Remember the Care Bears?
The cartoon bears were at their height of popularity in the 90s. With their unbridled enthusiasm for anything and everything, it shaped the outlook of excited toddlers, all while irritating the hell out of parents who had to sit through the entire programme wishing they were deaf and blind like Helen Keller.
They were cute, fluffy, pastel-coloured, bursting with optimism, and always encouraged you to see the best in life. While there was nothing wrong with this message, it was the overzealous manner in which they did so that was irritating, just like Nas from Nas Daily fame.
In his recent videos of Singapore, he pointed out many good and impressive features of Singapore, which he claimed was an “almost perfect country”. However, he received a huge amount of backlash from locals who assumed that his videos were sponsored by Singapore Tourism Board (STB), probably because it was so closely timed with Crazy Rich Asians, which was infamous for being heavily sponsored by STB.
All the same, many think that his excitable, carebear-like personality makes him irksome and somehow disingenuous.
Yet this is also too simplistic an explanation for why so many of us hate him so much. In fact, I believe the real reason why so many of us despise him is because he threatens our sense of national identity.
But what exactly is our national identity, and why does Nas threaten it?
There are 5.6 million people in Singapore. But don’t be fooled into thinking that your allegiance lies in your race, colour or creed. We are 5.6 million separate individuals, nothing more.
Remember when you got a B in a primary school exam and proudly told your parents that you did better than 80% of the class, only to be told off that you should be comparing yourself with those who are better than you, instead of those who are worse?
That, in a nutshell, is the very ethos of Singapore.
We strive for career success and affluence, yet we don’t stop for one second to think if any of this is what we really want to achieve in life.
Doing ‘better’ and having ‘more’ has become so embedded in our culture and worldview that whenever someone tells us that we should stop to appreciate what we have, we can only respond with resentment. Nothing is enough unless the ERP is abolished, Ministers make $10/hr, and HDB leases run on forever. For the anti-establishment crowd in particular, there is nothing to be grateful for.
In Singapore, we have also become not so much a people of values, but a people of material possessions. For what values we do have, we are unable to fathom making space for anything other than what we ourselves believe in (take 377A and the response of church leaders for instance).
We are raised to only think of ourselves in what is a highly individualistic society. Without this relentless need for self-preservation, we have nothing.
Because of this, our sense of identity—aka our unwillingness to accept anything other than our own experience of life as the truth—becomes so strong that nothing can change our minds. Not our parents, not our friends, not our government, and most definitely not Nas Daily.
What’s more, no one likes it when a foreigner comes in and tells us that we should have the perspective to realise that our lives are way better than the ones the impoverished in other countries lead.
Or maybe, it’s just envy.
Just like how we get envious when our neighbour buys a new continental car, or when your classmate gets straight As, the success of others around us is also often used as a yardstick for our own happiness.
Because we are so focused on material wealth and getting it via the paper chase, we sacrifice a lot of our personal time, relationships and even our aspirations. We have had the importance of pragmatism drilled into us by our parents, who come from the generation of Baby Boomers.
Seeing someone like Nas who gave up his cushy tech job to travel around the world and whose job is essentially his hobby. Not only that, he is now both spiritually and financially richer.
Perhaps, it is because he is a reminder of what we could have been had we thrown caution to the wind and pursued our dreams that we hate him just that little bit more.
This is why we are not receptive when he tells us that we lack the perception to realise that we are living a much better life than many others in the world. What we really see is a representation of someone who is living the best version of his life telling us to check our privilege.
But let’s try to be objective about this.
With a following of over 8 million on Facebook, Nas is a thought leader, and you cannot say that he does not use his powers for good. You can say a lot about Nas, but his love for life and people is undeniable.
From his videos, you can see that he places the welfare of human beings above race, religion, or anything else. The fact that he is trying to use his powers for good, to kickstart positive change in the world and how we treat one another, is truly respectable.
In Malta, he tackled the issue of xenophobia, discussing how people allowed the bad image of one immigrant shape their perception of an nationality. He cited an incident where he was called out and subsequently attacked for being Palestinian, before pivoting, and ended by discouraging xenophobia and encouraging people to be more tolerant, open-minded and accepting of everyone in the human race.
During his time in Papua New Guinea, he posted a video on how much pigs were prized animals, and compared it to how his people (Muslims) think of it as the lowest form of life, and do not even dare to touch it.
In the one minute video, he went from being disgusted by the pig to stroking it like it was a cat. There was no doubt that he knew the kind of backlash he would have faced from his Muslim fanbase for broaching such a sensitive topic, yet he decided to do so because he wanted to kickstart a conversation amongst his peers.
Sure, I get that a lot of us hate Nas and his excessively positive outlook on life. Most of us wish! That he would just! For a second! Stop shouting into the camera!
But take a step back and let some of that cynicism go. Yes, his videos do lack nuance, but that’s because he is a slave to the format he set himself. Nas, like many in the media, has fallen prey to the short, snappy video form that’s optimised for viral reach.
The intricacies of an entire culture cannot be summed up in a single minute. Heck, long form documentaries often only graze the tip of the iceberg. There is no way that culture can be appreciated from behind a television screen. It is something that has to be experienced in person.
Besides, shouldn’t we be glad that our little red dot can impress a globetrotter like Nas so much that he says we are “almost perfect”? He is someone who has travelled all around the world, immersed himself in countless cultures, and exposed himself to various groundbreaking technologies.
And if you still cannot put aside your feelings of resentment, why not take a leaf out of his book and chase your dreams?
At least then you can feel less shitty about yourself for only ever being good at bitching from behind your computer screen.
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