Sunday 14 December 2014

Hello, Dim Sum Dollies: MDA & the Streisand Effect

I have never been to a Dim Sum Dollies show.

The closest I’ve come is eating dim sum on a doily, which is really not very close, I know.

The second closest was when I was forced to listen to the Dim Sum Dollies singing “Train is coming, train is coming” on the MRT platform four years ago every time a train was coming.

It was so annoying that someone created a Facebook community page called “Dim Sum Dollies — Love Your Ride (SMRT Campaign) Please SHUT the F*CK UP”.

It wasn’t me.

The page is still there. It has 39 likes.

But despite all that, I’m actually considering going to see the Dim Sum Dollies’ The History Of Singapore Part 2, which opened at the Esplanade Theatre on Thursday and will run until Dec 23.


Is it because it stars Selena Tan, Pam Oei and Denise Tan as the Dollies with their Chopstick, Hossan Leong, plus six “sizzling Loh Mai Guys”?

Or is it because the show’s music is by Elaine Chan, who with Selena, wrote last year’s official National Day song, One Singapore, which was so viciously ripped apart that no one dared to introduce a new official National Day song this year?

Or is it because since they’re called Dim Sum Dollies, I think there’ll be food?


It’s because of the Media Development Authority (MDA).

Thanks to MDA, the Dollies got some free publicity last week.

The Straits Times reported that MDA gave the show an Advisory 16 (Some Mature Content) rating three days before the show’s opening.

MDA said that the rating is for the show’s “satirical socio-political references, which would be more suited for a mature audience”.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be 16 or older to watch the Dollies make fun of “Ribena kids”, “Talentime scores” and the “Anson Bye-Bye election” in the show, although you probably have to over 36 to get those references.

MDA explained: “The Advisory 16 rating is not age-restrictive and serves to allow consumers to make an informed viewing choice.”

Which means my 15-year-old daughter can watch the Dim Sum Dollies show, not that she would want to since Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t in it.

And that’s her informed viewing choice.

It could’ve been worse for the Dollies.

At least they didn’t get the dreaded Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR) classification, the fate that befell director Tan Pin Pin’s documentary To Singapore, With Love and director Ken Kwek’s 2012 movie Sex.Violence.FamilyValues.

Singaporeans had to brave a trip to Johor to watch Tan’s doc and Kwek re-edited his movie to get an R21 rating for it to be eventually shown in a Singapore cinema.

So the Dollies got off relatively easy.

Yet MDA was harshly criticised on Facebook by Cultural Medallion-laden theatre wild man, Channel 5 year-end countdown show critic and former Buckingham Palace banquet guest Ivan Heng.

He posted:
“Frankly, it is shockingly inept, cruel and irresponsible of the MDA to have kept the Dim Sum Dollies waiting until three days before their opening to award them a licence... To add insult to injury, the show has been slapped with an ‘Advisory 16 (Some Mature Content) - on account of sociopolitical references in the work’ recommendation.”
This was before MDA clarified that the rating isn’t age-restrictive.

To add more insult to the “shockingly inept, cruel and irresponsible” insult, Heng wrote:
“Please. Let’s just rename the MDA the Media REGULATION Authority?”
Ooh, harsh.

But near the end of his post, Heng wrote these encouraging words for the Dollies:
“I trust this debacle hasn’t dampened your spirits. If anything, take comfort in knowing it will help you sell more tickets.”
He’s right. If not for the “debacle”, I wouldn’t even be aware of the Dim Sum Dollies show.

So it would seem the MDA’s attempt to “regulate” the show has backfired as it has created more publicity and interest in the show. Heck, even I’m writing about those damn Dollies!

The same thing happened to To Singapore, With Love and Sex.Violence.FamilyValues.

This phenomenon is called the Streisand Effect, named after US entertainer Barbra Streisand.

For those of you too young to know who Streisand is, she’s like the Taylor Swift and Angelina Jolie of her time but with a nose bigger than both of theirs combined.

She had numerous No. 1 albums and singles, starred in and directed hit movies, and won Grammys and Oscars in her half-century career.

Now 72, she’s still got it. Her latest album, Partners, debuted at the top of the Billboard chart just three months ago.

In 2003, to protect her privacy, Babs sued to have a photo of her California seaside home removed from a website.

As a result of her unsuccessful attempt to suppress the photo, more people knew about and saw the photo.

And hello, Dollies, the Streisand Effect was born.

You would think that after all this time, MDA would’ve learnt about the Streisand Effect of its actions. Surely, somebody there must know.

How could anyone be so...

Wait a minute.

Is it possible that MDA isn’t as “shockingly inept” as Heng thinks it is?

After all, this is an organisation smart enough not to hire me even though I’ve applied for a job there a couple of times.

Could it be that MDA has been slyly living up to what the D stands for by developing local talent like Tan Pin Pin and Ken Kwek in its own unexpected way? (Wink, wink.)

I mean, even after the MDA rating controversy, Tan is one of the seven film-makers collaborating on the SG50 project, 7 Letters, funded by the Singapore Film Commission, which is part of MDA.

And Kwek received a $20,000 script development grant from MDA for his new M18-rated movie, Unlucky Plaza, which opened the Singapore International Film Festival earlier this month.

So no, Ivan Heng, I don’t think we should rename MDA the “Media REGULATION Authority”.

In fact, Dim Sum Dollies should be grateful to MDA for regulating them.

If not for the MDA advisory, I would’ve never gone to the Sistic website to find out that a ticket to The History Of Singapore Part 2 costs... what?!

$58 each for the cheapest seats?

I think I’ll go watch The Hobbit instead.

It’s rated PG13. I can take my daughter. Cumberbatch plays the dragon.

We could just have some dim sum after the movie.

Maybe even on a doily.

- Published in The New Paper, 14 December 2014