Amos Yee: Singapore child star to paedophile supporter. What went wrong?
“I defend Pedophiles publicly on the internet" said his Twitter bio...
Amos Yee is making headlines again, and for all the wrong reasons. His most recent disturbing "misdemeanor" involves promoting paedophilia on social media.
This resulted in social media giants Facebook and Twitter, along with YouTube, WordPress and Patreon, banning the controversial young Singaporean vlogger from their platforms.
From being an award-winning film producer at just 13, basking under the golden glow of Singapore's limelight, to a much-hated social misfit now, how did it all go wrong for Amos Yee?
Let's take a look at his back-story first.
Amos Yee and his rapid fall from grace: A timeline
A 13-year-old Amos Yee wins top prizes at The New Paper First Film Festival. He bagged awards for Best Actor and Best Short Film. The child actor played all four characters in his short film, and shot every scene himself using just a video recorder on a tripod.
It was during the award ceremony that actress Irene Ang infamously asked the boy to kiss her. After he shyly gives her a peck on the cheek, she quips, "You must grab them when they're still young. All the single women out there... gone are the days where you pai seh. You go home lonely then you must do yourself".
Later, when Yee was interviewed, he gushed, "I kissed Irene!"
Watch the video:
A now 17-year-old Amos Yee made insensitive remarks about Christianity in a YouTube video against Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
In the video, Yee celebrated Singapore's founding Prime Minister's death, and also challenged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to sue him.
The teenager was imprisoned for four weeks, and released after the trial. The boy's imprisonment drew criticism from human rights organisations, including Amnesty International. He also had local supporters such as Melissa Chen, campaigning for him to get asylum in the United States.
In December 2016, Yee fled to the United States to seek political asylum there. It was granted in March 2017 by the Chicago court, but the U.S. government appealed. Yee was held in detention during the appeal process, and released in September 2017.
In November 2017, Yee came under fire for his videos and blog posts supporting paedophilia. In his Twitter bio, he said “I defend Pedophiles publicly on the internet.”
In May this year, Yee's YouTube channel was banned for going against community guidelines. Also, Twitter suspended his account. In July, his Patreon account was shut down.
And most recently in December, Yee's WordPress blog, Facebook page, and pro-paedophile server (Ball Pit) were shut down.
Meanwhile, Melissa Chen, who fiercely championed his rights back in 2015, is now calling on the US government to deport him.
In a Facebook video, she says, “I am compelled to say Amos needs to be deported from the United States, and if he, in the process, gets sent back to jail in Singapore for going AWOL on National Service, I would find it extremely difficult to actually sympathise with that.”
"No longer a child, should take responsibility now"
Few people have evoked such strong mixed reactions as Amos Yee. With a bright (yet conventional) future in clear sight when he was just 13, a few years roll by and suddenly, because of his own doings, no-one wants to touch him with a barge pole.
Why is it that he constantly -- consciously and willingly -- shoots himself in the foot?
Yee is an intelligent person -- his intelligence is a trait that has been highlighted by the media often. He passed his O Levels and got into Nanyang Junior College.
He was reportedly nominated for a humanities scholarship. Yet, he chose to drop out. His explanation for this was that the Singaporean education system could not teach him life skills.
His cleverness was also picked up by a family friend, Ms Siok Khoon Kent, who met the boy after his arrest and while he was on bail. According to The Straits Times, Ms Kent "said she felt 'cross-examined' during their first meeting, which lasted more than three hours. 'He is so intelligent, I had to be on my feet.'"
Rebellion and rejection
It's easy to assume that an "intelligent" child is also one who conforms to accepted norms and rules of society. Yet, Yee chose to rebel, and at a high level at that, challenging governments and leaders.
If you dig a little deeper, you'll notice that in his early- and mid-teenage years, Yee seemed to be a lonely child who perhaps just wanted to be accepted.
After he dropped out of school, Yee blogged that he had "absolutely no friends and... no one to talk to" at Zhonghua Secondary School.
In another post, the boy said he had a crush on a schoolmate. He even wore glasses because she did, despite him having perfect eyesight, he said. His crush was one-sided though, with the girl rejecting his advances.
Further harsh rejection came more recently from one of his most ardent (previous) supporters after Yee was called out for his pro-paedophilic stance.
Melissa Chen called him a "stain on the human race" and, in her Facebook post, also said that Yee was no longer a child, and must be held accountable for his actions as an adult.
She also talks about biases and blindspots related to Yee that international media and some activists -- including herself -- might have suffered from.
One of these is his heavily-praised intelligence: “For example, I think his brilliance and genius have been vastly overstated,” she says in her Facebook video (see below).
A dangerous mix
While we cannot assume what caused Yee to behave in the way he did and does, it's safe to say that he loves attention, whether it is negative or positive. In fact, Melissa Chen calls him a narcissist (self-lover) with “zero redeeming qualities”.
The attention that was thrown at Yee from the time he was just a child, was a heady mix of love and hate. From basking in the glow of his 2013 awards glory, to being bombarded with hate after making defamatory comments about the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. It was all still attention.
And while nothing can justify paedophilia and the acts of those who engage in and promote it, could Yee's pro-paedophilia stance have also been part of an attention-seeking nature? Or could it have been triggered by something else, perhaps in his childhood?
What do psychiatrists say?
Dr Cai Yiming is a psychiatrist who specialises in forensic, and child and adolescent psychiatry. He has been involved in myriad criminal cases involving children and teenagers.
Back when Yee was arrested for hate speech in 2015, Dr Cai was appointed by court to evaluate the boy. In relation to Yee, Dr Cai said, "He forgot that freedom (of) expression is not freedom from responsibility."
However, Dr Cai also concluded in a report that Yee does not suffer from any mental disorders, but that he would benefit from having a mentor guide him in using the Net. He explained that Yee seemed to be "trapped in the Net" and "unable to discern untruths in cyberspace".
He also touches on issues affecting Singaporean kids and teens (which can be indirectly related to Yee). These, he says, are mostly psychosocial in nature.
"The feeling of being neglected, not loved. The emphasis (on) academics and the pressures which have become more intense. Bewilderment because of parental discord. Harsh discipline, communication problems, rivalry in school," he continues in an interview with The Straits Times.
The results of these are developmental, behavioural and emotional problems, explains Dr Cai: "Obsessive compulsive disorders, violence, stealing, unwillingness to pay attention or learn."
One constant in his life
Through it all though, Yee has had one faithful supporter: his mother, Mary Toh. She stood by his side during his arrest and trial in Singapore. She even defended him against his former supporter Ms Chen's call on the U.S government to deport him.
In a Facebook post, Mary Toh wrote, “There is a way to disagree with Amos’ positions on pedophilia (Which obviously I’m against), whilst not creating the negative PR against the free speech cause that was sparked by Amos’ case, that human rights activists in Singapore have fought for greatly, saying Amos should be ‘deported from the US’ because of his opinions on pedophilia is unintentionally doing just that.”
However, there are plenty who also criticize Amos' parents and how they've raised him, like Singaporean actors Gurmit Singh and Quan Yi Fong, both parents of teens.
Singh feels Yee's parents are to blame, saying that "parents are supposed to be there to guide the child". Quan said that Yee's "parents should have brought him to see a doctor".
On that note, think about these things.
Should a parent's love always be all-encompassing and forgiving at all times? Are there boundaries (like respecting others, taking responsibility for what you say) that we should teach our kids about freedom of speech? Can the concept of "freedom of speech" be used as a blanket to cover all types of sins and mistakes?
Perhaps we'll never know what went wrong with Amos Yee.