Watching TV and movies in Singapore, in particular the kind of shows we like is an art form thanks to the rigours of Singaporean censorship laws. Swear words, even words the average person might no longer consider a swear word like bloody or Hell are edited as are scenes involving sex, drugs or violence. Quite often we’re left staring blankly and confused as a scene jumps inexplicably over the good parts to something more acceptable, thankfully or we would be senselessly corrupted and no good could come of that. We have however learnt to read lips, anticipate dialogue and fill in the blanks before the next edit, skills that obviously have many applications in real life but none I can think of at the moment other than as a party trick. There are times when we are left to make up our own dialogue as the audio is muted for lengthy periods, especially while watching shows like Ray Donovan, Californication etc.
Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street set a Guinness world record for the most swearing in one film with the f-word used 506 times ie on average 2.81 times per minute. Despite our experience with muting, we still have no idea what this movie is about other than the official description. Another five minutes was deleted for “gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of sex.”
Another target of censorship laws is the use of Singlish, the local adaptation of English. It is only permitted in interviews when the interviewee only speaks Singlish. However, Singlish is widely spoken and for a foreigner, this might sound like any language other than English. When my brother visited recently from Australia, he was convinced everyone around him was speaking Mandarin when they were actually speaking Singlish. A few tips for speaking Singlish:
Always answer a question starting with 'Actually...'
Always ask a question with 'is it' at the end, for example, "Going on a holiday, is it?" or "Like spicy food, is it?"
Exclamation points are pronounced by adding lah or lor at the end of the sentence, for example, "So expensive, lah(!)"
Yes is 'can' and no is 'cannot'.
Address any person older than you as Uncle or Aunty.
Kopi is coffee; Kopi tiam is coffee shop. Note: local traditional coffee is served in a plastic bag.
Exasperation, frustration or contempt is "Aiyah!"
Despite the ban on Singlish, our favourite local program, The Noose (a fake news program) uses extensive Singlish and somehow gets away with what no other program does – making fun of the government (with the Minister at Large and Minister Without Portfolio), Singaporean laws, rules and idiosyncrasies. For anyone who lives here, The Noose is essential viewing and it’s mute-free.