Economist, 24 May 2001 print edition
NO LAUGHING MATTER: despite talk of an opening-up, politics on the
island remains a one-sided affair.
reads the slogan on name-cards handed out by members of Think Centre, a tiny Singaporean
pressure-group. It is a bold notion: since independence, Singaporeís rulers have
been so secure in office that the only aspect of politics in need of reinvention has been the
opposition, whose leading lights have trodden a forlorn path of defamation suits, criminal prosecution and emigration. But in
recent years even Goh Chok Tong, the prime minister, has been talking of the need for "a new vision for Singapore, an ideal, a
fresh mindset". Are refreshing breezes wafting through the political climate?
Not really: sitting so close to the equator, Singapore does not
have anything as dramatic as the season temperate countries call "spring". Yet there are subtle variations of temperature, and a
number of initiatives suggest a warming-up: last September, in Hong Lim park in central Singapore, a "Speakersí Corner" opened.
Think Centre itself has made quite a splash, as has a non-partisan political-discussion group, the Roundtable; and the Internet has
opened up free-wheeling debate and even, on talkingcock.com, a
site devoted to Singapore, political satire.
"All a show," says J.B. Jeyaretnam, a nominated MP, who constitutes a third of the opposition: the ruling Peopleís Action
Party (PAP) won 81 out of the 83 elected seats in the last election, in 1997. Mr Jeyaretnamís bitterness is understandable. He
has been declared bankrupt for failing to meet payments of damages awarded in defamation suits (not, on this occasion,
brought by members of the cabinet). If an appeal to be heard in July fails, he will lose his parliamentary seat and be disqualified
from the next election, expected later this year or early next. One of Think Centreís recent reinventions was to help organise a "Save
JBJ" fund-raising rally. It produced some S$19,000 ($10,000), towards the S$235,000 needed.
Already, in December, Think Centre had arranged an event at
Speakers' Corner, to mark international human-rights day. That provoked a police investigation and a warning, since it smacked of
an organised demonstration. When it first opened, Speakers' Corner attracted hundreds of visitors. It now keeps going largely
thanks to one stalwart speaker, Tan Kim Chuang, a stockbroker, with a loyal audience of a dozen or so middle-aged and elderly
men. Mr Tan has already spoken more than 50 times and, one day this month, was one of just three names on the list, posted at the
conveniently adjacent Kreta Ayer Neighbourhood Police Post, of those registered in advance to speak.
Like so much else in Singapore, Speakers' Corner is based on an
idea by Lee Kuan Yew, the senior minister, and comes with restrictions. The topics of race and religion are out of bounds,
speakers must register and no amplification is allowedóprompting talkingcock.com to joke that now Singaporeans have the right to
speak, they need the right to hear.
Nevertheless, Singapore is a more relaxed and open place than it
was, both socially and, despite strict censorship, culturally. Simon Tay, an unaffiliated nominated member of parliament, detects "a
sense of tentative change, and of government seeking to manage social change". But, politically, the dominance of the PAP is as
secure as ever. Partly that is a result of its success. With GDP per head higher than Britain's, Singapore is a safe, modern, high-rent
enclave in an increasingly dodgy neighbourhood. Why fool around with opposition politics?
The passage last year of a law on political-party finance has made
the opposition's life even harder. It bans foreign funds and anonymous donations by Singaporeans of more than S$5,000 in
any one year. And the government carefully polices those it believes may meddle in
domestic politics, such as the foreign media. Last month it amended its broadcasting legislation to make
it clear that satellite-television news stations were subject to the same rules that apply to the foreign press, in whose pages the
government demands a right of replyósee, no doubt, next week's issue of The Economist.
Think Centre itself, along with another group, the Open Singapore
Centre, chaired by Mr Jeyaretnam, were both named in March as "political associations", subject to the political-donations law. In
response, Think Centre announced it would field candidates at the next election. This, it later revealed, was an April Fool's Day joke.
It did not go down well. In Singapore, politics is no laughing matter.
FHM, October 2000
'PLEASE DON'T TALK COCK, LAH!'
Reverence for our most overlooked gift of the gab...
Forget Project Eyeball and its brash
exclamations about being the "voice" of the digital
generation - if we wanted something nobody read, we'd buy a road map
of the North Pole, thanks. And let's not get started on the dailies.
But at last, the news hungry can now turn
to an alternative source for local news beyond the government mouthpiece.
So what if online tabloid Talking Cock
doesn't have the journalistic integrity of our local dailies, it remains
the paragon of local sub-cultures that are otherwise shunned in Parliament
Thank the Net Gods that some gushy
columnist isn't exploiting valuable news space on the virtues of the
latest government policies on this site.
Lim Peh (say that in a Hokkien way),
resident cynic on policy making and regulation in Singapore, will no doubt
entertain you with his charming column Lim Peh Ka Li Kong. It even
has an online dictionary, the Lexicon of Lah, where the Sotong can
find definitions of Singlish idioms and words.
See bei ho liao!
Eyeball, 19 September 2000 07:00AM
SATIRE SITES PART OF 'NEW APPROACH' TO POLITICS
By G Sivakkumaran
They may be here to stay, but to what effect?
LOCAL political satire sites may examine serious issues tongue-in-cheek, but are they here to stay?
Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharuddin certainly thinks so.
They are part of a growing appetite for a more casual approach to politics, with the Internet as the new medium.
And this certainly seems to apply to www.talkingcock.com and
www.mrbrown.com, which Eyeball featured yesterday as examples of
Singapore's political satire sites.
But how do they compare with more "serious" websites like Sintercom
and Think Centre in terms of reaching out?
Well, that depends on what the online community wants.
National University of Singapore lecturer Dr Randy Kluver believes that
people who visit websites with a political content do so because of their
interest in it.
And this, too, may be a small number, as he thinks the majority of people
log on for entertainment rather than politics.
Dr Kluver, who lectures on the Information and Communication Management
Programme, added that those who visit such sites tend to be more discerning as "they would see which sites they identify with".
So they would log on to the different websites depending on whether they want humour or more serious political discussion.
"Singapore is not like China, where the Internet has broken the State's
monopoly over news.
"There is greater freedom of information here, so the impact might not be so great," he said.
But like it or not, the Government has to live with it.
Political-discussion websites like Sintercom have been in existence for a few years now.
More are springing up, including satire sites. And they are a virtual kopi
tiam, only that now they can "talk cock" from home.
They have a wider audience, too, given the immense reach of the Internet.
The question, therefore, is: Can the readers tell humour from facts?
"It takes a bit of maturity to understand the issues behind it," said Dr Kluver.
He added that immature readers might get access to a mature medium like the Internet, and problems could arise from that, especially if any of the websites touch on issues pertaining to race and religion.
However, Wilfrid, who responded to yesterday's article in Eyeball on
political satire, believes that there is no serious threat to society.
"We should be mature enough to distinguish between 'politics' and
'humour out of politics'."
Given this, the impact of these websites could actually be less than
Dr Kluver believes that the impact of the satrical websites on local politics may be negligible.
So satire, at the end of the day, is about having a good laugh. And this is
what Wilfrid wants.
"Who cares what's right or wrong? Someone has a view and makes a
joke out of it, so that you can just laugh at it and have a nice day," he said.
The question is, will everyone see it that way? Are Singaporeans mature
enough an audience for political satire?
Eyeball, 18 September 2000 07:00AM
SERIOUSLY FUNNY: websites take a satirical look at all things S'porean
by Lim Puay Leng and G Sivakkumaran
"By poking fun at the serious issues, these websites get their message across. It is light-hearted and yet political at the same time. Satire is the best form of political commentary."
Bob Ho, 26, researcher
'Our only agenda is to have a good rip-snorting laugh at anything
and everything Singaporean.'
BC,the editor of TalkingCock
WANT to talk cock?
No, we're not being rude. Crude, maybe - but then, the local creators of
talkingcock.com, who invite people to do just that on their website, are
not out to be politically or socially correct.
Dedicated to all things Singaporean with a decidedly satirical twist, they
take the mickey out of anything - including political issues.
Just take the cue from their irreverent pseudonyms: "Big Cock" and "The
Hen of God".
Political satire or humorous social commentary in Singapore may sound
like a mad contradiction, but believe it or not, www.talkingcock.com is
BrownTown, at www.mrbrown. com, has long been a local legend among Netizens as a website that examines nuggets of Singaporean life in a wry, humorous fashion.
In fact, when site updates stopped appearing last year, it sparked off
widespread murmurs (including a recent thread on SinterCom) on what
had happened to "mr. brown", aka Lee Kim Mun, 31.
With their growing number of fans, both sites, it seems, have found a
formula uniquely different from sites with heavier socio-political messages, like SinterCom or Think
Centre: How to put serious issues across with an irreverent twist.
Take TalkingCock. Its latest story is about scholars who have volunteered to chain themselves to long-range, remote-controlled bombs that can be activated by their employers if they break their bonds.
It has quotes from "Chua Sah Kah" and "Ankat Bollah", two scholars
who agreed with this. There is also a "news in briefs" announcing three
days' insemination leave for civil servants, and why some people find Fann Wong's book a heavy read.
BrownTown's top draw has been its "alternative" Singapore National
Education (SNE) series - with observations of local life that are downright hilarious, if somewhat dated, considering that it was last updated in April last year.
Gems include learning with mr.brown that "the way to increase customer
satisfaction and higher usage of Public Transport is to charge more, make them go to work before 7.30 am to save 10 cents, and create more standing room in the MRT and Tibs buses".
Or, "...that the Nation's most-listened-to Radio Station...that has really
great traffic news, cannot be heard in CTE tunnels (but the rest of the
EASIER TO CHEW ON
IRREVERENT? Yes. Irrelevant? Maybe. Hilarious? It certainly is.
But is there more going on here than a simple ha-ha session?
SinterCom's editor Tan Chong Kee said he used to visit BrownTown
once or twice a week until Lee stopped updating it.
"I'd rather say that they are commenting on serious issues with wit and
BC, the editor of TalkingCock who told Eyeball he prefers to stay
anonymous, says: "We want to believe that Singaporeans are smart and
sophisticated enough to laugh at ourselves and our milieu. Too often, have we been painted as people who are thin-skinned and who lack a sense of
"Basically, our only agenda is to have a rip-snorting laugh at anything and everything Singaporean."
Laughter can be the best medicine, and also a medium for getting an
otherwise heavy message across.
"Humorous sites make the often complex political issues more easily
digestible," says marketing executive Mackie Ann Tan Eng, 22.
Morgan Chua, 51, who in his time as a cartoonist at the Singapore Herald was famous for his political satire, argues: "I think Singaporeans are smart and mature enough to distinguish between what is fun and what is not."
Are Singaporeans ready to appreciate this brand of dry
Lee, or mr.brown, says the amount of e-mail he gets certainly shows they
are. But operations executive Ravi Menon, 25, thinks Singaporeans don't have a sense of humour - especially in the self-deprecating style these websites adopt.
The figures might argue differently: TalkingCock has had 6,528 hits in the one month since it began, while BrownTown has had almost 150,000
since September 1997.
The question for some may be whether authorities in Singapore are ready to accept it.
A line from TalkingCock.com asks in jest: "Why is TalkingCock operating from the USA? You think they'll allow this kind of nonsense in Singapore for long?"
Lee thinks that the Government may not be ready for this kind of
"But they know that they cannot censor everything," he says.
Samuel Leong, editor of his own local forum, says the sites bring in some much-needed
"Satire and politics always go hand in hand. If the Government could
develop a sense of humour too, it would definitely make life in Singapore a lot more bearable."
Humour and politics are a potent mix. To some, it may not be endearing.
But to others, as Lee terms it, it is a "vent".
Or, as executive H C Chan, 23, says, "Call it chicken soup for the soul if
There is no fowl play in that.
Kick off your shoes, relax, and become the closet Ah Beng you have
always wanted to be.
That seems to be the aim of this website that doesn't seem to have any
According to the website, both editor Big Cock and Chief 'Eggsecutive'
Officer The Hen of God are based in New York, and they have a variety
of contributors who can contribute "articles which normally would not see
The inspiration for TalkingCock is Singapore life itself, with all its little
irritations and pleasures that we take for granted, and above else the smell of D24 durian.
And the appeal for money is very sincere indeed. As BC told us: "You
won't believe how much durian costs here!"
And oh yeah, make sure you go through the lexicon of lah while you are at
The New Paper, 14th August 2001
Only joking, folks
IT'S a popular, irreverent website that takes the mickey out of all things Singaporean - much of it through satire. Mock news articles such as "ISD and SDU to merge" and a gameshow spoof "Who wants to be a Minister?" can be found on Talkingcock.com, a US-based site launched a year ago.
Its Singaporean webmasters claim it is not a political website, since anything from sports to Singlish can be made fun of. They warn visitors: "Do not believe what we write!"
Mr Low Thia Khiang wanted to know if such a site, not registered with the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA), would fall under the new rules.
All political websites are required to register with the SBA, to ensure that they are responsible and accountable for their content.
Last month, several websites, including the forum Sintercom, were told to register.
Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng clarified that the Bill covered only sites defined by SBA as political sites.
He said: "Anything else is not covered by this Bill, that's my understanding of it. TalkingCock.com today is not gazetted as a political site, not yet - not that I know of - so it is not covered.
"But should it be involved in political discussion, should it be involved in the way that Think Centre had been involved, then we'll consider including it as a political site."
But is the issue so clear-cut?
Earlier, Mr Lee Yock Suan had said they would have to study the law, but "my impression is that they are liable... whoever targets Singaporeans, I think our laws will apply then."
Mr Low asked: So did this mean that any website - not just registered political ones - could be prosecuted under the law?
Mr Lee stressed that the rules were intended for the main political parties and non-party political websites with a wide reach.
"At the other end, there will be the individual websites which we are not concerned about. In between is a grey area, so it's a bit difficult for me to be very specific now. We will have to see what actually happens.
"The Government will be very reasonable and fair in whatever action it takes. And whatever action it takes has to be defended, you know. I mean if we are unreasonable, that might cost us votes," he added.
Thursday September 20, 10:09 AM
Satirical Singapore Web site inspires spoof film
By Amy Tan
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Satirical Singapore Web site TalkingCock.com will take its brand of irreverent humour to the silver screen next year with the message that Singaporeans should not take themselves too seriously.
The year-old site, whose name in local slang means to speak rubbish or nonsense, lampoons without prejudice and commands some 150,000 hits a day.
"It's really about celebrating the silly side," founder and editor Colin Goh told Reuters in an interview. "We're the Singapore equivalent of Mad Magazine or The Onion."
TalkingCock.com was mentioned in parliament this year as the government looked into new rules for political content on the Internet before the next election.
It was cited as an example of a Web site that was not censored and had not been asked to register as a site with political content.
Goh says the site, which was set up as a gag and survives on donations, was never meant to be a serious forum.
"We only touch politics in the sense that it forms part of the everyday existence of Singaporeans," he said.
While the site takes a light-hearted stance, two of its editors and some 15 to 20 Singaporean contributors have chosen to guard their identities in the strait-laced city state.
"There's a certain level of caution some people feel is necessary when you're doing unorthodox work in Singapore," said Goh, a lawyer turned full-time writer and cartoonist who is now based in New York.
Goh said he had not had any problems with censorship from the Singapore government.
TONGUE FIRMLY IN CHEEK
Like other news sites, TalkingCock.com offers a range of local and international coverage, columns, feature stories and forums but often adds an irreverent spin.
One story on the recent landmark agreements between Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia credited a battalion of undercover hooligans from the city state for its success.
Another yarn had it that an outspoken local civil rights activist, faced with a drunk driving charge, had been drunk all the while and was mortified at the views he had expressed.
But the most popular section remains its 800-word "Coxford Singlish Dictionary" -- believed to be the most comprehensive lexicon of Singapore slang.
The printed version is due to hit book stores in October to guide the uninitiated through the mishmash of English, Malay and Chinese words and sentence structures heard on the streets.
Classic snippets of Singlish like "shiok", "gatal" and "blur" will be transformed into the more understandable "delicious", "flirtatious" and "clueless".
"TalkingCock: The Movie" hopes to offer some of the site's irreverent spirit and a hefty dose of Singlish to the big screen.
Goh, who wrote the screenplay, will direct the film with his wife and site co-editor, Joyceln Woo. Award-winning veteran Singapore film maker Eric Khoo will produce it.
Four linked stories will spoof Singapore at its best.
In keeping with the times, a tertiary student decides to turn his father's illegal money lending business into a dot.com.
A man finds his life falling apart after he loses his cellular phone in tech-savvy, mobile-crazed Singapore.
A romance in a bun shop adds a lighter touch, while a hardcore rock group grapples with an identity crisis when forced to become a boy band for commercial survival.
Goh hopes to make the movie with a meagre budget of S$140,000 ($81,000) and is looking for a cast of volunteer actors.
"There is a lot of talent out there amongst regular people, which is pretty much the spirit of the site," he said.
The movie is due to screen in February.
"We want to let people see that it's OK to be human and laugh at their own failings," Goh said. "Other countries have no trouble realising that they are not infallible. I think Singapore has to unclench and get a little fibre in its diet."