Jack Neo – What Has He Done This Time?

11 Sep

On Saturday, 10 September 2011, The New Paper ran a story on local actor-turned-movie director Jack Neo and a 121-line poem he had posted on his blog. In the poem, he commented on the recent cases of graffiti attacks on SMRT trains and the subsequent apology of SMRT’s president and CEO, Saw Phaik Hwa, had to make to the public. Also, in his poem, he was said to have written that the sight of an exploding MRT train with BBQed passengers was beautiful. Needless to say, his blog entry has angered some readers.

It was really tough on the SMRT chief, who had to apologize unreservedly and assume all responsibility for this mistake. Some people felt it was odd and could not understand why people got into trouble. My mother said it (the graffiti) was quite cute, and my son said the color combination was good. Vandal experts said it was the work of the experienced, the Government said it was an offence. Perhaps people don’t realize the severity of this act?

What if the vandals don’t mind extra work? What if after beautifying the train, they decide to hide a bomb inside? When the train moves off into a crowded area, the vandal, from his safe spot far away, detonates the bomb. Watching the brilliance of the explosion, where innocent passengers are being barbecued inside the flaming train.

Ordinary people will never be able to understand that this could happen, but thankfully the authorities are not sleeping. Don’t think they are exaggerating (on the severity of the situation) and that it’s merely graffiti vandalism.

Really, the chief has to take responsibility, though people may feel sorry for her. For she has much to handle – strange things happen daily, from people falling off the platform to being crushed by closing doors. Or some may choose to commit suicide by jumping off the platform; someone collected a large sum of condolence money in the past…

These are translated excerpts from the poem, taken from The New Paper, with no corrections made.

Other offending lines include “when someone commits suicide by jumping off the platform, his family gets a large sum of condolence money”. Netizens were furious by his entry, believing him to be insensitive and irresponsible. Some said “he had underestimated the severity of the situation with his seemingly mocking statements”.

When interviewed by The New Paper, Neo explained that “excerpts of his post was taken out of context” and “the meaning was misinterpreted”. In response to his “beautiful sight” remark, he said he was looking at it from a deranged terrorist’s point of view.

Could this be yet another case of Singaporeans overreacting?

Singaporeans are not strangers to overreacting. From the person who asked if the entire Bedok Reservoir could be drained after the discovery of a dead body in there, to residents of Serangoon Gardens protesting the building of a foreign workers’ dormitories in their estate to even a father questioning the difficulty of his son’s PSLE Math examination paper, Singaporeans can be trusted to overreact to anything and everything. But what about this case? Are readers grasping at straws or has Jack Neo really gone too far this time?

Using the canons of rhetoric, I do believe that Jack Neo’s poem was not the best message/communication he could have put across. Why? One of Aristotle’s modes of speech is ethos, which is the persuasive appeal of one’s character.

Jack Neo was an actor who later turned into one of Singapore’s most celebrated movie directors. His movies were immensely popular, using satirical humor to poke fun at aspects of Singaporean life, such as the education system and the work ethic in Singapore. Singaporeans looked up to him and many felt that he was a role model. Then, on 7 March 2010, local newspapers broke the story of how Jack Neo had engaged in a two-year long extra-marital affair with a woman, only 3 years older than his eldest child.

Overnight, support for him plummeted. As stories of more alleged affairs with even younger girls surfaced, he was chastised for being unfaithful to his wife as well as being involved with women a lot younger than he was. Despite his attempts to remain low profile in recent months as well as slowly regain the public’s trust through his new films, many still believe the worst of him. Speaking to The New Paper, some felt that “(his poem) was a publicity stunt”. His ruined reputation has lowered him in the eyes of Singaporeans and it seems that whatever he says now run the chance of being misconstrued. While I personally agree with the point that he is making, that the vandalism cases highlight SMRT’s security lapses, his tarnished character makes it hard for people to see things objectively and interpret his message the way he meant for it, which in this case, are the security lapses of SMRT and its CEO taking responsibility.

Style is also another canon of rhetoric, in which the “speaker must select and arrange the wording of the message carefully”. With regard to the “beautiful sight” remark, I do believe that it is clear to anyone reading the poem properly that the remark is from the terrorist’s point of view. But wording the poem in such a “creative” way clearly backfired, because while he is a movie director and takes pride in artistic creativity, many Singaporeans prefer something less “experimental”. His other line of “some may choose to commit suicide by jumping off the platform; someone collected a large sum of condolence money in the past” was also condemned as insensitive but I myself do not see anything wrong with this statement. It is true that some Singaporeans chose to end their lives by jumping off the train platform, and it is true that Singaporeans have donated large sums of condolence money to these bereaved families. For example, on 29 November 2010, a man was found dead on the MRT track at Queenstown station. Even more recently, on 17 April 2011, a man was arrested for attempting suicide at the Sembawang MRT station. In 2009, it was said that every 3 in 5 suicide victims end their life by jumping down to the MRT tracks.

But in a culture used to its generosity towards victims of ill circumstances, these remarks will only be seen as tactless. When Thai teenager, Nitcharee Peneakchanasak fell onto the tracks and had her legs severed, a group of anonymous donors donated $250,000, with another mystery donor giving her $50,000 to help with her hospital bill. In 2006, a man named Tan Jee Suan committed suicide by jumping onto the tracks, and Singaporeans collectively donated more than $500,000 for his grieving family.

Perhaps Jack Neo was simply trying to put across the point that such acts of generosity by the public are sending a wrong message to those in dire straits. By taking one’s life, one may help his immediate family amass overnight wealth. But it is my opinion that the line in question “some may choose to commit suicide by jumping off the platform; someone collected a large sum of condolence money in the past…” is merely Jack Neo pointing out the various situations SMRT’s CEO has to deal with daily. However, I do feel that it was wrong of him to have phrased it in a way where people thought he was mocking those who had suffered tragedies with the trains.

I still think that Jack Neo’s poem being lambasted is a case of Singaporeans over-reacting because if not for his past scandal, people would read his poem in closer detail and see that what he says makes sense. As a student who has studied literature before, after reading his poem, it is clear that the meaning of it has been misinterpreted in places. But perhaps Jack Neo should refrain from making his opinions on such sensitive issues known as it seems that whatever he does these days only serves to incite public outrage.

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4 Responses to “Jack Neo – What Has He Done This Time?”

  1. Yeong Kar Yan (@kayarocks) November 5, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    I totally agree with you about the part where you say ‘many Singaporeans prefer something less “experimental”’. HAI, Singaporeans only know how to take everything literally.

    • Melissa November 6, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

      WE ARE SINGAPOREANS, haha, that’s what we do! 🙂

  2. xinyu November 6, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    Hello Melissa, i believe this kind of tie down to how the audience perceive Jack Neo now. In the past, people will be more positive towards his comment but now after his infidelity, the perception of people on him changed and that’s why even if it is just one readers who misinterpret his words, it will still be lambasted.

    • Melissa November 6, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

      Hi little sis! 🙂 Yes, I definitely agree. If the scandal had never broke, I think people would have noticed his comments but probably wouldn’t think too much about it, but now that his image is ruined, he’s “fair game”, so to speak. It’s quite sad, really, but that’s what human nature is. Apparently, we can’t let those who are “beneath” us have an opinion. =.=

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