Co-censorship: Old wine in new wine skin?

Corrie Tan from The Straits Times comments on the MDA’s co-regulatory classification guidelines which have been rejected by 45 arts groups who basically argue that this framework conflicts with artistic integrity and amounts to self-censorship:

Despite its good intentions, the scheme falls back into the same template of censorship, of allowing the authorities to be the arbiter of what is in the “public interest”, rather than trusting the artist to be responsible, and trusting the audience to be able to judge a work critically. As a result, on May 30, 45 arts groups registered strong objections to the scheme in a position paper addressed to the MDA.


Artists are often viewed here as a vocal minority of rabble-rousers separate from the man in the street. But these are not merely the grouses of a few. The 45 groups represent a large swathe of the arts community, including commercial heavyweights like the Singapore Repertory Theatre and Wild Rice, and traditional arts groups such as the Chinese Theatre Circle. It is also likely that their regular audiences will be supportive of their decision.


As the position paper puts it: “Artists and arts practitioners… are also citizens, parents, members of religious groups, live in the ‘heartlands’, and we pay our taxes – like everyone else. It is misguided to presume that artists’ interests are at odds with community’s interests.”


What is your take on this response? Is this new approach a collaborative step forward with MDA trying to partner with arts groups to ensure art is responsibly and sensibly produced and showcased, or is it a step back with MDA simply veiling its often criticized censorship approach under the guise of self-classification?






Culture Blaming

The recent sea disaster involving the Sewol Ferry in South Korea sparked speculation surrounding the causes of the disaster, with some journalists attributing it to the nation’s “culture of obedience”.

Kai Ma from TIME bemoans this journalistic trend, and writes:

Should aspects of Korean society be scrutinized? Of course. Poor communication, disorganization, and complacency – compounded with fumbling bureaucracies and the lack of protocol and proper training – resulted in a botched rescue mission that has South Korea reeling. But to theorize that the high death toll is linked to a perceived cultural flaw or deficiency is a lazy journalistic shortcut. It fits a stereotype.

Maryam Mokhtar from The Straits Times also adds a local perspective to it: 

Like South Korea, Singapore’s education system is often perceived as instilling a culture of obedience in the young, who are subjected to rote-learning.

I am a product of this system. But my peers and I have little problem expressing our views – politely – during discussions with our supervisors at work or our parents at home.

So what does this mean for the GP student? Yes, we can surely consider wider cultural factors and norms when speculating on why certain events occur or issues persist. But, we must caution against lazily doing so in the absence of more rigorous investigation. Perhaps blaming culture is mentally not as taboo as blaming race or gender, but it still feeds an unhealthy stereotype that does more to limit our view of the world, rather than help make sense of it.

Artistic Value and Context

So England-based graffiti artist Banksy set up shop one day along the streets of New York selling original artwork – that would usually fetch tens of thousands of dollars – for about $60 apiece.

Of course this reminds me of a similar social experiment by violinist Joshua Bell who took to the foyer of a subway where his concert hall-filling tunes fell upon the deaf ears of the rushing crowd.

So at the end of the day – do these experiments show that art, in all its subjective contextual value, ultimately prove pretentious and worthless? Or is it a reminder that value is ultimately not something that can be seen divorced from context? Just as a soccer player would need a field or a teacher his classroom, so too would the artists need their walls or concert halls?

A Cultural Explanation for Sci-fi and Fantasy Preference

According to this Atlantic piece, there is a strong cultural explanation for the west’s (in this case, Hollywood) obsession with science fiction and fantasy movies:

Cultural differences are fascinating because even as we learn about others, we learn about ourselves. As an anthropologist, I want to flip this conversation: Why are we so into science fiction and fantasy? Nineteenth-century German sociologist Max Weber had a useful theory about this: The answer may be that we in the West are “disenchanted.” The world in which we live feels explainable, predictable, and boring. Weber posited that because of modern science, a rise in secularism, an impersonal market economy, and government administered through bureaucracies rather than bonds of loyalty, Western societies perceived the world as knowably rational and systematic, leading to a widespread loss of a sense of wonder and magic. Because reality is composed of processes that can be identified with a powerful-enough microscope or calculated with a fast-enough computer, so Weber’s notion of disenchantment goes, there is no place for mystery. But this state of disenchantment is a difficult one because people seem to like wonder.

And in much of the piece she compares Hollywood with Bollywood, concluding that in India there simply is no market for sci-fi and fantasy because historically and culturally the region has a different intellectual history. Can we really stretch the correlation that far? Some useful points to note from this article may be of use for your essay writing:

  • Consider how writers may deliberately choose ‘examples’ that seem to all-too-conveniently support their argument. This is a fallacy known as cherry picking. This doesn’t mean the claim is untrue, but just that its reasoning is flawed.
  • Still, it is interesting to note how the writer draws the links to intellectual tradition. Can you think of how disenchantment might account for other cultural tastes of modern societies today? How it operates in Singapore maybe?
  • Also, when trying to support your points in the essay, consider a comparative approach (like comparing Hollywood and Bollywood for instance) when thinking up the evidence to use.

Arts Appreciation and Singapore

An opinion piece on The Straits Times today commented on how the seeming increase in arts appreciation as indicated by the 2011 National Population Survey on the Arts (and the  positive outlook reported by CNA) painted an inaccurate picture given how the measure in attendance used by the survey may have been unrealistically low (just one arts or cultural event a year) and how the spectrum of activities that fell under categories like ‘theatre’ was too wide. She writes:

But is the “at least one arts and culture activity a year” standard a meaningful gauge of arts consumption? The bar seems to have been set too low. A Chingay attendee does not an artsgoer make.


The Arts and Culture Strategic Review committee has been tasked with shaping Singapore’s arts and culture policy for the next 15 years. One of its most important goals is to get 80 per cent of Singapore’s population to attend at least one arts and cultural event a year by 2025.


Going by the survey’s loose definition of the “arts”, and the fact that the targeted frequency is just once a year, achieving this goal will not be much of a challenge.

Surely the authorities should use a more robust measurement of the efficacy of the Government’s efforts to encourage arts attendance and engagement? Without making any value judgements on the differences between high or low art, most people recognise that in the spectrum of arts and entertainment, a Hi-5 concert leans towards the latter.


The arts council says it has grouped populist entertainment forms in the same category as more conventionally labelled artistic genres, such as plays and dance, to reflect the growing popularity of mass entertainment offerings such as variety shows. The logic governing such categorisation is hard to follow. Just because an ice-skating show is popular does not mean that it belongs to the same category as classical music.


The broad definition distorts the picture of arts consumption.

Question is, was the survey approach valid in adopting such a broad definition of the arts to best capture the diverse consumption patterns of cosmopolitan Singapore? Or is the ST writer correct in pointing how the survey draw up an unreliably positive picture of arts appreciation in Singapore? Should we be concerned about the appreciation and consumption of more conventional and traditional forms of art? Or should we just be satisfied with the fact we are consuming some form of art anyway?