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.


DJ Chris Ho calling for ‘fckn’ Singaporeans to be killed

From ‘Radio DJ apologises for Facebook post’, 5 April 2014, article by Walter Sim, ST

A MEDIACORP Lush 99.5FM DJ apologised yesterday for a controversial Facebook post in which he called for Singaporeans to be killed. Mr Chris Ho commented on an army recruitment advertisement on the social media platform on Thursday.

The campaign, launched last December, bears the slogan: “How far would you go to protect our home?” The Singaporean wrote in response: “How far…? Let’s see… I’m with you foreigners! Kill the **** Singaporeans but not my friends, can?”

His comment caused fury among netizens and was reposted on citizen journalism portal Stomp. Contributor Tee Seng said: “What kind of joke is this? If he hates Singaporeans so much, why is he still here? I used to be a fan of his but he has gone too far.”

Mr Ho told The Straits Times yesterday he was surprised by the response. “It is such a far-fetched statement that I’m shocked that Singaporeans are taking it so seriously,” he said, adding that the “satirical” message was meant to mock the campaign slogan. “Hello, Singaporeans, you mean you need people to give you a wake-up call to defend the country?” he asked.

“Why should the question be put forth as such? Singaporeans who love the country would know what to do.” He said he wanted to allude to the rising levels of anti-foreigner sentiment here. The ex-Straits Times rock columnist added: “I think Singaporeans are looking for a new Anton Casey… I’m not advocating genocide.”

How far? Too far for some, apparently

How far? Gone too far for some, apparently

It took me a while to ‘get’ the humour behind Chris Ho’s jibe at the SAF ad, and thankfully, I’m not the only one who thinks he’s ‘too cheem’ for me. It’s also hard to tell when he’s sarcastic or furious when he and New Nation bickered online over the post where the latter made fun of Chris ‘falling’ for a satire piece about ‘Man dying in a protest against foreigners‘ (which wasn’t even very funny to begin with). I don’t know what experts on wit think of either example of this ‘satire’, but in my book, satire should have universal appeal, is spontaneous, and actually funny to someone other than the creator. Or maybe it’s just me.

As for the ad, I don’t see anything wrong with asking someone ‘how far would you go’ to defend the nation, even if any response other than ‘I’ll fight to the death’ will be deemed unacceptable. It’s like asking ‘Will you die for Singapore?’, or ‘How much would you give to society?’, a pedantic rhetorical device to remind you of your duty, where an actual answer isn’t expected because we don’t want to hear the ugly truth.  But there’s a double meaning here too if you interpret ‘how far’ in terms of literal DISTANCE, which is more likely to be the case here, looking at the mountains in the background. It sounds sensible at first, referring to overseas stints from Brunei to Afghanistan to get you all geared up for military operations, but if you think about it, the further away you are, the SLOWER you are in coming back in the event of a real ATTACK back home. Either way, the slogan is bound to get criticised, and Chris, or X’Ho, is no stranger when it comes to controversy or criticising his home country.

Dj-ing for Lush aside, Chris is a local music icon who in the early 80’s performed as frontman for Zircon Lounge and is today revered as the counter-cultural antithesis to more ‘wholesome’ ambassadors like Dick Lee.  He also dabbles in ‘spoken word’ album territory, and from his 1999 album ‘X’ with an X’ came a track called ‘Singapore is Not My Country‘, his take on Alfian Bin Saat’s ‘ode’ to the nation (the full transcript here). In the 2000’s, Zircon Gov.Pawn Starz was formed. The album ‘Follywood’ features the track ‘Mouthless Fish‘ about people ‘barely breathing to make ends meet’, with BigO magazine rating it as the ‘most fucking punk rock album we have ever’. Check out this ‘punk rock’ album cover!

Majulah SingaPawnStarz

The ‘shock jock’ has even been filmed getting his PENIS tattooed. In THAI. A Today review of 2008’s Baphomet Sacrum describes him as ‘Singapore’s unfavourite son’.  Anyone unfamiliar with ‘dark wave’ or goth would think track titles such as ‘Satan’s Blood’ and ‘Her Soul’s Demise’ off the Lucifugous collaboration album were devotional hymns of the occult.  ‘No Ordinary Country’ has the refrain ‘Majulah Fearless Supremacy’ and its album cover has lightning logos on it. There’s even a song about the Blogfather himself called ‘Excuse Me Mr Brown’, where Chris calls Brown the ‘next Talking Cock big time’. ‘Talking cock’ being, well, the lingua franca of social media most of the time anyway.

So the first question that came to mind was: What did this multi-hyphenate (author, singer, DJ, film director) celebrity, being Singaporean and all, actually DO IN NS? According to a 2006 Interview with Today, he said he ‘has done everything he could think of to get into the Singapore Armed Forces MUSIC AND DRAMA Company’, and eventually spent 2 years as an actor after BMT. Like, who wouldn’t right? How far then would you go, Chris Ho, to protect this country that you love-hate so much? A question that wasn’t addressed in his FB apology, or maybe it was hidden somewhere so deep and lost in ‘satire’ that I couldn’t detect it with my radar for low-brow fart jokes and all.

There was a time when the man actually made seriously good pop music, without the Singapore-bashing and ‘satire’ getting in the way. Unlike his current ‘uneasy listening’ work, ‘Deeper’ (1992) is heartfelt and uncharacteristically melodious, and no surprise that this came before the ‘Punk Monk Hunk’ days, where spiritual awakenings mean getting your genitals pricked and scarred in the name of art. Pubic hair snipping? Amateur!

Which suggests that Chris is capable for much more than just ranting against the Government or NS, or participating in the Berlin Porn Festival. It would be nice to see that good ol’ innocent side of him once more.

Children burning schoolwork after PSLE

From ‘Burning question on post-PSLE ‘celebration’, 10 Oct 2013, ST

(Desiree Tan): IT SADDENED me to read about a group of children and parents burning school material right after the Primary School Leaving Examination (“Post-PSLE book-burning photo inflames netizens”; Tuesday). While I agree with netizens that these items should be recycled or given to needy pupils, the more disturbing issue is the celebratory connotation of the act of burning to signify the end of a major examination.

I can understand people blaming the system for placing too great an emphasis on exam grades. I can also understand that in their quest to excel, children experience a great deal of stress sitting the PSLE.

But to use these reasons to justify the act of burning school material is inexcusable. Are we teaching 12-year-olds that once they complete the PSLE, they can burn away what they have learnt?

What is the point of achieving stellar results if our children grow up with such thinking? The damage that has been done is far more serious than just killing trees.

We did start the fire

We did start the fire

Bonfire organiser Arnold Gay said the symbolic act of destroying schoolwork was ‘cathartic and fun’. One critic of the celebration said ‘books and writings’ should be revered and are a ‘sacred part of civilisation’ as if they were magical scrolls or scripture (We were not burning textbooks, says Kiss92 DJ Arnold Gay, 9 Oct 2013).  While my sympathies go to the authors of such assessment books or worksheets, tossing educational material into the fire isn’t a culmination of resentment against the system or deliberately erasing from memory everything primary school taught us so much as a stark, dramatic exaggeration of what people actually do with their old worksheets after the PSLE.  Not many of us would laminate them and stack them nicely in a chest as an heirloom to our descendents, hoping that they would look upon our maths notes like they just stumbled upon ancient manuscripts that foretell the ultimate fate of the Universe.

During my time there were no recycling bins to speak of, and most of what I threw away would have ended up disintegrating into ashes in the incinerator anyway. In fact, the most heinous acts of violence on school material were performed BEFORE the actual exam. Wooden rulers were snapped, pages were stabbed with pens and flunked test papers were ripped to shreds, sometimes by angry parents themselves. The holiest of tomes have been vandalised by the luminous scrawling of highlighter pens, battered into tatters, riddled with stains, disfigured by ugly dog ears and left to die like they were humiliated and gangraped a thousand times over. Though sometimes that is EXACTLY how some kids feel when they’re taking the PSLE. Better we take it out on homework than on ourselves, I say. A search on Youtube will reveal the many creative ways that liberated kids around the world destroy their schoolwork, by torching it with an acetylene flame, flushing it down a toilet, or literally letting their DOG EAT the damn thing.

I would imagine kids hurling schoolwork into the flames with the hedonistic zest of one destroying the autobiography of a ruthless dictator, the belongings of a spouse’s illicit lover, or the Pope condemning to Eternal Hell ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. There is nothing ‘sacred’ about mass-produced assessment sheets, and there’s no reason to treat the act as if someone blew up the National Archives and important knowledge has been lost forever, that these book-burning kids would grow up into rebellious troublemakers who would run their bosses’ family photo through the office shredder. Still, you shouldn’t need to make a party out of it like Arnold Gay did, and any torture that you’d wish to inflict on your notes just to fulfill your wildest, sickest fantasy should be performed in strictest privacy, like how I would gyrate to Ricky Martin songs when nobody’s watching.

Arnold Gay didn’t round up some Satanists to burn bibles or the Declaration of Independence, but such tribal abandon strikes me as rather premature. Let’s hope his kids actually PASS the exam, otherwise it’s not just assessment papers, but hopes and aspirations, that go up in flames.

LKY antagonising an entire generation of Chinese

From ‘Life after Cabinet…and death’, 11 Aug 2013, excerpts from ‘One Man’s View of the World’, Think, Sunday Times.

…Occasionally, when I disagree strongly with something, I make my views known to the Prime Minister. There was an instance of this when the Government was looking to reintroduce Chinese dialect programmes on free-to-air channels.

A suggestion was made: “Mandarin is well-established among the population now. Let us go back to dialects so the old can enjoy dramas.”

I objected, pointing out that I had, as prime minister, paid a heavy price getting the dialect programmes suppressed and encouraging people to speak Mandarin. So why backtrack?

I had antagonised an entire generation of Chinese, who found their favourite dialect programmes cut off. There was one very good narrator of stories called Lee Dai Sor on Rediffusion, and we just switched off his show.

Why should I allow Cantonese or Hokkien to infect the next generation? If you bring it back, you will find portions of the older generation beginning to speak in dialects to their children and grandchildren. It will creep back, slowly but surely…

When the Speak Mandarin Campaign brought its War on Dialect to radio in 1982, clamping down on dialect broadcasts over Rediffusion, that didn’t stop master storyteller Lee Dai Sor from producing his own albums, TWELVE of them in fact. That’s more albums than all the Singapore Idols combined. His bestseller cassette, Ru Chao San Bu Wen, was a folk legend about incompetent Qing emperors. In 1983, he rejected SBC’s invitation to perform at a New Year show because he had to speak Mandarin. In the media, he reportedly ‘retired from broadcasting’, but now we have confirmation from LKY himself that the plug was pulled on his show because it was in Cantonese.

This was a man who could sell the Singapore Story better any million-dollar NDP, but had to pursue his passion working for Radio Australia and Rediffusion Malaysia when his own country turned him away. Celebrated as a folk hero, drama company Toy Factory produced a play about Lee’s life, titled ‘Big Fool Lee’, a homage to Lee’s influence as the voice of a generation who refused to be muted by LKY’s social engineering. ‘Big Fool’ died in 1989, but his spirit, like dialect, lives on today.

Dialects have already crept into mainstream consciousness and pop culture, ‘slowly but surely’ no matter how LKY tried to suppress it with the same vigour as SARS. As late as 1990, Cantonese ‘patriotic’ songs like Sparrow With Twigs were banned from airplay and only recently reinstated. In a big way too, being featured in local movie ‘That Girl in Pinafore’. It’s not just the older generation ‘threatening’ to make dialect fashionable again. Local rapper Shigga Shay boasts about being a ‘Limpeh’. Mr Brown’s ‘Lekuasimi’ was a spoof of an NDP song. Royston Tan’s 881 made us (the English-educated included) all sing ‘Che Lang Che Pua’ in KTVs again.

We continue to order ‘kopi siew dai’, not ‘coffee, less sugar’, and order ‘har gao’, not ‘prawn dumplings’. Dialect has already been embedded in our social fabric, gone beyond the days of ‘Wah Lau’, and there’s nothing a 90 year old Hakka politician can do about it. Especially when his own PAP successors are using it as rhetoric. Goh Chok Tong used ‘pah see buay zao’ in reference to ‘stayers’. You could use the same phrase for Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese and what have you. If there’s anything that needs a resurgence it’s Mandarin itself, our general grasp of it left a lot to be desired, though we have more than enough PRCs moving here to help us, well, ‘keep up’ with the language.

Unlike Mandarin, dialect doesn’t exist in textbooks nor does it appear in listening comprehension tests.  It lives only in the hearts, minds and mouths of Singaporeans, young or old, proud enough to speak it and keep it alive, campaign or no campaign, a glorious artifact that binds us to our roots. Anyone can be a polyglot or Chinese scholar if they train hard enough, but only in Singapore can one be a true master of the dialects, like the late Ah Nan was. Those who agree, please Kee Chiu.

Married Men sacked for child abuse prank call

From ‘Prank that got The Married Men in trouble involves mention of child abuse and molest’, 18 Jan 2013, article by Maria Almenoar.

The radio segment which led to the termination of The Married Men’s contract with HotFM 91.3 involved a telephone prank on a woman who was apparently going to take up an early childhood course. On Thursday, deejay Andre Hoeden called the woman claiming to be an officer from an embassy who was doing a background check on her.

He asked if she hit children, to which she said no. Mr Hoeden then advised her to only hit children from poor families as they would not have the money or time to come after her with lawyers, unlike “expat children” from “very rich” families who could afford lawyers.

The call, which was part of the morning show’s “Kena Pluck” humour segment where people are tricked, also involved Mr Hoeden telling her that hugging children was considered molestation in some countries. He then asked if she had ever hit on any of her pupil’s fathers.

Hot FM91.3 said on Friday it terminated the services of The Married Men with immediate effect, citing a breach of the terms of its contract.

Barely a month ago, the Married men team were interviewed regarding their reaction to the nurse who killed herself over the Royal couple prank. They acknowledged that Kena Pluck had ‘limits’ and screened their prank requests carefully, rejecting anything to do with ‘death, disease, race, religion and national security’. In a follow up ST article on 19 Jan 2013, it was revealed that a listener had called in to complain about the prank. There was also mention of how the victim could do ‘favours’ for two officers to get visa approval more quickly, which suggests that the target was a foreign worker. If the station had been more discerning in light of the Royal couple suicide, and also consider how quickly our authorities crack down on defamatory material of late (especially anything related to corruption), perhaps Rod Monteiro and gang would have been spared this harsh twist of fate. They aren’t the first to be fired over inappropriate jokes though; Sheikh Hailkel was sacked from 98.7 FM following complaints for talking about ‘white panties’.

Unlike the random innocent bystander in most prank calls, Kena Pluck, or should I say ‘Kena SABO’, marked specific targets requested by listeners, who would fill the DJs in with the relevant background checks to make the caller as deviously believable as possible. Now why would anyone put their loved ones through such unnecessary evil for the sake of a couple of minutes of rib-tickling Schadenfreude?  Kena Pluck appears to be more of a petty revenge platform for callers to get back at ex-bosses, ex-lovers or a bad service provider. It’s one thing to be embarrassed, another to be freaked out, bullied AND embarrassed on national radio. At the end of each segment, the Married Men would let the victim in on the joke, though anyone in that position would be obliged to play along and laugh it off even though they may secretly be cursing the station for wasting their time. I mean, at least give the poor fellow a cash prize for being a sport or something.

Army gags seem to be a favourite of the Married Men. In 2009, Andre Hoedon commanded a boy to perform push ups over the phone. You actually feel sorry for the little squirt, even as you snigger at ‘Sgt Rajah’s’ antics.

If you’re an old man with a heart condition, you better pray your son doesn’t ‘pluck’ you out of nowhere by landing himself in ‘jail’.

Not all gags go smoothly though. In this jealous husband prank, you actually WORRY for the Married Men’s lives. Instead of funny, this is rather uncomfortable to listen to, with the DJs betraying a hint of nervous laughter rather than the usual maniacal version. Eerily, the victim threatened the DJs about ‘keeping their jobs’. Thanks a lot, wife, for not telling the DJs your husband’s a PSYCHO who forgot to take his daily medication.

In 1994, Class 95 FM reportedly pulled one where a producer posed as a head nurse to inform a new father that he had been given the WRONG BABY (Wrong baby prank on radio show draws listeners’ complaints, 11 May 1994, ST). Not so classy, or funny – especially if you pose as a nurse from KK Hospital.

Phone pranks are notoriously hit-or-miss, and you can’t have a hit without being somewhat MEAN or politically incorrect. They should also be kept short and sweet to end the recipient’s misery early in order to avoid any backlash of emotional distress. The longer the prankster carries on with it, the deeper he gets engrossed into the role, when he gets carried away with the manipulation of his victim and takes things over the edge, which is what could have happened in this case. Or they could have just messed with the wrong person with the wrong theme at the wrong time.  Tough luck to the Married Men, especially Rod Monteiro who suffered an acute stroke in early 2012. I wonder if the unnamed ‘saboteur’ who started all this rubbing his hands in malicious glee, is now holding his head with those same hands in guilt and shame.

Daniel Ong calling neighbour Sivalin-ganam style

From ‘He made fun of my name’, 26 Oct 2012, article by Foo Jie Ying, TNP

A dispute between neighbours over renovation noise led to one of them making a police report against the other, claiming that the latter had made fun of his name. In the report made on Oct 16, he said: “By making fun and changing my family surname, he is insulting and degrading the Indian culture.”

In an interview with The New Paper On Tuesday evening, Mr Sivalingam Narayanasamy, 55, said: “What he has done is to change my surname.” The other party in the dispute is former radio deejay Daniel Ong, 36, who is now known as a celebrity cupcake-shop owner with his wife, Miss Singapore-Universe 2001 Jaime Teo.

Mr Sivalingam showed TNP a letter purportedly written by Mr Ong to him, in which Mr Ong allegedly made fun of his name. In the letter, Mr Ong referred to Mr Sivalingam as “Sivalin-ganamstyle” and added, “That’s my new nickname for you… cool, huh?”

Mr Ong addressed this on his Facebook page, saying: “He claims I insulted him coz I addressed him as Sivalingam num-style in my last letter… but I told him that I didn’t mean that and it’s the coolest thing around now.”

If you read the contents of Daniel Ong’s letter for yourself, you’ll find it full of sarcastic insults, spite, fake LOLS and general meanness. From the way how this neighbourly spat has been overblown, it’s obvious that Sivalingam’s racist accusation is a pretext for filing against Ong’s nastiness and intolerance over a baby-tormenting and ‘old-lady murdering’ renovation project. As with his grudge against SPH, the ex-DJ has made his Facebook page his personal diary and broadcaster now that he’s gone from radio. Regardless of who’s at fault here,  this is really an exaggerated episode of neighbours thrashing it out over one ugly incident after another, culminating in a sensational turf war with a typical but ultimately futile standoff involving the police. I wonder what will become of these two once it’s Christmas.

It’s like two boys fighting in the playground and one threatening with his daddy because the other called him names and he had no comeback. The natural tendency in such testosterone-charged scuffles is for the one picked on to retort with a creative insult of his own, until both get tired of this one-upping nonsense and walk away. At least these two grown ups are civil enough not to bring their Mamas into it or roll around in the mud throwing punches. Conflicts of this sort are inevitable, no matter how we try to inculcate a ‘give and take’ culture, when in fact we’re mostly looking after our own interests and ‘community’ means running into that comfort zone and pacifier called Facebook where your ‘friends’ are obliged to support you all the way even if you’re acting like a child who just got his rattle nicked by a bully.

When it comes to a war of words, it’s unlikely that Sivalingam would get the upper hand over a cupcake king with the gift of the gab (Daniel even refers to himself as ‘FUNNY GUY” on his Twitter page), hence to counter his weakness in petty insult-trading, the big guns have to be summoned on a hot-potato issue (racism) just to show that he means business. I’m not even sure if this guy knows what Gangnam Style is, which may explain why he would consider the name-mashing a childish insult, maybe the equivalent of the Chinese ‘Tan Ah Kow’.  He does cut an imposing figure however, like a superintendent in the force, or someone who runs a butchery franchise and boxes hunks of meat in his spare time.  Daniel Ong (who once played ‘Mr Kiasee’ in the Mr Kiasu sitcom) will get his cupcakes SQUASHED if put in a ring with this bull of a man.

Don’t call him Gangnam

What’s worrying, and yet strangely assuring at the same time, is why our police EVEN BOTHER with such things (Assuring because it means our cops have nothing much to do). Well I suppose if they’re forced to investigate teachers who cut the hair of students without permission, this fight between an angry celebrity and his angry neighbour must seem as exciting as taking down rival triads in comparison. Gangs of Mei Hwan Drive perhaps. Still, this is what happens if you have public endorsement of the over-the-top censuring of anything mocking a minority race. You give people excuses to point fingers at the one thing that will get your enemies in trouble, when you’re really pissed off with them because they embarrassed you, not because they humiliated your race, your family, your ancestry and your gods.

Siva claims discrimination when Daniel Ong mashes up his surname with Gangnam style, while the latter explains the pun away as a reference to his ‘threatening’ stance with arms akimbo. Neither argument makes sense. I can’t imagine an aggressor doing this in a mano-a-mano confrontation, unless he’s trying to subdue you with laughter.

Please don’t hurt me. I’ll do anything

I suspect it’s harmless wordplay more than anything else, though these days dropping sly racial references is like tossing firecrackers on a minefield. Siva doesn’t have a case because Gangnam itself has already taken Indians by storm, and just about anyone with an Internet connection and doesn’t understand a single word of Korean.

Daniel Ong charged $3K for posting SPH articles

From ‘Storm in a cupcake’, 6 July 2012, article by June Yang, Today online

…In a series of Twitter and Facebook posts, Mr Daniel Ong – a former DJ for radio stations in both MediaCorp and SPH’s stables – said he was asked to pay a sum of S$535 for each of the articles featuring his business Twelve Cupcakes or his wife and co-owner Jamie Ong that he had put up on the Twelve Cupcakes website and shared via social media.

He also said he had been charged an additional S$214 for “investigative fees”. According to Mr Ong’s Facebook post, SPH continued to ask payment for the investigative fees even after he agreed to remove the articles from his website.

Mr Ong wrote on his Facebook post: “Did you know? Business owners are not allowed to share stories about themselves on their websites unless they pay … Stalls and cafes can’t photocopy (articles) and put them at their stalls or signboards unless they pay. I never knew that!”

Sweets for his sweet

In May this year, TNP gave a glowing review of 12 cupcakes (3.5/5), in which the the couple revealed the origins of the name (12 holes in a baking tray) and why they decided to go into the confectionery business. Herworld described their creations with the suggestive ‘oh-so-moist’ and the queasy ‘handmade with love’, which got me thinking of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost for some reason. Of course you hardly see a scathing critique of celebrity FnB ventures, though I wonder if ‘star power’, TV appearances, curiosity and word of mouth alone would have been sufficient to drive this sideshow sweet-shop to become the smashing success that it is today. If a well-known celebrity host could get away with naming his food establishment after ‘Porn’, I don’t see anyone else in the media circle getting less than a 3-star review, whether it’s selling cupcakes or char siew rice. National bowler Remy Ong once had a stint selling POPIAH. Long term success, however, is another matter altogether. Think Planet Hollywood.

According to the ST website, the prohibition of unauthorised commercial use of their content is implicitly stated under ‘News Post Enquiry Form’.

To republish any Singapore Press Holdings articles and photographs, please contact us via the request form by providing the following details so that we can revert to you with the necessary copyright fees and license before any republication can be made

Nowhere in the site do you see a ‘Terms and Conditions’ or ‘WARNING’ link, but what bothers me here is not so much why ANYONE would pay SPH hundreds of dollars just to reproduce their material, but the phrase ‘we can REVERT to you’, which is more embarrassing than hounding enterprising celebrities for copyright infringement charges like glorified loan sharks. In the age of copy, rip, burn and ‘RT’s, SPH’s anal-clenching grip on ‘ownership’ seems out of touch with the alternate digital universe in which we’re spending more of our lives, where posting and sharing content has become as natural as breathing. It’s like a a park warden confiscating the canvas from a painter for making an ‘unauthorised copy’ of the sunrise in his premises. Should bloggers who earn advertising revenue from quoting or retweeting ST articles fall under ‘commerical use’ as well? In a 7 July 2012 ST response to this cupcake controversy, other than deferring to the power of copyright law:

SPH confirmed that hawker stalls and cafes can frame up an actual print article for display, but copying it would constitute an infringement of copyright.

Which begs the question of the definition of ‘copying’. It’s understood from the above statement that you can only cut out and laminate ST articles from actual newpapers. You cannot make a photocopy of ST from the library, but can you take a photo of the page then? How about only ‘quoting’ excerpts from the papers? How many words are you allowed to ‘quote’ before it constitutes a violation of identity theft?

Late last year, SPH sued Yahoo news site for ‘free-riding’ on the efforts of their editorial staff.  In 2001, Today published apology for  using an ST image of a SilkAir pilot (You’re supposed to buy images from their ‘Photobank’). I’m also wondering what amounted to ‘investigative fees’ here; I did the same ‘detective work’ in less than a minute digging up where Daniel Ong posted the SPH links (on his website, duh.) Perhaps instead of paying them the $200 fee, Daniel and Jaime should instead dedicate a limited edition cupcake flavour (in addition to their signature Red Velvet and Chocolate Chocolate) worth that amount in honour of SPH’s dogged diligence in weeding out copycats. They could call it, I dunno, Copyright Crankyberry or something, and become the Ben and Jerry of Cupcakes.

The recipe for a $200 novelty cupcake could be something like this:

  • 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups flour, 2 eggs, 500g salty butter, and whatever stuff that makes cupcakes cupcakes.
  • 3/4 cup of cranberries, 2 tbp artificial vanilla essence, grated blue cheese, prune bits, nata de coco, and a cherry soaked in brandy for 535 days.
  • A generous sprinkling of gold flakes, a stuffing made up of caramelised $50 bills, and a miniature candy Volkswagen on top.