The Civil Servants

The Civil Servants seem quite a realistic portrayal, albeit an exaggerated one, of civil servants in real life. The government often sponsor people through university (like Jeremiah, who is a scholar), but at the expense of then being tied to work for the government for a fixed period of time. Jean Tay herself was tied by a bond to work for a company after she graduated from university – something she left as soon as her bond finished.

They spout the ideals of the Civil Service – ‘we represent the people’ – but in their actions show that they don’t at all. However, this could well be linked to the fact that in Singapore the level of government control is very high, so although there are avenues for things such as complaints, in reality, nothing will happen. Instead, people will receive letters such as those shown in Act One, Scene 11 – ‘thank you for your feedback’.

The civil servants are the exponents (representatives) of progress, as all the policies they are trying to implement, such as en bloc sales, NBP, demolition of old buildings, building of condos and more, are aimed towards advancing the progress of Singapore. However, the price of such progress, as shown by the events of Boom, is that the ‘little people’ lose out and they are the ones who are really affected by the policies. It is a very utilitarian ( principle, whereby the moral worth of an action is judged by how much happiness it brings. If the majority benefit from it, then the negative effects for the minority are not considered as important.

However, as we see throughout the play, not all civil servants believe so clearly in these ideas – indeed, Jeremiah, an idealist, begins to see the stories of the ‘little people’ (the corpse, Mother) and begins to see that not all decisions are for the benefit of all.

The view created of the Civil Service in Act One, Scenes 3, 11 and 12

In Act One, Scene 3, the Director is issuing Jeremiah with directions about the New Burial Policy. Although Jeremiah expresses concerns with the policy; ‘It’s just…a bit short, isn’t it?’, the Director only allows him to consult people ‘on the ground’ as a concession to him. The Director is a strong and dominant character, who is insulting Jeremiah, by referring to him as ‘Jerry’. The people are seen as unimportant by the Director: ‘the stakeholders’; their concerns are not important. The civil service are not seen to be representing the people, as the Director does not see the point in people being consulted at all, she only offers it as a concession to Jeremiah’s concerns.

In Act One, Scene 11, the ‘Chorus of Civil Servants’ (a parallel with the ‘Chorus of Agents’ in Scene 1) shows both sides of the civil service – the official line ‘we are unable to accommodate your request’, whilst also undercutting it and showing their true feelings; ‘we think it’s a bunch of lousy bullshit’ and that they can’t be bothered with it all. Although the people are allowed to complain – and in the previous scene, the Female Neighbour suggests to Mother that ‘what do you think these civil servants are there for?’ this scene clearly shows that the process is just a farce and meaningless, as the rejection is seen to be a foregone conclusion. On the whole, the civil service in Boom do not represent the people – they do not even really seem to consider the peoples’ concerns and complaints. They just find them a waste of their time.

In Act One, Scene 12, Jeremiah and the Colleague again demonstrate very conflicting views of the civil service. Although Jeremiah seems to want to be a good civil servant; ‘we represent the people’ he also says he’s just ‘serving out his bond’ indicting that its just a job and they don’t really care. The stage directions say they are ‘making paper aeroplanes’ out of the complaint letters, showing that they consider them meaningless. The colleague refers to Mother’s complaint about her ‘bloody fig tree’ and dismisses it, showing us her fate is probably sealed and it’s inevitable. The civil service is not a vocation, its just a job for many people, and they don’t have a commitment to excellence. Instead, they implement the policies and don’t care about consulting the people.

What They Say…..What They Mean…..What It Says About Them

What They Say
What They Mean
What It Says About Them
“You are not unaware, surely, of the circumstances of our country” (Director, p.15)
The country’s future is more important than peoples’ sentiments and concerns.
The Director is a very unsentimental person who cares little for emotions.
“It is only natural that we should optimize our most precious resource. Why should the living have to suffer for the dead? I mean who pays taxes?” (Director, p.16)
Lots of euphemisms used ‘precious resource’ (land). Suggests that petty complaints do not matter in the ‘grand scheme of things’.
The dead are unimportant – thus not considering peoples’ religious and sentimental reasons for not wanting their relatives dug up.
“If you think it’s such a big deal, then go out there yourself, find out what’s going on at grassroots level. No point in arguing in an ivory tower” (Director, pg. 16)
The Director is making a concession to Jeremiah, but the wording indicates they do not really believe its necessary – ‘big deal’
The ‘ivory tower’ comment is ironic – its feels like that is what they believe.
“Interview the relevant stakeholders” (Director, p.16)
‘Stakeholders’ suggests a degree of separation from them as people.
The Director sees the people affected as blank faces, so doesn’t consider them properly.
“We refer to your telephone call on 30 January 2008, 3pm. And the one on 1 February at 3.49pm, 3 February at 5.30pm, 5 February, 6 February and 7 February” (Colleague, p.33)
Indicates their frustration and irritation with peoples’ complaints and concerns - suggests people are complaining incessantly.
They don’t want to be bothered with the peoples’ petty complaints – they consider themselves above all of it.
“We are unable to accommodate your request” (Director, p.33)
Euphemism to make things sound better than they are. They probably haven’t read the letter properly.
They are ‘sugar coating’ the rejection.
“We think it’s a bunch of lousy bullshit, and we really have better ways of spending our time than dealing with crap like this. Do you really think taxpayers’ money should be squandered away on a piece of useless shit like you?” (Colleague, p.33)
Peoples’ complaints just waste their ‘precious time’. This shows us their real feelings, undercutting all the euphemisms they have just been spouting.
They think themselves above the people – they are in an ‘ivory tower’ conceptualizing new policies.
“Thank you for your feedback” (p.33)
‘Feedback’ is a euphemism for complaint
Indicates they haven’t really taken it at all seriously.
Jeremiah and Colleague are folding paper aeroplanes and crushing paper balls from the complaint letters (p.35)
They see the letters as totally unimportant.
Shows the completely ridiculous nature of the complaint process.
“I’m serving out my bond. You’re doing it voluntarily.” (Jeremiah, p.35)
He doesn’t really care about being a civil servant – he has to do it.
Being a civil servant is a means to an end.
“We’re civil servants. We serve the people. We have to try. Or at least show we’re trying” (Jeremiah, p.35)
Jeremiah has some sense of feeling that he should be doing what the ideal suggests – but hasn’t quite got the commitment.
Jeremiah seems to have more of a conscience than his Colleague and the Director – which develops as we go through the play and we see his growing concern for the Corpse.
“You should see this one, got en bloc sale, still not happy. People throw money at her, still complain. The estate is how old already, but she’s going on and on about her bloody fig tree” (Colleague, p.35)
Sees Mother’s complaint as unjustified as she’s going to make money. She doesn’t want money – she has memories associated with it, which the Colleague doesn’t appreciate.
Mother’s loss of her house is inevitable – because the civil servants will not intervene.
“Anyway, we’re about policies, not people, right? Nothing personal” (Jeremiah, p.37)
It feels like Jeremiah is trying to convince himself here that they can just implement things
In reality, he seems to have a concern for people – but this is just a justification of it.