Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Snake Oil

Its nice to see a good rebuttal to a ridiculous argument (Straits Times, Andy Ho, 3 Mar 2007, Nude shots give gays wrong idea.). Ho's article reads suspiciously like a badly written proposal that was hurriedly made up to make a quick sale. There's a term in consulting circles that's used to describe something like this - smoke and mirrors.

Smoke and Mirrors
Trickery or deception, often in a political context

This expression to the performances of stage conjurers who use actual smoke and mirrors to deceive the audience. the figurative use that is now more common refers to the obscuring or embellishing of the truth that is employed by spin doctors and the like in order to deceive the general public. This later usage comes from the writings of American Jimmy Breslin. In his Notes from Impeachment Summer, 1975, Breslin twice refers to smoke and mirrors being used in the US political scene:

"All political power is primarily an illusion... Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors... If somebody tells you how to look, there can seen in the great smoke, magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms, and maybe they can be yours... The ability to create the illusion of power, to use mirrors and blue smoke, is one found in unusual people."

Taken from The Phrase Finder

Similarly in local parlance, this is known as "bue ko yok", literally meaning "selling medicine". The Hokkien phrase, like smoke and mirrors, alludes to the traveling salesmen in the 70s who moved from village to village hawking wares of questionable nature, usually medicine that promised incredible benefits. The sales pitch typically happens at night, accompanied by gongs and martial arts performed by an athletic middle-aged man (think spears bent against bare throats), whom we were supposed to believe had been the beneficiary of the very medicine being sold.

So here we have Ho, whom we were told is a Ph.D holder, single and successful (I'm not sure if he's as successful in life as he is apparently at work, as I remember he wrote once about having had to throw a ring into a ditch after another unsuccessful pitch), the embodiment of the "perfect" male, performing acrobatic spin, telling us that banning Leslie Kee's Superstars was for the good of everyone, straight or otherwise.

The problem is, Ho and his buddies neigh high think they are still in the 70s, selling "ko yok" to ignorant villagers.

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