14 June 2023

“Malaysia Airlines flight going missing not funny, huh?”



Malaysian police have asked Interpol to locate comedian Jocelyn Chia, following a joke she made about a 2014 aeroplane disaster. Chia’s set at the Comedy Cellar club in New York on 7th April included references to MH370, a flight that crashed under unexplained circumstances, killing more than 200 passengers and crew. After joking that Malaysian aeroplanes “cannot fly”, she responded to the audience reaction with mock surprise: “Malaysia Airlines flight going missing not funny, huh? Some jokes don’t land!”

The routine was uploaded to Chia’s social media channels (Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram) on 7th June, though it was deleted following criticism from the Malaysian and Singaporean governments. (Chia grew up in Singapore.) A Malaysian comedian was fined for offending religious sentiments earlier this year, and last month a Chinese comedian was fined for satirising the People’s Liberation Army.

08 June 2023

“You becoming the prime minister means nothing to me...”



Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party and potential Thai prime minister after his victory in last month’s election, has been accused of lèse-majesté by several royalist pressure groups who filed a complaint against him yesterday. The complainants accused him of disrespecting the monarchy in a BBC News interview published online on 29th May. (An extended version, with Thai subtitles, has been viewed more than a million times.)

Reforming the lèse-majesté law was a key part of Move Forward’s manifesto, and in the interview Pita told reporter Jonathan Head: “I don’t want the monarchy to be used as a political weapon”. Pita also told the BBC: “if I get a chance to sit down and talk to... people who actually want to increase the penalty of royal defamation, I think we’d be able to find a common ground”. (That comment seemed idealistic, as ultra-royalists have generally been unwilling to compromise on their campaign to punish those who question the monarchy.)

After making the police report, Songchai Niamhom, leader of the King Protection Group, denied that his complaint was politically motivated. Addressing Pita directly, he said: “you becoming the prime minister means nothing to me... but any day you harm or have ideas against the main institution of the nation, I will continue to file complaints against you”. Despite his denial, the lèse-majesté charge does appear to be a political threat, as Songchai has previously used the same tactic against another Move Forward MP, Amarat Chokepamitkul. (He has also filed lèse-majesté charges against the rapper P9D.)

Head himself has also previously been charged with lèse-majesté, in relation to eleven articles published on the BBC News website. (His byline did not appear on some of the articles in question, and the charges related to elements for which he had no responsibility, such as the layout of photographs of King Rama IX.) He also faced a defamation charge after his 2015 investigative report into legal malpractice in Phuket.

02 June 2023

‘The trial of the century’


The Sydney Morning Herald

Ben Roberts-Smith—a Victoria Cross recipient and former SAS soldier—has lost his libel suit against three Australian newspapers that had accused him of war crimes. The case has been dubbed ‘the trial of the century’ by the Australian media, as Roberts-Smith is the country’s most-decorated living soldier and the newspapers had accused him of murdering unarmed prisoners of war in Afghanistan.

The allegations against Roberts-Smith were first published by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, and The Age. He was not named in the initial reports, in June 2018, though his identity was revealed two months later. Australian police launched an investigation into the claims, though no criminal charges were brought, and Roberts-Smith sued for defamation.

Yesterday, judge Anthony Besanko ruled in the publishers’ favour, finding that most of the allegations against Roberts-Smith were true. The verdict in this civil defamation case has destroyed the reputation of an Australian national hero, and it may lead to calls for a reopening of the criminal investigation into Roberts-Smith’s war crimes.

28 May 2023

This Is Not a Drill



German police have launched an investigation into Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who is currently performing a solo world tour, This Is Not a Drill. A Berlin police spokesman accused him of wearing a costume “capable of approving, glorifying or justifying the violent and arbitrary rule of the Nazi regime in a manner that violates the dignity of the victims and thereby disrupts public peace”.

After the show’s interval, Waters returns to the stage wearing a black trenchcoat with a red armband depicting two crossed hammers. The same logo also appears on banners hanging from the roof, in the style of a Nazi rally, as Waters performs the songs In the Flesh and Run Like Hell. (It was first used in Pink Floyd’s film The Wall.)

Waters performed at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin on 17th and 18th May, and has also played at other German cities (Hamburg on 7th May, Cologne on 9th May, Munich on 21st May, and Frankfurt today). Displaying Nazi-inspired insignia is illegal in Germany, though Waters insists that he was parodying Nazism rather than endorsing it.

Madonna’s use of Nazi imagery at a concert also led to a legal challenge. In 2012, fascist French politician Marine Le Pen sued her for defamation after she superimposed a swastika onto a photograph of Le Pen’s face during her MDNA Tour. In an uncharacteristic act of self-censorship, Madonna replaced the swastika with a question mark at her next French concert in Nice.

25 May 2023

Red Poetry


Red Poetry

Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will be shown in Chiang Mai tomorrow morning. The feature-length documentary follows the activities of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who formed the group Artn’t with fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit. Vitthaya is shown carving “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges they faced after they exhibited a modified version of the Thai flag in 2021.

Red Poetry is screening on 26th May at Chiang Mai University Art Center, as part of the Cinemata Big Screen: Stories of Solidarity film festival. It was previously shown at Suan Anya in Chiang Mai earlier this year, and a shorter version—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—was shown last year at Wildtype 2022. Cinemata Big Screen began on 22nd May and ends tomorrow.

24 May 2023

“Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll...”



Writer E. Jean Carroll is seeking further damages from Donald Trump following his appearance on CNN’s Republican Presidential Town Hall earlier this month. Carroll was awarded $5 million in damages on 9th May after Trump was found guilty in a civil trial of sexually assaulting and defaming her. The jury concluded that Trump had assaulted Carroll in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York around thirty years ago, and that he had libelled her by denying the allegation in posts on his Truth Social website.

The day after the verdict, Trump was interviewed by Kaitlan Collins on CNN and again denied assaulting Carroll: “I don’t know her, I never met her, I have no idea who she is.” To applause from the Republican-leaning studio audience, he said: “I swear on my children, which I never do: I have no idea who this woman—this is a fake story, made-up story.” He also described Carroll as “a whack job.”

Carroll is now seeking an additional $5 million in punitive damages for libel. Her lawsuit, filed on 22nd May, claims: “Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll since it is hard to imagine defamatory conduct that could possibly be more motivated by hatred, ill will, or spite.” Earlier this year, Trump was indicted on criminal charges related to his alleged concealment of hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.

19 May 2023

“We will never allow any company or individual to wantonly denigrate the glorious image of the People’s Army...”


Xi Jinping

A Chinese comedy talent agency has been fined the equivalent of more than $2 million, due to a single-sentence punchline by one of its comedians. Li Haoshi, known by the stagename House, joked that when his dogs chased a squirrel, the sight reminded him of eight words: “作风优良能打胜仗” (‘working in good style can win the battle’). This is a military slogan used by President Xi Jinping, and has appeared on propaganda posters in China.

An audio recording of House’s 13th May performance in Beijing was released online, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism fined his management company, Xiaoguo Culture, ¥14.7 million. In a statement, the ministry said: “We will never allow any company or individual to wantonly denigrate the glorious image of the People’s Army on the stage of the capital”. A comedian was also fined in Malaysia last month, though her penalty was less than 0.1% of House’s.

audio

11 May 2023

“Fox intentionally trafficked in malicious falsehoods…”



The former head of a US government advisory board is suing Fox News for defamation. Nina Jankowicz was executive director of the Disinformation Governance Board, which was created last year to provide guidance on disinformation to the Department of Homeland Security. Following extensive criticism—the board was described as Orwellian by both liberals and conservatives—Jankowicz resigned and the board ceased operations after less than a month. A libel lawsuit filed yesterday claims that “Fox intentionally trafficked in malicious falsehoods to pad its profits at the expense of Jankowicz’s safety, reputation, and well-being.”

The lawsuit alleges that Fox hosts made more than 300 potentially defamatory references to Jankowicz over a period of eight months last year, citing three central false allegations broadcast by the network: that Jankowicz and her board intended to restrict free speech, that she sought to edit Twitter users’ tweets, and that she was fired from her position as executive director. Fox hosts are also accused of using “ugly language that could have no other purpose than to denigrate Jankowicz’s character and professional reputation” (though this is not covered by defamation law).

US defamation law has a high burden of proof, requiring evidence that any false statements were made intentionally. (The legal term is ‘with actual malice’.) Of the three allegations Jankowicz highlights, only the third approaches this threshold. To substantiate the claim of ‘actual malice’—that Fox “deliberately and knowingly lied that Jankowicz had been terminated from her post”—the lawsuit cites two contradictory comments by Primetime host Jesse Watters. On 18th May 2022, he stated that “Nina Jankowicz resigned” though two days later, he said: “She got booted this week.”

This lawsuit comes a few weeks after Fox settled a defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems and sacked its most popular host, Tucker Carlson. (Carlson was abruptly fired on 24th April. In response to a previous defamation charge, Fox had claimed that that his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”.) The network is also currently being sued for defamation by another voting technology company, Smartmatic.

08 May 2023

Finist the Brave Falcon



A playwright and theatre director were arrested in Russia last week, on charges of glorifying terrorism and promoting radical feminism. The charges related to the play Finist the Brave Falcon (Финист Ясный сокол), directed by Zhenya Berkovich and written by Svetlana Petriichuk, in which a Russian woman marries an Islamic State fighter in Syria. Berkovich and Petriichuk were arrested in Moscow on 5th May, and denied bail. They face up to seven years in jail if found guilty. The award-winning play, whose title comes from a Russian folk tale, was first performed in 2019.

03 May 2023

Life and Death:
Art and the Body in Contemporary China


Life and Death: Art and the Body in Contemporary China

Think of a shocking or scandalous work of art. An artwork that’s provocative, controversial, or offensive. Whichever painting, photograph, or installation you have in mind, its shock value almost certainly pales in comparison with the art in Life and Death: Art and the Body in Contemporary China. Silvia Fuk’s book, published in 2013, is the first to examine the use of human remains, ashes, and blood by contemporary Chinese artists who “challenge the boundaries of art, morality and law to the extreme.” The book features rare photographs of some of these artworks, though they’re all black-and-white.

Yang Zhichao used a mould to create dice made from his own congealed blood, in a performance titled Macao (澳門). Sun Yuang and Peng Yu collected unclaimed ashes from crematoria, and mixed them with plaster to sculpt One or All (一個或所有), an architectural column. They also transfused some of their own blood into the bodies of Siamese twins, for a performance titled Link of the Body (連體). For Ruan, Xiao Yu grafted a baby’s head onto a bird’s body. (Ruan, which also appears in The Museum of Scandals, is a Chinese neologism that the artist coined to represent this chimera.)

Ruan

Zhu Yu is China’s most extreme contemporary artist. He suspended a human arm from the ceiling for his installation Pocket Theology (袖珍神学 图片; not included in Life and Death). For Intellectual Brain (全部知識學的基礎), he puréed six human brains and sold the resulting paste in jam jars labelled ‘do not eat’. Infamously, he ignored his own advice with Eating People (吃⼈), photographs of him apparently eating a foetus. Even more offensive was Sacrifice (献祭), for which he artificially inseminated a surrogate mother and seemingly fed their aborted foetus to a dog. (Did Zhu Yu use real foetuses in his work, as he claimed in the Channel 4 documentary Beijing Swings? This is difficult to verify, though Fuk takes him at face value.)

Art such as this, transgressive to the point of illegality, has very few equivalents. Perhaps the only comparative example is Rick Gibson, who was convicted of outraging public decency after exhibiting two tiny foetuses as earrings at a London gallery. Fuk doesn’t cite Gibson in Life and Death, though she does discuss other less extreme artists in relation to the Chinese works in question. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s morgue videos are examined in detail, and she suggests Marc Quinn’s Self (a cast of the artist’s head made from his frozen blood) as an inspiration for Macao. Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s sculpture Transformations, made—like One or All—from human ashes, is not included.

26 April 2023

Thai Queer Cinema Odyssey


Thai Queer Cinema Odyssey

The Thai Film Archive at Salaya will screen a season of gay films thoughout May and June, under the Thai Queer Cinema Odyssey (การเดินทางของหนังเควียร์ไทย) banner. This will be a rare chance to see the pioneering films of the 1980s—The Last Song (เพลงสุดท้าย), Anguished Love (รักทรมาน), and I Am a Man (ฉันผู้ชายนะยะ)—that constituted the first wave of Thai queer cinema. Also, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s Insects in the Backyard (อินเซค อินเดอะ แบ็คยาร์ด) will be shown on 17th and 30th June. The highlights of the season, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (สัตว์ประหลาด) and Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก), will both be screened in 35mm. (Tropical Malady will be shown on 24th and 30th June, and Mundane History on 20th and 28th July.)

Insects in the Backyard


Insects in the Backyard premiered at the World Film Festival of Bangkok in 2010, though requests for a general theatrical release were denied, making it the first film formally banned under the Film and Video Act of 2008. When the censors vetoed a screening at the Thai Film Archive in 2010, Tanwarin cremated a DVD of the film, in a symbolic funeral. (The ashes are kept in an urn at the Thai Film Museum.) Tanwarin appealed to the National Film Board, which upheld the ban, so she sued the censors in the Administrative Court.

As Tanwarin explained in an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, the censors condemned the entire film: “When we asked the committee who considered the film which scenes constituted immorality, they simply said that they thought every scene is immoral”. When she appealed to the Film Board, they were equally dismissive: “we were told by one of the committee members that we should have made the film in a ‘good’ way. This was said as if we did not know how to produce a good movie, and no clear explanation was given.”

On Christmas Day 2015, the Administrative Court ruled that Insects in the Backyard could be released if a single shot was removed. (The three-second shot shows a hardcore clip from a gay porn video.) Although the film was censored, the verdict represented a victory of sorts, as the court dismissed the censors’ view that the film was immoral. Following the court’s ruling, it was shown at House Rama, Bangkok Screening Room, Sunandha Rajabhat University, ChangChui, and Lido Connect. It was shown at the Thai Film Archive in 2018 and 2020.

Tropical Malady


Internationally, Tropical Malady is one of Apichatpong’s most acclaimed films, though it had rather lacklustre distribution in Thailand. In a Thai Cinema Uncensored interview, he discussed its disappointing domestic theatrical release: “I think, from Tropical Malady, there’s this issue of releasing the film, and marketing, that I don’t like. And also the studio was not interested in the film, anyway, because there’s no selling point: there’s no tiger, there’s no sex, so it’s very personal.”

Tropical Malady: The Book, a deluxe coffee-table book published in 2019, raised the film’s Thai profile. It was previously shown in 35mm at Alliance Française, and it has been screened several times at the Thai Film Archive, including in 2009 and 2018.

Mundane History


Mundane History was the first Thai film to receive the restrictive ‘20’ age rating, though similar content has since been passed with an ‘18’ certificate. One of the greatest of all Thai films, it was previously screened at Warehouse 30 in 2018 and at Bangkok Screening Room in 2017. Anocha’s Krabi, 2562 (กระบี่ ๒๕๖๒) will also be shown at the Archive, on 15th and 26th August.

20 April 2023

Siti Nuramira Abdullah



Malaysian comedian Siti Nuramira Abdullah has been fined 8,000 ringgit (equivalent to $1,800) for offending religious sentiments. On 4th June last year, as the opener to her set at the Crackhouse comedy club in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, she announced that she was a Muslim and then removed her Islamic tudung headscarf and traditional Malaysian baju kurung dress, to reveal a short skirt and low-cut blouse.

Siti Nuramira was held in custody for ten days following her arrest last year. If she had not paid the fine, she would have been sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. The Crackhouse audience cheered and applauded her routine, though she pleaded guilty to avoid the more serious charge of disrupting social harmony (the offence for which she was originally arrested).

The Malaysian government has banned dozens of books over the past decade, most famously Faisal Tehrani’s novel Perempuan Nan Bercinta (‘the beloved lady’) and cartoon books by Zunar including Sapuman. An exhibition of Zunar’s cartoons was also closed by the authorities.

18 April 2023

Hoon Payon / Pook Payon


Hoon Payon / Pook Payon

When the Thai horror film Hoon Payon (หุ่นพยนต์) faced censorship and a restrictive ‘20’ rating, its distributors announced a plan to release it simultaneously in two versions: Hoon Payon—with the ‘20’ rating imposed by the censors—and Pook Payon (ปลุกพยนต์), with a lower ‘18’ rating though paradoxically four minutes longer. Both versions contain the same level of violence, which is much less than that of many other Thai horror films—such as the gory Art of the Devil II (ลองของ), for example, which was passed by the censors before the rating system existed—making the ‘20’ rating seem rather punitive.

Mindful of how monk characters have often been censored in Thai films (as discussed in Thai Cinema Uncensored), the studio had already taken precautions at the script stage. The film stresses that the abbot (Luang Nha) and his accomplice (Tudd), who are ultimately responsible for the black magic at the heart of the plot, are not real monks. As another monk (Gla) tells the abbot: “You are never ordained to become a monk” [sic]. Similarly, the film revolves around a local superstition, not the Buddhist religion. The various killings are carried out—spoiler alert—by a lay character (Tae), a novice (Kun), and a monk (Tee), though the novice and monk are possessed spirits, not living people.

Despite this, the censors initially required edits to several scenes in Hoon Payon before granting the ‘20’ rating: novice monks fighting and swearing while wearing saffron robes, novices bullying another young boy, a novice hugging his mother, and the recitation of one of the Buddhist precepts during a murder scene. They also raised concerns about the actors playing novices all having eyebrows (as monks are required to shave their body hair before ordination), and references to the Wat Teppayon temple were also deemed inappropriate.

After negotiations between the censors and the film studio, some of this ‘unacceptable’ material was cut, though some remains intact (in both versions). The novices—and, indeed, the full-fledged monks—still have eyebrows, as presumably it was too expensive to remove them all with CGI. Novices are shown swearing (“Hia!”/“Shit!”). One novice (Kun) bullies a young boy (Tae), calling him a “retard”. Another novice (Breeze) hugs his mother, comforting and protecting her. The second Buddhist precept (“stealing is a sin”) is recited by Tae while he hangs a monk (Tudd) for stealing temple funds.

Pook Payon

Pook Payon


As part of its marketing campaign, the studio claimed on Facebook: “ไม่ตัดฉาก!!” (‘no scenes cut!!’), and it’s true that no entire scenes have been removed, though some individual shots have been censored. In both versions, the intensity of the bullying scene has been reduced: shots of Kun spoon-feeding Tae, and the protagonist (Tham) raising his fists to fight the bully, have both been replaced with reaction shots. The temple sign has also been changed, using CGI: the original sign, “วัดเทพพยนต์” (‘Teppayon temple’), became “เทพพยนต์” (‘Teppayon’). But although the sign was modified, the soundtrack wasn’t: in both versions, the Thai dialogue (“วัดเทพพยนต์”) and the English subtitles (“Teppayon temple”) use the temple’s full name.

Most of the extra footage in Pook Payon is barely noticeable, even after watching both versions back-to-back. But in the most conspicuous additional scene, clearly tacked on to appease the censors—with earnest, didactic dialogue, out of place in a horror film—a lay character (Jate) resolves to become a monk, and Gla tells him: “Becoming a monk is good... it’s best that we hold onto Buddhism.” Jate answers with equal sincerity: “That’s right. I’ll always support Buddhism.” Amen!

Dominion v. Fox News:
“Lies have consequences...”



US cable TV channel Fox News and election technology company Dominion Voting Systems have reached a settlement in their defamation case, with Fox agreeing to pay Dominion $787.5 million. The Wall Street Journal reported at the weekend that a settlement was being discussed, and judge Eric Davis unexpectedly delayed the start of the trial, in a possible attempt to encourage settlement negotiations, though jurors were sworn in yesterday and the settlement was announced only at the last minute.

Dominion sued Fox in 2021, accusing the network of broadcasting “a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies” and “outlandish, defamatory, and far-fetched fictions” in the aftermath of the 2020 US presidential election: “Fox recklessly disregarded the truth. Indeed, Fox knew these statements about Dominion were lies.” The lawsuit cited false conspiracy theories that Dominion had rigged the election, claims spread by Donald Trump and his lawyers in the final months of his presidency and endorsed on Fox News shows.

Dominion had sought $1.6 billion in damages, which was widely considered unrealistic, even given the egregious nature of the Fox News broadcasts under dispute. Thus, the $787.5 million settlement, which represents almost half of the total damages originally sought, is extremely high. (As a company, Dominion is valued at less than $100 million.) The settlement implies either that Fox feared losing the defamation case and potentially paying more in damages, or—more likely—that the network sought to avoid the embarrassment of a public trial.

The trial was due to take place in Wilmington, Delaware, a city with a largely Democrat population. (Wilmingtonians voted 2:1 in favour of the Democrats in the 2020 presidential election, and President Joe Biden has a house in the city.) This suggests that the jurors were unlikely to be sympathetic to Fox News and its pro-Republican content. Also, in his pretrial ruling last month, the judge wrote that it “is CRYSTAL clear that none of the Statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true”: an emphatic rejection of the Fox News defence of fair comment.

Once the settlement had been reached yesterday, Fox said in a statement: “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” This acceptance of the pretrial ruling, albeit in vague terms, is an unusual concession, as out-of-court settlements do not routinely include admissions of liability. This, coupled with the enormity of the settlement, suggests that Fox was keen to avoid potentially damaging witness testimony from its executives and prime-time hosts.

Fox’s defence had already been undermined by the release of hundreds of emails and text messages, submitted in evidence before the trial began. Crucially, these messages demonstrate that the hosts gave airtime to the conspiracy theories about Dominion software despite personally disbelieving them, which could demonstrate actual malice (the legal term for knowingly making false and defamatory statements). In a text message on 9th November 2020, for example, Tucker Carlson wrote: “The software shit is absurd.” Conversely, on his show later that day, he said: “We don’t know anything about the software that many say was rigged.” (Fox defended itself in a previous defamation case by arguing that Carlson’s show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”.)

In a statement outside court yesterday, Dominion’s lawyer Justin Nelson said: “The truth matters. Lies have consequences. Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories, causing grevious harm to Dominion and the country.” Dominion is also suing another right-wing cable channel, OAN, for $1.6 billion, though OAN lacks the funds to offer a Fox-style settlement. Another election technology company, Smartmatic, is suing Fox for $2.7 billion.

The $787.5 million settlement makes this the largest media defamation case in US legal history. The previous record was the $222.7 million awarded in damages to Money Management Analytical Research in 1997, after The Wall Street Journal accused the company of fraud in a 21st October 1993 article by Laura Jereski (headlined “Regulators Study Texas Securities Firm and Its Louisiana Pension Fund Trades”). In that case, however, the damages were reduced on appeal to $22.7 million. (In the UK, libel damages were at their highest in the 1980s, though the amounts were paltry in comparison to the US.)

03 April 2023

Home


Home

Canadian band Numenorean caused controversy in 2016 by using a post-mortem photograph of a two-year-old girl as the cover for their debut album Home. (On the CD version, the exploitative cover is inside a slipcase.) Kristen MacDonald was killed by her father in 1970, in a well-documented murder case, and the band explained their use of her image in the album’s liner notes: “Perhaps what we are really searching for is the innocence that we once had as a child. However, since we are incapable of ever getting that back, the only place we can perhaps find this comfort once more is in death.”

The first photograph of a dead body on a record cover was perhaps the Dead Kennedys’ single Holiday in Cambodia, released in 1980. The 12" single appropriated Neal Ulevich’s image of a public lynching after the 6th October 1976 massacre. Another notorious lynching appeared on the cover of the Public Enemy single Hazy Shade of Criminal in 1992: Lawrence Beitler’s 1930 photograph of the hangings of J. Thomas Shipp and Abraham S. Smith in Indiana. (This photo also inspired the writing of Strange Fruit, one of the most powerful protest songs in popular music history.)

There have also been at least three examples of severed heads on album covers, released in consecutive years. Pungent Stench’s 1991 album Been Caught Buttering used Joel-Peter Witkin’s photograph Le baiser (‘the kiss’)—a decapitated head sawn in half, appearing to kiss itself—as its cover image. This was followed in 1992 by Naked City’s Grand Guignol album cover, which features a photograph of a decapitated head from the Stanley Burns archive of medical imagery. Then, in 1993, Brujeria bought the reproduction rights to a photo of the head of a murder victim from the Mexican tabloid magazine ¡Alarma! (‘warning!’), for the cover of their album Matando Güeros (‘killing whiteys’).

UK goregrind band Carcass used montages of autopsy photographs as the covers for their albums Reek of Putrefaction in 1988 and Symphonies of Sickness a year later, both of which were seized when police raided Earache Records in 1991. The raid was prompted by the earlier seizure of cover art for the Pain Killer album Guts of a Virgin. That image—an autopsy photo of a woman with her intestines exposed, in a tasteless pun on the album title—was destroyed by customs as potentially obscene. (The uncensored photo was used for the Japanese CD release.) Clearly, goregrind record sleeves are as gross as their titles, and Last Days of Humanity’s albums, such as Hymns of Indigestible Suppuration from 2000, are particularly nauseating examples.

01 April 2023

PTSD


PTSD PTSD

PTSD, a new exhibition at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, features paintings and a video installation by Petchnin Sukjan and an anonymous artist who is currently facing a lèse-majesté charge. The exhibition is bookended by Break Your Silence, crowdfunded performances by the Unidentified Theatre group.

PTSD, in this context, stands for “Parliament / Treacherous / Sedition / Dictators”, and the exhibition is an artistic response to state violence and authoritarian politics. The paintings include images of yellow rubber ducks (symbols of the recent anti-government protest movement), which also featured in Jirapatt Aungsumalee’s exhibition Dark. In one painting with a potential symbolic meaning, a blue figure sits in a comfortable chair while another man languishes under his foot.

The five-minute video installation begins with footage of King Rama X being interviewed while on a walkabout in 2020. Journalist Jonathan Miller’s question about the protesters is audible, though the answer—“We love them all the same”—is heavily distorted. Co-curator Tanatorn Kongseng’s artist’s statement could be interpreted as a reply to that comment: “Don’t say you love us if you are still against us”.


The video footage is pixellated, as were images of King Rama IX in Neti Wichiansaen’s documentary Democracy after Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย) and Natthapol Kitwarasai’s short film Coup d’état. It ends with a caption, “THE LAND OF COMPROMISE”, accompanied by the sound of a rubber bullet being fired by riot police. Again, this refers to a comment during the royal walkabout, as does the title of Elevenfinger’s single Land of Compromise. Elevenfinger’s music video and the PTSD video installation both also include footage of violent police suppression of protesters.

PTSD opened on 25th March and closes on 10th April. The first Break Your Silence durational performance took place on 30th March, and another will be held on 8th April.

31 March 2023

Break Your Silence:
An Exploration of Topics Thai Artists Don’t Dare to Talk About


Break Your Silence

Last night, the Unidentified Theatre troupe held a durational performance art event at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok. The crowdfunded project, Break Your Silence: An Exploration of Topics Thai Artists Don’t Dare to Talk About, explored various sensitive social and political issues, and challenged the widespread self-censorship practised by mainstream Thai artists.

The performance culminated with the spray-painting of “112” and an anarchist symbol, in solidarity with a graffiti artist who was arrested on 28th March after he spray-painted the same content onto the outer wall of Bangkok’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha. (‘112’ refers to the lèse-majesté law, which is article 112 of the Thai criminal code.)

In an artist’s statement, Tassakorn Theratapdhewan (founder of Unidentified Theatre) highlights the undemocratic, violent nature of Thai politics: “we have a government that came to power through the barrel of a gun... This is the reason why the authoritarian government doesn’t serve the people, but rather does everything to silence them and oppress them. The people who protest on the streets are met with violence, tear gas, rubber bullets, and even worse”.

Break Your Silence is part of the PTSD exhibition being held at Cartel Artspace from 25th March to 10th April. (PTSD, in this context, stands for “Parliament / Treacherous / Sedition / Dictators”.) There will be another, more extensive, Break Your Silence performance at the same venue on 8th April, pending a further round of crowdfunding.

30 March 2023

112


The Commoner The Commoner

Posters calling for the abolition of the lèse-majesté law were removed from the National Book Fair in Bangkok yesterday, on the orders of a plainclothes police officer. Staff at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center removed nine posters from a stall run by The Commoner, before the event opened today. The fair runs until 9th April.

The posters featured a “112” logo, a reference to article 112 of the Thai criminal code. A graffiti artist was arrested on 28th March after he spray-painted “112” onto the outer wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. The temple is part of the Grand Palace compound, and therefore a highly symbolic and sensitive location for such a slogan.

This is the third time that police have confiscated items from stalls at the book fair. Last year, a banner featuring hashtags such as #รัฐบาลเผด็จการ (‘dictatorial government’) was removed from the Same Sky Books booth, and t-shirts were confiscated from Same Sky’s booth in 2014.

27 March 2023

Hoon Payon / Pook Payon


Hoon Payon / Pook Payon

Hoon Payon (หุ่นพยนต์), the horror film whose theatrical release was blocked by Thai censors, will be released next month in an edited version, retitled Pook Payon (ปลุกพยนต์). The censors originally gave Hoon Payon a restrictive ‘20’ rating, requiring audiences to show ID before admittance, which director Phontharis Chotkijsadarsopon described as crazy (“บบ้าตาย”) in a Facebook post on 9th March. Pook Payon, on the other hand, has been rated ‘18’ after an extra four minutes of contextualising footage was added.

The National Film and Video Committee initially required several edits to Hoon Payon before permitting its release: novice monks fighting and swearing while wearing saffron robes, novices bullying another young boy, a novice hugging his mother, and the recitation of one of the Buddhist precepts during a murder scene. They also raised concerns about the actors playing novices all having eyebrows (as monks are required to shave their body hair before ordination), and references to the Wat Teppayon temple were also deemed unacceptable.

Hoon Payon / Pook Payon Hoon Payon / Pook Payon Hoon Payon / Pook Payon

The case echoes that of Karma, a previous Thai horror film that was also retitled to appease the censors; its Thai title was changed from Arbat (อาบัติ) to Arpat (อาปัติ). Pook Payon will be released on 12th April, and Hoon Payon, with its ‘20’ rating, will be released on the same day. (The studio has published before and after shots online to illustrate the changes.) The only precedents for the simultaneous release strategy are the thrillers In the Shadow of Naga (นาคปรก) and Grace (อวสานโลกสวย), which were also released in both ‘18’ and ‘20’-rated versions.

Five Star, the studio behind Pook Payon, is one of Thailand’s most prestigious film production companies—releasing critically acclaimed films by auteur directors like Wisit Sasanatieng and Pen-ek Ratanaruang—though in commercial terms it remains dwarfed by major studios such as Sahamongkol. In an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, director Apichatpong Weerasethakul contrasted his experience of censorship with that of Pen-ek: Apichatpong’s film Blissfully Yours (สุดเสน่หา) was distributed by Sahamongkol, and thus received lenient treatment from the censors, while Pen-ek’s Ploy (พลอย)—a Five Star release—was given no such concessions.

24 March 2023

“It was like setting a time bomb...”



Three people who sold a book about Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protest movement have all been jailed. They were among six people arrested in January, and had been held in detention until their trials began on 17th March. The three pleaded guilty, and they were sentenced on 20th March. In his summing up, judge Peter Law said that the book could have reignited the protest movement: “It was like setting a time bomb”.

Free HK Media founder Alan Keung, who had promoted the book online, received an eight-month sentence. Alex Lee, the owner of the booth where it was sold, was sentenced to five months. Lee’s wife Cannis Chan, who edited the book, was sentenced to ten months.

The untitled 300-page book, featuring photographs of the protests, went on sale on Christmas Day last year at a Lunar New Year fair at Ginza Plaza. It was distributed by the Shame on You Grocery Store (影衰mi杂货店), and forty-three copies were seized by police, who described it as “a seditious book about a series of riots”. (400 copies had been printed by Copyman.)

In 2021, the publishers of the Sheep Village (羊村) series of children’s books about the protests were also arrested on sedition charges. They were sentenced to nineteen months in prison last year, and earlier this month two men were arrested merely for possessing the books.