20 January 2022

The Monarchy and Thai Society



Thai police raided the offices of Same Sky Books this morning, looking for copies of Arnon Nampa’s booklet The Monarchy and Thai Society (สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย). (Its English title comes from an authorised online translation by PEN.) Around thirty officers searched the premises; they didn’t find any copies of the booklet, though they obtained a court order to confiscate Same Sky editor Thanapol Eawsakul’s mobile phone and computer instead.

10,000 copies of the booklet were seized from Same Sky last year, and their offices were also raided in 2020. Thanapol was one of many anti-military intellectuals subjected to ‘attitude adjustment’ in 2014, and he was also questioned by the military in connection with the distribution of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra calendars in 2016.

The Monarchy and Thai Society is one of three booklets written by anti-government protesters, published in the colours of the Thai flag. The others are The Day the Sky Trembled (ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา; also translated by PEN) and บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112 (‘speeches on 112’).

11 January 2022

10th April


Banner
The Men in Black

The new Jim Thompson Art Center opened in Bangkok last year, and its inaugural exhibition, Future Tense: Imagining the Unknown Future, Contemplating the Cold War Past, explores the legacy of the Cold War era in contemporary Southeast Asia. The exhibition opened on 27th November 2021, and runs until 28th February.

Future Tense includes Parinot Kunakornwong’s installation 10th April (๑๐ เมษายน), which examines the military massacre of red-shirt protesters on 10th April 2010. In a corner of the gallery is The Men in Black, a group of polystyrene mannequin heads in balaclavas representing the armed agitators who infiltrated the 2010 protests. (A powerful photograph of a ‘man in black’ was one of five images by Agnes Dherbeys censored from a BACC exhibition about the protests in 2010.)

To Service

Parinot attended a commemoration at Democracy Monument on the anniversary of the massacre last year. (His installation includes To Service, a candle and red-shirt scarf from the event.) He wiped a wet towel around the monument and collected soil samples from the area: traces from the site of the massacre, the residue of history. These were then photographed with a scanning electron microscope, to produce abstract images (The Cleaner, Banner, and O) exhibited alongside the physical artefacts themselves (Towel and Samples). The process is a combination of art and science, ritual and remembrance.

The shootings on 10th April 2010 were the prelude to a military crackdown resulting in the loss of almost 100 lives. Tawan Wattuya painted portraits of the victims for his Red Faces series, shown at the Khonkaen Manifesto (ขอนแก่น แมนิเฟสโต้) and Amnesia exhibitions in 2019. A book commemorating the victims, วีรชน 10 เมษา คนที่ตายมีใบหน้าคนที่ถูกฆ่ามีชีวิต (‘heroes of 10th April: the faces of the dead live on’), was published in 2011.

07 January 2022

#WhatsHappeningInThailand
และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ


#WhatsHappeningInThailand

#WhatsHappeningInThailand และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ (‘and then hope appeared’) is the first book to document the anti-government protest movement that began in Bangkok last summer. Journalist Karoonporn Chetpayark gives her reflections on covering the demonstrations, accompanied by Asadawut Boonlitsak’s photographs of the protests. The book covers a period of exactly a year, from the rally at Democracy Monument on 18th July 2020 to the first anniversary of that event last year, when protesters were met with a much more violent police response.

29 December 2021

Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+


Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+

Suwaporn Worrasit’s short film Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+ was screened at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on Christmas Day, as part of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. The film shows builders constructing a reproduction of Democracy Monument, intercut with an anti-government protest at the real Democracy Monument in Bangkok on 20th September 2020. The title refers to 1939 (2482 in the Buddhist Era), the year that the monument was commissioned.

The reproduction of the monument was built for Bangkok World, a new tourist attraction due to open next year. Suwaporn’s film features exceptional footage of labourers carefully installing and painting the concrete reproduction, creating a scale model of the original. However, Democracy Monument is more than a mere architectural landmark; for decades, it has been a focal point for political rallies, and borne witness to military crackdowns. After the 14th October 1973 massacre, the bodies of the victims were placed on the monument. In 2010, red-shirt protesters wrapped it in banners painted with blood.

Once it’s completed, Bangkok World’s Democracy Monument will be a pristine simulacrum—the Disneyland version of Bangkok’s heritage—though it will reveal none of the original monument’s political and social significance. While it’s under construction, surrounded by bamboo scaffolding, the reproduction is a metaphor for the country’s unfinished transition to democracy. Similarly, vintage photographs of Democracy Monument under construction appeared in the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine and in Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Karaoke: Think Kindly (คาราโอเกะ เพลงแผ่เมตตา), again symbolising the incomplete nature of Thai democracy.

28 December 2021

Long Live the People


Long Live the People

Thai band Dezember released their new single, Long Live the People, on Christmas Eve, and the accompanying music video on Christmas Day. The title and one of the lyrics—“จำเอาไว้เราไม่ใช่ฝุ่น” (‘remember, we are not dust’)—both come from a speech by Parit Chirawak at Sanam Luang on 20th September last year. The video ends unambiguously with a falling guillotine blade.

The lyrics also include “ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน” (‘give us a little more time’), a line from Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย), a propaganda song released by the junta. Chulayarnnon Siriphol used the same line as the title of a video installation and exhibition catalogue, and it was sampled by Thunska Pansittivorakul in his documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล).

Another lyric from Long Live the People, “7-8 ปีแล้วนะไอ้สัตว์” (‘it’s been 7-8 years, ai hia’), is essentially an update of the 2018 concert title จะ4ปีแล้วนะไอ้สัตว์ (‘it’s been 4 years, ai hia’). In both cases, ai hia is a strong insult aimed at the Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The King of Bangkok


The King of Bangkok

The King of Bangkok, the English-language edition of the Italian graphic novel Il Re di Bangkok, was published last month. A Thai edition was released last year, retitled ตาสว่าง (ta sawang). The book was written by Claudio Sopranzetti and Chiara Natalucci, with illustrations by Sara Fabbri, and is the product of meticulous ethnographic and archival research into Thai political and cultural history. The English edition features several new appendices, including a timeline of political events giving extra context to the narrative.

There is also an extensive interview with the authors, in which they discuss their goal of counteracting the ‘Teflon’ effect, whereby Thailand’s violent political climate is so successfully expunged from its international image by the Ministry of Tourism, “one of the most effective propaganda machines in the country.” The interview also touches on the book’s slightly censored Thai translation: “The solution we finally adopted in Thai was to cover three particularly sensitive sentences with a black line, a strategy used by progressive Thai filmmakers to pass state censorship while indexing its presence and effects.”

The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence


The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence

Kulapat Aimmanoj’s short film The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence was shown at the Thai Film Archive on 18th December, on the first day of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. The film is a drama—largely a two-hander—in which two young anti-government protesters argue about their tactics. Non is no longer an activist, though the more radical Mhee reminds him what they are fighting for. With its theme of personal and ideological tensions between protest leaders, Kulapat’s film is similar to Aomtip Kerdplanant’s 16 ตุลา (‘16 Oct.’)—which was screened at the Archive on Christmas Day—and Sunisa Manning’s novel A Good True Thai.

Kulapat also released a black-and-white version, The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence: Noir, online earlier this year. The film begins with a reporter on Facebook Live describing the use of tear gas against protesters at major intersections in Bangkok. This respresentation of political protests via simulated media coverage also occurs in Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s feature film Snap, and I wrote about the use of similar distancing devices in Thai Cinema Uncensored.

21 December 2021

แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย



แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย (‘Thai consonant textbook: contemporary politics edition’), PrachathipaType’s parody of an alphabet picture book, was launched at the Bangkok Art Book Fair last month. (In an installation at CityCity Gallery, people sat at wooden desks and posed as students reading copies of the book.) The project is a collaboration with Rap Against Dictatorship, who released a song—กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap [prostration]’)—and animated video based on PrachathipaType’s illustrations. (The song’s lyrics are printed at the back of the book.)

Each of the forty-four Thai consonants is represented by images satirising the government, the monarchy, and the justice system. Specific themes include mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, state budget allocations, and the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of popular political parties. Thammanat Prompao, surely the most disreputable Thai politician in recent memory, is namechecked for his insistence that the 3kg of heroin he was convicted of smuggling into Australia was actually flour. (Incredibly, the Constitutional Court ruled that he could still serve as a cabinet minister, as his crime was committed outside Thailand.)

18 December 2021

Seeing in the Dark


Seeing in the Dark

Taiki Sakpisit’s exhibition Seeing in the Dark opened at AC Gallery in Bangkok on 14th December and closes today. The exhibition includes regular screenings of Taiki’s video installation of the same name, which was filmed at Khao Kho, a mountainous region in northern Thailand. Khao Kho has a potent political legacy: Phibun Songkhram hid the country’s gold reserve—and the Emerald Buddha statue—from the Japanese there during World War II, and the area was a base for Communist insurgents throughout the 1970s.

Seeing in the Dark opens with contemplative, static images of Khao Kho, including the entrance to the cave where Phibun stored the nation’s treasures. There are also shots of the Sacrificial Monument compound, which memorialises the ‘sacrifices’ of the soldiers who fought the Communists, rather than the thousands of insurgents who were killed. Taiki’s earlier short films Shadow and Act and A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ) feature similarly meditative shots of locations with loaded political histories, and Shadow and Act has a direct link with Phibun, as it was partially filmed at the photography studio where his official portraits were taken. Shadow and Act, A Ripe Volcano, and The Age of Anxiety (รอ ๑๐) will be screened at the Thai Film Archive on Christmas Eve as part of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

On its website, Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism notes that Khao Kho was once “a red area smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies. Khao Kho was considered a forbidden land that ordinary people should not get too close to because it was considered extremely dangerous. But as time passed, the conflict ended and Khao Kho transformed into one of Phetchabun’s most striking and beautiful tourist areas.” A similar reputational whitewashing took place at other sites of anti-Communist violence, such as Santikhiri and Nabua, a process examined in Thunska Pansittivorakul’s film Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม), and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ).

Khao Kho, Santikhiri, and Nabua are—to use Dutch artist Armando’s term—‘guilty landscapes’. Seeing in the Dark revisits these ‘guilty landscapes’, tranquil spaces that bear silent witness to historical violence. As Max Crosbie-Jones writes in his cover story for the current issue of Art Review Asia, Taiki’s film channels “the presence of places upon which the inexorable movement of Thai history has left an indelible stain.” An ominous rumble on the soundtrack hints at the continued presence of this past menace, and the film ends with footage of anti-government protests from October 2020, a reminder that Thailand is still “smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies.”

11 December 2021

Unforgetting History


Unforgetting History

Ceramicist Sirisak Saengow’s first solo exhibition opened yesterday at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, and runs until 20th January 2022. The show features painted tiles, ceramic sculptures, and installations, all of which address dark moments from Thailand’s modern history that those in authority would prefer us to forget.

The exhibition title, Unforgetting History, recalls Thongchai Winichakul’s book Moments of Silence, which is subtitled The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976, Massacre in Bangkok. As in Wittawat Tongkaew’s 841.594, shown at Cartel last year, the exhibition is dominated by the colour blue, which has a symbolic meaning in Thailand on the country’s tricolour flag.

History of Guns

Occupying one wall of the exhibition, History of Guns consists of twenty-five rifles arranged in a triangle, with a pistol at its apex. These unglazed ceramic weapons are all stamped with numbers referring to the dates of violent episodes in Thai political history. The pistol, which is streaked with blue paint, is stamped 090689 (9th June 2489 BE, the day in 1946 that King Rama VIII was shot). A blue rifle is stamped 170298 (17th February 2498 BE, the day in 1955 that three men were executed for Rama VIII’s murder).

Stamps on the other rifles refer to military crackdowns in Bangkok. These are: 141016 (14th October 2516 BE, the 1973 massacre of anti-dictatorship protesters), 061019 (6th October 2519 BE, the 1976 massacre of Thammasat University students), 100453 (10th April 2553 BE, the shooting of red-shirt protesters at Phan Fah in 2010), and 190553 (19th May 2553 BE, the 2010 killing of red-shirt protesters at Lumpini and Ratchaprasong).

Other artists and filmmakers have also used numerical codes to refer to notorious dates in Thai history. In the music video Remember (วน), directed by Thunska Pansittivorakul, a man wears a jumpsuit with the number 1721955, another reference to the execution of the men convicted of Rama VIII’s murder. That number also appears as a password in Thunska’s film Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), and his new film Danse Macabre (มรณสติ) features two men with the numbers 1702 and 1955 on their respective running shorts. Similarly, the title of Arin Rungjang’s video and installation 246247596248914102516... And Then There Were None refers to 24th June 2475 BE (the 1932 revolution), the death of Rama VIII, and the 14th October 1973 massacre.

Censored

On another wall, a mosaic forms a surprisingly direct message that is only readable from a distance, as the letters are blurred in an act of self-censorship. (While the text is not immediately understandable, the impulse to self-censor certainly is.) The text is inverted in another mosaic underneath.

Blue Dust

In one corner of the gallery are sixteen tiles, collectively titled Blue Dust, a series of paintings of anti-government and monarchy-reform protesters being arrested by riot police last year. The police appear as blue figures, while the protesters are stippled like specks of dust, which also has a metaphorical meaning in Thailand. Riot police are also coloured blue in The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย), a children’s picture book under investigation by the Ministry of Education.

Unforgetting History Unforgetting History
Unforgetting History Unforgetting History

In another corner is an untitled installation recreating the artist’s desk. Strewn around the desk are ceramic renderings of various banned books, including The King Never Smiles (with a pixellated cover), the Thai translation of The Devil’s Discus, and the Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน) journal. These are surrounded by blue bullet casings and photographs of the 6th October 1976 massacre, which, like the books, are also realistically painted ceramic objects. There is also a folding chair, which has become an iconic symbol (or cliché) of the massacre. The King Never Smiles—or rather, its modified dust jacket—also featured in the Derivatives and Integrals (อนุพันธ์ และปริพันธ์) exhibition at Cartel earlier this year.

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.)

04 December 2021

25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival


New Abnormal / Please... See Us / Dance of Death

The finalists in the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival will be screened at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya from 18th to 26th December. The programme on 19th December includes three excellent short films, all of which address life-and-death social issues in Thailand: New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่), Please... See Us, and Dance of Death (แดนซ์ ออฟ เดธ).

The satirical New Abnormal, by Sorayos Prapapan, takes aim at Prayut Chan-o-cha and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Phayao Nimma plays an irritable Prayut, annoyed by a civil servant asking about bailouts for businesses affected by the lockdown. Other sequences address the inadequate supply of vaccines earlier in the year.

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s Please... See Us highlights the displacement of ethnic minorities. The film ends with an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a tragic metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand. It was previously shown this year at Wildtype and Signes de Nuit (‘signs of the night’).

Dance of Death is a condensed version of Thunska Pansittivorakul and Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s feature-length documentary Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), which juxtaposes accounts of violent deaths with interpretive dance routines. In Thailand’s unequal society, not even death can rupture the social hierarchy, and Dance of Death explores the disparity between the deaths of royals and commoners.

All screenings are free. Please... See Us and Dance of Death will be shown again on 1st January 2022. Last year’s event featured equally political entries, such as Sorayos’ Prelude of the Moving Zoo.

28 November 2021

If We Burn:
Before


If We Burn

The first issue of the journal If We BurnBefore, edited by Wassachol Sirichanthanun—is an anthology of short stories, poetry, art, and photography created since the 2014 coup. The title, If We Burn (“...you burn with us”), is a quote from The Hunger Games, the series that also inspired the three-finger salute adopted by anti-coup activists.

The collection includes new writings from Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa and Dawut Sassanapitax, amongst others. Artworks include an infographic documenting the casualties of the 2010 military massacre. The grey cover image is described as “ด้านหลังของภาพขนาดใหญ่ภาพหนึ่ง ณสวนสัตว์เขาดิน” (‘the back of a large portrait at Dusit Zoo’), a similar concept to Wittawat Tongkeaw, who exhibited the back of a painting of that person’s husband—The Masterpiece (มาสเตอร์พีซ)—earlier this year.

27 November 2021

EBB



The new photobook EBB features the work of nineteen photographers, documenting the recent anti-government and monarchy-reform protests in Thailand. The title refers both to ‘ebbing away’ (of support for the establishment) and ‘ebb and flow’ (the sense that receding waves—like persecuted protesters—will eventually return).

There are some stunning images, including a phalanx of riot police (photographed by Adsadang Satsadee); a sea of protesters, with a solitary ‘I here too’ placard (Panasann Pattanakulchai); and a lone protester, arms outstretched, on the front line (Asadawut Boonlitsak). In many photographs, fireworks, tear gas, and surreal props add to the phantasmagorical nature of the protests in Bangkok. There are also images of the Calmer Rouge performance event in Chiang Mai.

The book was launched yesterday, on the opening day of the Bangkok Art Book Fair at CityCity Gallery. It’s available in a limited edition of 300 copies, and the photos—selected by Kanrapee Chokpaiboon—are accompanied by anti-government graffiti by street artist BEKOS. The Art Book Fair (making a welcome return after being held online last year due to the coronavirus lockdown) continues until tomorrow.

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.

15 November 2021

“A system in which everyone is equal...”


Pathum Wan

An anti-government protester was shot yesterday while marching from Pathum Wan intersection to the German embassy in Bangkok. Police fired rubber bullets at the crowd, hitting a man in the chest and puncturing his lung. (Riot police have repeatedly deployed rubber bullets against protesters this year. On 17th August, fifteen-year-old Warit Somnoi was hit by a live bullet, and he tragically died on 29th October after spending more than two months in a coma. Police officer Detwit Ledtenson was shot in the head on 7th October during a protest at Din Daeng.)

Protesters gathered at Pathum Wan yesterday afternoon, calling for the abolition of the lèse-majesté law. As shown in an AFP photograph by Pitcha Dangprasith, they also burnt effigies of the Constitutional Court judges who ruled on 10th November that any call for reform of the monarchy was an attempt to overthrow the monarchy itself. The judgement related to speeches by three protesters—Arnon Nampa, Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Panupong Jadnok—on 10th August last year, published in the booklet The Day the Sky Trembled (ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา). (The Constitutional Court has previously ordered the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai, the People Power Party, Thai Raksa Chart, and Future Forward, which were also perceived as threats to the establishment.)

Outside the embassy, an open letter to the German government was read out. The statement highlighted the protesters’ concerns that recent actions by the Thai state are “pulling Thailand away from democracy and back to absolute monarchy,” and that the protest movement’s calls for reform of the monarchy are rooted in the fundamental principle of equality: “This is a fight to insist that this country must be ruled by a system in which everyone is equal.”

12 November 2021

อนาคตคือ


A Na Kod Keu

In the music video for their new single อนาคตคือ (‘the future is...’), Milli and Youngohm play high school sweethearts who are bullied by their classmates and, in a virtual reality simulation, they find themselves surrounded by tear gas and captured by riot police. The video, directed by Putiroj Devakul, also includes split-second images of recent anti-government protests, at which the police have also deployed tear gas.

Thai students have numbers embroidered on their uniforms, though the numbers in the video all have political significance. Milli’s number is 393, the section of the criminal code that forbids public insults. (She was fined ฿2,000 after insulting Prayut Chan-o-cha on Twitter, and the song includes the ironic lyric “I love you two thousand”.) Youngohm’s number, 113, refers to the law against overthrowing the government. The respective numbers of the two school bullies, 010 and 250, refer to a regnal number and unelected senators (250 of whom were appointed by the junta).

Filmmaker Thunska Pansittivorakul has also used numbers on clothing as a political code. In his music video Remember (วน), a man wears a jumpsuit with the number 1721955, a reference to 17th February 1955, the date when three men were executed for the murder of King Rama VIII. In his new film Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), two men have the numbers 1702 and 1955 on their respective running shorts.

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.

27 October 2021

Peril


Peril

Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, completes a trilogy of Woodward’s books on Donald Trump, following Fear and Rage. Peril examines Trump’s final year in office and the first few months of Joe Biden’s presidency, and its title is taken from Biden’s inaugural address, in which he described a “winter of peril.”

I Alone Can Fix It, by fellow Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, also covers the end of the Trump administration, and shares some of the same sources: William Barr and Mark Milley clearly spoke to the authors of both books. Milley confirmed as much to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, though his description of the 6th January insurrection as a “Reichstag moment”—the standout quote from I Alone Can Fix It—is merely an hors-d’œuvre in Peril.

How to convey the madness of the Trump White House in its final months? Woodward and Costa opt for a cinematic comparison: “The scenes of a screaming Trump in the Oval Office resembled Full Metal Jacket,” and Trump reminded Barr of another Kubrick classic, “the character in the 1964 dark comedy Dr. Strangelove who ruminates about withholding his “essence” from women.”

Barr told Trump the unvarnished truth, that potential voters “think you’re a fucking asshole.” (Biden concurred, in a private White House conversation: “What a fucking asshole”.) Lyndsey Graham was equally blunt, telling Trump: “You fucked your presidency up.” After his election defeat, Trump ignored all such dissenting voices, and embraced Rudy Giuliani’s wild conspiracy theories, clinging desperately to data that Giuliani literally made up out of thin air.

One of Peril’s most extraordinary chapters reveals, for the first time, an Oval Office meeting between Trump and Mike Pence on the evening before the insurrection. This was Trump’s last-ditch attempt to convince Pence to decertify the election results. Trump offers Pence a Faustian pact: “wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?” When that fails, he turns into a petulent child: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.”

Peril includes equally dramatic material on the Biden administration, revealing an intelligence briefing that warned Biden of the disastrous consequences of a sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Woodward and Costa summarise the briefing, which now seems remarkably prescient: “The capital, Kabul, and other cities ultimately fall and the Taliban take over, amounting to a collapse of the Afghan state in months to years.” As they demonstrate, “Biden was abandoning Afghanistan to civil war and potential collapse,” contradicting Biden’s claim that he had not received such warnings.

The book also quotes extensively from a phone call between Biden and Vladimir Putin. Rather than the usual diplomatic readout, we see how direct Putin can be when he tells Biden: “I’m upset you called me a killer”. In a later call, Biden warns Putin that Russia is vulnerable to US cyber espionage: “great countries have great responsibilities. They also have great vulnerabilities.” (Trump’s views on Putin are not mentioned in Peril, though he is quoted referring to Angela Merkel, with his usual charm, as a “bitch kraut”.)

Peril is the fifteenth Trump book reviewed here. The others are: Fear, Rage, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, Fire and Fury, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, Too Much and Never Enough, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, and The Cost.

25 October 2021

Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds


Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds

Who is Viriyaporn Boonprasert? She has submitted quite a few films to the Thai Short Film Festival, though the organisers have no idea who she is. Her short films, with their ironic juxtapositions of found footage, satirise the elitism and nationalism of the Thai political establishment.

Viriyaporn’s Ghost of Centralworld, from her Develop Blessing Giant Dhamma in Three Worlds (เจริญพรมหาธรรมใน 3 โลก) series, was made in response to the 2010 military crackdown. It features an emotional account from the father of Kittipong Somsuk, whose death was caused by arsonists who burnt the Zen department store, followed by news footage of the store’s reopening, when tragedy and political controversy were swept away in the name of consumerism.

Viriyaporn Boonprasert is a pseudonym, and presumably she disguises her identity because her work deals with Thai politics and touches on the ultra-sensitive issue of the monarchy. One of her short films, พ่อจ๋าหนูอยากกลับบ้าน (‘daddy, I want to go home’), submitted to Filmvirus Wildtype, was too controversial even for that progressive group, and the organisers reluctantly declined to screen it. (The film features photographs of King Rama X and his youngest son living in Germany.)

The mysterious tale of the anonymous filmmaker is told in the short documentary Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds (เจริญวิริญาพรมาหาทำใน 3 โลก), which was released on YouTube yesterday. Director Kanyarat Theerakrittayakorn interviewed various film experts—including Chalida Uabumrungjit, Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Jit Phokaew, and Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa—who speculate on Viriyaporn’s real identity. They even begin to suspect each other, as Thai cinephiles are a close-knit group and she seems to be an insider. This leads to bemused denials by some contributors, and Viriyaporn remains an enigma.