Knee-jerk negativity towards Ilo Ilo helps no one

On the red carpet in Cannes are (from far left) director Anthony Chen with actors Yeo Yann Yann, Koh Jia Ler and Chen Tianwen.

SINGAPORE - You'd have thought that a Singaporean film-maker's success at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival could inspire only celebration.

But that would be to underestimate the knee-jerk negativity of which some people are capable, and which social media helps perpetuate.

Such indiscriminate negativity benefits no one - not even critics of the establishment.

On Monday last week, Mr Anthony Chen became the first Singaporean to win the Camera d'Or prize, given for the best first feature film, for his movie Ilo Ilo.

Online, in Twitter posts and Facebook statuses, many took pride in a fellow countryman's achievement.

Yet there were also naysayers. Some labelled the film propaganda because it focuses on the relationship between a Singaporean family and their Filipino maid - presumably without demonising the latter enough for xenophobes' tastes.

False rumours were also spread that Mr Chen's requests for funding were repeatedly rejected by the Government. On the contrary, Ilo Ilo was partly funded by the Singapore Film Commission.

There are several reasons to decry this eagerness to sour what should have been a moment of national pride.

First, it blurs the divide between a country and its government.

These automatic critics have gone from 'Singapore's government can do no right' to, simply, 'Singapore can do no right'.

This phenomenon can also be seen every time an international report says anything good about Singapore, and meets with either denial or dismissal from certain quarters.

If this blinkered approach harmed no one except its adherents, we could perhaps ignore it.

A second problem is that the high visibility of such knee-jerk negativity online could unfairly tarnish that medium itself, and edge out views which are more worthy of attention.

For those who believe in nurturing public discourse, particularly online, the worry is that the louder such distractions, the greater the risk that they drown out reasoned criticism.

Furthermore, when unthinking negativity is wielded against undeserving targets such as Mr Chen and his film Ilo Ilo, it aids the caricaturing of online discussion as mere noise.

It gives ammunition to those who might want to dismiss all online critics as, say, killjoys who can't even take pride in a local artist's achievements.

A third reason to object to incidents such as this is that they are disrespectful to those involved.

If artists intend political statements in their work, that is one thing.

But just as artists should not be forced to create state propaganda, their works should not be hijacked for anti-establishment ends.

janiceh@sph.com.sg


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