05 September 2006

CNA: Fifty-dollar men

A shallow, disjointed television documentary about male prostitution in Little India illustrates a more general problem: why our creative industries will have a hard time taking off. Full essay.


Anonymous said...

how about a CNA programme about CNA journalists struggling to make stories out of something? that would arouse sympathy and be a real tear jerker...

maybe story about journalists struggling to write about sensitive topics? or bloggers trying to guess where the OB markers are? spin doctors denying they do spin? news controllers denying they try to control news? yesmen denying they are yesmen? all these tragedies waiting to be written up...

Wayne said...

Don't make too much of it, the program content was shallow because Diana Ser is no deep thinker. But the topic is relevant, in the light of PM Lee's relaxation of rules about Employer Passes and Work Permits.

teck soon said...

How can Singapore expect to become a media hub with such bad media? Singaporeans have very little exposure to quality, poignant film and art. With the BAN on satellite television, Singaporeans are forced to watch mostly poorly-made local productions, or drama series taking place in ancient China. With a lifetime of watching mediocre television and reading mediocre newspapers, why should anyone expect adult Singaporeans to produce anything but mediocrity?

Anonymous said...

indeed, a very interesting post.

i've not seen the documentary, but as you've mentioned, there's lots of opportunities to delve into the deeper issues.

CNA seems to have taken a sensationalist, New Paper approach...its the idea that indian foreign workers are selling sex that is the story, not about why they are driven to do it.

I think, at most times, people are just being too careful. they want to take the safe stand, and not willing to ask for forgiveness.

All it takes is for someone outside of the system to push the envelope i.e. a foreign talent with no hangups.

it could go either way:
1. damn, this foreign talent did a great story and raised some issues. they're so creative and smart. thats why our local people are never good enough and we need to look outside.

2. hey, you, Mr Foreigner, are getting involved into domestic issues, and making Singpaore look bad. Sorry but your work permit's cut. please go home.

and so what happens? we're back to square one - mediocre creativity from local talents, and our constant need to look for foreign talent.

lau Min-tsek said...

Dear Yawning Bread,

there are plenty of evidence of poor editorial in that programme and in the entire series as a whole. Get Real also tends to be rather low brow and tabloidy in the way they "find" and present stories.

However, it is a bit of a leap of logic to assume that a poorly written and presented program is the result of government censorship policies, nor does it show weakness in the creative industry.

The program could have focused on all sorts of angles, like is there any help from the government or NGOs that can offer help to foreign male prostitutes who are poor, desperate and helpless? These angles wouldn't attract state censorship.

All I can say, is that the programme is representative of poor and sensational TV tabloid journalism. NOT state censorship and certainly not representative of the creative industry.

Sorry, can't see the link. Your article is too biased.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has ever worked in mediacock will tell you it is an absolutely screwed up place packed with deadwood management fat cats and sycophants. Besides, it is a monopoly and there is absolutely no impetus to innovate and be creative. The entire media scene is like this. Sad. It's been more than a decade since the early 90s when the govt talked boldly of media economics. In truth it has shrunk. And it is entirely of their own doing.

pleinelune said...

Another point to add about the program: they could have explored whether an equivalent phenomenon exists among chinese and malay men. Prostitution, after all, is race-less.

This is not the first time the Get Rea! program has screwed up a topic on homosexuality, I might add. Remember the segment on school-girl lesbians last year?

Anonymous said...

Why didn't they venture out to Orchard - from Wheelock Place up to Orange Grove on both sides of the road, with the infamous Orchard Towers as a centre? There soliciting is done in the open, in full view of the kids.

Anonymous said...

In a way, allowing prostitution but not soliciting is like the laws imposed on tobacco companies. They can sell but not market them. You can say it's the acknowledgement of prostitution's place in society, while at the same time limiting its spread.

thor666 said...

Dear Lau Min-Tsek,

I think that what Yawning Bread said would be partially true - Get Real suffers from being unable to report a factual perspective given the sensitivities of exploring legistlative and governmental policies.

That said, I don't think that government censorship policies numb the creative industry - at least not to such an extent. I tend to feel that many of us lack in creativity simply because we lack the courage to try and the courage to fail, and that in some way stems from ,amy government's policies that tend to highlight successes and have a low tolerance for failures.

I would also agree with Anon that a lack of competition in many local industries have made them very much struggling to match up with the rest of the world as globalization takes place.

Kumar said...

Again Mr Au you have been crystal clear.I would like to bring to your attention the programme about the the bidding for the Olympics.The same Diana Ser was reporting live for that piece and you could see how mediocre her reporting was.The point is even if the environment was more open the journalistic quality has been stunted due to a long period of self censorship of the media.As such we would need to look outside Singapore to lift us out of this drudgery. Thanks for allowing me to share my views on this blog of yours.

Jordan said...

This documentary is all about gay bashing.
Diana Ser's documentary "Get Real" is nothing more than a thin veil of demonizing homosexuality in Singapore.
If Ms Ser really wanted to do a documentary, why not target phedophiles seeking young children?
That would make it a credible documentary.
Ms Diana Ser's attempt in her childlike documentary of demonizing homosexuals is an outrage.
Lace the documentary with all kinds of spins, but the bottom line of the plot speaks for itself.
To Ms Ser, if your job is to blast gays, don't make a documentary laced with excuses!
I can read between the spins.

Anonymous said...

I would agree that the quality of these documentary/social commentary programs is somewhat lacking. Although I'm not sure whether the cause of it is an overly strict government or conservative culture (or both)

Another example: Evelyn Tan hosted a program where they interviewed the girl who posted her exploits on the SarongPartyGirl blog. There were also a couple of other media people, one of which was the Flying Dutchman, and an extremely 'pure' girl as a foil

THe whole program ended up lambasting the SPG girl and did not present a balanced viewpoint at all. Even though I did not agree with the SPG girl's actions, I still felt that it was a poor effort. Anyone who has taken classes in critical writing and thinking knows that a one-sided argument without examining other views will never convince people.

Anonymous said...

To Min Tsek's posting 5 Sep 12.33pm.

I think what yawningbread is trying to say is that the strong SELF CENSORSHIP, or rather, the COVER B**KSIDE mentality (let someone else get the blame if anything goes wrong), or sticking to a safe area where there will be no backlash, is driving the Media Industry, and i dare say, many other segments in our country, to be mediocre.

yes, there is no state censorship, but the PERCEPTION of it, or the vagueness of the OB markers thats driving this mediocrity. You will only know where the OB markers are once you cross it. which is too late.

And when we're mediocre, thats when they say we need better talent. and we look outside for it.

its a catch22 situation.

sadly, our "middle management" leaders are all technocrats and executives. people who have been GROOMED from young to follow the lead, rather than challenge it. thus they also fall into the Cover B**kside gang. They hardly have opinions of their own. and thus also are mediocre.

Maybe we should also get foreign talent for some of the positions in government. wonder if that will help?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous posting at 14.23pm,

i think you've nailed a very salient point. A monopoly results in people not prepared to push the envelope.

But having said that, looking at the US media scene, competition could also lead to highly sensationalist coverage, and nothing indepth as well.

boon said...

I don't think the treatment was shallow because the topic was "sensitive". Alex, you seem to be quite touchy about mainstream media reports involving any homosexuality.

I say this because I watched a previous Get Real programme on illegal modification of cars. Interesting topic (to car enthusiasts like myself) but the treatment was a letdown. No depth at all, didn't show any out of the world modifications.

So don't get too hung up over this. It's not the "sensitivities", but the lack of quality "journalist"/producers.

btw, to some of the above comments, I think Channel 8 programmes are more insightful. So it might be unfair to tar the entire Mediacorp crew with the same brush.

Anonymous said...

parallel to this, zaobao has a wide range of commentary on local topics, whereas ST's local commentary is virtually just restatements of the official position; partly this is due to the establishment people being less proficient in chinese and less active in monitoring the chinese media; partly the chinese community as a whole has a less pro-establishment identification

Anonymous said...

When CNA, a govt owned network in Singapore does a documentary, there is a reason for it.
If you watch a documentary about consenting adults, and in this case, a vulgar presentation of what we are aware of, and have Ms Ser twist and turn it around, and presenting it "subconsciously" into the minds of young Singaporeans, what do you think is the message behind the documentary is.
If you can see beyond the 'bells and whistles', and the storyline, what is the point of this documentary that speaks loudest to the audience?
There is a message sounding off into our ears that homosexuality is wrong.
If we can all agree on this point, then we can move on to what the real message of CNA's documentary is really about.
It is not about Indian men procuring another for $50/=.

See thru' the facade of it all.

The real underlying message that CNA is attempting to do is- brainwashing. A very dangerous thing to play with people's minds.
Otherwise, would it be also a justifiable point to do a documentary on prostitution in Singapore. Apparently prostitution is illegal, but CNA would rather present Indian men procuring sex?
Rather odd, don't you think. I am surprised CNA did not do a documentary on Chinese men marrying mailorder brides from China, Cambodia or Thailand.
People, read between the documentary.

Jordan said...

'Benjamin Zablocki sees brainwashing as "term for a concept that stands for a form of influence manifested in a deliberately and systematically applied traumatizing and obedience-producing process of ideological resocializations" and states this same concept had historically also been called thought reform and coercive persuasion.'

CNA's documentary on men having sex is CNA's way of tramautizing the Singapore television viewers alluding that 'gay' is wicked and bad.

CNA could have pursued a documentary on battered wives and children, on Singapore being a non-welfare state, on what happens to Singapore children who cannot cope with the Singapore dragonian educational system.What are their options? It would have been useful information and would have done a public service to all , who really wish to watch a documentary of substance.

This documentary served up 'cold and laced with fear' by Diana Ser would never fly elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

if anyone catches some of the documetaries on 焦点 or 特写, you will find rather polished and heartfelt films on local issues.

they veer clear of politics and address safe zones. but those are good stuff

Anonymous said...

Left singapore recently. Funny someone here mentioned the stretch between Orange Grove and Wheelock. I stayed at a hotel in that area for a week. ;)
Had some explaining to do, my ABC-hubby didnt get it..
Sorry, off topic but really got to say something about the way restaurants in orchard area treated us differently. Oh well, surprise surprise. Needless to say, my husband was furious. He could see it without me saying anything. Those imf people will definitely like the service there, if they are not asians that is.

caput kursha said...

Alex Yawning. Just a few questions.

Why are Indians a 'yuck' factor?

And why is being Indian and Homosexual 'The furthest things from all that (Chinese) Singaporeans consider good?'

I am a bit confused, not concerned, here. Is this your opinion or that which is representative of the community you mentioned? Does the community have something against indians, homosexuals?

I would like to interview you for my own 'get real' channel on youtube. I am very sure Diana would not be able to circumnavigate this topic but i am sure we (you, me and a certain drag queen) can do a good job.

We will not digress and my studio has plenty of light, in case you cannot spot me!

Please reply.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Caput Kursha asked, "Why are Indians a 'yuck' factor? And why is being Indian and Homosexual 'The furthest things from all that (Chinese) Singaporeans consider good?' "

That's the trouble with the written word, there is a risk that people can't see the sarcasm which in speech is conveyed through stress and possibly facial expressions.

It's a fact that the majority of Singaporeans harbour irrational prejudice against Indians. Equally the majority harbour irrational prejudice against homosexuals. Both types of prejudice take the form of disgust and a fear of coming into proximity with the minority.

(Prejudice against Muslims take slightly different forms)

Thus "yuck" factor.

gen x-i said...

A belated comment on your post but nonetheless my two cents' worth here. I've watched the segment and find it rather incongruous as to how the producer has chosen to position the foreign sex workers. It is as you have mentioned for instance, on why these foreign labourers have elected to provide sex in exchange for cash, the production team quoted the words of a 'john': 'to pay rent' or 'get a girl'. I recall the particular 'john' had heightened the emphasis on 'getting a girl'. Here we witnessed the entire irony of the entire episode - how the 'john' as a willing 'sugar daddy' were demonising the sex trade they were supporting and how this apparently biased viewpoint was quoted to rationalise the psyche of these Indian workers.

As you have alluded to in an earlier study on study ma ma - on how the entire issue was arguably assessed from the perspective of the 'bourgeois', in the case of these 'fifty-dollar man', the entire issue was framed to the advantage of the incumbents - the johns and the likes of him. We have to really question whether the role of media institutions is to interpret information in favour of the elites or to present an objective study to educate the public on alternative perspectives. Methinks herein lies the key to the progress tpwards a gracious society.