Mentos: Court Jester for Singapore's Eugenic Regime?

Posted by Mike Beitiks, Biopolitical Times guest contributor August 17, 2012
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Due to several factors (mostly incredibly poor time management), I have developed a certain scholarly expertise in Internet viral videos over the course of my lifetime.

As such an expert, I can inform you that in the canon of viraldom, there's an entire class of cinéma-vérité videos that companies create to generate buzz for their products. These are staged videos intended to be taken as real, presumably in hopes that the verisimilitude will carry potential customers through the entire advertisement.

For example, you can watch a doctored grainy video of basketball player Kobe Bryant "jumping" over a speeding car and a pool of snakes in shoes he is promoting, an intricate "real" marriage proposal coordinated using specific iPhone applications, or a missed-connections vlog by a forlorn (and would you believe beautiful?) Australian woman looking for a man who "happened" to be wearing a certain brand of jacket when they met.

Knowing of this advertising technique, when I saw the Mentos-sponsored video promoting Singapore's "National Night," in which the mint company with the tagline "The Freshmaker" encourages Singaporeans to make some fresh babies, I knew such trickery was afoot.

The commercial is a three-minute rap song that combines the Singaporean government's rigid pro-procreation policies with a caliber of pickup lines usually reserved for bachelor party dares. Up until the mid-1980s, Singapore’s eugenic policies entailed actively promoting reproduction only among the nation’s most educated, and providing financial incentives for poor, uneducated parents to undergo sterilization. Singapore has switched gears in recent years and begun to prioritize population growth in any form rather than from only one sector, but a eugenic undertone still remains in policies specifically targeting certain classes.

Mentos’ idea was clearly to make the video shocking enough to be entertaining, but real enough to be confusing. It presents itself as an accompaniment to Singapore’s National Day on August 9, the parade-and-firework celebration of the country’s independence from Malaysia in 1965. It can be assumed that Mentos wanted viewers to question whether Singapore's government was behind the commercial.

Spoiler Alert: The video was not funded by the Singaporean government (if you enter the URL provided in the video, you're taken to Mentos' Facebook page). However, the city-state has been involved in the ad campaign's success. Slate notes that the government's notoriously itchy censorship fingers have uncharacteristically allowed the video to air on TV in the country.

The song lampoons the Singaporean government's notoriously eugenic reproductive policies by over-embracing them. While generally crass, it is legitimately clever at points, subtly skewering the irony in the country's "Merlion" hybrid-animal mascot, vaporizing romance by rhyming "patriotic wife" with "manufacture a life," and likening intercourse to the ever-so-sexy work of a government scholar.

The problem is, where the song is intended as a send-up of Singapore's desperation to raise its birthrate while keeping its bloodlines pure, it falls short. General rule of thumb: If your satire doesn't make its subject at least a little angry, it's not good work. The Singaporean government's complicity demonstrates that the laughs Mentos has popped out are in line with government policy. The song references "National Duty," in several forms suggesting that the ultimate intention of the sex act is to "make a little human that looks like you and me," and explicitly narrows its message's intended audience to "financially secure adults in stable, long-term committed relationships."

In an attempt to be controversial while still pleasing the censors, Mentos has not made a clever viral video as much as it's provided the kind of entertainment to which court jesters used to aspire. The jester is as cheeky as he wants to be while entertaining dinner guests, but when it's all over, he's bowing to the king.