Playwright Alfian Sa’at’s Cultural Elitism: Precious Teapot Calling Kettle Black — Trashing Of Director Jack Neo
This article examines a ‘highbrow’ case of artistic snobbery cum hypocrisy in Singapore among some of her liberal elite.
Singapore dramatist Alfian Sa’at posted his second follow-up essay in wildrice.com on or about June 6 [ http://www.wildrice.com.sg/newsletter/NL44/article1.html ] … it was an expanded elaboration in defense of fellow actor Shrey Bhargava’s charges of alleged racism that occurred in late May during a filming audition for director Jack Neo’s ‘Ah Boys to Men’ comedy franchise, a part-four sequel — Mr. Bhargava felt he had been racially slighted by the casting director’s instruction to have him exaggerate his Indian accent like a ‘full-blown Indian man’; he then bemoaned about it after the fact as downright racism.
Crucially, Mr. Sa’at’s wildrice.com essay despises filmmaker Jack Neo, opining that: “Neo’s films are known for their lowbrow humour”, followed by his outright deprecation of it: “But should low brow humour be confused with comedy that is done in poor taste?”
Indeed, his latest comments smack of artistic and intellectual snobbishness writ large upon the lips of some Singapore’s liberal elite. Just how supercilious it is for Mr. Sa’at to arrogate to himself the right to be the bejeweled teapot branding the kettle black, to throw shade at his fellow artist, pooh-poohing Mr. Neo’s comedic work as insufficiently cultured and unintellectual — if one goes by the dictionary’s definition of what ‘lowbrow’ means. And how hypocritical of Mr. Sa’at to have never before bellowed a critical word about the ills of Mr. Neo’s ‘lowbrow’ films until just now when it is only expedient for him to do so.
To be sure, filmmaker Jack Neo’s calling card is one of characteristic ‘Singlishness’ in style and substance. And where comparison of his comedic oeuvre goes, it is neither lowbrow à la The Three Stooges nor the highbrow Monty Python, but singularly ‘Singlish’ in flavor — even his films’ titles themselves speak volumes, like ‘Money No Enough’ and ‘Where Got Ghost’. (As an aside, kid-actor Amos Yee once had a cameo role in one of Mr. Neo’s movies, in which he was set up as a perfect foil of standard English against the otherwise ‘Singlish’ tone of the movie; that’s vintage Jack Neo in essence.)
Surely, everyone is entitled to his/her definition of racism, Mr. Bhargava not least; he is free to ventilate it on the Net and to expect be countered accordingly. But for some liberal cultural elite to diss Mr. Neo’s comedy works as being ‘lowbrow’ and, by implication, the legion of Mr. Neo’s fans, is grossly inappropriate and uncalled for; that’s indeed regrettable.
Postscript: a note of historical context … what prompted me to first blog on June 3 about the Bhargava-racist allegation [ https://lester978.wordpress.com/2017/06/03/singapores-one-of-a-kind-racism-in-2017-according-to-actor-shrey-bhargavap/ ] was in large part a response to Mr. Sa’at’s first essay on the said ‘racist’ incident, posted on his FB page June 1, which I’ve characterized as being totally ‘wishy-washy’ without addressing the specifics. [ https://www.facebook.com/alfiansaat/posts/10154539542232371 ] This presumably led to Mr. Sa’at’s second essay of the above. And in the interest of full disclosure, let it be noted that only recently did Mr. Sa’at remove the block against my posting on his FB; the block was apparently in consequence of my 2 previous critical postings, namely: