the young, the old, and the missing
Helen is too big for our island?
The National Arts Council will be supporting the 2nd NOISE festival in Singapore this year. The trick with NOISE is that once you are above the age of 25, you are essentially disqualified from submitting any work. Not that such a festival makes much of a difference (as its name implies) or that the age limit cripples anyone, but it did bring to mind the conversation J and I were having recently about growing old in Singapore.
In Lee Kang Sheng's directorial debut The Missing (2004: companion piece to Tsai Ming Liang's Goodbye DragonGate Inn), the title refers to 3 groups/people. One is the grandchild, who goes missing in the Park. The second is the grandma who is desperately searching for the child. Hence, figuratively "missing" is the lost grandma - she misses the child and misses the company of society in what is a bewildering and increasingly alienating Taipei. But the third is all the working population in Taipei. Shot during office hours, most of the working adults are literally "missing" from the screen. Their voices are heard on the phone or on a loudhailer (touting carrot cake!). They may race by in their scooters. But their lives are missing figuratively, and literally from the drama and emotional going-ons that we are witnessing.
A strangely moving movie, despite or maybe because of its long takes.
In the same way, a large part of our island population seems to have gone missing. Not just the retiree-old, but the definitions of "old" seems to have crept into the working population... In fact, when you hit 45, the government has to "incentivise" employers to hire you for your "experience" (which paradoxically tells employers that those over 45 are otherwise not worth their pay!). What are the measures of worth we levy on the individual as a society. I guess our salaries reflect our economic worth. Our degrees (or lack thereof) reflect our potential economic worth. And our age reflects our increasing or diminishing worth (the young have "potential" that are worth an investment). But beyond these exacting terms, what a whole lot of missing "value"!
Of course, this is probably not particular to our island. But it does seem particularly persistent in our obsession with youth. (I was just reminded when I went back to the UK rcently how their whole Open University initiative and their lifelong learning campaign celebrate opportunities for those who may not have had those opportunities when they were "young". Here, if you are 45, all you can do is maybe "upgrade" your skills - or learn how to use toilet cleaning equipment. The UK is a different island. It has a different respect for what may be old and deemed expired on our tinier island.)
But I digress!
The point of my conversation with J was that perhaps there should be a real celebration of the creativity of the not-so-noisy old. Remind policy makers that while it is great to have dreams (fancy or not so fancy ones, practical or impractical, whimsical or engineered) when you are young and society is happy to take some risks with your dreaming, surely it is just as important for a 45 year-old to entertain these dreams - that visioning is not only for politicians and CEOs.
How idealistic us ampulets are, to even think that we maybe we could organise a little festivity to bring out the creative works of the (wo)man