27 July 2021

Tetra Hysteria Manifesto

Tetra Hysteria Manifesto was released last week on cassette. The album includes a new track by Pisitakun Kuantalaeng, 18.05.2010, which features audio of military gunfire recorded (as its title suggests) on 18th May 2010. (Abhisit Vejjajiva authorised the use of live ammunition by the army for its violent suppression of red-shirt protesters in 2010.)

Pisitakun’s 10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic], shown at the Conflicted Visions Again exhibition, included a poster documenting the victims who were shot on 18th May 2010. His album Absolute Coup was released on cassette by Chinabot last year. (Tetra Hysteria Manifesto celebrates Chinabot’s fourth anniversary.)

24 July 2021

100 Greatest Films

100 Greatest Films
100 greatest films, in chronological order.
  • A Trip to the Moon (1902)
  • The Great Train Robbery (1903)
  • The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919)
  • The Mark of Zorro (1920)
  • Nosferatu (1922)
  • Nanook of the North (1922)
  • Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  • Metropolis (1927)
  • The Jazz Singer (1927)
  • Un chien andalou (1928)
  • Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
  • Frankenstein (1931)
  • City Lights (1931)
  • The Public Enemy (1931)
  • Scarface (1932)
  • 42nd Street (1933)
  • It Happened One Night (1934)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  • Grand Illusion (1935)
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  • Port of Shadows (1938)
  • Bringing up Baby (1938)
  • Gone with the Wind (1939)
  • The Rules of the Game (1939)
  • Stagecoach (1939)
  • Le jour se lève (1939)
  • His Girl Friday (1940)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • Cat People (1942)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
  • Rome, Open City (1945)
  • The Big Sleep (1946)
  • Notorious (1946)
  • Out of the Past (1947)
  • The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
  • Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  • Red River (1948)
  • Rashomon (1950)
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  • Ikiru (1952)
  • Tokyo Story (1953)
  • On the Waterfront (1954)
  • Seven Samurai (1954)
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
  • Pather Panchali (1955)
  • The Searchers (1956)
  • The Seventh Seal (1957)
  • The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • Touch of Evil (1958)
  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
  • The 400 Blows (1959)
  • Breathless (1960)
  • Psycho (1960)
  • Night and Fog in Japan (1960)
  • Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
  • Chronique d’un été (1961)
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  • (1963)
  • Dr Strangelove (1964)
  • A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
  • Black God, White Devil (1964)
  • Closely Observed Trains (1966)
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
  • Young Törless (1966)
  • Dont Look Back (1967)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • Bonnie and Clyde (1968)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • The Wild Bunch (1969)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  • Pink Flamingos (1972)
  • The Godfather (1972)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)
  • Annie Hall (1977)
  • Alien (1979)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Raging Bull (1980)
  • A Better Tomorrow (1986)
  • Die Hard (1988)
  • A City of Sadness (1989)
  • GoodFellas (1990)
  • Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • La haine (1995)
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • Taste of Cherry (1997)
  • Dang Bireley and Young Gangsters (1997)
  • Memento (2000)
  • Tears of the Black Tiger (2000)
  • Spirited Away (2001)
  • City of God (2002)
  • Tropical Malady (2004)
  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

23 July 2021

"These three books have a
lot of seditious material inside..."

General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists
Five people who created children’s picture books were arrested in Hong Kong yesterday and charged with sedition. Police accused the five—all members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, which published the books—of producing subversive literature to undermine national security.

The three books in question are all set in a ‘sheep village’ (羊村), which serves as a metaphor for contemporary Hong Kong in an example of political satire in the tradition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. More than 500 copies of the books were seized and, at a press conference after the arrests, superintendent Steve Li said: “These three books have a lot of seditious material inside.”

One of the books, 羊村守衛者 (‘guardians of sheep village’) is an allegory of Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protests. Another, 羊村十二勇士 (‘twelve warriors of sheep village’), refers to a dozen Hong Kongers who were arrested last year when they attempted to escape into exile by speedboat. The last book in the series, 羊村清道夫 (‘the cleaners of sheep village’), is a reference to medical workers who went on strike in an attempt to force Hong Kong to close its border with China during last year’s coronavirus pandemic.

PDF PDF PDF

20 July 2021

The Seventh Seal (blu-ray)

The Seventh Seal
Det Sjunde Inseglet
Sjunde Inseglet
Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) was released on blu-ray and DVD in 2007 by Tartan in the UK, to mark the film’s fiftieth anniversary. Other blu-ray and DVD releases followed over the next decade, from Criterion in the US, Studio Canal in France, and Arthaus in Germany.

Unlike all previous VHS and DVD editions, each of these discs has an altered version of the film’s opening title sequence: the first word, “DET” (‘the’) is missing, and the rest of the title (“SJUNDE INSEGLET”—‘seventh seal’) appears off-centre. This anomaly was corrected by Criterion for their Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema blu-ray collection, which featured a 2018 4k restoration of The Seventh Seal that restored the definite article to the title sequence.

19 July 2021

“Good vaccines, not
rubber bullets or tear gas!”

Free Youth
Riot police fired rubber bullets at protesters in Bangkok yesterday afternoon. Police also deployed tear gas and water cannon against the protesters, after they attempted to breach road blocks set up to prevent them from marching to Government House.

More than 1,000 protesters gathered at Democracy Monument, where they displayed a guillotine splattered with symbolic blue paint. Later, at nearby Nang Loeng intersection, they burnt Prayut Chan-o-cha in effigy. The event marked the one-year anniversary of Free Youth’s 18th July 2020 protest, which began the current student-led campaign against Prayut’s government.

Protesters at yesterday’s demonstration called for Prayut’s unconditional resignation, the reallocation of royal and military funding to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, and the procurement of mRNA vaccines (such as Pfizer or Moderna) rather than Sinovac. Today, Free Youth issued a statement in Thai and English condemning the police violence and reiterating one of their key demands: “Good vaccines, not rubber bullets or tear gas!”

This marks the fourth time that police have fired rubber bullets at protesters this year. They were first used on 28th February against protesters on Viphavadi Rangsit Road, then on 20th March at Sanam Luang, and on 2nd May outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court.

16 July 2021

The Short Story of Film

The Short Story of Film
The Short Story of Film
The Short Story of Film: A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Movements and Techniques, by Ian Haydn Smith, was published last year. As its subtitle suggests, it’s divided into four parts, though the ‘key films’ section occupies the bulk of the book. Fifty films are included (one per director), the selection is international in scope, and each film has a decent one-page review.

The one-page-per-entry format also applies to the other sections, and while a single page is sufficient to summarise an individual film, it’s not really enough to cover entire genres or movements. Consequently, these potted histories are sometimes quite general, and often have better coverage of a genre or movement’s origins than its subsequent evolution. The book features an impressively diverse range of subgenres, and these are summarised in more detail than the major genres.

Other lists of fifty greatest films have also been compiled by Vanity Fair, The Spectator, MovieMail, Film4 (and Dateline Bangkok). Ian Haydn Smith updated 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die for its tenth anniversary, and has edited each subsequent edition (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020).

13 July 2021

Dismantle

Dismantle
God Is Dead
Who Will Stop the Rain 5th October 1976
Dao Siam What a Wonderful World
The Sound of Silence 5th October 1976
Daily News Have You Ever Seen the Rain
The group exhibition Dismantle (ปลด) opened yesterday at Joyman Gallery in Bangkok. Although scheduled to run until 22nd August, it will be on hiatus for a fortnight as the city entered a two-week lockdown today, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Each of the works on display makes a strong political statement, though the most provocative are Kespada Moonsuwan’s oil painting God Is Dead (a head shrouded in red silk) and Narath Boriboonhiranthana’s holographic video projection I Will Wear Red at Your Funeral (a woman dancing in front of an upturned urn; ฉันหวังให้คุณตายและฉันจะใส่ชุดสีแดงในงานศพของคุณ). Both works refer to the same person, who is, of course, not mentioned by name.

The gallery is dimly lit, and the walls are painted black, making the black labels accompanying each exhibit almost illegible. This is presumably intentional, as the explanatory texts are sometimes incendiary. In his artist’s statement, Kesapada says: “I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE RUMOR TURNING TO THE REAL STORY” [sic], a reference to a recent viral rumour. In her statement, Narath is equally blunt: “I HOPE YOU DIE, AND I AM GOING TO WEAR A RED DRESS IN YOUR FUNERAL” [sic].

Thasnai Sethaseree, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University who publicly defended two students after they created a banner representing the Thai flag, has produced a series of four painted collages for the exhibition. Each painting reproduces the front page of a Thai newspaper dated 5th October 1976, the day before the 6th October massacre. Thasnai has covered the headlines in bright colours and given them optimistic titles taken from vintage pop songs, to show how the news coverage of the period ignored the impending political crisis.

The four collages are: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, based on the front page of Daily News (เดลินิวส์); Who Will Stop the Rain, based on เสียง ปวงชน (‘the people’s voice’); What a Wonderful World, based on Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม); and The Sound of Silence, based on ชาวไทย (‘people of Thailand’). Other Thai newspaper front pages from October 1976 are reprinted in Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย).

12 July 2021

Dark

Dark
Dark
Dark
Jirapatt Aungsumalee’s exhibition Dark opened at VS Gallery in Bangkok yesterday. Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise is also on show at the same gallery, though they will be on hiatus for the next fortnight as the city began a two-week lockdown today, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dark features portraits of anonymous military officers and state bureaucrats against black backgrounds, their faces obscured and their positions only identifiable from their uniforms. As the catalogue puts it, these figures occupy seats of power interchangeably, like a horrific game of musical chairs (“ณ ที่นั่งแห่งอำนาจอย่างกับเกมเก้าอี้ดนตรีสยองขวัญ”).

There are also equally dark paintings inspired by the recent anti-government protests. These are titled ประกาย (‘spark’) and สีสัน (‘colourful’), suggesting that the protesters and their symbols—such as Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (ประกาย I) and an inflatable yellow duck (สีสัน I)—offer a ray of light in the darkness.

11 July 2021

A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise

A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise
The Death in 2020-2021
A Blue Man I
Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s exhibition A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise opened this afternoon at VS Gallery in Bangkok, though it will be closed for the next fortnight as the city begins a two-week lockdown tomorrow, due to the coronavirus pandemic. (The exhibition was originally scheduled to run from 24th April to 20th June.)

The centrepiece, The Death in 2020-2021 [sic], is a vast, 10m-long canvas depicting the eponymous blue man amongst a sea of dead bodies. An inflatable yellow duck is also present, in reference to the protesters who used inflatable ducks to defend themselves from water cannon last October and November. The blue man also appears in a group of smaller paintings, this time in various sexual positions. In A Blue Man I, he is at the centre of an orgy, a representation of corrupt decadence similar to Vasan Sitthiket’s Ten Evil Scenes of Thai Politic [sic].

Unlike Manit Sriwanichpoom’s equally incongruous pink man (พิ้งค์แมน), the blue man’s colour has a symbolic meaning in Thailand, and he wears an ornate crown (of gold leaf). An artist’s statement affixed to the gallery wall offers some context: “With a knife in his hand, a blue man wounds people who denied him, also anyone who have no faith in his love” [sic]. This allusion to lèse-majesté is reinforced by the exhibition’s title, as Rama X described Thailand as “the land of compromise” during a walkabout on 2nd November last year.

10 July 2021

Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok

Journalist Emma Larkin’s first novel, Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok, was published in May. (Born in Thailand, Larkin uses a pen name to avoid scrutiny from the authorities while she reports from Myanmar.) The eponymous Aeon is a former Communist insurgent, who fled to the jungle following the 6th October 1976 massacre.

Aeon has since returned to Bangkok, though he (like the city) remains haunted by state violence against civilian protesters. Working as a history teacher, he sees first-hand how 6th October has been whitewashed from the national curriculum—a point made by Vasan Sitthiket in his video Delete Our History, Now! (อำนาจ/การลบทิ้ง)—and searches for what little evidence remains, “the seldom-seen photographs of semi-conscious students burned on funeral pyres made of tyres, and dead bodies hung from the tamarind trees on the parade ground.”

The novel is set in 2009, when red-shirt protesters instigated violence during the Songkran holiday. As one character says, “Did you hear they attacked the Prime Minister’s car?”—Abhisit Vejjajiva’s motorcade was mobbed, an incident recreated in Wisit Sasanatieng’s film The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง). The red-shirt protests culminated in another state crackdown, in 2010, though the novel focuses on the aftermath of the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre.

In the days following ‘Black May’, there were credible rumours of military vehicles disposing of hundreds of bodies, who were omitted from the official tally of victims. Larkin recounts the “talk of an army truck driving into a bone mill on the outskirts of Bangkok late one night, the cargo heaped under its tarpaulin conspicuously absent when it drove out again, and reports of military helicopters flying east from the city towards the border with Burma, dropping bodies into the impenetrable jungle below.”

The story’s starting point is a fictional incident that seems to confirm these rumours: bodies found in a sunken shipping container and buried in wasteland. The novel presents these grisly discoveries as proof of “an operation to deal with the ‘excess collateral damage’ resulting from the crackdown on protesters at Sanam Luang”, though a government spokesman dismisses the matter out of hand: “Gazing wearily at the nation, he appeared to ad lib as he took off his spectacles and said in a more casual, almost avuncular tone, ‘So, it’s best that you all go about your business now and forget this incident.’”

Larkin was inspired by two works of political history: William A. Callahan’s Imagining Democracy (now scarce, but the best account of ‘Black May’ in English) and Thongchai Winnichakul’s Moments of Silence. (Aeon “tracked down some of the leaders of the right-wing gangs that had massed in Sanam Luang”, in an echo of the Silence of the Wolf chapter in Thongchai’s book.) Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok is one of several recent novels set in times of Thai political conflict, including Sunisa Manning’s A Good True Thai, Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘indescribable fiction’), Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), and Jakkapan Kangwan’s Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า).

09 July 2021

Thai Cinema Uncensored

Bangkok Post
My book Thai Cinema Uncensored is reviewed in today’s Bangkok Post newspaper, on page 10 of their Life arts supplement. In his review, Chris Baker (who co-authored the excellent Thaksin) calls it a “splendid book.” He also describes it as a “fascinating book which has relevance for film, contemporary culture and politics in general.”

26 June 2021

The L/Royal Monument

The L/Royal Monument
Intersection of Wills
Captain Justice
The Masterpiece
Prior to 2014, Wittawat Tongkeaw was known primarily for his landscape paintings, though since the coup his art has become increasingly political. The works in his new exhibition The L/Royal Monument (นิ/ราษฎร์) at Subhashok Arts Center in Bangkok, displayed in four themed sections, provide a commentary on modern Thai politics expressed through coded metaphors and symbolism.

The exhibition’s first room, Interlude, draws on Wittawat’s background as a landscape painter, though these landscapes have political subtexts. Two of the paintings refer to the 2010 massacre of red-shirt protesters: Intersection of Wills (ราษฎร์​ประสงค์) shows Ratchaprasong, the focal point of the protest, and Interregnum (สิ้นสุดพุทธาวาส) depicts a relief sculpture from Wat Pathum Wanaram, a temple sheltering six protesters who were killed by military snipers. Like Pachara Piyasongsoot’s Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ), these paintings represent politically-loaded locations; to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, they are ‘guilty landscapes’. The theme of this first room is transition, symbolised by expansive sunsets and tiny details (a traffic light about to turn green). The political significance of this transition is suggested by the exhibition’s other rooms.

The second room, Imagining Law-abiding Citizens, features paintings of four pro-democracy campaigners, all of whom have been charged with lèse-majesté. They include Captain Justice (ทนายอานนท์), a portrait of Arnon Nampa, who led protests last year calling for reform of the monarchy; and The Unforgiven Blues (หมอลำแบงค์), a portrait of Patiwat Saraiyaem, an actor who was jailed for his performance in the play เจ้าสาวหมาป่า (‘the wolf bride’) and later appeared in Ten Years Thailand. Each portrait has a blue background, in an allusion to that colour’s idiomatic and symbolic meanings: blue indicates the artist’s sadness at the persecution of the four subjects, though it also traditionally represents the monarchy, as in Wittawat’s previous exhibition, 841.594.

The other two rooms, Memorabilia and The Artist’s Trial, feature installations and projections. In the latter room is Jojo and the Bookstalk (โจโจ้ผู้ฆ่ายักษ์), a precarious pile of books and journals, the texts that led to Wittawat’s political awakening, known in Thai as ta sawang. Two other installations in the same room are especially provocative Creation-Conclusion (เริ่ม-จบ) is a painting of the sky on an upturned easel, and The Masterpiece (มาสเตอร์พีซ) is a weather-beaten painting hung back-to-front. The Thai word for ‘sky’ (fah) is a metaphor for the monarchy, and the upturned easel resembles a contraption more commonly associated with the French Revolution. The subject of the back-to-front portrait can be guessed from its propagandistic original title, พระเกียรติคุณ กว้างใหญ่ไพศาล (‘his honour spread far and wide’), which is still faintly visible on the reverse.

The L/Royal Monument opened at SAC Gallery in Bangkok on 22nd June, and runs until 18th September. Its opening coincides with the anniversary of Thailand’s 1932 transition to constitutional monarchy and, as Wittawat writes in the exhibition brochure, the “physical components—names, plaques, monuments” commemorating this have been systematically removed from public spaces.

21 June 2021

Reincarnations III

Reincarnations III
Reincarnations III
Reincarnations III
Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s exhibition Reincarnations III: Ecologies of Life is part of his ongoing research into mankind’s detrimental impacts on plant and animal life. With Monstruous Phenomenon at 1Projects, he examined the genetic mutations caused by nuclear radiation in Japan, and Reincarnations III focuses on animals driven to extinction by hunting.

Two of these extinct creatures were native to Thailand: Schomburgk’s deer—a life-sized sculpture of which is the exhibition’s centrepiece—and a subspecies of the Bhutan glory butterfly. The exhibition includes a mounted butterfly specimen, alongside a drawing of it on a postage stamp and a description of it in a textbook. The effect is similar to Joseph Kosuth’s installations demonstrating the principles of semiotics.

Reincarnations III opened at Warin Lab Contemporary in Bangkok on 12th May, and runs until 10th July. Ruangsak’s sculpture Transformations was included in ห้องเรียนวาฬไทย (‘Thai whale classroom’) at HOF Art Space, and his similar Ash Heart Project installation was part of the Dialogues exhibition at BACC.

15 June 2021

C+nto and Othered Poems

C+nto and Othered Poems
Joelle Taylor’s poetry collection, C+unto and Othered Poems, was published last week. Cunto is an inflection of the Italian verb cuntare, meaning ‘narrate’. As the title of Taylor’s seven-part poem, it may also be a pun on ‘canto’ (and, of course, ‘cunt’). For publication, the title is printed as C+unto, and in her poetry Taylor sidesteps the c-word in favour of its etymological origin, the Latin cunnus.

11 June 2021

The Art of Thai Comics

The Art of Thai Comics
The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes, by comics scholar and collector Nicolas Verstappen, was published this week. This is the first book in English on the history of Thai comics (also available in a Thai edition: การ์ตูนไทย ศิลปะและประวัติศาสตร์), and it provides a definitive history of the subject, from pioneers such as Prayoon Chanyawongse (“The King of Thai Cartoons”) to contemporary comic zines.

The Art of Thai Comics is both a coffee-table book with beautifully-reproduced illustrations and a meticulously researched, comprehensive survey of Thai comic history. In both aspects, it surpasses the leading Thai-language book on the subject, A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014 (140 ปี การ์ตูน เมืองไทย).

Scot Barmé discusses early Thai satirical cartoons—including Sem Sumanan’s caricatures of Rama VI—in Woman, Man, Bangkok. For more on Asian comics, see Mangasia (by Paul Gravett). Comics: A Global History (by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner) covers American, European, and Japanese comics since 1968. The World Encyclopedia of Comics (by Maurice Horn) features biographies of hundreds of comic artists. Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels (by Roger Sabin) is an introduction to the entire field of comic art.

10 June 2021

A 140-Year History of Cartoon
in Thailand from 1874 to 2014

A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014
A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014
A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014 [sic] (140 ปี การ์ตูน เมืองไทย: ประวัติและตำนาน พ.ศ. 2417-2557), by Surrealist artist and photographer Paisal Theerapongvisanuporn, was published in 2018. Paisal’s book was the first comprehensive historical account of Thai comics. (Nicolas Verstappen, author of The Art of Thai Comics, praises it as “the first complete overview of the history of Thai comics”.)

The opening chapters deal with the early history of Thai cartoons, followed by a decade-by-decade examination of Thai comics since 1957. (The authoritative text is accompanied by black-and-white illustrations, some of which appear to be photocopies.) An epilogue discusses political cartoons in Thai newspapers, including a 2014 example depicting a tank chasing a pencil around Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, highlighting military intimidation in the aftermath of the coup.

Scot Barmé discusses early Thai satirical cartoons in Woman, Man, Bangkok. For more coverage of Asian comics, see Mangasia (by Paul Gravett). Comics: A Global History (by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner) covers American, European, and Japanese comics since 1968. The World Encyclopedia of Comics (by Maurice Horn) features biographies of hundreds of comic artists, and Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels (by Roger Sabin) is an introduction to the entire field of comic art.

06 June 2021

Battle for the Soul

Battle for the Soul
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage detailed the Republican Party’s radical transformation in the Trump era, and Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaigns to Defeat Trump examines the Democratic Party’s regrouping during Trump’s term of office. Whereas Trump led the Republicans down a path (or cul-de-sac) of extremism, the 2020 Democratic nominee—Joe Biden—was aligned with his party’s moderate wing (though his presidency has been more progressive than many predicted).

Battle for the Soul’s title is adapted from an article Biden wrote for The Atlantic magazine in 2017, in the aftermath of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally: “We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.” The book features Biden’s first Oval Office interview as President, in which he draws “a direct line” between Trump’s endorsement of the Charlottesville white supremacists and the 6th January storming of the Capitol.

Although Dovere covers the Democratic Party after Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s Obama who provides the book’s juiciest quotes. At off-the-record fundraising events with Democratic Party donors, he called Trump “a racist, sexist pig”, “that fucking lunatic” and, for good measure, “that corrupt motherfucker”.

03 June 2021

“Do you hear the people sing?”

Reform
The Commoner
Ta Lu Fah
Paeng Surachet
In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship’s single My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) encapsulated the frustrations of anti-coup protesters. In 2020, when the protests expanded to include calls for reform of the monarchy, the band released Reform (ปฏิรูป), a song whose lyrics address Prayut Chan-o-cha and King Rama X directly. (Lines such as “pawns have a king captured” in the song’s official English translation are even more blunt than the Thai original.)

The video for Reform—blocked by the government on YouTube—was filmed at Siam Square in Bangkok on 16th October 2020, and includes footage of riot police using water cannon to disperse the protesters. The music video for Elevenfinger’s เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’) was also filmed during the protests, and is even more confrontational than Reform. Elevenfinger hurls insults at Prayut and others, and lyrics such as “ละควรรีบๆตาย” (‘hurry up and die’) are as subtle as a brick through a window.

The lyrics of another recent song are addressed directly to Rama X: Paeng Surachet’s กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ (‘very brave, very good, thank you’). Its title is an ironic appropriation of a comment made by the King to one of his supporters during a walkabout on 23rd October 2020, and its lyric video features animated yellow ducks in reference to the inflatable ducks used by protesters to protect themselves from water cannon.

Paeng’s song takes the form of a breakup message to an unfaithful lover, with lines such as “ประนีประนอมได้ไหม ไม่ compromise นะถ้าทำตัวเเบบนี้” (‘Can we compromise? No, I won’t compromise if you behave this way’). ‘Compromise’ is a reference to a comment by the King on another walkabout: on 2nd November 2020, he told a reporter that “Thailand is the land of compromise.” Paeng later released a music video for the song, featuring protest leaders Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul and Parit Chirawak in angel costumes.

Panusaya and Parit also performed guest vocals on a new version of The Commoner’s track Commoner’s Anthem (บทเพลงของสามัญชน), released last month with a music video featuring footage of pro-democracy protests. (Parit was recently hospitalised after going on hunger strike for forty-six days, and was released on bail on 11th May; Panusaya was bailed on 6th May.) The Commoner’s video คนที่คุณก็รู้ว่าใคร (‘you know who’) also features protest footage, and Parit and Panusaya are name-checked in the lyrics of Hockhacker’s song Pirates (โจรสลัด).

Protesters have also reappropriated existing songs. Do You Hear the People Sing? (from the stage musical Les Misérables) was sung at several of last year’s protests in place of the national anthem. Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan performed his hit single 12345 I Love You at a protest near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on 14th November 2020, leading the crowd in chants of “ai hia Tu” instead of “I love you” during the chorus. (Ai hia is a strong insult, and Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) Chaiamorn was released on bail on 11th May, after burning a portrait of Rama X outside Bangkok’s Klongprem prison on 28th February.

Chaiamorn also performed 12345 I Love You outside Thanyaburi Provincial Court on 14th January, with Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, leading to lèse-majesté charges being filed against both of them. Whereas Chaiamorn usually sang Prayut’s nickname during the chorus, at Thanyaburi they used a nickname for the King instead. Phromsorn was also charged with lèse-majesté for singing three traditional royalist songs at the same event—สดุดีมหาราชา (‘praise the King’), ต้นไม้ของพ่อ (‘father’s tree’), and ในหลวงของแผ่นดิน (‘the king of the land’)—which he performed with altered lyrics.

Ai hia Tu” also appears in the lyrics of Rap Against Dictatorship’s latest single, ทะลุฟ้า (‘through the sky’), and another line—“Burn this image”—is also a reference to Chaiamorn. The ‘sky’ in the title is metaphorical, and the lyrics refer indirectly to “someone in the sky. Fuck knows he’s alive.” (This is a reference to a recent rumour that went viral online.) The music video, directed by Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan, includes footage of recent REDEM protests, which also feature in the lyrics (“Gunshots from the police as REDEM marches in line”).

02 June 2021

American Carnage

American Carnage
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump reveals how Republican Party factions battled each other and Donald Trump for the soul of the party. (Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul offers a similar account of the Democrat Party’s internal divisions in the Trump era.)

American Carnage covers a decade of intramural conflict, from the rise and fall of the Tea Party to the Republican Party’s gradual embrace of Trump’s disruptive populism. Sources include former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and an Oval Office interview with President Trump. (The book was published in 2019.) Its title is taken from the key soundbite of Trump’s inauguration speech: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now” (a speech that George W. Bush described as “some weird shit”).

Alberta sets out his stall on the very first page, writing that Trump “spent his first two years as president conducting himself in a manner so self-evidently unbecoming of the office—trafficking in schoolyard taunts, peddling brazen untruths, cozying up to murderous tyrants, tearing down our national institutions, weaponizing the gears of government for the purpose of self-preservation, preying on racial division and cultural resentment”. And all of that was before the double impeachment and attempted insurrection.

In his most evocative and alarming passage, Alberta describes Trump revelling almost maniacally in the adulation he received from (in Hillary Clinton’s words) the deplorables at his rallies: “Preparing to take the stage, the president seemed to feel it all—the crowd, the music, the energy, the media glare—coursing through his veins. “I fucking love this job!” he howled into the November night.”

01 June 2021

Democracy.exe

Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them
Democracy.exe
White Bird
Aomtip Kerdplanant
The Untitled for Film group held a screening of short films on 29th May, providing a platform for young, independent directors to respond to seven years of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. The event, Democracy.exe, was originally to form part of the Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them season at the RDX Offsite gallery in Bangkok. The season was scheduled to run from 3rd April to 24th May, with the Democracy.exe films to be shown from 2nd to 8th May, though the screening ultimately took place online (streamed via Facebook Live) due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The programme began with Panya Zhu’s White Bird, in which an origami bird (representing a dove of peace?) is seen at various locations around Bangkok, including Ratchaprasong, the 14th October 1973 Memorial, Democracy Monument, and Thammasat University. These are all sites with histories of political violence and are thus, to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, ‘guilty landscapes’. (Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Planking and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s painting What a Wonderful World feature similarly ‘guilty landscapes’, silent witnesses to past traumas.) Prayut’s announcement of his coup is heard on the soundtrack, and the film ends with the lowering of the Thai flag, symbolising the country’s political regression.

Democracy.exe also featured four short documentaries by Ratakorn Sirileark, filmed at anti-government protests last year. 21 October 2020: The Event Nearby the Government House and 8 November 2020: The Unintentional Mistake (8 November 2020: มือลั่น) were, like the others in the series, filmed in black-and-white. In 17 November 2020: Tear Gas and Water Canon [sic], Ratakorn documents the grossly disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannon by riot police, with Paint It, Black by the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. (This is also the subject of Sorayos Prapapan’s short film Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship.) The title of Ratakorn’s 26 October 2020: The Owner of the Mutt is a reference to King Rama X, who has a pet poodle.

The final film in the programme was Aomtip Kerdplanant’s 16 ตุลา (‘16 Oct.’), a drama in which three student protest leaders debate their tactics in the aftermath of the 2014 coup: should they apply for a protest permit, or not?; should they organise a flashmob, or a large-scale rally? The three students could, of course, be substitutes for Arnon Nampa (released on bail today), Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Parit Chirawak; they also resemble the protagonists of Sunisa Manning’s novel A Good True Thai.

16 ตุลา shows how the students’ lives have changed in the years since their initial campaign, indicating how seasoned protesters can become disillusioned, and how Prayut has become entrenched in Thai politics. The title is a conflation of two massacres, on 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976, which have been whitewashed to such an extent that many people believe they are synonymous. The film ends with a written caption endorsing the three demands of the real-life student protest movement: Prayut’s resignation, a democratic constitution, and reform of the monarchy.