Monday, 27 April 2020

Cultures at War

Cultures at War
Cultures at War: The Cold War and Cultural Expression in Southeast Asia, edited by Tony Day and Maya H.T. Liem, was published in 2010. The anthology includes ten essays that examine how Southeast Asian popular culture embraced independence and modernity in response to Cold War ideologies and geopolitics.

The cover depicts Mitr Chaibancha as the Red Eagle, and in one chapter Rachel V. Harrison discusses the character’s political subtext. In Mitr’s final film, he vanquishes a Red Eagle imposter—“his heroic guise has been commandeered by leftists”—and is transformed into the Golden Eagle, “epitomizing Thailand’s Cold War struggle with the communist enemy.”

Other Thai films of the Cold War era featured more pernicious anti-Communist messages. Harrison’s essay includes a close reading of หนักแผ่นดิน (‘scum of the earth’), a notorious propaganda film that glorifies the royalist paramilitary Village Scout movement.

Thailand’s anti-Communist purge ultimately led to the ‘red barrel’ killings and the 6th October 1976 massacre. The Moonhunter (14 ตุลา สงครามประชาชน) and Pirab (พิราบ) dramatise the decisions of radical students to join the Communist insurgency. Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถึงลุงบุญมี), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), and the exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ) interrogate northern Thailand’s violent anti-Communist legacy.

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