The Boy Who Wouldn’t Behave

Work in progress.
“Why is nobody helping me?”
Amos Yee isn’t the first person to say the things he’s said. He isn’t the first person to call Lee Kuan Yew a dictator. He isn’t the first person to mock religion. He isn’t the first person to talk about NS in derogatory terms.
It’s interesting to examine what Amos Yee was up to before his “Lee Kuan Yew Is Dead” video. He made a passionate review of Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood, and did a lovely reading of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. He also did…
What was a 17 year old’s rant about a head of state, institutionalized religion…
These are all things that teenagers routinely feel. It’s easy and tempting for adults to mock teenagers for their naivety and idealism. Oh, how quick they are to say that everything about the world is wrong, how little they know, how simplistically they think.
And yet the world is ultimately moved forward by people who are convinced that things are wrong, by people who don’t have perfect information, and by people whose ideas tend to be fundamentally simple in some way.
Amos never seemed happy at home, and his parents seemed ill-equipped to handle him. They seemed tired and weary. They probably wonder where they went wrong.
People like Amos aren’t new. Diogenes was famously disrespectful, masturbating in the public marketplace. Amos is just another manifestation  of every punk rock band, every counter-culture hippie. Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine- fuck you I won’t do what you tell me.
Apparently in an Asian country, speaking ill of your elders and the institutions around you is a sin punishable by incarceration.
Many people cheered when a child was slapped in public by an adult man. We got the sense that he deserves it. That bratty punk, how dare he speak his mind so obscenely and frivolously when the rest of us obediently toe the line.
Insulting religion- heresy. Put to death. Prophet Mohammed cartoons. A response might be, Amos is lucky that he’s only getting incarcerated, locked up. Elsewhere he would be put away, tortured, killed.
We really do have very low standards and low expectations of ourselves as a society. Maybe we’re too tired.
I sometimes think that Amos’s trajectory is such a tragically perfect supervillain origin story. He was just this geeky, nerdy skinny kid. He found school boring and stifling, which frankly, it is. It seems like he’s never found anybody on his wavelength that he’d like to talk to.
He’s idealistic. He’s vegetarian because he doesn’t believe in cruelty to animals. He’s against violence- and it seems like his parents were violent towards him at some point, probably frustrated at not being able to handle him.
In a way Amos is playing chicken with his own life. He isn’t interested in a conventional Singaporean future. He probably hates his parents. “Think about your parents” – fuck them, I didn’t ask to be born, they can suffer I don’t care. The picture of Amos smiling while his father hangs his head dejected and ashamed- that must’ve been a triumph for him.
Getting arrested and being pushed around by tired police officers and teachers is all part of the game for Amos. Every step of the way, we give him data that confirms his worldview- that Singaporeans are small minded, stupid, selfish, illogical.
A boy said a bunch of bad words and we slapped him, threw him in jail. How fragile our social fabric is. How quick we are to be offended.
“In the meantime you stay out of trouble”, said a playwright. An older man, with more experience.
Somehow, that doesn’t seem likely.

Suppose we avoid the phrase “mental illness”, because it’s so loaded and potentially hurtful. Amos is clearly VERY maladjusted. It doesn’t really matter whether he’s an idiot or a genius or both, it’s pretty clear that he’s going to keep doing this for as long as he can, because he gets pleasure out of it.
I gotta admit I kinda enjoy him doing what he does. I don’t approve, but it does force people to talk about things that they don’t normally talk about.
It’s always the weirdo kid who shouts that the emperor is naked, because he has nothing to lose from speaking his mind. What they don’t tell you is that he also says all sorts of weird, disgusting and hurtful shit too.

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