The writer loved The Wall; the album and subsequent part animated film by British prog-rock band Pink Floyd, one of the most intriguing and imaginative works of art. It spoke to him in his youth when he felt repelled by the constant cycle of study and exams and later alienated by the slavish conformity demanded by the PAP. And he keenly felt a sense of dejavu following the Amos Affair as life, at least in Singapore, seems to be imitating art. Here is a brief synopsis.
“Pink’s life revolves around an abyss of loss and isolation. With an overprotective mother who lavishes equal measures of love and anxieties onto her son, Pink begins to build a mental wall between himself and the world so that he can live in a constant, alienated equilibrium free from life’s emotional troubles and uncertainties. Every incident that causes Pink pain is yet another brick in his ever-growing wall: a fatherless childhood, a domineering mother, an out-of-touch education system bent on producing compliant cogs in the societal wheel, a government that treats its citizens like chess pieces, the hypocrisy of society, the mindless conformism. Shackled to his bricks, Pink watches helplessly (or perhaps fantasizes) as his fragmented psyche coalesces into a persona that became famous but antagonise the society which had defiled his own life from birth.”
Quite like Pink, Amos’s own psyche seems to have coalesced into the persona that antagonises Singapore society by ranting against hypocrisy and that very mindless conformity. This persona will have difficulties with the “values” of a society shaped by a government narrative that produces those compliant cogs of the societal wheel and those chess pieces or in Singspeak economic digits, depicted in the Wall.
The famous animated scene from the film with resonance to Singapore since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew; rows of hammers, lower half of the handle black and the upper half red, the colours of Fascism, marching in goose-step crushing enemies – a display of mindless, faceless power. 32 police complaints and countless vitriolic and violent incitements perpetrated by adults on a teenager in leg irons and handcuffs over a video rant. Questions of the legacy of Mr. Lee attacked not by reasoned arguments but by threats. Are the nation’s own black and red hammers goose-stepping out of the closets to crush political dissent?
Beyond the pervading sense of doom and the nihilistic rage, paced by Pink Floyd’s usual slow, deliberate music, the Wall has a strong existential current that freedom cannot be separated from responsibilities but also that real freedom cannot truly be found by conformity and rigidities which alienates. Are all of those conformities and rigidities of past certainties the value to take Singapore into the future? Here is the end of that great song “Comfortably Numb” from the Wall.
“When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.”
One may understandably be anxious about the responsibilities of true freedom by holding on to past PAP narratives unchanged and unalterable. But for the sake of the young and the nation’s future, should one’s own anxieties about freedom be passed onto the young so that they become just as comfortably numb?
In the real world, as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said a company like Apple could not emerge in societies like Singapore
“Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behavior is not tolerated [and] you are extremely punished. Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great writers?”
The nation cannot meet the challenge of the future by holding onto past delusions and anxieties.
Do you still prefer to be Comfortably Numb?