23 December 2006

Singapore bans tsunami charity book, part 2

The government explained that Leslie Kee's book was banned because it contained "explicit male nudity". It told the New Paper that female nudity was acceptable, but not male nudity. What does this tell us about the government's motives? Full essay.


boon said...

YB, isn't this just a storm in a teacup?

You're reading too much into the ban. I would agree with MDA's stance that the full frontal male nudity is excessive. Does it matter whether it's:

a) shot by celebrity photographer?
b) photos of famous artistes?
c) used to raise funds for charity?

It's still full frontal male nudity. Why are you still so adamant they make an exception in this case?

"They really want a total ban in order to promote sexist male superiority and homophobia in Singapore."

That's quite a tenuous link you're trying to draw there.

Anonymous said...

boon, how can you agree with the MDA that the images in the book are unacceptable, when you have not seen the book? if you HAVE seen the book, then perhaps you are a lawbreaker for viewing banned material. actually, I think you should have the right to see the book. and I want to see it too.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

To boon -

You seem to be approaching the issue from the point of view that censorship on the ground of sex is OK, it's only a question of where to draw the line. In this case you're quite happy to let the book and the photos fall outside the line.

I'm approaching it from principle. I disagree that the state should censor anything on the ground of sex, so even if this is a book with a smallish print run reaching only a few well-heeled buyers, it's a freedom that I will speak up for.

You think it's a small matter. I think the very fact that the book is available in Hong Kong, America, Europe, but not in Singapore, points to a significant difference. If we believe that we can reach global standards of creativity, intellectual vigour, openness and democratic government without absorbing and reifying the credoes of liberalism that make the foregoing possible, then we are fooling ourselves. It may be just one book, but censorship is chipped away one book/film/website at a time.

Charissa said...

So far, I am of opinion that the pictures are not that offensive. Didnt Brokeback Mountain show partial male nudity and it was allowed to be shown in Singapore cinemas under R21? In fact, a current movie in cinermas, "Curse of the Golden Flower," shows Gong Li's boobs bouncing up and down in majority the show. However, this show is only labelled as PG!

MDA has blatently conflicting policies. ><

I find Alex's take about the sexism displayed by MDA to be quite accurate. I feel insulted by this form of sexual discrimination. grrr.....

Honestly, I think think book cost too much for those curious young boys and ah peks to buy anyway. Plus as Alex mentioned, such expensive books are usually wrapped and browsing is not allowed. In addition, it has only a finate number of copies. Most likely, photography or art enthusiast would be the ones buying it and being "exposed" to the pictures. The general public would not even get to buy or see the pictures! This is partly why I find it puzzling MDA would ban this book.

They claim that they want to make Singapore be an open and inclusive society.... right, maybe its time for them to do some soul searching and decide what they really want to do instead of exceuting incoherant policies. Incoherant policies largely do not instill confidence but merely increase confusion and distrust.

Anonymous said...

Oh Lord! Goobly-Gob MDA trash spin!~I do not see why ANY book should be banned. What is wrong with Kee's tabletop book of nudes?
Kee is raising for TSUNAMI CHARITY, and I think that in itself is a good deed!
Now I can think of 3 major people from banning books in POLITICAL HISTORY-
1. Adolf Hitler
2. Shi Haung Ti
3. Lee Kuan Yew
MDA's banning of books in Singapore continues. As usual, it is their consistent attempt to shut out NEWS for all Singaporeans!
Hey, if MDA said nude women are ok/- why not bring back Playboy???

Anonymous said...

Hey check on this url link of Leslie Kee's works...


They are good! And our boy is FROM SINGAPORE.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alex, I totally agree, and your point of questionable chauvinistic & homophobic grounds to ban art is extremely well crafted! Scary. If only ST would publish your article...

I have 2 cents to add:

Again, much energy and money is spent in our country to make us look ridiculous and childish outside Singapore, I am sure to read soon in uncensored overseas newspapers online about this story. I always ask myself: how many hours of what crowd of staff are spent everyday in MDA offices to look at all these books, CDs, DVDs, doesn't that cost an enormous amount of money, taxpayers money? Like what you said in "Bad Rep Costs", money wasted for bad PR... and all merely to pseudo-censor a tiny market like Singapore with almost 100% internet penetration, how funny is that.

The other and more serious side of it: how do artists feel in such an anti-creative, repressive environment where the state dares to define and censor what is "artistic and tasteful" (I still can't get over the arrogance of the MDA letter)? Wasn't there a European country where something similar happened in the 1940.. A long list of Singaporean artists could be shown, all emigrated exactly because of this restrictive climate. Sad. We want to be a world-class hub for art, really?

And, by the way, I personally have not met any Singaporean that would defend this sort of ridiculous censorship, it seems only some authorities that haven't heard of the www hang on to this old-fashioned practice.

Grow up, Singapore.

Anonymous said...


I think the male organ to some look quite ridiculous an appendage notwithstanding its very obviously very potent 'application'!

This place is forever about implications for the leadership. The men in charge are afraid to be vicariously compared to or referred to in terms of their organs, such as, for them to let it all 'hang out'!

They have never outgrown their juvenile fear of in this respect. Really, their 'conversativism' is founded on this.

Female nudity is 'ok' since there is no 'absurd' appendage.

boon said...

To Anon:

No, obviously I've not seen the book. The only photos I've seen are from Alex's article. If you had read the previous article, you would have seen what I was referring to: a full frontal nude photo of a male artiste. That is quite enough to justify MDA's stand.

The MDA guidelines have always been very clear about this, and I don't see why they should make an exception in this case.

If we are arguing about the guidelines, then let's think about why they should be relaxed to allow for full male nudity.

Would that suddenly make Singapore a more creative society? Would that make Singapore a less repressed society and a more cosmopolitan, global and plugged in society?

Not really, unless you feel that viewing male nudity is conducive to creative expression. Why can't it be expressed through other means?

If you must display a penis in order to be artistic, then I'm afraid that demonstrates a lack of creativity and imagination.

No time to search for the info online, but I'm pretty sure that some USA states ban such explicit male nude photos as well. Can anyone verify this? Yet no one would say that USA is a backward society.

Anonymous said...

< I think the male organ to some look quite ridiculous an appendage notwithstanding its very obviously very potent 'application'! ... Female nudity is 'ok' since there is no 'absurd' appendage. >

really? female has TWO, not one, appendages on the chest! LOL! Whether it is male or female appendages that look ridiculous, it depends who is looking at them.

Anonymous said...

I have only one thing to say about this. People who saw the images and want to ban it must be afraid because they are aroused by the images. Hence they are gay. Hey, I'm not insulting them, it's all good, more closet gays.

Robert L

sad man said...

YB - Need to know what is your take on Penthouse and Playboy / Playgirl then? I can imagine our efficient govt would just take the easy way out with a broad brush and ban Leslie Kee book. Or would you thikn it should be a case by case basis, or a 'classification system' like the movies?

an american said...

To boon -

"No time to search for the info online, but I'm pretty sure that some USA states ban such explicit male nude photos as well. Can anyone verify this?"

This is not true. Freedom of speech is enshrined in the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights extends to every state. Pornography is available in every state. What you may have seen are restrictions on the sale of pornography in places easily accessible to the public (like on supermarket shelves with no shrink wrap), on television at times easily seen by youngsters, or age (18 or 21) restrictions on purchase. If you have watched TV in the US, you may have noticed editing of nudity or blurring of sensitive areas. This occurs only on open broadcast/network television, and is unrelated to our fundamental freedom of expression. You can own porn wherever you want. I think it's quite extraordinary that you would dare compare the totalitarian repression that you live under to our free and open society. I have met a number of Singaporeans who actually believe that all the repression is necessary to maintain an orderly, safe society, and they imagine the US as a very dangerous place, with drugs, guns, and racists all over the place. I find this characterization of the US particularly amusing.

Usually Singaporeans are very sensitive to foreign criticism of Singapore. People will go to great lengths to defend their nation because of inculcated nationalism. So instead of responding to me with "Americans should stop going around the world and saying how good their democracy is" (an irrational ad hominem response common in dictatorships), I hope that any replies to my comment can instead address the information I have provided.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

To sad man -

I believe that freedom of expression should be honoured, and the state should not restrict expression short of an overwhelming public interest.

An example of overwhelming public interest would be if someone wanted to publicise how to make a nuclear bomb, or someone who issues angry calls to genocide.

For some kinds of non-mainstream expression, there is a time and a place (please distinguish this carefully from "there is no time and no place for it"). I can accept that the state may legislate the appropriate time and place, e.g. rating of movies, time-zoning of TV programs, locality-zoning of bars and pubs with nude dancing (and requiring warning notices at the doors), shrink-wrapping of books and magazines.

For other kinds of non-mainstream expression, e.g. walking down Orchard Road in a bikini, using coarse language at an academic forum, one can leave it to social forces. The state need not get involved.

I do not agree with using the "exceptions" approach. It opens the door to inconsistent application, which in turn creates questions of fairness. Secondly, it puts too much power in the hands of bureaucrats, which, as seen in many countries, then become a means of extracting bribes.

Anonymous said...

Alex, the banning of books about bomb-building or genocide is useless in Singapore...anyone who is interested can just fly to the U.S., buy the books legally and read them there. (Yes! Even "Home Workshop Explosives" is available!) So banning books in Singapore effectively just bans them for poor people. The rich can travel and learn. The rich can go to Amsterdam for marijuana too, while the poor in Singapore are left to hang.

Anonymous said...

To Boon:

"Not really, unless you feel that viewing male nudity is conducive to creative expression. Why can't it be expressed through other means?"

Artists dont ever operate like you might think, they do NOT read some random restrictions of a particular tiny city state and then craft a book or movie to fit those. They just do what they like to do, which is called freedom of (in this case, artistic) expression. Your argument is twisted the wrong way. Read again Part 2 and look at the old Italian sculpture, is this art or not art? How else could the artist express this? Why should he?

The second point that struck me is your mindest "there is a clear role, so let's stick to the role". What many in this country fail to ask themselves is WHY the rule came about in the first place, and whether we really need all those rules, cant we apply a bit common sense instead? Of course, even I would find a "full fronatal nudity" (of either sex!) pictures disturbing on a front page of a newspaper, in the 9:30 news or in the middle of Orchard road, but thats not we discuss here anyway.

Can anyone (like Boon, the first Singaporean I met who defends censorship so fiercly) explain to me what we GAIN by all those censorship rules? I believe many countries that are more relaxed are quite ok, no chaoas seen just because a bit more relaxed attitudes. I think there are better examples as the USA, just look at the very orderly societies of Scandinavia, nude people everywhere they have no problem with Saunas, nudist beaches, pictures, whatever. I dont think they have any trouble because of that. But they support families and kids much better, are more relaxed with certain attitudes, that's why they have a higher birth rate (around 2.1 instead of 1.1 babies per woman)! Thats all quite more important then defending outdated censorship rules and constraining artists.

Kelvin said...

I wonder if anyone has noticed that in the Chrismas edition of the Financial Times Weekend (printed in Singapore), there was a feature on the discovery of an ancient Roman copy of a Greek Statue of a nude male athlete.

I am sure that such an ancient piece of bronze would count as a work of art, but no, there was a nice white box right over where his genitalia.

Should I be glad that the powers that be did not resort to a black marker or a black band?

A couple of years back, a wonderful Renaissance painting that included several topless women had every single nipple blacked out with carefully placed black rectangles. A most surreal sight.

A Passerby said...

To Boon:

Your absolute confidence in the Powers That Be is singularly astounding. I don't personally care for full frontal nudity myself, for I have no intention of tainting my innocent youth, but then again I find it amusing that

a) What most men see when they look into the mirrors after a bath is something to be ashamed of, and
b) There are actually people who endorse that view.

Saying that "...unless you feel that viewing male nudity is conducive to creative expression. Why can't it be expressed through other means?" is unjustified, since

a) Viewing male nudity could be conducive to creative expression- you might be assuming that it is not. So if somebody feels that it IS conducive, then would YOU permit it?

b) Whoever said that male nudity has to be for creative expression? Does a man say to his wife, "See my male nudity and reflect on the truth of art"?

c) So what if it CAN be expressed by other means? Does it make any difference in terms of whether full frontal male nudity ought to be shown, and not censored (whoops, the evil C word appears)?

I don't know why but this controversy really is funny. Maybe if the MDA time travelled to 430BC Greece, their high moral standards (or whatever) might just get dampened by all the man-boy relationships around. Perhaps you might say "That's different. Society was different back then. Decadence was acceptable. Socrates was a man who had a wife and a lot of little boy friends but it was acceptable in those days. He is not Michael Jackson."

Isn't society decided by the people? So why is it that even after so long, we never seem to get anyway regarding this kind of censorship?

And what about the censorship of female nudity? "More acceptable"? What is THAT? So the MDA believes that having naked females posing is more acceptable than naked males? Why? Because naked females have been walking around for longer periods of times? So does this mean that men can go ahead and go buy FHM or whatever and enjoy themselves but women must not have their purity tainted? Or does this mean that men should be kept on their pedestals as a superior life form? (Although ironically, putting men on pedestals might mean that they are yet another David.)

Frankly, I just don't get the MDA.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Passerby I totally agree... why das Mr Boon never reply now?

I have one question, probably to Alex:

Some time ago I went to the play QUILLS in the DBS Repertory Theatre (Sept 2005). For much longer than an hour, a British actor was action in FULL NUDITY! Whereas I totally find this OK (the play was great anyway), I would think that seing a "live" male nude is by any means "more" than having one printed on paper, how come that the MDA did allow this one but bans a coffetable book?

Whever it comes to leadership, governance, ethics, etc. I look for consistency first. And this is where I have a consistant problem here in Singapore...

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Good point, your example of the play Quills. The difference between a licenced play and a book seems to be that the former is a ticketed event, where people have to pay for entry and then, as a arty-farty affair, only a small number of (elite?) people would be interested. A book, on the other hand is either on display for all and sundry to browse through, or even if it is shrinkwrapped, after it has been bought, who knows how many children the buyer will show the dirty pictures to.

The above isn't my reasoning but what I think the MDA's reasoning is.

Of course, the reasoning is still crap. Nobody who buys a $400 book is going to lend it around freely, or let kids with sticky fingers play with the book. But MDA is unable to view the situation as flexibly as that. Typically civil servants refer to the rulebook, which probably says, plays can be rated R18, but there is no rating system for books: either allow or ban.

Even the rationale that plays require ticketed admission and so it is safe, is kind of arguable. It suggests an underlying elitism: the educated arty crowd is able to handle/appreciate artistic nudity, but the ah beng is too weak-minded(?) uneducated (?) to handle, or to be trusted with something like that.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alex, here is the "Quills Anonymus" again (I shell be brave and stop to be anonymus at some point..).

Thanks for your explanation and the point of elite/common Ah Beng, this was new to me but thinking about it, the principle extends well to other areas and violates the EQUALITY claim found in any constitution.

For instance, the common citizen can read the ST or something like that and shell be ill-/misinformed, HOWEVER, the internetsavy, brave selected view can read your blog, the NATION to know about Shincorp, Electionwatch, Singaporedemocrat.com, etc. They can be well-informed, critical and will be upset here and there.

I heard of the 80-20 rule, where the majority are kept in the dark (or, to be blatant: as stupid as possible), and the 20% educated ones, well we dont really care... they might be upset, might leave Singapore, whatever but its only a minority anyway, one that can easily be replaced by FT.

Also note that 80% is not much different from 66%! (btw, how does this contribute to NATIONBUILDING?)

The SECOND downside of this concept: the "common man" who is double-nunnied by this hypocratic ridiculous MDA censorship will NEVER have a chance to grow out of this intellectual infantilism. How sad is this.

I wonder whether there are ways to challenge and expose the MDA rules and actions?

I guess the next example will be Francis new book BEYOND SUSPICION. I will go to Kinokunia now and ask whether they sell it, and if not I will chase it up. My gut feeling tells me that it will not be available here in Singapore, but probably by Amazon, or on some Airports outside Singapore. Again, the common Ah Beng will never read it and be kept in the dark. The 20% educated upset people will read it and continue to be upset.

Is this thing called NATIONBUILDING right?

Anonymous said...

Singapore's leaders have no public hair ... and no balls.

Anonymous said...

i totally agree with what you wrote. too many singaporeans are muddled and narrow-minded. singaporean men are threatened by anything that rocks their fragile, cultured superiority