From ‘New law on Mr Lee Kuan Yew ‘not aimed at artists or creative work”, 31 may 2015, article by Walter Sim, ST
A new law to safeguard the name and image of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew from commercial profit is not aimed at restricting artistic or creative work, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said yesterday.
Such work could include paintings, books, movies, photographs or performances that make use of Mr Lee’s name or image, a ministry spokesman said in response to queries from The Sunday Times.
“Such works may be sold for private gain, but they are different from merchandised products for the mass market. Hence they will not be covered under the proposed law,” the spokesman said.
“The specific intent of the proposed law is to prevent Mr Lee’s image or name from being used in commercial merchandise. Examples are things like chocolate boxes, souvenir coins or medallions and office stationery,” she added.
‘Commercial merchandise’ would also include perishables like a Breadtalk bun in tribute to the man. Though borne out of good intentions with a charity aspect to it, negative reactions from the public swiftly killed the product. Which leads me to wonder, with such strong emotions displayed by Singaporeans in response to any form of exploitation of LKY’s name and image, is there even a need for a half-baked posthumous law where submissions are on a ‘case-by-case’ basis? You would have to set up an entire section within the ministry just to evaluate whether people can put LKY’s face on a manga comic, a doggie bowl, a video game, a lego set or a goddamn key chain.
Then there’s the question of what differentiates ‘commercial merchandise’ from those exempted for ‘artistic’ or ‘creative’ reasons if profit is to be made either way. If the garage that gave away the Alex Yam-designed ‘black ribbon’ car decals had instead sold them at 50 cents each in honour of SG50, would that be breaching the new law? Even if they did distribute the stickers for free, business may have surged after the gesture and earn the wrath of critics scoffing such tribute acts as ‘publicity stunts’ to generate revenue indirectly. If something of a ‘commemorative’ nature like a ‘souvenir coin’ is not allowed under the proposed legislation, what about those planned special edition $10 and $50 notes featuring LKY on them?
I was once in a cafe which showcased a series of LKY’s books as ‘browsing material’, possibly to draw reverent customers who are either too cheapstake to buy the books themselves, or have no idea how libraries work. So it’s hard to tell if someone is genuinely in awe of the man, or using some typical business cunning to reap profits out of his death, even if none of the actual merchandise that they’re selling has anything to do with LKY, or politics for that matter. It’s like a bar owner promoting a ‘Michael Jackson’ night and playing nothing but MJ albums on his stereo on the singer’s death anniversary, without necessarily giving his cocktails and salad entrees cheesy names like ‘Thriller’ or ‘Dill the World’.
There’s also the issue of whether I can only depict the man in a favourable light. If I were a performance artist mimicking our Dear Leader, but instead of all-white shirt and pants I’m dressed in a dragon emperor’s robe, would I be hauled up by the Police for doing injustice to Him even if I’m not earning a single cent from my act? Chances are someone would run up and slap me in the face before the police even get to hunt me down for blasphemy. I bet you won’t see LKY drinking, smoking or swearing in the upcoming movie and musical, though I’m sure in real life he wasn’t immune from such vices. The man eats, shits and breathes like everyone else. Except that if you do portray him doing any of these things, you’ll likely get crucified on the spot, or worse, ‘Amos-Yeed’. It would also probably be illegal for you do post memes like these, even if the short and sweet content below speaks volumes about how some people are messing about with our dead leader’s name.
Instead of curbing the unnecessary deification of LKY, this impending law may very well make the man more of an ubermensch than he already is and feed into this hysterical personality cult that he was so dead set against. He was protected by security officers and Gurkhas nearly all his life. Today we propose to shield the man with wishy-washy state laws, because there’s no dead person greater who deserves our veneration, not first President Yusof Ishak, Sir Stamford Raffles, comedian Victor Khoo, nor legendary getai Beng Ah Nan. Leave Him in peace already.