by Felix Cheong
THE moment the studio lights came on and the current affairs programme was back on air after a two-minute ad break, the three panellists scrambled to adjust their clothes and props. No one wanted to be caught on national television without their government-enforced muzzles. It was just not the “Singapore way”.
“Welcome back!” host Steven Lee announced brightly to the camera, though his voice wasn’t so clear through his muzzle. If you closed your eyes, you could just about imagine the super-villain Bane with a bad case of the sniffles.
To follow the flow of the discussion, you would have to rely on government-issued subtitles on the screen. There was no way you could lip-read, what with the speakers’ muzzles worn tight over their mouths.
Nonchalantly, Lee picked up one of the six Hello Kitty collectibles lined up like terracotta warriors on the table in front of him. The camera zoomed in for a close-up. They looked made-in-China, disposable-cheap but had, in fact, taken the production team a few months – and something like a small fortune – to acquire on eBay.
“If you’ve just joined us, our topic today: Why are Singaporeans perennially obsessed with this cat with no mouth?” Lee – or rather, his subtitles – continued as he turned to the guest on his right.
“You see,” said the academic with the big eyes, made bigger by her concave glasses, her voice also barely audible through her muzzle, “for the voiceless, this Hello Kitty cat defines us as a society. One people, one nation and no mouth. We’re reflected in it, by it, through it and with it…”
“That’s rubbish!” the MP sitting next to her cut in. Trained as he was in public speaking through the muzzle, his voice naturally boomed across the studio. Every word was governmentally enunciated and nagging-clear.
“Are you suggesting we suppress dissent? No one on this island has ever been put down or put out because of what he believes in.”
A wave of applause, nods of approval, erupted from the studio audience, every one of them a devotee of Hello Kitty.
The MP, now in the full stride of his rhetoric, clapped in unison. “Right or not?” he asked the audience rhetorically.
Another wave of applause followed. The silent majority had spoken. It was loud and muffled-clear.
Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.
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