Soapy stunt gets hell

Editorial | Mary Ma 28 Apr 2021

Time will tell whether or not the Kwun Tong promenade's musical fountain is an "outrageously expensive" white elephant, as ridiculed by critics, or a leisure hot spot for public joy as asserted by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

At least for the time being, incidents surrounding the signature project endorsed by the district council back in the mid-2010s have provided a glimpse of how the administration is dealing with public criticisms differently these days.

The debate has always been about the cost. Is it worth the HK$50 million spent to build it and the HK$1.1 million budgeted each year to maintain it?

This was the concern until last weekend.

On Saturday, a comedian from the sarcastic web TV channel 100Most pulled a wet stunt there that wasn't exactly a bubble bath.

Wearing a shower cap and a pair of shorts, he laid on the flooring with a group of children helping to rub liquid soap on his body. At most, it was a public shower.

The show was clearly a stunt designed to mock the cost of the fountain in a humorous way - a trick commonly performed in France.

But this is Hong Kong, and obviously not everyone saw the funny side, including at least some people at the LCSD.

I suspect that, had the same stunt occurred in the old days prior to the sea of changes that Hong Kong is seeing now and over the past year, the LCSD may have swallowed the mockery without making even the least bit of noise.

But so much has changed.

The LCSD countered the mockery with a statement late last night saying, without naming the comedian, that it was considering taking legal action and that such soapy antics just don't wash.

The fountain is now closed to the public with no date given as to when it will reopen. The fountain was inaugurated on Thursday but, after a day of public enjoyment, part of it had to be closed on Friday due to damaged tiles.

If not for the soap drama on Saturday, the cost controversy would have continued to haunt the project.

In a sense, the 100Most comedy stunt has offered the government a timely fire escape while at the same time shooting itself in the foot.

That's because, if the public discussion was around the money controversy, it is now about something else.

Although it is very unlikely that the foam could have done any damage to the mechanical parts of the system, there are substantial costs involved in draining and cleaning the complex. So, will the government bill the web channel for the unusual job? That is always possible.

No matter what is going to happen next, the so-called "bubble bath" has created a rare opportunity for government officials to re-angle public criticisms to a different target.

If the bath was an eye-popping stunt, the LCSD has dealt it a blow -which was a smart PR move.

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