Well, at least not for me. Don’t get me wrong. I am against NLB (National Library Board, Singapore) taking the books (And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express and Who’s in My Family) off its shelves because I think it is the latest in the line of knee jerks by public agencies as well as the fact that it goes against my belief that children shouldn’t be brought up like the 3 proverbial monkeys with paws over their eyes, ears and mouths – ever wondered why they are monkeys and not owls? But then NLB cannot be seen to go against the heretofore branded as definition of family by authorities, especially not in the children’s section. Unless and until the higher ups change their definition, the right wingers will always throw it in our faces to their own advantage.
I’ve read the audio version of the multiple award winning ‘And Tango Makes Three’ which is based on a real story of 2 gay penguins adopting an egg and subsequently raising the young bird as 2 fathers. To be honest, the honours were well-deserved. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyPjUa908hM#t=35) It is a beautifully written book which if the opportunity arises, I would love to read it aloud to children. There is nothing overtly wrong about it except that it brings to the fore a less than normalized version of the family, so say the moralistic rights…well, at least not the type the right wingers insist is the only normal one. Does it promote the gay family overtly? I don’t think so but by association, when the subject of contention is presented in such a beautiful way, there is no need to overtly support it. So I do understand NLB’s stand. For that matter I also understand other Singaporean public institutions’ stand, whether it be MOE (Ministry of Education, Singapore) over the sexuality education programmes or the censorship board’s dilemma over Amei’s Rainbow song. However, my understanding doesn’t extend to agreement.
For me, it is the use or the thoughtless use of the word “pulp”. Ask anybody who has mastered any languages and they will tell you quite confidently that words are not simply words. They carry nuances, sub-text meanings, mental pictures and most importantly many of them are emotion laden. I’m not very sure who first used the word ‘pulped’ in this saga; if it was NLB, then I must say that I’m disappointed. The guardians of the written word in terms of books have just shown that they have let slip on the implications of a word badly chosen.
What is the meaning of ‘pulped’? The dictionary defines it as ‘to reduce to pulp’ http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pulped?s=t. It further defines ‘pulp’ as ‘soft soggy mass or substance’ http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pulp?s=t. But the dictionary merely hints at the effect of the word. Like another word ‘pulverize’ it gives the impression of physical destruction of something, physical violence perhaps hinted at. At the very least in the context of the already upsetting news of the books being banned from the children’s section of the NLB, the negative connotations of any otherwise objective descriptive word indicating an action would immediately become magnified.
It conjures up images of the first emperor of China, the dictator Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇) who burned books (焚书). It is followed by 坑儒 which means to bury or kill the scholars. Any scholar familiar with Chinese history would be able to tell us about the emotions of fear and rage the phrase 焚书坑儒 will evoke. I do not accuse NLB of anything this hideous. All I’m saying is that words tend to go beyond letters of the alphabet put together. Many of them carry so much emotional baggage that we really need to choose them carefully.
Language and semantics aside, I have never pulped a book. In fact, for that matter, I’ve hardly ever even thrown books away into the bin which explains the horrible state of messiness in my home much to the chagrin of those who share the same space as me. To me destroying or throwing a book away is almost sacrilegious. But I have given away beloved books to good friends, often in the hope that they will benefit from reading it as much as I did. Perhaps NLB could have chosen this less disrespectful way of dealing with their problem. Or is their message that the 3 titles are so evil, they should not be allowed to float around out there?
I am really glad that many Singaporeans have voiced their disagreement with NLB’s decision and action. I’m glad about the “Free My Library” movement. I’m extremely glad that Singaporean writers in the Singapore literary scene have taken a hard stand against NLB’s decision. The list reads like a Who’s Who in the literary and arts scene. Their voice is impactful enough for the Chief Executive of NLB, Ms Elaine Ng to say in an interview that she is “saddened by their disappointment in us.” “I would like to engage those who have worked with us for a long time and hope they will accept our outstretched hands in future,” she continues. (http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/nlb-saddened-criticism-20140713) It is unlikely that the books will be reinstated even with all the pressure on NLB to do so. However, in the larger scheme of things, as a result of the saga, public institutions in Singapore have become more aware of the fact that the alternative voice can be as loud and influential as the puritan rants of a small group of right wingers imposing their morals on everyone else in society
I look forward to a day when we can all realize
that the foundation of a beautiful family, of any kind,
is based on love and caring for one another.
At the very least, it has brought to the conscious level of the average Singaporean that same-sex pairings are not abnormal and hideous. They exist in the animal kingdom as many more cases of same-sex pairings among penguins and other animals have come to our notice through the internet. We should accept them in human society as well. It is the only acceptable way to go in an all inclusive and humane society or we risk going back to the era when stoning and drowning in a pig basket were common. I look forward to a day when we can all realize that the foundation of a beautiful family, of any kind, is based on love and caring for one another.