Wally’s Slip Is No Measure of Singapore’s Creative Scene

The day started with great news about Singapore film-maker Anthony Chen’s win in Cannes.

Bravo, Anthony!

Anthony’s achievement was a timely and welcome vindication of any misgivings about Singapore’s creative scene.

The recently launched water conservation video by the Public Utilities Board (PUB), all painful three minutes and 10 seconds of it, had me reeling and feeling decidedly nauseous as I watched it. When I was done dry-wretching, I was able to focus on the dissatisfaction and irritation that the video had mustered in me.

The video opens with a young boy taking a shower – his expression is disturbing. Even more disturbing is Water Wally, said government agency’s mascot, sneaking a peek.

A screen shot from the video. Photo credit: PUB

I was offended by the video. It smacks of paedophilia, the messaging tool is insulting, and it represents a blatant misuse of public funds.

The question that immediately came to mind was, “Who decided that this was a good idea?”

A default face-saving response would be, “But we wanted something catchy and stand-out to push our message across” or worse, “We were on a tight budget.”

What defines or qualifies as “creative” is an inherently subjective question, but there exist considerations of quality, standards and taste within those fluid markers. Surely, discretion and discernment are pre-requisites?

Even as I vehemently agree that the need to conserve water is a critically important message, must we be told in such a manner how to wash? Is the PUB suggesting that a Gangnam Style dance is necessary for Singaporeans to keep tabs on their water consumption? Is this a dumbed-down relaying of a message so important?

The flippant storyboarding trivialises – nay, disrespects – the issue of water conservation and security with its silliness, racial stereotyping and almost child pornography. As a result, it had and has people talking about it for the wrong reasons.

How then has that messaging exercise been successful?

Water Wally’s dance video is on the Internet, which means that its audience is now global, which means that many more people are laughing at us. Misfires such as this only fuel suspicions that, apart from exorbitant car and property prices, a gaping income divide and Hainanese Chicken Rice, Singapore has little else to offer, particularly creatively.

It is an insult to anyone who ekes out a living by plying a creative trade.

Just as one has to dig into the recesses for inner strength to stave off brainwashing and propaganda, one must have the smarts to ignore negligent work like the Water Wally video and turn our faces to the saving graces that Singapore can truly be proud of. I don’t have enough page space, so I will only list a few: Electrico, Geraldine Kang, Deborah Emmanuel, Choo Meng Foo, T25 Films, Tabula and Carrie K.

This Water Wally slip, ironically, also betrays a certain tight-fisted and grudging support for local creative and artistic talent, a chicken-and-egg debate that could wrench the hind leg off a donkey. But creatives aren’t disheartened and will do what they have to to ensure that the show goes on. Poet and photographer, Marc Nair, for example, is full-tilt into his planning for indie arts festival Lit Up 2013 and will be staging a fund-raising event on 15 June in Singapore.

On the subject of money, I don’t know how much the PUB paid for the Water Wally video, but it did so with our tax-payer dollars. As for the agency that made it, it clearly felt good enough about it to have put its name behind the project.

I ask again then, “Who decided that it was a good idea?”

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