Written by Ng E-Jay
08 June 2012
Earlier this week, Ms Samantha Lo, founder of the online magazine RCGNTN, was investigated by the police for allegedly pasting stickers bearing humourous captions at traffic junctions near the Lau Pa Sat area, and for sprayed the words “My Grandfather Road” on Maxwell Road and Robinson Road.
Also popularly known as Sticker Lady, Samantha Lo has drawn a great deal of online support, including an online petition started by concerned netizens calling upon the authorities to treat her case with a light touch and reduce her charge to one of Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance).
Meanwhile, some netizens have also said that Sticker Lady should not be treated lightly, or else others might take advantage of the laxity and escalate acts of vandalism. This kind of paranoia and a pessimistic view of Singapore society is unfortunate, and deserves a rebuttal.
As Samantha Lo has said to the media: “It is almost impossible to talk about developing a culturally vibrant, creative or loveable city, without some tolerance for those slightly messy activities that sometimes challenge the rules … … it would be useful to make a distinction between this kind of art and outright graffiti or vandalism that seeks to deliberately destroy public property for its own sake“.
Judging from the reactions of a majority of netizens, Sticker Lady’s traffic junction stickers were not offensive or annoying in any way. Certainly, they made people laugh. I feel that they were cute, wholesomely hysterical, and gloriously tongue-in-cheek. The stickers really captured our unique quirks, in a way that was so funny and so unmistakably Singaporean.
Perhaps Sticker Lady crossed the line when she painted “My Grandfather Road” right on the pavement outside the MND Building. For this she deserves at least a stern warning. Even if she had no intention of damaging public property, a certain line must be drawn.
There are those who claim that letting Sticker Lady off lightly will send a wrong message and encourage more serious acts of vandalism. This mentality is unfortunate, as it displays both paranoia and pessimism.
The thinking behind such an argument is that human beings will always take advantage of any situation, and abuse the system whenever they can, so we have the guard against this at all cost, even at the cost of discriminating against the worthy and the honourable.
This thinking is what makes the government so reluctant to expand its social safety nets, to give more help and financial assistance to the poor, needy, sick, aged and destitute.
The government perpetually fears that people will always look for loopholes to exploit, that if the authorities display even a bit of generosity and compassion towards those in need, there will be hoards of opportunists ready to abuse the system.
“Give and inch, demand a yard” is what the government always assumes Singaporeans will do.
Letting Sticker Lady off lightly will not encourage acts of vandalism if the authorities explain clearly why they are treating her case with a light touch, and that this does not in any way change their tough stance against genuine acts of destruction.
In other words, the authorities have the chance to make use of their good sense, and display some measure of discretion with regards to Sticker Lady’s case, provided they are able to communicate with the public effectively.
However, in much of Singapore’s socio-political history, the government and the authorities have never really practised communicating effectively with the people.
They have, for the most part, simply told the people what to do, what to say, even what to think, and expected blind conformity from the masses. Up until very recent times, there has been very little attempt at genuine two-way dialogue.
Paranoia and pessimism is a poor way to govern a country. It fosters a sense of learned helplessness from the population. It creates a people who are afraid to push the boundaries, afraid to express themselves, afraid of exploring and cultivating their own creativity. It creates a society of mindless automatons who can only follow the written rules and obey commands to the letter. It does not encourage people to think out of the box and devise novel solutions to challenges that our society faces today.
The gift of Sticker Lady is that she has forced us to think. She has forced us to step outside our comfort zones and explore the boundaries between expression and conformity. She has taught us to laugh. She has brought humour to an otherwise plaid human landscape.
Sticker Lady has made me realize that even while a long list of rules are drawn up by the authorities to keep society in place, human beings are by their very nature restless, always seeking change, always wanting to express themselves, and that the more rigidly we apply the rules, the more we confine the human creature to a tight corner that he or she is not meant to be imprisoned in.
Sticker Lady has made me realize that human beings must continually push the boundaries of their own experiences, question assumptions, challenge the status quo, and allow their innate creativity to flourish despite the circumstances.
The worst thing we can do is to lock up our minds and our spirits in a web of paranoia and pessimism, and smother our own desires to be creative and expressive out of fear that such desires would destroy us.
Rules are important to any society because they protect people from having their rights infringed. Rules must be enforced so that people can interact, do business, and live with each other harmoniously. But rules are not meant to be rigid and unbending despite the circumstances, because the very nature of the human condition demands the willingness to discern, to see past the superficial, and to exercise discretion.
Only a society that is flexible, that can practise good common sense in any situation, will progress. A rigid society that enforces rules blindly will not progress.
Certain, taxpayer dollars and public property must be protected. In Sticker Lady’s case however, there is something else we should protect — our humanity.