Sunday 7 June 2015

History on repeat: The Government and The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Someone once said: “Learn from history or you're doomed to repeat it.”

I think it was George Santayana, the late Spanish writer and philosopher.

Or Jesse Ventura, the American former professional wrestler, star of the original Predator movie and philosopher.

I always get the two men confused.

I must be a pretty slow learner because history appears to be on auto-rewind.

First, a little history.

Actually, there has been a lot of history lately.

Call me crazy, but I suspect it may have something to do with SG50.

Last Sunday, I wrote about Singapura: The Musical, which retells the history of Singapore’s struggle for independence from the Filipino perspective with some Pinkerton Syndrome thrown in for romance.

Because, you know, who doesn't want to learn Singapore history from the people we just trounced 84-12 in netball in the SEA Games?

Then we have the official music video of this year’s official National Day Parade theme song called Our Singapore by Dick Lee.

At least I think it’s a music video. It looks more like a compilation of Singapore history’s greatest clips interspersed with shots of Lee lip-syncing at the piano.

Let me tell you it’s no Taylor Swift facing off with Selena Gomez as the world explodes in massive fireballs around them.

To show the passage of history, the NDP video starts in black and white, and ends in colour.

That’s all the SG50 magic you get when you hire a visionary local film-maker like Eric Khoo to direct the video.

Still not enough Singapore history for ya?

You can read local comic book artist Sonny Liew's graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, launched last month.

That is, if you can find a copy.

The book sold out after it was reported that the National Arts Council (NAC) is withdrawing its $8,000 grant from the publisher to fund the project because “the retelling of Singapore’s history in the work potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy of the Government and its public institutions, and thus breaches our funding guidelines”.

The publicity alone is worth more than $8,000.

It’s history repeating itself. Once again, the Government has created publicity and demand for a local work by making things difficult for the artists.

It happened with film-maker Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore, With Love when MDA classified the documentary as “Not Allowed for All Ratings”, effectively making it illegal to be publicly screened in Singapore.

It happened in December with the Dim Sum Dollies’ The History Of Singapore Part 2 when the Media Development Authority (MDA) gave the show an Advisory 16 (Some Mature Content) rating three days before the show’s opening.

I don’t recall a time in the history of Singapore when the Government got so touchy about the history of Singapore.

But at least it generates some free publicity for the artists.

Yes, I know I’ve written about the Streisand effect before. I’m repeating myself because history is repeating itself. Someone's not learning from it.

Luckily for Liew, his graphic novel wasn’t banned. Unlike the case of To Singapore, With Love, you don’t have to brave a trip to Johor to buy a copy of The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

So it’s win-win for Liew and his publisher, Epigram Books. They can reap the benefits of the publicity from NAC withdrawing its grant and sell the book without any restrictions from the Government. Not even an Advisory 16 rating.

So what’s $8,000?

Heck, I can give Epigram the money.

The boss of Epigram, Mr Edmund Wee, once gave me a freelance job after I was retrenched in 2001 and desperate for income and validation. For that, I will always be grateful.

To pay him back, now that I’m a big-time columnist for The New Paper on Sunday (ahem), I believe I can afford to part with eight measly grand to help Epigram out of the poorhouse (if my wife lets me).

All I ask is a free autographed copy of the book once it’s reprinted — and a cut of the movie deal if the book is turned into a feature film.

Eric Khoo can even direct it.

He can do his black-and-white to colour thing again.

Maybe there will also be The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye: The Musical.

Just keep the Filipinos away from it.

We don’t want history to repeat itself, do we?

- Published in The New Paper, 7 June 2015

Hello Mr Ong,

Enjoyed your "$8,000" story today. Can you please do one of similar vein on childish (or farcical" if I am cruel) antics of the three MCs of the ceremony. I have seen better MC performances in my daughter's secondary school concerts.

And I am not even referring to one of them's silly imitation of an Indian accent.

While you're at it, go count the number of times the word "extraordinary" was used by the ang moh commentator, especially.

We need some improvements in the closing ceremony commentary!


UPDATE: I got this nice little shout-out from Sonny Liew after the column was published:

From the Newpaper!During research for the book, I discovered that SM's dad was a cartoonist too!

Posted by Sonny Liew on Saturday, June 6, 2015