Social Construction in the Internet Age

Posted: September 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

The date: September 8, 2010. The venue: Jalan Besar Stadium. The match: Young Lions vs Beijing Guoan. The now-infamous video posted above, featuring a brawl between the two sides was, taken then and there. It is a video that has ignited widespread indignation amongst many locals here in Singapore, with many making the Young Lions out to be the victims. A scene like this a mere ten years ago would have simply been a national issue; the footballing authorities would have looked into the issue and disciplined the parties involved.

In this increasingly globalised world however, international news agency Reuters has taken the time to publish a short story on the incident, giving the story a global audience. Stories like this that get published by international news agencies such as Reuters or the Associated Press construct an image of what Singapore is like to potential visitors.

Thankfully, for every incident such as this that causes negative publicity, there are many more which provide positive publicity such as the Youth Olympic Games, or the International Monetary Foundation-World Bank meet held in 2006, an event which hosted a multitude of some of the most powerful men in the financial industry. There was also the Singapore Grand Prix (2008-now), as well as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits which are rotated around the respective ASEAN nations.

However, as an ancient Chinese saying goes, it takes ten days for a good man to be corrupted by evil, and ten years for a wicked man to be virtuous. It is pretty safe to say that the single most salient issue that most foreigners remember Singapore for is that Michael Fay incident. For those not in the know, Michael Fay was an American citizen arrested in 2003 in Singapore for vandalism. He was charged in court and received a fine of SGD$3,500 and 6 strokes of the cane. The incident caused an uproar in the international community, with then-American President Bill Clinton sending a personal request for clemency to then-President of Singapore Ong Teng Cheong.  The request for clemency resulted in Michael Fay’s sentence being commuted to four strokes of the cane.

It used to be that whenever I went overseas and told people that I was from Singapore, one of three things would happen. Some of the people I talked to will profess an ignorance of where Singapore is. Others would raise an eyebrow and ask if chewing gum was really banned in Singapore. And yet others would chuckle and ask, “the country where Michael Fay got caned?”

The Chinese saying mentioned earlier comes into play here. Singapore’s image, which we painstakingly try to uphold, had been beaten down badly prior to 1995 with the ban of chewing gum and the Michael Fay caning. It received another bruising with the fracas at the football match in the video above.  Thankfully, other than that, there had not been much other major negative press generated from Singapore since then. And, one can always hope, the positive press that Singapore has been receiving will overshadow the negative.

I draw your attention to the Youtube page where the video above is hosted. You will find that the language used there is Portuguese. Dig a little further, and you will find that the uploader of the video is actually a resident of Brazil! Brazil is in South America, nowhere close to Asia, let alone Singapore. For the video to even surface there should be a warning to everyone that we all have to be wary of the image we project. Image is power, and Singapore needs to communicate the proper image to the world right now.

UK Reuters
“Singapore Whipping”
Youtube link for embedded video

  1. Ted says:

    honestly, i think that every country has their own controversies/scandals, so its impossible to have a perfect image. besides, reputation is a relative thing. and to what end would singapore be hoping to achieve by having a good social reputation? foreign talent? just take a look around, i dont see the expat population decreasing. so end of the day, i dont see the pt in making a big effort to ‘improve’ our current international image

  2. shaun says:

    You do realize the IMF and World Bank meeting in 2006 was also remembered because Singapore created a heavily-guarded protest zone in Suntec, and did not allow several international protesters entry into the country, and the Youth Olympics, though much trumpeted, did not actually receive much coverage outside of our country, right?

    But Singapore isn’t just known for the events which we broadcast to the world. We’re also recognized as being clean and efficient, not to mention economically successful; we’re known for having the mandatory death penalty (aggravated by the publication of an interview with a hangman in the Australian newspaper, The Age); we’re also known for the kind of students we send out to international competitions and to overseas universities (supposedly, in some universities we’re considered very “spoil market”).

    A country’s image goes beyond the events that end up in the media, whether traditional or new. We might not have that great an image, but we’re not doing that badly either.

  3. HoHoHo says:

    An issue like this in the past would not have raised so much speculation. Arguments and fights in soccer and other sporting event is so common nowadays as sportsmanship loses the importance as compared to winning the match.

    So why such a small issue has become the centre of attention in singapore and perhaps in other parts of the world?

    Maybe because we are in this globalised world where we are connected by the internet and surrounded by all kinds of mass media, small issues like this can be blown out of picture.

    Or maybe perharps of the controversial foreign talent scheme in singapore? People are keeping a close watch on any issues relating to foreign talent in Singapore as it is a heartland problem.
    What if the match was between geylang united and tampines rover?
    Do you think the match would have been cancelled and raised so much attention in singapore?

  4. Angeline says:

    I feel that this incident is not sufficiently substantial to tarnish Singapore’s image greatly. It is true that in this time and age, many people were made aware of this issue in a relatively short time and thus may have negative impressions on the parties involved. However, this incident may be dismissed as the inability of the youths to rein in their emotions seeing as their average ages being around 20 for both teams.

    Instead of concentrating on how to bring the country’s image up another level, i feel that good sportsmanship should be of greater importance and emphasised so that such incidents can be avoided in the future.

  5. Rawbeanladen says:

    I see your concern on how others may view Singapore because of this video. Based on the social construct, it would depict Singapore in negative light. However a few black sheep is hardly an accurate reflection of anything. Let’s hope that the rest of the world would be less judgmental.

  6. weeklyscope says:

    I feel that Singapore was not entirely to blame for this episode. If I’m not wrong, it was the Chinese team who had started the brawl. However, Singapore cannot be entirely free from blame as ‘it takes two hands to clap.’ as the saying goes. Instead of berating the participants, more efforts should be focused on aspects such as sportsmenship and so on. Educating the youth should be the key thing here.

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