Monday 21 April 2008

Ban, Unban, Classify: Alien lesbian love scene, anyone?

As we all know, the Singapore Government likes to ban stuff. Like porn, the sale of chewing gum and Phua Chu Kang speaking Singlish. I should know. I used to produce PCK.

But lately, the Government has also developed a peculiar habit of un-banning stuff.

Like Cosmopolitan magazine, the movie Saint Jack and more recently, Mass Effect, the video game with the alien lesbian love scene.

And while the prohibition of Cosmo and Saint Jack took decades to reverse, the un-banning of Mass Effect came to pass in a matter of days. Ah, progress.

The irony is that even when a ban is in effect, it isn't always all that effective. Like say, the ongoing porn ban.

I remember as a teenager back in the '80s, I used to rent grungy videotapes of the British soft porn series Electric Blue from this middle-age Indian guy at a shop at Queensway Shopping Centre.

Later in the pre-dotcom '90s, I could order blue tapes from a list dropped into my HDB mail box and have them conveniently delivered to my doorstep. Ah, progress.

But once unlimited broadband access came along ... yahoo! Let the downloading orgy begin!

Ban? What ban?

When I first read about the Mass Effect ban on the web, I immediately found the offending alien lesbian love scene on YouTube and posted it on my blog.

So even though it was hurriedly lifted, news of the ban had the unintended effect of driving more people to seek out the alien lesbian love scene, which they might otherwise not be aware of.

Yes, I like typing "alien lesbian love scene".

When in 1996 the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) - precursor to the Media Development Authority (MDA) - tried to block undesirable websites with proxy servers, a reporter from Reuters called me for a quote because being the web editor of Asia Online at the time, I was mistaken for an authority on the subject.

(Remember, this was when many people still thought that the Internet was just a passing fad that would eventually go away like the macarena, and virtual reality was the future.)

"It is impossible to block every site,'' I was reported to have said.

"Some adult sites have been blocked - Playboy, for example - but if you are someone that seeks out adult sites, all you need to do is use a search engine, such as Yahoo! or Infoseek, and type in a word like 'sex' or 'nudity'."

I was clearly speaking from experience.

What I was reported to have said 12 years ago still holds true today except no one remembers Infoseek anymore. And I just tried, and hey, it's no longer blocked. I see Playmates!

But of course, SBA understood the futility of blocking the Internet, according to the same Reuters report where I was quoted. The Government was merely "making a gesture".

Making a what?

This past week, MDA announced a new video game classification system that allowed previously banned games like Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto to be sold to adults only.

But a day earlier, The New Paper had reported that legit shops sold M18 VCDs to an underaged student in uniform.

Does anyone really believe that by classifying something as "for persons 18 years old and above" - even with all the measures that the Government will doubtlessly put in place - it will never be sold to anyone under 18?

Or is it another "gesture"?

But surely this must be a step in the right direction. A ban is a gruff, all-or-nothing declaration - censorship at its bluntest.

A classification system, however flawed and unenforceable, acknowledges the finer point that one size doesn't fit all. Changing metaphors again, it's a way for the Government to have its cake and ban it too. Ah ... progress?

By the way, you can still watch the alien lesbian love scene on my blog. But only if you're over 18 (wink, wink).

- Published in The New Paper, 21 April 2008