Sunday 27 March 2011

Why Seth Rogen should be Singapore's tourism spokesman

Dear Singapore Tourism Board,

I have an exciting new idea to boost the number of visitors to our beautiful island:

Hire Seth Rogen as our tourism spokesman!

Before you send me another cease and desist letter from your lawyer, please hear me out.

As you may know, there is a YouTube video of Rogen’s recent appearance on the Conan O’Brien talk show in the US where he talked about being in Singapore to promote his movie The Green Hornet.

Some Singaporeans are understandably upset by the video, where the Canadian-born movie star said our country seemed “barbaric” because “that dude” sprayed some graffiti “in the 80s” (it was actually in 1994) and we “whacked him with a cane”.

Rogen added that “it was very frightening” to be in Singapore because of the death penalty for drug smuggling, which he called his “second career”.

So we let him come to our country to sell his little insect movie (though we really only cared about his co-star Jay Chou) and he repays our hospitality by going on some foreign talk show to spread misinformation about us?

How ungracious! Talk about insensitive.

Maybe we should have executed him.

So how does all this make Rogen a great tourism shill for Singapore?

A month ago, there was a The New Paper report that backpackers don’t like Singapore because our country is “air-conditioned and pleasant” and lacks danger, according to travel writer Barry Neild.

He said: “Without anecdotes about how they risked life, limb and lower intestines, backpackers lose their raison d’etre.”

But as Rogen pointed out, there are dangers aplenty here and I don’t think he even tried our Indian rojak.

On O’Brien’s show, Rogen joked that chewing gum, mouths and “chewing of any sort” were outlawed in Singapore. O’Brien’s response was: “So they’re very hardcore there.”

Yeah, Coco, we’re very hardcore! And barbaric! And frightening!

It’s about time we get away from this wussy, buttoned-up image of being a top destination for expats, especially women, because of our low crime rate and “excellent lifestyle”, according to a recent survey by a UK recruitment company.

And being the world’s second “coolest” nationality, according to CNNGo – because we’re a nation of computer geeks.

Now, thanks to Rogen, we can have a new tourism tagline: “Singapore – come here if you dare.

Backpackers will be flocking to our island!

One caveat about Rogen being our Singapore tourism spokesman though, he has to get the facts right. Singaporeans do vote – except those who live in a constituency where there’s a walkover.

He also needs to learn to pronounce “benevolent dictatorship” correctly. On O’Brien’s show, he said “benelovent”.

We don’t want another Ris Low on our hands, do we?

Please feel free to call me anytime to discuss my idea.

S M Ong

- Published in The New Paper, 27 March 2011

Sunday 20 March 2011

That’s insensitive! (Or how not to say something insensitive about Japan)

Thousands have died after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. My condolences to those who have lost loved ones.

Now there’s the threat of a nuclear disaster that could kill many more.

Are Singaporeans afraid yet? I know I am.

Not of the radioactive cloud that is not coming our way, but of inadvertently saying something insensitive about Japan that would get me flamed in cyberspace. (Is that insensitive?)

In the week since the earthquake struck, a certain pattern has emerged: Someone makes an insensitive comment about Japan, usually on the Internet. Outrage ensues. The commenter eventually apologises.

From what I could gather, there are basically three categories of things you shouldn't say about the disaster.

The first category is anything that suggests that Japan had it coming.

For example, Yahoo! reported that an army officer in Singapore wrote on his Facebook page that “There is a reason why God chose Japan...”

According to the report, he eventually apologised after getting some "negative feedback". He seems to have also deleted his Facebook account.

Included in this category is any mention of Pearl Harbour.

A US scriptwriter for the animated TV comedy Family Guy tweeted: “If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google 'Pearl Harbor death toll'.”

He had to apologise. Since he's a comedy writer, is it possible he meant the misguided tweet as a joke, even though it isn't funny at all?

Which brings me to the second category: jokes about Japan.

Malaysia’s Berita Harian had to apologise after publishing a cartoon of Ultraman running away from a tsunami.

US comedian Gilbert Gottfried was fired from a job for a number of tweets joking about Japan, including this one: “Japan is really advanced. They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them.”

And: “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say: 'There'll be another one floating by any minute now'.”

And: “Japan called me. They said: 'Maybe those jokes are a hit in the U.S., but over here, they're all sinking'.”

He had to apologise.

The jokes were too soon. Gallows humour, anyone?

There is a saying that comedy is tragedy plus time - and a couple of days clearly isn’t enough time.

And in comedy, timing is everything. Mel Brooks came up with Springtime For Hitler more than 20 years after World War II.

Are people more insensitive now? Or are people just too sensitive?

I think people are the same. The difference is that previously, when you said something insensitive, you didn’t put it on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to be shared with the rest of the world.

The Sensitivity Police are everywhere – particularly online.

While the insensitive comments are unfortunate and should be called out, the angry attacks on the commenters have unfortunately at times become much more vicious and disturbing than the offending comments themselves.

Countering incivility with more incivility only adds fuel to the fire of intolerence and hate. It's beginning to resemble an online witchhunt. The Web just amplifies everything, especially the vitriol.

So if you really want to play it safe, you should just avoid the Internet altogether.

Otherwise your offending e-mail might end up on Mr Brown’s blog. That was what happened to MediaCorp.

Which brings me to the third category: utter cluelessness.

MediaCorp had no idea that its e-mail canvassing for advertisements on Channel NewsAsia during its “comprehensive coverage” of the disaster in Japan would be seen as insensitive and spark so much outrage after it went viral that the company had to apologise.

Another example of utter cluelessness is billionaire invester Warren Buffett saying that the disaster in Japan “really creates a buying opportunity”. That’s insensitive!

So is this headline at the Israeli site “Israel fears sushi shortage after quake”.

As Mel Brooks might say: Oy!

Who knows? Maybe I’m utterly clueless myself and this column is also insensitive.


(Too soon?)

- Published in The New Paper, 20 March 2011

Mr Ong,

I find this very difficult to write while containing my anger. I need to clarify things first perhaps.

Firstly, are you a right wing Christian fundamentalist Japanophobe or just an insensitive idiot? I feel no sense of irony in asking you this.

Why did women and children born long after the Second World War deserve to be killed by a tsunami and have their homes destroyed by it?

If we are to relate things to that war then why does a country that suffered the only two atomic bombings in history now deserve 66 years later to be under further threat from radiation poisoning?

I am sure you are the kind of fool who talks about 'political correctness gone mad' and other such vague things that you perceive as threats to your right to say and write whatever you like no matter how it makes people feel.

Would you state your opinions and tell your jokes to the face of a Japanese man or maybe to me?

Would you then hide behind the law or expect protection from the police if things were to turn violent?

Would you see any hypocrisy in that after complaining about authorities rightly trying to shut up idiots spreading hate and bile such as yourself?

Would you think perhaps it would be better to be sensitive?

I'm sure you would bleat like a little lamb. You truly are a pathetic creature unworthy of the word man.

Christopher Arnott


when i first read the reader's letter (above), i was really surprised by how angry it was.

i wasn't even sure what he was offended about or why he thought you held the opinions he accused you of holding.

i went back and reread the column, and i think what may have made him so mad was the implication that people were being oversensitive about earthquake/tsunami jokes.

there was the "are people more insensitive now. or are they more sensitive?" thing. and that line about the "sensitivity police" being everywhere.

And saying that you thought the pearl harbour tweet was a joke places you in the "come on, it's just a joke, why take it so seriously" camp.

i think the reader took a leap of logic here to then conclude that you were defending the people who made these comments, and that you agreed with them.

and that repeating the comments was a sneaky way of saying the same stuff but not getting blamed for it.

i guess writing that you were more afraid of getting flamed for saying the wrong thing about japan than about nuclear radiation didn't help :)

so, do i think the hate mail was deserved? well, i think this particular reader was overreacting.

it sounds like he was already angry about stupid earthquake comments and worked up about people invoking "free speech" in response to criticism, and your column gave him a focal point for the "hate".

but him aside, i'm sure there are lots of people out there who feel it's just wrong to use this disaster as comedic fodder.

is it possible to write a humour piece about the tsunami and *not* offend them?

i dunno. but i guess you tried your darndest.


MY REPLY: While I agree the disaster itself is certainly not comedy fodder, I think the accompanying "That's insensitive!" sideshow is, with guilty parties on both sides. I apologise.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Shiver me timbers! It's back from the dead!

For the past few days, I have noticed a number of people stumbling onto this blog because they had googled "Shiver" and reached an old post about me writing for the show.

I was at first puzzled by the sudden interest in this old local drama series from the '90s. Then I found out Channel 5 is currently rerunning the show on weekdays in the early afternoon.

So for those of you who are curious about the show, this is some of what I can recall about it.

The series was first telecast in 1997 and ran for one (at the time record-breaking) 30-episode season.

Like most local English-language TV programmes, it was lambasted for all the usual things - lack of originality, crappy scripts, crappy acting, crappy everything.

I don't think the show was as bad as it was made out to be, but then I'm biased.

I believe the show was hampered by promos that led people to expect it to be scary, which it was never intended to be. The name "Shiver" didn't help.

It was an anthology series modelled after Twilight Zone, which people seem to forget wasn't that scary as well.

So it was very frustrating for us working on the show to hear constant complaints that the show wasn't scary. (Years later, MediaCorp did produce a show, Incredible Tales, that was meant to be scary and it was a big hit.)

Another problem that became apparent as the series progressed was the casting. Unlike in America where Twilight Zone was produced, here in Singapore, the pool of actors is much smaller.

So you would see Hossan Leong and Andrew Seow repeatedly star in more Shiver episodes than you would care for. Viewers got tired of seeing the same old faces.

Even I had small roles in a few episodes.

Yesterday, I chanced upon the second half of an episode called Animal, starring Andrew Seow, who played a guy bitten by a mysterious creature on Pulau Ubin and started to change.

I was shocked when I saw myself oncreen playing a doctor. I had forgotten I was in that episode. My wife couldn't stop laughing.

I had to deliver the ridiculous line (which I wrote) that Andrew Seow had rabies. It was my own take on the werewolf mythos.

Still, from what I saw, the episode held up better than I expected, but then again, I'm biased.

Today, there was another episode that I wrote and appeared in called The Lift. It's one of those typical Twilight Zone-esque stories where people disappear and no one seem to remember they even existed except the protagonists.

I played a guy running a comic book shop who asked Hossan Leong, "Are you on drugs?"

These were two of my favorite Shiver episodes. I had written a total of eight episodes, not including a script that was rejected because it had cannibalism in it.

Another episode I wrote was the series opener called The Hour, also starring Hossan Leong. The premise was similar to the movie Groundhog Day except it was more like Groundhog Hour.

I thought it was a bad idea for it to be the first episode because I knew people would accuse us of ripping off the movie - which they did.

Believe it or not, the excutive producer of Shiver had never heard of Groundhog Day which was why he made that decision. I had many arguments with that executive producer and one day I actually made him cry.

Despite this, I still have fond memories of Shiver because it was my first gig as a scriptwriter and The Hour was the first script I had ever written.

My other episodes were:

Brother's Keeper, starring Zachary Mosalle as a mentally retarded man (or is he?). He was nominated a Asian Television Award in 1998 for the role, which was based on my sister.

Miss Singapore, starring Jamie Lee, who isn't too convincing as an unattractive, overweight woman, later transformed into a beauty queen.

Inside, starring Tan Kheng Hua as an agoraphobe (or is she?) and Darryl David.

Conscience, starring Najib Ali as a woman's conscience. An interesting concept ruined by inept direction.

Year Of The Tiger, a Chinese New Year episode starring Robin Leong that turned out really silly because of garish direction by the aforementioned executive producer.

This episode was my attempt to write a modern fantasy-kungfu action story based on the Chinese Zodiac fable. What I envisioned was something with a cool attitude like Men In Black, but it ended up a camp cartoon like VR Man. I remember being told the radio DJs made fun of the episode the morning after it first aired.

I still think it would make an interesting premise for a big budget action movie though.

2018 UPDATE: When your old TV shows come back to haunt you

Tuesday 15 March 2011

What MediaCorp should apologise for – but didn't

Dear MediaCorp,

I would like to commend you on your prompt apology for the e-mail – excuse me, I mean “electronic direct mail” or EDM – sent by your marketing communications department canvassing for advertisements on Channel NewsAsia during its “comprehensive coverage” of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Your senior vice-president of marketing and sales planning, Mr Eddie Koh, said: “We apologise unreservedly if we had been seen to be insensitive to the gravity of the situation.”

And so what “if” you were?

It’s not like you were actually being insensitive – you were only “seen” as being insensitive.

And who are the people doing the “seeing”?

It’s those pesky “netizens”. It’s their fault.

They had criticised the EDM as “opportunistic”, “unsavoury” and “despicable”.

In your apology, Mr Koh has clarified that the EDM was meant for a “targeted group of clients and agencies”.

The implication is that, unlike netizens, these clients and agencies would appreciate the opportunistic, unsavoury and despicable nature of the EDM.

You were only catering to their needs. It’s because of these clients and agencies that you were “seen” to be insensitive. If anything, they should apologise to you.

What’s the big deal anyway? It’s not like you drew a cartoon of Ultraman running away from a tsunami.

As Mr Koh said: “We hope the public will be forgiving and we can focus our attention and efforts on the affected victims of this most unfortunate tragedy.”

I believe that MediaCorp has already made up for any perceived gaffe by raising more than $4.25 million for the Society for the Physically Disabled with a live charity show on Channel 8 two days after the earthquake. Well done!

Channel NewsAsia reported that the highlight of the show was a “breathtaking” sand dance performance by MediaCorp stars Fann Wong and Christopher Lee.

So much for focusing attention on the Japan tragedy. Hey, life goes on, right? Otherwise, the earthquake has won. Breathtaking, indeed.

There is, however, one thing in the EDM that I find unforgivable that you should apologise for – but didn’t.

The EDM said that the earthquake unleashed a tsunami that “wrecked havoc” on coastal towns.

As ├╝ber netizen Mr Brown pointed out, the correct word is “wreaked”, not “wrecked”.

Epic language fail, MediaCorp!

Are your EDMs written by Ris Low? Or Phua Chu Kang?

Even your targeted clients and agencies would not be impressed.

Mr Koh said that the staff member concerned had been “counselled to be more circumspect”.

Maybe that staff member should just be sent for English classes.

Best regards,
S M Ong

- Unpublished

Sunday 13 March 2011

If you can apply for self-exclusion from casinos, why not elsewhere?

Dear Resort World Sentosa (RWS),

Belated congratulations on being Singapore’s first integrated resort.

When the idea of opening a casino in Singapore was first proposed a few years ago, there was concern (as there still is) about problem gambling.

To address this concern, one safeguard that has been put in place is voluntary self-exclusion.

I find this to be a fascinating, almost paradoxical, concept.

So someone who likes to do something so much that he or she can’t stop doing it is expected to have the foresight and fortitude to allow someone else to legally bar him or her from doing that thing that he or she likes to do? How likely is that?

Yet, amazingly, by the end of last year, 3,519 people did have the foresight and fortitude to exclude themselves from the casinos here.

If self-exclusion works, then why isn’t it applied to other areas of human stupidity?

Why aren’t alcoholics excluding themselves from bars, fat people from buffets and horny Facebook users from Fiona Xie videos?

Which brings me to the purpose of my mail.

I wish to exclude myself from RWS – but not from the casino, which is why I cannot apply for the exclusion online at the National Council of Problem Gambling website and why I’m writing to you directly.

I’m applying for self-exclusion from the Battlestar Galactica ride at your Universal Studios theme park.

Being a fan of the TV show that the ride is named after - both the original series and the remake (Cylons rock!) - I had been looking forward to the re-opening of the ride since its closure 11 months earlier.

But the reason I’m excluding myself is not because I’m afraid I would be addicted to the high-speed thrills the ride has to offer.

No, I want to exclude myself from the Battlestar Galactica ride because I don’t want to risk being public humiliated when I can’t get on the ride due to my fatness.

This was what happened to Mr Christian Abellaneda, according to a New Paper report last week.

He was able to enjoy the ride in the morning. Then later the same day, he wanted to go again, but he couldn’t be secured into the seat.

He said he felt particularly insulted after a staff member told him he might have “expanded” after lunch.

I can empathise. My waist grows by one pants size after every meal and I don’t need anyone pointing that out. I have enough body image issues as it is.

So if I go anywhere near the Battlestar Galactica ride, I would like someone from RWS to direct me to the casino instead – using brute force if necessary.

I hope my application for self-exclusion is accepted. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
S M Ong

PS: I have already applied for self-exclusion from every buffet in town and anything involving Fiona Xie.

- Published in The New Paper 13 March 2011

Sunday 6 March 2011

What next after A levels? Show you the money!

So you just got your A-level results on Friday.

Now what are you going to do with the rest of your life? Are you going to do what your parents want you to do?

Or will you follow your own dreams instead and stomp on the hearts of the people who raised you, fed you, clothed you and paid for your broadband connection?

What is a 19-year-old to do?

To help you decide, perhaps it would be pertinent to point out that inflation in Singapore hit a two-year high in January. Which is to say it’s all about the Benjamins - or in our case, it’s all about the Yusof Ishaks.

Tertiary education is not cheap, so you have to consider how much money you can make in the field you want to go into. Thanks to certain recent news reports, we now know how much certain individuals in certain professions earn.

Let’s say you want to be a surgeon. Good choice. Your parents would be very happy (if they can afford it).

Dr Susan Lim, a general surgeon in private practice, charged a member of Brunei’s royal family $26 million (including GST) for five months of service.

You know how hard it is for a regular person to make that kind of money? It’s like being the sole winner of Hongbao Toto Draw two and a half men - I mean 'times'. That's how hard.

Dr Lim is now fighting to stop the Singapore Medical Council from appointing a second disciplinary committee to investigate the accusation that she overcharged her patient.

During the hearing, another doctor testified that the non-procedural fees of a senior surgeon should range from $10,000 to $15,000 a day. Procedural fees should range from $20,000 to $40,000.

All of which sounds very lucrative - unless you’re Daniel Ong.

Last month, The New Paper reported that the former Radio 913 deejay can make up to $25,000 per event as an emcee - and he didn’t even have to go to medical school.

Yes, Ong can earn in a single night what Raddy Avramovic, coach of Singapore football team, makes in an entire month in salary.

But before you apply for deejay college, be aware that in another court case, it was revealed that deejay-host-actor Marcus Chin was paid only $23,620 for the entire year of 2008 and $33,391 for the entire year of 2009 by J Team Productions.

So not everyone can be Daniel Ong and marry a former Miss Singapore.

And speaking of football, not everyone can be national players Shahril Ishak and Baihakki Khaizan who are each getting a two-year US$300,000 contract to play in Indonesia.

But if you think you have the chops to be the next Fandi Ahmad (who earned $18,500 a month in 1995 as a player), good news!

The Fandi Ahmad Academy is opening on Saturday.

Not sure how many A levels you need to get in though.

Last month, The New Paper also reported that a managing director, who had been earning more than $10,000 a month, quit his job to stay home and look after his kids.

Being a full-time parent pays nothing, but there may be rewards other than monetary.

And you don't need any A levels at all.

So how many years of your life have you wasted?

Be warned though, one of the pitfalls of being a parent is that your kids may become full-time parents.

Worst comes to worst, you can become a sitcom star.

- Published in The New Paper, 6 March 2011