Everything Wrong with Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders' portrayal of Singapore
If you're in America and watching Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders' recent episode, 'Cinderella and the Dragon', you'll be amazed to discover that Singapore has just a few things it's apparently known for: flea markets, the Marina Bay Sands hotel and chicken rice at Maxwell market. "That's like the third person who's recommended chicken rice," says one extra in the first minute of the show's opening. "How good could it be?"
Forget the title's implied ideology – Cinderella being the blonde American girl who was murdered, and the Dragon being the allegedly draconian laws of Singapore. Any Singaporean – and given the Internet's response, every Singaporean – who's watched the episode has found it a ridiculous, downright insulting stereotype of the country. We came up with a list of what offended us most about the show. Confession: About five minutes in, I had to grab a glass of gin and tonic in order to keep watching.
1. There is no Singaporean adage that goes, "Where there is a sea there are pirates." This is a Greek proverb. It's meant to be the premise of the story, which is about smuggling. But that's not what the proverb is supposed to imply. It's meant to suggest that there are always people who will seek to exploit systems. Voiced by Gary Sinise, this takes place at 04:35 in the show.
2. Since Singapore's air cargo and luggage facilities are closed off from the flight crew, I'm not sure how the stewardess ends up on the luggage conveyor belt. Stewardesses and stewards come out of the aircraft and collect luggage the same way as the rest of the passengers. That's at 02:15 in the show.
3. Why is there a Hongkong-American or American-born Chinese actor playing a police officer from Singapore? Did CBS not at least try to find a Singaporean who could pull off the local accent, or were they just too lazy? Does CBS think Singapore is a subsidiary of China and therefore it would be all right? After all, I can think of two actors off-hand who are based in Hollywood and would have been a convincing option, though I'm not sure they would have accepted the role after they read the script. That's from 04:45 all the way to the end of the show.
4. The news that our legal system does not practice the idea of 'innocent until proven guilty' is new to ALL Singaporeans. After all, our former Attorney-General, V.K. Rajah, had made a landmark statement in 2014 when he spoke of a 2008 case that acquittal of a crime did presume innocence, and not, as previously claimed, retain "factual guilt". He wrote, "To do so would be to undermine the court's finding of not guilty and would also stand the presumption of innocence on its head." That's not to say that our legal system is perfect, but we do presume people to be innocent until proven guilty. That may not be true in the court of public opinion, thanks to websites such as Stomp, but in the eyes of the law, it does. (In addition, for an American television show to make any snide comments about any other country's legal system is just a joke. America's judiciary system must be perfect.) That's according to the man who plays a police officer on the show and says it, in uniform at 05:00.
5. Michael Fay wasn't caned for being drunk in public. Drunk and disorderly violations do not include caning. He was caned for stealing road signs (public property) and vandalising cars, the latter of which he later claimed he did not commit and was forced to confess to. The date is also wrong. It occurred in 1994. (US law in multiple states allow for sentences of jail time for stealing road signs up to 30 days each.) Plus, we don't treat foreigners differently under the law, although I'm sure plenty of locals would argue they believe foreigners are given more lenient sentences. That's at 03:24.
6. Chewing gum isn't illegal in Singapore, Hollywood. Importing it or retailing it is not permitted, the exception being dental and nicotine gum at pharmacies. That's at 03:18 in the show.
7. Incidentally, what's with the Chinese traditional music? We're more likely to listen to pop music.
8. "Running implies guilt and that's all Singapore courts are going to need," says Daniel Henney's character in the show at 03:45. Really? Are you serious?
9. "With all due respect, we know who the killer is." Who says stuff like that?
10. Following that is around 10 minutes of bizarre conversations on questioning the local authorities' investigation, et cetera. Incidentally, where is the Criminal Investigation Department's Special Investigation Section of the Singapore Police Force in all this? Of all the people who work in Singapore, all we could muster up for a murder of a foreigner at the airport was one police officer, who is incidentally one of the lowest ranks of senior officer ranks in the country? Not that rank is important, but really?
11. "Singapore law does not differentiate murder based on motivation," says the actor at 11:50. Uh yes we do. Not in American terms (since, you know, this is Singapore). We don't measure murder in first, second or third degrees. But we differentiate between murder and culpable homicide. Read our legal statutes, available online. Culpable homicide doesn't carry a death penalty.
12. "We'll have evidence to convict," says the actor playing the forensic pathologist. No pathologist says that, anywhere in a developed society with a civilian police force. That's at 13:16.
13. This is what Geylang looks like, and it's not pronounced 'geh-long'. At least get the footage right. It's the "dark side of paradise"? "A slum with a thriving underworld"? Have the scriptwriters ever been to Geylang? There are no government domitories in Geylang, in fact, there are no government domitories period. These are all private, and regardless of how I feel about domitories, that's just factual inaccuracy. Given the cost of housing in Geylang today, I'd be really impressed if any foreign worker domitories could afford to be in Geylang.
15. What is with the frigging Chinese traditional music?! Notorious B.I.G would be more appropriate.
I have to stop watching at 18 minutes. It's just too ridiculous. This is lazy writing and no research at the very least. And what's more, it demonstrates Hollywood has no interest in ending Asian stereotypes. I'm aware that this is a television show and fully fictional. But at least Google your facts, Criminal Minds. The level of ignorance displayed in this show explains just why America is currently in the state of dysfunction it is.