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Politics is no laughing matter in Singapore

By Geert De Clercq
Reuters
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; 2:39 AM

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Chewing gum, homosexuality, public protests... the list of things frowned upon is long in Singapore. But satire? Yes, that too. Seriously.

Political humor is playing a bigger role than ever in the city-state, and despite government's insistence that politics is no laughing matter, satirical websites are blossoming.

TalkingCock.com, an irreverent website that relentlessly pokes fun at the Singapore "gahmen" (government), gets 4 million hits per month in a country of 4.4 million, while popular blog mrbrown.com receives some 20,000 downloads per day for its droll podcasts about life in Singapore, up 10-fold from a year ago.

"These websites touch a popular vein. They deal with issues of everyday life in a language that can be understood in the kopitiam (coffee shop). It's like the parables of Jesus," said researcher Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies.

Others say government disapproval of these websites has added to their appeal.

Colin Goh is the only public face of the large collective that puts together TalkingCock.com, a website named after the term for "talking nonsense" in "Singlish" -- the local patois of English laced with Hokkien Chinese and Malay words.

"The others do not want to reveal their identities, they are too scared," said Goh, a former lawyer with degrees from University College London and New York's Columbia University.

Goh and friends set up TalkingCock in 2000 in New York, where he lives. The project has since grown into a huge, rambling site with dozens of anonymous contributors.

Goh insists the site's focus is on humor, not on politics.

"All humor is about daily life. It just so happens that in Singapore, the government occupies such a large part of our lives," said Goh, who is also an award-winning film director.

"SERIOUSLY"

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is well aware of TalkingCock.


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