Saturday 26 December 2009

Why Ris Low is my Singaporean Of The Year

When it was recently reported that CNN had named Ris Low as one of Asia's 25 "most influential" people in 2009, a few Singaporeans I know threatened to renounce their citizenship.

But then when the Government announced on Monday that non-citizens will have to pay higher school fees, those same Singaporeans realised that a 19-year-old dethroned beauty queen is perhaps the least of their problems and kept their pink IC.

I would contend that Ms Low is not only one of the most influential Singaporeans of 2009, but is Singaporean Of The Year

Actually, the CNN report was somewhat inaccurate.

In the first place, it wasn't CNN, but a CNN-affiliated website called CNNGo. You may say it's the same thing, but it's like equating American Idol with the Singapore Idol website. There is a huge difference.

And it wasn't a list of the "most influential", but of "Who Mattered Most" - which only trivialises the list even more.

Regardless, it served to add to Ms Low's notoriety and extend it beyond our coastlines.

On top of that, the ex-Miss Singapore World also made it to Yahoo! Singapore's 2009 top 10 most searched list.

Interestingly, the CNNGo list and the Yahoo! top 10 had one thing in common apart from Ms Low - the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

And the only thing that Ms Low and Aware have in common is that they're female.

One of them has seriously tarnished the image of Singapore women this year while the other ... uh, okay, maybe they have two things in common.

But Ms Low's singular achievement, as correctly identified by CNNGo, is the coinage of the word "boomz" and its proliferation in local popular culture.

Even the catchphrase king himself, Phua Chu Kang - who popularised "Don't play play" and "Use your brain, use your brain" - got into the Ris Low act.

The sitcom character, played by Gurmit Singh, spoofed Ms Low's now iconic "leopard preenz" RazorTV interview in a series of MediaCorp-produced videos that also went viral, but on a smaller scale.

Remember "Shut up and sit down"? It was the most memorable quote that came out of the Aware saga.

"Shut up and sit down" T-shirts were printed, but unlike the "Boomz" T-shirts, they weren't sold at New Urban Male and the would-be catchphrase never really caught on.

Hoping that lightning would strike twice, Ms Low herself tried to introduce another buzzword with "shingz", but failed because it was too self-conscious and calculated.

The "boomz" boom was a happy accident. (Okay, maybe more of an annoying accident for some.) No one planned it, least of all Ms Low herself.

Of all her mistakes, from linguistic to the credit card fraud, I thought the dumbest was her not getting a cut of the New Urban Male T-shirt sales.

One of the year's greatest ironies is that it all started because of protests that the "bipolar" teen was unfit to represent our country in the Miss World pageant, which eventually led to her representing Singapore on CNNGo's "Who Matter Most In Asia 2009" list.

If only those protesters had shut up and sit down, Ms Low would've faded into obscurity just like the woman who eventually took her place in the Miss World pageant did.

Instead, Ris Low is now, by my estimation, 2009's Singaporean Of The Year.

- Published in The New Paper, 26 December 2009