Majulah campaign a nationalistic propaganda tool

From ‘Majulah clip draws strong criticism..but praise too’, 21 Feb 2016, article by Joanna Seow, Sunday Times

The group of six behind a provocatively titled video about national identity was prepared for a worse reception than their efforts being labelled “propaganda”.

“The worst-case scenario for me was that no one would even care about the message we were trying to deliver,” said Mr Muhammad Hafiz, 27, the technical director for the We Are Majulah campaign.

But far from being ignored, the video titled I Will Not Die For Singapore has been shared more than 12,100 times on Facebook since its launch on Feb 15. In the first two days alone, it received 48,000 views, over half of which lasted the full length of the eight-minute clip, said 28-year-old Divian Nair, who fronted the video and is the campaign’s creative director.

…The strongest criticisms have been that the movement is a “nationalistic propaganda tool” that will harm society, said Mr Nair.

Don’t flatter yourself. The prospects of Majulah sparking a ‘nationalistic’ uprising are unfounded. Divian does sound sufficiently earnest in the video, but he is more man-on-the-street rah-rah-ing than a charismatic orator who could fire up Singaporeans into volunteering for the army for a greater cause. The melodramatic strings in the background  do little to drive the masses into a jingoistic frenzy. At most, it’s like listening to an orientation camp leader psyching up students before a game, or a volunteer on the street beseeching you to donate your bone marrow. Divian is no cult master demanding a blood sacrifice, though he would make an excellent counselor if you’ve had a bad day and need someone to give you a hug. Yes, take my bone marrow, sirs, but don’t make me sit through another minute of relentless heartstring-tugging. And yes, there’s a clip of LKY’s state funeral in there too.

‘We Are Majulah’ has good intentions, and the team automatically qualifies as a candidate for Singaporean(s) of the Year for their efforts, and may even give Dick Lee a run for the money for creative directorship of this year’s NDP.  But like all calls-to-arms, the effectiveness of the campaign lies not in the content of the message alone, but how it’s packaged and delivered. An 8-minute video with soppy strings would probably suffer the same fate as a heartfelt Mediacorp drama disguised as a Medishield Life ad. Majulah tries to be the Sovil Et Titus of ‘nationalistic’ videos; it has a decent leading man, the right mood, but it would take quite a bit of patience to sit through a humourless monologue without opening another tab to watch videos of cats jumping into random boxes.

I think the team would probably PREFER to be labelled as chest-thumping propaganda than judged to be, well, merely forgettable. Like a wedding video montage of some couple you barely knew in school and the only reason why you’re watching it is because it’s too dark to tuck into the starter dish. Majulah? More like ‘Meh-julah’. I was hoping the climax would deliver the answer to the first question posed in the video: WOULD DIVIAN, OR ANYONE IN WE ARE MAJULAH, DIE FOR SINGAPORE? But no answer came. If this teasing was intentional, it would be a real shitty cliffhanger for a probable second video, titled: ‘YES I WILL DIE FOR SINGAPORE, BUT…’.

In this Instagram age, you need to pander to the short attention-span economy, one that gives you their fullest attention for a full 5 seconds (the compulsory time that lapses before your cat video on Youtube). Something that isn’t just ‘viral’, but propels people into action beyond the click of the button. The ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ or a LKY car decal comes to mind. Using terrorist scaremongering and horrific scenarios like a mob of martyrs jumping on top of a suicide bomber doesn’t work anymore. You also can’t just urge people to use ‘Majulah’ seriously in their conversations without tongue-in-cheek snarkiness like how people use ‘Hallelujah’ outside of Christmas. Majulah has none of the catchiness, inventiveness, even practical usefulness of, say, ‘Bo Jio’. You can’t ‘Majulah’ your neighbour without sounding like you’re hailing a Caesar. Or Fuhrer. It’s like a primary school music teacher beating your head with a baton prompting you to complete the lyric with ‘Singapura’ when you’re just learning how to sing the National Anthem.

This is how Majulah is already being used in our daily speech, other than being sung by schoolkids all over the country:

‘Hey bro, where’s your IPPT ah?’
‘Maju (camp), lah’.

If there’s any phrase that encapsulates the Singaporean can-do spirit, the attitude that we will endure whatever shitstorm that hits us, that we will live on in stoic forbearance in the face of things we cannot control, a term that speaks volumes about our perseverance and humility when the odds are against us, it would be ‘Liddat lor’, the equivalent of Game of Thrones’ ‘Valar Morghulis’, or All men must die. This, fellow Singaporeans, is the ‘glue’ that has bound us all along, from the years of war-torn hardship to today’s fight against invisible enemies, whether they be the tiniest of viruses or a ISIS fanboy in disguise. We may be a cynical, emotionless lot, but no one can deny our hardiness in the face of despair. The boy who made it out of NS in one piece. The cardboard-selling auntie. Those exiled abroad following defamation or sedition charges with a faint glimmer of hope to return. We take it all in our stride, little by little ‘onward’, without the need for hollow slogans or self-made patriots with the naivete to change a country’s psyche to keep us going.

When you lost your job to a foreigner and your friends ask you how’s the job hunt going. Liddat lor.

When your kid barely passed PSLE and you wasted thousands on enrichment programs. Liddat lor.

When the MRT fares are raised again and your pay is still shit because economic downturn. Liddat lor.

And despite the MRT fare raise, the train still breaks down in between Yio Chu Kang and Kranji and you have no choice but to walk on the tracks and take selfies along the way. Liddat lor.


In times of genuine disappointment and rejection, you can even accentuate it with an ‘Aiya’.

When you missed out on the Toto lucky draw top prize by a single digit. ‘AIYA. Liddat lor’.

When your favorite fishball noodle stall runs out of fishballs after you’ve been queuing for an hour. ‘AIYA. Liddat lor’.

An effective, stable society is run not just by an exceptional minority taking purposeful action, punching above their own weight and Majulah-ing, but a greater majority with the resilience to stomach difficult times without storming the palace fists raised and guns ablazing.   So, Keep Calm and #Liddat Lor, Singapore.


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