Some in the Singapore literary community are up in arms.
This was after Wang Lei, a veteran getai singer and livestream host, who is best known for his motormouth and vulgar quips and tic-like retorts, was invited to be a guest speaker at the Singapore Writer's Festival (SWF) 2021.
According to the SWF website, the 60-year-old is set to appear as a speaker for the "Vanishing Trades" event, alongside Caroline Chia, a researcher in traditional Chinese theatre, and Su Zhangkai, who has authored several publications on the local entertainment industry.
The panel discussion to be held in Mandarin will centre around discussing "endangered art forms", such as getai, Teochew opera and Chinese puppetry.
Crudeness doesn't mean he's a bad person
In an interview with Shin Min Daily News on Oct. 24, Wang, who is also known as "Mai Yu Ge" ("Fish Selling Brother"), shared news of the invitation, and that he had mentally prepared himself for criticism from online commenters on his appearance at the SWF.
In a Facebook post published the same day, he shared that while he might be crude, uncultured, and not as well-educated, this does not mean that he is a bad person:
In one reply to a comment, Wang added: "My crudeness is part of me being myself. I will not be fake. Those who understand me will definitely support me, while those who don’t will understand one day!”
"If you want me to talk about getai, I believe I can do it. Thank you to the organisers for the invitation. I will do my best, and show everyone a different side of Wang Lei!”
His post has since been liked over 4,800 times, with several commenters coming forward to support Wang, telling him to believe in himself.
However, some local authors were less than enthused about Wang's debut, saying it was a lowering of SWF's standards.
Lee Leng Kiong, a former Mediacorp producer who is now a writer and photographer, wrote in a Facebook post on Oct. 25 that the move was "totally unacceptable".
Alongside a screenshot of the news, Lee questioned: "Is it true? Totally unacceptable! Do the organisers know that he often spews vulgarities in several of his videos, is disrespectful to others, and uses blasphemous language liberally? Does the SWF really need such content?"Ng Wai Choy, another local writer, replied in Mandarin to Lee's post: "The relevant authorities here often think that our people's level of appreciation [for the arts] is so basic."
He added: "When there's something to promote, they find this sort of famous person to promote it in such a cheap and crude way. How did he even become the guest speaker for a panel discussion?"
Wang responds to critics
In an interview with The Straits Times, Wang said in response to critics that he has 24 years' of experience in getai, and that is where his roots are.
He also defended his current role as "Mai Yu Ge", pointing out that his "foul mouth" has helped him "put three meals on the table" when the getai industry has been hit hard by the pandemic with many having lost their livelihoods.
He admitted that he had expected attacks from online commenters after news broke of his role as a guest speaker, but he had not anticipated the blowback from local authors.
"I have to treat them as online haters. To them I say: 'Write your books, sketch your drawings but keep in your lane.'"
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Top image via Wang Lei Instagram