I just had to grapple with why I’m thinking about Amos Yee far more than I’d prefer.
When I first saw the 17 year-old troll’s notorious YouTube video, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Wah piang, he’s going to kena sai.”
When I heard that people had filed police reports against him, I thought, “Si gin nah had it coming, but 20 wrongs piled on one wrong don’t make a right.”
When I heard that the police had actually gone out to arrest him, I thought, “Well, what are they to do? Ignore so many police reports? They’re just doing their job.”
When I heard that Amos was being charged, I thought, “Well, he started the ball rolling, so due process has to take place. Hopefully, he’ll be let off with a ‘stern warning’ like so many before him. Sure he’ll be inconvenienced and traumatized along the way, but he has every chance to come out of this smarter and humbler.”
So I was happily purchasing figurative popcorn to watch the circus when I heard the report that his mother had said Amos was “beyond control.”
I then found myself feeling very, very sad.
Now that I’m a dad myself, I must admit that Amos is every parent’s nightmare; a talented, intelligent kid with potentially sociopathic tendencies. Even worse, a child like him might be MY fault as a parent.
And then I remembered, wait a minute, I AM Amos.
In 2000, I started a satirical website poking fun at all things Singaporean, including its politicians, with the word ‘cock’ in its name, which led to Parliament debating whether they could ‘get’ me. It’s an act that caused a rift between my parents and me that still hasn’t entirely healed, even after the Prime Minister said some nice things about the site during a National Day Rally speech. I’d started it as a lark and never anticipated the extent of its impact. And I was a 30 year-old lawyer then. What more a 17 year-old?
At the time, many questioned my sanity too, but I soon went on to do less sensational and arguably more worthy pursuits, and I hope Amos will as well.
I should also say that what Amos said in his rant, whether about Mr. Lee or Christianity, should be nothing new to anyone who maintains any interest in socio-political affairs. They’re the same old potshots critics have been taking at those subjects for years.
Was his video offensive? I guess, but really, if we as adults are offended by a mouthy 17 year-old to the point of threatening him with actual bodily harm, then our problems are bigger than his. (I’m surprised no one has made a police report against the guy who threatened to castrate Amos.)
In fact, the only thing that truly annoyed me was that he was pontificating about things that someone his age couldn’t possibly understand in a meaningful way, and in a pretentious accent to boot.
But this is a realisation that comes with age, and saying dumb things is just part of being 17. If you read his blog post about his experiences at Zhong Hua Secondary, you can see that he’s the stereotypical misunderstood-outsider-emo-goth-freakazoid who’s the protagonist of practically every teen movie, ballad and young adult novel ever made.
It’s not entirely his fault. At that age, our brains undergo changes that are beyond our control, and some have it worse than others. Some react by binge drinking or experimenting with drugs and unsafe sexual practices, and some record and upload unfortunate videos.
So fine. Even though I don’t think the matter should have ever reached the police, it’s stirring up some useful debates about free expression, youth, maturity, tolerance, timing, the Internet, forgiveness, etc, so perhaps the whole wayang will lead to some good after all. At the very least it’ll make other trolls think a bit harder before trolling, assuming trolls have any self-awareness to begin with.
But if we actually send him to jail, we would not just have destroyed his future over an adolescent act, we would also have undermined the legacy of our dearly departed founding Prime Minister, and only proved his critics right – that Singapore is not a mature country after all, but some kind of posh and draconian kindergarten.
Anyway, I’m sure whatever is going on with him now, both in public and at home, is more than sufficient punishment already. Can you imagine growing up knowing you brought your parents such public embarrassment? I wince just imagining what his next reunion dinner will be like.
Also, as someone who comes from a Christian family, I can’t help but ask myself: What would Jesus do? If I recall my bible studies correctly, the most likely answer would be to forgive.
We all make mistakes. Even Mr. Lee admitted he’d done much more terrible things along the way, albeit for much more honorable reasons. Judging by the phenomenal outpouring of emotion last week, we more than forgave him, and in that spirit, perhaps we should leave a little leeway for Amos.