Single, Desperate and Ugly?

Are you Single, Desperate, and Ugly? Well, that was the nickname given to Singapore’s Social Development Unit (SDU), a government matchmaking organization started in 1984. When 8Asians was discussing about The Love Boat, someone had brought up the topic of the SDU.

I have always been fascinated by Singapore after seeing a PBS 4-part mini-series documentary on “The Mini Dragons” (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia), which profiled the SDU and a lengthy New Yorker interview with Singapore’s first prime minister and father of the country, Lee Kuan Yew (where I should write a separate post on one of these days on). I’ve visited Singapore twice as well, for pleasure and business. In any case, I’m surprised I missed The New York Times article in April (4/29/08) on the SDU, “A Different Kind of Homework for Singapore Students: Get a Date:

“…Singapore is known for its campaigns of self-improvement, including efforts to get residents to be polite, to smile, to be tidy, to speak proper English and to not chew gum. In 1984, the country’s master planner, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, declared that too few of the country’s most eligible women, those with college degrees, were marrying and having children. He set up the Social Development Unit to address the problem, and since then the government has been the country’s principal matchmaker. In addition to its tea dances and moonlight cruises, the agency acts as a lonely hearts adviser, with an online counselor named Dr. Love and a menu of boy-meets-girl suggestions on its Web site,…”Never mind the hullabaloo in the press, all the foreign correspondents writing that a crackpot government is trying to interfere in people’s lives,” he said when he inaugurated the Social Development Unit. “If we continue to reproduce ourselves in this lopsided way, we will be unable to maintain our present standards.” In other words, said Annie Chan, director of a matchmaking agency, “Our government wants smart ladies to meet smart guys to get smart children.””

As you can see, Singapore’s policies can be controversial. This smacks very much like a government-run eugenics program, a living, breathing GATTACA (one of my all-time favorite movies). The SDU is only for college graduates, and only for Singapore citizens (i.e. I have a college friend who grew up in Singapore, only became eligible once she retained Singaporean citizenship). Of course, joining the SDU is completely optional and the government (at least in the past) has had to promote SDU, and does, with tv campaigns, such as the video above, trying to make SDU stand Single, Desirable, and Unattached. And below, is an tv ad from the Ministry of Health promoting Singaporeans to have more kids:

You may find such a government program revolting, but I have been thinking more and more lately, especially with the widening income inequality, that here in the United States, the increasing socio-economic self-segregation of Americans and Asian Americans is akin to a defacto eugenics program… Maybe eugenics is too strong of a word, but I think you get what I mean.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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