(These are a set of notes and fragments for an essay I intend to write about Singlish)
Let’s take a minute to go back to 1999. It seems like such a quaint time, on retrospect. The Euro was established. Bill Clinton was the POTUS, and Columbine shootings shocked the world, Napster and MSN Messenger make their debuts. ExxonMobil becomes the largest corporation in the world. Stanley Kubrick died. The cinemas brought us Fight Club, The Matrix and Austin Powers. And Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong chided Phua Chu Kang for being a bad influence on children.
Almost 20 years later, and wow, so much has changed.
Times have changed. Today, when you’re driving to the airport you see Huat and Lah on the signage. Mcdonald’s has “makan” on Filet-o-Fish boxes.
What happened? What’s changed?
The Government’s official stance on this hasn’t changed very much.
Not everyone has a Ph.D. in English Literature like Mr. Gwee, who can code-switch effortlessly between Singlish and standard English, and extol the virtues of Singlish in an op-ed written in polished standard English.
It’s impossible to imagine Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in the language of the White House, for example. And nor would one want to wade through White House reports written in the fractious language of the Beats.
Status in Singapore
Disclaimer: I do not personally know skl0, and I cannot claim to know anything about her true motives. This is my personal interpretation of what I perceive her motivation to be.
Some of us sympathize with skl0. (Personally, I do! I like her, I like her work, and I like what she represents.) Some of us do not.
Some of us feel she should be put on a pedestal and shared.
Some feel she should be “cleaned up”, like Kumar or any of the other “approved” acts out there.
Others feel she should be locked up and jailed, and hell, might as well cane her also. (Never mind that we don’t cane people who don’t have scrotums.)
It doesn’t matter what happens. She wins.
Some people are saying, “Wah lau eh, stupid girl, let herself get caught. The stickers were fine, but why must she go and paint the road? Obviously she’ll get arrested, right?”
Have you considered the possibility that she might actually have wanted to get arrested? She wouldn’t have set out thinking “I want to go to jail,” of course.
She got away with the stickers, and went on to paint the roads- why? She’s clearly testing the market, pushing the boundaries. She wanted to see how much more she could get away with. If her road painting went undetected, I’m guessing she’d have moved on to something bigger.
Now, if they arrest her, she’s a martyr, her work is immortalized forever. Singapore is forced to do some introspective soul-searching.
For some Singaporeans, the idea of getting arrested is almost worse than death. It goes on “your record”. Suddenly, there are thousands of things you can’t do. It’s hard to get hired. You can’t run for elections. You are “marked”, “stained”. Why would anybody want to do that?
Getting arrested only really hurts you if you’re interested in being a part of the system. skl0 would prefer to make a living subverting it. She operates around the system. Think about it. If she started a fundraiser, how much could she raise? If she started a business, how well would it do? If she wrote a book, how well would it sell?
If they don’t arrest her, she gets away with doing what she pleases, and she makes people laugh and smile. Good enough, too.
She always wins. And I personally think we’re all better off for it, either way.