Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Being Human

Sex scandals seem to be all the rage these days. Nothing else gets as much newsprint space, air time or net sphere hits as the exposed extra marital sexual exploits of prominent figures and celebrities.

In our unceasing bid to claim our spot in the world of 'have's the dot now has its own national sex scandal too. Well, we already have the F1 and the Youth Olympics. How much more competitive can we get?

Sure, Jack Neo's affairs (reportedly with 11 women, or has the number risen since I last checked?) can in no way rival that of Tiger Wood's sexcapades. I mean, Neo only took young girls aspiring to stardom in his family car. How does that compare?

Also, his misconduct is not likely to affect his professional capacity as one of our top film makers and a Cultural Medallion winner, is it? I mean, he's not exactly the governor of New York or South Carolina. Neo is only a grassroots community figure in Singapore's political landscape and has just enough gravitas for a minister to openly declare his support of the director, actor, producer in the minister's blog.

So why then does this all stink so much? If it's really no big deal, I mean. After all, Neo is in the entertainment industry, and nobody should be naive enough to be surprised that he engaged in some hanky panky. He didn't exactly pile an underaged girl with drinks and drugs. He preyed on girls who wanted him to turn them into the next Fann Wong. He wasn't the first guy in a position of power to do that, and he surely wouldn't be the last.

The truth is I have much deeper admiration for Tiger Woods than Jack Neo. But when news of Tiger's bad behavior broke after Thanksgiving, I somehow didn't feel disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I don't condone his behavior. But somehow, I'm able to say that I will not judge him. Let him get his life together. I just want to watch him play golf. I'm one of those parents he apologized to on TV, whose kids look up to him. Yet I didn't feel like he owed me an apology. That is between him, his wife, kids and family. And as for his sponsors and supporters, they have spoken their part by breaking ties with him.

But with Jack Neo, it somehow hurts. Yes, it does and I'm truly surprised especially since I've been away from Singapore for so long and haven't seen many of his recent movies.

I guess with Tiger, I was never under the illusion that his public persona was the real man. He was all about branding and a carefully constructed media personality. The only time I ever felt like I was seeing the man himself was when he was out there, playing golf -- when he took a lefthanded swing out of a tight spot, or when he revealed the intensity of his emotions under that veneer of calm with that fist pump after a winning putt.

Jack Neo, however, always struck me as someone who was pretty real. His movies reflected the way he thinks and feels...and that is pretty much what the regular guy in the street thinks and feels. If you talk to the taxi driver, you'll hear the same refrains, the same complaints as a character in a Jack Neo movie. He has taken on just about every issue important to the man in the street with his brand of "salt of the earth" social commentary -- from the pressures of Singapore's "A"s obsessed education system, to the disconnection between generations, to the obsession for material acquisition (condos, cash, car, credit cards, career) that drives our society. His representations of the issues Singaporeans grapple with are not particularly insightful or intelligent. But he never claimed to be. He just said it as it was and the way he saw it -- honest and from the gut. He is also probably the only critic of the government that the government actually likes. He was only honored with a Public Service Medal at a National Day Awards -- an accolade not usually given to movie makers and entertainers.

I grew up watching him in his iconic cross-dressing comic act as Liang Popo (a feisty, stuttering granny). I wasn't particularly fond of him but he did make me laugh. While Tiger's persona was carefully crafted and branded, Neo had always just been...well, himself. I guess that's why it hurts. Because Neo had always allowed his audience to feel what he was feeling and know what he was thinking.

Enough has been said about the irony that his scandals broke just as his latest movie "Being Human" is being screened. If I was in Singapore, I would still go see it. I remind myself that Neo is also a guy who needs to get his life together. I feel like he owes Singapore an apology, merely because as a nation, we gave him our love. And when you do something that hurts people who love you, whether you actually wronged them or not, you do owe them an apology. But the truth is, he doesn't owe us an apology. That is between him, his wife, his kids, his family, his staff, and the girls he fooled around with. But mainly, it is his wife he needs to answer to.

The common victim in these scandals has always been the 'good wife' who has to stand by her man and endure the humiliation even as she tries to get on her feet and figure out what to do with her life. Mrs Jack Neo (I don't even know her name, is it Irene?) has unwittingly joined the ranks of the likes of Hilary, Silda, Jenny and Elin (last names not necessary right?). I'm aghast at how uncharitable and mean spirited people can be, especially under the illusion of anonymity on the internet. I wish I hadn't read some of the comments posted about Neo's wife. Leave her alone. Be human.

As for Jack Neo, well, he has always shown us how human he is in his films. Let's give him a chance to do so for real.

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