Here's a script for Triple Nine: Beyond Borders, with its take on paranoid xenophobia
I don't always watch American television series, but when I do, I like to watch those that come tinged with paranoid xenophobia and the white saviour complex.
All too often I will start on some critically acclaimed series like, say, Game Of Thrones, and then quickly lose interest.
"The storyline is great, the production values are high and the acting is really solid, but where is the paranoid xenophobia?" I often remark to my wife, who will roll her eyes at me. She has much lower standards for television shows.
Anyway, my particular tastes explain why I am such a big fan of the American crime series Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, and why I was so thrilled they did an episode that would pretend to be based in Singapore.
Of course, many, many people who have since seen this particular episode were quite upset at the highly inaccurate depictions of Singapore. There are many scenes where the characters appear to knowingly spout random facts - nearly every single one of which is a gross misrepresentation grounded on shallow knowledge and long-held bias.
I, on the other hand, expected nothing less.
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is meant to be insulting. It's the entire premise of the show.
Just think about it. This is a show where some fictional American task force flies around the world to solve murders of Americans.
Why would there be an American task force for this, given how badly the country itself is dealing with crimes taking place within its borders? How are they able to have enough resources for an elite jet-setting quad? (Well, the answer is they aren't able to. Criminal Minds is a fictional TV show about a fictional squad.)
But let's say they did have such a thing. The only way to justify its fictional existence is for it to be based in a world where 1) Americans are forever getting killed overseas; and 2) law enforcement outside America can be relied upon - due to some domestic cultural context - to mess up the investigation.
Read about them online and you'll see that whenever Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders depicts a country, the people of that country get upset.
If I have one complaint about this entire set-up, it is that while there are multiple shows in the US premised on their exceptionalism, the rest of the world hardly ever does the same to them. I mean, America is just about as dangerous and as incompetent as the next country, so why isn't there a show about Singaporeans flying over there to solve crimes, depicting the US in broad strokes based on insulting stereotypes?
Perhaps it is time to start one. For instance, I think we should do a spin-off of that famous 1990s Singapore cop drama starring James Lye, Wong Li-lin and Lim Yu-Beng.
I present to you the pilot of a new show I'm calling Triple Nine: Beyond Borders.
Narrator: Every year thousands of Singaporeans leave the safety of our borders to enter the dangerous borders of the US. When danger strikes, the Singapore Police International Kaypoh Team is called into action.
James Lye voice-over: An American proverb says: "When in doubt, sound convincing."
(Cut to a scene of a high-tech office on a plane full of screens. Lye and Wong Li-lin are video-conferencing with tech expert Lim Yu-Beng.)
James Lye: So a Singaporean in New York has been murdered and her friend was seen running away from the scene. Why does the USPF need our help?
Wong Li-lin: USPF?
James Lye: US Police Force. It is policy to refer to foreign institutions using Singapore conventions.
Wong Li-lin: Right. Anyway, the US experiences more than 12,000 murders a year, not to mention countless more incidents of gun violence. Their law enforcement is so beset by allegations of racial bias that it gave birth to a whole #BlackLivesMatter movement. Many politicians, including former president Barack Obama, acknowledged that their criminal justice system is broken but gridlock in Washington has prevented them from making any progress.
Lim Yu-Beng: Also, the leaders have been unable to pass common- sense gun regulations despite broad public support due to actions by the powerful gun lobby.
America is just about as dangerous and as incompetent as the next country, so why isn't there a show about Singaporeans flying over there to solve crimes, depicting the US in broad strokes based on insulting stereotypes?
James Lye: Isn't America where they had a famous sports star who got away with murder?
Lim Yu-Beng: In 1995, a hall-of-fame American football running back was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her friend even though he had blood in his car and he tried to run away after they started the investigation. A lot of people think he succeeded because he was rich and got some high-powered lawyers.
Wong Li-lin: I don't know if our Singaporean unsub will have such luck.
Lim Yu-Beng: Well, running certainly implies guilt. And in today's climate, he's poor and non-white. That's all the American courts are going to need.
James Lye: Sounds Orwellian.
(Cut to scene on New York street that suspiciously looks like Woodlands. American flags hang prominently in the background.)
American cop: In the interest of national security, the US is going to build this big, beautiful wall. Also, the US spies on nearly every e-mail and every phone call made here. For this man to disappear into thin air takes knowledge and planning.
(Everyone huddles around an electronic map. Dots appear around a southern state. Wong Li-lin gasps.)
James Lye: You know it?
Wong Li-lin: It's the dark side of paradise. Officially it's known as Florida, but more accurately it's a crazy state with a thriving underworld. One time, a pet store owner slapped an employee with a big lizard. It is the embodiment of income inequality. It's just a lot of poverty, human trafficking and a lot of crime. It's even worse than Yishun.
James Lye: Oh my god.
(Cut to scene where crime is solved and everyone is smiling.)
American cop: Thank you very much. I could not have solved this crime without you. By the way, wasn't there supposed to be one other officer from Singapore?
James Lye: Yes there was, but he couldn't make it. He flew United.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'What Criminal Minds does, we can do too'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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