Dish the dirt, you'll likely end up soiled

Online trolls expose their own sense of inferiority when they launch virulent attacks

The mounds of rubbish left behind by festival-goers at the Laneway music jamboree sparked an online ruckus which involved much mud-slinging, among other unsavoury forms of behaviour.
The mounds of rubbish left behind by festival-goers at the Laneway music jamboree sparked an online ruckus which involved much mud-slinging, among other unsavoury forms of behaviour.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Feb 1, 2015

Last week, rubbish left at a music festival caused us to wake up to the threat posed to the nation by rich white people.

It began with Facebook posts, by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, directed at behaviour we've lived with forever.

They mentioned littering at a music festival, and how we as a people have a way to go before we learn to show care and respect for public areas. It sparked an online ruckus.

These are reminders we have seen in the past, about the piles of garbage left behind whenever big groups gather, whether it is in Chinatown during Chinese New Year, or in Geylang Serai during Hari Raya Puasa, or in foodcourts and cinemas, or at the National Stadium after a game.

This time, however, the posts and news reports triggered a torrent of online conversations. The litterbugs in question were not your run-of-the-mill local specimens.

The alternative-music jamboree the Laneway Festival was the event in question, so the Internet's hatred targeting system locked on to the young people who left garbage on the grass. More specifically, the young, white, beer-swilling people with money, paying $140 and more to see edgy haircuts playing synthesisers.

Laneway's 13,000 ticket-holders embody everything a certain sector of society here loves to hate - foreign, boozed-up and moneyed, taking over a public park with their weird artsy music.

And now, these privileged few have the audacity to pollute our hallowed ground with their rubbish - it was a magic combination of traits that made writers on Facebook and in the alternative media lose their collective minds.

According to people at the event, only about half the crowd were white, but that did not matter. In the alternative media, Laneway was the gathering place of the devil's own Caucasian hipster invasion force.

They are the new Filipinos who want to organise Philippine Independence Day celebrations on Orchard Road. They are the new China workers who talk-shout on trains, the new domestic workers picnicking in public parks on their days off.

This time, though, the target of online rage is not a group from a lower social or economic class.

Laneway fans are probably richer, better educated and more well-travelled than members of the group their smugness had cheesed off.

The frenzy of hate, therefore, stems from an inferiority complex. More than anything, the purpose of trolling is to make targets feel as rotten as the trolls do about themselves.

Foreigners just can't win here. Everything they do - especially the things they do that annoy us - is attributed to race and nationality. If they annoy us and come from a less developed country? They're uncivilised! And if they come from a First World nation? Elites rubbing our noses in their status! It's the same sort of disgust heaped on rich Vancouver Chinese who build big houses; or when Asian kids in Australia are called "mindless drones" for doing well in exams.

If it is any consolation, it means that Singapore has joined in the growing global sport of moving the goalposts in endeavours the locals do worse in compared with recent arrivals. In that activity, I'm sure we're ranked in the global top 10.

Laneway fans turned out to be expert marksmen at shooting themselves in the foot.

Asked why their ponchos and cups ended up on the ground, their responses ranged from "it's what you do at festivals" to "the bins were full and too far away" and "clean-up is included in the ticket price", proving that wearing beanies and other ironic items of clothing restricts blood flow to the brain.

The famous Glastonbury Festival in England might be renowned for looking like a giant mud pit flecked with plastic detritus and drunk people, but I'm certain it would be a better experience without the muck; people do not flock there because they might get dysentery, they go in spite of it.

Fuji Rock, Japan's largest music festival, is 10 times larger than Laneway, but has a reputation for spotless grounds and - this is amazing to me - portaloos that do not punish you for owning a digestive system.

Filth is not a festival requirement. But if that is what Laneway folks want for a truly authentic festival experience, perhaps we can order in curated fake filth, the way we enjoy fake snow at Christmas. That would make it a truly Singapore experience.