Playwright-poet Alfian Sa’at @ Singapore Writers Festival: Good satire has to be lost on some

People who don't get it make it funnier.

Martino Tan |Belmont Lay | November 10, 2014 @ 02:57 am


The Singapore Writers Festival had a panel discussion on Nov. 8, 2014, about “The Art of Satire”, with a capital “S” to make it sound more important than it really is.

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The annual Singapore’s Writers Fest is a much anticipated event on Singapore’s cultural calendar. This year’s theme is The Prospect Of Beauty.

The 17th edition of the annual literary event took place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 9.

It featured 280 events and included 200 international and Singapore writers.

Travel writer and fictionist Paul Theroux, fantasy author Raymond Feist, feminist writer Naomi Wolf, current Booker Prize longlisted author Karen Joy Fowler, environmental writer Barry Lopez, comics writer David Hine and winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize, Su Tong were at the event.

The mission of the festival is to not only present the world’s major literary talents to the people of Singapore, but also to promote new and emerging Singapore and Asian writing to a wider public.


Moderated by Gwee Li Sui (extreme right), it featured speakers Neil Humphreys (extreme left), Alfian Sa’at (second from left) and Benjamin Lee (second from right).

Some of the imponderables talked about at the one-hour session include:

(a) When should satirists punch up or punch down?
(Answer: punch the PAP);

(b) Is it okay to be picking on easy targets such as the common folk?
(Answer: try not to);

(c) Where are the boundaries of satire?
(Answer: no one knows);

(d) What is good satire?
(Answer: has a semblance of truth while bringing situations to their logical absurd conclusions) and

(e) What is satire’s contribution to society?
(Answer: elevation of the farcical, self-deprecation, redistribution of power to resolve the asymmetry of power imbalance between the haves and have-nots and avoiding lawsuits).

But what really sums up the meaning of good satire is Alfian Sa’at’s anecdote about how satire is lost on some, which makes it even better:

“I got this blog, called ‘Know Your MPs‘. I did this in the past election.

And I have a photo of anyone who is an MP in a funny and short caption.

So there is one photo of Inderjit Singh (MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC). And he was beside this African woman and she was in her tribal costume, headgear and all.

And then I captioned it as ‘Inderjit Singh represents Singapore at a World Turban conference.’

So the question, is that making fun (of religion)?

But I was thinking if there was a religious Muslim man and some of them wear kohl under their eyes, because this was done during the Prophet’s time, and if he was beside Adam Lambert (American Idol singer), I would say ‘Singapore’s representative at the World Eyeliner Convention’.

His daughter (Inderjit’s daughter) commented, ‘Oh you know, you shouldn’t be saying this. Turban is a very important item for Sikhs.’

I changed the photo into one where Inderjit Singh was talking to a Malay woman, in what looks like an old folks’ home.

And then I captioned it as, ‘Malay lady asks Inderjit, why Sikhs can wear turban to schools, but not those Malay girls wearing tudungs?’

It didn’t go down well as well.

And this time Inderjit Singh commented, ‘Oh, you were not there. You had no idea what she was saying to me.’

(Laughter in the room)

‘What actually happened was I passed her an ang bao. She was a very grateful recipient.’

Hello? My goodness… (Laughter) apparently someone just did not get it.

Basically, it’s a roast of all the MPs.

So I just replaced it finally with one photo where Inderjit is at the hawker centre and just caption it, ‘Inderjit is pointing at some hawker food’.

(Laughter and applause in the room)


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About Martino Tan

Martino’s parents named him after an Italian priest, Vatican's 1st ambassador to S’pore. He's inspired by the lives of Robert Kennedy & Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the words of George Orwell & William F. Buckley Jr., & the music of the Beatles.

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