Stirring impatience
More and more of the new generation are claiming a proper role in society. By Seah Chiang Nee
Jan 25, 2014

Synopsis: Youths are starting to speak out and could, in the long term, change society, politics and the way Singaporeans do things.)

A PRETTY 21-year-old Singapore pop star, bitingly articulate, is the latest to join an emerging breed of outspoken youths.

Stephanie Koh, a finalist in TV K-pop Star hunt, caused a public furore when she said that she was not proud to represent Singapore.

The polytechnic graduate, now said to be residing abroad, blamed the education system and controlled environment for the lack of creativity.

Singaporeans are unhappy, small-minded and submissive and lacking in ideas, she added to explain why she was not proud to be a Singaporean.

These allegations were nothing that had not been uttered before even by Lee Kuan Yew (lacking creativity) and his ministers (thinking inside the box).

In fact, Lee had often lamented that Singaporeans are not as resourceful as Hong Kongers.

What was surprising though was the reaction. Within days, Stephan­ie’s video had garnered 800,000 views – mostly in support.

There were 15,000 Facebook likes and 2,000 dislikes. It showed an active net citizenry who are mostly young. Her peer critics said she was “arrogant,” someone who mistook her dislike for authority to mean anti-country and flag.

“We ourselves have often grumbled, but we don’t mix it with love of country. We try to change things,” was their argument.

An even more vehement case happened last year. A 17-year-old college student hurled vulgarities at Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on the web after a dialogue session.

The DPM had apparently dodged several questions and once answered a serious question by asking: “What do you think?” The boy later apologised.

When the ageing Lee was active, youngsters were already losing their fear of him and were challenging – politely – his comments.

The current mood probably reflects the rising concern about jobs and retrenchment in the face of mass arrivals of foreign graduates.

If you’re a 17-year-old student, the idea of working hard for a degree is losing some lustre.

Last week, young netizens launched a tirade against a British banker who had called MRT commuters “poor people.”

After an unaccustomed train ride, the senior executive had blogged that he would have to wash “off the stench of public transport.”

His little boy who was with him asked: “Who are all these poor people?”

The father had also blogged criticism of taxi drivers.

People perceived injustice. A privileged foreigner who lives off the fat off the land is seen as paying back by demeaning Singaporeans.

Angry surfers bombarded and admonished him with numerous emails – and a few threats – after tracking down his home address, place of work, and his phone numbers.

He later apologised and his bank is investigating him for possible wrongdoing.

A growing number of youths, once renowned for being apathetic, are opening up to claim their role in society.

By doing so, they are erasing some of Lee Kuan Yew’s Asian values, including his strongly held national consensus.

Also under siege is the idea of a social compact which defined obligations between citizens and government as well as Confucianism that preached unquestioned loyalty to seniors.

Lee’s advocacy of consensus, instead of confrontation and political contests, had helped keep the country under his party’s rule.

In thought and action, today’s generation appears to be rewriting some of these teachings.

Consensus had worked well in an era when lowly educated people had strong faith in his ability.

Today, a changing political environment is stirring changes in young minds – with the help of the Internet.

I believe “stirring” is an appropriate word. It is by no means a revolution, and the proportion of activists, although growing, is still small.

A growing number is becoming social activists on the Net – and off. Most are anti-government, but probably one out of five is also targeting the opposition as well.

Some government critics are also attacking the biggest opposition Workers party for under-performing in Parliament.

By and large, the new generation still cares little about what goes on in the world or in Singapore unless it affects them.

Compliant, hard-working to a fault, many live only in a world of exam grades targeting a degree – with plenty of video games and pop music in-between.

This is their general preoccupation. For most, surfing is fine but taking part in public forums or rallies or staging a boycott is a no go.

Known as the Strawberry generation – meek, fragile and over-dependent on parents – they are now forced to live with tougher competition and may mature a little faster.

Former DPM Dr Toh Chin Chye once described them as “meek” and lacking in “independent thinking” – what pop star Stephanie had said.

The fear is that they have become less competitive against the more hard-striving Asian peers.

But they also have admirable strengths.

The teens are among the world’s best students in Math and Science.

The average kid can send messages via SMS with lightning speed, is computer and gadget-savvy, and he travels widely.

As Singapore approaches its 50th birthday, a whiff of change is in the air.

With the help of digital marvels like smartphones, blogs, Facebook and Twitter, more are losing their reticence in the face of perceived injustice and wrongdoing.

Over the longer term, this could change society and politics and the way we do things.

But more important, it could result in a more committed citizenry and a civic-mindedness that the government has failed to produce.

But there will be an occasional side effect, too, with things becoming a little chaotic – but Singaporeans are rational enough to put things right.

(This article was first published in That Star, Malaysia)