If people contain multitudes, then the average r/Singapore Redditor appears to be an under-achieving, self-loathing, cynical liberal intellectual who hates Mothershi—ooh, look, sunset at Marina Bay Sands!
To anyone, this observation might be, at most, amusing. But as a long-time lurker on r/Singapore for work purposes, the community’s seemingly contradictory interests are what keep me returning.
For the uninitiated, r/Singapore’s average content is a hodgepodge of pointless screenshots mocking the government, amusing job notices guaranteed to evoke a chuckle, everyday anecdotes about clients or colleagues from hell, tourists praising Singapore’s skyline or behaving better than Singaporeans, and random articles from local news outlets that discuss something intrinsic to Singaporean identity or culture, such as the CBD’s inescapable lunch culture or the rarity of leaving work on time.
The true beauty of r/Singapore, however, lies in the colourful comments section. It shapes expectations of the content that the community demands: smart, unique, and original.
Many comments tend to be articulate, sardonic, and occasionally, laced with a self-referencing, self-deprecating, and self-aware sense of humour. Often, they resemble a Chinese New Year family reunion, where you might stumble onto stinging criticism without ever expecting it. Essentially, for every 10 outsiders who want to dip their toes into r/Singapore, there might be a handful who are frightened away by the community’s acerbic undertones.
Because r/Singapore seems difficult to please, the community’s taste in quality content can sometimes appear snobbish and critical. This is particularly notable via their unabashed hate for Mothership’s ‘journalism’.
Therefore as a result of their harsh critiques and impossible standards for content, it can be disorienting when you chance upon a photo of a sunrise or sunset splashed across the Singapore skyline that gets more than 1,000 upvotes.
After all, a sunrise/sunset is the epitome of pure, wholesome content—exactly what would get thousands of shares on Mothership too.
The sunrise/sunset photo is everywhere, from holidays in Bali to an ordinary Tuesday evening walking along Bukit Timah Road. It is the most effortless photo to make stunning—a sunrise/sunset by any other angle would look as sweet—and the easiest way to show off one’s photography ‘skills’. In fact, most of the sunrise/sunset photos on r/Singapore were probably taken at a time when half the island whipped their phones out as well.
What’s jarring is that this ‘basic’ behaviour appears at odds with r/Singapore’s commenters. As described above, one would assume that they would ridicule people who appreciate, upvote, and shoot sunrise/sunset photos. After all, lovers of sunrise/sunset photos are people who presumably ‘follow the crowd’, never seeing any reason to deviate from the norm.
If their penchant for sunrise/sunset photos reveals anything, r/Singapore may just be as ordinary and bland as Mothership readers, whose taste in online content they disparage, who never engage in mentally stimulating conversation, and who prefer mind-numbing listicles over long-form articles.
As much as ‘wholesome’ might be basic, and basic might sound derogatory, the appreciation for such content brings along certain upsides. Along the same vein of sunrise/sunset content, there are often threads asking for support and guidance for specific phases in life, such as getting an abortion or leaving a job one just started, buried among critiques of local media and other hyper-local news.
In this corner of r/Singapore, relative anonymity allows one to be vulnerable and openly ask for help. The result is that the same community longing for Mothership’s demise becomes one that’s also helpful, warm, smart, and non-judgemental, rallying together to dispense intelligent and useful advice. The typical toxicity of internet forums—and general snark of r/Singapore—is refreshingly absent.
Content that is intellectually stimulating might be preferred on r/Singapore, but sunrise/sunset photos often trump in algorithm and appeal. Sometimes, for their aesthetic, but mostly, for what they represent.
But it appears, at least from the comments section, that the r/Singapore community would be uncomfortable with the idea of enjoying both Descartes and The Bachelor.
From a larger perspective, this attempt to embrace two seemingly contradictory interests is reflective of how we navigate the insecurities of our Singaporean identity. Whether it’s a love for an overflowing plate of cai fan or a liking for atas high tea restaurants set against Fullerton Bay, we tend to feel as though we must pick one lifestyle, and hence, personality. We think it’s laughable and paradoxical to confidently appreciate clashing inclinations.
But when we build an online identity shaped by taste and ideas rather than self-knowledge, we end up ‘performing’ to reinforce a stronger sense of self. In this case, for instance, using cynicism as a public persona requires the ‘cynic’ in us to shit on everything, devoid of the inability to celebrate uplifting content.
Yet when we don’t truly know what being cynical entails, or when we’re not true cynics, this performative persona ends up getting fractured. Not knowing what being Singaporean means and who we want to be, we try to define ourselves through adopting varied interests that can seem incongruous.
Thus, someone who likes an r/Singapore post trashing influencers might upvote as many as five sunset/sunrise photos per day, for no reason than because really very chio.
To reiterate, this ‘contradiction’ isn’t necessarily bad or inconsistent. Most people can hold two seemingly disparate interests without having one negate the other.
Now, extend this understanding to the development of a core and congruent Singaporean identity—the kind that anyone anywhere would instantly associate with being Singaporean. Figuring out who we should be, who we want to be, and who the world already understands us to be require juggling among different pre-existing identities.
In the meantime, there is no reason why we shouldn’t embrace all aspects of who we are, because we shouldn’t have to pick between pitying a Carousell user’s experience from hell and enjoying the beauty of Singapore’s ‘Sakura’ trees for the ‘gram.