Deja Vu. I’m now sitting at Spinelli’s at Heeren, at exactly the same spot where we sat after the People’s Action Figures Party. It’s been a month since. I never expected the event to become an international news item, but it did. What happened on that day and after was a series of intended and unintended consequences.
Civil Society Making It’s Mark Quietly – TODAY, 17 Sep 2007
I’ve been following the reactions to the People’s Action Figure Party, although it appears that I’ve been keeping quiet. I have to credit the Police for making the event a real success, though it wasn’t planned for. If not for the Police presence, the Party would not have made any impact.
The Ripple Effect
The People’s Action Figure Party was not a random event. It was a deliberate action on my part to halt ODEX’s Inquisition.
I wanted to mount an information campaign to discredit ODEX. The ‘action figure protest’ was meant to bring to the attention of the wider fan community and ODEX’s stakeholders, that ODEX shouldn’t be doing what it’s doing.
My target audience was specific: local anime fans as well as those overseas, ODEX’s business associates including those in Japan, too. Through my action, I’d wanted to influence market forces together with ODEX’s stakeholders to exert pressure on the company and compel it to mend its ways. The man on the street was not of my concern and I wasn’t canvassing for the support of the general public. That said, I don’t expect the public to favour us, but I certainly don’t want them to be sympathetic towards ODEX or for them to think of anime fans and otaku in a negative light.
Thus, I did not alert the mainstream media (or any other media for that matter) on the event. The traditional print and broadcast media is relatively slow when compared to what the Internet can do. If I’d involved these parties, I will have little control over the message. I have the Internet at my disposal. It is a surgical, narrowcast media that allows me to bring the message to the people I want in the most direct manner. Furthermore, my intended audience mostly rely on the Net as the primary mode of information transactions.
SO, regarding the ‘media blackout’ – the local press cannot report on what they do not know. I’m sure the press was largely ignorant of what happened on that day. Besides, there were other more news worthy events happened, such as the Burmese protesters that had congregated at Orchard MRT station, and later the NSF who broke out of camp with a SAR21 and live ammunition.
The Action Figures guerillas were present only at the Youth Park for about 45minutes as the police had wanted us to disperse after we’re done with our thing. There was no drama at the site, so it did not draw a crowd of onlookers. If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear, does it make any sound? I’d recorded the sound of the falling big tree, and played that sound to people that should know that the tree had fallen.
Thereafter, I wrote my reflections on the incident. In that entry, I included these two pictures:
Special Operations Command’s Troop Tactical Vehicle
I took this picture out of fun when I saw the vehicles parked along side the Singtel building. I was mildly amused – because I couldn’t believe that four troops of Police Tactical Units were activated for our sake. Later, I confirmed with sources that those vehicles were meant for the anti-ODEX protesters.
Policeman with Video Camera
I didn’t mean to take a picture of the policeman who was filming us. I was trying to take a picture of the xysing standee, when he walked into the view of my lens. And it so happened that the macro function focused on him instead, leaving the foreground in a blur. It was a photo of opportunity.
I don’t think they qualify as Pulitzer Prize photos, but these two images created a stir within the Singaporean blogosphere. The ripples fanned out beyond the otaku and anime fan community. Local political blogs such as Singabloodypore and Singapore Democratic Party’s website noted the event and began spinning the news. The pitch angle was acute – “Riot Police vs Action Figures”. They weren’t so much interested about the ODEX saga, but the fact that there was a ‘demonstration’ and the police was there to ‘crack down’. And in the context of what happened at the Youth Park – these blogs wanted to portray the image of “Singapore the police state” and “Polis Bodoh”. The news then spread beyond the political blogs into the general Singaporean blogosphere such as the local blog aggregator Tomorrow.sg.
Two weeks after the event at Youth Park, I received an email from Reuters. One of their journalist was seeking permission to use the images on my blog. From what I knew, whether if I spoke to Reuters to give them my point of view, the story would be going out anyway. I knew what was Reuters agenda – “Singapore the Police State”. I decided to speak to the news agency for two reasons: (1) Reuters is a credible news agency, (2) I wanted to make sure that there’s no misreporting of facts. I stated on the record that the police did not harass us, nor were there armed police walking around. The police didn’t stop us from what we wanted to do, although it was true that I had spotted the four red Tactical Troop Vehicles, our identification was taken down, our actions were filmed by the police and we were tailed even after we’ve left the Youth Park.
Reuters’ report went out the following day. Thereafter, people all over the world knew about the anti-ODEX action figures protest. Traffic to my site spiked, and I had visitors from Japan, Hungary and other countries far and wide. The small rippled had become big waves that went overseas. The news broke on 8 Sep (depending on your time zone). The next day, Sunday Times ran a two-page feature on the Singapore Police Force’s Special Operations Command. It wasn’t about the SNAFU at Youth Park, but the STAR team’s success in taking down the NSF who went AWOL with his rifle and live rounds. I am not sure if it was a well-timed piece by SPF’s public affairs department or a mere coincidence, but that would have jammed the negative publicity on the over-reaction.
The Reuters news was largely ignored by the local mainstream media, but the blogosphere continued churning the story. Mr.Brown as well as Talkingcock carried the story on their sites. Soon, print media made a brief mention about the event. Two of the local free papers reported the incident:
Today’s 17 Sep edition ran an OP-ED piece “Civil society making its mark, quietly“.
Last Week in Reality – I-S Magazine, 21 Sep 2007
The consumerist lifestyle city guide I-S magazine 21 Sep issue reported the incident (albeit sensationally) in the “Last Week in Reality” column.
I am sure the supreme echelons of the Government would also be aware of the incident by now. The Cabinet Ministers would have read about the incident in their media summary reports.
If you wondered whether I’ve suffered any repercussions – so far there’s none. The police hadn’t invited me for coffee.
Tactical Action, Strategic Effect
I didn’t expect the matter to be blown out of proportion. On hindsight, if the police hadn’t over-reacted had managed their signature at Youth Park, the Party would have been a non-event. I was counting on the low camera angle shots as well as close-up of the action figures to make the protest look larger than life. But police intervention made us looked larger than life.
Looking back, the actions taken during the ODEX Saga would make an interesting case study – for those involved in corporate communications, public relations as well as those with interest in information operations.
I had achieved what I sought to achieve. To reiterate my objectives as outlined in my strategy: My objective is to get ODEX to stop their threats to sue those who download fan-subbed anime, re-engage the anime-fan/otaku community and make peace.
The People’s Action Figures Party was a success, tactically, operationally as well as strategically.
Tactical Success: I had wanted to take pictures of the action figures at Youth Park carrying anti-ODEX pickets, and then post the images on the Internet. Police presence did not stop us from accomplishing that motive. Our intention was not to stage a demonstration at Youth Park. Even though we couldn’t not stay at the Youth Park for an hour, the 45min window was sufficient for us to shoot-and-scoot.
Operational Success: On 25 Aug, ODEX re-launched a new website, putting up stuff that the anime fan community had long recommended. On their website, they’ve got a forum for the staff and management to engage the fan community, and humbly asking the fan community to point out quality deficiencies in their products so that they could improve. On 3 Sep, ODEX said they would stop issuing letters. ‘Nuff said.
Strategic Success: The matter had raised concerns among the general public, with regards to copyright laws as well as the protection of privacy. Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong had taken an interest in the incident, and issues might possibly be raised in Parliament to prevent abuse of the copyright law by commercial entities.
However, there was also collateral damage – Singapore’s reputation as well as that of the Singapore Police Force’s took a beating in the process. That was unintentional.