Friday, June 15, 2012

One final word on Teo Chee Hean & the boy

I don't want to belabour the point but I thought I should put in one last word on this matter.  In my earlier posts (see One More Silenced and Cowed into Submission), while deprecating the silencing of a teenager when we should do all we can to encourage the young to speak up and express their thoughts in words, I was clearly disapproving of the boy's use of swear words.

I would be untruthful if I said that profanity was all right to me because it certainly isn't and I personally detest all forms of profanity.  But the world was not formed for me alone and there are others living here too and I do try to understand how others think and the context in which the profanity was said.  I have said in one of my earlier posts (see the links in the preceding paragraph) that the boy's other posts in his blog also contained the word "fuck" and its derivatives, chief or which is the word "fucking" used as a modifier.

One point to note is the boy's blog was in  Anyone with a tumblr account should know that for reasons I cannot understand, the use of "fuck" and "fucking" is extremely common in tumblr culture.  If you haven't got a tumblr account and you try to think of your facebook postings as an equivalent, forget it.  Tumblr is very different from facebook or twitter.  For example, I like cycling and I follow cycling groups in facebook and cycling blogs in tumblr.  In facebook, a typical cycling group is simply called "Cycling".  In tumblr, the best cycling blog to follow is "Fuckyeahcycling".   Everything is preceded by Fuckyeah.

I'm not trying to excuse the boy who seems to have been at the receiving end of everyone's rebuke but we must look at everything in its proper context.  Of course you won't catch me going "Fuck yeah!" in my speech and writing even though I have a tumblr account and I do blog there regularly.  But I'm not an impressionable 17 year old and I cannot be so presumptuous as to measure everyone else by my own yardstick.

When we look at the entire circumstances in which the boy used the offensive word, we have to admit that it was hardly offensive at all.  We should also not forget that he was addressing a public figure.  If I say "Fuck you" to a cashier in a supermarket, that is highly offensive but it is much less so when someone says the same thing in a blog to Obama.  Obscenities directed at the US President or the British PM are so common that nobody bats an eyelid.  It would be shocking to hear of a schoolboy being summoned to meet Obama with his teacher and father because he wrote an obscenity directed at Obama in his blog.  If Obama did that, he'd be out of office by November this year.

While we may wish to make use of this episode to teach the young the importance of writing good and polite essays, we should stop making this boy a scapegoat.

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