“You are dumb.”
No, no, I’m not calling you dumb. That’s just what it says on my T-shirt.
I bought it more than two decades ago in the US. The shirt is from The Onion, the Peabody Award-winning American satirical newspaper that has fooled a number of readers with its parody of news reports, including the Chinese Communist Party and former minister Lim Hwee Hua.
Despite having the shirt for so many years, I have worn it out maybe once. Why? Because I don’t want to get beaten up.
My feeling is that not many people appreciate or care that the shirt is from an award-winning satirical newspaper.
Or that the shirt itself is a parody of shirts.
Or that by wearing the shirt, I am satirising dumb guys who wear dumb shirts.
As far as most people are concerned when they see my shirt, I’m just calling them dumb.
If I wear it on the train, another passenger could get offended and ask me whether I want to fight.
Since I’m a lover and not a fighter, I would avoid eye contact and shake my head in response.
Then the passenger would say something like “Oh, shake your head. Shake your head enough, it could come off.”
He would then offer to beat the shirt out of me.
When the train stops at Ang Mo Kio station, he would threaten: “Are you going to get off or am I going to throw you off?”
And because Mr Muhammad Hanafie isn’t there to come to my rescue, I would be shoved out of the train and the other passengers would cheer because the shouting would finally stop and they could go back to sleep or looking at their phones in peace.
Oh, you know who Mr Hanafie is, right? That’s the muscle-bound guy who was lauded by Law Minister K. Shanmugam for standing up to a “bully” who threatened to beat up a train passenger wearing an obscene T-shirt in a viral video.
What is it with trains nowadays? They’re either breaking down or someone is threatening to break you on one.
In this case, it started with a shirt.
You just can’t win. You don’t wear clothes, you could be arrested for public nudity. You wear the wrong clothes, you could be thrown off the train.
But is it illegal?
My embattled New Paper colleague, Mr Melvin Singh, has pointed out that “it is an offence to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another person through the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or make any threatening, abusive or insulting communication”.
That could include wearing a T-shirt that says “You are dumb”.
But the only time I could think of that anyone in Singapore has actually gone to jail for his sartorial choice was in 2008. Three Singaporeans were sentenced to between seven and 15 days in jail for wearing T-shirts with a picture of a kangaroo dressed as a judge near a court building.
A kangaroo wearing clothes? So cuuuuuute!
I believe it was satire. It was also contempt of court.
Which brings me to why I’m writing to you, dear MDA.
So far, you’ve done a bang-up job shielding us from obscenities in newspapers and on TV and radio.
But I think it’s about time MDA also recognises the T-shirt as a mass medium.
At least we can choose not to read the papers, or turn on the TV or radio.
But we could be sitting on the train, minding our own business, and suddenly, some guy boards the train wearing a shirt that says “I’m fucking special.”
So what if it’s a reference to a Radiohead lyric?
We’re not given the choice not to see it. Shirt happens.
What if children are on board?
No child should be exposed to Radiohead references without parental guidance.
That’s why people shouldn’t be allowed to wear whatever they want in public where the masses can read what they’re wearing.
Commuters shouldn’t be allowed to wear shirts with F words on them.
Runners shouldn’t be allowed to wear the Standard Chartered Marathon finisher’s tee when they took a shortcut.
Amos Yee’s mother shouldn’t have been allowed to wear the #FreeAmosYee banana shirt because she has ruined the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine for me forever.
I know you don’t hear this very often, but we need more censorship and regulation.
You have to protect us from ourselves since Mr Hanafie won’t always be there to save us.
Otherwise, we will never stop wearing dumb shirts.
Because we are dumb.
S M Ong
- Published in The New Paper, 19 July 2015
Yes, indeed we are Mr Ong!
We are so afraid in speaking up to challenge the Establishment. In everything we embark on, we have to be so cautious.
Is this what Life is all about?
It is time to take stock and to protest in Silence by wearing T Shirts which speaks our thoughts, empathy, feelings highlighting our trials and tribulations on life in Singapore.
Dumb as it may sound, let us not be dumber by speaking up through the Icons on our T Shirts.
To The Mother of Amos, thank you for the Yellow Submarine which symbolizes the Banana depicting Amos's Struggle with the Establishment!
Yes we are dumb!
Derek without Prejudice.
To SM Ong
If the F word is obscene and a criminal offence, a lot of people uttering it every day should be sued when used on others.
Stand outside a secondary school, and you can hear the f word used by some students on each other. Go to the wet market. Go to cyber cafes.And that t-shirt user was using it on himself even if the f****** can be interpreted as that obscene word.
And how is Section 4 applicable to the case of the f****** t-shirt. Could f****** means 'funnily' even if Section 4 treats displaying f****** as a cause of probable offence?
What is clear is that threatening others with serious injury and hurt is an offence. Is madly scolding others for no reason an offence?
I get scolded by other motorists and motorcyclists, sometimes with obscene words and gestures, local or foreigner when there was no clear fault on my part. What to do? This does not happen often because the vast majority of people are not 'ragers' who rage on the slightest 'cue'.
I personally hate the f word which my dad used frequently on me (in teochew) when i was a boy .I have often told my grandsons not to use the f word, heard frequently when they play computer games with their friends or sometimes with strangers.
The two situations of the t-shirt and the other cause for rage are different. Let us not read too much into things based on misplaced sympathy.
If the two rages are offences, journalists should ask the police why they are not prosecuting. And if they are rascist in nature why is the law silent.
It is always easy to sound smart and elegant.
Dear Mr Ong
I would like to inform you that you have missed out an incident one evening in early June in the KFC at Sun Plaza, Sembawang when I objected to a T-shirt worn by a young lady which had the words "(F**K YOU)" in large letters below a line of script that appeared to be Japanese where FU was the translation.
I said to the lady that I was offended by the words on the T-shirt and proceeded to have an argument with her. She was accompanied by an older man who said he was her father.
I replied that he should be ashamed of himself for going out with her wearing that T-shirt. It is probable that he was not her father.
After they had been served take away and left I spoke to the KFC manager and expressed my opinion that the couple should not have been served with that T-shirt giving offence to his counter staff.
Normally outlets of all types serving the public display signs that staff should not be abused or harassed in any way. In this case the lady was sending a message of offense to the entire population of Singapore let alone the KFC staff and myself.
I doubt if the KFC Manager involved would deny the incident since it was witnessed by his staff and the customers in the queues. He may also have reported it to his Management.
I suggest that broadcasting F**K YOU to all of Singapore is far more offensive than "I am F*****G SPECIAL" both demonstrating the deterioration of standards in what appears to be the pro Amos Yee crowd of young Singaporeans.
Singapore with zero tolerance for graffiti and drugs has a remarkable tolerance for obscenity on tee shirts which this affair has broadcast to the world. The display of these words on T-shirts gives the wrong impression to children that it is permissible to use them among friends, at home and in school.
Friends of mine in the UK, Norway and Finland have seen the postings independently. As far as I know the UK papers have not picked it up yet.
I know the person involved in the "I am F*****G Special" incident. I note that letters in the Emeritus Website are apparently inciting threats to gang violence and to burn down the apartment of his wife who is Singaporean.
The person deliberately intimidating the person on the MRT does not work in Singapore.
Regarding Mr Shanmugam Law Minister comments that he was sick in the head the below incidents show the police can be out of order. He has had two brushes with the law.
In the first in 2000 he was accused by a plain clothed CID policeman of Voluntarily Causing Hurt and using Abusive Language against Public Servant (The CID man). He was detained for 15 hours. The CID officer had phoned a friend to act as a witness to the event that he had not witnessed. CID man was caught out because the call to the witness was on his phone. The person was issued a warning, case closed and was thanked by the police. What happened to the CID man and the witness can only be guessed at unless the case number is followed up.
The Second incident in 2005 was when he warned police of a car abandoned in the bus bay behind Shuttle buses taking Americans assembling at Sembawang MRT Station to the Terror Club for an American Independence Day Party. He was later detained by the police for making a bomb THREAT. He was detained until 3pm next day (18 hours) and his passport was retained by the Attorney Generals Chamber for some six weeks and was only released after pressure from his MP, the USA Embassy, the UK Embassy and Keppel Shipyard Security (ex senior police retired) since he was required to travel to Vietnam for Commissioning Support on an FPSO which was an engineering disaster partly made in Singapore.