29 November 2015

Countdown petition showdown: Why I'm terrified of Adam Lambert fans

I have been writing this column since 2008. It was so long ago we were still looking for Mas Selamat.

So it’s inevitable that I have received a few complaints over the years. Just a few.

For example, in 2010, I wrote about SMRT bus commuters being overcharged after the new distance-based fare system was implemented.

I called it a “betrayal of public trust” and added with other-worldly prescience: “Such incompetence has resulted only in minor financial loss, but what if the transport companies are just as inept in the maintenance of vehicles?”

Well, the answer to that question last week was that some students were late for their A-level exams. It stopped being a hypothetical a long time ago.

But the Land Transport Authority (LTA) disagreed with my column, writing in to complain that it was “really not a fair comment”.

I have since written numerous articles about the even more numerous train breakdowns due to the transport companies being inept.

Yet I haven’t heard anything from LTA since 2010. Hmm, I wonder why.

But of all the people who have written in to complain about this column, there is one group I fear even more than LTA.

Adam Lambert fans.

They scare me to death.

In 2013, I wrote about the Media Development Authority giving a Lambert concert in Singapore “an advisory rating for those 16 and above with the consumer advice, ‘some mature content’ as it will feature two songs from Adam Lambert’s audio album, Trespassing – Outlaws Of Love and Shady – whose lyrics are based on the singer’s personal experiences and lifestyle.”

In the column, I wondered what exactly “outlaws of love” were and came up with a few possibilities, like teachers having sex with their underage students in HDB stairwells.

The Glamberts weren’t amused.

First, they attacked me on Twitter: “That’s gotta be the most bizarre nonsensical shit I’ve ever read.”

And “What kind of sick mind does that jerk have anyway?”

And “Yeah. Ignorant asshat.”

Then they fired their e-mails:
“I’d like to question the research and professionalism put into the writing of this piece...

“Is it talking about the NC16 advisory rating on Adam Lambert’s concert?

“What is the relevance of bringing up the comfort and ‘ergonomic advantages’ of sexual activities in HDB staircases and the author’s ‘own experiments’?

“Also, what is S M Ong trying to say when he writes ‘while a couple may fear being caught having sex in the stairwell (though that may be part of the thrill), it would be far more traumatising for me to chance upon you having sex in the stairwell (especially if I don’t have a camera phone with me)’?

“Is he trying to promote exhibitionism?”

That hurt. I had been called plenty of awful things in my lifetime but never an exhibitionism promoter.

I learnt my lesson, though.

I would never do anything to offend Lambert fans again.

I’ll just stick to offending Clay Aiken fans.

And maybe LTA.

But unfortunately, not everyone has learnt the lesson.

Like the people who created and signed the online “Petition against Adam Lambert performing in Countdown 2016” last week.

The petition said the US singer is “a performer fraught with controversy even in his home country” and is “well-known for his active promotion of a highly sexualised lifestyle and LGBT rights, both of which are contrary to mainstream Singaporean values”.

In other words, he is an outlaw of love. Ahem.

Of course, the Glamberts would retaliate, as I have experienced their wrath first-hand.

Another online petition called “We want Adam Lambert performing in Countdown 2016” was created and so far, it has collected more signatures than the first petition.

The problem is, both petitions are wrong.

There is no “Countdown 2016”.

The MediaCorp New Year’s Eve show that Lambert may or may not be performing in is actually called Celebrate 2016.

Up to now, MediaCorp’s only response to the controversy is “Celebrate 2016 will be suitable for family audiences and conform with broadcast regulations,” which basically says nothing at all.

The national broadcaster just can’t seem to catch a break with its New Year’s Eve show.

Two New Year’s Eves ago, the show was lambasted for being too “cheena” by theatre doyen Ivan Heng, who is married to another man.

So a show that was once criticised by an openly gay man for not being diverse enough is now being criticised for being perhaps a little too diverse by having an openly gay man on the show.

MediaCorp just can’t win.

For now, it seems that Lambert is still set to perform in Celebrate 2016 (not Countdown 2016). Glamberts, rejoice!

Heaven forbid anyone accuses MediaCorp of promoting exhibitionism.

I’ve been there.

No one likes getting complaints.

- Published in The New Paper, 29 November 2015

27 November 2015

Mee Pok Man's 20th anniversary: How I ended up in Eric Khoo's first feature film

The Singapore International Film Festival is screening Mee Pok Man this Sunday at the National Museum to celebrate the film's 20th anniversary.

If you're going to see it, just be warned that I'm in the movie.

At least, I've been told I make a brief appearance. I have never seen the movie myself.

How did I end up in Eric Khoo's debut feature?

Back in early 1994, I was the research writer for Channel 5 variety show called Live On 5 hosted by a newcomer named Gurmit Singh. The show had a movie review segment in which I would review a movie with a guest reviewer.

I gained some minor notoriety as "Smong", the movie critic "everyone loved to hate".

For one episode, I invited Khoo to be the guest reviewer and that was how we got to know each other. At that point, he had won a couple awards for his short films.

Later, when he was working on Mee Pok Man, he called me and said he had a small role for me.

So one day, I showed up at Goodwood Park Hotel, owned by the Khoo family, to shoot a scene with some guy named Ong Lay Jinn, who would later become a filmmaker himself under the name Djinn. But at that time, I think he was working for the Economic Development Board.

He struck me as an entitled rich-kid scholar, so it was mutual dislike at first sight.

(By the way, another local film-maker, Cheah Chee Kong, later also gave himself the name CheeK. I can't help feeling that "CheeK" and "Djinn" were just copying my "Smong" with the abbreviated name.)

Anyway, for Khoo's film, Ong and I were supposed to act like we were on some sort of TV current affairs programme, discussing the issue of poverty. I played the heel (which I had had some experience) and said something like we should kill the poor or something like that. It was two decades ago.

There was no script. We just improvised for a few minutes.

Khoo seemed happy with what we did. After we were done, the director paid me with a fish-and-chips meal from the hotel kitchen.

And that was how I ended up preserved for posterity on celluloid.

(I was invited to the movie wrap party on Emerald Hill, but I couldn't find the place. I would meet Michelle Goh only a couple of years later at MediaCorp.)

I'm told I appear in the film for a few seconds on a TV screen. Maybe one day before I die, I'll see it.

Here is a 2005 Nutshell review of Mee Pok Man (I'm copying and pasting it here because it mentions me):
This is probably the movie credited with sparking a comeback of Singapore films, and watching it, you can probably spot various influences this Eric Khoo film had on the other more contemporary attempts by the various local filmmakers like Djinn and Jack Neo (whom of course, were in Eric Khoo movies).

Joe Ng (of local band Padres) front the cast as the title character, and Michelle Goh, in her debut, stars as Bunny, the prostitute he is infatuated with. Being a dim witted noodle seller, he's naturally shy and worships her from afar, as she's one of the regulars at the coffeeshop where his shop is at. Bunny, on the other hand, thinks lowly of the mee pok seller, and in your usual SPG character, goes for the ang-mo Jonathan, some sleazy photographer played by David Brazil.

The storyline's pretty basic, and you might think that at the point when Bunny became a victim of a hit-and-run, that the plot might pick up. Actually it sort of went downhill from there, as the mee pok man carries her injured body off to his home to care for her, to be with her. Alas, you should know what happens without proper medical attention.

Towards the end of the film, it drags with mee pok's man soliloquay, and Bunny didn't have much to do except be there to complete the scene. Somehow with the forced dialogue, it lengthened a scene which should have been shortened to improve the pace, which was quite erratic throughout the movie.

In its day, the language might have the audience taken aback, with characters mouthing off profanities in different dialects. But like I mentioned, it probably had made others sit up and notice that perhaps local movies should feature swearing to give it more street cred? Something else which stood out - while featuring many languages in the movie mirrors our multi-racial / multi-language society, having characters converse in different dialects (like the Fortune Teller scene) sometimes doesn't cut it too realistically.

Another point of controversy at its time was the nudity, or perceived nudity. The opening credits had still shots of a boob, butt and the female pubic region. You might wonder if it's necessary actually - doesn't really serve any purpose or facilitate the plot. Or the fact that Jonathan shoots nude photos. Given today, it'll probably be glossed over without much thought, and given an NC-16 rating.

Characterisation called for attention, as the main characters Bunny and Mee Pok man didn't really have much of a motive, the former seeking inner peace and to leave Singapore, the latter just wanting to be with her until the morbid end. Other characters, like Lim Kay Tong's Mike Kor the Pimp, was stereotyped, as are many of the minor characters in the movie. Cameos were plenty too, like X'Ho, Djinn, S.M.Ong etc.

But I still reckon it's a pretty decent first effort, and marked improvement can already be seen in 12 Storeys. While awaiting eagerly for Eric Khoo's latest offering Be With Me, this movie would allow you to appreciate how much things had changed for the better.

More than 10 years after Mee Pok Man, I would have another cameo in Phua Chu Kang The Movie, but that's another story.

EARLIER: The last time I met Eric Khoo

22 November 2015

My French connection & was Baey Yam Keng wrong to post Eiffel Tower photo?

Blame it on my bae.

Okay, technically, Mr Baey Yam Keng is not “my” bae since he is an MP for Tampines GRC and I live in Yew Tee.

And I’m not so cray cray as to call someone my “bae” just because I went on one date with him a few months ago. Okay, it wasn’t really a date but a romantic run around Marina Baey, I mean Bae, I mean Bay. Why am I blushing?

A photo posted by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

Uh, what was I talking about?

Oh yah, blame it on Mr Baey.

As a tribute to Paris after the Nov 13 terror attacks, I had intended today’s column to be about my visit to the city in 2000.

A photo posted by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

In the French capital for only a day, I made the mistake of choosing to walk from the Arc de Triomphe to the Musée du Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.

Strolling along Avenue des Champs-Élysées, I understood why Paris had been called one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

But the walk took so long that by the time I reached the museum, it was closed for the day.

So no Mona Lisa for me.

My consolation is that I would later read about Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous painting in The Da Vinci Code. Who knew the star of Titanic and Inception could paint too.

That was just a tantalising taste of what this column could’ve been if not for Mr Baey.

Last Sunday, in his tribute to Paris, Mr Baey posted online a photo of himself next to the Eiffel Tower with the caption:
I was in Paris in May as part of President Tony Tan's state visit delegation. It is such a beautiful city with a rich culture.

The recent multiple attacks by gunmen and perpetrators with explosives resulted in many innocent lives lost. My heart goes out to those who have lost their loved ones.

Such planned acts are mindless but very real. This is a common security challenge that many countries, including Singapore, face in the world today. There is a need for constant vigilance and no place for complacency.

Which all seems pretty innocuous until website Mothership.sg called out the photo for looking like it had been Photoshopped.

This led to an online backlash against Mr Baey with jokers (like myself) Photoshopping him into photos of other famous international landmarks.

Two years ago, another website, New Nation, had alleged that a newspaper photo showing some errant cyclists on the road had been Photoshopped.

The website later apologised after The New Paper photographer proved that the photo was real.

The people behind New Nation went on to create Mothership.sg and are now alleging that Mr Baey’s photo is Photoshopped.

The MP has since posted another photo of him next to the Eiffel Tower to show that the first photo was real, but so far, no apology seems forthcoming.

To call the Sultan of Selfies vain and narcissistic is one thing, but to accuse Mr Baey of deceitfully inserting himself into the photo in the context of such a horrific tragedy is to suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth suffers from a pathological condition far more disturbing than mere vainglory.

I do, however, concede that photo looks awfully like it was Photoshopped even if it wasn’t.

But the controversy has also evolved such that it’s no longer just about whether the photo is real.

Even if it wasn’t Photoshopped, was it appropriate for Mr Baey to post the photo in the first place?

Why did he have to make the Paris tragedy about himself?

The former public relations company director appears to agree with the naysayers as he later posted yet another photo of the Eiffel Tower — but this time without him in it.

The last photo I posted had attracted much attention. I regret that it has distracted the message on the global challenges we face today. Besides the utter senselessness and disregard for humanity, the attacks meant something more to me as I was just in Paris six months ago. I had wanted to provide a personal connection to my thoughts beyond text and decided to re-post a photo I uploaded then. The photo was taken with a timer when I was having a rest during my morning run and I was able to chance upon this interesting perspective with the Eiffel Tower. I appreciate the frank comments by many and I do respect the views expressed. On hindsight, I could have been more mindful about the choice of photo. I would also like to thank those who gave me words of encouragement, both in public and private messages. I have chosen to be active on social media as it helps me connect with people and learn from others. This is an on-going journey that I am committed to. Thank you for your understanding and support.
A photo posted by Baey Yam Keng 马炎庆 (@baeyyamkeng) on

Knowing how much he likes posting pictures of himself, I imagine doing that must have gone against every instinct in his lean body.

But it may still be not enough.

Why just a photo of the Eiffel Tower?

Why not also a photo of the Nejmeh Square clock tower in Beirut, where many were killed in a terror attack just a day before the Paris attacks?

Is not having been there a good enough reason?

Should I feel guilty about using a French flag overlay on my Facebook profile picture and not a Lebanese flag?

Well, Ms Ho Ching (that’s right, the Prime Minister’s wife) says no.

On her Facebook page, she wrote:
Millions and tens of millions of people from around the world have been to Paris, and love the time they spent there - the sunny serenity, the history, the food, the people, the culture, the cafe and the walk around.

Many millions around the world would have friends or people they know working or living in Paris.

And so it is natural that they are shocked by the terrorist attacks - it is a city where they have had wonderful memories, or have friends or colleagues, and may have visited repeatedly for work or leisure.

Many millions more would be tracking their loved ones, friends and colleagues, who may be there, or going there.

So it is natural that phone lines, emails and social media lit up as people around the world would try to check immediately if their families, friends or colleagues may be in Paris or they are safe in Paris.

Much much fewer visitors have been to Lebanon, or for that matter, to Ankara in Turkey, Urumqi in China, or Nigeria, so fewer people have memories of these places or people. At any one time, the number of visitors would be several orders of magnitude less with fewer dots to connect to the rest of the world.

Hence, news of terrorist attacks there don't evoke the same sense of shock or personal responses.

So even as we say our prayers for the victims of senseless killings, or pause to send our condolences to the families of the victims of terrorist murderers, we must know this is not about whether Parisien lives are worth more than others.

Still, to be safe, I’ve added the gay pride rainbow filter to the French flag on my Facebook photo, so I now have an exceptionally colourful profile picture.

And because I’m so afraid to get whacked like Mr Baey, this column is no longer about my poorly planned trip to Paris 15 years ago.

Instead of blaming him, perhaps I should thank him for saving me from myself. I wonder what kind of flowers he would like.

It’s sad that instead of condemning the killings, we seem more interested in condemning each other for how we respond to the killings.

In a way, we have indeed let the terrorists win.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 November 2015


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...