Marketing Authenticity and the Biographical Sketch of Ming Cher included in Spider Boys

Anthea Fraser Gupta, University of Leeds

The biographical sketch that appears on the back cover of the Penguin edition is closely linked to the promotion of Cher as the authentic voice of "street-slang." His working class credentials are certainly displayed, even though (like Shelley) he has also engaged in trading. But this is a biography written by and for non-Singaporeans. The term "slum village" would appear to be an ad hoc term which corresponds to the Singaporean kampong, which is usually glossed (misleadingly, though etymologically reasonably) as village, but is better defined in this context as an urban settlement with wooden houses of a traditional design, usually mono-ethnic.

What is most interesting about this biography is that Cher's experiences outside Singapore are not presented as having contributed to his use of English. He is said to "only" know the English of his childhood, something which is surely impossible given his long years out of Singapore (presumably since the 1960s or early 1970s) and, since 1977, in New Zealand, and given his relationships with non-Singaporean women. In reality he has been adding to his knowledge of English in all those years. Talib (1998) places him in a tradition of cultural hybridity and migration, in which many "Singaporean" writers have participated. The real Cher may be in this tradition, but his novel is being presented as an authentic "exotic" voice purely Singaporean.

Note: This mini-essay forms part the author's "Marketing the voice of authenticity: a comparison of Ming Cher and Rex Shelley," which will appear in Language and Literature (2000).

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Ming Cher