31 Jul 2012

Patriotism Declining?

Flags bearing the crescent moon and five stars have sprung up in front of housing flats. Banners with "47th Happy Singapore Birthday" printed neatly on them have been hung on lampposts. It's the sign of a sweeping wave of national celebration... but is it as hyped up as it used to be?

Understandably back then, fresh out of separation from Malaysia, the atmosphere was tense and the future was filled with uncertainty. Could a small island country really survive against its much larger neighbours, let alone the rest of the world? How could the hopes that the much revered Sir Stamford Raffles put into the nation all crumble and disappear at this point? So the country struggled, dealing with obstacles after obstacles before us, making sure Singapore lived to see another year. 

And each anniversary of Singapore's independence was both a poignant reminder of the hardships the people had to cope with, but also a positive indication that progress was made and at least we weren't faltering just yet. The locals that decided to stick through the rough times were grateful that things were improving. 
However as times changed and progress accelerated, and the nation was halfway through the 2000's, I felt that the burning flame of passion within us Singaporeans was sort of less strong. I might be wrong, but the change in trend in the National Day theme songs was an indication; rather than easy-to-remember yet meaningful songs, the newer ones seem shallower and more disconnected from Singapore (maybe except for Shine For Singapore, but that just merely mentions the country). There were attempts to put a spin on things, from pairing the song with a dance routine (Reach Out For The Skies), to switching over to rock (What Do You See), to getting non-celebrities to have fun in the production process (A Nation's March). Yet I doubt many people really remember the songs beyond 2003, apart from the songs that are taught to students in their year. 

Maybe, some argue, that's just the fault of songwriters for coming up with slightly-above-par lyrics that aren't emotionally stirring! That's where I examine the antics that the Parades keep up at. It used to be simpler where there'd be a plain but impressive display of Singapore's achievements so far and all the wonderful things the government spent their budget on, like national defence (hmm...), the arts, education and other "productive industries".  It may not have been super spectacular, but it drove home the point that you have a pretty big stake in the nation, and you jolly well have an important part to play as a citizen of this country!

Now each Parade seems to be going through more roundabout ways to get the same message across, from abstract dance choreography to cheesy skits depicting the lives of a Singaporean family that you know for sure can't exist in a society like this. Not to mention the adults in the creative team coming up with their own ill-informed interpretations of "cool" things to add into the routine "so we can aspire the youth to give back to the country", which subtly suggests that they need more young leaders capable and passionate enough to receive the baton from the aging leaders still currently in position, as well as more productive people to allow Singapore to slowly turn down their foreign labour supply tap. 

I wish that they'd actually get a more representative sample of youths to give their opinions on what they want to see from the NDP, if they don't already do that. Trying to camouflage the intended message with abstract ornamental features doesn't always make it easier for the audience to understand the message, rather than just delivering it in an honest and clear manner. So if you think excessive dubstep would hammer national pride into youth's heads, DON'T. *(I actually don't mind dubstep, but there are people out there who can abuse dubstep in the scariest ways possible)

Ask just about any Singaporean who has watched at least one NDP about what they remember about it, and they'd most likely respond with the aerial displays or the fireworks nowadays. It's sad that those seem to be the trademarks left of the celebration, but at least there are still some trademark features left that stick in people's heads.

I might be just overanalysing all of this though, and I give you the right to disagree with my opinion. I could just happen to be more cynical than the average Singaporean, who just might feel an immense emotion of pride every NDP and enjoys the programmes planned each year. I still think the performances are gradually becoming more lackluster, even having to resort to employing cross-dressers and – ahem – illegally ripping of a certain popular song, in attempts to boost appeal and connectedness with the public audience. Even the National Day celebrations that I've personally experienced throughout my school life so far are losing their touch. It's even strangely becoming more and more abstract... I wonder why?

I hope that this year's National Day, both in school and at the Floating Platform, may see a reversal of this trend. Otherwise, I think this occasion is losing grip of its significance to the nation, and becoming more of a day of no work and all play... and sometimes the introduction of new TV programmes.

Oh and the only day where you can get a huge pack of coupons and freebies too. The typical Singaporean's dream.