In the early morning hours of December 11th 1964, a near-naked Sam Cooke, age 33, was found dead in a seedy motel room in downtown LA. Earlier on, the woman he met in a bar (and followed him to the motel) claimed that she was trying to escape from his advances. She claimed that he was still very much alive when she left the room. However, she couldn’t explain why she was in possession of his clothes and cash. Was Cooke the victim of a robbery? If only it could be as straightforward as that. Cooke’s misfortune did not end there.
A while later, a shot rang out at the hotel. Cooke was shot dead by the hotel manager who claimed that she was acting in self-defense. Considering the fact that this was America, there’s probably not too unusual to be robbed by A, then shot by B.
But the circumstances leading to Sam Cooke’s death shocked America. An Africian American, wasn’t a tramp or a gangster. On the contrary, in the eyes of the American public until then, Sam Cooke was an immaculate gospel singer with an enormous fan base of pious, God-fearing, church-going Christians.
Secrets of Cooke’s private life soon emerged, but Cooke’s moralistic public image was so overwhelming and deeply-entrenched that very few Christians saw him any differently. Two funeral services were held for him and a total of almost half a million fans turned up. Some of Cooke’s fans who are still around today may be wondering. Why hasn’t something like that happened to Miley Cyrus or Madonna yet?
Way before Madonna’s concert which was held in sanitary Singapore last week (28 February 2016), there was flurry of exchanges between those for and against her performance. On one side were the Christians who found the star offensive and non-Christians who were afraid that the concert may offend some people and make Singapore an unsafe place to turn up for Christmas parties without bringing any gifts. On the other side were artists (some of whom were also Christians) who felt that such measures stifle expression of all unconventional ideas and non-artists who were just pissed off with people trying to deprive them of artistic stimulation.
To play safe, the authorities set the ground rules. Adults Only. It was one of the rare concerts here given an R18 rating by the Media Development Authority (MDA) with an advisory on sexual references. The MDA also censored the setlist, prohibiting the performance of the song Holy Water. On the European leg of the tour, the number featured scantily-clad dancers in nun-like costumes pole-dancing. The debate went on. Those who defended MDA moves came in all shapes and sizes. Those who were opposed to it also came from all walks of life. One particular letter to the press (Today) made me go yao mo gao chor ah?
SHERRIE CHONG SU LI wrote:
Censorship guidelines sharpen the public’s ability to choose. In a society that prizes freedom of choice, such guidelines cultivate a discerning audience while prohibiting minors from coming under a show’s influence.
Second, it is illusory to assume that the state should be neutral when it comes to entertainment choices. Every state has a censorship policy. Even the United States, known for its liberal values and the First Amendment, has policies that restrict freedoms on the basis of public order and morality.
What differs between countries is not whether they have censorship but what their policies seek to promote or discourage.
We live in a shared space in Singapore. The purpose of censorship ratings is to protect the young, give people freedom to determine their own values and decide which ones society should celebrate, and not to shield individuals from shock or offence.
It is not unfair to subject Madonna’s show to R18 regulations. It is unfair for freedom of choice to be deemed more important than the freedom to express disapproval of the values she propagates.
This letter really takes the cake and it shows that people who preach on moral high horses are probably letting their horses do the thinking. I can understand the part about protecting the young, but how does censorship “give people freedom to determine their own values”? Does Ms Chong mean to tell us that if we see blurred out nipples on TV, those would be our “own values” which we determine ourselves?
It gets better. How do “such guidelines cultivate a discerning audience” when they remove the need to discern? By not buying the expensive tickets (and I certainly wouldn’t have bought them) you are automatically expressing disapproval or disinterest. Can anyone stop you from doing that? Can anyone force you to watch a performance that offends you? What is so unfair? The concert or Madonna herself would be non-issues if you don’t make an effort to find out. On the other hand, the voices of disapproval have been taken seriously by the MDA and fans have already been deprived of what they wish to see. Which do you think is more unfair?
By now, you must know that I’m not a fan of Madonna’s. But as a reasoning person in a supposedly reasoning country, I find it tragic that we must resort to censorship to draw that simplistic, arbitrary line between good and bad. How did the late Sam Cooke end up in that sleazy motel room in 1964? Do the censors, the churches and gospel singers give us reliable guidelines on how to determine “our own” values? Or could the raunchy persona of some singers on stage have very little to do with the wholesome lives they lead off stage?
I may not be a fan of Madonna’s, but I am aware that there is actually no conflict between standing for sexual freedom, debunking “holy hypocrisy” and doing great things for the less fortunate with no strings or “conversion quotas” attached. They may be a greater service to mankind than womanising evangelists and pedophlic priests who are still at large. Indeed, they may benefit the community much more than pious, celibate souls who pray hard to book that seat in heaven for themselves.
Nobody is perfect. We all have our vices. But what’s important is the whole person. It’s puerile to judge someone as immoral because he smokes, drinks and have more tattoos and sex partners than you. Ms Chong and others like her may be too quick to judge Madonna and other flamboyant performers on what their values actually are.
© Chan Joon Yee