Tuesday, 18 July 2017

"Good Coup" Gone Bad

"Good Coup" Gone Bad
"Good Coup" Gone Bad: Thailand's Political Developments Since Thaksin's Downfall is an anthology of essays analysing the aftermath of the 2006 coup d'etat. Editor Pavin Chachavalpongpun also co-edited a similar anthology, Bangkok, May 2010, which was notable for its (partially successful) attempt to present arguments from both sides of Thailand's political divide.

"Good Coup" Gone Bad (ironically written just before another coup) makes no such claims of balance, as the cover illustration makes clear. In one chapter, David Steckfuss (author of Truth On Trial In Thailand) discusses post-coup lese majeste cases, though the book itself would fall foul of that law if it were published in Thailand.

There are also essays on the decline of the PAD and the rise of the UDD. In his opening chapter (from which the book takes its title), Pavin argues: "The 2006 coup that was staged amid joy among many Bangkok residents - some even calling it a "good coup" - has turned out to be disastrous".

Contemporary Asian Cinema

Contemporary Asian Cinema
Contemporary Asian Cinema: Popular Culture In A Global Frame, edited by Anne Tereska Ciecko, is a collection of essays on the film industries of fourteen Asian countries, making it "the most authoritative assessment of contemporary Asian cinema available." Anchalee Chaiworaporn (who wrote a chapter on post-1970 Thai cinema in David Hanan's similar anthology Film In South East Asia) and Adam Knee discuss the "new momentum" of Thai independent cinema and, at the other end of the spectrum, the "massive scale" of the blockbuster Suriyothai.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Moments

Moments
Kevin Carter
Eddie Adams
Nick Ut
Neal Ulevich
The tenth edition of Moments features every Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph from 1942 to 2015. Each photograph is accompanied by a brief essay and a few related images. The book (subtitled The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographs - A Visual Chronicle Of Our Time) was written by Hal Buell. (A similar collection, also called Moments, was written by Sheryle and John Leekley.)

Some of the book's most iconic images include Eddie Adams's snapshot of a Viet Cong prisoner at the moment of death, Nick Ut's picture of Kim Phuc screaming in pain after a Vietnam War napalm attack, and Kevin Carter's photograph of a vulture following a starving child in Sudan.

Neal Ulevich's disturbing photograph of a baying crowd gathered around a student's body after the Thammasat University massacre in Bangkok is also included. The photographs by Adams, Ut, and Ulevich were all reproduced in blood by Kosit Juntaratip for his Allergic Realities exhibition.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Paris Match

Paris Match
Paris Match magazine has been banned from reprinting CCTV images of last year's Bastille Day attack in Nice, France. The magazine's current issue, published on 13th July, has not been ordered off the shelves, though the photographs must be deleted from the publisher's website and cannot be republished, either in print or online.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Divided Over Thaksin

Divided Over Thaksin
Divided Over Thaksin, edited by John Funston and published in 2009, is a collection of essays analysing Thailand's political, religious, and economic instability following the 2006 coup. ('Good Coup' Gone Bad, edited by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, is another anthology analysing the same period.)

In the first chapter, Michael J Montesano (co-editor of Bangkok, May 2010) summarises the various forces opposing former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and provides a useful narrative of the "political events preceding Thailand's dismaying 19 September 2006 military putsch." Chairat Charoensin-o-larn's essay covers post-coup politics, and there are also several chapters on the 2007 constitution and its predecessor.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Bad Taste Cafe

Thriller
Bangkok's Bad Taste Cafe, which screened Pink Flamingos last month, will be showing another 1970s exploitation film, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, on 13th July. This Swedish film, directed by Bo Arne Vibenius, is notorious for an eye-gouging scene that was allegedly filmed with a real corpse. Needless to say, it's not for the faint-hearted.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Thaksin

Thaksin
Thaksin, by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, is not only the most comprehensive biography of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, it's also the best available account of Thailand's recent political history. Pasuk and Baker capture the divisive nature of Thaksin's reputation: "To some, he is a visionary, even a revolutionary. To others, he is greedy, deceitful, deluded, dangerous."

For better or worse, Thaksin is the single most influential figure in contemporary Thai politics, following his unprecedented landslide election wins of 2001 and 2005. The protest movements that have characterised Thai politics in the past decade - the PAD, UDD, and PDRC - are all defined by their opposition to, or support for, the Thaksin regime. His influence has been suppressed by coups in 2006 and 2014, a Constitutional Court verdict in 2007, and a military massacre in 2010.

In their second edition, published in 2009, Pasuk and Baker conclude that Thaksin's financial corruption and his political populism were inseparable: "Throughout his career, politics and profit-making were entwined around one another like a pair of copulating snakes." (This is a rigorous and unauthorised biography, whereas Sunisa Lertpakawat's Thaksin, Where Are You? and Tom Plate's Conversations With Thaksin are both based on self-serving interviews with Thaksin.)

Bangkok, May 2010

Bangkok, May 2010
Bangkok, May 2010: Perspectives On A Divided Thailand is a collection of essays analysing the causes and consequences of the 19th May 2010 military massacre, when dozens of red-shirt protesters were shot by the Thai army. The book was edited by Michael J Montesano, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and Aekpol Chongvilaivan; Pavin later edited a similar collection, 'Good Coup' Gone Bad, on the aftermath of the 2006 coup.

Bangkok, May 2010 is significant for the reputations of its contributors: it includes chapters by Chris Baker, Pasuk Phongpaichit, David Streckfuss, Duncan McCargo, and other leading scholars on contemporary Thai politics. Streckfuss discusses the UDD's accusations of double standards, observing that "By striking against double standards and impunity, Thai society has the rare opportunity to make justice and accountability a rallying cry." McCargo compares the PAD and UDD rallies to the Black May protests of 1992, noting that they fit a pattern of "manufactured crisis" and conform to the "Vicious Cycle" previously identified by Chai-anan Samudavanija.

The book is also notable for its attempt to present a diversity of perspectives, though as Montesano admits in his introduction, complete ideological balance was not possible: "Some, maybe most, of the contributions to this volume have interpretive or political agendas. Rather fewer, perhaps, are clearly "yellow" in their point of view than are unabashedly "red"." Firmly on the yellow end of the spectrum, Kasit Piromya accuses the UDD of armed insurrection and compares them with the Communists of the 1970s: "the battle had moved from the jungles to the streets of Bangkok."

James Stent's long opening chapter has a more nuanced analysis: "At one pole are those who say that the protesters are paid to attend rallies, and are heavily infiltrated by well armed "terrorists" under the direction and control of extremists taking their orders from Thaksin... On the other side of the debate are those who would paint the protesters as entirely peaceful, which is obviously not true. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two poles." Stent's assessment of Thaksin Shinawatra is also more balanced than most: "I see him in shades of grey - neither the messiah that his rural followers take him for even today, nor the devil incarnate that the Bangkok elite see him as being."

There is much discussion of the extent to which the red-shirt uprising was determined by social class (the rural 'prai' versus the establishment 'ammart'). Chairat Charoensin-o-larn presents the conventional interpretation that it represents a class struggle: "The unrest of May 2010 was a manifestation of the simmering new politics of desire of unprivileged Thais, and Thailand's ruling elites ought to pay close attention." However, Shawn W Crispin argues against this view: "These interpretations must transcend the simplistic and misleading discourse of class struggle that has been advanced by Thaksin's operatives for propaganda purposes and uncritically perpetuated by many foreign academics."

Tartan & Tweed

Tartan & Tweed
Bonnie Prince Charlie Jacques Heim
Tartan & Tweed, by Caroline Young and Ann Martin, is a cultural history of tartan ("the fabric of a nation, an icon of Scottish history and identity") and tweed ("one of the few traditional textiles to achieve cult status"). The book's main strength is the range of its (mostly colour) illustrations, from royal portraiture (such as the idealised 'Harlequin' portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie) to fashion (Chanel's tweed suits, and a very 1960s tweed cape by Jacques Heim) and contemporary subcultures.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Nobody Speak

Nobody Speak
Brian Knappenberger's feature-length documentary Nobody Speak: Trials Of The Free Press was released by Netflix on 23rd June. The programme's thesis, summarised by journalist Leslie Savan, is that "billionaires have been trying to undercut the press, undercut the first amendment, undercut freedom of speech."

In 2012, the blog site Gawker published a two-minute clip from a sex tape featuring wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan sued Gawker for invasion of privacy, and won $140 million in damages in 2016, bankrupting the company. Nobody Speak documents the trial, and interviews Gawker staff including AJ Daulerio, who wrote the Hogan blog post. (His only previous interview about the case was in February's Esquire magazine: "the guy who decided to post the Hogan sex tape, hasn't told the story behind his story. Until now.")

Ultimately, Gawker was nothing more than a gossip site, albeit an influential one, and the Hogan sex tape was a fairly open-and-shut invasion of privacy case. As attorney Floyd Abrams explains, "The reason to save Gawker is not because Gawker was worth saving. The reason to save it is because we don't pick and choose what sort of publications are permissible, because once we do, it empowers the government to limit speech in a way that ought to be impermissible."

Hogan's lawsuit was funded by venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a former PayPal CEO. Thiel had no interest in the Hogan case per se, though he saw it as an opportunity to take personal revenge against Gawker, which had outed him as gay in 2007. Thiel hired lawyer Charles Harder, who won the lawsuit against Gawker. (Harder was later hired by Melania Trump, and he won her case against the Daily Mail.)

The documentary spends an hour on the Gawker case, though it also covers casino owner Sheldon Adelson's takeover of the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper and US President Donald Trump's sustained attacks on major news organisations. Journalism professor Jay Rosen explains the link between the three cases: "the common thread among the Peter Thiel story, the Adelson story, and the Trump story is billionaires who are proclaiming: we are not vulnerable to truth. We are invulnerable to the facts."

Monday, 19 June 2017

Truth On Trial In Thailand

Truth On Trial In Thailand
Lese majeste - under which anyone who "defames, insults or threatens" the King, Queen, heir to the throne, or regent can be prosecuted - is Thailand's most controversial law. It is strictly enforced and broadly interpreted, and carries a social stigma in addition to a long jail sentence (three to fifteen years per offence). Bail is rarely granted in lese majeste cases, trials are heard in camera, in military courts, and there is no right of appeal. In a society in which kings are regarded as semi-divine, critics of the law are demonised as traitors and anti-monarchists.

Unsurprisingly, very little has been written about the history or legitimacy of the lese majeste law, and Truth On Trial In Thailand, by David Streckfuss, is the only full-length study of the subject. (A book published this year, ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112, profiles lese majeste offenders, though it doesn't analyse the law itself. Streckfuss cites Borwornsak Uwanno's 2009 op-ed, written in defence of the law, as "the longest piece ever written in English (and probably Thai) by a Thai on the subject".)

Truth On Trial In Thailand: Defamation, Treason, & Lese-majeste was first published in 2011. With 100 pages of notes, this is a comprehensive and authoritative study of Thailand's defamation and lese majeste laws. It's part of the Rethinking Southeast Asia series, edited by Duncan McCargo, who wrote a widely-cited paper on Thailand's patronage system (in The Pacific Review, 2005): "Thai politics are best understood in terms of political networks. The leading network of the period 1973-2001 was centred on the palace, and is here termed 'network monarchy'."

Streckfuss addresses the central paradox of lese majeste: "The difficulty for defenders of the law is to explain how the institution of Thai monarchy could be so utterly loved if it required the most repressive lese-majeste law the modern world has known." He also challenges the justifications used to defend the law, including exceptionalism ("a conceit about the uniqueness of all things Thai... understandable only to Thai") and national unity ("The obvious answer to the question of the incessant calls to Thai unity is that... no such unity ever existed and that even the appearance of unity has come at a terrible cost").

He also notes the increasingly flexible interpretation of the law, a tendency that has continued since the book was published: "A fairly consistent trend from lese-majeste cases can be discerned, from cases that referred personally to the king, queen, and heir-apparent, to cases where there was... only the most tenuous connection to the monarchy." The book even quotes some passages that fell foul of the law, such as a 23rd December 1981 Wall Street Journal article.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Putin Interviews

The Putin Interviews
The Putin Interviews
Oliver Stone's documentary The Putin Interviews, broadcast on Showtime over four consecutive nights from 12th to 15th June, is a four-hour profile of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The interviews, which ran for a total of twenty hours, took place over the past two years. The four episodes, and an accompanying book of transcripts, are significant thanks to Stone's extensive access to Putin, though they are far from the probing encounter we might have expected. Tellingly, at the end of the book, Stone tells Putin: "I'm proud of the film. You got to tell your side of the story and that's all I can do."

The book contains longer versions of the interviews, though it can't capture Putin's body language: he sighs heavily and smiles thinly throughout the programme, and in one episode he turns to wink at the camera. ("STONE/PUTIN" on the book's spine positions it as a successor to Frost/Nixon, though it feels more like Conversations With Thaksin.) The book's main asset is that it includes footnotes, citing reputable and neutral sources, that fact-check the interviews. But the footnotes focus on statistical details rather than the wider narrative; for example, verifying that "Putin is correct that well over 90% of the Crimeans who went to the polls voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia" yet ignoring the illegality of the referendum itself.

In the documentary's most surreal moment, Stone and Putin watch a DVD of Stanley Kubrick's Cold War satire Dr Strangelove. Putin is clearly unimpressed, and gives a fairly bland assessment: "There are certain things in this film that indeed make us think, despite the fact that everything you see onscreen is make believe. He foresaw some issues even from a technical point of view, things that make us think about real threats that exist."

Throughout most of the programme, Stone's questions reflect his opposition to America's hawkish foreign policies. Putin plays up to this, by criticising American interventionism, which provides Stone with validation for his own view of American neoconservatism. At one point, Putin declines to blame America for cyberattacks on Russian banks - "You are disappointed because the U.S. failed to do something?" - and Stone displays a rare moment of skepticism: "You're obviously sitting on some information. I understand why you may not want to make it public."

Too often, Putin's questionable denials of his own foreign interventions go unchallenged. When asked about Russia's hacking of the Democratic National Committee, Putin says, "Unlike many of our partners, we never interfere with the domestic affairs of other countries." Instead of asking any follow-up questions, Stone simply ends the interview session. Similarly, the issue of Crimea is presented from an entirely pro-Russian perspective: Putin says, "We were not the ones to annex Crimea. The citizens of Crimea decided to join Russia", accompanied by propagandist footage of a young girl hugging a soldier.

Only in the fourth and final episode does Stone begin to challenge Putin. (In his prologue to the book of transcripts, Robert Scheer writes: "In that last session, Stone strenuously pushes Putin".) The episode begins with their most recent interview, recorded earlier this year, in which they return to the subject of Russia's DNC hacking. Stone says of Putin: "You look like a fox who just got out of the hen house", to which Putin replies: "There were no hens in the hen house, unfortunately."

Towards the end of the last episode, Stone raises the issue of Putin's extended time in office, to which Putin offers a standard justification: "Our goal is to reinforce our country." In his reply, Stone finally criticises his interviewee directly: "That is a dangerous argument, because it works both ways. Those who abuse power always say it's a question of survival."

Friday, 16 June 2017

Whitewash

Whitewash
Whitewash
Whitewash
Whitewash
A group of soldiers visited Gallery VER in Bangkok yesterday, and removed three photomontages from photographer (and SpaceTime co-director) Harit Srikhao's exhibition, Whitewash. The exhibition is Harit's personal response to the 2010 military massacre, when the army opened fire on red-shirt protesters and almost 100 people were killed.

One of the images (Chosen Boys) shows crowds watching a royal procession replaced by military cadets. The other two both include reproductions of a Ravinder Reddy sculpture outside CentralWorld, one of the buildings damaged by arson following the 2010 massacre. In one image (Heaven Gate), the faces of a group of female civil servants have all been replaced by this sculpture's face; they are posing in front of a framed portrait of the King, which has been replaced by an image of the sky. In the other photograph (The Head), a group of schoolchildren are standing on some steps, which lead up to the sculpture.

Gallery VER (previously located across the river in Thonburi) is next door to another gallery, Cartel Artspace, and it was there that the seven soldiers had originally intended to inspect. They apparently noticed the VER exhibition only by chance, while waiting to gain access to Cartel. By coincidence, the three photographs in question all appear as consecutive double-page spreads in the current issue of Foam (on pages 218-223), and the magazine has been withdrawn from sale in Bangkok.

This is the third time in the past decade that exhibitions in Bangkok have been censored. Withit Sembutr's painting Doo Phra, depicting a group of Buddhist monks crowding around an amulet-seller, was removed from the Young Thai Artist 2007 exhibition at Esplanade. Five pictures by photojournalist Agnes Dherbeys were removed from the Rupture exhibition at BACC.

Dherbeys' photographs, like Harit's, depicted the 2010 protests. In all three exhibitions, the spaces left by the removed works remained conspicuously empty, to highlight the censorship. Whitewash opened on 3rd June, and is scheduled to run until 22nd July.

PDF

Thursday, 15 June 2017

ทำลายจำนำข้าว แต่ฆ่าชาวนา

ทำลายจำนำข้าว แต่ฆ่าชาวนา
ทำลายจำนำข้าว แต่ฆ่าชาวนา, a defence of Pheu Thai's rice subsidy policy, was published on 1st May, though there have been several attempts to prevent its distribution. Police and military officers suspended a press conference announcing the book on 25th March, and a book launch scheduled for 29th April was cancelled. 190 copies of the book were seized from the home of one of its writers, Suchart Lainamngern, on 27th May. (The other authors are Yuttapong Charasathien, Niyom Changpinij, Surasarn Phasuk, and Somkid Chuakong.)

The rice subsidy scheme was implemented by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2011. Her government agreed to pay farmers up to 50% above the market rate for their rice, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. As a result, countries such as India and Vietnam increased their rice exports, and the government was left with vast stockpiles of rice that it could not sell.

In 2014, the national Anti-Corruption Commission brought charges against Yingluck for her role in the policy, and she was retroactively impeached by the National Legislative Assembly in 2015. After an investigation into the scheme, she was fined $1 billion last year.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Bad Taste Movie Night

Pink Flamingos
Bad Taste Cafe, a new Bangkok bar with intentionally kitsch decor, will be screening the exploitation classic Pink Flamingos tomorrow. Directed by John Waters, Pink Flamingos is the ultimate example of transgressive cinema, and the perfect choice for the inaugural Bad Taste Movie Night.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

100 Greatest Movies

Empire
100 Greatest Movies
Empire has released the results of its 100 Greatest Movies online readers' poll. The list will be featured in the magazine's July issue, which will be published on 15th June with five different covers: The Godfather, The Lord Of The Rings III, Star Wars V, Pulp Fiction, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

This is Empire's eighth greatest-films poll. The previous ones are: 100 Favourite Films Of All Time (1996), Your 100 Greatest Films Ever! (1999), The 50 Best Films (2001), 100 Greatest Movies Of All Time (2004), 201 Greatest Movies Of All Time (2006), The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time (2008), and The 301 Greatest Films Of All Time (2014).

The 100 Greatest Movies are as follows:

100. Stand By Me
99. Raging Bull
98. Amelia
97. Titanic
96. Good Will Hunting
95. Arrival
94. Lost In Translation
93. The Princess Bride
92. The Terminator
91. The Prestige
90. No Country For Old Men
89. Shaun Of The Dead
88. The Exorcist
87. Predator
86. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
85. Leon
84. Rocky
83. True Romance
82. Some Like It Hot
81. The Social Network
80. Spirited Away
79. Captain America: Civil War
78. Oldboy
77. Toy Story
76. A Clockwork Orange
75. Fargo
74. Mulholland Drive
73. Seven Samurai
72. Rear Window
71. Hot Fuzz
70. The Lion King
69. Singin' In The Rain
68. Ghostbusters
67. Memento
66. Star Wars VI: Return Of The Jedi
65. The Avengers
64. LA Confidential
63. Donnie Darko
62. La La Land
61. Forrest Gump
60. American Beauty
59. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
58. Inglourious Basterds
57. Whiplash
56. Reservoir Dogs
55. Pan's Labyrinth
54. Vertigo
53. Psycho
52. Once Upon A Time In The West
51. It's A Wonderful Life
50. Lawrence Of Arabia
49. Trainspotting
48. The Silence Of The Lambs
47. Interstellar
46. Citizen Kane
45. Drive
44. Gladiator
43. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
42. There Will Be Blood
41. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
40. Twelve Angry Men
39. Saving Private Ryan
38. Mad Max: Fury Road
37. The Thing
36. The Departed
35. The Shining
34. Guardians Of The Galaxy
33. Schindler's List
32. The Usual Suspects
31. Taxi Driver
30. Seven
29. The Bog Lebowski
28. Casablanca
27. The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
26. Heat
25. Terminator II: Judgment Day
24. The Matrix
23. The Lord Of The Rings II: The Two Towers
22. Apocalypse Now
21. 2001: A Space Odyssey
20. Die Hard
19. Jurassic Park
18. Inception
17. Fight Club
16. The Lord Of The Rings III: The Return Of The King
15. Aliens
14. Alien
13. Blade Runner
12. The Godfather II
11. Back To The Future
10. The Lord Of The Rings I: The Fellowship Of The Ring
9. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
8. Jaws
7. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
6. GoodFellas
5. Pulp Fiction
4. The Shawshank Redemption
3. The Dark Knight
2. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
1. The Godfather

[Some entries in the list share the same titles as other films or remakes. Some Like It Hot is the Billy Wilder classic, Titanic is the James Cameron version, and The Avengers is the Joss Whedon version.]

Monday, 12 June 2017

Bangkok Screening Room

Sunset Boulevard
Later this week, Citizen Kane and Stagecoach, currently showing at Bangkok Screening Room, will be joined by a third all-time classic. Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, one of the greatest films ever made about Hollywood, will be shown on 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 28th June; and 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th July.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Tape Art

Tape Art
Tape Art: Materials, Techniques, Projects & Inspiration is the first book to survey the use of adhesive tape as an artistic medium. Written by Eva Hauck and the Klebebande tape artists collective, it was originally published in German (subtitled Kunst Mit Klebeband Ideen & Projekte), and begins with the Klebebande's motto, "tape is the new paint."

Photographs of contemporary tape art in situ are included (mostly from the past decade, with a handful of early examples from the 1990s). There is also a brief historical introduction by tape art pioneer Michael Townsend: "Tape art has no long history to boast of, but does have an extensive and ever expanding catalog of expressions: from protest and performance art, to the beautification and occupation of public space, to advertising."

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Post-Truth

Post-Truth
After the UK referendum on EU membership and Donald Trump's US presidential election victory, several books have discussed the so-called 'post-truth' era. In Post-Truth: The New War On Truth & How To Fight Back, Matthew d'Ancona credits Steve Tesich with coining the term in 1992 ("we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world"), though it was only after Brexit and Trump that post-truth became a buzzword: "2016 was the year that definitively launched the era of 'Post-Truth'."

Of course, d'Ancona highlights Vote Leave's campaign pledge ("the assertion - emblazoned on the side of the Leave battle bus - that Brexit would yield a £350 million weekly top-up for the cash-strapped NHS") and explains its mendacity: "To borrow a distinction often made by Trump's supporters, it was evidently a mistake to take the Leave campaign literally rather than seriously." He also itemises some of Trump's lies and exaggerations, which were labelled "truthful hyperbole" by Tony Schwartz (ghost writer of The Art Of The Deal) and defended as "alternative facts" by Kellyanne Conway.

Explaining the origins of post-truth, d'Ancona notes the commercial value in sensational falsehoods: "Post-Truth sells, too. Those whom the Columbia University professor Tim Wu has called the 'attention merchants' compete for our time - and market it as a hugely valuable product." He also cites the ideological fragmentation of media and audiences: "The consequence is that opinions tend to be reinforced and falsehoods unchallenged. We languish in the so-called 'filter bubble'."

The book also reminds us of pre-Trump, post-truth presidential soundbites, from "I am not a crook" (Richard Nixon) to "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" (Bill Clinton). This history, d'Ancona argues, has contributed to a public distrust of authority, a situation which was then exploited by partisan media: "If institutional failure has eroded the primacy of truth, so too has the multi-billion-dollar industry of misinformation," leading to the proliferation of 'fake news' online.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Sourcebook

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Sourcebook
Apichatpong Weerasethakul Sourcebook was published last year to coincide with the director's first museum retrospective, The Serenity Of Madness. Rather than a conventional exhibition catalogue, the book is a collection of documents from Apichatpong's personal archive, including diary entries, location photographs, and a 100-page essay by Jenjira Pongpas Widner, who has appeared in Cemetery Of Splendour, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and several of his short films. It also features reprints of articles that have inspired some of Apichatpong's works (including a history of trepanation), alongside interviews with the director.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Filter Bubble

The Filter Bubble
The Filter Bubble, by Eli Pariser, was first published in 2011, though its central thesis has regained currency in the current debate surrounding fake news and political polarisation. Pariser describes how online personalisation algorithms "create a unique universe of information for each of us - what I've come to call a filter bubble - which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information."

He argues that the 'filter bubble' acts to reinforce our ideological positions by presenting us only with opinions with which we already agree, and that this process is invisible and involuntary: "When you turn on Fox News or read The Nation, you're making a decision about what kind of filter to use to make sense of the world. It's an active process, and like putting on a pair of tinted glasses, you can guess how the editors' leaning shapes your perception. You don't make the same kind of choice with personalized filters."

The 'filter bubble' is not a new concept, though it was popularised by Pariser's book. It's related to the notion of 'cyberbalkanization' coined twenty years ago, and Tim Berners-Lee has criticised the 'walled garden' effect of closed systems such as app stores that fragment the web.

The impact of the bubble can be seen in Thailand: red-shirts and yellow-shirts each have different sources of information (Voice TV and Manager, respectively). Similarly, CNN's Reliable Sources contrasted Democrat and Republican media (respectively, MSNBC and Fox News), calling it "Red News/Blue News".

The Filter Bubble is subtitled What The Internet Is Hiding From You. For the US paperback edition, the subtitle was changed to How The New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read & How We Think.

ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112

ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112
ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112, edited by Apirada Meedetch, profiles twenty-two people who have been charged with lese majeste in Thailand. The book does not present arguments for or against the royal defamation law itself; instead, it elicits sympathy for the offenders (including Somyot Prueksakasemsuk) and humanises them by describing their families and their personal circumstances. (Most of the subjects are identified only by their given names, some of which have been changed to protect their identities.)

Lese majeste is strictly enforced and broadly interpreted in Thailand. Bail is very rarely granted to suspects, and court cases are heard in camera. Since the coup, lese majeste cases have been tried in military courts. Consequently, self-censorship is routinely exercised by Thai writers, and very little commentary about the law is published, making this book both surprising and welcome. (The only full-length study of lese majeste - in either Thai or English - is Truth On Trial In Thailand, by David Streckfuss.)

Hit Makers

Hit Makers
Hit Makers, by Derek Thompson, is a study of how blockbusters and bestsellers are born. (Its focus is squarely on the head of the sales curve, rather than the long tail.) There is, of course, no magic formula to explain commercial success, though Thompson identifies some of the key factors, such as the 'aesthetic aha' principle: "The best hit makers are gifted at creating moments of meaning by marrying new and old, anxiety and understanding. They are architects of familiar surprises."

The book's most significant contribution is its refutation of the myth that cultural memes 'go viral'. Drawing on a research paper from 2012 (The Structure Of Online Diffusion Networks), Thompson argues that viral hits rely on mass dissemination in addition to word-of-mouth: "For most so-called viral ideas or products to become massive hits, they almost always depend on several moments where they spread to many, many people from one source." Metaphorically, viral content is propagated via water pumps (broadcasting to a wide audience) rather than water coolers (conversations between individuals).

Hit Makers is subtitled The Science Of Popularity In An Age Of Distraction. In the UK, the subtitle was simplified to How Things Become Popular. Thompson's articles for The Atlantic magazine include early examinations of online clickbait, which he defines in Hit Makers: "An article is considered clickbait if the headline gets the reader to click on a story that doesn't live up to its promise."

News Writing & Reporting

News Writing & Reporting
News Writing & Reporting: The Complete Guide For Today's Journalist, by Chip Scanlan and Richard Craig, is a useful all-in-one textbook for journalism students, which covers not only writing but also interviewing, research, and ethics. The sidebars ("The Coaching Way", "Chip's Corner") are a bit gimmicky, though this is the most wide-ranging guide to news writing for print, online, and broadcasting. The only missing element is headline writing, which is covered in Anna McKane's News Writing.

News Writing

News Writing
News Writing, by Anna McKane, is an excellent introduction to writing news stories, with practical advice that's ideal for journalism students. McKane covers the standard topics - news values, the inverted pyramid, and the five Ws (who, what, where, when, and why) - though she also discusses subjects overlooked by some other guides, such as headline writing and accurate reporting. Some minor criticisms: the focus on print journalism excludes broadcasting, and the material relating to grammar and punctuation would be more appropriate in a general English style guide.

'Pink slime'

ABC World News Tonight
A meat processing company, Beef Products, is suing ABC News for defamation and seeking $5.7 billion in damages. The suit was filed in 2012, and the trial began yesterday. Beef Products alleges that ABC News "engaged in a month-long vicious, concerted disinformation campaign" with its investigation into lean, finely textured beef (LFTB), which is added to some processed meat.

ABC World News Tonight first reported on LFTB on 7th March 2012, describing it as "'pink slime', beef trimmings that were once used only in dog food and cooking oil, now sprayed with ammonia to make them safe to eat and then added to most ground beef as a cheaper filling." (There is no neutral term to describe the product: LFTB is euphemistic, and 'pink slime' is dysphemistic.)

ABC News did not coin the term 'pink slime', though its series of World News Tonight reports popularised it and increased public awareness of the presence of LFTB in processed beef. As The New York Times reported on 31st December 2009, the phrase was first used internally by the US Department of Agriculture: "department microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, called the processed beef "pink slime" in a 2002 e-mail message to colleagues". Jamie Oliver also used the term, in a 12th April 2009 episode of Food Revolution: "a new world of food. It's called pink slime."

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Thursday, 1 June 2017

Risomania

Risomania
Risomania: The New Spirit Of Printing - Risograph, Mimeograph & Other Stencil Duplicators, by John Z Komurki, is "the first book to document... the history, present and future of the Riso," examining the use of the Risograph printer in graphic design. It includes a portfolio of contemporary prints, an international directory of printing presses, and some fascinating vintage commercial illustrations.

The book begins with a history of stencil duplication: "To date there has been no comprehensive account published of it, although there are many books waiting to be written. Here, all we have the space to do is lay out the essentials of the development of this technology, and try to straighten out some of the misconceptions that bedevil the field." Duplicators such as the mimeograph, cyclograph, hectograph, papyrograph, and typograph are all discussed.

Risomania was first published in French translation (subtitled Risographe, Mimeographe & Autre Duplicopieurs). It's an interesting account of a technology that's missing from the standard histories of printing, Prints & Visual Communication (by William M Ivins) and the definitive The Art Of The Print (by Fritz Eichenberg).

Empire's 100 Greatest Movies

Empire's 100 Greatest Movies
Empire has launched another 100 Greatest Movies online readers' survey, after previous polls in 2008 and 2014. The results will be published later this month, in the July issue of the magazine.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Cinema Explicito

Cinema Explicito
Cinema Explicito: Representacoes Cinematograficas Do Sexo, by Rodrigo Gerace, is a study of the cinematic representation of sex, especially the depiction of unsimulated sex in experimental and arthouse films. It's a comprehensive treatment of the topic, with an attractive design, though it covers much the same ground as Screening Sex, by Linda Williams, which is the definitive book on the subject.

The Attention Merchants

The Attention Merchants
In The Master Switch, Tim Wu highlighted the dangers of the oligopolisation of entertainment and communication. His new book, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble To Get Inside Our Heads, is similarly wide-ranging, analysing the symbiotic relationship between advertising and the media. Wu's title, The Attention Merchants, positions itself as a successor to The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard's early and influential critique of manipulative advertising.

Wu is as critical of advertising as Packard, emphasising its detrimental impact on the commercial media and entertainment it sustains, from the penny press to prime-time broadcasting and clickbait: "The attention merchant had always tried to reach as broad an audience as possible, bombarding them with as many ads as they'd stand before going into total revolt." (Mark Tungate's Adland is a more favourable history of the advertising industry.)

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The 4th Silent Film Festival In Thailand

The 4th Silent Film Festival In Thailand
The Mark Of Zorro
The 4th Silent Film Festival In Thailand will take place in Bangkok next month. As in previous years (2014, 2015, and 2016), the Festival will feature a week of screenings at the Lido and Scala cinemas. The highlight of this year's Festival is The Mark Of Zorro, which will be screened at Lido on 9th and 11th June, with live musical accompaniment by acclaimed composer Neil Brand.

The Mark Of Zorro was directed by Fred Niblo, who also made the silent version of Ben-Hur. Starring Douglas Fairbanks, Zorro was one of the first adventure films featuring a swashbuckling hero. Fairbanks would play several similar characters in subsequent films throughout the 1920s (including Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, The Thief Of Bagdad, and The Black Pirate), influencing Errol Flynn's performances in adventure films of the 1930s (Captain Blood and The Adventures Of Robin Hood).

The Festival opens on 8th June and closes on 14th June. The will be a photographic exhibition at Scala, Light & Shadow: Films Of The Weimar Republic, for the duration of the Festival.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Bangkok Screening Room

Stagecoach
Citizen Kane
Later this month, Bangkok Screening Room will be showing John Ford's classic western, Stagecoach, the film that revived the Hollywood western and established many of the genre's modern conventions. Orson Welles claimed that he watched Stagecoach every night for a month, while he was preparing to direct Citizen Kane, his first film. Citizen Kane, arguably the most influential film ever made, will be shown at Bangkok Screening Room next month.

Stagecoach will be shown on 30th and 31st May; and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 14th, 15th, 17th, and 18th June. Citizen Kane will be screened on 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st, and 24th June.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Woman's Day

Woman's Day
Actress Rebel Wilson has given evidence at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Australia, after she sued the publisher of Woman's Day magazine for defamation. In its 25th May 2015 issue (published on 18th May 2015), Woman's Day revealed Wilson's real name, and claimed that she had lied about her age.

The magazine quoted a high school classmate's description of Wilson: "Her name is – or was – Melanie Elizabeth Bownds, and she's 36 – she was born in 1979 and we left school in 1997." The article also included photographs of Wilson from her high school yearbook.

Wilson launched her lawsuit on 16th May last year, and the article was deleted from the Woman's Day website on the same day. In the magazine's print edition, the article was headlined "Just who is the REAL Rebel?"

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Monday, 22 May 2017

(Un) Happy Birthday

(Un) Happy Birthday
(Un) Happy Birthday
Democracy Restoration, a new pro-democracy group, held a seminar marking the third anniversary of the 2014 coup yesterday and today. (Un) Happy Birthday, at Thammasat University in Bangkok, was subject to several restrictions imposed by the military government.

Participants were not permitted to use the words 'coup' or 'dictator', and they were not allowed to refer to the junta by name. The poster for the event was censored to remove the Thai abbreviation for the NCPO ("คสช"). To circumvent the restrictions, several speakers held up placards containing the banned words during their speeches.

Similarly, when an army spokesman participated in a discussion at the FCCT in Bangkok shortly after the coup, he asked participants to refer to the coup euphemistically as an "intervention". After initially pledging to hold an election in 2015, the junta has repeatedly delayed its 'roadmap', and an election is not realistically expected until 2018 or later.