06 December 2021

Oh My Ghost! 8


Oh My Ghost! 8

A scene from Oh My Ghost! 8 (หอแต๋วแตกแหก โควิดปังปุริเย่), the new comedy from Poj Arnon, has been censored. The Film and Video Censorship Committee gave the movie a ‘15’ rating, though only after an entire sequence featuring celebrity monk Paivan Wannabud was deleted. According to the censors, it’s inappropriate for a real monk to appear in an entertainment film, and all footage of him had to be cut. (Coincidentally, Paivan left the monkhood on 3rd December, the day after the film’s release, a technicality that might eventually allow Poj to show the film uncut.)

The censored material is completely innocuous, simply showing Paivan blessing the hotel in which the film is set. In real life, Paivan is famous for his camp mannerisms, which is in keeping with the rest of the film. Poj announced the censors’ decision on 25th November and, after being initially tight-lipped about what had been deleted, he uploaded part of the censored scene online five days later. Other clips from the sequence are included in the film’s trailer.

Surprisingly, a scene mocking Prayut Chan-o-cha escaped censorship. One character complains to another—“You’ve been managing for 7-8 years... You make people poorer and poorer, idiot!... Especially Covid-19, everywhere is fully vaccinated. Except here, only 1 jab or nothing”—who assumes that she’s talking about “Big Tu”. (Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) The film is full of topical references like this, one of which is shockingly insensitive: a parody of police chief Thitisan Utthanaphon’s suffocation of a suspect with a bin liner.

Representation of monks has long been a sensitive subject in Thai cinema, and I wrote a chapter about it in my book Thai Cinema Uncensored. Monks have been censored from recent films such as Kanittha Kwunyoo’s Karma (อาบัติ), Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ), Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), and Surasak Pongson’s Thibaan: The Series 2.2 (ไทบ้านเดอะซีรีส์ 2.2). Similarly, paintings depicting monks were withdrawn from two exhibitions in Bangkok in 2007.

Oh My Ghost! 3 Oh My Ghost! 3 Oh My Ghost! 3

This is the eighth film in Poj’s Oh My Ghost! series, though it’s not the first to be censored. The teaser poster for Oh My Ghost! 3 was judged too risqué: a pair of trousers had to be superimposed over an actor’s skimpy underwear. (A much more modest image was used as the final release poster.) Oh My Ghost! 3’s Thai title was also changed by the censors, from หอแต๋วแตก แหกชิมิ to หอแต๋วแตก แหวกชิมิ. They objected to the word haek (แหก), meaning ‘spread apart’, and changed it to the more polite waek (แหวก). (Karma required a similarly negligible change to its Thai title.)

05 December 2021

Next Love


Next Love Next Love
Next Love Next Love

The music video for Badmixy’s single Next Love was released this week. In the video, a birthday party (filmed surreptitiously) is being held for a rich man at his poolside, and a succession of women are competing for his affections. The first lady, who has a rather ample figure, is supplanted by one wearing a G-string posing next to a poodle. Another wears a sash proclaiming her ‘Miss Nan’ (from a fictional beauty pageant in that province). All of this may—or may not—have a coded meaning.

The video has been viewed more than half a million times on YouTube already, though satirical content such as this is becoming increasingly risky. Also this week, Warunee Weerasak was charged under the lèse-majesté law and the Computer Crime Act, after posting a Photoshopped image of the Emerald Buddha statue wearing a dress designed by Princess Sirivannavari on Facebook on 24th November. She was arrested on 2nd December, and has been released on bail.

27 November 2021

The Art of Destruction: The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt


The Art of Destruction

The Art of Destruction: The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt is the most comprehensive English-language study of the Vienna Action Group, the transgressive performance artists whose work explored “the body’s determinedly expelled elements: semen, excrement, urine and blood.” The book was first published in 2004, as Art of Destruction: The Films of the Vienna Action Group; the second edition was published last year.

Author Stephen Barber profiles each artist—Otto Muehl, Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler—individually, and analyses the films they made with experimental filmmakers including Kurt Kren. Amusingly, he claims that Brus was “habitually shy and polite,” which is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with the artist’s role in Kunst und Revolution (‘art and revolution’): “Before several hundred spectators, he undressed completely, incised his chest with a razor, urinated into a cup and drank it... he then reclined on his side, coated in excrement, and sang the Austrian national anthem.”

Muehl’s performances were equally provocative, and he was jailed alongside Brus after Kunst und Revolution. In Oh Sensibility, which Barber describes as “Muehl’s most notorious film”, a goose is decapitated. After initially filming various performances (or ‘actions’), rendered semi-abstract by rapid editing, Kren’s role became increasingly participatory, and he appeared with Muehl in orgiastic performances such as Scheißkerl (whose title is a German pejorative).

The book includes a complete filmography, which is essential as most Vienna Action Group films—aside from Kren’s Action Films DVD—remain unavailable. When they were screened at Warwick University twenty years ago, my partner and I were the only ones in attendance, so the projectionist played the 16mm reels in the order we requested, starting with Kren’s notorious 20. September. (That film inspired Vasan Sitthiket’s equally scatological video There Must Be Something Happen [sic].)

23 November 2021

Miss Thailand Universe 2021


Anchalee Scott-Kemmis

Anchalee Scott-Kemmis, the winner of Miss Thailand Universe 2021, is facing criminal charges after a complaint against her was filed with the Metropolitan Police in Bangkok today. An online image featuring Anchalee is alleged to have violated the Flag Act, according to the ultra-royalist MP Sonthiya Sawasdee.

The image, showing Anchalee standing on the blue section of the Thai flag design, was posted on the Miss Thailand Universe social media accounts (and has since been deleted). Sonthiya claims that, by appearing to stand on the flag, Anchalee is guilty of “placing the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flags at an inappropriate place or in an inappropriate manner”, which is prohibited by the Flag Act.

Violation of the Flag Act carries a penalty of up to six months in prison, though Sonthiya has also accused Anchalee of breaking article 118 of the Thai criminal code. This criminalises “making any act to the flag or any other emblem to be symbolized the State with the intention to deride the Nation” [sic], and carries a more severe jail sentence of up to two years.

The image in question also shows Anchalee holding a large Thai flag, and Sonthiya has completely mischaracterised this patriotic portrait. Also, Sonthiya seemingly fails to recognise that this is a composite image, and that Anchalee did not physically step on a Thai flag. Sonthiya is a member of the governing Palang Pracharath Party, which is essentially the political wing of the military junta. Earlier this year, two art students were accused of violating the Flag Act by another self-appointed moral guardian.

17 November 2021

A Day


A Day

The new issue of A Day magazine (volume 22, number 250) was published yesterday. The issue is entirely devoted to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, under the theme of “Apichatpong’s Universe”. It includes an interview with me about film censorship, on pages 216-219.

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“I am not a shock artist...”


Brass Against

Florida police are investigating Sophia Urista after she urinated on stage on 11th November during a performance at the Welcome to Rockville festival in Daytona. Urista, lead singer with Brass Against, was performing a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s Wake Up when she told the crowd that she needed to pee. She then invited a volunteer onto the stage, squatted over his face, and urinated over him.

Today, Urista tweeted an apology: “I have always pushed the limits in music and on stage. That night, I pushed the limits too far.” She also insisted that the performance was not only for shock value: “I am not a shock artist. I always want to put the music first.”

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10 November 2021

‘Millions of Iranians live below the poverty line!’



The Iranian newspaper Kelid (کلید) has been shut down by the government after it published a cartoon criticising Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on its front page on 6th November. Alongside a headline reporting the results of a national poverty survey—“!میلیون‌ها خانوار ایرانی زیر خط فقر” (‘millions of Iranians live below the poverty line!’)—a cartoon showed a hand wearing the Ayatollah’s signet ring, drawing a literal poverty line that denied the poor access to food supplies.

Simply the Best: The Tina Turner Story


Simply the Best Simply the Best

A lawsuit brought by Tina Turner against a tribute act has now reached the Federal Court of Justice, Germany’s highest criminal court. Turner sued the producers of Simply the Best: The Tina Turner Story (Die Tina Turner Story) last year, arguing that the show’s poster falsely implied that Turner herself was the star of the show.

Turner won her case in the Regional Court of Cologne, prompting the producers to add the words “Starring Dorothea Fletcher” to the poster, to avoid any ambiguity. That judgement was then overturned by the Higher Regional Court, and in his preliminary remarks, Federal Court judge Thomas Koch endorsed the Higher Regional Court’s decision. The final verdict is not due until next year.

03 November 2021

Transgressive Cinema


Un chien andalou

Un chien andalou, released almost a century ago, begins with one of the most horrific images in film history. There is a disconnect between the film’s antiquity and its graphic imagery, though what is most shocking is that the violence is clearly authentic: we see a razor slicing a real (bovine) eye.

The breaking of taboos on screen is all the more transgressive if the act is unsimulated. I’ve written an introduction to the representation of real death, sex, and bodily emissions in cinema, followed by a comprehensive filmography.

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04 October 2021

Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship


Written by Cherian George and designed by Sonny Liew, Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship is a guide to the censorship of contemporary political cartoons around the world. The focus is on recent cases, though there are some historical examples of caricature and wartime propaganda. (Victor Navasky’s book The Art of Controversy has a more historical perspective.) Red Lines features cartoons subjected to lawsuits and bans, though it also covers cartoonists who have been harassed, sacked, deplatformed, arrested on trumped-up charges, or otherwise intimidated. The scope is truly global, and the cartoons under discussion are all reproduced, making this an extremely useful survey.

In terms of recent newspaper and magazine cartoons that have faced legal challenges, Red Lines covers all of the major cases though doesn’t include any unfamiliar ones. The examples it cites have all been previously mentioned on Dateline Bangkok: Zunar, Musa Kart (twice), Zapiro, LeMan, Stephff, Mana Neyestani, and Aseem Trivedi. The most explosive issue in political cartooning this century—the depiction of Mohammed—receives extensive coverage in Red Lines, and the twelve Jyllands-Posten cartoons are reproduced alongside others created in solidarity (from Le Monde, the Philadelphia Daily News, and الحياة الجديدة).

There are more than thirty pages devoted to the terrorist attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo, and two of that newspaper’s Mohammed covers (from 2006 and 2011) are included, as is a tasteless 2013 cover mocking the Koran. My only criticism is that the events leading up to the 2015 attack are not fully explained: a timeline in the book juxtaposes the Koran cover and the attack, implying a direct connection, though they occurred more than a year apart. A more likely trigger for the attack—a 2014 cover depicting Mohammed being beheaded—is not mentioned.

28 September 2021

“Distortion that incites youths to be led astray...”


Family Club

The Ministry of Education is investigating a series of eight children’s picture books published this month. A spokesperson for Deputy Minister of Education Kanlaya Sophonpanich announced yesterday that Kanlaya has set up a panel to urgently inspect the books, as she believes they stir up hated and promote “distortion that incites youths to be led astray.” She also threatened the publisher with legal action.

The books were published by Family Club, who advertised them with a knowing wink as suitable for children aged five to 112. (The lèse-majesté law is article 112 of the Thai criminal code.) Rather than spreading hatred, as Kanlaya claims, they promote the opposite: tolerance, freedom, and equality. Three of the titles refer directly to the current anti-government protest movement: The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย); Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?); and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

One of the books, Children Have Dreams (เด็กๆ มีความฝัน), features a quote from protest leader Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul on the back cover. Another title, Hack! Hack! The Fire Dragon (แค็ก! แค็ก! มังกรไฟ), was written by protest leader Sombat Boonngamanong, though its theme is environmental rather than political: he works as a firefighter in Chiang Mai, and his story is about the dangers of forest fires. The others in the series are Who Has No Head? (ตัวไหนไม่มีหัว), The Call of the Birds (เสียงร้องของผองนก), and Chit Phumisak (จ จิตร ชีวิตอัจฉริยะไทยผู้ใฝ่เรียนรู้ จิตร ภูมิศักดิ์).

25 September 2021

บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112



The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), one of the key student groups leading the current anti-government protests, has released a new booklet, บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112 (‘speeches on 112’). It features a collection of speeches delivered at past protest rallies, all in support of the UFTD’s campaign to abolish the lèse-majesté law (article 112 of the Thai criminal code). The booklet’s main title is a quote from the 1932 revolutionary manifesto by Pridi Banomyong, ประเทศนี้เป็นของราษฎร ไม่ใช่กษัตริย์ตามที่เขาหลอกลวง (‘our country belongs to the people—not to the king, as has been deceitfully claimed’).

Naturally, in today’s political climate, publishing such a booklet is legally perilous. Copies were given away at Three Kings Monument Square in Chiang Mai on 21st September, and yesterday the UFTD announced online that they planned to distribute it at a rally outside BACC in Bangkok today. This announcement caught the attention of the police, who intercepted some copies that were en route to the rally today. Nevertheless, the booklet was available at the rally, and was handed out in exchange for a token donation.

This is the third booklet on the monarchy to attract unwanted attention from the police. 10,000 copies of Arnon Nampa’s สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย (‘the monarchy and Thai society’) were seized in March, and 50,000 copies of the UFTD’s ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’) were confiscated before they could be distributed at a rally in September 2020. (Arnon’s booklet was later given away at a rally at Ratchaprasong in Bangkok on 3rd September.)

Of course, by announcing their intention to distribute these booklets, the protest groups are essentially daring the police to ban them, and the censorious authorities are only too happy to oblige. Aside from their provocative contents and their brushes with the law, the three booklets also have a common colour scheme: Arnon’s has a blue cover, the first UFTD booklet is red, and the new one is white. These correspond with the colours of Thailand’s tricolour flag, symbolising the monarchy, the nation, and religion respectively.

Thai Soaps: An Analysis of Thai Television Dramas


Gerhard Jaiser begins his book Thai Soaps: An Analysis of Thai Television Dramas by distancing himself from “people who appreciate lakhons as entertainment or even as an art form”, admitting that “I myself do not.” Thai soap operas (known as lakhon or lakorn) are justifiably dismissed as nam nao (‘dirty water’), though they still deserve to be analysed, and Thai Soaps is the first book to do so.

Jaiser’s book (published in 2017) begins with a detailed examination of lakorn narrative structure, character archetypes, and other conventions of the genre. The second chapter makes nuanced comparisons between various original series and their modern remakes, helpfully guiding the reader through the sometimes confusing multiplicity of lakorn versions.

A chapter on lakorn and politics notes how censorship is determined by the political climate. For example, the Thaksin Shinawatra satire เหนือเมฆ (‘beyond comparison’) was uncontroversial in 2010 because “at that time, the Democrat Party, favorable to the Yellow Shirts (and to Channel 3), was in power”, whereas its sequel was censored in 2012, when Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was in office. Ing Kanjanavanit’s film Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) suffered a similar fate for the same reason.

Jaiser is surprisingly uncritical of the deeply problematic representation of minorities in lakorn. He does discuss the asexual nature of gay characters, the increasingly negative stereotyping of Westerners, and the almost total absence of black people, though he doesn’t call this out as homophobic or racist. He even seems reluctant to condemn the reprehensible depiction of rape in lakorn, noting that they portray it as “an act that can even increase the love of the female victim for the rapist” yet criticising this in only mild terms as “questionable”.

Thai Soaps includes a valuable appendix listing major lakorn series, with their Thai titles, plot synopses, and (in most cases) original transmission dates. It’s a good example of not judging a book by its cover—which features a fairly unappealing snapshot—because this is a first-rate study of a second-rate genre.

19 September 2021

The Queen’s Gambit


Chess grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili is suing Netflix for defamation, and seeking $5 million in damages. Her lawsuit relates to the final episode of the Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit, released last year. In the episode (titled End Game and directed by Scott Frank), a chess commentator compares the lead character, Beth Harman, to Gaprindashvili: “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.

The lawsuit, filed on 16th September at the Federal District Court of Los Angeles, claims that “Netflix brazenly and deliberately lied about Gaprindashvili’s achievements” and describes the reference to her never having faced men as “manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling.” The episode is set in 1968, by which time Gaprindashvili had played competitive chess against dozens of male players, though The Queen’s Gambit is a drama series, and is thus surely entitled to artistic licence.

03 September 2021

La Télé d’ici Vacances


A television presenter in Ivory Coast has received a one-year suspended jail sentence for promoting sexual assault. Yves de M’Bella, the host of La Télé d’ici Vacances (‘TV here on holiday’), was also fined $3,600 after he invited a man to demonstrate with a mannequin how he had previously assaulted women. The guest, Kader Traoré, was jailed for two years and fined $900. The programme was broadcast on 30th August by NCI.

31 August 2021

“We should not have published the article...”


In an out-of-court settlement, The Sun has paid damages to cricketer Ben Stokes and his mother, Deborah, after they sued for invasion of privacy. The lawsuit was in response to a Sun story published on 17th September 2019, which dredged up a “secret family tragedy” that took place in 1988.

The newspaper initially defended the article, written by Nick Parker, as it was based on public records of the incident from New Zealand newspaper archives. In a cursory apology published yesterday, The Sun said: “The article caused great distress to the Stokes family, and especially to Deborah Stokes. We should not have published the article. We apologise to Deborah and Ben Stokes.”

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13 August 2021

“Mike Lindell is begging to be sued...”


Dominion Voting Systems has filed defamation charges against right-wing cable TV channel One America News and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell. The lawsuit, filed on 10th August, seeks $1.6 billion in damages for “false and manufactured stories about election fraud.” (An egregious example is ‘Dominion-izing’ the Vote, a segment first broadcast by OAN on 21st November last year.)

OAN also broadcast Lindell’s ‘documentary’ Absolute Proof, which was deleted by social media platforms as it contains so much misinformation about the 2020 US election results. Dominion spokesman Michael Steel told CNN in February that “Mike Lindell is begging to be sued, and at some point we may well oblige him.”

Dominion has previously sued Fox News, which broadcast equally absurd claims of election fraud. Another voting technology company, Smartmatic, has also sued Fox. Donald Trump continues to repeat lies about election fraud fed to him by Fox and OAN. The ultimate impact of such dangerous misinformation came on 6th January when Trump incited a riot at the US Capitol.

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23 July 2021

“These three books have a lot of seditious material inside...”


Sheep Village

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.

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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.”

11 May 2021

Artn’t

Vitthaya Klangnil
This morning, two Chiang Mai University art students facing criminal charges turned their police summonse into a performance art event. Outside the police station, Vitthaya Klangnil carved “112” into his chest with a knife, in a protest against article 112 of the Thai criminal code (lèse-majesté). Vitthaya and fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit have been charged with contravening the lèse-majesté law and the Flag Act, following their display of a banner depicting the Thai flag without its central blue stripe (which symbolises the monarchy).

The two students are co-founders of the art group Artn’t. They displayed their modified flag in March at the Faculty of Fine Arts, and the Constitution Protection Association (a self-appointed moral watchdog) filed charges against them under the Flag Act, which prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. The lèse-majesté charges stem from anti-monarchy graffiti written on the artwork.

The students were both released on bail this afternoon. (Parit Chirawak and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan were also bailed today.) The banner is similar to a piece by Mit Jai Inn shown at last year’s Status in Statu exhibition. Mit’s installation, titled Republic of Siam, was a large roll of fabric with a pattern of red and white stripes, thus it also resembled a Thai flag without the symbolic blue stripe.