What the SDP bear tells us about ourselves

Cynical Investor

“Or the difficulty of choosing a unifying symbol in a multiracial, multireligious society”.

When Danny the Bear appeared, I guessed it was a take on the over-reaction of the authorities over an ad agency’s prank. The authorities were upset that they had to investigate whether a bear was on the loose in Ulu Pandan. There were mutterings of prosecution for wasting the time of officials, though to be fair no one has been charged yet.

My next reaction was “Typical ACS boy stunt. A bear is so Ang Moh”. Dr Chee was from ACS. But, BTW, his sis doesn’t look like an MGS gal. I always think of MGS gals as tai-tais waiting for their drivers.

But then thinking about it (plenty of time, I am 55 going on 62), I realised that the SDP would have stepped on land mines if it had tried to use something more indigenous. Choosing  an Asian animal symbol is difficult in Singapore, where even though there is a dominant race, we pride ourselves on being (OK “trying to be” might be more accurate) a multiracial, multireligious society. This means being sensitive to the sensitivities (or perceived sensitivities) of other races or religions.

A dragon or panda would be too Chinese; an elephant or tiger would be too Indian; and a lion might get the SDP sued by the “Courtesy” police. And of course animals that have religious symbolism are also a no-go area because of religious sensitivities, or perceptions thereof.

What about the mouse deer? In Malayan and Indonesian folklore, Sang Kancil always outsmarts the bad and stronger crocodiles, tigers and elephants. And helps the other animals fight these bullies.

Hmm, looks like a good symbol for what the SDP says it is trying to do.

But the SDP would have to educate the majority of S’poreans (including young Malays)  about the symbolism of the mouse deer. Many don’t know the stories of the mouse deer or even how it looks like. This is sad because it shows how the non-Islamic bits of Malay culture have been marginalised in S’pore even within the Malay community.

So the SDP was right to settle for Danny the Bear. A bear, BTW, whose place of birth is uncertain. Danny’s love of teh tarik might mean he is a Malaysian PR. And no S’porean is that cheerful.

Now if he were to enjoy fish head curry, hokkien mee and grumbling abt the govmin, I would have no doubt that he is a true blue S’porean. But on the other hand, no bear native to M’sia looks like Danny.

Seriously, finding a unifying or rallying symbol in S’pore is tough. There are always unintended implications that can be read into whatever symbol we choose.  If we try to mix-and-match, we end up with a concrete or fibreglass Merlion. Remember “Asian values”?

So maybe we always need to take something from faraway. After all it worked in the case of the English language, our de facto national language, whatever the constitution may say about the status of the Malay language.

Danny the Bear is a symbol of the S’pore way. Something from faraway is best to avoid all kinds of unintended tensions that can arise from choosing something local.



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