Keyboard thug apologising to DPM Teo

From ‘JC student apologises to DPM for blog post’, 8 June 2012, article by Stacey Chia and Matthias Chew, ST

Junior college student Reuben Wang was so annoyed by what he heard from a VIP at a seminar that he blogged: ‘F*** you, sir.’ The VIP was Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, the key speaker at this year’s annual Pre-U Seminar attended by more than 500 students last week.

Reuben’s blog post went viral and he blogged again, unrepentant about his use of the expletive. But on Thursday, the St Andrew’s Junior College (SAJC) student had a change of heart, met Mr Teo at the Ministry of Home Affairs and apologised to him.

The JC1 student told The Straits Times later that he realised his post was ‘rash’ after reading his friends’ comments. Mr Teo said: ‘I am glad he has taken the time to reflect, and recognises that what he said, as well as the way he said it, were wrong.

…He accused Mr Teo of dodging difficult questions during the question-and-answer portion of the seminar on May 29, by turning the questions on students instead of answering them himself. They included questions on press freedom and a sense of belonging in Singapore.

Reuben wrote the profanity three times in his 700-word public post. Three days later, he wrote again to say he stood by his remarks, even as he conceded that his use of the swear word was in ‘bad taste’.

‘I  see people asking you questions but you tossed them right back, so I’m like F***!’

Just before Reuben had a sudden change of heart and decided to man up and apologise to TCH, someone wrote an article bashing his behavior as the sign of a cowardly, impertinent youth gone wild with no ‘respect for an elder person’, referring to the generation of kids who’re more vocal online than face to face as ‘a generation of keyboard thugs’. Fact is  ‘keyboard thugs’ have always existed, before even blogs or Facebook, and it’s not just irresponsible brats with no experience in the ‘ways of the world’ (unlike ‘elder statesmen’) who’re ‘hiding behind screens’ dishing out the dirt. Reuben doesn’t deserve to be given a name associated with certain gangsta rappers, and anyone who’s an advocate for Internet ‘hygiene’ should himself refrain from calling 17 year olds names as well.

Bone Thugs and Disharmony

If critics are so appalled by the utter disrespect displayed by an otherwise passionate 17 year old like Reuben, they’ll be in for a nasty surprise when they trawl random forums, where one will see anonymous ‘fuck you’s aimed at politicians in general, including the ELDEST politician ever, without even bothering to end it with a ‘SIR’. ‘Lack of respect’ and ‘Asian values’ are also used on plucky journalists who dare to interrupt elder politicians as well, as ‘Why My Vote Matters’ Today reporter Lee Ching Wern would attest in 2006, after calling the PAP ‘arrogant’ before the likes of LKY. ‘Asian values’ which tell you the right way to bow before seniors has no place in healthy political discourse, and even a politician on a ventilator with peripheral neuropathy approaching his 90th birthday shouldn’t deter challengers, as long as you pose your argument like a gentleman.  Of course it’s one’s choice if you decide to use ‘F-U’ is a stat sweetener (hence more attention) for what you write.  It’s probably unfair to generalise our youth as a bunch of gutless, ungrateful, vulgar cyber-whingers. If you equip a kopitiam uncle with the necessary skills, he’d probably slap TCH about with a couple of Hokkien vulgarities as well. And he may even be OLDER than our DPM too.

Before the rather harsh ‘thug’ connotation, bloggers like Reuben were  ‘keyboard warriors’. A derogative term meant to describe anyone whose online bark is worse than their bite, instead of the usual classic virtues of sacrifice, strength and honour associated with the ancient word ‘warrior’. Celebrity model blogger Xuesha used it against people calling her a bimbo for mispronouncing ‘Forbes’. A YOG Cheer contest winner used it against critics of JJ Lin’s ridiculous Oh Yeah Oh Yeah cheer. Before you know it, anyone with an honest OPINION is dubbed a keyboard warrior (which makes me the Braveheart of all keyboard warriors…You can take away my blog, but you can’t take away..MY KEYBOARD!!). It’s only in 2011 when the GE took hold that ‘keyboard warrior’ applied to people expressing their political views online without following up with ‘action’. Yet we know of people who talk  in public all the time with the same end result (NATO:No action Talk Only). Do we call them ‘microphone’ warriors then?

Once were warriors

Last year, the Cyber Wellness Student Ambassadors created a role unfortunately titled ‘Cyber WARRIORS’, where instead of launching online attacks on incompetent teachers as the role suggests, these volunteers are in fact countering ‘cyber-bullies’, who are a vicious subset of ‘keyboard warriors’ more aligned to the ‘thug’ family. To add to the confusion, we also have ‘trolls’ too. Thugs, warriors, bullies, trolls. I think we should rename the Internet  community ‘Middle Earth’, more specifically MORDOR. I guess we know who’s Gandalf the WHITE then.

This tired tactic of ‘questioning the questioner’, despite its intention to ‘provoke thought’ instead of spoon-feeding kids with answers, should be used sparingly, lest it be seen as an unlimited ‘Get out of Jail card ‘when one DOESN’T have the answer himself. DPMs can’t afford to say ‘I don’t know’ in front of the bright-eyed future of Singapore, and we can’t expect them to have the answers ALL the time.  As a public figure, in fact for any public speaker with subject expertise in my opinion, you need to at least show some mettle and set an example through wisdom and confidence. You need to inspire instead of being seen as a ‘good listener’. You need to hold the handles on your child’s training bike and give direction before letting it go. You want your audience to occasionally nod in unison instead of sitting slack-jawed and dumbfounded feeling like this ‘dialogue’ was an utter waste of time.  You need to deliver a ‘take-home message’ not ‘homework’. Otherwise it’s not so much Q n A but rather Q n Q. Or you can totally dominate your quizzers like the consumate lawyer-politician that is LKY.

Perhaps our history of political stifling and fear indoctrination have rendered our youths mute in the face of politicians, which explains our pent-up hostility online. LKY once complained why no Singaporean spoke up at a NTU student forum. Vivian Balakrishnan had a tough time engaging youths in 2008, with one attendee saying that ‘you can’t anyhow say what you want to a minister…in case the minister shoots a question back at you’. Asking the questioner questions back isn’t the only thing deterring aspiring youths from confronting ministers. Some would even pry into your private life and ask you to to weigh your priorities between a pHD and having a boyfriend. It’s also not surprising that some conspiracy theorists would see this a calculated ploy to boost TCH’s ratings after his own WP bullying. A rascal says ‘fuck you’ to him and he not only tolerates it but entertains a face-to-face apology cum getting-to-know-you session, which gives the impression of a leader who not only encourages the youth to ‘think for themselves’ but is magnanimous and obliging as well. The government’s PR unit must be wetting their beds in ecstasy.


2 Responses

  1. Apology…pffft..!Why then does the keyboard “thug” not own it up on his blog, yet “choose/force” to do so via the mainstream media? In fact, he even shut down his blog! The entire ‘graceful episode” reminds me indeed of a slick PR/intervention behind the scene. Only those involved really knows what has been exchanged or “trade-off” so to speak. We find it hard to believe that if he has genuinely repent, he would have gone on his own record, in his own words, on his own blog, finished with a tv interview rather than doing so via the official mouthpiece. This whole thing just smack of another one of those ploys where PAP is very good at silencing or instilling fear , either through intimidation or coercion. You have to be skeptical that he has not compromised his independent thoughts by trying to save face for DPM. I am reminded of Lim Hock Siew’s words “I am not interested to save face for LKY just to prove he is right…” in spite of a 19 years detention.

  2. […] or cynical? – My Singapore News: The rights and wrongs of Reuben Wang – Everything Also Complain: Keyboard thug apologising to DPM Teo – Bertha Harian: Dialogue – not monologue – Publichouse: An apology – and then the […]

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