02 December 2022

No God No King Only Human



No God No King Only Human, edited and published by Korn Karava, was launched at the 2022 Bangkok Art Book Fair last week. Limited to 500 numbered copies (mine being no. 340), it features photographs of anti-government, pro-reform protests taken over the past two years.

Visually speaking, the protests are inherently photogenic, with swirling tear gas deployed by riot police and fireworks used as projectiles by demonstrators. (Nontawat Numbenchapol’s Thalugaz documentary Rarely Make History includes equally spectacular imagery.) But, as the book reminds us, this is the aesthetics of violence, and other photographs document the impact of rubber bullets fired by the police.

There have been other books with photographs of the protests, such as There’s Always Spring (เมื่อถึงเวลาดอกไม้จะบาน), EBB, and #WhatsHappeningInThailand, all of which are small, slim paperbacks. No God No King Only Human, on the other hand, is a lavish coffee-table book. (It’s the first in a potential series of volumes on the protest movement.)

The title is a slogan adapted from the video game BioShock. (Appropriating popular culture is a notable aspect of the demonstrations, from the three-finger salute taken from The Hunger Games to the Bottom Blues song 12345 I Love You.) The title of Elevenfinger’s CD No God No King Only Humans is based on the same slogan.

29 November 2022

Mob Type —
บันทึกการต่อสู้ของประชาชน ผ่านศิลปะตัวอักษร


Mob Type 33712

The design collective PrachathipaType—a pun on prachathipatai, the Thai word for ‘democracy’—specialises in pro-democracy typefaces. Working with some of the organsiations leading the recent anti-government protests, they have effectively created the visual identity of the reform movement. The new book Mob Type – บันทึกการต่อสู้ของประชาชน ผ่านศิลปะตัวอักษร (‘recording the people’s struggle through the art of lettering’) is a collection of these type specimens and logos, and it was launched at the 2022 Bangkok Art Book Fair (which ran from 25th-27th November at Bangkok CityCity Gallery).

PrachathipaType designed a new font, PrachathipaTape (ประชาธิปะเทป), for Rap Against Dictatorship’s music video Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน). They also collaborated with the band on แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย (‘Thai consonant textbook’). Their 33712 typeface (named after the 33.712 billion baht allocated for the monarchy in the national budget) was used to recreate a notice from a leaked photograph published by the German newspaper Bild (‘picture’) in 2019. The 33712 typeface also appears in Rap Against Dictatorship’s music video Budget (งบประมาณ).

28 November 2022

There’s Always Spring



There’s Always Spring (เมื่อถึงเวลาดอกไม้จะบาน), published last month by Mob Data Thailand, provides a record of the current anti-government protest movement. Mob Data Thailand collates details of all rallies held throughout the country, and the book highlights the major demonstrations that have taken place over the last two years.

There’s Always Spring is particularly valuable as a record of the origins of the protest movement, which was triggered by the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in February 2020. This is in contrast to other books on the protests, namely EBB and #WhatsHappeningInThailand, which focus only on the period from mid-2020 onwards.

What all three books have in common are their optimistic titles. There’s Always Spring suggests that the winter of repression is coming to an end. (Its epilogue, Winter Never Lasts Forever/ไม่มีอะไรคงอยู่ตลอดไป, states this more directly.) Similarly, EBB refers to ‘ebb and flow’ (the sense that receding waves, like persecuted protesters, will eventually return), and #WhatsHappeningInThailand’s subtitle is และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ (‘and then hope appeared’).

24 November 2022

A Message from Ukraine:
Speeches, 2019–2022


A Message from Ukraine

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24th February, Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky has recorded daily video addresses to his people and delivered more than 100 speeches to international forums. A Message from Ukraine: Speeches, 2019–2022, an authorised anthology sold to raise money for the war effort, reprints sixteen of his speeches in translation, beginning with his inaugural parliamentary address after his landslide election victory in 2019.

Whichever country he addresses as he pleads for military support, Zelensky—or rather, his chief speechwriter, Dmytro Lytvyn—tailors his message to suit his audience. So, he quoted Winston Churchill to the British parliament and Martin Luther King to the US Congress. His historical analogies are also tailor-made. Speaking to the German Bundestag, he compared Russia’s gas pipline to the Berlin Wall; addressing the Israeli Knesset, he cited Russian propaganda that evoked the Holocaust.

In his introduction to the book, Zelensky describes his message as “abrupt, intense, jarring.” The contrast with his former career, as a comedy actor, couldn’t be more stark. (Life imitated art, after he played an unlikely president in his sitcom Servant of the People/Слуга народу.) Of course, he writes with optimistic fervour about victory over Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling A Message from Ukraine “a book about how we can build the future.”

11 November 2022

Confidence Man:
The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America


Confidence Man

Dozens of books have been written about Donald Trump. Seventeen of them have been reviewed on Dateline Bangkok: Fire and Fury, Too Much and Never Enough, Fear, Rage, Peril, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, TrumpNation, and The Cost. Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America was the most eagerly anticipated of them all, and is likely to be one of the few Trump titles that stand the test of time.

Confidence Man, like post-Trump America, is split in two. Trump’s presidency is covered in the second half, while the first explores his formative influences. An early memory—of an engineer being ignored at the opening of a bridge he designed—led to perhaps the closest thing to a Trump doctrine: “I realized then and there something I would never forget: I don’t want to be made anybody’s sucker.” This event, recalled by Trump in a 1980 interview, is doubly revealing. Firstly, it was being made a “sucker”, roasted by President Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, that fuelled his presidential ambitions. Also, almost every detail of Trump’s bridge anecdote was inaccurate, showing him to be “an unreliable narrator of his own history from its early moments.”

Haberman has covered Trump since his days as a New York tabloid mainstay in the 1990s. Throughout his presidency, writing for The New York Times, she was the best-sourced White House correspondent, and her reputation elevates Confidence Man above previous Trump books. (For comparison, Haberman’s coverage of Trump is as authoritative as that of UK political journalists Tim Shipman on Brexit and Andrew Rawnsley on New Labour.) The book’s scoops include the first direct confirmation that Trump contemplated refusing to vacate the White House: “He informed aides he had no intention of departing the White House for Biden. “I'm just not going to leave,” he told one.”

Trump’s term of office was so extraordinary—Haberman describes him as “unlike any president in American history”—that one book can barely do it justice. Numerous major incidents, that deserve their own chapters, are mentioned only in passing. The Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example (during which “senior Trump aides said they felt physically sick”), is relegated to a single paragraph. So Bob Woodward’s trilogy (Fear, Rage, and Peril) is a more comprehensive account of the Trump presidency, but Confidence Man is the definitive Trump biography.

31 October 2022

TrumpNation:
The Art of Being the Donald


TrumpNation

Timothy L. O’Brien’s book TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald was first published in 2005, when Donald Trump’s self-cultivated public image was that of a billionaire real-estate developer. Citing three anonymous sources, O’Brien claimed that Trump was worth, at most, a quarter of a billion dollars, writing (on page 154): “Three people with direct knowledge of Donald’s finances... told me that they thought his net worth was somewhere between $150 million and $250 million. By anyone’s standards this still qualified Donald as comfortably wealthy, but none of these people thought he was remotely close to being a billionaire.”

Trump sued O’Brien and the publisher, Warner Books, for defamation, seeking an astronomical and absurdly unrealistic $5 billion in damages. In his deposition, he made the audacious claim that his net worth “goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings,” a remark that has since been widely quoted. The case was dismissed not because Trump proved his billionaire status—he didn’t—but because O’Brien proved that his estimate of Trump’s net worth had not been malicious. (The book is written in a tabloid style—with spoof trivia quizzes, for example—though it’s based on interviews with Trump and access to Trump Organization records.)

Trump later sued Michael Wolff to prevent the publication of Fire and Fury and his brother sued their niece, Mary Trump, to block the release of Too Much and Never Enough. In both cases, the lawsuits backfired, as the publication dates were brought forward. He withdrew a lawsuit against comedian Bill Maher, who had joked that he was the son of an orangutan, and his new $475 million lawsuit against CNN is equally unrealistic. On the other hand, Trump’s wife, Melania, has had more success as a libel litigant, winning $3 million from the Daily Mail and undisclosed “substantial damages” from The Daily Telegraph.

TrumpNation was reprinted with a new introduction in 2016, when Trump won the Republican presidential nomination. It’s the sixteenth Trump book reviewed on Dateline Bangkok, the others being Fire and Fury, Too Much and Never Enough, Fear, Rage, Peril, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, and The Cost

22 October 2022

สมุดระบายสีเสรีภาพ



สมุดระบายสีเสรีภาพ (‘freedom colouring book’), written by Suwicha and illustrated by PHAR (both of which are pen names), isn’t a regular children’s colouring book. It was released this month by the band The Commoner, and it introduces young children to Thai politics, with illustrations of anthropomorphised animals representing anti-government protesters.

The concept is presumably modelled on the set of children’s picture books released last year by Family Club (and the additional new titles from the Mirror Foundation), which also present progressive political issues in a child-friendly way. สมุดระบายสีเสรีภาพ is especially similar to The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) from that series, and both books show water cannon being deployed against the protesters.

As สมุดระบายสีเสรีภาพ is a colouring book, its illustrations are all black-and-white line drawings. The exception is the cover, with its symbolic colour scheme: an elephant character (seen elsewhere in the book driving a tank and squirting water at the protesters) is painted blue, and numerous prostrate onlookers are all yellow. (Both colours have political significance in Thailand.)

15 October 2022

ตุลาประชาชน


Mirror Foundation

Last year, the Ministry of Education investigated a series of eight children’s picture books on the specious grounds that they contained “distortion that incites youths to be led astray.” One of the books was seized by police from a public library. Now, the series has been expanded, with a new set of eight titles under the theme of ตุลาประชาชน (‘October people’) published by the Mirror Foundation.

As before, the books introduce young children to progressive political and social issues. A Life (ชีวิตเล็กๆ เด็กชายวาฤทธิ์ สมน้อย), illustrated by Phetladda Kaeochin, describes the childhood of Warit Somnoi, a fifteen-year-old who tragically died after being hit by a live bullet at an anti-government protest. The Folding Chair Stars (ดาว เก้าอี้), illustrated by Ting Chu and We Are All Human (เราล้วนคือคน), illustrated by Summer Panadd both tell the story of the 6th October 1976 massacre, albeit in a child-friendly way. The latter, co-written by Jinglebell, also features the new generation of student protesters such as Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul. (All three books were written by the same author, under the pseudonym สองขา, meaning ‘two legs’.) Another—Where Have You Gone? (พี่หนูอยู่ที่ไหน), written by สาริน (‘Sarin’) and illustrated by Koobta—is about a young son whose brother was killed in the massacre.

The other books in the new series are: H Is for Hope: The ABC of Democracy (a milder version of PrachathipaType’s แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย/‘Thai consonant textbook’), Arkong’s Tale (อ อากง; a biography of Ampon Tangnoppakul, who died in jail while serving a twenty-year sentence for lèse-majesté), A Day with Grandma (ยายลี มีหมา แมว มด ลิง และขุนทอง), and See You Later (แล้วเราจะพบกันใหม่). They are similar to the ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books released in Hong Kong last year, though ominously the publishers of those titles were jailed last month.

21 September 2022

“Shamefully presents a negative image of Thai society...”


Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture

As incredible as it may seem, thirty years ago a dictionary was burnt in the streets of Bangkok and banned by Thai police. The Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture was published in 1992, and soon attracted controversy in Thailand, as its entry for Bangkok described the city as “a place where there are a lot of PROSTITUTES”. (The capitalisation indicated a cross-reference; it was not for emphasis.)

This mention of the city’s somewhat seedy reputation (on page 79 of the hardback edition) infuriated some Bangkokians, who burnt the dictionary in protest, and it was officially banned on 4th July 1993. The publishers quickly removed the offending text, in time for the paperback edition.

Censorship in Thailand is frequently a face-saving measure, a form of reputation management to ensure that negative images are whitewashed from cultural representations of the country. As discussed in Thai Cinema Uncensored, this results in media, literature, and films “that present a rose-tinted view, rather than holding a mirror up to society.”

This has been the case for almost a century, as the silent film Suvarna of Siam (นางสาวสุวรรณ) was censored in 1923 to prevent the portrayal of capital punishment in the country. Similarly, one of the reasons given for the censorship of Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) was that it “shamefully presents a negative image of Thai society for foreign audiences.”

Bangkok Inside Out was banned here for the same reason, after the Ministry of Culture objected to its photo of a go-go bar. More than fifty years ago, the travelogue Bangkok After Dark (written by Fred Poole under the pen name Andrew Harris) was also banned for its focus on the city’s red-light districts.

11 September 2022

“I hope I can always stand on the side of the sheep...”


Sheep Village

Five publishers of children’s picture books were each given nineteen-month prison sentences in Hong Kong yesterday. They had been held in custody since their arrest more than a year ago, and were all convicted of sedition after a two-month trial. The defendants were members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, which has since been disbanded. They had published three books about a ‘sheep village’ (羊村) facing attack by wolves, a metaphor for China’s dominance over Hong Kong.

One of the titles, 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 in 2020 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 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

District Court Judge Kwok Wai Kin condemned the publishers for what he described as “a brain-washing exercise with a view to guiding the very young children to accept their views and values”. The defendants—Man-ling Lai, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan, Tsz-ho Fong, and Melody Yeung—had all pleaded not guilty, and Yeung said in court: “My only regret is I couldn’t publish more picture books before getting arrested.” Referring to the political analogy in the books, she added: “I hope I can always stand on the side of the sheep.”

15 August 2022

Uninspired by Current Events:
Sorry Stories


Uninspired by Current Events

Saratta Chuengsatiansup, the artist behind the Uninspired by Current Events page on Facebook, has released a book of his work. Uninspired by Current Events: Sorry Stories reproduces some of the digital artworks he has been posting daily since last year, alongside a handful of new images.

Despite the ironic disclaimer in its title, Uninspired by Current Events provides a topical, satirical commentary on Thai news and politics. The book also features short poems, in both English and Thai, to accompany each illustration, and the poetry is as sharp and subversive as the images themselves.

08 August 2022

Ornament and Crime:
Thoughts on Design and Materials


Ornament and Crime

Ornament and Crime (Ornament und Verbrechen), first delivered as a lecture in Vienna and later published as an essay, is one of the most famous polemics in the history of architecture and design. Architect Adolf Loos abhorred the decorative ornamentation of Art Nouveau and the Vienna Secession, as he proclaimed in Ornament and Crime’s succinct central thesis: “the evolution of culture comes to the same thing as the removal of ornament from functional objects.

Linking ‘primitive’ ornamentation to evolution is the most problematic aspect of Ornament and Crime, as Loos equated the tribal tattoos of Papua New Guinea with “degeneracy”. The essay is stridently moralistic, though it’s also arguably one of the first modernist manifestos, anticipating the functionalist architecture of Le Corbusier. Ornament and Crime: Thoughts on Design and Materials features two dozen essays by Loos, newly translated by Shaun Whiteside.

The Grammar Of Ornament, by Owen Jones, was the first systematic analysis of ornamental art, influencing Auguste Racinet’s L’ornement polychrome (‘polychromatic ornament’) and many other compendiums. Stuart Durant’s Ornament is a comprehensive history of pattern design and ornament since the Industrial Revolution. The more recent Histories of Ornament, edited by Gülru Necipoğlu and Alina Payne, is the first attempt at a global history of the subject.

05 July 2022

Thai Cinema Uncensored


Sojourn

Thai Cinema Uncensored is reviewed in the new issue of Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia (volume 37, number 2), on pages 374-377. In her review, Annette Hamilton writes: “This is a great read not just for those interested in film, but for anyone trying to understand the nexus between culture and politics in Thailand in recent times.” She concludes: “This book is a valuable addition to Thai cinema studies. It is well-written and instructive.” (The book has previously been reviewed by the Bangkok Post newspaper, Art Review and The Big Chilli magazines, and the 101 World website.)

Thai Cinema Uncensored


The 101 World

The Thai news website The 101 World reviewed Thai Cinema Uncensored on 21st January 2021. (The book has also been reviewed by the Bangkok Post newspaper, and Art Review and The Big Chilli magazines.)

In his 101 World review, headlined “ภาพยนตร์ไทยไม่ต้องห้าม” (‘Thai movies are not forbidden’), Matt Changsupan writes: “สิ่งที่ทำให้ Thai Cinema Uncensored แข็งแรงขึ้นในการนำเสนอเรื่องของการเซนเซอร์ในภาพยนตร์ไทย นอกจากข้อมูลที่อัปเดตมากๆ... ได้ให้ภาพของการตั้งคำถามเกี่ยวกับการเมืองการปกครองร่วมสมัยผ่านภาพยนตร์ได้อย่างค่อนข้างครบถ้วน” (‘what are the strengths of Thai Cinema Uncensored in its discussion of Thai film censorship? In addition to its very up-to-date content... it provides a rather complete picture of the questioning of contemporary politics through film’).

29 June 2022

Ulysses


Ulysses

This year marks the centenary of James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses, which was first published in Paris in 1922. The book was officially banned in the UK and the US for more than a decade, declared obscene by customs officers on both sides of the Atlantic. (The US ban even predated the novel’s Paris publication, as the editors of the literary magazine The Little Review were convicted of obscenity in 1921 after serialising it.)

Random House sought to publish an American edition, and imported a copy from Paris to test the waters in 1932. The following year, New York City District Court judge John M. Woolsey ruled that the book was not obscene, leaving Random House free to publish it in the US. In his summing up, the judge argued that the novel was disgusting rather than titillating: “whilst in many places the effect of Ulysses on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac.” (The same argument was made by the Appeals Court judge in the Oz obscenity trial almost forty years later.)

Despite having read only forty-two pages of the novel, the UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Archibald Bodkin, dismissed it as “a great deal of unmitigated filth and obscenity.” All copies brought into the UK were therefore confiscated by customs, until Bodley Head—encouraged by the US verdict—released a British edition in 1936. No longer imported from overseas and seized under the Customs Consolidation Act, the book was henceforth subject to the Obscene Publications Act, which has a higher burden of proof. The Attorney-General, David Somervell, advised that such a conviction would be unlikely, and the Bodley Head edition faced no legal challenge from the government.

The next landmark cases in US and UK obscenity law both came in the late 1950s. Samuel Roth was jailed in 1957 after the US Supreme Court ruled that his quarterly book series American Aphrodite (vol. 1, no. 3), published in 1951, was obscene. The case set a precedent as the judgement redefined obscenity as material which “taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest”, thus preventing courts from convicting literature based on isolated extracts. Similarly, in 1959 the UK’s Obscene Publications Act added a stipulation that any material under scrutiny be considered in whole rather than in part. This led directly to the acquittal of D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterly’s Lover in 1960.

24 June 2022

Keep ’em in the East:
Kazan, Kubrick, and the Postwar New York Film Renaissance


Keep 'em in the East

Ironically, some of the greatest films from the so-called New Hollywood era (The Godfather, The French Connection, Annie Hall) were made on location in New York rather than in Los Angeles. New York City established a film commission in 1966 (the first in the country), leading to an immediate and dramatic increase in film production, which has since become known as the New York film renaissance. Richard Koszarski’s Keep ’em in the East: Kazan, Kubrick, and the Postwar New York Film Renaissance offers a revisionist history of the 1940s and ’50s New York film scene, arguing that the roots of the renaissance stretch back long before 1966.

Koszarski discusses the documentary-like police procedural thrillers filmed on the streets of New York (The House on 92nd Street, The Naked City, Boomerang!), demonstrating that, although this style evolved alongside Neo-Realism, it was not directly influenced by Italian cinema. Only one Neo-Realist film, Rome, Open City (Roma cittá aperta), had been released in the US during the peak period of the New York docu-dramas, thus their similar modes of production were largely coincidental.

The book’s final chapters alternate between the production histories of Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront and Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss, which (incredibly) were among only three films made in New York in the winter of 1953 (the other being Hansel and Gretel). Interestingly, he reveals that Killer’s Kiss (under its original title, Kiss Me, Kill Me) was censored by four minutes by the MPAA, and that a further three minutes were cut by either Kubrick or the film’s distributor, United Artists, before its theatrical release.

21 June 2022

ลุกไหม้สิ! ซิการ์



ลุกไหม้สิ! ซิการ์ (‘burning cigar!’), a short collection of poems written anonymously by ‘Chatchon’ in 2010 and 2020, offers a literary commentary on Thailand’s political protests. The bulk of the poems are reflections on the red-shirt rallies that culminated in the May 2010 military massacre. Uneducated People! highlights the condescension aimed at the pro-democracy movement by the rival yellow-shirts. ความสงสัย (‘doubtfulness’) addresses the killing of protesters on 10th April 2010 (an event also memorialised by Tawan Wattuya’s Amnesia and Parinot Kunakornwong’s 10th April). เด็กหนุ่มในบทกวี (‘the boy in the poem’) is a remembrance of the final week of the 2010 massacre (as was Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s installation Ten Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic]).

Similarly, the poems written in 2020 address the student-led protest groups that have formed over the last two years. One poem is dedicated to Arnon Nampa, one of the protest leaders, who is himself a poet. Another is titled เก่งมาก กล้ามาก ขอบใจ (‘very good, very brave, thank you’), clearly evoking a comment made by the King to one of his supporters during a walkabout on 23rd October 2020—“กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” (‘very brave, very good, thank you’)—which is also the title of a song by Paeng Surachet. This poem also quotes the protest chant “1 2 3 4 5 I Hear Too”, a pun on the Bottom Blues single 12345 I Love You. (“I Hear Too” is a homophone for ‘ai hia Tu’, an insult directed at Prayut Chan-o-cha.)

18 June 2022

Pääministerin morsian



Matti Vanhanen, Prime Minister of Finland from 2003 to 2010, was largely seen as rather bland during his two terms in office. That reputation was briefly tested when a book by his former girlfriend, a caterer called Susan Kuronen, was published in 2007.

There was nothing scandalous about Vanhanen’s relationship with Kuronen—he and his wife were already divorced—so her somewhat tawdry kiss-and-tell book, Pääministerin morsian (‘the Prime Minister’s bride’), had no real public-interest defence. In fact, more than 50,000 Finns signed a petition calling on bookshops to refuse to stock it.

Vanhanen sued the publisher for invasion of privacy, as the book included personal text messages he had sent to Kuronen during their relationship. He sought $1,450 in damages (plus $83,200 in royalties and profits), and initially lost the case, though he won on appeal, a decision upheld by Finland’s Supreme Court in 2010. Kuronen lost her appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, seven years after Vanhanen’s lawsuit was first filed.

Boiled Angels

The case has interesting parallels with former UK prime minister John Major. Like Vanhanen, Major was perceived as grey and dull (a reputation caricatured by Spitting Image), and he also sued over reports of an alleged affair with a caterer. In that case, however, the allegation was false, though Major was having an affair with one of his ministers, Edwina Currie, at the time.

26 May 2022

สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว



Kanokrat Lertchoosakul’s book สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว (‘the Cold War (in)between the white bow’), published last year, examines the roles of successive generations in the current Thai political protest movement. Kanokrat argues that the present government, which came to power in a military coup, is a remnant of the Cold War era, when authoritarianism was accepted by society at large. (Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul discusses this older generation’s submissive attitude in Thai Cinema Uncensored: “disruption of the flow and unity is a really big deal. Like my Mum... she is in the generation of Sarit [Thanarat], all these people who were very powerful.”) On the other hand, today’s students are much less tolerant of Thailand’s top-down culture, and in 2020 the Free Youth anti-government group encouraged high school students to wear white ribbons as a symbol of resistance.

What’s most remarkable about the book is its inclusion (on page 57) of the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page that sparked the 6th October 1976 massacre. (The newspaper falsely accused Thammasat University students of lèse-majesté, and vigilantes stormed the campus.) For more than thirty years, there was an unspoken prohibition against reproducing Dao Siam’s incendiary headline and photo. Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine broke the taboo in its June 2012 issue, though other publications have only recently followed suit. The front page has appeared in only three other books, all published within the last three years: 45 ปี 6 (‘45 years of 6th Oct.’), Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย), and Moments of Silence. Heavily obscured by overpainting, it’s also part of Thasnai Sethaseree’s new Cold War exhibition at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai.

27 April 2022

“Conspiracy to corrupt public morals...”


Ladies Directory Classified

Alfred Barrett’s lonely hearts magazine The Link, founded in 1915, was certainly ahead of its time. It published personal ads, though as its masthead proudly proclaimed, they were “NOT MATRIMONIAL” in nature. So if people weren’t looking for a spouse, what could they be looking for...? The Metropolitan Police pondered that very question, after R.A. Bennett—editor of another magazine, the moralistic Truth—sent copies of The Link to Scotland Yard.

Bennett suspected that some of The Link’s classified ads were coded messages written by gay men. One example, which he underlined with a literal blue pencil, was by someone “anxious to correspond with friend. Must be same sex, affectionate, and amiable”. Homosexuality was illegal in Britain at the time, and the police seized not only copies of The Link but also letters sent to the box numbers advertised. Barrett was convicted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1921, and sentenced to two years’ hard labour.

Forty years later, in 1961, another publisher was convicted of the same offence. Frederick Shaw’s Ladies Directory, founded in 1959, was a catalogue of ads placed by prostitutes (the equivalent of the ‘tart cards’ left in phone boxes). Shaw himself had sent his publication to the Director of Public Prosecutions, seeking guidance on its legality. He got his answer when the DPP charged him with conspiracy to corrupt public morals, and after his conviction he served nine months in prison. The charge—which set a legal precedent—related specifically to issues 7-10 of the Ladies Directory. (My copy of number 8 is an undated and unpaginated A5 booklet.)

In 1965, Way Out led a revival of the lonely hearts magazine, and soon inspired imitators such as Exit and numerous others. In his authoritative Encyclopedia of Censorship, Jonathon Green noted that these titles “were not prosecuted, and more respectable magazines began to run lonely hearts columns that might have been indictable in earlier years.” H.G. Cocks, however, in his book Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column, demonstrates that these titles were indeed prosecuted for conspiracy to corrupt public morals: “The way the police in Britain investigated smalltime magazines like Exit and Way Out while their American counterparts merely shrugged as their own swinging industry exploded, tells us everything about the differences between the two countries.” (Classified’s coverage of the investigation into Exit and Way Out sets it apart from other books on censorship in Britain.)

The last major conviction for consiracy to corrupt public morals came in 1970, when three publishers of the underground magazine International Times received suspended sentences. In 1969 (issues 51-56), IT published a column of gay personal ads (Males), and this gave the Metropolitan Police the excuse they needed to prosecute the magazine, after several previous speculative raids on its offices. In an echo of the investigation into The Link fifty years earlier, and notwithstanding the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967, the police seized hundreds of letters sent in reply to the ads. The editors of a more famous underground title, Oz, were acquitted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1971, though after a prolonged trial they were found guilty of obscenity (a verdict later overturned on appeal).