However well intentioned Singapore’s laws banning chewing gum may have been, they have provided endless grist for the parody mill, helping paint a picture of a country run by control freaks who look upon their subjects as children who must constantly be told what they can and cannot do.
As all visitors know, a running joke, reflected on tourist t-shirts, is that “Singapore is a fine city” — no matter what you do here, there’s a good chance it’s illegal and you’re liable to pay a fine for it.
Yesterday, the all-knowing, paternalistic, gently authoritarian government added a new crime to the fine roster: gluing unauthorized ads to lamp posts. (Apparently it costs about $15,000 every month to scrape glue off of lamp posts.)
Here’s what gluers may face:
Offenders can be fined up to $2,000 (Singapore), jailed for up to three years and caned under the Vandalism Act for defacing public property. In 1994, American teenager Michael Fay, who was caught spray-painting cars, was caned despite the objections of then-President Clinton.
A high fine, three years in jail and a caning — for gluing an ad to a post? To a Westerner like me that seems mighty strict. But you have to understand just how obsessed leaders here are with keeping Singapore antiseptically clean and tidy. And it works. So is their approach good or bad? Interesting question.
[Off-topic but not really: Why do they have to bring up the decade-old Michael Fay story, which is wholly irrelevant to this issue? While I sympathized with Fay at first, after doing some research on his post-Singapore adventures my well of compassion is nearly totally dessicated. What an out-of-control brat.]
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.