together. They were more the Culture and thought POLICE than a ministry of any sort, and here we see ‘Culture’ coming back with a vengeance. Watch out Fifty Shades of Grey sequels. Incidentally, the top Google search for ‘Ministry of Culture’ yields a local company that promotes some sort of corporate motivational team-building. Wonder if there’ll be any suits filed for copyright infringement ala Subway.

In 1985, ‘Culture’, with its negative connotations as mind controllers, was taken out, and the MCD (Community Development) was formed. It’s only in 2000 when SPORTS was plopped in to form MCDS, and ‘Youth’ joined the fray in 2004 to the soon-to-be-defunct MCYS. It’s also ironic how the government needs to set up a ministry arm solely for YOUTH when we’re on the crest of a silver tsunami. If I had my way with government acronyms, I would have gone for McCOYS (Ministry of Culture, Community, Old people, Youth and Sports) which just about covers EVERYTHING. We’re also more likely to have an SCOG (Senior Citizens’ Olympic Games) than a YOG. At the rate these ministries are splitting, you’ll have a whole chunk of large Roman numerals instead of abbreviations. At least some people can still make out Roman numerals.

What did having a SPORTS ministry ever do to produce a sporting  nation? Our Olympic medal winners are foreign-born. We have some decent swimmers, sailors and shooters here and there. But our local footballers have been the same dismally inconsistent lot for the last 12 years that ‘Sports’ has been part of MCYS. Our best moments in the Game (Malaysia Cup) were in the 90′s, BEFORE sports got noticed as a government agenda. Today, we can’t get past mediocre ASEAN teams even with the government boosting our foreign import funds, which either means our sports officials are getting it all wrong, or we simply are a nation who are no longer interested. Mah Bow Tan’s expensive Goal 2010 fantasy turned out to be one as attainable as flying solar-powered cars (It may be argued that the state of football is worse off now than when this pipe dream was cast more than a decade ago). Obviously the tactic of pumping in money to buy talent (players or coaches) on the pretense of grooming a sporting nation just isn’t working.

‘Arts’ emerged in 1990 from a messy series of acronym spin-offs, from the Ministry of Culture to MCI (Communications, Information), MCD and then MITA (the ‘TA’ stands for THE ARTS, without the ‘T’ it would be ‘M.I.A’), a move lauded by struggling artists who needed government investment and support, until MITA began clamping down again on offensive material and recordings as its grandparent Ministry once did (A Janet Jackson album and the video game Half-Life). Sounding too close to ‘MATA’, MITA then rebranded itself as the effeminate MICA (Information, Communication, Arts) in 2001, and proceeded to get on the nerves of arty folk by banning gay concerts like ‘Affect 05′ in 2005. Unlike the short-lived Sports arm, Arts enjoyed a good run of over 2 decades despite the zealous snipping, keeping the scene vibrant and local performances afloat, though there are always critics complaining that they’re never doing enough. We also have an ‘Arts’ NMP Janice Koh in a government now castrated of an Arts body, someone credible to comment on Grandfather Road issues when the ministerial body itself has trouble defining what ART is. But I think the simpler reason is that having a ministry of ARTS gives ART a bad name. Film fans have already felt the effects of the omission of ARTS , with this year’s Film Fest pulled out due to lack of funds. I think there’s something more deeply entrenched in the Singaporean psyche that defies government intervention when it comes to sports and arts. We have been bred and raised with a very skewed bias towards a results-based ideal of personal achievement, one that doesn’t involve a paintbrush or kicking balls.

Our Malaysian neighbours have a cleaner dichotomy in the form of a ‘Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage’ and a ‘Ministry of Youth and Sports’, the former bringing to mind the image of a fuddy-duddy curator who knows his history and the latter that of an hip, vivacious, fun-loving official devoted to keeping the country relevant. Japan has the same idea as me when it comes to combining everything together, with its Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The PM proposed 3-tier system with its bland categorisation sounds wan and jaded, with the MSF, or should I say Ministry of Procreation, as a disturbing personification of all the kaypoh aunties who ask when you’re getting married or when you’re having kids during Chinese New Year.

Fifty Shades of Grey banned from libraries

From ‘Library’s shades of double standards’, 2 June 2012, ST Life!

(Dr Oh Jen Jen): While I understand the National Library Board’s reluctance to add the Fifty Shades trilogy to its catalogue, I cannot quite accept its practice of double standards (No Fifty Shades For Library, Life!, May 29).

I consider novels by Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins and Harold Robbins, available at public libraries here, equally, if not more, sexually explicit than E.L. James’ fluff. Another title I spotted on the shelf is Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, which contains graphic violence and sexual content.

As already mentioned by another avid reader, Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series is also easily available. Protecting young, impressionable minds from undesirable influences is important, but the above examples demonstrate the NLB’s inconsistency in its choices.

Young adult fiction is now dominated by the likes of Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins. Meyer wrote Breaking Dawn, which features a childbirth scene that I found positively horrifying despite the nature of my job. Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, on the other hand, describes a world where teenagers participate in government-sanctioned slaughter-fests, and the novel appears on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books for 2010, citing ‘sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence’ as reasons.

And, yes, both authors’ series are found in the National Library’s catalogue. My parents never restricted my reading choices and I believe that open dialogue and guidance are far more beneficial than an outright ban.

Library in a knot over 50 Shades

As a hugely popular blockbuster series that started off as Twilight fan fiction, it is unlikely that ‘young impressionable minds’ will get their hands on 50 Shades without making reservations way in advance. If the kids can’t wait to read BDSM prose in a series that brings new meaning to ‘young ADULT fiction’, or if bored housewives long to fulfill their darkest desires vicariously through a tortured ‘heroine’, they can always try their luck at Kinokuniya for a quickie browse, if not download the e-version online.

If we need some sleazy teenage prose to save the book format , get people to read on the trains instead of playing with their phones, and keep our bookstores, but more importantly the entire paperback industry, alive, then so be it. In fact, in the original Life! article, a book publisher quipped that this ban is a ‘welcome shot in the arm for struggling bookstores’. So even if the library decides to put M18 warning labels or place 50 Shades so high up on the shelves that kids can’t reach it, you will have Ye Ol’ Bookshops shouting the promo poster  shamelessly behind stacks of this adolescent smut in display windows everywhere, at discounted prices if necessary, maybe bundled with some handcuffs or leather straps for good measure.

Here are other ‘classics’ which were deemed too ‘pornographic’ or offensive for our library collections:

1) Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn (1938):  Banned in America for almost 30 years, Tropic is an autobiography of its very horny, misogynistic author and his sexcapades in New York City, where women are described by Miller as ‘supercunts’. Another novel, Plexus, was described by a blogger reviewer as containing ‘unapologetically group sex, drunken abuse of colleagues, scatological enterprise, what may amount to rape in the modern context..’

Horny Miller

2) DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) : This literary romp-fest needs no introduction.

3) Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ (1953 ): Adapted into a movie of the same name which was also banned for blasphemous depictions of the Lord Jesus Christ. Goes without saying that some sex is involved.

4) Judy Blume’s books: Accused of promoting underage dating and eventually sex, Judy Blume at first glance appears to be the most innocent of the lot, that is, until you read ‘Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret‘ where a tween prays to dance with the hottest boy in school ‘just once or twice’. She even has a book titled ‘Freckle Juice’, which could be mistaken for the title of a Barely Legal porn DVD series. If 50 Shades advocates hollow, brutal sex among consenting adults, then Blume’s puberty fantasies are baby steps towards ultimate debauchery.

5) Helen Bannerman’s The Story of Little Black Sambo (1899): A children’s picture book which was allowed for loan in our libraries (Book that raised storm abroad is popular in Singapore, 7 Jan 1991, ST) but, as the title suggests, slammed for racist depictions of dark-skinned people elsewhere. Do kids these days still read Noddy?

As social norms of what distinguishes ‘art’ from ‘porn’ evolve, what was once unacceptable (infidelity, multiple partners, inter-species sex) is now commonplace in ‘young adult fiction’, and it’s only a matter of time before voluntary degradation and humiliation that are the hallmarks of sadomasochism join the rest of the erotica bandwagon in toeing the line of public decency. If prestige is at stake, and if NLB insists on portraying itself as a responsible purveyor of wholesome literary entertainment, then banning a book like 50 shades makes sense, though one should question whether we should rely on librarians to decide for a bunch of uncontrollable, sex-crazy teens as to how far one should relent on graphic sex for the sake of ‘artistic merit’. By fuddy-duddily clamping down on such popular literature,  the library is not so much a place to cultivate the reading habit anymore, nevermind the rainbow murals and funky furniture. With reference materials available at the click of a mouse, what was once a nourishing wellspring of information and imagination has turned into a study centre, a lounge for uncles to read newspapers, or an internet cafe for schoolkids to log on to Facebook when their parents aren’t around.

Until the day when those dark smudges around fashionable young girls’ eyes are no longer vampire goth-inspired makeup but actual bruises, or if you no longer see bracelets around their wrists but rope burns , 50 shades and its torture-kiddy-porn  SM spinoffs are here to stay. We’re no longer in Sweet Valley High territory anymore.

Girl-on-girl kissing at Star Awards

From ‘Girl on girl kiss to be censored in re-run of awards show’, 4 May 2012, article in asiaone.com

A kiss between female actresses Vivian Lai and Kate Pang has sparked a furore among Singaporeans. Actress-host Lai, 36, kissed actress Kate Pang, 29, on the lips for one second when she was announced as one of the Top 10 Most Popular Female Artistes during Sunday’s live telecast of the Star Awards Show 2.

Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that many viewers called its hotline to say they were offended by the kiss. They said that while some women may find kissing each other to be “trendy”, they were not used to it.

Some also said that it was strange to see female artistes dressed sexily and kissing each other. The Media Development Authority (MDA) said it will probe the incident to ascertain whether it has breached content guidelines of the free-to-air TV programme code.

A spokesperson for broadcaster MediaCorp told The New Paper that the “kiss” will be censored for this Sunday’s repeat telecast as some viewers may not be comfortable.

They should have won Most Favourite Couple

This will probably be the most useless snip in the history of television, regardless of what people think of two women kissing. Even if there were erotic undertones here beyond a ‘sisterly’ peck, it would have went unnoticed if the people obsessed with ‘lesbianism’ hadn’t cried foul over it. Perhaps cleavage just fails to shock anymore,  that there’s only a few ways to display one’s assets,  to the point that even the underboob has been milked dry. This Western glam concept of celebrity lip smooching has taken the attention away from boring speculations of boob jobs or waiting for wardrobe malfunctions to occur. The awards  have become secondary and our Mediacorp artistes are being ravaged on the red carpet for tasteless frocks, if not accused of aping the decadent West and turning viewers gay with their antics. People who’ve never seen a single Mediacorp drama the entire year would have at least heard of this event, but only for the wrong reasons. Soon no one will even remember or care about who won the Best Drama or Actress, nor male artistes who dress like hobos, and the Star Awards will be known just for two things: Ann Kok’s ample bosom and a hot girly kiss. Pity the former wasn’t involved in the latter, or you would have the prudes getting cardiac arrests before even writing in to complain about too much sex on TV.

This spontaneous couple seem to have taken a cue off Britney and Madonna, who locked lips on stage at the 2003 MTV awards, with a hint of tongue too. Nobody’s calling either a lesbian.

Our authorities have also banned the first hit single from Katy Perry titled ‘I Kissed a Girl’, which anyone can download off Youtube below, although no girls were actually kissing in the video. Katy went on to marry comedian Russell Brand in a rather short-lived romance, proof that she too wasn’t a lesbian.

Our censors also deleted scenes off critically acclaimed films like The Hours, and banned films like Shame altogether because of threesome scenes which I presume, would have some girly action as well. Kissing used to be a fun thing; experimental, playful and affectionate, and celebrities have the privilege of playing fast and loose with their PDA as they deem fit. Because they ARE celebrities.  Better that they engage in same-sex kissing than snort cocaine. These complainants are treating the act as if someone dropped a box full of forceps in the middle of a life-saving surgery.

Football players smooch each other all the time after scoring goals, yet no one talks about censoring matches because these contain ‘harmful’ scenes of sweaty men kissing, that boys who watch them may end up spending more time in the locker room than necessary. If two men kiss, it’s awkward or a prank, especially when presidents do it. If two ‘sexily dressed’ ladies kiss, however,  a ‘guideline’ has been breached and the innocent need to be protected.

One thing’s certain though; the kissing video would garner more hits than the  combined viewership of both live and rerun shows, even among people who have no idea who Joanne Peh is. Kate Pang may even score the Top 10 favourite artist list every year from now on, even if nobody has seen her act. Going near topless to boost a lacklustre career doesn’t work anymore, and it’s no longer peek-a-boo but ‘peck-a-(chio)bu’ that makes the Star Awards worth saving.

‘Shame’ banned over a threesome scene

From ‘What a Shame about no-show’, 21 April 2012, article by Annabeth Leow, Life!

…The critically acclaimed British film Shame, directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, will not play in Singapore cinemas – all because of a sex scene involving one man and two women. Cathay-Keris Films had tried to bring in the movie for local distribution.

The Media Development Authority’s (MDA) Board of Film Censors gave it an R21 rating and, additionally, asked for a group sex scene to be trimmed. Despite an appeal from Cathay, MDA remained firm on the snip needed. Since McQueen did not allow any changes to be made to his film, Cathay had no choice but to abort its distribution plans.

…In a statement, an MDA spokesman said: ‘After consulting the Films Consultative Panel on the film Shame, we are of the view that the prolonged and explicit threesome sex sequence has exceeded our classification guidelines.’

How everyone feels about the Shame ban

Despite relenting on films depicting gay marriage such as last year’s The Kids are Alright, the Board of Censors are still queasy when it comes to group sex and orgies. According to the guidelines, orgies are considered ‘deviant’ activities, along the lines of BDSM and bestiality. In 1999, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut required a cut for an orgy scene which featured Hindu scripture chanting in the background. The opening scene in the 2008 Jason Statham vehicle The Bank Job was snipped as it featured a princess in a sweaty threesome. In ‘Watchmen’, a nude Dr Manhattan cloned himself to pleasure Silk Spectre, yet that scene was passed with an M18 rating. Apparently it’s not considered group sex if one partner is multiplied many times over.

Are orgies, which are probably as ancient as gay sex, deemed such ‘unnatural’ acts that they deserve to be banned from our cinemas? Is having sex with more than one person simultaneously more depraved than say,  violent anal sex (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)? Isn’t a playful orgy less discomfiting to the viewer than a brutal gang rape (The Accused, Boys Don’t Cry)?  In ‘Shoot Em Up’, Monica Belluci’s character is a LACTATING prostitute and the movie was passed with an NC16/M18 rating. In Splice (NC16/M18), Adrian Brody’s scientist has sex with a mutant female species he created from animal/human DNA, which later  transforms into an aggressive male form that ends up  raping and inseminating his female partner. In the classic horror flick the Fly, a man-fly hybrid makes a normal female pregnant with his offspring. The list of ‘deviant’  abominations that defile the sacred union between one man and one woman is endless, whether it’s man-insect, man-alien, or man-pie intercourse.

Would screening images of a writhing mass of naked bodies in an erotic scrum trigger a wave of promiscuity and STDs among Singaporeans? Perhaps ‘group sex’, in the eyes of the censors, differentiates an ‘erotic’ movie from a ‘pornographic’ one, or has lurid suggestions of satanic cult behaviour based on the ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ experience. It’s been more than a dozen years of the censors slapping bans on such scenes, while we allow ultraviolence to fester to more extreme depths of depravity. If Singaporeans no longer shudder at the thought of pre-pubescent girls plying the flesh trade or even incest,  I doubt they would bat an eyelid at a menage a trois. In fact, seeing a bunch of kids slaughter each other in the Hunger Games is more chilling to me than them huddling naked in a bathtub and scrubbing each other suggestively with sponges.

In fact, groupies already exist, with or without MDA’s interventions. A China Daily report in 2006 exposed local swinger clubs which engage in partner swapping and group sex. The timing of this decision to ban Shame is worth scoffing at too, considering how we’ve been hit lately by a spate of sex scandals involving underaged prostitutes and women who sleep with high ranking officials, and here we are getting all worked up over a flesh sandwich when escorts here are paid according to specific, often demeaning, acts defined only by acronyms. I doubt the scene in Shame would be classified, in porn parlance, as a ‘gangbang’, and as expected this ban has intensified my interest in watching it, or at least trying to download the film online, something that everyone else who knows about the ban WILL do, and the same people who decimate great films like these talk about combating movie piracy…

But here’s the next best thing for the rest of us who refuse to download Shame because we value the film-maker’s work, even if our censors entice us to do so by blasting a cold shower on this steamy film: A banned poster of the movie itself.

I wonder who shot this

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