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Singapore gay portrayals on television

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 1 month ago

There have always been a sizeable proportion of homosexuals in the broadcast media since the inception of television in Singapore. However, in the early decades, these individuals preferred to remain in the closet due to official policy which sought to restrict gay people from attaining managerial positions on [Caldecott Hill]. It was feared that they would introduce a gay-friendly angle into television broadcasts, which would have the greatest impact on mainstream society that any medium could achieve. (See the paragraph "Past Restrictions" in the article "[Singapore gay documentaries]")

 

However, as local television and society matured, gay men in the broadcast industry gradually became more assertive and less guarded of their sexuality. Producers began to explore the hitherto [taboo] topic of homosexuality by gingerly introducing stereotypical gay male characters into their drama serials. This was done initially in the Chinese language channels, as Singapore produced no English language television dramas in the early years. It was a creative progression as all the major role genres had been worked to death. It was also thought to be interesting to see how the public would react to such novel characters on a medium which penetrated vividly into their very homes.

 

One of the first such experiments was a mid-1980s [Singapore Broadcasting Corporation] (SBC) production on [Channel 8], the only Chinese language television channel at the time. It was a daily Mandarin drama serial starring popular actor [Li Nan Xing] as the main protagonist. He portrayed a handsome, masculine, struggling model who was the love interest of a stereotypically effeminate gay man hopelessly enamoured of Li's male beauty and bent on seducing him. Groundbreaking scenes, never before seen in a local production, included sexily-shot close-up sequences of Li's muscular body as he exercised on gym equipment, the lascivious lip-licking of the gay character as he watched Li exercising, the attempted resting of the homosexual charater's cheek on Li's sweaty body, staged disco scenes of gay men dancing, including a swimming trunk fashion show, two gay lovers having a tiff in a carpark and an attempt at [oral sex] by the gay character on Li in a car.

 

Audible grunts of apparent disgust could be heard emanating from some homes during the airing of these landmark scenes on primetime slots. In the following weeks, numerous letters of complaint were received by SBC and the serial's introduction of homosexuality spawned several articles in the Chinese press. These factors caused the station to shelve its experimentation with gay subplots for many years.

 

More acceptable to the general public were cross-dressing comedy skits, especially by superstar comedian [Jack Neo] and drag icon [Kumar] , in which the roles they portrayed were 100% female and in which there were no hints of masculine homosexuality. Effeminate mannerisms and behaviour by non-cross-dressing male television artistes, especially in comedic routines, was also well-received, provided they made no references to homosexuality. Over the years, many straight comedians, including portly [Moses Ng], performed in drag on television without raising eyebrows.

 

With the introduction of [cable television] into Singapore, subscription non-free-to-air channels produced overseas, with their more liberal portrayal of homosexuality in news reports, documentaries and dramas, became accessible to local viewers . These exerted no small impact on the mainstream audience, whose previous parochial outlook was broadened to encompass a much wider horizon.

 

In 2003, [[Channel NewsAsia]] ([CNA]) pioneered a revolution when it uttered the English words "gay" and "lesbian" for the very first time on local television in its feature report on the [Sydney] Gay and Lesbian [Mardi Gras]. However, news of foreign gay events was covered more readily, while Singaporean developments were still firmly stuffed in the censhorship closet.

 

All this changed in July 2003, when Prime Minister [Goh Chok Tong] made statements in Time magazine that the [Civil Sevice] would be overhauling its previous policy of not employing openly gay individuals. This landmark event opened the floodgates of television reportage on Singaporean gay news. (See [Singapore gay documentaries]). In typical top-down political management, television was now commandeered, or at least given the green light, to make a complete U-turn so as to educate the public on the acceptability of homosexuals as equal citizens and the injustice of discrimination, especially at work.

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