That Singaporeans have criticised the SG50 endeavour should come as no surprise. Instead of seemingly frivolous projects, the five million dollars in the Celebration Fund could – with persistent inequities between households – finance welfare programmes or charitable organisations, some contend. What is so special about a golden jubilee which warrants so much fanfare? Besides expensive large-scale events even the community-led initiatives, from breaking records to school-based campaigns, appear superficial and short-sighted.
Thus far about three of the five million is devoted to more than 100 of these projects, with 250 proposals “being reviewed or being refined”, as reported early this year (ST, Jan. 4). The private sector has chimed in with even more money and resources, and in this vein the obligation to do something SG50-related is hard to deny, as the site “Simi Sai Also SG50” has picked up. Yet damned if you do, damned if you do not. Initiatives could be planned with the best of intentions, and in fact many – the yearlong SG50 Care and Share Movement, for instance – give back to communities through fund-raising and volunteerism.
These celebrations are in order, even as some lament the lack of spontaneity. The problem I figure lies not with the perceived “superficiality”, “short-sightedness”, or even the state-driven nature of these celebrations, but with the need for greater reflexivity and contemplation. We speak of the past fifty years with great pride and tinges of nostalgia, but less is said about different narratives or the ambiguity of the next fifty years. The value of celebrations – in the words of Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah – may be “an intangible thing” (ST, Jun. 5), yet they present opportunities to take stock and make plans.
And many fantastic stories are gaining traction amidst these celebrations. Triumphs against adversity and established conventions, they are. In the past weeks the government has bought commercial slots to feature Mr. William Tay, a student at Singapore Polytechnic who has scaled heights despite being born with a hearing disability, as well as Madam Wong Ah Woon, who started work as a young samsui woman, and is therefore responsible for the many buildings and infrastructure in the country. At the end of both videos viewers are encouraged to live their Singapore story, to “be a part of a better Singapore” as the country turns 50.
Be that as it may, the clip with Madam Wong drew some consternation, when her Cantonese segment was dubbed with an awkward Mandarin voiceover. It will be insisted that legislation prevents the broadcasting of content in dialect, although SG50 would seem like an opportune moment to challenge these norms. Little oddities which will define our way forward.
Efforts for greater reflexivity and contemplation could be driven by the government, though such conversations should emerge from Singaporeans too. And to some extent the Internet – with its messiness and peculiarities – has created some momentum. Feelings of jubilance and optimism are not going to let up until the big National Day bash in August, so let us take advantage of this celebratory atmosphere, engaging in more meaningful discourse.