Wednesday, October 28, 2009

They came, they saw, they dissented

At last week's talk at the National Library, a friend – who's a big comics aficionado – asked who we thought were the 'superheroes and supervillains' of our story. That neatly pre-empted Mark's lecture at the National Museum last Saturday, 'Heroes, villains and ordinary citizens: a short history of Singaporean dissent'.

In a darkened room one afternoon

Women, represent!
(Photo credits – Marcus [top], Deanna [bottom])

Nothing like having the word 'dissent' in the title to bring out some of Singapore's current dissenters. They chimed in avidly during the Q&A session that followed, highlighting further examples of dissenting figures in Singapore's history, as well as questioning different modes of or approaches to dissent (and the relative success thereof).

The last question of the session came from (surprise) a geographer, who wondered about about physical spaces of or for dissent in Singapore throughout its history. Our book alludes to these spaces, certainly – Chinatown was always a good place for a riot – but there's more still left to be explored. And then there are the modern-day spaces: not just Hong Lim Park and its government-designated Speaker's Corner, but also places where new behaviours impose themselves on prevailing orthodoxies. Just on Monday, a newspaper report highlighted the discomfort in HDB estates between Singaporeans residents and new immigrants:
Singaporeans' complaints range from the smell of alien cuisines wafting through their flats, the noise levels and the hanging of clothes along the common corridors. [...] When one Chinese national hung his country's flag outside his flat, netizens blasted him for being culturally insensitive.
Of course, a full history of Singaporean dissent would merit a whole other book or two, and as Mark mentioned in his lecture, '[it] would have to answer the question of why repertoires of dissent were not just suppressed, but basically went out of fashion.' Who's itching to write that, now?

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