Not A Refrain Sung Lightly?

The whole tawdry Purple Light ‘saga’ has been generating a ton of discussion in my digitally extended social circles, much of it in earnest, and all the more frustrating for that.

There is very little to disagree with as far as the rightness of the actual actions taken regarding the offending lyric is concerned. AWARE was right to raise it. MINDEF was right to ban it. Singing songs about rape is wrong and damaging. With the last point especially, the opposite position is morally indefensible.

Yes, it is true that there are those who seem to want to defend their right (or something) to do the indefensible. Yet I would contend that most people recognize that this would be an error.

There are those others who manage to avoid actually defending the indefensible, and still manage to be implicated as doing just that. These tend to be the ones criticizing the military higher-ups, or resenting the angry feminists. I cannot defend those males who feel that their status is being impinged on in some way by qualified feminist criticisms. Furthermore, I think it is not an easy thing for critics to patiently and untiringly put across those criticisms and take the time to qualify them, and I am persuaded that it is already an injustice that such qualifications and such criticisms need to be ceaselessly reestablished. But these things do not make unqualified criticisms any less unhelpful.

For those who’ve tended to criticize the military’s response, I don’t think their response is justified, but I do think they have been misinformed. I’ve argued elsewhere that how the ban was presented in ‘The Real Singapore’ (from what I know, the first popular faux-news source to pick up AWARE’s announcement) was highly misleading. The easiest way I can put it across is that the report came across as something like, ‘Wah MINDEF ban Purple Light!’ This naturally elicited the response, ‘Wah lidat also ban.’ This was my immediate response, and I would be confident in saying that that would have been the immediate response of many NSFs and NSmen, if  only because the discourse about the tendency of higher-ups to concern themselves with trivial things and deal with them in ham-handed ways is a pervasive one. During your full-time NS it seems as though you’re confronted with examples of it every day. Many servicemen eventually realize that part of it is structural, due solely to the size of the operation, etc., although though it never actually disappears, because the fact is that military life is fundamentally tedious. If I checked my immediate response, it was because I have been persuaded not to be so ready to think of the higher leadership as incompetent.

This is precisely where those who persistently argue that by expressing ire over the reported ban, the general run of males, barring a few or even a generous many exceptions, have shown themselves to be ready to defend rape culture because they’ve been socialized by the patriarchy are wrong. Most of them who are annoyed at the ban are annoyed for a different reason, and if you’ve not served NS or experienced something like the constant tedium of military life, it is indeed something you would not immediately understand. Within the attendant discourse, the action of banning a song does indeed appear trivial.

The problem is that the banning of a song (or a verse – whatever) was not the substantial action. What was the substantial action was the institution’s acknowledgment that the verse is bad, that the singing happens, and should be stopped. This is a moral response, in keeping with the institution’s values (as they wrote). The moral issue was treated as such by AWARE and MINDEF. It was not represented as such by ‘The Real Singapore’ and subsequent reports.

Let me affirm that the existence of the alternate context and discourse does not preclude socialization by the patriarchy and its discourses. It is clear that this is pervasive as well, from many of our responses. And it is wrong that rape culture can still be lightly justified, either in the song or in our responses to this spurious saga.

At the same time, none of this makes the majority of readings-into about why so many young Singaporean males (either my news feed, or because the older ones are further away and wiser) are upset (‘butthurt’) any less patronizing or misguided. If these readings-into happen to occur alongside legitimate criticisms, so much the worse.