When Mediacorp aired a television drama featuring a pedophile who spread a sexually transmitted disease to a child, Teo Yu Sheng took offense.
Teo, a ‘queer designer’ who sells LGBTQ-themed accessories under the brand Heckin’ Unicorn, took to the Internet and demanded an apology.
Mediacorp issued an apology.
Chase Tan, the actor who portrayed the pedophile, also issued an apology.
But it wasn’t enough for Teo, or the mob.
Teo, and everyone who works for him at Heckin’ Unicorn, will never be satisfied by anything less than a complete surrender. The warning signs are posted all over his website’s About Us page.
We’re here to push the heteronormative narrative that surrounds us everywhere we go, so that the world can be a kinder place for all. We’re here to spread the message of love, because we know that there’s plenty to go around without the need to restrict access to it.
We’re here to provide a little hope to those of you who need it. We’re here to inspire other queer people who might have ideas for queer businesses, but never took their first step.
We’re here. We exist. And we will not go away.
Look past ‘kinder’, ‘love’, and ‘inspire’. Look at the last line. This reveals Teo’s strategy: the weaponisation of empathy to push an agenda, an agenda revealed in Teo’s demands.
To an outsider it sounds perfectly innocuous. ‘Stop creating negative portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community’.
But if you think through it carefully, Teo is really pushing for self-censorship.
I am sympathetic to Teo and the LGBTQ community. Mediacorp, as part of a ‘nation building media’, has consistently portrayed sexual minorities as villains, objects of ridicule, or both. After decades of such representation, you’d think it’s only fair to demand Mediacorp to stop portraying LGBTQ people negatively.
But Mediacorp can’t.
Singapore’s media scene is heavily stifled. The Media Development Authority controls and censors all media in Singapore. Part of its broadcast guidelines includes a requirement to uphold the family as the building block of society.
If Mediacorp attempted to portray an LGBTQ character in a positive light, the MDA will censor Mediacorp, and its broadcast license will be revoked.
Mediacorp won’t risk being shut down just to please a vocal minority. That leaves it two options:
- Offer a hollow apology, then after sufficient time has passed, roll out another queer character as a villain or object or ridicule.
- Stop portraying any kind of queer character.
In other words, either Mediacorp reneges on its promise or erases all LGBTQ representation. No matter what happens, Teo and his allies will not be happy.
I don’t expect Mediacorp to follow up with Teo. By issuing an apology, it has signaled weakness to the mob. By following up, it will only dig itself deeper into the hole.
Why can’t Mediacorp take the principled stance and simply not create any negative portrayals of LGBTQ characters? Why can’t all creators?
The answer is simple: truth.
Art wraps truth in a beautiful package. Through beauty, it spotlights truth and brings it to the audience’s attention. Art is a powerful method to transmit messages, ideas, and values. Thus, it must be used in the service of truth — or it will be used to distort truth.
And the truth about LGBTQ people is that they are as human as you and me.
Their sexuality is only a small component of their identities. Being queer does not automatically make someone a saint or a devil. It does not confer any special virtue, nor any particular prowess or credibility outside a highly narrow field.
LGBTQ people are as human as everybody else. Being human, they are thus free to choose to be good or evil — as free as everybody else.
Activists will be quick to point out the LGBTQ heroes who have earned their places in the annals of history. This is truth.
There are pedophiles, murderers, rapists, and other villains who identity as LGBTQ. This, too, is truth.
There are many LGBTQ people are upstanding members of their communities. This is truth.
The LGBTQ community faces many challenges: disproportionately high rates of STD transmissions among men who have sex with men, domestic violence among lesbian couples, elevated rates of mental illness among transgender people. This, too, is truth.
To demand that a creator elevate the positive and ignore the negative is to commit an offense against truth itself. It is to demand that he compromise his artistic vision in the service of a political agenda, one that he may not even agree to. It is to commit the same error as Mediacorp, only at the opposite polarity: that of hiding away something people will find distasteful or controversial.
If there were an injunction against negative portrayals of LGBTQ characters, many works of art would never have been created.
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is one of the major antagonists in the seminal science fiction novel Dune. A decadent, corpulent predator, everything about him is deviant and twisted — including his sexuality. Everything about him contrasts sharply against House Atreides, highlighting the latter’s virtues.
In Hammer’s Slammers, Major Joachim Steuben is in love with Colonel Alois Hammer. Motivated by love, he will do anything, including torturing children, eliminating political enemies — and arranging for his own assassination. Steuben’s sexuality is integral to his character, informing his most dramatic actions. Such a character cannot exist if David Drake were forbidden from negative portrayals of LGBTQ characters.
Andrew Vachss’ Burke series follows an urban outlaw who preys on even worse predators, including and especially pedophiles. In one novel, Burke interviews a pedophile, who describes in painstaking detail his rationalisations for abusing boys — using the same arguments as the North American Man Boy Love Association. Through his books, Vachss pushed for strengthened laws and powers to protect children, creating great social good.
Demanding creators to stop all negative portrayals of LGBTQ people is no different from demanding censorship. It is no different from declaring war on art, and therefore war on truth.
The answer to offensive speech is more speech — speech in the service of truth, goodness and beauty. Creators should thus be free to tell the stories they want to tell. Gay heroes, queer villains, issues faced by transgender people, everything that serves truth and goodness and beauty, no matter how unpalatable, must be allowed to be aired.
The woke mob does not care about truth, goodness or beauty. They care only about their agendas. Their agenda demands that they foist it upon everybody and everything around them. In the days of Clown World, the creator must choose between art and agenda.
The answer is always truth, goodness and beauty.
(All images by Mothership)
If you want to see diversity done right, check out my cyberpunk horror collection Babylon Blues here!