Sunday 18 May 2014

We don't have a new NDP song to kick around any more

For years, it was there for us to criticise, ridicule and complain about.

For years, we wanted it to stop.

But for years, it persisted.

The criticisms, ridicule and complaints became so frequent and predictable that they became like a tradition.

They became part of our uniquely Singaporean culture.

Like force-feeding foreign celebrities who come to our country - like footballers Rio Ferdinand and Sergio Aguero, movie star Hugh Jackman - strange local food such as fried carrot cake, durian and “Maya butter”.

Since the Instagram shows Jackman at a Ya Kun Kaya Toast outlet, we can assume the Australian actor meant “kaya”, not “Maya”.

But who knows?

Maybe next time Russell Crowe can come to Singapore, have breakfast at Killiney Kopitiam and compliment its Aztec bread spreads.

Anyhoo, where was I?

Oh yah, the criticisms, ridicule and complaints became so frequent and predictable that they became part of our uniquely Singaporean culture.

We took it for granted that the thing we love to criticise, ridicule and complain about would always be there for us to criticise, ridicule and complain about.

Until it suddenly wasn’t there any more.

No, I’m not talking about Hello Kitty queues at McDonald’s.

I’m talking about the annual TV licence fee.

For years, Singaporeans bitched about having to pay the $110 every year, usually as justification for bitching about how local TV programmes suck.

As in “Point Of Entry is so bad it’s funny, like VR Man. Why are we paying $110 every year for this? I demand a refund! The TV licence fee should be abolished.”

Then in 2011, the Government unexpectedly did just that. The 48-year-old TV licence fee was scrapped. No one saw it coming. It was like Christmas in February.

On top of that, the Government also refunded the money that people had paid in advance for that year's licence fee. If you guessed it was an election year, you’re right.

Explaining the move, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the fee was irrelevant as TV is no longer considered a luxury and programmes can be watched on the Internet.

The fee was supposedly used to fund public-service content on free-to-air TV channels, but most people just assumed it was to pay for shows like Point Of Entry and VR Man.

But of course, the lack of the TV licence fee hasn’t stopped people from bitching about local TV.

I still can’t believe Channel 5 showed the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy on Good Friday last month.

Aside from the movie being 34 years old, how insensitive MediaCorp had to be to air a movie called The Gods Must Be Crazy on a religious holiday?

You might as well insult a blind woman on radio.

Anyhoo, I think people miss having the TV licence fee to bitch about, even though no one misses paying the $110.

Without the TV licence fee, I sense a void in our culture that can never be filled.

And now another void has opened up.

Last week, it was announced that there will be no new National Day song this year for the first time in 16 years.

Like killing the TV licence fee, the announcement was greeted with cheers.

This year’s NDP creative director, Dick Lee, said: “Why not bring old songs back on a more regular basis?”

Could one of those old songs he was referring to be Home, which happens to be written by someone also named Dick Lee? Coincidence?

Anyhoo, this announcement comes four years after I wrote a column in this newspaper in 2010 called “Why we don’t need new National Day song every year”.

If only they had listened to me back then, the NDP organisers would have been spared the ignominy of the disastrous public reception to last year’s song, One Singapore.

Bitching about the new NDP song had become an annual national ritual, but last year’s backlash was apparently so vicious that the NDP organisers have now raised the white flag, which I hope Vietnamese protesters won’t burn “by mistake”.

I believe that the online abuse inflicted on the song co-written by comedian Selena Tan could be partly responsible for the tougher new anti-cyberbullying laws Parliament passed in March.

But I’m not here to say “I told you so” or take a victory lap because I suspect the reprieve is only temporary.

Unlike the TV licence fee which is probably gone for good, a new NDP song is as inevitable and certain as death and taxes. It’s just a matter of when.

My guess is that they’re saving the new song for next year’s National Day, which seems to be the only one anyone really cares about now since it will be Singapore’s 50th birthday.

I’m surprised we’re not skipping this year’s National Day celebration altogether.

So while the tradition of bitching about the new NDP song will likely return in 2015, I will certainly feel the emptiness this year.

Perhaps Young PAP can upload another in-house video on YouTube.

Maybe some time closer to August.

- Published in The New Paper, 18 May 2014