chapter  13
Neoliberalism and Authoritarianism in Singaporean Cinema: A Case Study of Perth: Jenna Ng
ByJENNA NG
Pages 18

This chapter examines the strains, tensions, and ultimate congruity between neoliberalism and authoritarianism in Singapore as shown through the tragic story of Harry Lee, protagonist of the Singaporean fi lm Perth (2004). Underscored by the doctrines of free trade and noninterventionist free markets, the island state of Singapore is regarded by many as a model for Asian neoliberalism, lauded for its championing of capitalism, free economic growth, and near-miraculous economic success. Yet the city’s prosperity masks a vital tension between neoliberalism and authoritarianism. The two did not emerge as directly oppositional: whereas classic (laissez-faire) liberalism-for example, of mid-nineteenth-century Britain-rolled back the state to allow private enterprise to profi t without undue interference from legislation and the tax costs of a welfare state, neoliberalism requires a strong state to promote its interests, particularly in the way of producing a pliant and economically viable workforce needed by capitalism.2 However, the authoritarianism I wish to examine here is that of a government that focuses its resources and energies not only on the pragmatics of the marketplace, but in its ideological and electoral strategies specifi cally pits the country’s economic success as the singular goal, even at the costs of the social and human welfare. Through a close reading of Perth, this chapter describes the price exacted by neoliberalism: (a) on account of class differences between higher, white-collar income earners and those who are less skilled and mobile; (b) the rapid phasing out of the old and the familiar; and (c) the brutal realities of economic development that ride roughshod over those who fail to keep up or are deliberately kept out of “making it.” The central argument is that the sheen of Singapore’s economic success is, as elsewhere, shadowed by the state’s authoritarianism, which is relentlessly perpetuating its economic agenda at serious human costs.3