What do the Guardians of the Galaxy have to do with the National Symbols Bill?


There’ll soon be more displays of our national flag allowed, even outside the National Day period. And more official National Symbols too.

The National Pledge, national flower Vanda Miss Joaquim, public seal and Lion Head symbol are being added to the list which already includes the national flag and anthem as well as the state crest.

All these after Parliament passed the National Symbols Bill on Sep 13 after public consultations, replacing the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem (SAFNA) Act, which was enacted in 1959.

And guess what? The changes are reminiscent of a story from Marvel Comics, where the classic Guardians of the Galaxy (not to be mistaken with the speaking raccoon’s Guardians) started the “Quest for the Shield”.

More times for hoisting that flag!

“Increasingly, Singaporeans seek to use the flag and its image to show our national pride and solidarity in ways that were not anticipated back in 1959,” said Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Low Yen Ling in Parliament, pointing to how today’s Singaporeans wish to express love for Singapore creatively.

“Many interest groups like cycling clubs want to have an image of the flag on their cycling jersey. For instance, it is very common to see the SG flag mounted in the side mirrors of motor vehicles. Temporary Singapore flag tattoos are also popular with the public and among National Day Parade participants.”

Accordingly, the Government can now let the public display Singapore’s flag outside the July to September National Day period. This will be especially useful for expressing national pride and solidarity during significant occasions like the Olympics, or difficult occasions such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Adding the Pledge, public seal, Lion’s Head symbol and Vanda Miss Joaquim to the list of National Symbols, in fact, echoes public feedback engagement from the Citizens’ Workgroup for National Symbols.

There, 47 Singaporeans, from Jan to Apr 2021, discussed how the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) might strengthen Singaporeans’ connections with the National Symbols, even exploring the possibility of new National Symbols.

But don’t anyhow

Anyway, I digress.

Back to Marvel: one “what if” future (the 31st century) for the Marvel Universe has it freed from the conquering Badoon, who are longtime allies of Thanos. But the people of Earth remained stuck warring with each other.

The Guardians, then, resolved to unite and inspire this future Earth’s diverse peoples. The symbol they sought? The shield of an ancient hero.

To find the shield, the Guardians travelled to distant planets and fought (in an ironic twist) alien cyborgs with a stark plunder-or-perish view on life. They solved the puzzle-map of the Book of Antag, leading them to a tournament against the alien supervillains Force for the shield.

Long story short: The Guardians won, with their leader Major Victory wielding the lost shield. He declared: “I lost my ideals once. I turned my back on them, forsaking them in my own self-pity… But seeing this shield, holding it, I realise their truth once again. And that’s this shield’s true power!”      

Similarly, National Symbols communicate beliefs and ideals that find and forge commonality between Singaporeans. They give this united Singapore its own identity, and are signals for celebrations during good times. During bad times, they remind Singaporeans of the strength of their heritage, helping people move forward. 

That the Guardians still needed to add the shield to their equipment (they already had two spaceships and distinctive superhero costumes) also speak of the power of the right kind of symbols.

Singapore’s four new symbols, in these times where social media allows for sharing so many things in so many ways, can help people proudly show more unique ways of being Singaporean online and elsewhere.

Even now, it is possible that the formal addition of the four new Symbols can someday pass into Singapore’s history as visual shorthand for the achievements of this approximate national moment, of which there are quite a few. More prompts, then, for us all to remember the shared Singapore Story.

And like in Marvel, where not just anyone can wield the shield (or the Mjölnir for that matter), Singapore’s National Symbols cannot anyhow misuse. There are stricter penalties (half a year in prison, a S$30,000 fine or both, up from the current S$1,000) now for anyone doing so; this takes into account public requests for “more public education efforts and penalties for deliberate misuse”.

It is important, as our pioneering fathers knew back in 1959 and our Government knows today, and as elsewhere in Marvel shows, not to tarnish an honoured symbol.

So let those flags fly high and admire the elegant beauty of the Vanda Miss Joaquim. Let them be unique symbols around which all Singaporeans can assemble.

Cover photo credit: Unsplash