Jewel Changi, the shopping centre connected to Singapore’s Changi Airport, is pretty magnificent looking. From certain angles, it does look a bit like the Southeast Asian version of Wakanda, with its massive glass dome, picturesque waterfall and elevated trains.
A few days ago, American Hayden Clarkin, who writes about urban mobility as “The Transit Guy” tweeted this brief video of Jewel highlighting those utopian vibes.
He followed that up with a tweet asking “Like imagine that level of pride in infrastructure in North America like this?”
Clarkin’s tweet quickly blew up, but not for the reasons a normal, sane person might expect. What made it really go viral was when right-wing American commentators seized on it to argue that the reason Singapore is able to build something like Jewel is only because of… its draconian legal system and harsh criminal punishments.
That sentiment was exemplified by popular right-wing provocateur Matt Walsh, who is infamous for his opposition to LGBT rights and transphobic views.
Some were less subtle with this line of thought and straight-up used it to argue the virtues of authoritarianism.
Others, just, really had no idea what they were talking about.
Liberal commentators then piled onto Walsh’s tweet to point out a few of the flaws in his argument.
Meanwhile, some Singaporeans were left mystified by how the original video could have generated so much controversy.
Others, such as activist Kirsten Han, poked more holes in the authoritarian utopia fantasy version of Singapore that American conservatives seemed so eager to romanticize.