Mailbag

Discourage exploiting stereotypes for laughs

John Lui's piece (It's Time To Get The Discussion On Racial Stereotypes Going, Life, May 31) raises salient points on the problem of stereotyping and racial tropes in local entertainment.

After 50 years of independence, we should ask ourselves: Should mass entertainment exploit stereotypes for laughs, despite the fact that it may subconsciously entrench derogatory views about certain groups of people?

This is not about censorship, but a sense of decency and understanding where others, who may be offended, are coming from.

The Shrey Bhargava controversy involved numerous personal attacks which stated and implied the actor should shut up. Police reports were even lodged against him.

This happened in a society that some people say needs more openness and discussion. Sadly, in this case, the solution to hearing a disagreeable view was to silence it.

I have never understood what was supposed to be funny about the Ah Beng caricatures. They are insulting to many working-class Singaporeans who struggle to make ends meet, but are apparently fair game for directors.

In fact, it is demeaning to any law-abiding person trying his best to get by, whatever his racial, linguistic or religious background, to be lampooned because he is unlikely to hit back online or through police reports.

  • WRITE IN

  • Have a view on a story in Life? E-mail stlife@sph.com.sg. We reserve the right to edit all letters.

Art can push boundaries, but there is an ethical dimension. Charles Dickens took seriously the charge of anti-Semitism in the portrayal of Fagin as a Jewish stereotype in Oliver Twist - he stopped the printing and made amendments. In his last novel, Our Mutual Friend, he made up for that and created a highly positive Jewish character.

Unless we inculcate more empathy and make genuine efforts to have civil conversations over what we disagree on as a society, we will be in the peculiar state of being First World economically while remaining third rate socially.

Sanjay Perera

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Discourage exploiting stereotypes for laughs'. Print Edition | Subscribe