Monday 22 November 2021

Why an otter in TraceTogether app? It should be a merlion and I have one in mind

Do merlions cry?

As in can tears come out of their eyes?

Or are they only capable of expelling copious fluid from their mouth like they are vomiting?

I am asking because somewhere out there, there must be a very sad merlion right now.

His name is Merli.

“Who?” you may ask

Merli is the “heart-warming and whimsical” cartoon character based on Singapore’s mythical national icon – no, not Phua Chu Kang – the Merlion, created by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in 2018 to appeal to families with kids.

According to STB, Merli the merlion “is energetic and outgoing, and has many friends from Singapore and around the world”.

He also “makes it a point to treat his friends to his favourite food – kaya toast – which he loves for its unique taste”.

So cute, right?

Merli eats kaya toast like a typical Singaporean – and human being. He thinks he is people.

Merli has appeared in various marketing collateral, including animated videos produced by STB, but you don’t really hear much about him.

Fast forward to today.

GovTech has updated its TraceTogether app to show your Covid-19 vaccination and test statuses on your check-in pass after you scan the QR code.

For those who are vaccinated, the screen will have a green background for venue staff to see easily from a distance so that queues can be cleared quickly.

The screen will also have animation for venue staff to easily check that it is not a screenshot in case people want to cheat.

So for the animation, GovTech decided to have a cute cartoon critter swimming back and forth across the screen.

Merli is perfect for this.

I mean, he is a cute cartoon critter and he is half fish. So swimming back and forth is not a problem for Merli.

Obvious choice, right?

But what did GovTech choose to put in the animation?

Not Merli. Or even Phua Chu Kang.

GovTech picked a damn otter.

Because according to GovTech, “what’s not to like about a cute floating otter”.

Well, there is a lot not to like if you have precious koi that were eaten by a otter. You wouldn’t have that problem with kaya toast-loving Merli.

Hey, at least GovTech didn’t make it a baby panda.

So instead of using a pre-existing animated critter that officially represents our country and can swim, GovTech wastefully creates a brand new animated critter based on… what? Popularity?

No wonder The Washington Post recently claimed: “Otters are taking over Singapore.”

Last month, the US newspaper reported: “Using drainpipes as highways, the carnivorous mammals traverse the city, sometimes popping up in rush-hour traffic, or racing through university campuses…

“They visit hospital lobbies and condominium pools, hunting for koi fish and drinking from fountains.”

They have been featured in BBC and Netflix documentaries.

They have gone viral by crashing a marriage proposal and writhing around a tree like they were possessed.

They were once voted by Straits Times readers to represent Singapore for National Day.

Just last week, when an otter pup died after suffering injuries from a fight with other otters, it was front page news in this very paper you are reading.

The animal couldn’t get more publicity if it were marrying Rebecca Lim.

After Jack Neo finishes the Ah Girls Go Army movie, the logical sequel would be Otters Go Army (that is, if he can find a trangender otter to be in the cast).

Which brings me to my point.

The otters have so much already. Couldn’t GovTech have at least given the TraceTogether animated screen to poor Merli who has so little?

I mean, he is right there!

STB must have paid someone a lot of money to create Merli.

What a missed opportunity. With the drop in tourism due to the pandemic, he could use the work.

Maybe he can get a gig promoting Shopee like PCK did.

The sad, under-utilised merlion is probably somewhere out there drowning his sorrows in kaya toast right now.

Damn otters.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 November 2021

Monday 8 November 2021

Is Bollywood scene in Eternals movie racist? Happy Deepavali!

What is racist?

That may be obvious to many but not to all.

How else do you explain the viral 14-second video posted by a gym of two middle-aged Chinese women doing a seated row with elastic bands while shaking their heads like broken bobblehead dolls and repeating “happy Deepavali” to laughter from an unseen audience?

Never mind the Eternals movie. The video should’ve been rated M18 for immature content.

But someone must have thought it was okay and not racist at all because it was posted on Instagram by F45 Serangoon Garden South to mark the Hindu festival last week.

After receiving “feedback that this video is racially insensitive”, the gym apologised: “We are very sorry for the mistakes and hope to seek your forgiveness.”

With the Internet being the Internet, at least one of the women has been supposedly identified and the company she works for has also been targeted by those demanding that the woman be sacked.

It’s like Amy Cheong all over again. Remember her?

The company responded that it was aware of the video, adding: “We are treating this matter very seriously and we are currently in the process of investigating the incident.”

But the video was not the only racially-charged Deepavali-related incident that went viral last week.

So did this tweet by a Twitter user named sham: “my siblings my niece and i were just playing with sparklers for Deepavali and someone from on top threw an egg at us.”

He also tweeted pictures of a family including a young girl playing with sparklers outdoors and pictures of a smashed egg at what looked like the foot of a Housing Board block.

The Twitter user did not outright call it a racist incident, but some took it as such.

As one person commented: “I’m sorry that some racist person had to show his/her downright ugliness when y’all were enjoying the sparklers.”

But I would like to report a possibly racist Deepavali-related incident that not enough people are talking about.

It’s in the Eternals movie, which opened in Singapore on Deepavali.

I know the movie received the M18 rating and is banned in a several Middle Eastern countries because of a scene with two gay men kissing. But what raises my hackles is a different scene.

Come on, Marvel, you have the first South Asian superhero Kingo played by Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani and what do you do?

You put him in a Bollywood dance number.

Stereotype much?

I guess I should be grateful that you didn’t make Gilgamesh played by Korean-American actor Don Lee sing K-pop and play Squid Game.

Or make Ajak played by Mexican-American actress Selma Hayek eat tacos and clean houses.

Or make Sersi played by Chinese-British actress Gemma Chan know gongfu and ride a giant flying Chinese dragon in the end – no, wait, that is another movie.

It is particularly jarring considering the movie is a woke wet dream with a hyper-diverse cast that also includes a deaf actress, two British guys who played brothers in Game Of Thrones and Angelina Jolie.

Plus the movie is directed by what Americans like to call a “woman of colour”, Oscar winner Chloe Zhao.

As Eternals has become the worst reviewed Marvel Cinematic Universe movie ever, some fans are calling its critics racist and misogynist.

So it almost does not matter that Kingo was originally Japanese in the comics. No one is accusing Marvel of brown-washing for making the character a South Asian just to have a Bollywood sequence.

All is forgiven, Tilda Swinton?

Yay, representation.

The movie may not be as outright racist as the F45 video, but both trade on the same old racial stereotypes.

Shaking my head.

But not like that.

- Publihsed in The New Paper, 8 November 2021