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ISSUE SIX/APRIL 2014

MNEMOZINE

THE NUS HISTORY MAGAZINE A STUDENT PUBLICATION OF THE NUS HISTORY SOCIETY

MEDIA FEATURING / COMIC BOOK & CHARACTERS THE STORY OF JOURNALISM RELIGION & POP CULTURE WEDDING TRADITIONS


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EDITOR’S NOTE “Big Brother is Watching You” ~George Orwell (1984)

Love it or loathe it, you really can’t quite escape the media. Like an exceptionally brazen bandit, it waylays you at the turn of every street, telling you what to think and how to feel about history as it unfolds. This issue has been dedicated exclusively to everything about the mass media, from the visual to the print, and even to the auditory. This is a record not merely of the changes that have been wrought in the medium, but also of the agents responsible for their production. Gone are the days when the media moguls held a monopoly on news. Today, give a man an internet connection and watch him metamorphise into a curbside prophet (p.14). Here, we document the changes in the media landscape, as radio goes into its dying throes (p.16) while television marches into its twilight (p.8). We’ve tried to make things relevant to all of you Singaporeans out there, reviewing the Singapore Biennale (p.32) and the Avenue 1960s exhibition (p.31). Join us as we lead you into the past and destroy the myth of the objective newspaper via Ken’s piece on the Tet Offensive (p.20) and back into the present, where we demonstrate quite clearly, that even such light-hearted affairs as cartoons carry hidden agendas and political undercurrents. Watch, as we demonstrate that food advertisements are a reflection of cultural trends (p.23). Finally, we round up this issue with an insider’s perspective from our graduates and professors in the media industry. By putting this specific selection of pieces together, we’ve tried to capture between our pages a snapshot of the chimera that is the media as it continues to undulate its way across the morass of the 21st century. Who can say how things will change in time to come? We hope this issue triggers more questions than answers and that these questions stay in your head for a long, long time. Sleep well, dear readers. Chief Editor Chan Huan Jun

(P.S. Do drop us an email with comments, suggestions, or better still, to express your ardent desire to join our team!)


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A/P Ian Gordon/ 2 Gendered Images / 10 We talk to A/P Ian Gordon on

MNEMOZINE ISSUE 6 / APR 2014 EDITORIAL TEAM Chief Editor    Chan Huan Jun Deputy Editor    Lean Guan Hua CONTRIBUTORS Andy Chong Bernice Lek Chan Huan Jun Chan Yun Hol Dhwani Shashank Dholakia Dionne Teo Goh Wee Shian Jason Seng Jan Yap Ken Hu Lai Jun Wei Lean Guan Hua Leon Ng Michelle Djong Melissa Ng Shaun Matthew Niyo-Ramdas Tan Sock Keng Valerie Yeo Yang Xinyi PHOTOGRAPHY Christabelle Ong Lai Jun Wei PUBLIC RELATIONS Bernice Lek COVER DESIGN Lai Jun Wei DESIGN Lai Jun Wei Past issues at http://issuu.com/mnemozine Mnemozine is published by the NUS History Society and is distributed to all current students, staff, friends and benefactors of the society. A non-profit entity, we welcome donations and other in-kind support. The views expressed by the writers remain solely their own and do not necessarily reflect the official view of the National University of Singapore and its affiliates. For more information, please email us at publications@nushissoc.org

comics, superheroes and the media

Stereotypical portrayal of males & females in cartoons

Clash of Two Worlds / 18

Wedding Traditions / 26

When religion and pop culture collide

Traditional practitioners and their customs

CONTENTS HOME Associate Professor Ian Gordon: Comic Books & Superheroes / 2 Interview with Daniel Wong / 4 Paris: The Construction of a City in Popular Culture / 7

FEATURE 50 Years of Television & Beyond / 8 Through the Looking Glass: Men & Women in Cartoons / 10 Batman & Homosexual Presentations / 12 Story of Journalism / 14 Rise and Decline of Rediffusion / 16 Religion & Pop Culture: When Two Worlds Collide/ 18 Tit for Tet: Red and Blue News Coverage of the Vietnamese Tet Offensive / 20 Evolution of Fast Food Ads / 22

BEYOND Avenue 1960s / 23 ASEAN Quiz / 24 Malaysia: Contributing to creating a stronger community within ASEAN / 25 NHB Project: Wedding Traditions / 26 Mnemozine Classroom / 30

REVIEW Singapore Biennale / 32 Jacques De Coutre/ 33


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DEPARTMENT

A/P IAN


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GORDON

ON COMIC BOOKS & SUPERHEROES

LAI JUN WEI junwei189@gmail.com JASON SENG jason_seng@nus.edu.sg Photography by LAI JUN WEI Stepping into the office of A/P Ian Gordon, we are immediately greeted by shelves of comics and other related books. Tucked in a corner is the complete series of Smallville on DVD and other Superman movies. As a historian focusing on US Media and Pop Culture, he tells us more about superheroes, comic books and their influence on society.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. So what have you been up to recently? I have something in the volume A Companion to Media Authorship, and it’s a piece on the way that when you have a long running character like in some of the serial narratives, the notion of the author changes. Other than that I’ve been writing a piece for the forthcoming Cambridge History of Comics on Superheroes and I already have a piece that’s done that will be in the Cambridge Companion to Comics. I might even be working on something like Archie for another Cambridge Volume on ‘Coming of Age’ novels. Compared to visiting or dwelling in the archives all day, most people would say that your field of work is more fun – being able to watch movies, read comics etc. What do you have to say about that? When I did my PhD on comic strips and consumer culture, I did my research in the basement of the Library of Congress in an area where you read newspapers on microfilm. I spent the best part of about 8 months for one portion of it, sitting in the basement, reading microfilms and taking notes. I read long runs of comic strips and I had to spend the day getting “seasick”. If you ever looked at microfilm and you rolled it past, slow enough that you can kind of see it vaguely, but fast enough so that you are not looking at any page individually, you get seasick. These days, you can just go online to historic newspapers, straight to the comic strips one after another. So it’s a very different process. The bigger point is, it’s not that fun after a while. But then I find being in an archive just as fun. The fun is in the discovery.

Over the years, you have read a lot of comics and been exposed to many superhero characters. Is there a particular favourite that you like? It’s hard to say. If I looked back, I think the great divide was whether you were a Superman or a Batman fan. For me, it has always been Batman. But that’s from when I grew up as a kid. If you look at the first Superman movie from 1978, it’s a much better movie than if you looked at it compared to the 1989 B-production Batman movie, which just does not hold up well. But then again, Batman, The Dark Knight Returns, those movies are better than the two Superman movies Superman Returns and Man of Steel. I had a big collection of comics but at one stage, I gave them all away to Monash University which had a collection on popular culture. The only comics I’ve got these days tend to be for research. Do you think the US and its media have contributed to the popularity of comics on such a massive scale? Yes and no. Superhero comics are a very American thing. But if you think of comics, comics have that sense of being funny and there is a whole British tradition in that with kids. Comic magazines like Beano and Dandy were very important comic magazines that were aimed at the younger audience and a certain anarchic kind of humour that kids enjoy. Comics have had a broad influence, and American comics have an influence and a great impact across the world, particularly since they have become a model for blockbuster movies. How do you feel about movies and media changing over time? There is a lot more time and money invested in them, and that’s the nature of blockbusters. There’s been declining comic book sales, but yet comic books with superhero characters have become key to a lot of movies Hollywood is making at the moment. The reason for this is that you have years and years of readership. So every time a Batman movie comes out, there is an appeal across a broad audience on people who go and see it and go “Wow, what’s this going to be like?” These big comic book movies are trying to bring in everybody who has ever had any involvement with the character.

Nowadays, the special effects are amazing. Too bad about the story. CGI allows for the realisation of characters but it doesn’t develop the character. The last Superman move was like… “Oh it’s a fight scene… Oh it’s another fight scene.” How many superhero films have we seen where the bad guy who has superhero powers, punches the good guy and the good guy goes through several skyscrapers? I swear we have seen that in The Avengers, and Ironman and in Man of Steel. I like Batman because – you got a guy whose parents were killed in front of him when he was young. This is a character who is enormously mixed up, completely traumatised, obsessive and compulsive and competitive to a point that he is the best athlete ever, superbly talented. He is also a great scientist and his logical and deductive mind is just brilliant. So that’s somebody you can really do something with but Superman is like ‘Yawn…” at a certain point. So because Superman is so powerful, it’s like, what do you do with the character who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands even when he is weak? His problems aren’t problems the rest of us basically have. So the ability to do so many incredible things with special effects is getting in the way of telling stories and movies like Transformers, and it’s “Wow, we can do this!”, but yeah, we cannot tell a story we relate to and that, to me, has become the biggest problem. So what’s next for you? I hope to write something on Master Kungfu comics primarily because I like the art. If you look at some of the Master Kungfu stories, they’re really extraordinary. The artist, Paul Gulacy, was a very talented artist and the way he draws, the way he uses panels to convey a sense of linear narrative and also to play with notions of time, to depict martial arts. I’m not sure how much if a martial artist looked at it and how impressed they would be by it. But that’s sort of the aesthetic form like comics to pick the emotions which takes some thought and consideration. ■ Jun Wei and Jason are fourth year History majors in the National University of Singapore.


ALUMNI

HISTORIAN IN ACTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL WONG Mnemozine chats with History alumnus Daniel Wong, who is currently a sub-editor at the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH)

ANDY CHONG andychong9@gmail.com Photograph courtesy of DANIEL WONG Hi Daniel, why did you choose to major in history? I chose to major in history as I have always had an interest in history. I have always been intrigued by the ancient history of the Greek and Roman era, and I continued that fascination through to university. What are some of the memorable modules that you remember? I remember Sports and History (under A/P Aung-Thwin), since I think that was the only module where I got an A- grade. I was never a very good student. There was Film and History, which Prof Barnard and Prof Gordon were constantly sparring verbally with each other, and that always made the lectures fun. I took the US in Asia Pacific module under Dr Quek, which was difficult – because of the number of readings she gave every week and the “dirty” nature of international politics. Prof Lockhart’s history of Christianity was especially interesting since it was the only course I took with ancient European history on it. I also developed a growing interest in East Asian history and I would have chosen to specialise in that area if I had stayed for Honours year. Why did you choose to become a sub-editor in SPH? Tell us something cool that you do. After graduation, the Sports Editor at that time, whom I know, asked me if there were any jobs that I had lined up. He asked me to try working as a journalist. I agreed to try it out for 6 months, and realised that journalistic reporting did not appealed to me. I left there and worked as a church worker in Japan for a couple of years and came back to look for a job. The same Sport Editor (who had moved over to the newsdesk) asked if I might be interested to work with them as a sub-editor instead. This would allow me to use my language skills without having to do the reporting. So I got the job, and I enjoy what I do now. Something cool I do? I guess I get to be a professional “grammar nazi”. I do some simple layouts on pages and clean up stories

(most reporters’ language is already pretty good). Not sure if there is anything cool about that. It is like playing with jigsaw puzzles though. How has the study of history helped you in your work? It has helped me in checking on background information, especially in the world stories. Many things you read in the papers can be traced back to historical events in the past. An example of such news right now would be the controversy over Japanese Premier Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni war shrine. It has also helped me in checking on sources of the news articles too. Nowadays, too many people look at some websites and take it for the truth without questioning the source, simply because it sounds authoritative, or because it reinforces what they think is the truth. In history, we use journals, newspapers and encyclopaedias to back up our essays. For journalistic work, we have to ensure that facts/events stated are accurate. As a reporter, studying history undoubtedly helps in writing. I mean, if you can write a 15,000-word thesis, a 30cm story is no problem. What is your advice for current history majors about making good use of their history degree, and the perennial question of finding a job? In studying history, you learn methodology instead of directly applicable skills. So remember the process of learning, not just what you have learnt. Remember the art of questioning everything, the dictum that there are always two sides to a coin, and analysing the agenda of speeches and texts. It will help you to have a more balanced perspective. You have to be willing to handle different things, even if it is not in your perceived job scope. The strength of the history major is in his/her versatility. That will allow you to find a place in many different jobs. Perhaps you will eventually find a job that you will enjoy doing. ■ Andy is a fourth year history major in the National University of Singapore.


Name: Sandy Wang, Year 2

VOICES

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Why do you want to study history? For me, it was either biology or history, so I chose history. What are your interests in history? Singapore’ military history! In Dunman High School, we heard about ghost stories about Japanese soldiers. I wanted to find out whether these myths and tales are really true and how is it related to a particular area. What is one memorable moment that you have had in NUS History? History Camp 2013 was very memorable – meeting new people and it was an exciting night at the NUS museum. If you want to find out more, join the camp next year!

Name: Muhammad Afif bin Mansoor, Year 4

Why do you want to study history? History coincided with my passion - detective work. Being a historian allows one to examine, investigate and evaluate sources in order to find the truth. It’s like solving a murder mystery where sources act as evidence. The thrill of research gets more exciting when these “evidence” do not tally, probably tainted by the author. It allows us to differentiate between the reliable and bogus. Can you tell us more about your honours thesis? My thesis examines how reports and forum letters in English language newspapers challenged British colonial images of Outram Prison and its inhabitants. This historical study offers an alternative viewpoint to the dominant Eurocentric, top-down narrative in colonial Singapore. My interest in penal history began when my grandfather warned me that if I was misbehaving, I would end up in prison one day. I was six then. My grandfather was a former prison staff at Changi Prison and would regale me with tales of how he and his colleagues handled the prisoners. His stories became more intriguing and often concluded that the prison was not just to punish, but to change wayward behaviour. What do you want to do after graduation? Despite my passion for detective work, I will be enrolling in NIE. I reckon that the best thing that I can do is inspire my students to be “detectives” themselves. I intend to be both a mentor and facilitator in my students’ journey of learning History.


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WELCOME TO THE FAMILY Mr Kelvin Lawrence Mr Lawrence graduated from NUS with an honours degree in History in 2004 and subsequently returned to pursue an MA where he focused on the intellectual life of a prominent Malay figure of the nineteenth century. He pursued his Ph.D at the Australian National University (2009-2013), focusing on four seminal Malay intellectual figures from the nineteenth and twentieth (pre-war) centuries. Teaching Areas: History of the Malay World, Intellectual History, Social History, Cultural History


EMPEIRÍA

PARIS:

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THE CONSTRUCTION OF A CITY IN POPULAR CULTURE

MICHELLE DJONG  michelle_djong@live.com Photography by MICHELLE DJONG Paris is dirty. But of course, no one says this, unless they’ve seen it for themselves. The influence of popular culture dictates that the idea of Paris is inextricably wedded with images of glorious architecture, a long and bloody history of the Revolution and its existence as the intellectual centre of Europe and the world. All the wonderful images of sweet pastries, luxury brands and the stylish but snobbish Parisians are conjured when one mentions Paris. Popular culture dictates all these to be facts in the minds of everyone. John Fiske defines popular culture as “always in process; its meanings can never be identified in a text, for texts are activated, or made meaningful, only in social relations and in inter-textual relations. Meaning is formed within the social and cultural relationships into which it enters.” The rest of the world thus plays a large part in the construction of Paris in popular culture. The ‘Paris’ we hold in our collective imagination is a result of the beliefs of the producers of the culture, that is, the Parisians, and the desires of those who aspire to ideals embodied in Parisian culture.

View from Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Rigby’s Popular Culture in Modern France: A Study of Cultural Discourse highlights the idea that “inseparable from notions of high culture in France is the view that it is French culture which best embodies the values and forms of high culture.”

One concrete event that contributed to the proliferation of haute cuisine (cuisine of “high level” establishments) was the French Revolution in 1789, when chefs working in royal palaces and aristocrats’ dwellings were unemployed and started restaurants. Various aspects of Parisian culture are also made visible to the world through various outlets. Some examples include the innumerable art exhibitions in Paris; famous art pieces since the Renaissance, the Enlightenment leading up to the French Revolution, as well as portrayals of Paris in movies, depicting a ‘high’ culture of exquisite fashion, literary greats and the rich and famous. Pascal Ory’s volume Mots de Passe (Password), however, reinforces the view that French culture is a secret and private domain into which one is admitted by knowing the secret formulas. Yet the limited access of the rest of the world to the codes of French culture is precisely what makes it tantalising. As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz expressed, there is an enormous increase in interest, not only in anthropology, but in social studies generally, in the role of symbolic forms in human life. Meaning, an elusive and ill-defined pseudoentity, is once again at the centre of the discipline. It is in light of this human desire to find meaning that Paris has become part of popular culture. Vincent Marcilhac, my French gastronomy teacher, said the French took time to appreciate their food, conjuring combinations of flavours by pairing different wines and food. The sense of taste here is intricate, highly sensitive. The description of qualities, flavours of a particular wine or cheese can ignite a passionate debate around the dinner table. Gastronomy is, after all, about appreciating the flavour of food. Thus, the French are deemed to possess finely attuned senses that help them make the most of their eating experience. Paris holds many ideals that we aspire to, and these elements are further

Art nouveau in the Galeries Lafayette in Boulevard Haussman, 1930s

enhanced in media representations. One needs only to look at the movie Midnight in Paris to see the obsession that Hollywood has with its culture of letters, beautiful words and artwork. The principal actor travels back to Paris in the 1920s and the Belle Epoque of Paris and basked in the aura created by meetings with famous writers and artists. The truth is, Paris has endless issues of a recession, immigration, and the homeless. Yet, Paris represents ideals that remain real in the minds of those who can only dream of Paris; it promises so much meaning in the lives of those who live to eat and do not eat to live; those who desire a closer connection to their senses and passions, which ultimately differentiates them from mere animals, subordinated to their instincts. ■ Michelle is a third year History major currently on exchange in the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris


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FEATURE


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BERNICE LEK  bernicelek@gmail.com Photographs from TARA NAOMI/DEVIANART and ELLENM1/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS “50 Years of Television: An Exhibition” ran from December 2013 to January 2014 at the National Museum of Singapore (NMS). Here’s a fact. It was commissioned by the NMS and co-curated by YuMei Balasingamchow who had initially wanted to name it “Last night you got see the show…?”1, which would no doubt have been a title which would have struck a more familiar chord with the use of Singlish. The past 50 years have seen the humble television function as the social anchor of Singapore, whilst our local productions labored as markers of the Singapore identity. However, will this persist for the next 50 years? – How much of a “distinct Singapore stamp” still exists in the media scene? Are our local television productions losing their luster? I seek to answer these questions in the paragraphs which follow. The past 50 years of television have been vibrant, creating several unique icons that have transcended both generation and race and are wellloved by most, if not all. Iconic productions of the 90’s include Phua Chu Kang (1996 – 2007), Growing Up (1996 – 2001), and Under One Roof (1994 – 2003). Those who have lived through the 80’s would recall the golden age of Chinese dramas that was home to such jewels as The Awakening (1984), and Good Morning, Sir! (1989). Even if we had not watched the shows during their broadcast, many Singaporeans would definitely still remember and be able to repeat verbatim phrases such as “Ai-yoyo!”, and “Best in Singapore, JB, and some say Batam”. However, local productions have being criticised for problems of cultural authenticity and relatability. One factor that may have led to these problems is the restriction on the use of language. Singlish is acknowledged as the colloquial language of the nation and is what many would view as an integral part of our identity. It is unique to us, and the interspersing of Malay and other dialects with English represents our diversity of ethnicity and culture. Yet, just as the use of Singlish in the naming of the exhibition was restricted (the use of Singlish is discouraged in the public sphere2), the use of Singlish in our productions was also frowned upon. As a case in point, our nation’s most iconic and possibly most beloved sitcom character Phua Chu Kang was sent back to school to learn how to Speak Good English back in 2000 before appearing in the next season with a slightly more polished version of his former speech.

Also, despite our multiplicity of ethnicity and wealth of cultures, the division of our television channels is much like a census – we have Channel 8 and U for the Chinese, Suria for the Malays and Vasantham for the Indians. Other than select Channel 5’s productions that attempt to incorporate multi-ethnicity, there are not many cross-cultural productions across the other channels. The only show which stands out would be Vasantham’s Vyjayanthi : My Fair Lady (2011) which saw Chinese Actress Silver Ang being cast in the lead role as a Chinese girl adopted at birth by an Indian family. The show was a success and won the Best Drama Series award in Pradhana Vizha, Vasantham’s equivalent of the Star Awards.

[...] local productions have being criticised for problems of cultural authenticity and relatability. One factor that may have led to these problems is the restriction on the use of language As we progress into the next 50 years of television, will we still be able to create new iconic characters and shows from our productions just as we did before? Or will local productions fade into the shadows as their foreign counterparts continue to dominate the local scene? Perhaps there should be more attempts at moving beyond the channel divisions to have more productions that embrace our local diversity and culture just like Vyjayanthi. This could be a selling point and breakthrough for our local productions – The diversity of culture is asomething distinctive which Singapore prides herself on. Of course, the quality of our original productions would also need to be further improved in order to attract local viewers once again. Otherwise, what would we be celebrating come a “100 Years of Television: An Exhibition”? ■ Bernice is a second year History major in the National University of Singapore

ENDNOTES

Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, http://blog.toomanythoughts.org, “Last night you got see the show…?” 2 ibid 1


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THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: GENDERED IMAGES IN CARTOONS CHAN HUAN JUN  chan.huanjun@hotmail.com Photographs from BEN BECKER, DOUG KLINE/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS and THE DISNEY WIKI It is a truth universally acknowledged that men like blue and women like pink. Or at least, this is what the media would have you believe. Allow me to take you on an exploration of how gender has been constructed in cartoons as I uncover stereotypes which have long been hidden in plain sight. Men and women are socialised into certain norms of behaviour from birth; cartoon characters too reflect these expectations through the way they look and behave. I will now proceed to take a closer look at characters from Popeye the Sailor Man, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Batman and finally, the Power Rangers series1. These programmes were selected from The Clarion’s2 list of Top 10 cartoons of all time and embody the existing zeitgeist of those times. Men are expected to be muscular, stoic individuals. The image of the martial, physically gifted man is most prominently underscored by Popeye and the Batman. The latter fits the image of the ideal man: the strong silent type with the physique of a Greek God while Popeye is a gruff and tough individual who strongly subscribes to Men are expected to be muscular, the belief that prob- stoic individuals [...] routinely cast lems are best solved into leadership roles while women with violence. fade into the background. As we move away from fully animated cartoons like Popeye and Batman and towards the late 21st Century, live action programs begin to gain in prominence. Here too, are stereotypes reinforced. In the “Power Rangers” series, the Popeye the Sailor Man Red Ranger has the ability to power up by changing into his “Battlizer”3 mode. The ranger magically acquires rippling abdominal muscles in the transformation sequence and gains a set of armour which broadens his shoulders. The ranger then proceeds to single-handedly save the day. This highlights yet another discourse perpetuated by the media, where a man becomes defined, not only by his body, but by his ability to take larger-than-life problems upon his shoulders and then solve them alone. These stereotypes of physical dominance are accompanied by the frequency with which men take centre stage while women fade into the background. The dominant gender in the media, a straw poll of the 50 best-loved cartoon characters from the 1920s to the 1980s revealed that a whopping 90%, or 45, were male4.


11 Male characters are routinely cast into leadership roles while women are relegated into the dark. The gender breakdown of the main villains throughout the entire Power Rangers series largely follows a 4:1 ratio, with four males to one female. In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the eponymous protagonists are all male and are named after four prominent figures in aesthetic history5. This is contrasted against the name of the only female protagonist in the cartoon, April O’Neil. A common surname of Irish origin is coupled with the commonplace “April” to create a name both banal and forgettable. Evidently, men are expected to be prominent, martial, stoic and individualistic leaders while women are an afterthought swept beneath the carpet. In truth, however, appearance and reality stand poles apart. Unlike men, women are associated with stereotypes of subordination. Quoting Dr Maya Goetz, the managing director of Prix Jeunesse International, “Women are there to complement men, to encourage and support them, and as incentives for their endeavours in life”. They are routinely presented as the “Damsels in Distress”, and are dependent upon men. Unfortunately, attempts to break the mould result in the creation of such “hyper-sexualised” heroines as Wonder Woman. Skimpy clothing, long legs and narrow waists6 form the holy trinity of heroine portrayals in the media. As with the presentation of men, these images of women tend towards the unrealistic. In the 1990s however, a counter-movement emerged. The Disney Princesses took the silver screen by storm, bringing with them the Disney “Princess Mythology”7 with all of its attendant fame. This was a refreshing portrayal of women as free-spirited, independent go-getters, a break from past characterisations of female characters as romantic interests. These princesses were also unique in that their movies revolved solely around them. Consider, for instance, “Mulan” and “Pocahantas”. Despite the rise of this counter-trend in the media, however, certain gender norms still persist. This is best unearthed through an analysis of their appearances. The princesses are always depicted in skirts or dresses; this includes even Mulan, the filial crossdressing peasant girl. Mulan eventually re-grows her

Raphael, one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

hair and abandons her soldier’s garb in favour of long-flowing tresses and an elegant dress. The princesses accessorise with necklaces and bows, conforming very well to societal expectations of beauty, with cookiecutter hourglass figures. Even their names, Jasmine and Hua8 Mulan (花木兰), for instance, associate them with flowers, symbols of femininity. Finally, with the possible exception of Pocahantas, all the princesses end up attached or married to men. This suggests that the images of the ideal woman as beautiful and dependent still persist, even at the turn of the 20th Century. So now we have it. Men are expected to be dominant, strong, physically gifted and individualistic while women find themselves relegated to anonymity, fulfilling their social roles as attractive and dependent characters. While the Disney Princesses clearly demonstrate that times are changing, there are many who would assert, quite resoundingly, that the times are clearly not changing fast enough. ■

Huan Jun is a second year Political Science and Literature double major in the National University of Singapore

ENDNOTES

Disney Princesses

1 The Power Rangers Series was not a member of the list; however, its status as a long-running television program with recurring characters makes it worthy for consideration in this paper. 2 The Clarion here refers to the student newspaper of the University of Denver. It has been in circulation since 1899 in the oldest private university in the Rocky Mountain Region of the United States. The poll was conducted on the student population of 10000 in the year of 2002. 3 A Battlizer is a special armored enhancement given to some of the Power Rangers. Battlizers have been made exclusively for the Red Rangers of the series 4 http://animatedtv.about.com/od/showsaz/tp/top50chrctrs.04.htm 5 Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael formed the famous trinity of masters during the High Renaissance period in Italy; Donatello preceded these three artists, and lived during the early Renaissance period as a Sculptor. 6 Sexualization here refers to the process by which an object or a character is endowed with sexual characteristics, and turned into a sex object (Dictionary.com, 2009). Hyper-Sexualisation is the process by which these characteristics take on unrealistic proportions. 7 The Princess Mythology is a term coined by top-level Disney executives in determining the ability of a character to become part of the Disney Princess Franchise. What the mythology entails exactly is unknown, but some of the commonalities shared by the Princesses include a certain free-spiritedness, a desire for adventure, intelligence, determination and a happy ending. 8 “Hua” is Chinese for Flower.


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1960S POPULAR CULTURE & PRESENTATIONS OF HOMOSEXUALITY LAI JUN WEI  junwei189@gmail.com Photographs from DREAMSTIME STOCK PHOTOS and STOCK FREE IMAGES

“ At home [Batman and Robin] lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne

and ‘Dick’ Grayson. Bruce Wayne is described as a ‘socialite’ and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce’s ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and have a butler, Alfred. Bruce is sometimes shown in a dressing gown. As they sit by the fireplace, the young boy sometimes worries about his partner […] it is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.1

The above paragraph, from Frederic Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent (1954), reflected his view that Batman and Robin were homosexuals and that their adventures were filled with homoerotic undertones. Many gay readings have surfaced over the past few decades, a trend which peaked during the 1966 Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. But how did society affect this portrayal? Is Batman really gay? To understand this, we first have to understand a certain intellectual movement of the times. ‘Camp’ was a movement which surfaced during the mid-20th century. It revolved around the expression of “what’s basically serious in terms of fun, artifice and elegance, or making fun out of what you take seriously”2. ‘Camp’ proposed a comic vision of the world and was a way of poking fun at the whole catalogue of restrictive sex roles and gender expectations imposed by society.”3 ‘Camp’


FEATURE subsequently became part of the mainstream cultural economy. It served as a platform from which homosexuals could identify with or make themselves known to fellow homosexuals. With this connection made clear, it is unsurprising that the producers’ ‘camp’ approach to the Batman series sparked the emergence of a homoerotic subtext. The end of WWII led to the demise of many comic book characters, many of whom drew their raison d’etre from the war4. Comic book regulations and a changing society caused Batman to be on the down and out by 1964, for behaviour more befitting a “school prefect than a crime fighter”5. With comic sales dwindling, there was an urgent need to reinvent Batman. In 1966, the Batman television series was born. It was known for its “burned-out celebrities in tacky, overblown costumes, outrageous dialogue, absurd situations treated with ludicrous gravity, slumming actors [and] corny jokes.”6 A paunchy Adam West and a Burt Ward specializing in the incessant use of exclamations incorporating the use of the word “holy!!!” were depicted fighting the villains of Gotham City while outlandish onomatopoeic expressions in the vein of “POW!” “WHAM!” and “KLAAK!” cluttered the fight scenes. How does a homosexual reading come into play? Batman emerged as a result of a tragedy which “significantly disrupted both gender and sexual identity for Bruce Wayne”7. The murder of his parents took him out of a traditional nuclear family into a male-parenting configuration where he was raised by his butler, Alfred. This marked the start of Bruce’s participation in a series of allmale families/relationships, first between Bruce and Alfred, Bruce and Dick, and subsequently Batman and Robin. This undoubtedly compromised Batman’s heterosexuality and masculinity, especially in a world where the nuclear family was the norm8. In the television series, there were occasions where Batman was portrayed in an effeminate manner in his interactions with other characters. Robin’s dialogue with Batman frequently ended with coquettish “Awwws” or “Gosh, Batman, when you put it that way”. Batman’s endless compliments for Robin also cast mountains of doubt on his heterosexuality. The Joker, with his flamboyant outfit and hair, was designed to provoke sexual panic. Joker is the only (officially-recognised) gay character9. The Joker calls Batman “Darling” in certain incarnations of the series. The lack of a balancing force in an avatar of a gay hero to the Joker’s “homosexuality” creates an imbalance which some critics have latched on to. Batman’s partnership with Robin, evokes “homoerotic tendencies in the suggestion of an adolescent-with-adult or Ganymede-Zeus type of rela-

tionship [where] men are expected to stick together because there are too many villainous creatures begging for extermination”10. Even the choice of Robin’s name ‘Dick’ contains hidden sexual innuendo. Of course, the producers have tried to quell these homosexual vibes by introducing female protagonists into the story. But it was precisely the reluctance of the producers to address questions about Batman’s sexuality that has resulted in a gay reading of the text. Frank Miller, writer-penciler for Batman acknowledges that the “homophobic nightmare” has always been part of the Batman-Joker mythos, but he also went on to debunk all the homosexual accusations that have been laid out against Batman. “[Batman and Robin’s relationship is a] father/child relationship. It’s clearly defined as such […] Batman isn’t gay. His sexual urges are so drastically sublimated into crime-fighting that there’s no room for any emotional activity.”11 Could it be then that the ‘campy’ nature of the 1966 television series was by no means a reflection of Batman’s homosexuality? To quote Sasha Torres, “the Batman [television] series understood these simple truths about the enduring appeal of its source material. The circulation of ‘camp’s’ gay meanings allowed its producers to mine the resources of both, and its straight flow allowed them to cash in.”12 So Batman… Gay? Straight? Asexual? You make the call. ■ Jun Wei is a fourth year History major in the National University of Singapore. The above was adapted from a piece for HY4219 History of American Intellectualism.

ENDNOTES

Frederic Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent, (London: Museum Press, 1955), p190 2 Mark Booth, “Campe-Toi! On the Origins and Definitions of “Camp””, in Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject, ed. Fabio Cleto, (Ann Arbour: University of Michigan Press, 1999), p66 3 Jack Babuscio, “Camp and the Gay Sensibility” in Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality, e.d. David Bergman, (Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), p26 4 Bill Boichel, “Batman: Commodity as a Myth”, in The Many Lives of Batman: Critical approaches to a Superhero and his Media, ed. Roberta Pearson and William Uriccho, (New York: Routledge, 1991), p11 5 ibid, p14 6 Will Brooker, “Pop and Camp” in Batman Unmasked, (London: Continuum, 2000), p174 7 Sasha Torres, “The Caped Crusader of Camp: Pop, Camp and the Batman Television Series”, in Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject, ed. Fabio Cleto, (Ann Arbour: University of Michigan Press, 1999), p331 8 ibid 9 Christopher Sharrett, “Batman and the Twilight of the Idols: An Interview with Frank Miller” in The Many Lives of Batman, ed. Roberta Pearson and William Uricchio (New York: Routledge, 1991), p37 10 Fredric Wertham, Show of Violence, (New York: Doubleday, 1949), p190 11 Sharrett, “Batman and the Twilight of the Idols: An Interview with Frank Miller”, p38 12 Torres, “The Caped Crusader of Camp”, p340 1

13


HIGHLIGHT

14

FROM PRINT TO PIXELS:

THE STORY OF JOURNALISM “Better a good journalist than a poor assassin” ~ Jean-Paul Sarte DHWANI DHOLAKIA  thefifthdoor@gmail.com Photographs from IRIANN, BIZIOR/STOCK.XCHNG Sartre’s quip aptly describes the immense influence wielded by the media. Journalism has crossed oceans to get to where it is today; from small, machine-packed rooms to glass-topped towers and, these days, a teenager, a cheap laptop and a comfortable chair. Global trends in journalism have changed much from their inception and these inevitably have had a hand in shaping the industry in our little city as well. Storytelling has existed for just about as long as human civilization has. Ancient cities had their own news bulletin systems, but the calculated circulation of goings-on in print as we know them today was realized in several German cities in about 1600. Printing was primitive and infrequent and circulation was limited. By the 18th century, however, rising literacy levels had led to a burgeoning middle class and the newspapers had spread to France and Britain. The first daily newspaper was distributed and the public’s insatiable desire for the medium meant that monarchies everywhere slapped newspapers with taxes, censorship and propaganda. These chains would be lifted soon after, mostly because they backfired, and thus was the professional journalist

was born. As newspapers soared in popularity in Asia, Singapore saw the inception of The Straits Times in 1845. In its early decades, the paper was small, British-centric, had limited news from abroad and clipped much news from other newspapers and incoming ships because the costs of immediate cabling of information were exorbitant. The Straits Times gradually expanded into a multi-tasking broadsheet, with information received from bases all over the globe and with news made for Singaporeans by Singaporeans. Journalism went from a profession shunned for its irregular hours to a job that is respected as much for its difficulty for its significance to society. In other parts of the world, the Average Joe and Jane were the targets of the tabloid newspaper and soon after, broadcast journalism would bring news to anyone with a radio or television. Text and photography alone were on the down and out and infographics were all the rage. A medium made effective because of its snappy and highly visual style, broadcast journalism would fuel a desire for sensationalism, especially in matters of war, labour and politics. The journalist’s word created – intentionally or unintentionally – heroes that the public worshipped and vil-


15

lains to be condemned. The advent of investigative journalism alongside the primacy of fieldwork and first-hand accounts completed the transformation of the industry into an independent “Fourth Estate” in most of the Western world. Singapore would ride this trend with the distribution of radio and television services in the 1930s and 1960s, respectively. The New Paper would take its place as the primary local tabloid in 1988. Designers were hired to enhance readers’ experiences with attractive graphs and caricatures. Unwilling to disturb the peace of a young nation, the Singaporean government bucked the “Fourth Estate” trend by advocating that the media delicately swerve around certain sensitive issues (christened and forever to be known as “OB markers” by then Minister of Information and the Arts, George Yeo). Nothing has shaken up the journalism industry quite like the internet has. From the late 20th century, speed, availability and diversity have become the cornerstones of journalism. Unfortunately, this has also put reliability, management and power structures into question. The internet has broken the neat ranks of the professional journalist. Anyone with an internet connection can, with a little effort, style themselves as journalists. This newfound power of the individual has given genres previously considered too frivolous to invest ink in – celebrity gossip, for example – a chance to enter the news feed, but this inevitably means an increased tendency towards sensationalism and the weakening of the stance of traditional print media agencies. Several of these stalwarts have already been put out of business or are on the brink of extinction. In the first half of 2009, in the United States alone, it was estimated that 105 newspapers ceased operations and 10,000 jobs were lost – a stark contrast to the rising privileges of the internet journalist. What makes the journalist of this new internet age so “great” is not influence or reach. Journalists have long commanded public opinion; every individual now has the agency to express opinions and sway minds with an immediacy heretofore unbeknownst. These individuals are often not affiliated with any organisation and as such, are an unpredictable force to be reckoned with for those who have always operated within the confines of the traditional media industry. The traditional business models and the definition of “journalist” are now obsolete. The way forward for a new generation of industry players will be the integration of pixels with print and peaceful coexistence with the rise of the independent reporter. But the new world of journalism is a labyrinth and only time will tell how these new forces will further sculpt the existing landscape. ■ Dhwani recently graduated with a second major in History from the National University of Singapore.

Have a passion for writing, an eye for design or an interest in photography? Contact us at publications@nushissoc.org


FEATURE

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LEAN GUAN HUA  leanguanhua@hotmail.com Photographs from REDIFFUSION.INFO It is difficult to fathom how listening to the radio in public spaces was once a popular communal activity. In today’s society, we are too used to different forms of private entertainment in the comfort of our private spaces. Watching movies and YouTube videos on computer screens, listening to music on our iPods and watching Television at home are personal affairs; popular entertainment has made a migration indoors. Allow me to take you back to the past when gathering around a radio set was an experience shared with relatives and friends. This created an opportunity for people across different races and dialect groups to build solidarity and interpersonal ties. Rediffusion was once a popular sensational hit in Singapore, especially among the Chinese population. Rediffusion achieved a total set-count of over 85,000 and reached a total adult Chinese listenership of 229,000 in 1975.1 Rediffusion allowed popular entertainment to be made affordable on a large scale through the offering of free radio set rentals. Subscribers only needed to pay $4 to $5 to tune in to its program back in the 1950s.2 Factories owners, shopkeepers, schools and even families installed radio sets just so these delightful programmes

THE RISE AND

could be enjoyed by all and sundry.3 Dialect programmes were once very attractive to the Chinese population in Singapore. Rediffusion managed to attract many Chinese folks to gather in coffee shops and bond over popular folk stories by famous storytellers. The popularity of Rediffusion radio programme reveals the community-oriented nature of society. Intra-dialect unity was clearly exemplified by the popularity of Cantonese story-teller Lee Dai Soh among the Cantonese dialect group. His popularity stemmed the use of simple and yet poignant language in his folk stories.4 This appealed very much to the ordinary folk. Beyond their entertainment value, these folk stories also transmitted traditional Chinese values of filial piety, loyalty, honesty and benevolence. These stories hence served as a medium of moral education within the Chinese community.5 What about the other races? 70% of Rediffusion’s transmission hours were in Chinese and the rest in English. Surveys revealed that Radio Television Singapore (RTS) appealed more to the Indians and Malays due to its multicultural focus.6 The maxim of “Many Cultures, One Voice” sets the programme’s direction and angle. For instance, broadcasting hours were allocated evenly across the different languages, a policy which also dovetailed with the government’s policy of Multi-racialism.7


D DECLINE OF REDIFFUSION

17

(L-R): A Rediffusion radio set; Singapore Rediffusion System Workshop; The Rediffusion building c1950s; Rediffusion System Control

This served to enhance group identity within the different races.

dialect slowly began to fade from prominence.

The heyday of Rediffusion faded with the advent of off-air Television and ‘free to air’ radio broadcasting through the 1980s. Hence cable service went into decline and by 1988 had fallen to just 63,000, a little less than a third of its former listenership.8 The radio had ceased to serve as a means to promote social interaction because the increasing affordability of these sets had led to increasing personal ownership. This reflected a marked shift in the types of popular entertainment consumed by the masses as consumption of entertainment slowly ventured into the private sphere.

The prevalence of this medium over a period of time was followed by its gradual disappearance; this was an eventuality no one could have predicted. As I conclude this article, a single thought echoes in my mind: Are any forms of entertainment truly historically universal? Or are they too ever in flux? The smile of a toddler, happily tapping away at his new-fangled iPad as he sits on the edge of his hard plastic seat in the MRT seems to hold the answer that I’ve been searching for. ■

The decline of Rediffusion also reflected the impact of government’s policies which influenced the nature of the entertainment available to the masses. The decline of Rediffusion coincided with the launch of the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979. This policy discouraged the use of dialect and created a generational gap between the older dialect speaking generation and the younger Mandarin speaking generation. This gap was further exacerbated by the differing forms of entertainment enjoyed by both generations. The younger generation could no longer relate to popular dialect folk stories that were so intimately shared among the older generation. There was no longer the same shared experience of gathering around a radio set. Traditional values originally transmitted through folk stories in

Guan Hua is a second year History major in the National University of Singapore.

ENDNOTES

Eddie C. Y. Kuo (1978).Multilingualism and Mass Media Communications in Singapore. p.1076 2 Chan Kwok-bun & Yung Sai-shing (2005). Chinese Entertainment, Ethnicity, and Pleasure, Visual Anthropology. Published in cooperation with the Commission on Visual Anthropology. p.129 3 ibid. 4 ibid. pp.130-132 5 ibid. p.133. 6 Eddie C. Y. Kuo (1978).Multilingualism and Mass Media Communications in Singapore.pp.1073-1074 7 ibid. 8 http://www.rediffusion.info/Singapore/ 1


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RERLIELGIGIOION N& & UREUR: E: POPOPUPULALAR RCUCLTULT


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DIONNE TEO  raciting@gmail.com Photographs from JASON SMITH, MISTER QUEUE/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when religion and pop culture first crossed paths, because it was the beautiful irony borne of this intersection that was pretty much the focus of the world. Picture your typical love story – Rich girl falls in love with poor boy. Along the way they overcome forces that seek to tear them apart. They also meet with support, which initially begins as a trickle, before turning into a roaring flood, as more become enthralled by the way they so perfectly complement each other. Religion and Pop Culture – the story behind these two dichotomized forces becoming yin and yang, isn’t so different. The dichotomy of religion and pop culture isn’t anything surprising since its roots can be traced way back to the sixties of America.1 Popular terms of description for this era have been coined – the Swinging Sixties, The Sixties – attesting to this revolutionary epoch. The 1960s stood out because the Americans and their Western counterparts started going against the grain with the creation of a strong counterculture. Significant events such as the African-American Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation Movement, and the unprecedented 1963 assassination of America’s beloved young president John F. Kennedy, generated dire social and political issues that set the stage for pop culture. With the rise of a global pop culture, religion began to change… whether this change was for the better or the worse remains a contentious point of argument. But what made pop culture so appealing to the masses, was the abnegation of social norms; the sense of liberation. This led to new ways of viewing their religion; developing extreme notions and thoughts, which subsequently, spread like wildfire. Atheist ideas of Marxism came into the picture. The Hippie culture synthesized religions from both East and West, peppering it with witchcraft and magic. Use of alcohol and drugs such as cannabis were considered part of the ‘spiritual’ experience. Most began embracing the increasing amalgamation of pop culture and religion. The mass media brimmed with songs, shows, movies and books containing religious undertones. John Lennon’s best single, ‘Imagine’ was termed an ‘atheist’s anthem’.2 Fanatics, philosophers and even pastors zealously scoured JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Tolkien’s fantasy novels, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ for biblical references.

Popular songs such as Lady Gaga’s 2011 twice-nominated ‘Judas’ and Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Where is the Love’ made such explicit religious references that reactions were incendiary. Even religious groups were getting into the groove. Christian pop group Hillsong United is one such example. They hit number one on the US Billboard Christian Albums (yes, there’s even an Billboard for Christian songs!) several times. Other religions weren’t to be left out. Walt Disney’s Mulan explicitly explores the Buddhist ideal of ‘consulting the Gods’ throughout its storyline.3 Yoga, which has its roots in Hinduism, has been an issue of debate of Californian public schools that wish to incorporate it into its Physical Education lessons due to its religious connotations.4 Unsurprisingly, those strongly against the merger exist. What is startling is the presence of teenagers on the opposing team. “Acquire the Fire” is a Christian rally held yearly across America, with a passion to reverse the 1960s-borne counterculture. When interviewed by a reporter from the CNN, one teenager aptly captured a fiery intent and passion in his reply, “We don’t have to be branded by the culture, we are branded by God.”5 There are always two sides to any story, both of which seek to relate a version of the truth which, more often than not, remains indeterminate. Questioning and asserting a stand in this revolution is in every sense appropriate. After all, the way we live and think is at stake! Yet, delving deeper, just how accurately do our questions depict the problem, the real problem, amongst those seeking for answers? I view the convergence of religion and pop culture as inevitable – no amount of disdain expressed or blasphemy against it would have ceased this radical movement. Perhaps it is unwise to get caught up with picking sides, unwise to focus on what has happened. Instead, let us attend to the true issue at hand, that is, the disturbing lack of accommodation, forgiveness and unity that would ironically serve as the basis of debate between religion and pop culture – in short, the human condition. ■ Dionne is a second year English Language major in the National University of Singapore.

ENDNOTES Gary Laderman and Luis D. León, Religion and American Cultures: An Ency1

clopedia of Traditions, Diversity and Popular Expressions, Volum 1 (ABC-CLIO, 2003) 2 BBC News “Anthem to rock the millennium,” accessed 24 February, 2014. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/521582.stm 3 Tara Keiko Koda, Encyclopedia of Religion and Film: Buddhism (ABC-CLIO, 2011), 96-97. 4 Huffington Post “ Yoga as Religion Debate Reaches India as Court Considers Anient Discipline in Physical Education,” accessed 24 February, 2014. http:// www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/29/yoga-religion-_n_4173701.html 5 CNN “Teen Christians campaign against pop culture,” accessed 24 February 2014. 6 http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/08/22/gw.teen.christians/index. html?iref=mpstoryview


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KEN HU JINYUAN  ken.hjy@gmail.com Photographs from US MILITARY PERSONNEL, US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE/WIKICOMMONS While the Straits Times has been deemed the definitive source of news in Singapore, alternative newspapers exist in other parts of the world. In the US, newspapers tend to be bounded geographically with some, such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal household names. The difference between these papers, however, lies in their political leanings. Even if newspapers share the same sources, editors have the prerogative to change aspects of the reports in order to fit their newspapers better. In fact, these same newspapers tend to fall along a liberal conservative spectrum. Conservative and liberal newspapers catered to their own audiences, whom more often than not, were sharply polarised. Newsreaders in the mid 20th century would fain dream of even perusing a newspaper which stood on the end of the spectrum

running counter to theirs The distinctions between the conservative and the liberal newspapers were thrown into sharp relief during the 1968 Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War. The Tet Offensive was an attack launched by the North Vietnamese, or the Viet Congs on 30 January 1968. It took place on the Vietnamese Lunar New Year despite a pre-existing truce. The attack targeted high-profile locations such as the American embassy in Saigon and the Imperial Palace in Hue. This came as a shock to the American public, which had been convinced by the media that the US was on the ascendant. For the first time, the proximity of the attack meant that journalists were able to capture the action in its entirety. This article will clarify the difference between the conservative (labelled as red) and liberal (labeled as blue) coverage of the very same news items. It will also help establish how editors approached the same story from different angles.

RED PRESS

Conservatives tended to focus on drumming up support for American intervention during the Vietnam War. While no one side was truly pro-war, conservatives were fixated on winning the Vietnam War with the existing tactics set forth under US President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Examples of newspapers that represented such conservative perspectives were the Chicago Tribune and the Wall Street Journal. While newspapers were not going to withhold stories from their readers, they restricted vital information. For example, on 12 February 1968, US Senator Mike Mansfield spoke at the Founder’s Day ceremony at the University of Maine. This was covered in the various newspapers in the US. The senator discussed a wide range of topics which included the weak defence of Saigon and the capture of USS Pueblo by North Korea. However, conservative newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune or the Wall Street Journal removed Saigon from the equation completely. Instead, the article revolved around the Pueblo Incident. Saigon’s defensive inadequacies were completely omitted. On the other hand, the liberal newspapers titled the article “Mansfield Cites Saigon Shakiness” zoomed in on the shakiness of the regime. It should be noted that the conservative newspapers were not covering up aspects of the speech, but chose to approach the issue from a different angle.


21

BLUE PRESS

Liberals tended to focus on the costs of the war. While some individuals such as Peter Braestrup and General Westmoreland believed that the media lost America the Vietnam War no news report or editorials calling for an immediate American withdrawal accompanied the outbreak of the Tet Offensive. In fact, there were calls for tougher action to be undertaken. It seemed that the liberal media voiced discontent with the strategies undertaken more than opposing the war per se. Some examples of liberal newspapers are the New York Times (NYT) and the Washington Post (WP).

Quite simply, the liberal press highlighted the negatives while the conservatives concentrated on the positives of the battles fought. For instance, 14 February 1968, the NYT wrote, “United States infantrymen fought scattered and bitter [emphasis mine] clashes in the suburbs of Saigon…”1 Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune anchored their story on the killing of Viet Cong Major General Tran Do who was the Viet Cong leader of the Tet Offensive in Saigon. The Chicago Tribune writes that “Maj. Gen Tran Do, North Vietnamese deputy commander of all communist forces in South Viet Nam, was killed in the battle of Saigon.” No mention of this could be found in the New York Time’s version of the news story. The facts were in agreement, but the articles were not. On 23 February 1968, newspapers ran a story about how death tolls had hit an all-time high. Once again, newspapers differed both in the angles, but also in article placement. The liberal newspapers ran it as a separate column on the front page. The NYT titled it “U.S. dead at 543 in week, a record.”2 The NYT stated that the death toll as “543, [was] by far the highest of the war,” before stating that the “toll for the week before was 400, and for the week before that, 416, then the highest of the war.”3 Meanwhile, WP headlines read “GI losses for week set record” before detailing that “37, 515 Communists had been killed since the offensive began officially Jan. 29.”4 The conservative press, however, placed the news story off the front page or subsumed the death toll into another article. The CT placed the news on the third page of the newspaper and emphasised that “America troop strength as of last week-end remained at 495,000 men in Viet Nam.”5 The WSJ combined the news story of “543 killed with another news story, which stated that “American marines captured the southeast corner of the Citadel in Hue.”6

In conclusion, newspapers often embed their political slants into articles that they print. I have only covered two specific examples to show how different newspapers can produce two different articles about the same event. In the case of the Tet Offensive of 1968, the conservative and liberal press both clearly pushed their personal agendas. ■ Ken is a fourth year History major. The above piece was adapted from his Honours Thesis.

ENDNOTES “13 Americans die in Saigon clashes”, NYT, 14 February, 1968, p. 1. 1

Tom Buckley, “U.S. Dead at 543 in week, A Record”, NYT, 23 February 1968, p1 ibid. “GI Losses For Week Set Record”, WP, 23 February 1968, p1 5 “543 Gis Die in Viet; Record Weekly Toll”, CT, 23 February 1968, p3 6 “American Marines captured the southeast corner of the Citadel in Hue”, WSJ, 23 February 1968, p1 2 3

4


FEATURE

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VALERIE YEO  valyeo93@yahoo.com.sg Photographs from THE CULINARY GEEK/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS These days, fast food advertisements loom from every oversized billboard and screen, permanent fixtures of the modern world designed to plant in our minds the seeds of desire for calorie-rich comfort foods. These uncannily persuasive pictures of goodness have left an indelible impression on our minds. Indeed, we find ourselves patronising fast food outlets time and time again. By tracing the ways in which these advertisements have mutated over the years, one witnesses a curious evolution of consumer lifestyle, health consciousness and attitudes. Present-day consumers are willing to purchase fast food at higher prices, possess a stronger inclination towards nutrition and have a more informed perspective about food production as compared to consumers before the 20th century. Changing circumstances have called for fast food outlets to re-innovate their marketing strategies to maintain their competitiveness and appeal to changing demographics. Consumer lifestyle has evolved. From a penchant for cheap c o nve n i e n t t a ke - o u t

food to increased price tolerance, Mcdonald’s has shifted away from its economical 15 cents burger in the 1960s to a focus on variety and quality today. KFC too, has made the switch from ‘Deliciously affordable’ to such offerings as the ‘Double Down Burger’, a burger with two meat patties in place of buns. As the quality of life and purchasing power of the general populace increases, fast food has become an option for both the economically challenged and the more affluent. It no longer has to market itself as a cheap nutritional alternative. Beyond an increased focus on quality, consumers have also become more health conscious with the turn of the century. Fast food joints have therefore begun to emphasise their use of fresh ingredients. To cater to an audience with different tastes, Subway’s slogan of “Eat Fresh” has made its variety of sandwiches an attractive option for all. The abundance of vegetables, the choice of vegetarian burgers as egg mayo, veggie delight and also meaty burgers such as meatball marinara, roasted chicken breast. The option to add cookies/chips instead of fries offers a nutritious edge over their fast food counterparts. Burger King’s television advertisements have images of green lettuce, red tomatoes and grilled meat thrown into one wholesome package. In the past, the main selling point of fast food was its “Quick Grab and Go” appeal with less concern about its nutrition. A familiar slogan of the 1970s was “Let’s eat out, cheap food, a meal in itself”. However, the appeal of convenience has been superseded by an increasing priority on health. Attitudes towards fast food have moved towards a watershed. Rather than being mainly

informed by adverts and posters as people in the past were, recent generations have been exposed to documentaries and journal articles which debunk the fast food fairy tale. Films and books which have exposed the centralised way cattle are bred and slaughtered provide a fertile environment for E-coli to spread.1 Studies on the effect of television adverts on children obesity have yielded astounding implications. Research studies indicate that a ban on these advertisements would “decrease the proportion of overweight adolescents ages 12-18 by 12 percent.”2 In addition, the effects of cumulative, real-world marketing and brand exposures will affect young children’s taste preferences towards a particular fast food and their subsequent increased consumption.3 Also, fast food joints have to succumb to public pressure for transparency of operations, with its food production process in particular. For instance, Mcdonald’s has had to reveal their nugget-making process to quash rumours of the use of waste chicken parts immersed in ammonia as ingredients. Subway has also decided to remove the chemical Azodicarbonamide from their breads. Most consumers would prefer not to ingest a chemical found in shoes and rubber mats! Television advertisements of the 1980s were largely product-oriented with actors depicting how delicious fast food was. Today, such indulgence comes with the assurance of quality ingredients used and possibly, the healthier choice logo. In sum, fast food is still prized for its convenience, speed and taste. However, advertisements have helped mould public perception to accept fast food despite contemporary changes in attitudes of health consciousness. By and large, the food has not changed. The advertisements, however, have. The evolution of fast food advertisements has reflected the evolving trends in consumer choice and how fast food chains continually strive to obtain a larger share of the consumer’s profit, ultimately aiming to become the final survivors in the fast food fight to the finish. ■ Valerie Yeo is a second year History major in the National University of Singapore

ENDNOTES

Eric Schlosser , Fast Food Nation, 2001 1979 Child-Young Adult National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to estimate the effects of fast-food restaurant advertising on children and adolescents being overweight, Shin-Yi Chou, Inas Rashad, Michael Grossman, NBER Working Paper No. 11879, December 2005 3 The Association of Television and Video Viewing with Fast Food Intake by Preschool-Age Children, Obesity, Volume 14, Issue 11, pages 2034–2041, November 2006 1

2


BEYOND

AVENUE RECONNECTING 1960S: YOUTHS & HERITAGE BERNICE LEK  bernicelek@gmail.com Photography by CHRISTABELLE ONG Are young Singaporeans disconnected from the past? A survey done by four final-year Communication Studies undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University (NTU): Ms Karen Koh, Ms Candy Tan, Ms Tan Huay Peng, all 22, and Ms Phang Su Hui, 23 showed that while the majority of their respondents agreed about the importance of understanding Singapore’s heritage, most are not sufficiently aware of Singapore’s cultural heritage. The result is understandable since social history is an area that has received more attention in Singapore only recently, as opposed to the official history of Singapore that all students in Singapore would have to study in school. These four students thus launched “Avenue 1960s”, a campaign aimed at connecting young Singaporeans with their heritage not just through the information gathered by the team, but also through their parents – students were given postcards with questions wheres answers had to be gotten from their parents before sending them in for a lucky draw. These postcards were also put up at the final exhibition at the Arts House. A forum was also held in conjunction with the exhibition where interesting ideas and issues were brought up such as the ideas of heritage, as well as change and continuity in Singapore. So what exactly is our heritage? The two panellists invited to the forum put it as follows. Mr Hawazi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, sees heritage as encompassing both the tangible and intangible aspects of life. Dr Chua Ai Lin, President of the Singapore Heritage Society, sees it as a process of negotiation and reflection of what, how, and why w e

choose to remember. Heritage is different for everyone. Those who had lived through the 1960s would definitely feel a greater sense of nostalgia and connectedness than today’s youth. This does not, however, suggest that the youth are entirely cut off from it. Through exhibits such as Avenue 1960s, listening to the stories of our parents and the people around us, youths are able to gain a vicarious experience to the 1960s and create meanings for themselves. From there, we get to choose the aspects of the 1960s that have the most relevance and significance, allowing us to create a personal heritage that we want to remember and share. A key point that was brought up in the forum by several participants was how circumstances prompt inevitable change. Progress is necessary, and change is needed for progress. Is it ever possible to maintain continuity between the changing eras? Singapore’s ever-changing landscape seems to suggest that the answer to this question is a vehement “no”. However, Dr William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, and Mr Hawazi suggest that the continuity of history and heritage is not just about the physical landscape, but also about the spirit of the past. The “Kampong” and “Kampong spirit” is one such example. We can reminisce about the kampong life. But it simply was not possible to return to it. What remains is that we bring back the spirit of togetherness, helpfulness, and openess, all of which constitute the “Kampong spirit” of the 1960s which can be like a living heritage. NUS graduate Joshua also observes how Facebook could actually be the “Kampong Gossip Bulletine” of our time where people are able to connect and get to know each other within a group, thus suggesting that similar structures can exist in different times but in different incarnations. The reconciliation of progress and the preservation of heritage is not a problem with a ready solution. It is worrying because moments in history can go forgotten in our pursuit for progress. However, the efforts of Avenue 1960s and the responses to it are a hopeful sign that heritage does hold a place in the hearts of the youths of Singapore. By participating in the forum, contributing to the exhibition, or even just visiting the exhibition and finding out more about the 1960s, we have already begun to eke out a sphere of meaning and connection to the past. ■ Bernice is a second year history student in the National University of Singapore

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BEYOND

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CHAN YUN HOL  publications@nushissoc.org Photography by LAI JUN WEI The ASEAN Quiz Singapore 2014 was recently held over the months of February and March. Organised by the NUS History Society in collaboration with the Media Authority of Singapore (MDA), the Quiz was open to students between the ages 15-17 and aimed to inspire these students to learn more about ASEAN and the history and culture of Southeast Asia. A seminar on 15 Feb gave the 12 participating teams from across various secondary schools and junior colleges a deeper insight into ASEAN’s various concerns. The semifinals were subsequently held on 8 Mar where students were put through a written quiz. The top five teams then proceeded to the final round where students were put to the test on various ASEAN issues in a Live Quiz. After trailing in the first half, Anderson Junior College overcame rivals Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution to emerge champions. They will go on to represent Singapore in the regional ASEAN Quiz 2014 held in Hanoi. ■


Organised by:

Supported by:

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Contributing to creating a stronger community within ASEAN Leon (right) receiving his trophy from Ms Tan Li San, Deputy Secretary (Industry and Information), Ministry of Communications and Information

LEON NG  HWA CHONG INSTITUTION (COLLEGE SECTION) Photography by LAI JUN WEI ASEAN has been widely lauded as one of the most successful regional organizations. However, detractors have pointed out ASEAN’s lack of progress on issues of unity, economic cooperation and military cooperation. To ameliorate this, ASEAN nations signed the Bali Concord II which proposed the establishment of an ASEAN community comprising three pillars to ensure “durable peace, stability and shared prosperity in the region”. This essay will postulate how Malaysia can contribute to the region in the areas of economic integration, mutual assistance and cooperation and regional security. In Bali Concord II, governments had come to a consensus to meet the lofty ideal of creating an integrated regional economy with a “single market and production base”. However, obstacles like institutional barriers, custom regulations and lack of resources impede the growth of export industry in ASEAN. Malaysia, for instance, continues to impose non-tariff barriers (NTBs) on industries like the automobile industry to protect its local production. Such NTBs have “prevented firms in emerging economies from successfully exporting their goods to other economies” . To expedite the process of economic integration, Malaysia should gradually remove the NTBs imposed on imports, implement reforms of customs procedures and practices and set up mutual recognition arrangements. As an economically developed nation in ASEAN, Malaysia is able to provide infrastructural and technical succour as well as training to other member states as outlined in the ATFWP . By achieving economic integration and collective development, economic prosperity and greater competitiveness will be engendered within ASEAN. To forge a more cohesive community, capable nations should provide mutual assistance and cooperate on environmental-issues such as the haze problem that has constantly blighted ASEAN nations. As a relatively affluent nation and one that is a leader in regional climate change research, Malaysia is well positioned to assist in this problem. Malaysia can send environmental advisors to help Indonesia improve their spatial planning to protect peat land and other high-carbon-value

forests. Additionally, Malaysia can conduct studies about the relevance of climate change for El Niño periods and haze trajectories. This will enable the Indonesian government to better pre-empt such situations. Lastly, Malaysia should apply political pressure to urge Indonesia to ratify the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Pollution Agreement to hold the latter accountable for the haze. Malaysia also plays an important role in promoting regional security. Terrorism is a perennial mainstay of the region, as evidenced by the Bali bombings and multiple church bombings in Malaysia. Despite being placed under the purview of UNSC Resolution 1540 which urges all to adopt administrative and legal measures to counter terrorism, little has been done by ASEAN members. Malaysia should establish effective intelligence among ASEAN nations to facilitate information sharing and extend technical and legal assistance to less capable nations. Malaysia’s cooperation with other nations (Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia) on ensuring the safety of ships along the Straits of Malacca is another initiative that should be lauded and expanded to promote regional security. Ultimately, Malaysia is poised to contribute immensely in the aforementioned areas. This will lead to the creation of a more cohesive ASEAN community and a brighter age for all. ■

Leon Ng is a student from Hwa Chong Insitution (College Section) and his piece on how Malaysia can contribute to creating a stronger community within ASEAN emerged as the Top Essay in the ASEAN Quiz Singapore 2014.

ENDNOTES

The Bali Concord II consists of three pillars:ASEAN Security Committee (ASC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-cultural Community (ASCC) 2 Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II).” Accessed February 18, 2014. http://www.asean.org/news/ item/declaration-of-asean-concord-ii-bali-concord-ii. 3 Thangavelu, Shandre. Non-Tariff Barriers, Integration and Export Growth in ASEAN. working paper., Department of Economics, National University of Singapore, 2010. http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/gep/documents/conferences/2010/malaysia-conference-2010/thangavelunbtsaseangep1.pdf. 4 ASEAN Trade Facilitation Work Programme 5 As many as 10 churches were attacked after a court ruling that non-Muslims were not allowed to use the word “Allah”. Sidang Injil Borneo Church, Malacca Baptist Church and the Church of Assumption were among the churches affected. 6 United Nations Security Council 1


NHB FEATURE

26

WEDDING TRADITIONS:

Meanin Somet

In the third of a four-part series in collaboration with the National Heritage Board to explore the unknown in Singapore, Mnemozine looks at some traditions and customs associated with weddings.

A TRADITION UNWASHED BY TIME GOH WEE SHIAN  publications@nushissoc.org Photography by LAI JUN WEI, PELAEZ PHOTOGRAPHY/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS and YADORKDOMRAU/WIKICOMMONS Mentored by ALVIN TAN, Director/Heritage Institutions, NHB It was hard to miss it. Nestled comfortably in the corner of the first floor of Beauty World Plaza, Hup Kee and Co. stood out with its glaringly red, unconventional display of Chinese wedding accessories. Business at Hup Kee was more brisk than the neighboring shops, as a steady stream of visitors kept the owner busy. Upon seeing us, its owner Mr Yap broke into a wide grin and gestured to the box of candies on the table, urging us to consume the candy because it would guarantee sweetness in our marriage. Immediately, we burst into laughter and told him that we were just friends and not lovers. “No matter,” he waved his hand dismissively and insisted that we had the candies anyway because it would bless us with good grades. At this moment, it became clear how he had maintained such a formidable reputation in this industry and kept his business together after so many decades. Attaching symbols and auspicious labels to actions and objects is his forte – one that allowed him to weave out of the awkward situation seamlessly. It was both fascinating and impressive to see him ratter off the symbolic meanings of a range of wedding items effortlessly to his customers – like a lawyer well versed in the law or a doctor in medical terminology - as he laid


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ngs of Something Old, thing New

them on the table. Displaying a childlike grin and unbridled enthusiasm, he beckoned us towards a framed document hanging on the wall. The document was an “itinerant hawker’s license” that was issued to his father in 1948, during the colonial era. Beaming with pride, he told us that he had followed in his father’s footsteps since he was “twelve, thirteen years old,” something he felt was “only natural.” It was a decision that he would carry for almost five decades. “Have you ever thought of changing profession in the course of your career?” I asked. Shaking his head, he said, “No. Why should I? I have never considered changing my job. I enjoy my job tremendously.” When asked if he had faced any difficulties in his career, he replied with the same kind of optimism and self-assuredness, “I have never encountered any difficulties. I have never taken a day off.” It was such passion and dedication that had won him so many customers over the years, including well-known local celebrities such as Mark Lee. But above all, he would credit his enduring passion to the nature of the job – one that has him surrounded by “beautiful brides.” “This job,” he said with a smile, “is filled with happiness. I want to continue pursuing it for as long as I live.” Mr Yap laughed as he recounted a particularly memorable incident. “Once, a man in his sixties walked into my store accompanied by his bride, who looked slightly over thirty and was already pregnant. We tailored a qipao for his wife, which eventually did not fit as her tummy grew bigger.” I asked him if such an age gap was getting more common. He replied that most older customers were usually “parents accompanying their children to select wedding gifts.” Curious, I asked him if the parents usually made the buying decisions. “Most young people like to make their own decisions!” he chuckled, “Young people are more selective now in purchasing wedding items. They only buy light and teacups. They do not want fans or bathtubs (子孙桶, or “grandson bathtub,” which supposedly blesses married couples with fertility.) The brides also do not want to purchase gloves or fans (symbolizing 千金小姐, or a lady who leads a materially well-endowed life)” Mr Yap continued, “On the night of the wedding, the new-

lyweds are supposed to wear pyjamas according to wedding customs. However, young people nowadays don’t want to do that. They tell me that the trend now is to sleep naked.” We burst out laughing.

Wrapping up the conversation, I asked him if he had any plans to pass his business on to his children, in the same way he had inherited the business from his father. He shook his head and said, “No. My children do not want to work in this business. They are all university graduates.” I wondered if this was a nationwide trend – one that sees dwindling number of young people taking up the profession. Instead, he insisted that the young people were “coming into this industry.” As if sensing some lingering doubts in me, he continued, “This industry is still doing well, although the crowd is smaller. We are still going strong.” Judging by the constant stream of customers, I certainly had no question about that. Times have certainly changed, but many people still hold dear to cherished, long-lived traditions. ■ Wee Shian is a graduate of the History department from the National University of Singapore


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POTONG ANDAM: YANG XINYI  publications@nushissoc.org Photographs from http://dayahsanif.blogspot.sg and HELANG FILMS Mentored by ALVIN TAN, Director/Heritage Institutions, NHB

“Malay virginity checker.” This was all I could hear. Immediately, my imagination started running wild. I began envisioning a scene where an old, wrinkly Malay woman pulled the frightened bride into a dark room with a toothless grin and the last we ever saw were the huge, frightened eyes of the bride as the door closed before her. Yes, I have been watching too many horror movies for my own good but so much for my fertile imagination. An interview with two mak andams (the bride’s make-up artist, tradition checker, on-the-spot counsellor and bridesmaid all rolled into one) and several hours of research later, the tradition is decidedly

much less sensationalistic than it sounds.

limes) and seven types of sweet-smelling flowers is also used to wipe the bride’s face. And finally the moment of truth. The mak andam will ask for the bride’s permission to cut some strands of hair from her forehead and observe the way it falls. If it falls in clumps, the bride is a virgin; if it falls dispersed, the contrary is true. So is the ritual really able to determine the bride’s virginity? Many young Malay brides now do not seem to think so, forgoing the ritual altogether. Instead, they prefer to go for more modern practices, such as facials or spas.

The controversy over potong andam is that to alter the perfect creation of Allah for the sake of vanity is haram (forbidden). It also commits the sin of shirk, which is to deviate from the sole worship of the singular God, breaking this taboo when the mak andam relies on the power of other supernatural beings to determine the bride’s virginity. Hence, potong andam has become less popular due to its conflict with Islamic values. In comparison, the fate of the mak andam has turned out somewhat differently. While more traditional mak andams have seen a decline in business, others have moved with the times and taken advantage of new trends and technologies, offering “high-tech” beautifying services and online sites.

to stabilize the bride’s spiritual well-being and make her appear more radiant.

The mak andam then dabs some tepung anwar (rice flour mixed with betel leaves) on the bride’s shoulder and head. Water containing limau purut (kaffir

seems to have become more popular today even as traditional Malay wedding customs lose their place in society. Indeed, some Malay brides even change their wedding date in order to hire their preferred mak andam on their big day. However, this popularity is at the expense of the mak andam’s traditional role as the modern mak andam is chosen more for her make-up and hair-do skills rather than her knowledge of customs and standing in society. One only has to take a cursory look at the websites of some modern mak andams to tell that the emphasis of their services is on make-up, with them displaying hugely contrasting before and after pictures of brides.

Potong andam faces another challenge- that from Islam. Adat (custom) has been primarily influenced by the pre-Islamic Indian Hindu culture, and with the advent of Islam, has come into conflict with Islamic law at times.

The ritual itself is called potong andam. More than just a test of virginity, it is believed to stabilize the bride’s spiritual well-being and make her appear more radiant. Conducted before the day of the wedding, the ritual must be done in private and the results of the virginity test kept between the mak an- The ritual itself is [...] more than dam and the bride. just a test of virginity, it is believed First, the bride is seated on an embroidered sarong placed on the floor. The mak andam will ask her to chew on a sirih (betel leaf) that has been blessed, and then sprinkle rose water, bertih (rice fried in its husk) and beras kunyit (yellow rice) on her in order to “chase” away evil spirits.

TRADITION TRANSITION

Hence, the mak andam conversely

So in the end, what does it mean to preserve tradition? In this case, the traditional figure of the mak andam is preserved and indeed flourishing, but its original meaning and all the valuable customs with it are fading away. No doubt, it is a victory for tradition but a pyrrhic one. And what is tradition ultimately? Traditions are always accepted as age-old practices passed down through generations unchangingly and yet the reality is that all traditions follow an organic path of evolution. They are created, they grow, they change and sometimes they die. So for potong andam, this pre-Islamic Hinduistic tradition has come into conflict with Islam, which is not only a religion but also the “new” tradition for Malays. Which tradition are they supposed to choose? Is this the point in time that an old tradition has met its end and should be allowed to follow its natural course of decline? This I shall leave to my dear readers to decide for themselves. ■

Xinyi is a graduate of the History department from the National University of Singapore


NHB FEATURE

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THE MODERN MATCHMAKER JAN YAP  a0082951@nus.edu.sg Photography by SUMBUL BARKAAT, EMILYCC/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS Mentored by ALVIN TAN, Director/Heritage Institutions, NHB When making a list of dangerous occupations, most people would instantly rule out matchmaking. However, the matchmaker has been attacked by gangsters in the course of his work, prompting him to take up martial arts. The man is Mr Haniffa, a ‘self-taught’ Indian Muslim matchmaker who has been bringing couples of his community together since the late 1970s to this day. According to the 55-year old, in the early days Muslim women were not allowed to go outdoors unaccompanied after the age of sixteen. This made things slightly more difficult for hopeful suitors trying to make contact with their desired girl. For Mr. Haniffa’s teenaged friends, the solution lay in their ‘thick-skinned’ friend, who would approach the girl and her family on their behalf. Prior to the interview with Mr Haniffa, my mental image was more of a traditional matchmaker practicing established customs. To my surprise, this matchmaker is highly ‘modern’. He has a standard application form for ‘customers’ to fill in, including details such as their preferences (nowadays diploma and degree holders are in great demand!) and photograph. After Mr Haniffa plans a match, he arranges a meeting for the prospective couple and their families to discuss the matter in the girl’s home or a casual public setting like McDonald’s. After this initial meeting, the couple will continue to ‘date’ on their own. Although traditional customs may have faded into the background, religion is an ever-present element, seen in how one of the top priorities is for the match to be a

‘good Muslim’. Concerns nowadays include “whether she goes to the pub” and whether certain qualities are present in men going to the mosque, fasting and planning to go on haj when they are older.

[...] parties would hire gangsters to attack him in order to punish or forcibly dissuage him from continuing in his [matchmaking] efforts. Interestingly, Mr Haniffa not only plays a role in marriage, but in divorce. He helps people (sometimes the ones he matchmade!) to negotiate a divorce, and acted as a witness before. Incidentally, helping divorcees and widows to remarry was one of the causes for the run-ins with gangsters in the earlier days. As divorcees in the Indian Muslim community were perceived as “worthless”, helping them was offensive to some. These parties would hire gangsters to attack him in order to punish or forcibly dissuade him from continuing in his efforts. Of course, conflicts were due to other reasons as well, such as discontent over the failure of the match. Thankfully, in more recent times, Mr Haniffa no longer has to deal with such violent opposition. I predicted that matchmakers earn a few hundred dollars per match, yet to my surprise, the typical price is actually much more than what I expected - S$1500-2000, of course provided that the match successfully translates to marriage. However, Mr Haniffa’s fee is not even in that range – for he offers free service “in the name of God”. He is particularly emphatic on the social service aspect of what he does, correcting me whenever I forgetfully say “trade” or “occupation”. Moreover, again, I erroneously assumed that he would see several cases

per year, and even wondered if there were ‘peak periods’ for customers. His response was pretty much the reverse – he sees only 1-2 cases per year. Most Indian Muslim women are no longer confined to the home sphere, and are thus free to find prospective matches in the workplace, rendering the matchmaker superfluous. Indeed, he knows of only a couple of traditional matchmakers, as well as a dozen more ‘modern’ practitioners such as himself. The prospects are not good – matchmaking and its accompanying way of life do seem set to halt at M. Haniffa’s generation in spite of the modern methods adopted. Nevertheless, to round off, here are Mr

Haniffa’s top three tips for aspiring matchmakers: be brave, be honest, and be knowledgeable about religious matters. They might just come in useful one day. ■ Jan is a third year History major in the National University of Singapore


MNEMOZINE CLASSROOM

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MNEMOZINE

IN THE CLASSROOM

TAN SOCK KENG  tan.sockkeng@nus.edu.sg Photography by LAI JUN WEI On 6 November 2013, 15 students from the School of the Arts (SOTA) took part in Mnemozine Classroom, an outreach programme of Mnemozine. For three hours, the students discussed various hot topics in education with their mentors, mostly History undergraduates from the National University of Singapore. Mnemozine Classroom was germinated from a desire to bring Mnemozine to more readers and communities.

an article as a launching pad, the students were encouraged to think rigorously and historically, while keeping an eye on the present and future. Clement Xiao, a fourthyear History major, co-led a team of 3 students to scrutinise official narratives in history textbooks. He said, “I wanted the students to be aware that there are factors which influence how history is written. I’m happy that Mnemozine Classroom exposes the students to something new outside their everyday history lessons.” Coming from diverse artistic disciplines, the students brought differing energies to the group discussions. Nevertheless, all of them agreed that these discussions introduced them to intriguing issues surrounding education in Singapore and encouraged them to think critically. One student commented, “I learnt that every policy or event came about

Two years and five issues have earned Mnemozine a loyal following among undergraduates and history and heritage enthusiasts in Singapore, but its potential among students remains untapped. Mnemozine Classroom was thus designed to reach out to secondary school or preuniversity students of history. It aims to encourage historical thinking and highlight the relevance of the past in any discussion about the present. Six History majors were enlisted for this cause. Weeks before the event, the mentors gathered and brainstormed on selected articles from the fifth issue of Mnemozine on the theme “Education in Singapore”. Pertinent issues such as national narratives of history, gendered and racial divisions in education were dissected, while tips on research resources were exchanged. The organizing team also met with teachers from SOTA to better tailor Mnemozine Classroom to the students, all History students in the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. At the event, the mentors led groups of 3-4 SOTA students to deliberate on one topic of their choice: the National Education (NE) programme; economic imperatives in policy; gender; and race in the education system. Using

with a historical reason and not for one’s whims and fancies. For example, the Special Assistance Plan (SAP) was implemented to placate the Singaporean Chinese in the 1980s who felt that interest in Mandarin was declining.” Given the success of the inaugural edition, the Mnemozine team hopes to bring Mnemozine Classroom to more schools, hopefully, to illuminate the dynamism of history and its relevance to contemporary life. ■ Sock Keng is a fourth year History major in the National University of Singapore.

Mnemozine Classroom is looking for new faces for 2014! Be part of the team by sending us an e-mail today at publications@nushissoc.org.


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REVIEW

32

CONTEMPORISING

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Singapore Biennale 2013

SHAUN MATTHEW NIYO-RAMDAS  a0097631@nus.edu.sg Photograph from FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS A progressive contemporary art festival with a strong emphasis on regional context, the theme of the Biennale 2013/14 was if the World Changed. Visitors to the festival that ran from October 2013 to February 2014 were invited to immerse themselves into the worlds of 82 prominent artists throughout eight locations spread across the Brash Basah/ Bugis precinct and Our Museum @ Taman Jurong. Departing from the usual model of a small team of curators working to bring their vision to life, this year’s biennale brought together 27 curators not just from Singapore, but from around the region as well. Together, they shifted the spotlight on Southeast Asian contemporary art, a departure from the international slant taken by previous biennales. With all the hype surrounding Singapore’s latest display as the rising capital of Southeast Asian art, one is drawn by the prospects of experiencing a life-changing paradigm shift after visiting one of the exhibitions. Among the plethora of installations, three pieces leaped out at me. Nestled in an almost hidden nook of the Singapore Art Museum at 8Q, Royston Tan’s contemporary offering was one which defamiliarized memory. His piece, entitled “Ghosts of Capitol Theatre”, superimposed footage of a dance performance onto old cinema chairs saved from the Capitol Theatre. This installation captures the supposed life and times of an old worn-out seat from Singapore’s premier theatre in the early 20th century. Visions of emotion-fraught contemporary dancers, wriggling and writhing on these condemned seats, deliver an expression of longing for opulence long gone. I left the installation feeling unsettled by the transience of life. Through the use of emotionally laden images and hypnotic sorrowful music, one is enticed into a pensive and almost contemplative state. Upon entering the special exhibitions room at the Singapore

Art Museum, I was confronted by the horrible scene of thousands of shrunken heads impaled on sticks and spears. As my revulsion subsided, I realized that what I had initially recoiled from were but heads of old dolls. As wonder and amazement replaced disgust, I noticed a house covered wall to wall with the mostly headless bodies of dolls that had seen better days. “Payatas” by Oscar Villamiel features the heads and bodies of thousands of dolls that were dug up from a landfill in Manila and reconstructed to resemble the neighbourhood which the exhibit takes its name from. Central to the installation is a small drawing of a little girl, a symbol of the destitute who make their home among the mountains of waste. Villamiel’s work is a reflection of his own hard upbringing; a struggling artist who did whatever it took to pursue his passion for the arts in the slums of the Philippines. Behind the visceral visual assault, “Patayas” contains a humanitarian message that perhaps seeks to raise awareness of the plight of those left behind by the economic revolution of the region. A second showing by Indonesian artist Iswanto Hartono and the Indian artist collective known as the Raos Media Collective, “The 5 Principles of No-s” at the Singapore Art Museum speaks about the utopian political system all new world order citizens want to live in. Inspired by the political upheavals of the late 20th century Indonesia, Hartono tries to portray the doubleedged declarations as idealistic yet ambiguous, perhaps alluding to the promises of a certain regional leader of the era. The giant O of the “NO’s” representative to historical political inadequacy present in the region, challenging visitors to provide contextual evidence to prove otherwise. A crystallisation of styles from the greater Southeast Asian region, the Singapore Biennale 2013/14’s focus on regional issues is eye-opening as contemporary art, as it is thought-provoking as a politically charged exhibition. ■ Shaun Matthew Niyo-Ramdas is a second year history major in the National University of Singapore.


REVIEW

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The Memoirs and Memorials of

JACQUES DE COUTRE: Security, Trade and Society in 16th and 17th-Century Southeast Asia

MELISSA NG HUI MIN  melissa31291@gmail.com Jacques de Coutre (b.1572/5) was a Flemish gem trader who travelled within the East Indies at the turn of the 17th century, arriving in Goa in 1592 and travelling throughout Southeast Asia till his return to Goa in 1603. He wrote Vida de Jacques de Coutre (The Life of Jacques de Coutre) and a series of memorials presumably in the period 1623-28, in Europe. This 2014 edition is the first English translation of de Coutre’s writings, and also includes the memorials and appendices in the Vida, presumably written by de Coutre. De Coutre’s memoir is one of the earliest, most comprehensive and coherent European sources on Southeast Asia during the turn of the 17th century, and therefore valuable to scholars. The editor, Peter Borschberg, states that the main target group of this edition is Southeast Asia-oriented historians and area studies specialists, which explains his decision to include only book I of the Vida, which deals specifically with De Coutre’s life and career in Southeast Asia. His travels were quite extensive, with his destinations in Southeast Asia including Melaka, Johor, Singapore, Siam and Manila. His memoirs are comprehensive, with his documentation of his time in Siam alone spanning eight chapters. His memorials are particularly useful, as they are very telling about the concerns of the Portuguese crown, such as the rivalry with the Dutch and defences in Southeast Asia. As a trader, De Coutre also recorded useful information about the cost, availability and type of goods traded during that period. However, De Coutre’s unfamiliarity with the local culture is also one of the source’s weaknesses. A reviewer of this edition very eloquently sums this up: “For while de Coutre is surely the first European to have entered and written about Ayutthaya in Siam and among the first to have anchored at the port of Brunei, and while he writes about the powerful sultanates of Johor and Aceh, Patani, the small kingdom of Pahang and other polities, his descriptions are relatively superficial. Instead, personal anecdote prevails. The narrative is dotted with intrigues, imbroglios and a colourful array of personages, with the familiar view of a Westerner limited to his own constricted and fragmented experience, focusing on the exotic and picturesque, the pomp of parades, parasols and palanquins.”1

Of course, De Coutre also inflates himself in his memoirs, revelling in self-promotion and self-glorification, parading his knowledge of Asia, experience as a merchant, quick-wittedness and ability to think on his feet. While typical arguments for and against the use of similar primary sources can be made, much can be said about the editor of this volume. As an editor, Borschberg raised questions that historians would have when reading his work, such as “Who was Jacques de Coutre? Why should historians and anthropologists of Southeast Asia today bother to study his writings?” He also reminds readers that, “although such texts contain “history” – we must always remember why and in what specific context a particular text was written.” He questions using travel literature, stating that “travel literature from the early modern period often represents a collage of information plucked form different sources and from different periods – printed, manuscript or hearsay – and it is far from simple to ascertain which passages represents genuine autobiographical memory, and which were adduced to enrich one’s personal experience for information or entertainment of the reader.” Borschberg postulates possible answers to these questions and explains the historical context of the period in Southeast Asia and Europe, allowing readers to better understand certain nuances and biases in De Coutre’s writings (such as his anti-Dutch sentiment). The value of this edition also lies in its structure, with its clear glossary explaining terms and locations, index, appendices and numerous illustrations (of which some belonged to Borschberg’s personal collection). This edition is focused on the subject of Southeast Asia and the author, achieving its aim of providing a first-hand account of the issues confronting the early colonial powers in Southeast Asia, and deep insights into the societies De Coutre encountered, exceedingly well. This edition only includes the memoirs and memorials of De Coutre pertaining to Southeast Asia, which means that there is a possibility of further study into De Coutre’s writings pertaining to other regions. ■ Melissa is a fourth year History major in the National University of Singapore. The above was adapted from a review piece for HY4216 Culture and Literature in Southeast Asia.

ENDNOTES

Juan José Morales, “Book: The Memoirs and Memorials of Jacques de Coutre – Review,” Portuguese American Journal, February 01, 2014, http://portuguese-american-journal.com/bookthe-memoirs-and-memorialsof-jacques-de-coutre-review/ 1


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Mnemozine: Issue Six