Is Satire Singapore’s Silver Bullet?By Regional Representatives Oct 06, 2011 11:00AM UTC
By Sharon Chen
The Noose, a hilarious satirical news program from Singapore, has been nominated for an International Emmy Award. It will compete against three other shows in the ‘Comedy’ category: Benidorm Bastards from Belgium, Breaking Up from Brazil, and Facejacker from the United Kingdom. The winner will be announced in New York City this November.
This is surprising, and delightful, news for citizens of the small island city-state better known internationally for its strict laws and cautious media. But, does a show like The Noose really signal greater freedom of speech for the country?
Satire has always been a powerful tool of dissent. It uses the liberation of comedy to express genuine concerns. Whether it functions within a liberal society, like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the United States or a repressive one, like Parazit in Iran, it gives voice to alternative views that might be rejected in less palatable form. It is also a useful outlet for those under real threat of censure or even punishment: “I was just kidding!” is a useful excuse when confronted by your dictator’s henchmen. Of course, it can also be a double-edged sword: while it encourages critical thinking and develops shrewder citizens, it can also create a cynicism that is counterproductive to a true understanding of the issues at hand.
In Singapore, political satire has become a crucial part of the growing online culture that played a major role in the recent general and presidential elections. Personalities like Mr. Brown and websites like talkingcock.com mercilessly mocked the candidates and their campaign antics with videos and memes that quickly went viral through Facebook and Twitter. @Fake_PMLee, a parody of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has over 17,000 followers. The irreverent feed makes constant reference to the close relationship Lee shares with Singapore’s founding father, tweeting recently:
“My dad says losing a GRC is not a disaster for Singapore. Finding alternative employment for 5 ex-Ministers/MPs is still manageable.”
In comparison, The Noose is tame humor. It rarely deals directly with the political, choosing instead to poke fun at social or cultural phenomena that is already widely acknowledged as absurd. Produced and broadcast by Mediacorp, wholly owned by government investment arm Temasek Holdings, the prime time show appears to be a government-sanctioned attempt to embrace this trend without actually questioning the wider structures of Singaporean life. Recurring characters such as Leticia Bongnino and Lulu (played by the wonderfully talented Michelle Chong) are caricatures of domestic helpers and immigrants from the People’s Republic of China that employ familiar stereotypes and lack the self-awareness to sincerely address the difficulties these groups face.
Certainly, it is unfair to demand anything more than laughs from The Noose as it doesn’t claim to have any higher ambition than entertainment. Yet, one still wonders if this form of “satire” dilutes the power of others who harness the medium to examine important subject matter.
Watch a clip of The Noose here:
Sharon Chen is a Regional Representative for Asian Correspondent based in Singapore.