Please click to watch my first two videos, published on Facebook a few days ago:
Race in Singapore: We can’t trust politicians
Brownface in Singapore: Why the fuss?
K Shanmugam. Michelle Chong. Nuseir Yassin aka Nas Daily.
Those are the three reasons why I am experimenting with video now. At a broad level video has been on my mind for a while, part of my own professional growth, reskilling, continuing media education. Writing will always be my first love but I need basic proficiency in video, especially if/when I start my own media business.
The three of them, however, have made the issue more pressing, because they have contributed to an increasingly ideologically-biased video landscape. Shanmugam is a constant video presence on big issues, for instance commenting on Preeti and Subhas. I am told, among other things, that those “interviews” are often scripted, staged, and re-shot if he doesn’t like something.
There is no pushback. Nobody would dare, for example, ask him whether the government made a mistake in publishing the Brownface ad, something journalists in any other developed country would feel comfortable doing. This is not journalism or even authentic reporting, since he can order re-shoots. It is Shanmugam TV. I am not sure viewers really understand this.
(This is true for many political “interviews” in Singapore; I am focussing on Shanmugam simply because he is a strong and recurring presence on video.)
Michelle Chong and Nuseir Yassin, much as I like their style and some of their work, have knowingly or not become part of the PAP’s band of useful idiots. Some of Michelle Chong’s work for the government is great, I like her impersonations of Marie Kondo, for instance.
But I was absolutely shocked by her video interview of Shanmugam to help the government sell its new fake news law. The interplay between truth and fiction is a key tenet of any art form. Imagine my surprise, then, that a Singaporean artist would willingly help politicians take away that power.
I’ve met Michelle Chong once, briefly, she seems like a lovely person. But I’ve also been told that she’ll say anything for money. Perhaps it was her jealous enemies bitching about her to me, but if true, it is troubling for all sorts of reasons.
Also, it is unethical that her video did not mention that it was sponsored by the government. In other words, taxpayers like us paid Michelle and Shanmugam to make a video that ultimately just seems to be an exercise in personal branding (rather than a proper analysis of the new fake news bill). But this appears to be the way of the influencer world, take money and keep quiet about it.
I hope Michelle continues doing her great work across Singapore—but she should steer clear of certain issues. I suspect media studies departments in the future will classify her Ah Lian interview of Shanmugam as a textbook example of authoritarian propaganda. Horribly naive.
(To be clear, fake news is a big menace that must be dealt with. But we can never allow politicians from any party to be in charge, for the simple reason that they will be able to manipulate elections.)
Finally, Nas Daily videos are gross simplifications of complicated problems. I believe they are doing a disservice to the world. His superficial commentary on Singapore is proof that one can’t parachute into a place and understand it. There are a million critiques to choose from, but I’ll give you just one: it is absurd for a Muslim-Arab to call Singapore, a country with institutional discrimination against Muslims, an “almost perfect country”. But that’s what happens when you observe the veneer of multiculturalism and are wilfully ignorant about real problems.
That said, I’m delighted that Nuseir has moved here. It’s great for our country, hopefully he’ll help jumpstart our new media sector. I certainly have lots to learn from his delivery and comfort on screen. I just hope he will graduate to making more well-researched pieces akin to John Oliver and Hasan Minhaj.
Michelle and Nuseir are just two of the most prominent video personalities who are becoming dependent on government funds, which hinders their ability to act and speak freely. Many smaller media outfits in Singapore face the same challenge.
And that is why I worry that the video world is increasingly ideologically-biased. Unlike say the written word, for which Singaporeans can now access a whole range of views online.
My mistakes with these videos
Yes, I made many, including perhaps with the background music, delivery, subtitle typos. Here I will discuss the two main ones, after several days of debriefs.
1) My post-credit scene may have been unintentionally offensive to some.
In my post-credit scene, I make fun of excessive political correctness. Is it wrong for me, an Indian, to shake my head? Separately, is it wrong for me, a non Tamil, to use the word “rhomba” like that? “Rhomba thanks” is akin to “Many Thanks”.
However, in my delivery, I may have created the impression in some viewers that only Tamils shake their head. As my relatives from Rajasthan to Kerala will surely remind me, this is not true.
So, if you were offended by any of that, I am sorry. No offence meant.
I’m not going to stop making jokes around race/religion—I think humour is the best way to address some of these things—but I will be more careful.
2) I should have mentioned at least one opposition politician to show some balance.
Everybody who has been following my writing knows that I am not affiliated to any party. Before the last election I openly criticised certain things about both the PAP and the WP (for its “zero net immigration” growth policy after a certain population level, a policy I believe is xenophobic and no good for Singapore).
My political preference has been unchanged for the past ten years: happy with the PAP in power, but it needs to be cut down to size, we need a lot more opposition parliamentarians. We must deny the PAP its two-thirds majority because it keeps recklessly toying with our sacred constitution (like recently with the reserved presidency).
Anyway, in the video, I made the mistake of calling out several PAP politicians but not a single opposition one. There is an obvious reason for this—the PAP ones have a much bigger responsibility to deal with all these issues.
And that would have better reflected my non-partisanship. Noted.
What’s next for video and me?
I’m not sure it will be a regular thing. It’s terribly nerve-wracking and a big distraction from writing.
If it ever does become so, I would love to try and emulate The Daily Show or Patriot Act, knowing of course that I’ll never ever be half as good as Hasan or the rest. But even that might be good enough for Singapore/South-east Asia.
I would love to tackle a whole range of issues, certainly not just socio-political, but also technology, food, sports, etc.
So while I am refocussing on my writing—piece on Tan Cheng Bock should be done in the next couple of weeks—I am having occasional discussions about building a video team and tapping on funding sources such as Patreon.
If you have ideas or want to help with any of this, please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org).