A letter to the ST Forum:
ST July 14, 2009
Horrified by many profanities in matinee show on NS life
I ATTENDED the matinee show Own Time Own Target at the Drama Centre in the National Library building over the weekend. One magazine lauded it as a 'laugh out loud, rediscovery of zany side of national service'. I presumed this meant it was a family-type show and took my two teenage sons, aged 16 and 14, to the show on the premise of a MediaCorp-owned magazine review.
To my horror, I was cringing uncomfortably in my seat the whole show, highly disturbed by the language used. I do not have a problem that the language was coarse and in dialects. But it was offensive when every sentence and curse uttered by the officers (rightly or wrongly, provoked or otherwise) at the NS boys in the drama was a profanity of the female genitals.
The show was a full house, with young and old, males and females equally represented. I am sure I was not the only one who was disturbed by the excessive cursing and swearing by the officers at the recruits. My observation was that people laughed out loud not at the clumsiness of the recruits but mostly because they felt uncomfortable with the profanities.
As a mother, I find it hard to imagine that after years of sheltered school life where students are taught values, to be gentlemanly and polite and respect their elders, these boys have to do NS run by officers who do not blink an eye when they curse their mother, sister, girlfriend and the whole female population by way of conversation.
My boys were shocked to realise that NS is a rite of passage where they will be officially subjected to bullying, shouting and cursing - nothing gentlemanly at all.
If this is a light-hearted look at life of NS boys during basic military training, I fear to know what my boys will face in their real-life situation when they enlist. Please, someone, assure me this is not so.
Wee Hua Boey (Mdm)
Laremy Lee is one of the two playwrights for the above show. He happens to be a fan of my blog and my poetry book. He also gave me two free tickets to watch his play. I'll be going this weekend, with my wife. Thanks again, Laremy.
But no, I am not bringing my kids to the show. Why not? Well, the MDA advisory for the show clearly states, "Strong language (16 years and above)". My kids are below 16, so that's that.
Mdm Wee should have read the advisory too. What's she doing, bringing her 14-year-old kid to the play? Surely the MDA advisory was clear enough. She has no grounds to complain now.
But don't worry, Mdm Wee. When your sons go to NS, they will definitely receive their fair share of curses and swear words. But if they're most other people's sons, they'll quickly get into the habit of doing a lot of army cursing and swearing of their own. It's just another kind of vocabulary. :D
I couldn't help but feel amused by Mdm Wee's sentiments. "My boys were shocked to realise that NS is a rite of passage where they will be officially subjected to bullying, shouting and cursing - nothing gentlemanly at all."
That's so ... quaint. This is the army, my dear. The boys are supposed to learn how to shoot the enemies, bomb them to bits, kill them with a bayonet etc. No, there's nothing very elegant or gentlemanly about war.
What are my views about the use of profane language in movies and plays? I don't think well of gratuitous profanities (that is, where profanities are used just for the sake of using them). On the other hand, in some contexts, profanities are pretty much ... necessary.
It would be very seriously difficult to do a proper movie/play about soldiers and military life, without featuring some profane language. The show just wouldn't be authentic or realistic. It would just be ... fake and dishonest.
I once watched a BBC documentary about the British commandos (it was on the Singtel Mio channel). That was a documentary, so it's as real as any TV show can get. The BBC featured the commando training and also interviewed some commandos. For the interview segments, about every 15 seconds or so, the soundtrack would go beeeeep, to edit out a bad word popping out of the soldier's mouth. And that's when the man was trying to speak politely (because he was being interviewed on TV).
That's the reality. The army is just not the the place where people go around saying please, thank you, excuse me, you're welcome etc.
Incidentally, my own poetry book, Two Baby Hands, contains a few instances of profane language too. Profanities show up in three or four poems (out of a total of about sixty poems). As a poet, I am very, very particular about every single word I use in each poem. It just turns out that sometimes, a profane word is the best word. And artistically, you just gotta stay true to your vision, you know what I mean?
Below is one of those poems. Somewhere in it, I used the word fucking. There was really no other option. Making love would have been totally wrong, for the context involved no love. Fornicating would have been too pretentious. Having sex would have been just too colourless. But fucking ... In the poem's context, it was definitely the best word. No regrets.
Incidentally, this poem was part of a set that won me $10,000 in a national literary competition.
Outside a noisy bus station
on a bright hot day,
I met a young man
about my age
who wore jeans, a singlet
and a smile as bright as
his twinkling eyes.
He knew I was from
out of town and
to make sure I understood him,
he spoke in Malay, Hokkien,
and broken English,
offering to get me anything,
anything I might possibly need -
a taxi, a cab, a place to stay,
a coach ticket or a woman
("All my girls, clean!" he said confidently)
and a room to go, immediately available,
here he jerked his thumb up
to point out the upper floor of the
old coffee shop next to us.
Downstairs, there were students,
clerks and blue-collar workers
having lunch, but
upstairs, by a
dark narrow stairway,
was another kind of trade altogether.
That night I stayed at the
looked out from
my eighth floor window,
and saw him, still there,
on the other side,
cheerfully accosting passers-by
with his offers.
I could not help but
in a little room
above a coffee shop
to the sound of honking traffic
warm naked flesh pressing mine
while downstairs he talks
to strangers, trying to get
one more body
for the night.