Moral Panic and the Innocent Child

January 6, 2011

Moral panic and the middle class go together like Gurmit Singh and the desire for euthanasia. There is nothing quite like the fear over society’s declining morality to kick-start the morning. And this morning we were treated to a double dose of dunce in TODAY.

 Letter #1: Air adult trailers on TV after 10pm

Could television content providers please screen movie trailers with adult content only after 10pm? I would be watching a football game on SingTel mio TV with my grandson. And along would come a trailer for an on-demand movie during the commercial break that is not appropriate for children. Will the operators do this voluntarily or should we consider a law to enforce this?

Edward Heng

Letter #2: Retailers, mind your music

I was with my wife and three children at Zara VivoCity last Monday, in the children’s section. Over the usual loud thumping music in the store, crude lyrics containing swear words were heard repeatedly. I was shocked and quickly ushered my children out of the store. I then went back to complain to the store manager. While she apologised and changed the music, it was too late as many children in the store had been exposed to the offensive language from that song. I hope retailers know how to draw the line when it comes to the kind of music played in their stores.

Maxie Tay

First of all, all this moral outrage isn’t new. Back in the 1960s and 1970s we had the “anti-yellow culture” fever where jukeboxes, rock music, girlie mags and long hair were extinguished faster than you could say “Beatles”. Every generation disapproves of the entertainment tastes of its succeeding one – it’s a natural law; just like if the PAP holds a procession, it’s a celebration, if the Opposition holds one, it’s foreplay to bloodshed – it just is. My grandfather hated my dad’s Rolling Stones albums, and my dad hated my Guns N Roses swagger, and I’m sure I’ll hate my son’s Lady GaGa-meets-Justin Bieber-whatever-the-hell-next-incarnation-Hollywood-produces.

But this isn’t the 60s or 70s anymore. The people who dreamt up the “anti-yellow culture” campaign – namely the PAP – were in the minority then. And they did it primarily to win the votes of the Chinese-educated majority who were seriously wooed by the Communists who were, surprise surprise, morality freaks. So what the PAP did was to out-moral the moral folks to get into power.

Today, we have a baby boomer middle class generation weaned on the “cultural desert” years (also known as the good ole days). They sincerely believe that listening to Black Sabbath will send your soul straight to hell, while touching yourself there will make you blind. But beyond the moral panic and changing tastes, there are two crucial points here.

Firstly, if we don’t like what we see in a public space do we demand they stop what they are doing or do we exercise our rights as individuals and just move on? And if we choose the former, what about those who like a little adult entertainment? The problem with the moral police is that they appoint themselves moral judges as well. They believe that what offends them offends everyone. I mean is it really that hard to tell your child: “Yes, I know the music has some bad words. Some people think its cool to use them but I don’t. And  if I ever hear you say them, there’ll be a rotan with your name on it”? Or if you prefer the snobbish approach: “People who use naughty words have a poor vocabulary”. And is the arduous task of changing the channel on your remote too difficult?  

Secondly – and this is the real source of the panic – the protection of the innocent child. Both letters depict children as objects for insulation. They are not subjects for education or enlightenment, but objects who happen to have ears that need covering. Nothing mobilises the moral conservatives more than the “vulnerable child” syndrome. And from pedestals of sterility children are supposed to grow up wise, mature and street-smart? For these moral conservatives, the more you bubble wrap the kid, the better – that’s why home-schooling is such a big hit here.


5 Responses to “Moral Panic and the Innocent Child”

  1. genghis Says:

    great piece.

    not quite sure though if you’re being sarcastic about home schooling here being big – that there is so little of it being done by parents.

    i’v reached the point of thanking parents who i see disciplining their kids. thank god, there seem to be a few of such parents around.

  2. barsushi Says:

    女儿的阿姨是基督徒,不同意她听lady gaga,因为gaga崇拜撒旦。我告诉女儿,lady gaga的作风是一种叛逆,需要天分和勇气;如果女儿在意别人对自己的看法,就别模仿lady gaga的叛逆。但我也告诉她,听歌的范围可以尽量广泛,以培养自己的欣赏和鉴别能力。

  3. goolicious Says:

    Interesting Opinions, good piece.

    Yes, and that’s where they will find that it backfires on them as soon as their children go to school.

  4. Kirsten Says:

    I remember when I was a kid my grandmother telling me never to associate with people who smoke, or to go out with boys who ride motorcycles, because they are “bad people”. As a child it caused me a lot of unnecessary apprehension and fear and downright confusion: how could there be sooooo many bad people around? The roads are full of motorcyclists!

    It got so ingrained in me that when I was 11 I found out that my favourite popstar was a smoker and I cried because I was so upset that my favourite singer was a criminal.

    Now I just look back on it and laugh, but if I hadn’t had my eyes opened and continued living my whole life with such beliefs and generalisations things would have got very very difficult very very quickly.

  5. sloo Says:

    I wonder why you did not email the last 3 paras of your piece to Today or ST Forum – it lays the mentality and motives of the moral conservatives blatantly bare. Just like the Taleban (but to a lesser extent for now), these moralistic people would deprive everyone of their freedom of choice and willpower – its really just a societal and cultural version of PAP’s politics: trust me, we always know what’s right.

    And yes homeschooling is big here – among a certain very religious group. And I simply do not understand why ST keeps highlighting the great aspect of it. I am quite sure there are many other examples of children who go through home schooling that do not quite make the grade. If it is that good why has’nt MOE adopted their syllabus? Honestly, is studying creationism considered great education?

    Get ready for a new generation – Deaf, Dumb and Moral

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