Take It Or Leave It

Is Jeanette Aw not keen on what she sells? Are we allowed to ask without incurring some people’s wrath?

By Pearl Goh

Ads that pop up in my social media feeds are as welcoming as my mother in my bedroom. But advertisers need to invade our digital space, just as they once did during the time between us and our television. I was minding my own business one recent stormy morning, looking at the Instagram posts of one of my favourite Malaysian food bloggers, when the above ad by the celebrity-endorsed durian-seller Golden Moments (GM) appeared somewhat impertinently. GM has, of course, similarly interrupted me before on IG, but usually with unappealing and subfuscous pictures of crack-opened durians or richly dressed gateaux that never gave me reason to dwell on. This time, it was the face of Jeanette Aw (欧萱), former full-time Mediacorp artiste and the co-host of the new food show/competition on Channel 8, Crème De La Crème (糖朝冠冕). I am usually drawn to Ms Aw, one of the most attractive actresses in the Mediacorp stable, but this time, I wasn’t sure the picture of her was stop-me-while-I-browse alluring.

In the GM durian ad (top), as well as another, I soon saw, that hawked cakes (below), Ms Aw posed with her right arm folded across her stomach. The left was held up almost vertically, with the elbow hinged on the right wrist, and the forearm forming a V with her torso. Her double-bracelet-ed left wrist was bent at the point where it met the hand. The palm was open, as if holding an imaginary platter or tray, the way a waiter in a fancy restaurant might, even when serving a bottle of water. But it wasn’t just the pose, it was the visage too: not terribly inviting nor approachable, with the lips parted, but not quite amounting to a smile. There was something haughty about her expression, a coldness too—the better to counter the heatiness of the durian? She wore what appeared to be a shift dress, with a double neck-flounce, pulled down to bare her shoulders (the right in a near-shrug), in a colour often associated with mourning. Sorry, Ms Aw, in sum, the photo seemed to tell me, take it or leave it.

Jeanette Aw does not seem to be the kind of TV star who exploits the perceived powers of those around her, but many of us cannot, of course, be sure of that

When I asked people knowledgeable of image creation and styling what they thought of this visual, no one wished to comment for fear of being hit back by Ms Aw’s watchful friends, in particular those who are in the business of offering her free personal services. Jeanette Aw does not seem to be the kind of TV star who exploits the perceived powers of those around her, but many of us cannot, of course, be sure of that. One media professional was only willing to say that the photo “is a poorly art-directed shot”, which was a little curious to me because it was reported in the news last April that the actress/film-maker was appointed Golden Moment’s “brand ambassador and creative director”. Does creative direction not supersede art direction? Or do brand owners, keen on working with stars they wouldn’t normally interface with, have the final, not necessarily informed, say?

In commenting on TV stars who are cocooned in the protective friendship of their vindictive chums, I, of course, risk being berated—that I do not know them, and, therefore, am in no position to comment, even if the TV stars put themselves out there for public consumption and for others to have an opinion about the personalities. Or, that I have no guts to say how I feel to their comely faces because only those who are spineless resort to social media platforms to express their views. The sad thing is that even people speaking in their professional capacity will be put down and shamed. Even when there is no slander, and even when it is not expressed in the same acrimony as that found in the Forum pages of Hardware Zone (I sometimes feel I need to learn another language to understand what is voiced here). Perhaps it’s okay for these keyboard warriors to upset and to provoke—without knowing the stars—if they are just any one of the Forum’s ribald denizens?

The TV stars of today are, like so many others, active on social media. Yet, there are those who hope that the rest of us, even with just-as-intense digital lives, best be cave-dwellers. Surrounded by their cronies and those who are mother hens, these celebrated artistes want visibility, but would not deal with the criticism (I am not referring to trolling) that comes with being so well placed and so unobstructed in many people’s view. You have to be on their side, always with a rah-rah attitude. They only have space in their rosy world for adoration. The captivating thing to me is how both unflattering comments on the stars and the attendant defence by their incensed defenders really suit our love for retaliation and the sensational. You may not understand the well-said by the well-qualified, but you know you can hit back as you always have, and there will always be those who’d cheer you on. It is of no significance if what is said about the stars is the prevalent, ground-level sentiment; it only matters that you don’t care.

Always amazing TV stars are no longer the faces of fashion, but food. Their awesomeness now selling anything from chee cheong fun to collagen soup, mookata to financiers. Ms Aw’s appeal to me is that she’s a fellow baker, but unlike her, I am not Le Cordon Bleu-trained and I don’t have the inclination to open a bakery. I appreciate from a distance. I do not interact with her online (or offline), even when I observe her (I resist using “follow” because that sounds too persistent, almost like stalking) through her presence online. Yes, I do not know her, as her protectors and minders will point out. I’ve never met her in my life; I never will. I only appreciate from a distance. In fact, I can’t say I am a devoted admirer, as ardent as those who start fan clubs to feel a sense of belonging. I wish her well and wish to see her do well. But I don’t dial down the urge to comment, even if they are not glowing comments. And I’m frequently writing—for release, for diversion, for fun; I’m just not writing for 8-Days.

Screengrab: Golden Moments/Instagram

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