Sex.Violence.FamilyValues — Ban and blame (ourselves)
I fully agree with Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim that the ban on Sex.Violence.FamilyValues is “not a step backwards”. After all, was there any step forward to begin with? A play-safe mentality has always been the MDA’s trademark.
Notwithstanding that, it still surprised me that 20 out of 24 members in the Films Consultative Panel (FCP), which the MDA had consulted on, felt the film should be banned. The remaining four thought a R21 rating as appropriate. This panel purportedly comprises “members of the public, representing different age groups, races, religions and professions, including those with knowledge about the film industry”. Yet, there appears to be a jarring disconnect between their views and the public sentiment, at least as far as the online reaction I’ve read so far suggests.
I can think of three possible reasons:
1. There are even more offensive parts in the film that are not in the trailers. Or the film, when viewed as a whole, generates a stronger tone than just the trailers. Many of those who voiced against the ban have seen only the trailers, or even not at all.
2. The FCP has to think of the wider public and therefore errs on the side of caution when it comes to what is acceptable; the dissident voices don’t consider that.
3. The FCP itself is an overly conservative group that is not truly representative of a society that is becoming more mature and discerning.
There will be those who argue — and I partially agree — that the first point is moot, because no matter how offensive the film is, it is up to movie-goers to decide if they want to watch it. It is impossible to decide on the third, because while the FCP makeup does appear diverse, we have no clue on the personal values and beliefs of the individuals and whether there’s any selection bias in forming this panel. The second reason is the most likely.
I don’t blame MDA for their decision, in light of the recent incident of a racist Facebook remark generating a minor storm amongst Singaporeans. We have to take some responsibility on this, especially those within us who clamour for the offender to be sacked. Sackings may be warranted if the offender is a public figure, but surely not for an ordinary employee for something written in her personal life. If we believe that those who say the wrong things have to be countered through repression, rather than greater debate, then the MDA is in a way also protecting itself and even the film producers from potential outrage (sack Yaacob!). That was the message I tried to convey in my earlier comic post.
Nobody likes to be told what can or cannot be watched. Bear in mind, though, that banning films is not a uniquely Singaporean phenomenon. Even more progressive and liberal countries like the UK occasionally ban films outright. Of course, they don’t do it nearly as frequently as we do, because our (authority’s) tolerance is so much lower.
I mentioned that I only partially agree that no matter how offensive films are, it is up to movie-goers to choose. There are very strong grounds for certain films to be completely outlawed. An example, to give an extreme case, is a film that uses real life killings for shock value — a ban in this case will send the strongest signal that such a practice is simply unacceptable and no financial gains must be made out of it. I have not watched Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, but I’m sure it is Teletubbies in comparison.
On a lighter note, I find this excerpt from the TODAYonline report rather hilarious:
[NMP Janice] Koh also questioned if blocking the film had shrunk society’s common space. Dr Yaacob replied that film was not the only platform to have a dialogue on issues like race. “I don’t see this as a step backwards,” he said, citing the ongoing Singapore Conversation as another platform.
Dr Yaacob is telling us the Singapore Conversation is a good alternative to watching satirical films. A Freudian slip? Perhaps he finds the skits in Heng Swee Keat’s song and dance sessions laughable and, in a way, satirical too? After all, Mr Heng gets a lot of expert help from veteran comedian Lim Ru Ping.