No shame in satire

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 February, 2010, 12:00am

As Meatloaf used to sing, two out of three ain't bad. So being credited with having three out of the four classical Chinese virtues might be perceived as a compliment. Alas, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong must have had a momentary humour bypass over the Lunar New Year. Come to think of it, the party probably never had any to begin with.

It's hard to be a true fanatic or ideologue if you are humorous or able to see the absurd side of things. Whatever you think about the League of Social Democrats, its farcical antics in and out of the Legislative Council betray a sense of fun and the joy of troublemaking. It was, presumably, wholly in this trouble-causing spirit that league members produced more than 1,000 T-shirts with a naughty take on the DAB and sold most of them at the Victoria Park Lunar New Year fair before customs officers seized the remaining 115. The DAB has claimed trademark infringement!

The T-shirts had the Chinese words for propriety, righteousness and integrity printed over the DAB logo, but the fourth virtue, shame, was missing. The league says that means the DAB has no shame. It is now demanding that customs hand back the T-shirts because the message was clearly a political parody, not a trademark infringement. It is giving them a week before launching a lawsuit. While I am no fan of 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung and 'Mad Dog' Wong Yuk-man, I am with them on this one. A customs spokesman said the investigation was continuing. A more truthful response would be that a high-level deliberation was continuing on how to resolve this farce caused by our officers' silly decision to make the seizure.

The T-shirt was, clearly, a joke. It may be argued that the league was profiting from the sale of the HK$60 T-shirts. But it would be the death of parody if trademark infringement is alleged every time someone makes use of a recognisable logo to poke fun at another. There can be no clear rules or procedures for such enforcement, as customs claimed, only common sense.

The league parody would have backfired on its own merit. If the missing word meant that DAB members had no shame, then, by the same logic, the three words that were printed would mean they had those other virtues. Imagine having politicians who are decent, righteous and honest. I say that's pretty good even if they had no sense of shame. And, in politics, being thick skinned and not easily shamed might be construed as a virtue.

Any sensible politician would have let that go, or produced a witty response - say, another T-shirt making fun of those in the league. But that was beyond DAB lawmaker Ip Kwok-him, who said: 'The plain fact is they have used our party logo without our authorisation. Then we reported it to customs. We haven't politicised anything.'

If using law-enforcement resources to silence a rival party is not political, nothing is. Ip would not comment on the T-shirt's satirical message - because that would mean coming up with an acceptably witty retort or risk sounding like a fool.

It is statements like Ip's and actions like the DAB's over the T-shirts that give Hong Kong politics a bad name. As distasteful and time- and money-wasting as some of the league's antics are, the wooden, humourless and bureaucratic responses of our establishment politicians increasingly resemble the mainland Politburo members - at a time when even our mainland leaders are learning to smile and crack a joke or two in front of the camera.

People who voted for the league did not necessarily support their policy platform, because there is none, but rather the shock value of its lawmakers' behaviour. Nowadays we have to stifle a yawn as soon as our politicians and officials open their mouths. We want politicians who can think on their feet and be quick with a reply. Humour, sarcasm and a quick retort are part of the repertoire of a seasoned politician, or should be. The lack of humour and charisma has made politics and government such a dreary business in Hong Kong that we have to make do with the juvenile routines of Long Hair and Mad Dog.

Alex Lo is a senior writer at the Post