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Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Politics of Hair in Singapore

From Harrying Long-Haired Men to Embracing Casinos | Singapore Armchair Critic

"Kitaro was not the only casualty of our government’s revulsion at long-haired males. Back in the 1970s, Cliff Richard, Robert Plant and others also suffered the indignity of being turned away at the Singapore immigration. Some complied to get in.

Ludicrous as it may sound, this insane policy was enforced from the 1970s because our holier-than-thou government had equated long-haired males with gangsters and morally depraved persons who had succumbed to the undesirable influence of the western hippie culture.

An Anglo-Chinese school spokesperson was convinced that long hair would transform our youth into hippies. The then Permanent Secretary of the Education Ministry was reported as saying, “It is in the national interestfor our youth to have short hair.” (“Bringing back the ‘botak’ look,” ST, 29 July 1970).

Perhaps taking inspiration from China’s ongoing Cultural Revolution, the Singapore government actually launched a campaign in May 1973 to coerce and humiliate men into keeping their hair short (“The long-haired may get the sack,” ST, 8 Oct 1974).

Unions, chambers of commerce, associations, government institutions, schools, private companies and evenhairdressers were mobilized in the nation-wide effort to get rid of long-haired males. Management-labor enforcement teams were set up in firms to make periodic checks on men and they had to submit reports to the Home Affairs Ministry regularly, detailing the names of those who flouted the rule and the disciplinary action taken.

Under this “snip snip drive,” if you were a citizen and a man sporting long hair, you would be served last at all government offices (see image below), refused entry into institutions such as schools and fire stations, and would have a hard time getting employed.

If you were a civil servant, refusing to trim your mane could cost you your job (“5,700 long-haired men warned,” ST, 11 Dec 1974)...

The government’s recent decision to block access to the Ashley Madison website... If you believe this is a move by the government to uphold our moral and family values, you are grossly mistaken.

As some astute netizens had pointed out, it all boils down to economics. Unlike the gambling industry that has more deleterious effects on families and society but contributes more than 3% to our GDP, there is no government revenue to be collected from the extra-marital dating site.

If we look deeper, economic calculations also drove the 1970s campaign against long-haired men.

Ostensibly, the campaign was presented as a moral battle against the creeping influence of undesirable “western” culture. In truth, the young nation then needed its people to slog for its economic survival, and thus slovenly long-haired males, as a embodiment of the anti-materialism hippie lifestyle and values that would undermine productivity and retard Singapore’s economic development, had to be swiftly brought into line.

So do not be beguiled by the government’s rhetoric: what has always underpinned PAP’s policy is neither morals nor conservatism but GDPism. This has never changed from day one...

“Why we declared war on long-hairs by Raja,” ST, 16 Jan 1972:

“What the government was attacking was hippism or ‘the lifestyle which matted locks concealed,’ he said.

“This lifestyle could destroy Singapore because hippism ‘is a new version of opium of the people.

‘It is the kind of Opium War an enemy would launch for the successful conquest of a country,’ said Mr Rajaratnam…

In a way, the champions of the shaggy dog look were right. More than sartorial and tonsorial styles were involved.

‘They know and we know that behind the sartorial style, which has become a target of official displeasure there is a lifestyle the critics are loathe to discuss either because they do not understand it or because they are attracted to it,’ he said.

‘They are not defending tonsorial styles but a lifestyle which has its own social, political and moral values.’”"
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