Tue, Jun 22, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Singapore's `nanny state' ridiculed

A new film by Royston Tan takesthe city-state's censors to taskfor stifling a liberal political culture


A still image from the controversial Singaporean short film Cut shows an actress depicting the head of the city-state's board of censors standing in front of five bikini-clad women.


In the opening scenes of the most daring film to come out of Singapore this year, a young man accosts the head of the board of censors in a supermarket and declares he is her biggest fan.

"I know every film you have ever cut in the history of Singapore," he enthuses, before reeling off the names of 24 movies and 99 cuts made and thanking her for "shielding us from the evils of arts".

The sarcasm-drenched 13-minute film Cut was made without a permit by one of Singapore's few controversial filmmakers, 27-year-old drama teacher Royston Tan.

Speaking to foreign reporters recently, Tan said the movie, which has recorded tens of thousands of downloads from a local Web site, was made out of frustration at the Singapore government's famous "nanny state" mentality.

It followed 27 cuts being made to his highly acclaimed feature film last year about Singapore's gang culture, 15, which he said the government censored heavily because gang chants and other aspects were deemed a threat to national security.

"Trying to enact censorship out of paranoia does more harm than good. Censorship closes the door on debate," Tan said, offering a much more subdued reflection of the issue than his main character in Cut.

"Being our nanny, you are exposed to all the uncensored and controversial scenes. What I would really like to know [is] who looks after your welfare?" the besotted young man in Cut asks the censorship chief.

"How do you resist the evil temptations to be a call girl when you watch the uncut version of Chicago, a drug addict when you watch the uncut Trainspotting, a lesbian when you watch Boys don't cry?"

Tan's release of Cut came at a sensitive time for the Singapore government, which has been trying to project a more open-minded approach after years of international headlines ridiculing the city-state.

Laws banning things such as oral sex between consenting adults, the sale of Cosmopolitan magazine and chewing gum have proved wonderful fodder for correspondents and editors looking for quirky stories.

Over the past year, the government has modified the oral sex law to allow the act between men and women, has announced gays are allowed to work in the civil service, has introduced reverse bungee jumping, let certain bars stay open 24 hours a day and said people can chew gum, albeit on a restricted basis.

Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who will take over as the nation's leader this year, acknowledged in January that the "nanny state" approach was having some negative impacts on Singaporean society.

"If we want a more participatory citizenry, the government will have [to[ cut the apron strings and leave more matters to the private and people sectors," Lee said in an address to international businessmen.

But Tan and another prominent social campaigner, gay rights activist Alex Au, believe the government's efforts are little more than window dressing.

"Every announced loosening-up has been followed by waffle and scaling back, if not altogether contradicted by subsequent decisions, as the gay example indicates," Au told foreign reporters in a separate forum.

Au's People Like Us group, which represents Singapore's gay and lesbian community, has been trying to be registered as a society since 1996.

Homosexuality is still illegal and the most recent effort by Au's group for registration failed in March.

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