Singapore Social – Because We Can Sink Too Low

Between Singapore Social and the release of Disney+, you know it’s time to move to Canada.

Singapore Social is a Netflix program that is supposedly a representation of Singapore–more specifically its youth, and consequently, the people who would fall into the classification of this generation.

Nicole Ong on Singapore Social

It is also, conveniently everything utterly abhorrent of today’s idea of content creation as well as a disgusting attempt by the delusional and desperate to identify themselves as the caricatures of the already caricatured personas they are exposed to on… well, I don’t know–probably, social media.

I mean, what’s the worst thing a Singaporean could actually find on TV, really.

Something Toggle could laugh at

To quote my favourite response to Singapore Social thus far:

I was wondering how Netflix put out a show that Toggle could laugh their asses off at.

The quote, which is a reply to a comment, can be found on Yahoo Singapore’s Facebook post.

To elaborate, Toggle’s laughable. An extension of (yet another) local embarrassment, MediaCorp, Toggle (soon to be meWATCH) has often attempted to brand itself as the edge of the blunted knife that is our state television network. Presumably, Toggle’s greatest accomplishment has been the bottom-of-the-rotten-barrel Trendsetters.

A painfully unfunny and downright miserable attempt at comedy, its greatest sin is attempting to appropriate the characters and premise of beloved American sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Touted as (what could only be the punchline to this 9-episode tragedy) a ‘Toggle Original,’ the positive note was the backlash it received.

Tan Kheng Hua of Phua Chu Kang.
Image credit: Buro.

Actually, the greatest sin was casting the awesome Tan Keng Hua in a role that suited the likes of a Night Owl Cinematics… “actor?”

From being called out for its blatant attempt at essentially ripping off another show, to the condemnation of trying to homogenise the Singaporean person and culture through an American filter, Trendsetters failed to, well, trend.

However, where Trendsetters should have been a cautionary tale, the intellectual elites behind Singapore Social decided to double down on the desperate need to be America-lite and realise the potential of local television

Because we needed Jersey Shore: Singapura

Local entertainment is also known for its shameless ‘adaptation’ of foreign content. Alongside great homegrown content like Under One Roof and Growing Up, were also The Pyramid Game and Who Wants to Be a Millionnaire.

Of course, it can be, rightfully, argued that the aforementioned game shows–much like many later generation reality and variety content–were adaptations of pre-existing foreign content. And there is no problem with that–not inherently, anyway.

Even with the generic and somewhat bland model of franchising tested formulas, there were missteps. I.e., our local attempt at Wheel of Fortune and The Weakest Link. And while there was truly talent to be found, let’s not forget the joke that was our attempt at aping the judges of American Idol.

Ken Lim sits on the panel of Singapore Idol.

But, for all of our desperate need to import a little bit of American media into our televised content, never did we sink as low as perpetuating the myth of the Singaporean glitterati. Our local television insisted on the illusion of a sanitised nation to the extent of permitting one type of brown skin per minority race with the excuse of “cultural ratio,” and prevented the accidental broadcast of an original or actually thought-provoking opinion which risked upsetting the supposedly non-existent national agenda.

But still, it remained (if this could be considered a good thing?), sanitised. Never would the media watchdogs and cultural gatekeepers allow for the trash of Jersey Shore to wash up on the already cluttered sands of Changi Beach.

Though, on a separate note, we really kinda need to do something about how messed up our shores are. We’re probably the only country where “seaside property” means prison–and for good reason.

Don’t blame just Singapore Social

I’m sorry if I made it sound like I was just gonna rant about Singapore Social. The truth is, there is a plague upon our people, but a symptom is a warning/result, not the root.

The truth of the matter lies in the fact that, as Singaporeans, we are frequently told to aspire to be otherwise. A decade or so ago, we were told, for arguably good reasons, to not celebrate the likes of Singlish and the incorrect grammar that it encouraged. Fair enough–after all, it is in the nation’s (and, I guess, people’s) best interest to maintain the more accurate image of Singapore as a nation of learned, globalisation-prepared individuals.*

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the desire to be a culture of modern, educated people with a conscious understanding of our roots and values was forgotten and, worse, became polarised

It is no longer possible for a person living in a HDB flat with a void deck-oriented childhood could also be an affluent, white-collar executive. Or that the grammar bashing “beng” stereotype could also be a degree-holding savant in his field.

At least not in the eyes of the media that seeks to shape the Singaporean view of themselves.

While I’m sure there must be much to blame, the examples of recent television “content” such as Lion Moms, Tanglin, and Kin come to mind.

While all essentially revolve around similar attention-begging drama, a recurrent theme stands out: affluence. Either the subjects are affluent, or they seek to be affluent. And affluence as both an ideal and an image is singularly portrayed.

The pseudo-American accented characters (god knows from where in America), their delivery, the situations in which their lives unravel, and the drama that exemplifies these supposedly-representative characters all paint an image:

That Singaporeans are not good enough to be Singaporean.

And, quite possibly, this has negatively impacted our impressionable, still-maturing generations and the ones to come. After all, if alongside all the content we attempt to ape, is content which depicts us acting (just about the only acting actually happening on screen) as portraits we seem to idealise, then what else can our youth believe?

*I still do believe that Singaporeans are a group of learned individuals prepared for the world. We just need to be reminded that of ourselves sometimes.

The Trendsetters and Thought-Leaders of Singapore

With a quick glance, the cast of Singapore Social is essentially the who’s who of every parent’s nightmare (that, and having your son qualify for NUS, apparently).

Prior to the show, I was only mildly familiar with the ex-Singapore Idol contestant who, I think, had something to do with sports (journalism?). From my brief, but excruciating, exposure to Singapore Social, I learnt that she’s a singer-songwriter who has recently released a single and a music video.

Congratulations, it is an achievement and I hope that whatever the verdict on Singapore Social is, she is not robbed of it.

But the scene in question is framed by her conversation with a fellow cast member who, with all the subtlety of a person reading a script glued to the inside of their shades, asks her about her “video.”

Note: It doesn’t help that the editing of this show feels like it was done by a secondary school’s AV Club member on Windows Movie Maker. Perhaps there was more elegance to the original delivery of the question, but all the cheap pretense of the show essentially turns every line into cause for blunt force trauma.

Nauser, the singer-songwriter, proceeds to touch on how she’s in the process of creating a music video and laments that she “doesn’t want to do the same things [she] did” (as her previous MVs). In an exercise of razor-sharp irony, the scene cuts to a montage of one of her videos: a less than elegant aping of a generation’s worth of derivative, over-produced, drivel accompanied by suitably garish visuals.

Mae Tan on Singapore Social

And to perfect the mentioned slash of irony is the return to location with Nauser stating “the song is already so personal.” Following this stunning revelation of personality, a brainless exchange with another specimen of the cast is brutally cut with a random shot of the token “we-got-white-guy-so-we-cool” featured star waving at clueless extras as an indication of his popularity.

This is Paul, the greatest douchebag to wash up on our shores since… well, remember what I mentioned about needing to clean our beaches?

I start with this scene, occurring mid-episode, because it gives me the most screenshot worthy moments. Almost every line spoken is a gem of eye-roll inducing idiocy, and if nothing else has, this collection of moments is the devastating slap of realisation we’ve needed.

From branding Ah Douche the “Mayor of Singapore” (‘cause having a president and a prime minister wasn’t already a waste of funds), to reducing the Singaporean woman to being objects flinging themselves onto him, it is this scene that best highlights the depths of moral degradation to which we’ve sunk.

Not that watching the episode in its intended sequence doesn’t carry merit.

Crazy, Rich, and–apparently–Asian

The episode, entitled “Generation Asian,” by the way (irony or comedy, we will never know), frames itself with a meeting of minds with cosplay rejects from a recent White Chicks convention.

Their drink: wine, or any substance that will make them sound moderately intelligent* to the other. The matter of discourse: Vinny, a moderately well-kempt hobo whose love life with his keeper/social worker has preceded the 38 Oxley debacle for the social elite.

To save your time (and your will to live), I will not further explain the nature of his relationship or whether there is a happy ending to it (turns out she was just a figment of his imagination the whole time!) and instead leave it to this:

Sukki Singapora on Singapore Social. Screenshot.

On that note, I’m faced with the displeasure of having to discuss this Sukki person. Known as the “first international burlesque performer from Singapore,” I hear that she is apparently a pretty cool person. As someone who has helped push the boundaries of normalising sexuality in a local context, it is a pity that her resume will now, invariably, include her involvement with Singapore Social.

But perhaps I am adamant to find one damn silver aluminium lining. There are moments where this one subject best expresses the outraged common sense of the viewer:

  • when she, with genuine confusion, questions her co-specimen’s drunken choice to get her lip tattooed. It’s not the act or the location of the tattoo–which, while painful, is every body’s own right–but that of having it done while inebriated.
  • her general expression when in the presence of the hobo and his keeper.
  • her sheer disbelief when anything is said by the White Chick cosplayer.

Unfortunately, there’s still this:

Sukki Singapora on Singapore Social

*Substance abuse is still frowned upon in Singapore regardless of what you thought while watching this show. Also, by “frowned upon,” I mean you can be literally hung “by the neck till [you are] dead.” 

Social Studies

If, beyond this, you still choose to watch Singapore Social (after all, can it really be that bad?) I wish you all the luck in the world.

But it is important that the right lesson is learnt: it is not the platforms which corrupt, but the voices heard the loudest that impress.

Singapore Social should scare the members of Singaporean society. If the reflection that is shown is not what you wish seen, then disallow outsiders from holding up the distortive mirror. It is better that the “Singaporean Identity” remains pondered and sought after than to simply allow this demeaning portrait to be painted.

Regardless of my absolute abhorrence for Singapore Social and utter disgust with anyone who would have allowed themselves to be associated with it, I hope the young cast find some purpose beyond the meandering pointlessness of living out the failings of social media.

And I hope the well-kempt hobo gets some kind of housing support. It’s apparently a real problem in Singapore these days.

Also, Paul Douchebag, elections are just next year. I don’t know about “Mayor of Singapore” but I believe Pulau Keluar is looking for some representation.

It’s not all bad!

Oh, I’m not talking about the content of the show–that is all bad. But thanks to Singapore Social, we now have this gem of a Singaporean hero:

Tossing the salad on Singapore Social. Screenshot.

Ah, unnamed White Chicks cosplay reject, you are the national leader we’ve needed. I sense strong Marine Parade GRC MP-potential in you.

Who am I?

I believe, for the purpose of context, it’s relevant to know who I am. But the article, for all intent and purpose has concluded–be warned.

A man rolls his eyes and looks away on the set of Tabitha on the set of Singapore Social.
My favourite character.

My name’s Ryan. I am 31 (born in 1988, if the math needs to be updated beyond 2019). I am, so I’m told, a Millennial*. That is not a band, neither is it yet another group of mutants in the Marvel multiverse. I have, and use, and enjoy the functions of social media–mostly Facebook. I do have an Instagram account which I use to like pictures my friends post, and to support my hardworking social media-responsible colleagues.

Also important, is the full disclosure that I’m a local content creator, and it could be perceived that I absolutely detest Singapore Social because I strongly believe that any of my work would be a stronger–and less moronic–representation of our country and its people. That said, this is not an indication of me believing my work to be superior, but rather how utterly idiotic Singapore Social is.

*That should totally be a band of mutants in the Marvel universe!

Author: Ryan Mennen

Ryan Mennen is an excessively passionate geek who has been said to put the 'fan' in 'fanatic.' It has also been said that only he has said that. With over 14 years of script writing and doctoring experience for film, television, comics, and theatre, Ryan's true passion lies in creating homegrown content for a global audience. Having grown up on a specialist­ recommended diet of comic books, cartoons, movies, and fried meats, Ryan is on a crusade to spread the love of superheroes in Singapore while also working on an iconic hero for his homeland! Unfortunately, said crusade has been a little slow due to him not finding a steed that can bear his weight. You can blame the fried meats for that.

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