About Hossan Leong Show’s “censorship”

I was horrified at first when I heard that the MDA had issues with the script that was written for the Hossan Leong Show (Sep 23 – Oct 9), then indignant when I found out further that someone had taken offense and complained about the words, “Halal Vegetarian Babi Pongteh”, which was a dish to be concocted by “Bibik Lim”, a recurring character in the show.

The offending words were also in the publicity material distributed around the island.

This is how things unfolded: Last year, at the end of “Bibik Lim”‘s skit, she (Bibik Lim) decided to tell the audience about the next dish she was about to prepare: something that was all-inclusive, all-embracing – and came up with the name which was subsequently used as part of publicity material for this year’s show, which was printed some time in April this year.

The name of the dish was completely ad-libbed (by Hossan Leong), and off the cuff. It was, as you can imagine, never meant to offend.

On the contrary, the creative team behind the show have always struck for a story arc of sorts that told of our country’s multi-culturalism and its attendant difficulties. It is obviously very ironic that in trying to do so, we’ve stuffed up and offended someone’s religious and racial sensitivities.

I know what they say about the road to hell, but there is no excuse for me not spotting the fact that the simple juxtaposition of the two words “halal” and “babi” would have been likely to cause offense.

I therefore apologize unreservedly to the gentleman who spotted the offending copy on the flier, who was upset enough to write to the local Malay-language paper. The production company has, on the direction of the MDA, recalled every poster and flier from every distribution point in Singapore.

This is, however, a chance for a sensible talking point, and I have always been an advocate for more discussion about our country’s racial/religious diversity, with the view that the more we talk, the more we’ll understand. This is sadly and dangerously lacking – as is attested by an exchange between students at SMU earlier this year.

In the meantime, the MDA has also asked that we revise the offending portion of the show itself. While we are loathe to do so — because it is comedy variety show, and in comedy variety shows, there will be some people who will be offended — we have agreed to their request because, amongst other things, the team behind “Bibik Lim” had spent weeks cracking their brains trying unsuccessfully to work out how to make ‘halal vegetarian babi pongteh’ anyway.

You could say that as a result of this debacle, “Bibik Lim” is currently experimenting with a few new racially inclusive, new migrant embracing dishes with a Peranakan twist. No, Assam Ox-Tongue Wrapped in Beef Cheek is not one of them. But I encourage everyone to give Bibik Lim’s dishes a shot – come and watch her on the Hossan Leong Show (23 September – 9 October, Drama Centre Theatre).

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17 responses to “About Hossan Leong Show’s “censorship””

  1. Robdavid1 Avatar

    So sad Singapore, that one man with no sense of humour has such power – once more religion poisons everything… the sad thing is all over the world people with extreme religious views are stopping cartoonists, satirists & film makers from expressing their views… we live in such conservative times… its about time we censor those who have no sense of humour!

    1. Desmond Avatar

      Yup, religion really poisions everything. As Steven Weinberg said “With or without [religion] you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

  2. BryanT Avatar

    Let me just make three points:

    1. Just because Hosan ad-libbed it and “never meant to offend” does not mean that it will NOT offend certain groups. Once those who unthinking ad-libbed such things realise the situation, they should just humbly apologise for the insensitivity and then STFU, which is NOT what you are doing.

    2. You said that that you are “an advocate for more discussion about our country’s racial/religious diversity”. Then I advocate that you write about what you think something about our racial/religious diversity so we can have a decent discussion over your views. What we perceive here is simply a case of you grumbling over the fact that your insensitive traipse into creativity has warranted a less-than-graceful reminder. Pull the other one!

    3. Perhaps it is true that “in comedy variety shows, there will be some people who will be offended”. But the onus is on the writer to be aware of who might be offended by his output. Saying that some might be offended is just a lame excuse for flashing the “artistic” license.

    1. Mr Miyagi Avatar

      Sorry if I wasn’t clear – I am apologizing for the offense caused by the fliers, not for the show’s content.

    2. Scott Avatar

      Hi Bryant, I am very offended by you and seeing you type those words. Just because you didn’t mean to offend, does not mean you did not offend. And now that you did. I demand an apology from you. I am specifically offended by your use of number points instead of bullet points.

      And you mean to say, “what you perceive here” and not “what we perceive here”. Please don’t speak for all of us.


  3. Hurricane Jane 03 Avatar
    Hurricane Jane 03

    Robdavid1 – if people makes fun of you, or your loved ones, you won’t be happy either. Let’s say I say something about ur child’s name sounding like crap, or whatever it is that u hold close to ur heart, you wont be pleased too.

    Being “artistic” does not mean that you can make any jokes anyhow. Being really creative means you can make people laugh without resorting to cheap tricks like this.

    Just because it’s the in thing to mock religions now doesn’t mean you gotta do it too. I’ve always respected Hossan LEong as an artist – he was .. IS .. really funny, and I also enjoy your writings, miyagi, but when you cross the line and give a reserved apology, sorry for this but not for that .. it just leaves a totally sour note. I have expected more from you guys.

    1. Robdavid1 Avatar

      Hurricane Jane 03 I am not mocking religion – I’m tired… really tired of religious people dictating what can and can’t be done… who we can love, what we can eat and how to dress (this belongs with my grandfather’s generation). If I get upset with something – like I am with religious people with no sense of humour telling the rest of us what is and isn’t allowed as comedy – it is because I choose to be upset… like forgiveness and happiness being upset is a decision… I think it’s time the conservatives choose to laugh rather than force their views on rest of us.

    2. Anthea Avatar

      Hurricane Jane,

      If the term Halal Veg­e­tar­ian Babi Pongteh”is really offensive, why then does one see “halal beef bacon” on sale in Malaysia, or even “halal turkey ham”? Sometimes, we can be oversensitive, and let’s not use the tired old line “if people makes fun of you, or your loved ones, you won’t be happy either”. If it were the case, let us not comment on anything, because something is always sacred to someone else. Or is the liberty to take offence only limited to people of the dominant faiths or groups?

      The main determinant should be the absence of malice. And certainly, Hossan does not portray any malice in his choice of words. In all reality, I would like to know exactly how the phrase he used offended the person who complained. Can someone explain please? (I hang my head in shame in not being able to speak or understand our national language.)

      Sorry for the almost double post – a variation of the above response has also been posted way, way below.

  4. Alan Wong Avatar
    Alan Wong

    If we can’t have babi, then can we have itek instead of babi ?

    By the way vegetarian duck is quite popular with vegetarians, u know ?

  5. Drew Avatar

    Personally, I think it’d be the height of genius if someone made comedy/satire which even the target could laugh at. There was a Roman servant boy, Pietro Aretino, who made fun of the Pope by writing a poem about his affection for a pet elephant (i.e. the Vatican). Instead of being excommunicated, his poem cemented his reputation as an author.

    Meaning no offence whatsoever, halal jokes are a little too… easy. Couldn’t you think of something with more substance?

  6. Renem Avatar

    Hmmm how oddly abrasive things have become post 9-11
    For years UK comedians have trotted out the ‘kosher bacon sandwich’ joke – sigh

    1. Drew Avatar

      you can’t seriously be comparing sg to the UK, can you? you don’t have people randomly yelling, “bloody paki/chink” at you in sg.

  7. Anthea Avatar

    So I guess the John Stewart show would be banned in Singapore? His show comments on topical events, and nothing, certainly not religion, is sacred, but it is all in good taste. But half the population would probably not be able to appreciate the satire, or understand the parody, and would in all likelihood take offense at every word that is uttered.

    And please can stop totting out the “how would you feel if your family is made fun of”? This has no relevance here. I see nothing wrong with “Halal Veg­e­tar­ian Babi Pongteh”. If it were really offensive, why do you see “halal beef bacon” on sale in Malaysia, or even “halal turkey ham”? The person who complained needs to travel more.

  8. th_3 Avatar

    my flier still says “Vegetarian Halal, Babi Pongteh” ! am going to keep the flier. 😛

    anyway, i thought most singaporeans are quite open and have a sense of humour? i guess i was wrong; there are still people out there who still find offence in small things. :/

  9. Alleyoops Avatar

    Tuan2, Puan2, consider that the mammal babi hutan is not babi (haram itself); but (babi hutan) is a game meat that cannot be boaring for public (gaming) use, deh? 😉

  10.  Avatar

    Ummm…what is the point of this?

  11. Natural Area Rugs Avatar

    Hmmm…This gives me a lot of good ideas…if they work out, I’ll come back and share! Thanks again!

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