20 June 2023

“Johnson committed a serious contempt...”


Boris Johnson

The UK parliament voted overwhelmingly yesterday to endorse an excoriating committee report into former prime minister Boris Johnson’s role in covering up the ‘partygate’ scandal. 354 MPs voted in favour of the report’s findings, and only seven voted against. Johnson resigned as an MP on 12th June, after receiving an advance copy of the report; in an unrepentant written statement, he denounced the committee as “the very definition of a kangaroo court.” (The partygate scandal was also one of the factors leading to Johnson’s resignation as prime minister last year.)

The House of Commons Committee of Privileges ruled that Johnson lied to parliament on multiple occasions. Their report states: “We conclude that in deliberately misleading the House Mr Johnson committed a serious contempt.” It goes on to say: “The contempt was all the more serious because it was committed by the Prime Minister, the most senior member of the government... He misled the House on an issue of the greatest importance to the House and to the public, and did so repeatedly.”

On 1st December 2021, the Daily Mirror published Pippa Crerar’s initial investigation into staff parties that took place at Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdown (headlined “BORIS PARTY BROKE COVID RULES”). On the same day that the story broke, Johnson denied that any lockdown rules had been broken, telling parliament that “all guidance was followed” in Downing Street. A week later, he told parliament: “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Many more details of raucous Downing Street parties later emerged, and more than a hundred attendees (including Johnson) were fined by the police, though Johnson maintained that the gatherings were justifiable work events. The House of Commons committee concluded that Johnson’s claim that he was misinformed by his staff was “no more than an artifice.” Their report also found that he lied under oath when he appeared before the committee: “He misled the Committee in the presentation of his evidence.”

The committee’s report argues that “[t]here is no precedent for a Prime Minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House”, though Johnson’s case is not completely unprecedented: during the Suez crisis, Anthony Eden also lied to parliament. On 20th December 1956, in a final speech before his resignation as PM, Eden told the House of Commons: “I want to say this on the question of foreknowledge, and to say it quite bluntly to the House, that there was not foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt—there was not.” It later emerged that the UK had indeed colluded with Israel and France to coordinate their invasion of Egypt.

Cigar Aficionado


Cigar Aficionado

This month’s issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine (vol. 31, no. 4) is dedicated to classic movies, and includes a poll of readers’ favourite films. The magazine surveyed “a random group of readers”—presumably a small sample of subscribers—25% of whom voted for The Godfather. (The other films in the top ten list received less than 10% each.)

Cigar Aficionado has an older, male readership, and the magazine proclaimed The Godfather “the Greatest Film Ever Made” in a cover story last year, so the poll result was fairly predictable. Garrett Rutledge conducted the poll and, as he admits in the magazine, “we can’t say we’re all that surprised.”

Cigar Aficionado readers’ top ten films are as follows:

1. The Godfather
2. Casablanca
3. GoodFellas
4. The Shawshank Redemption / The Sting
6. Gladiator / Tombstone
8. The Godfather Part II / Heat / The Longest Day

17 June 2023

Boy x Therapy


Boy x Therapy

Shotbyly’s exhibition of male nude photography Boy x Therapy opened on 8th June, though not at a traditional art gallery. Instead, his work is on display at Krubb, one of Bangkok’s gay saunas.

A bathhouse is an appropriate venue for Shotbyly’s homoerotic imagery and, as a semi-private space, it’s able to display his full-frontal photographs. In fact, Boy x Therapy is the most sexually explicit photography exhibition in Bangkok in recent memory, and the only comparable examples are Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Life Show (เปลือยชีวิต) and Tada Varich’s Story of the Eye, both from more than a decade ago.

Shotbyly is a pseudonym for Patthakarn Sadubtham, and his exhibition runs until 14th July. Ten additional photographs have been added since the opening; some postcards are also on display, which are available to buy in a limited edition of eight sets.

16 June 2023

The Political Wanderer


The Political Wanderer

Weerapat Sakolvaree’s Nostalgia and Koraphat Cheeradit’s Yesterday Is Another Day will be screened next month as part of The Political Wanderer, a programme of short films at Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Information and Communication Technology. The screening, at Silpakorn’s Muang Thong Thani campus, will take place on 26th July. Nostalgia was previously shown at Future Fest 2023, the 26th Thai Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 26), and Wildtype 2022. Weerapat is also the director of Zombie Citizens.

15 June 2023

Cremation Ceremony


Cremation Ceremony

The faces of three politicians stare impassively at the viewer. The three men—Anutin Charnvirakul, Minister of Public Health; Abhisit Vejjajiva, former prime minister; and coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha—are responsible for three tragic injustices. Anutin oversaw the Thai government’s initially sluggish response to the coronavirus pandemic. Abhisit authorised the shooting of red-shirt protesters in 2010. Prayut’s government has revived lèse-majesté prosecutions, and dissidents who fled overseas have disappeared.

In his short film Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป), Vichart Somkaew sets fire to photographs of the three men, their faces distorting as the photographic paper burns. There is no sound except the crackling of the flame. This symbolic ritual is a reminder of the deaths of Covid victims, red-shirt protesters, and political dissidents, though it’s also a metaphorical act of retribution, as the three politicians have faced no consequences for their actions. (Anutin is a billionaire, Abhisit was cleared of all charges, and Prayut acts with total impunity.)

While the three portraits burn slowly, captions mourn the forgotten victims: red-shirts shot while sheltering in Wat Pathum Wanaram, political prisoners charged under article 112, and—most heartbreakingly—victims of the coronavirus. Arnon Nampa’s speech calling for reform of the monarchy is also summarised in the captions, and the film ends on an optimistic note: a final caption explains that pro-democracy parties “emerged victorious” in last month’s election. (Of course, the democratic coalition still faces plenty of hurdles before it can form a government.)

Cremation Ceremony’s Thai title is similar to that of Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film A Brief History of Memory (ประวัติศาสตร์ขนาดย่อของความทรงจำ), which also mourned the victims of political violence. The short film New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่) also criticised the government’s flawed Covid response. The documentaries Democracy after Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย) and The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) also held Abhisit culpable for the 2010 massacre. The exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย) also highlighted the fate of exiled dissidents.

Cremation Ceremony will be shown at the AEY Space gallery in Songkla on 14th July and at Lorem Ipsum in Hat Yai on the following day. It will then be screened at the University of Phayao on 22nd August, as part of a programme organised by their Innovative Learning Institute.

14 June 2023

Apocalypse Now:
The Lost Photo Archive


Apoclaypse Now: The Lost Photo Archive

Photojournalist Chas Gerretsen’s picture of Augusto Pinochet, posing in sunglasses after launching a coup in Chile, is one of the most iconic political portraits. Gerretsen is also known for his work as a stills photographer on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and his images of that film appear in Apocalypse Now: The Lost Photo Archive. (The book’s subtitle is a publisher’s embellishment, as Gerretsen’s archive is held at the Nederlands Fotomuseum, as seen in the documentary short Dutch Angle: Chas Gerretsen and Apocalypse Now.)

Peter Cowie’s Apocalypse Now: The Book is the definitive guide to the making of the film, though its illustrations look no better than photocopies. The Lost Photo Archive, with its full-page, colour images, is an excellent visual companion to Cowie’s book. Coppola provided a rather ambivalent blurb for The Lost Photo Archive, disputing some of Gerretsen’s recollections—“I don’t remember many of the things talked about in this text quite in the same way”—but he also praised “Chas’s stunning photos”.

Apoclaypse Now: The Lost Photo Archive

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, one of the greatest behind-the-scenes films ever made, documents the making of Coppola’s masterpiece. The work of another stills photographer, Steve Schapiro, appears in two books published by Taschen: Taxi Driver and The Godfather Family Album. Hollywood Movie Stills, by Joel W. Finler, is a history of stills photography.

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


Jocelyn Chia

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

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

10 June 2023

Paranoïa, Angels, True Love


Paranoia, Angels, True Love

Paranoïa, Angels, True Love, the new album from Christine and the Queens, was released yesterday. Madonna appears on three tracks—Angels Crying in My Bed, I Met an Angel, and Lick the Light Out—as an ethereal narrator known as Big Eye. The experimental concept album is available on LP and CD in a three-disc set, though a single-disc version (without I Met an Angel) has also been released.

Madonna also appears with Sam Smith on their new single Vulgar (released on the same day as Paranoïa, Angels, True Love), and she is featured on The Weeknd’s new single Popular. Previously, she appeared on a remix of Dua Lipa’s single Levitating, in the music video for Ariana Grande’s single God Is a Woman, on Maluma’s album 11:11, on Quavo’s album Quavo Huncho, on Annie Lennox’s album Songs of Mass Destruction, and on Britney Spears’ album In the Zone. She also collaborated with Saucy Santana on their single Material Gworrllllllll!

09 June 2023

Vulgar


Vulgar

Vulgar, the new single from Sam Smith and Madonna, was released on streaming platforms today. The song’s main theme—reappropriating ‘vulgar’ as a badge of pride, and not caring what anyone thinks—is hard to argue with. But if Smith and Madonna are trying to provoke, they’ve surely failed: “Do you know how to spell my name? / B-I-T-C-H / Go fuck yourself” feels like a rehash of Bitch I’m Madonna.

Madonna fares slightly better than Smith, with more namechecks in the lyrics (as she had in Into the Hollywood Groove, her collaboration with Missy Elliot). There’s also a callback to one of her biggest hits: “Let’s get into the groove”. Perhaps the best thing about the project is the cover photo, with Smith and Madonna’s initials (S&M, geddit?) and two corsets.

Vulgar is Madonna’s third collaboration this month: she also appears on new albums by The Weeknd and Christine and the Queens. Previously, she appeared on a remix of Dua Lipa’s Levitating, in the music video for Ariana Grande’s God Is a Woman, on Maluma’s album 11:11, on Quavo’s album Quavo Huncho, on Annie Lennox’s album Songs of Mass Destruction, and on Britney Spears’ album In the Zone. She also collaborated with Saucy Santana for the single Material Gworrllllllll!

08 June 2023

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


BBC Thai

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

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

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

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

03 June 2023

Popular


The Idol Vol. 1

The Weeknd’s single Popular, featuring Madonna and Playboi Carti, was released on streaming platforms yesterday. Madonna sings a powerful verse about life in the limelight: “Spent my whole life runnin’ from your flashin’ lights... You can’t take my soul without a fuckin’ fight”. The lyrics echo those of Joan of Arc from her Rebel Heart album: “Each time they take a photograph / I lose a part I can’t get back”.

Popular was recorded for the HBO drama series The Idol, and is Madonna’s third musical collaboration this month. She has also released a duet with Sam Smith (Vulgar), and she appears on three tracks on the Christine and the Queens album Paranoïa, Angels, True Love. A CD soundtrack of The Idol was scheduled for release, though it has now been cancelled.

Previously, Madonna also appeared on a remix of Dua Lipa’s single Levitating, on Maluma’s album 11:11, on Quavo’s album Quavo Huncho, on Annie Lennox’s album Songs of Mass Destruction, and on Britney Spears’ album In the Zone. She also performed a monologue in the music video for Ariana Grande’s single God Is a Woman, and collaborated with Saucy Santana on their single Material Gworrllllllll!

02 June 2023

‘The trial of the century’


The Sydney Morning Herald

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

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

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

01 June 2023

Zombie Citizens


Zombie Citizens

Weerapat Sakolvaree’s short documentary Zombie Citizens, like his earlier film Nostalgia, links the recent student protest movement with Thailand’s violent political history. Zombie Citizens begins with captions explaining that a Free Youth march on 7th August 2021 was rerouted after roads leading to the Grand Palace were blocked with shipping containers. Weerapat also filmed at Thammasat University on 6th October 2021, the 45th anniversary of a massacre that took place on the campus in 1976.

When Free Youth were denied entry to the Grand Palace grounds, they marched instead to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence, and riot police fired rubber bullets to disperse them. Zombie Citizens doesn’t document the violent clashes between protesters and police; instead, the film is eerily quiet, as the shipping containers block any traffic and the roads are almost deserted. The title hints at the state’s attitude towards the protesters, as shipping containers were also used to prevent zombie attacks in World War Z.

Shots of the Royal Hotel evoke another violent episode, the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre, when the hotel lobby was used as a makeshift field hospital. The hotel and the university campus have become what Dutch artist Armando called ‘guilty landscapes’, bearing silent witness to past violence. Taiki Sakpisit’s short film A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ) and Thunska Pansittivorakul’s documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล) also include sequences filmed at the Royal Hotel, again alluding to ‘Black May’.

A few minutes before it finishes, Zombie Citizens switches into reverse. The film runs backwards—a metaphor for the regressive, cyclical nature of Thai politics?—and View from the Bus Tour’s single Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ) plays on the soundtrack. (The song was released on the forty-fifth anniversary of the Thammasat massacre.)

Nostalgia ended with a shot of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall seen from behind iron railings, after the building was closed to the public by royal decree. Similarly, Zombie Citizens shows Sanam Luang through barbed wire and the Grand Palace glimpsed from behind shipping containers. The state has battened down the hatches, and this is perhaps the calm before the storm.

Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ
(‘who is Suthep Thaugsuban?’)


Who?

Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ (‘who is Suthep Thaugsuban?’) was published in 2014, at the height of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee protests led by Suthep Thaugsuban. Suthep, a veteran MP, attempted to bring Bangkok to a standstill, laying the groundwork for a military coup. His PDRC also blocked candidates from registering for the 2014 election, and sabotaged the election itself.

The comic book Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ is an idealised biography of Suthep, presenting him as a role model for children. If he seems a completely unsuitable subject for such a comic, remember that his anti-democratic protest movement was supported by many middle-class Bangkokians, and their children were presumably the book’s target audience. (Of course, the comic whitewashes Suthep’s reputation for corruption, such as the 1995 land-reform scandal, portraying him as a victim of false accusations.)

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, against whom Suthep campaigned relentlessly, was also involved in a vanity project similar to Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ. Thaksin commissioned a series of seven animated cartoons, ตาดูดาวเท้าติดดิน (‘looking at the stars, feet on the ground’), which gave an equally hagiographic account of his life story.

ภาพประวัติศาสตร์ การต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง ที่คนไทยต้องไม่ลืม
(‘historic pictures of the red-shirt fight that Thai people must not forget’)



ภาพประวัติศาสตร์ การต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง ที่คนไทยต้องไม่ลืม (‘historic pictures of the red-shirt fight that Thai people must not forget’), published in 2011, covers the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (red-shirt) protests and ensuing military crackdown from a decidedly red-shirt perspective. The book was published by PTV, the satellite television station set up by former Thai Rak Thai party members to compete with yellow-shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul’s ASTV channel.

Despite its glossy paper, the book feels cheaply made: many of the photographs are printed at a low resolution, and the binding is of poor quality. Also, there are some especially gruesome photos, with one page in particular (p. 17) lingering on the most horrific imagery. (There are brief sections on the 14th October 1973, 6th October 1976, and May 1992 massacres, for historical context.)

Links between PTV and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra were always denied, though he was widely assumed to be the station’s main financial backer. The book is essentially a Thaksin hagiography: it’s almost as fawning as ทักษิณ Where Are You? (‘Thaksin where are you?’). ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓ (‘Ratchaprasong 2010’) and ความจริงวันนั้น (‘the truth about that day’) are also pro-Thaksin accounts of the red-shirt protests.

If Thaksin is the hero of this narrative then Abhisit Vejjajiva is very much the villain. The book directly blames Abhisit for the crackdown, as he was prime minister during the 2010 protests. The documentaries The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) and Democracy After Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย) also point the finger at Abhisit personally, though he denied any culpability in his memoir The Simple Truth (ความจริงไม่มีสี).

Two books published by liberal journals, 19-19 ภาพ ชีวิต และการต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง จาก 19 กันยา 2549 ถึง 19 พฤษภา 2553 (‘pictures of the life and struggle of the red-shirts from 19th September 2006 to 19th May 2010’) and กรุงเทพฯ (ไม่) มีคนเสิ้อแดง (‘Bangkok (no) red shirts’), cover the red-shirt protests with more objectivity. Bangkok, May 2010 provides analysis of the period from both sides of the red/yellow political divide.

31 May 2023

ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓
(‘Ratchaprasong 2010’)



ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓ (‘Ratchaprasong 2010’), published in 2011, is a coffee-table book documenting the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (red-shirt) protest movement, and its violent suppression by the military in May 2010. (Names of the dead and injured are listed in an appendix.) Many of the UDD protesters were also supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and Thaksin wrote a foreword to the book.

Clearly, with its contribution by Thaksin, this is a one-sided history of the red-shirt demonstrations. But it’s a necessary one, as history is usually written by the victors. The book contradicts the accusations of violence and arson levelled at the red-shirts by Thailand’s right-wing media. For example, พฤษภาอำมหิต (‘savage May’), published by Kom Chad Luek (คมชัดลึก), focused almost entirely on the arson committed after the military massacre.

In his foreword, Thaksin writes that he is saddened by the violence captured in photographs of the military crackdown, and indeed the publisher’s introduction warns the reader that “THERE ARE PHOTOS OF THOSE WHO WERE INJURED AND DIED.” Again, this challenges the narrative that the protesters were perpetrators, rather than victims, of violence. All photographs of red-shirt casualties were removed from the Rupture (หมายเหตุ ๕/๒๕๕๓) exhibition at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, leaving only images of damaged buildings.

With its bilingual text, and an expensive ฿1,000 price tag, ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓ was presumably aimed at a wider audience, and not merely intended as a souvenir for UDD members. On the other hand, ความจริงวันนั้น (‘the truth about that day’) and, especially, ภาพประวัติศาสตร์ การต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง ที่คนไทยต้องไม่ลืม (‘historic pictures of the red-shirt fight that Thai people must not forget’) are so pro-Thaksin that they would surely appeal only to the protesters themselves.

Two books published by liberal journals, 19-19 ภาพ ชีวิต และการต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง จาก 19 กันยา 2549 ถึง 19 พฤษภา 2553 (‘pictures of the life and struggle of the red-shirts from 19th September 2006 to 19th May 2010’) and กรุงเทพฯ (ไม่) มีคนเสิ้อแดง (‘Bangkok (no) red shirts’), cover the protests with more objectivity. Bangkok, May 2010 provides analysis of the period from both sides of the political divide.

28 May 2023

This Is Not a Drill


This Is Not a Drill

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

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

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

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

25 May 2023

Red Poetry


Red Poetry

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

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

ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก)
(‘Thailand is badly bruised’)


Somchai Katanyutanan Thai Rath

Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister after winning the 2011 Thai general election, and was removed from office by the Constitutional Court in 2014. The events of her premiership were fodder for veteran political cartoonist Chai Rachawat (the pen name of Somchai Katanyutanan), whose work appears in the country’s most popular newspaper, Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ). (Chai also illustrated The Story of Tongdaeng/เรื่อง ทองแดง, King Rama IX’s biography of his pet dog.) Chai’s cartoons from 2011 to 2014 are collected in ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก) (‘Thailand is badly bruised’), published in 2014.

Yingluck sued Chai for defamation in 2013, after he called her a “อีโง่” in a Facebook post. (The term roughly translates as ‘stupid bitch’.) A book from the same period by cartoonists Buncha/Kamin describes Yingluck using equally offensive language, though it was the viral nature of Chai’s Facebook comment that prompted the lawsuit. Chai occupies the opposite end of the political spectrum to his fellow Thai Rath cartoonist, Sia, who has also published books of his cartoons.

อรุณตวัดการเมือง
(‘political Arun’)


Arun Watcharasawad

อรุณตวัดการเมือง (‘political Arun’), a collection of political cartoons by Arun Watcharasawad, was published in 2012. Arun is a cartoonist for the liberal Matichon (มติชน) newspaper and Matichon Weekly (มติชนสุดสัปดาห์) magazine, and the book features his work from 2010 to 2012. It also includes การ์ตูน-การเมือง-ไทย (‘cartoons-politics-Thailand’), a fascinating chapter on the history of Thai political cartoons by Parnbua Boonparn.

Matichon Weekly

Typically, Matichon Weekly devotes almost a full page to each of Arun’s cartoons, and it’s easy to see why: these are impressive works of satirical art. Like most political cartoonists, Arun employs recurring visual metaphors—shark-infested waters seem to be one of his favourites—though his work also references classical mythology and artists such as Hokusai.

24 May 2023

รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่
(‘cartoon collection for everyone’)


Buncha/Kamin

Buncha and Kamin are political cartoonists for the right-wing Manager (ผู้จัดการรายวัน) newspaper. Their book รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่ (‘cartoon collection for everyone’), released in 2013, is an anthology of cartoons satirising former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Manager is published by Sondhi Limthongkul, who has friends and enemies in high places: he narrowly survived an assassination attempt in 2009, and he received a royal pardon in 2019 after being sentenced to a twenty-year jail term for bank fraud.

Sondhi co-founded the People’s Alliance for Democracy movement against Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin. So it comes as no surprise that Buncha and Kamin’s cartoons are scathing in their criticism. In their commentary for the book, they don’t mince words, describing Yingluck as stupid and her administration as evil. Their cartoons also stray beyond satire into downright insult, such as a macabre fantasy sketch showing Thaksin being murdered.

Buncha/Kamin Buncha/Kamin

The cartoons mocking Yingluck’s supporters are even more problematic: they are portrayed as a herd of buffalo. Kwai (‘buffalo’) was a term of abuse adopted by the PAD, who dismissed the red-shirts as an uneducated mob undeserving of the right to vote. (Research in After the Coup confirms the prevalence of this patronising attitude.) Tepwut Buatoom’s picture book Buffaloes Dream of Being Human (ควายอยากเป็นคน) subverts the ‘buffalo’ stereotype, and the term has been reappropriated in a t-shirt design.

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


CNN

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

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

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

20 May 2023

No Reason


No Reason

Tattoo Colour’s single No Reason (เผด็จเกิร์ล), released in 2017, was one of the first records to satirise the junta after the 2014 coup. In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship inspired a wave of anti-government protest songs that continues to this day, though No Reason predates them all. The single was taken from Tattoo Colour’s album สัตว์จริง (‘real animal’), and the CD cover shows the group giving a three-finger salute as an anti-coup protest.

The music video for the song, directed by Nittakarn Kaewpyasawad and Tanis Pintong, includes various coded references to the military and the monarchy. A book titled “44 RULES” refers to article 44 of the interim constitution, which gave Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha absolute power. One of the book’s rules is “ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE”, a reference to the military’s euphemistic term for its arbitrary detention policy. A wall calendar shows the date as 20th May, which was the day in 2014 when Prayut unconstitutionally declared martial law. Five men appear in the video, and martial law prohibits political gatherings of five or more people. Most provocatively, a flashcard reading “วันเกิดหมาเธอ” (‘her dog’s birthday’) refers to a notorious leaked video.

No Reason No Reason
No Reason No Reason

In the years since No Reason and สัตว์จริง, there have been more than two dozen songs and albums commenting on Thai politics, including three released this month: Bigboat’s This Is Thailand (ที่นี่ประเทศไทย), Elevenfinger’s Free My Friends (ปล่อยเพื่อนกู), and Rap Against Dictatorship’s I’m the One Who Gets to Decide (คนที่ตัดสินใจคือฉันเอง). Rap Against Dictatorship’s prolific output also includes the singles My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), Sunflower (ดอกทานตะวัน), Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), Budget (งบประมาณ), กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap’), Reform (ปฏิรูป), Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), and 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’). There have also been albums from The Commoner, Pisitakun Kuantalaeng (in 2020 and 2022), Speech Odd, Elevenfinger, and t_047; and singles from The Commoner, Elevenfinger, Badmixy, View from the Bus Tour, Milli and Youngohm, Getsunover and Three Man Down, and Paeng Surachet.

19 May 2023

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


Xi Jinping

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

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

audio

18 May 2023

Johnson at Ten:
The Inside Story


Johnson at Ten

From his 2019 election landslide (‘Get Brexit Done’) to his downfall last summer, Anthony Seldon and Raymond Newell recount Boris Johnson’s term as UK prime minister in Johnson at Ten: The Inside Story. They cover Johnson’s “callous amorality” during the coronavirus pandemic (“Let the bodies pile high in their thousands”, first reported by the Daily Mail on 26th April 2021), and his ethical and even legal shortcomings. (In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that “the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful,” and Johnson was fined last year for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules.)

There are some extraordinary details in Seldon and Newell’s book. They quote Johnson proclaiming to staff, “I am the Führer. I’m the king who takes the decisions”. Whereas former PM John Major famously called rebel Tories “bastards”, to Johnson they were “c**ts, utter c**ts.” (Apparently he “would use the C word a lot”, in an attempt to bond with senior staff, though the authors censor the profanities. Ironically, a cabinet minister called Johnson a “cosmic cunt” last year.) After the EU tried to ban exports of coronavirus vaccines, he told French President Emmanuel Macron: “I will hold you personally responsible for the deaths of the British people”.

Sebastian Payne has already written a detailed account of the fall of Boris Johnson, and he concluded that there were “three Ps that brought down the prime minister”: the Owen Paterson, Chris Pincher, and ‘partygate’ scandals. Seldon and Newell suggest an alternative (and non-alliterative) trio, citing three flaws in Johnson’s personality that made his downfall inevitable: “an inability to value truth and to set or pronounce on moral boundaries; to recognize merit, appoint the best people and trust them to do their jobs; and to stick by any decision or person without changing his mind.”

Payne’s account of Johnson’s final days in office includes a brief quote from a phone call between the PM and Michael Gove, who asks if Johnson is going to resign. Johnson replies: “Mikey, mate, I’m afraid you are.” (Tim Shipman used the same quote in The Sunday Times on 10th July 2021.) In contrast, Seldon and Newell quote a long extract from the call, without the “Mikey, mate” line. They also quote a conversation during which Nadhim Zahawi tells Johnson: “The herd is moving”, which could have inspired Johnson’s resignation speech (“when the herd moves, it moves”).

Seldon is the author or co-author of books on every UK prime minister of the past thirty years, including Cameron at Ten. He and Newell spoke to more than 150 senior sources for Johnson at Ten, including on-the-record interviews with Sajid Javid (Johnson’s former chancellor), Graham Brady (Chairman of the 1922 Committee), and Pippa Crerar (the Daily Mirror journalist who broke the partygate story, now political editor of The Guardian). Tim Shipman’s All Out War and Fall Out are in-depth accounts of Johnson’s role in Brexit, and his successor Liz Truss is profiled in Harry Cole and James Healey’s Out of the Blue.

15 May 2023

Pita Limjaroenrat:
“I am ready to be the prime minister for all...”


Pita Limjaroenrat

The results of yesterday’s election show that the progressive Move Forward and populist Pheu Thai have vastly outperformed all the pro-military parties in Thailand’s government. Of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives, Move Forward won 152 and Pheu Thai have 141, a remarkable achievement for Move Forward and an unequivocal rejection of the military establishment.

Move Forward was formed after the Constitutional Court dissolved the Future Forward party in 2020. Its manifesto includes an end to military conscription and a plan to reduce the scope of the lèse-majesté law. Pheu Thai, which has several previous incarnations affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra (Thai Rak Thai and the People Power Party), won a majority in 2011 and also won the highest number of seats in the 2019 election.

Move Forward announced this morning that they had formed a coalition with Pheu Thai and a handful of smaller parties, giving them a total of 310 seats. At a press conference today, party leader Pita Limjaroenrat confidently declared: “I am ready to be the prime minister for all, whether you agree with me or you disagree with me.” He still faces a legal obstacle, however: he is currently under investigation for ownership of media shares—a stake in the defunct iTV—a charge that previously led to the disqualification of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as leader of Future Forward. If Pita became prime minister, and was later found guilty by the Constitutional Court, he and his cabinet would be forced to step down, as happened to Samak Sundaravej in 2008.

Pita’s candidacy as prime minister also remains uncertain due to the influence of the junta-appointed Senate. Despite Move Forward’s mandate from the electorate, 376 votes—a majority of both MPs and senators—are required to become PM, according to article 272 of the constitution. Since the 2019 election, there have been three parliamentary votes to remove article 272, and the amendment proposal failed on all three occasions, though sixty-three senators voted for it at least once. Move Forward is banking on their support, but so far only a handful have pledged to vote for him.

On the other hand, if enough of the 250 senators joined with the 190 non-coalition MPs, voting as a pro-military bloc for a single alternative candidate, they could prevent Pita from leading a new government. This is a distinct possibility—turkeys don’t vote for Christmas—and in that case, there’s a chance that the coalition could collapse if the other parties were persuaded to abandon Move Forward and form a government that was more palatable to the establishment. (There are persistent rumours that Pheu Thai is preparing for this eventuality, though it would risk losing the support of its red-shirt base if it entered into a pact with the military.)

If recent political history is any guide, Move Forward also faces the prospect of judicial intervention, as the Constitutional Court has ruled against anti-military parties in each of the last five elections. The 2006 election was invalidated and TRT, the winning party, was dissolved. The PPP was dissolved after winning the 2007 election, and its leader was disqualified. Yingluck Shinawatra, who won the 2011 election, was disqualified. The 2014 election was invalidated. Thai Raksa Chart was dissolved in the runup to the 2019 election, followed by the disqualification of Thanathorn and the dissolution of Future Forward.

Pita has called on the senators to respect the election result and endorse him as prime minister, though his fake it till you make it strategy may be misplaced. Move Forward’s proposal to amend the lèse-majesté law crosses a red line for the military, which the senators represent, and some non-coalition MPs have already refused to vote for Pita for the same reason. The new coalition has a majority in the House of Representatives, so it could defeat a military-backed minority government in a vote of no confidence, though this outcome would lead to further political instability.

11 May 2023

“Fox intentionally trafficked in malicious falsehoods…”


Fox News

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

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

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

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

Oddworld


Oddworld Control

Thai punk band Speech Odd’s debut album Oddworld was released earlier this year. The lyrics include comments made by King Rama X on royal walkabouts: the track Speech King quotes his answer to a reporter’s question (“Thailand is the land of compromise”), and Thank You quotes his words to a prominent royalist (“กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ”/‘very brave, very good, thank you’). Fucx Coup [sic] begins with a sample of Prayut Chan-o-cha announcing the 2014 coup.

The band’s music is available on a wide variety of physical formats. Oddworld was released on cassette, CD, and vinyl. Their single Control was issued on a 3.5" floppy disk, and its cover is an illustration of anti-coup protester Nuamthong Praiwan crashing his taxi into a tank. Their Promo 2022 EP is on cassette and 5" vinyl.

“The land of compromise” previously appeared as a caption in the video for Elevenfinger’s ไอเหี้ย... ฆาตกร (‘damned... murderer’). “กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” inspired the title of a song by Paeng Surachet. Rap Against Dictatorship restaged Nuamthong’s taxi crash in the video for their single 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’), and it was the subject of a painting by Uthis Haemamaool. Prayut was also sampled by Pisitakun Kuantalaeng on his album Absolute Coup.

Warner Bros. 100


Casablanca
The Wizard of Oz

Two Hollywood classics, Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz, are returning to cinemas in Bangkok on general release as part of Warner Bros. 100, marking the centenary of the Warner Bros. studio. They will be shown by Thailand’s two national cinema chains (Major Cineplex and SF Cinema), and at House Samyan, with The Wizard of Oz opening today followed by Casablanca on 18th May.

The Wizard of Oz, one of the most iconic films ever made, was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2018, 2019, and 2020. It’s also been screened at the Scala, Cinema Winehouse, Bangkok Community Theatre, and Jam Café. Casablanca, arguably the greatest (and surely the most quotable) Hollywood movie of all time, was previously screened at the Scala, at Bangkok Screening Room, and (in 35mm) at the Lido.

10 May 2023

Betrayal:
The Final Act of the Trump Show


Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show

In Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show, Jonathan Karl covers Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the insurrection by Trump supporters who believed his lies about the 2020 US presidential election. This is the eighteenth Trump book reviewed on Dateline Bangkok (or the nineteenth, if you count the audiobook The Trump Tapes). The others are: Confidence Man, 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.

Trump’s last year in office was reported more extensively in I Alone Can Fix It and Peril. But Karl’s book—which is partly a memoir of his experience as an ABC News correspondent—does contain some new details. He writes about his “strangest ever meeting” with Trump, an off-the-record Oval Office discussion in March 2020 during which Trump kept Vice President Mike Pence waiting while he traded political gossip.

Karl interviewed the former president at Mar-a-Largo and asked him to confirm an extraordinary quote first attributed to him by The New York Times in 2021. Did he really tell Pence, in a phone call on the day of the insurrection: “You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy”? “I wouldn’t dispute it,” is Trump’s remarkable reply.