[Immersion Journalism] Perspective of a 19 year old on media and public reaction to Mr Lee’s passing

I had wanted to write this post for quite a while, but I chose to wait for the right time because – I was well aware that many were grieving during the mourning period of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death, and I did not want to be disrespectful or insensitive to the distressed feelings many Singaporeans were facing.

Our current PM Lee, Mr Lee’s son had then declared a 7-day period of national mourning to mark Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death. Mr Lee’s body was laid in state at the Parliament House for 4 straight days – from 25 to 28 march 2015, which allowed the opportunity for the public to pay their respects to him.

According to mainstream news, 454,687 people turned up for the Lying in State at the Parliament House. Adding on to the visitor’s numbers at the 18 community tribute sites, more than 1.5 million had paid their respects. I think some people may have gone to the community tribute sites more than once, or went to both the Parliament House and community tribute sites. As such, the total number of people who paid their respects may be lesser than the estimated 1.5 million.

Correct me if I am wrong, I think some television dramas were also not shown for about a week. with more documentary-related shows broadcasted instead, on our local television channels which are under MediaCorp.

Many pages of The Straits Times newspaper were also set aside to publish articles related to, and as a tribute for Mr Lee. The last few times that this occured was during his spouse – Ms Kwa Geok Choo’s passing and Michael Jackson’s sudden death.

The march 29 state funeral service was coincidentally made even more gloomy by the dark clouds and rain. The coffin bearer party comprising of eight officers from the Air and Police Force, Army and Navy had to walked under the dim rain for a while too.

On our television screens, we could see lines of people waiting under the rain near the roadsides as they wanted to catch the last glimpse of Mr Lee. There was a voice over narrator too, which I personally felt had overplayed in his dramatic narration of the crowds at times.

A recording of Mr Lee’s Proclamation of Independence was also played in grassroots-led events across the country and on all local TV and radio channels on national day this year at 9am.

Ms Lee Huay Leng, Editor of Lianhe Wanbao, said: “The period of mourning was special to us and it has gone down in our history as a significant milestone. The number of people who turned up to pay their last respect and the scale of the state funeral were unprecedented. We have put together an exhibition of photographs which captured the emotions of the people during this period. This is not just an exhibition on the late Mr Lee, it is an exhibition about Singaporeans and it documented an important milestone in Singapore’s history. This is why we are bringing the exhibition to various parts of Singapore.”

It has since been five months since Mr Lee’s passing and I recently visited The “Memories in Print: Lee Kuan Yew and Us”exhibition organised by SPH. This exhibition will move around different locations between August 1 to September 7 2015, which so happens to be just before the election period. I had gained knowledge of it through an online posting. Before heading down, I did not read up on the exhibition but had presumed the main focus would be on his past achievements or what he has done for Singapore for the past 50 years.

However to my surprise, much focus was placed on photographs taken by SPH and freelance photographers during the period of the state funeral. Many pictures were of – major crowds, long queues, tears, tissues, citizens bowing down, kneeling, hand clasped together, close up shots of crying faces, and Singaporeans queuing under the hot afternoon sun and even at night.

Singaporeans of all diverse types were shown – the different races, pre-school children huddled together, students in their school uniforms crying under the rain, the elderly, the wheel-chaired bound, families with their young children, the military etc. The most memorable picture for me was the close-up shot of a Chinese woman wearing spectacles crying under the rain.

Do pre-schoolers understand why they are being brought to his funeral, or who LKY even is? And some other observations I found perplexing when the news of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death made headlines were the sudden spike of numerous eulogies made by youngsters through their social media postings. Why? Before his critical period and death, I never heard my friends, peers, or even people I talk to in general share about how great Mr Lee is, or how appreciative they felt towards his accomplishments he had made for our country. There was this rapid boom of eulogies on Social Media.

It felt as though the youngsters, and even Singaporeans in general suddenly knew about Mr Lee’s effort, and were only grateful to him when he was at his critical period, which was an irony as little was mentioned about him before that. Also, the way they wrote their postings was as though they were very well-aware on his many great accomplishments for Singapore, even though I honestly do not remember learning in-depth about him in our primary and secondary school textbooks. I’m a youth myself who is still going through the education system.

Many youngsters expressed their heartache and anguish at this passing on their online postings. Students even cried for him. It made me wondered if we really could understand the dedication and effort made by Mr Lee in building up Singapore? Alongside other equally as important figures for the past 50 years which may not be as prominently publicised in our media or be as recognised as Mr Lee.

For one, we did not go through the many developments of the past 50 years. As the youths were some grieving and writing up these eulogies, were they just blindly following the trend? And subconsciously being influenced by the grieve and many eulogies of their peers to feel and write likewise? Do the younger generation and Singaporeans know that Singapore today is not solely Mr Lee’s effort, but also that of many politicians and pioneers we tend to forget, or not even be aware of?

To do a similar comparison – when same-sex marriage was made legal in US only a few months back, many young people, regardless of sexual orientation, had changed to a rainbow Facebook profile picture. It made me questioned whether as youngsters, over even Singaporeans – are we really empathetic? Do we actually even understand the struggles and battle the LGBT community faced during their fight for LGBT equality? Or are some of us merely following a trend and celebrating the US LGBT equality law in Singapore on a superficial level?

I just hope that we as youths, or even Singaporeans in general do not blindly follow a trend just because it’s a trend, but be actually consciously aware of the significance of any perception or action we have or undertake.

Written by: Cass

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10 thoughts on “[Immersion Journalism] Perspective of a 19 year old on media and public reaction to Mr Lee’s passing

  1. Totally agree on the dramatic narration. I saw most of them in quite a jovial mood as they were waiting for the casket, like they were more curious than sad. And there is one part where you can hear the reporter cueing a group of people to look sad. As regards to the queue length, surely our national penchant for queuing must be factored into perspective.

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  2. Yes but how many were like the lady outside Parliament House on the last day of respect paying, crying , ‘ i didn’t know who he was what he did but after watching the tv the past week, i feel so sad.’ I contend that if it had been that easy to get good shots of sincere tears, that reporter mentioned in my first reply wouldn’t have had to do any cueing. In short i am suspicious of the emotional depth of a people who lack independence of spirit. I am challenging that a people who have not cultivated their internal beings have no real feelings.

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