Singapore Discovery Centre: Feedback loops and desired outcomes

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Ah, the Singapore Discovery Centre, that mind-melty goosepimple-inducing centre of national propaganda story! One marvels that its architects have exercised restraint in not making it a giant merlion shaped building. Once upon a time it might have become a historical-oriented military museum, but it was eventually turned into more open-ended museum of “Singaporean-ness”, and perhaps that is why it seems to employ an unusual way of describing itself.

A military force always has a clear common purpose, as set out by its commander, binding all of its forces together. So when attempting to describe an army or civil defence force, you would not describe what it is or who it is, but instead you would describe its desired outcome and how it will manage to achieve this outcome, which is a very peculiar sort of self-description. Being a fan of cultural mistranslations, I actually think the charm of SDC for me is that it is not very nuanced in how it attempts to be didactic, as its rhetoric is so overwhelmingly goal-centric as to be somewhat blithely transparent.

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This is an exhibit description best kept inside the brief for the exhibition design, but NO WORRIES WE CAN JUST REPRINT IT HERE just in case you needed to know what was the aim of this exhibit. Singaporeans will be used to this. (If we describe it as a showcase of Singapore as a creative city, will the showcase become even more successful at being a showcase of Singapore as a creative city – OR WILL SINGAPORE EVEN BECOME MORE CREATIVE? Who knows where it ends??)

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Merlion with knowingly askew glance, gritted teeth in embarrassment for not being sure if its authentic or not. The poor thing, a whole song and dance routine dedicated to its cautious ambivalence for existing.

Here follow a couple screencaps of an interactive describing a fantastical future scenario:

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Children, we’re now in the future.

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Problem: this bunch of Singaporeans have run out of food. They want you to get them some.

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Uh-oh! If you don’t solve the maze puzzle, everyone will starve! Well then, they should have been more resourceful and not depended on other people to bring them food! Now what other story does this sound like? Hmm…

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“NO ONE OWES US A LIVING”
Sounds like something your parents might say to you, instead of the tagline of a museum exhibit. The beauty of this place is that it was not made for tourists. It was just made for Singaporeans. By the way, it costs 10 buckaroos for the tourists to come in whereas its free for Singaporeans (Sorry George). Just sayin’.

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“THE LITTLE COUNTRY THAT CAN”

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Here begins an endless barrage of little red dot quotes, first inspired by Habibie’s denigrating description of Singapore as nothing more than a “little red dot” (as it is commonly depicted on maps, as it is too small to be perceived at some scales), a description which has since been co-opted by many Singaporeans as a point of pride – that a little red dot can do so much. It seems fine at first, but by the time you get downstairs and see all of the quotes of so many little children writing terrifyingly trite well-wishing things about little red dots that all sound like they’re about to go into some end-of-year autograph book to Singapore, you’ll be running for dear life through the corridors.

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Ugh ugh ugh nooooooooooooooo

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ALAMAK? Recharging? I’m afraid that now we won’t ever know what the Singabot was for…

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Naturally, in such a place, there must be a section dedicated to military simulation games. I think these games probably would be good if there were more people, but at the time of our visit we were probably the only two visitors present in the entire centre, so….

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This is another game in which you figure how out to deploy the right ministry for the right task. I know, its total fun for the whole family.

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Choose your own disaster and all…

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SO MANY WORDS HELP TL;DR. There is some seriously outdated exhibit design going on here.

Finally there’s a great crisis simulation theatre where they run a couple of films about a fictional MRT bomb attack. Cue the innocent (and strategically racially diverse) children’s plaintive cries of “but why do they bomb us?” Well, you tell me. Oh wait too busy tugging at the heartstrings bllppppbbbpp

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“Oh, Happy Days…”

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But no! A wild bomb attack in the MRT!

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People escaping the MRT…

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The Civil defence response…

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Everything is terrible…

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And finally on that bombshell:
WOULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?

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I want to tell you more about the other exhibits but I’m now too tired to explain any further. Also, at the end of our trip a very kindly old man came to ask the Singaporean (ie. me) for feedback on how to improve the SDC, and I told the man it was fine as it is. (Note: do not use a kindly old man as your feedback officer if you want to collect any honestly brutal feedback). As we left George asked me why I hadn’t told him how I honestly feel about the SDC.

But I think this strange feedback loop is part of Singapore’s infuriatingly goal-oriented culture. The thing is that it isn’t the visitor’s role to improve the SDC – I want to see it as it is, and I’ve come to see what they say about Singapore, and I want no part of this terrifying feedback loop of messages, and this heavy-handed approach to shaping and attaining the “desired outcomes” for this exhibit. I think that the day when we can finally elevate ourselves beyond this looped form of describing our Singaporeanness, then Singapore will truly come into its own.


Singapore Discovery Centre is at 510 Upper Jurong Rd, Singapore 638365, and is open from 9am to 6pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Free admission for Singaporeans and PRs.