Singapore is learning how to “Jubee”
Singapore’s media is fumbling awkwardly and wonderfully in the wake of Joseph Schooling’s gold medal win in Rio.
A MediaCorp (Singapore’s free-to-air TV monopoly) presenter on Monday morning’s wall-to-wall television coverage of the champ’s triumphant return to Singapore said it all: “His amazing, amaaazing achievement,” she blustered as her adjectives failed her. Again. And again.
It’s unfair to single that out but the weekend saw almost everyone in the local media struggling to cope with almost certainly the greatest sporting achievement in the country’s history as Singaporeans learned a new language. Genuine, not state-contrived, jubilation.
Then of course the cultural cringers came out swinging within less than 24 hours, criticising the way everyone was jumping on the bandwagon.
Everyone wants to share in these celebrations. That’s a valid thing.
Having watched my country, Australia, as its cultural cringe progressed, I can tell you these ain’t all cynical marketers trying to cash in on Schooling’s hard-earned success. In this case I genuinely believe it’s a case of early stage jubilation debilitation.
In 2004 while working for The Sunday Telegraph in Sydney I first heard about the rules of jubilation.
It was a surprise — certainly not something I was used to coming from the minnow state of Tasmania, cricketers notwithstanding, we tried our best to ignore them.
In Sydney, 12-years-back, we were planning our Olympic editions for the Athens games when my editor gave the news conference a lesson in the rules of “jubee” — which, as I quickly learned, we called jubilation photographs in the trade.
These rules had apparently been handed down from Rupert Murdoch himself. No doubt my boss had learned them prior to the previous games in our home city (back when I was a goofy young political correspondent careening his way around the emerald city at its glorious best during the millennium Olympics with nothing to write about and lots of time on his hands).
I can’t remember the details of this lecture but it was very serious and I nearly got thrown out of the office for not listening properly. (I got quite a few stern lectures of this sort in my short tenure as chief of staff that year.)
I did take away some things. First: jubilation is a serious business. Second: I vaguely remember some rules, which you’ll hear about later.
Australians when I was growing up were still learning about how to handle success. We didn’t really know how to react. People weren’t validated until they had made it overseas.
I remember as a kid when Australia won the America’s Cup in 1983. It was very early in the morning Australia time and our prime minister, Bob Hawke, said on live television, after one too many shandies (beers), that any boss who sacked someone for not turning up to work that day was a bum. I rang my mate to see if he was going to school. I wasn’t if he wasn’t. (My dad was the principal. The fact that dad was listening to our conversation didn’t occur to me as compromising at the time.)
Anyways, it was hardly a prime ministerial moment, certainly not a Singaporean prime ministerial moment. I can only imagine how Lee Kuan Yew cackled when he saw it. But, it was part of a process of a nation setting boundaries about how we responded to extraordinary world-beating success. Or, Jubilation.
Singapore, I’m sorry, there are many lessons yet to be learned. Lets hope Lee Hsieng Loon doesn’t follow Bob Hawke’s example. Not that it’s likely. PM Lee’s Facebook post was the very model of a modern response.
Australia has gotten a lot better at it. In fact, we’re actually having to get used to the opposite of jubilation — despondency. Our swim team is floundering, and our rugby side, cricket tea… err, lets not go into it. But when you’re used to winning, the downside is worse.
What we’ve learned is that the way you celebrate success is equally as important.
Singapore, you’re on the positive side of the equation. It’s the start of a wonderful journey. I can’t wait to watch and enjoy the gold medals that are undoubtedly around the corner. And I can’t help but imagine, hope, that my son will be a part of it in 20 years time.
Already my in-laws have gone from being somewhat-sceptical of swimming as a potentially unhealthy pursuit to urging me to put my one-year-old Singaporean boy in the pool for training.
Now. Sure, they’re coining it (literally) in terms of the $1million prize money the government has promised Olympic gold-medal winners, but that’s their way of joining in the jubilation.
From a cultural perspective the difference and similarities between my Singaporean in-laws and my Aussie parents on these points are equally fascinating and hilarious.
My dad in Tasmania has not stopped banging on about this Singaporean swimmer on the TV in Australia, like it’s the first Singaporean he’s seen on TV, which it is not. The in-laws started on Saturday about the 4D lottery numbers but most remarkably ended up on sports being a valid career for our boy.
The same goes for the the home-spun responses from brands and politicians in Singapore. It’s easy to dismiss this as cashing in but I think they’re only just learning the etiquette and language of jubilation.
They won’t get it right straight off. The better spruikers will come up with marketing strategies that aren’t as awkward or just downright awful. The more altruistic will just learn to congratulate the Champ (caps intended). The cultural cringe brigade will learn to not be so embarrassed about their supposedly less-cultured brethren expressing their joy, which at the end of the day is what it’s all about.
And so, finally, here are the rules of jubilation — passed on from one of Australia’s most successful newspaper editors (who shall remain nameless) — as I remember them.
1. The most important thing is to be inclusive.
2. Let everyone celebrate, no matter how awkward or dorky their responses are.
3. Show pictures and headlines that don’t exclude the readers who are nothing like the athletes — it’s about the shared response.
4. Celebrate the celebration. That’s the key to the language of jubilation.
I look forward to Singaporeans learning this language. The island city undoubtedly will, quick learning is the Lion state’s hallmark.
If eight years ago a young Joseph Schooling gained inspiration for his Olympic dream from a foreign champion (Michael Phelps on his visit to Singapore), imagine how the 10-to13-year-olds of Singapore will today aim for 2024 inspired by a local champion this year. By then they will also know to expect a wonderful, practised, jubilant response at home.
I hope so.