Glamour and Public Service: A Vicious Circle

February 11, 2009

20090211_065858_teacher_glamourIn another otherwise routine session in Parliament yesterday, something caught my eye as I scanned today’s papers (Straits Times, 11 Feb 2009). PAP MP Denise Phua took issue with the latest recruitment drive by the Ministry of Education (MOE) for teachers. According to her, the recruitment advertisement “over glamourised” the teaching profession.


The advert, as you see, had teachers togged in black jackets and boots. No doubt, the aim was to make the teaching profession cool. Everything has to be ‘cool’ in Singapore you see. From Mandarin to hip-hopping MPs to rapping MDA executives to teaching, if it ain’t cool, it ain’t happening. Unfortunately the advert failed as a piece of aesthetic propaganda. The stylist looked as though he was working under the influence of alcohol or suffering depression (or both), while the hideous make-up can only be explained as mortuary-chic. If I were a fresh grad looking for a job, I’ll take one look at the advert and look elsewhere for something more sexy… say taxi-driving. 


But back to Ms Phua’s complaint. She argued that the advert might send the wrong signals. People might apply for the “glamour” and not for the love of the job. She “worried about the motives and aptitude of applicants”. Oh Ms Phua, you’re such a laugh. And if you’re not joking, you’re trapped in a time capsule. Singapore no longer does passion or duty. It only does rewards and carrots.


When the argument for million dollar ministerial salaries is the need to attract good people into government, then all other public service vocations, teaching included, must enjoy the same right to dangle carrots, or in this case black jackets, as bait. You cannot accept the argument that million dollar salaries are needed for ministers to do a good job while expecting other public vocations to cling on to archaic notions of public service. This is just double standards.


This brings us to two fundamental and connected points. Why does the government feel the need to make everything ‘cool’ and ‘glamorous’, and yet cling on to ideas of sacrificing for public service or duty when it clearly does not believe in it?


In essence, it is a vicious circle. The civil service has to compete with other industries for today’s young talent. In order to do so, it uses contemporary cultural language and visual lingo to reach out to the young. This is why the government spouts lingo like ‘cool’, ‘hip-hop’ and black jackets – it thinks this is what the youth understands and reacts to. But it forgets one crucial thing. In the same way your father, no matter how hard he tries, just cannot be cool, the state, no matter how hard it tries, cannot be hip or glamorous. How can the state compete with other industries like fashion, music, law, medicine and so on for the cool factor? It knows it’s on the losing end; so what other factor does it have at its disposal?


Ah yes, public service can still conjure up the romanticized idea of personal sacrifice, of public duty, of putting society above self. This ideal fires up notions of patriotism, of communal membership and love for the bigger things in life. But wait a minute. We can’t really use this anymore because we pay our ministers millions to enter public service and not to be corrupt. Bugger! What a waste of a perfectly good ideal. Well, if we can’t romanticize public service, let’s do the next best thing – glamorise it.


And so we have a PAP government spinning in a vicious circle – trying to be cool and glamorous while harping on public duty and service. A bit like a dog chasing its own tail.    



12 Responses to “Glamour and Public Service: A Vicious Circle”

  1. Mavis Says:

    I wonder when Singapore will realise that blatantly stating that something’s “cool” actually says the opposite.

  2. sushibar Says:


  3. Anil Balchandani Says:

    thanks for an insightful dialectic on our current situation.

  4. Biggelogow Says:

    Hi there,

    You make a good comment about how our government is caught in a Catch-22 situation. But I do feel us Singaporeans are to be blamed because we have long handed our liberties – along with our testes – to the government in return for economic security. That’s why we vote them in every time…just so we reserve the right to pester them for anything we want or are unhappy about. To be critical of the nanny’s eccentricities when we have basically allowed her to run house and home is hypocritical to say the least. And till we break the pact and decide – testes in tact – that we should be masters of our own destiny, I suppose ‘teachers in leather jackets’ is about the best thing we can have a healthy discussion about.

  5. Ganga Says:

    Thanks for telling it like it is. But there is no way we can change how things are being done – as peasants of the land. I guess the only change that can be done is of the people doing these things…

  6. cynicholas Says:

    just another gaffe in our lame attempts to reach out to the elite-educated.
    have you seen the tv ads by moe? they’re even more cringeworthy and i might add, contrived. (“thank you mr x” oh plese. where did they hire these b-grade actors?!)…and no prizes for guessing how much something like that must’ve cost.

  7. […] Tackling Underaged Sex – Hard Hitting in the Lion City: Get rid of the PSLE – groundnotes: Glamour and Public Service: A Vicious Circle – A Singaporean: Did Obama just describe how some Singaporeans feel? – Dee Kay Dot As Gee: Seletar […]

  8. uncool Says:

    Actually they don’t look cool. They look like a bunch from an underground gang. See if the schools will allow their teachers to wear clothes like that. If yes, then they shouldn’t expect students to be dressed like nerds, since teachers are supposed to be role models.

    Reality vs myth. For MOE to do or approve of such a misleading ad, I am not surprised the kind of teachers they have to deal with and signing them on with a long list of don’ts, including ‘immoral’ behavior.

    Yeah, talk about what animal chasing it’s own tail. Maybe it is to keep themselves occupied so they can keep their salaries by looking very busy.

  9. KH Says:

    Wow they sure look nowhere like a teacher at all. What kind of crap is that? It’s so superficial and meaningless…anyone can wear that kind of outfit, using that to glamourise the teaching profession is like ….I don’t what it’s like…but whoever came up with that idea is as crappy as the idea.

  10. Observant Says:

    That advertisement has been around for quite a while. Over a year at the least I believe.

  11. hipperhupper Says:

    Superb analysis. You hit the nail on the head.

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