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Thursday January 24th 2019

Accept Graffiti in Singapore?

Written by: Jonathan Chou


 June 6, 2010

On June 5th 2010, there was a report that an MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train was vandalized. A Singaporean train enthusiast has put up his video of the train shown below.

According to reports, a 33 year-old Swiss national had allegedly broken into the MRT train depot and spray-painted 2 cabins with graffiti.

As you can see, the graffiti was not offensive in any way. In fact, the graffiti seems to be actually quite well done and not actually provocative.

The culprit was taken into custody on May 25th, and will face charges of trespass and vandalism.

What grabbed headlines was this:

These 3 points are all interlinked with an underlying common theme; Communication affects perceptions directly in very different ways.

Perception is the process by which we make sense of the world around us. It is influenced by physiological factors such as past experiences and social factors such as the media.

The MRT management had taken almost 48 hours to report this incident to the police. What could have taken them so long? Perhaps their interpretation of the incident had something to do with it. Graffiti has become increasingly accepted in society, therefore the persons responsible simply took the graffiti as an advertisement, or a marketing gimmick. Singpost recently had a publicity stunt where 6 post boxes were openly vandalized, causing public alarm.

With this in recent memory, the theory that this graffiti was done with corporate approval is perfectly acceptable. The perception that ‚Äúvandalism is a crime‚ÄĚ had changed, thus the defaced MRT was allowed to carry on its service throughout that day.

As mentioned earlier, the non-threatening nature of the graffiti also played a factor. Had the graffiti been more vulgar and offensive, both the MRT staff and the general public would have been more alarmed.

There is a more serious reason of why a simple trespass and vandalism act has reached national headlines; A terrorist could have done it too, and it could have caused widespread damage. Why this public perception?

In 2001, several members of a terrorist organisation called Jemiah Islamiyah(JI) had been arrested in Singapore on terrorism charges. The Internal Security Department(ISD) was informed by US officers that a video was recovered in Afghanistan, with footage surveying the Yishun MRT station in Singapore. This shook the Singaporean public‚Äôs perception that terrorism was something that happened only in other less ‚Äėstable‚Äô countries. The previous experience of the failed plot of the terrorist bombing the MRT still remains vivid to this day, thus explaining the terrorism fears that are prevalent in this graffiti incident.

Perception is the selection, organisation and interpretation of information we receive in order to make sense of it. In Micheal Fay’s case, the American newspapers (and subsequently the American public) chose to focus and interpret on the caning, which to them seemed an outdated and needlessly violent punishment for a non-violent crime.

There is no form of public flogging (caning, whipping or otherwise) in the American justice system. With graffiti being commonplace in America, and no past experiences with caning, the American media thus chose to focus in on this seemingly barbaric punishment. His father announced that ‚ÄúThey can‚Äôt torture young people like this and be allowed to get away with it‚ÄĚ.¬†Then-American President Bill Clinton even publicly asked for leniency, which reduced his sentence from 6 strokes to 4.

Caning, however, has been a regular sentence handed out in the Singaporean system for crimes ranging from theft to sexual assault. Corporal caning has been meted out ever since Singapore has had a justice system; it is simply a fact of life here.

Perception changes our views greatly; whether it is our public acceptance of graffiti as an art form, or our ability to link a vandalism act as a lesson in national security. Perception can make corporal punishment seem needlessly brutal, or as a way to punish criminal offenders.

What is your view on this incident, dear reader? Should the Singaporean authorities learn from past lessons, and release the Swiss suspect without corporal punishment? Or should Singapore’s judicial system continue to mete out punishment impartially, even in the face of international uproar?

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One Response to “Accept Graffiti in Singapore?”

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