The Soldier and The Arts

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At first glance, there are fewer things more diametrically opposed than arts and the army — one seems about perceptions, the other about physicality. So why has the army inspired so much of the arts in Singapore.Arts & The Army, Aug 2017 edition of The A List.

Rigid and uncompromising. These are probably two out of the many adjectives that others will relate to when asked about the “army“. For a Singaporean such as myself, I have enlisted, proudly serving, and waiting to finish my 2 years liability. To serve the nation in my country is a common phase that most able-bodied guys like myself have went through, and will be (dreadfully, maybe) going through in the years to come.

The arts, fluid and free, yet possesses the power and authority to challenge assumptions is hardly ever associated with the unrelenting organisation of the Singapore Armed Forces. With elements of constructive creativity and unshackled expression, the arts seamlessly provides us with a streamline to infinite possibilities. Compared to the unrelenting, hierarchial law that the military’s mandate is grounded upon, the arts and  its freestyle nature and seemingly lacklustre approach is probably worlds apart – hardly appropriate candidates to be juxtaposed against one another.

But of course, having went through (with blood, sweat and tears,) a decent amount of time in the army, the creative elements of the arts aren’t that far away from all of us. In the everyday things of the mundane and cyclical army life, it is even possible to craft out a theatrical script, a love song, or even a short skit. I believe we have, one way or another, stumbled upon Jack Neo‘s comedic take on the the classic NS experience through his movie productions of the Ah Boys to Men series. It is known, and silently nodded to agreement by those who have served, that the contents (of the aforementioned movie series) and the portrayal of such in the film are somewhat similar, if not at all shockingly familiar. Surely, it takes one with a meticulous and sharp mind to be able to carefully sieve out the salient points and quirks that the army infects to those who are under its liability. From the way the platoon sergeant speaks, to the acting of the different individuals in a platoon, and even the style of how the punishments were awarded were bizarrely believable. It’s almost as if I, the audience, is being sucked into the realm of the recruits, subjected to military laws and discipline.

Furthermore, it is remarkably counter-intuitive to believe and understand that sometimes, the soldier has the ability to complement the arts, even in the weakest of forms. Of course, it is arguably difficult to comprehend how the state’s soldier – decorated in camo, carrying a full body load, and wielding a SAR-21 rifle – is able to contribute to the arts.

On the surface, the arts and the soldier may not have an apparent connection to each other. The uncompromising dichotomy between the culture and the military. Yet, should one be attentive enough, the subtleties of the arts is also ever-present in the military. As to how the arts and the military can be reconciled, it’s up to the individual to decide isn’t it?

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