Bangkok Love Letter
SHORT FILM STARRING THE GENERAL
2 July 2016, Bangkok
Dear Foreign Friend,
The monsoon is in full flood. We’ve cleaned the drains of all the rotted leaves. It’s a good feeling; good compost too.
Derek Sederman, editor of the news circular for a tiny school in the English Midlands, is a good, persevering man who doesn’t deserve to be ignored. He’s tried for years to get me back in touch with my old school in England. I can’t explain to him that I want to forget about that sad country; that I feel betrayed by England’s vision of itself which it sells to the world, including to alien children shivering out their coming of age in its boarding schools.
I can still summon up that stale reek of boiled cabbage and grey minced meat in the corridors, and the fat pink-cheeked bully who made fun of my yellow skin & chinky English, exposing me to racism for the first time at age 13. I don’t remember his name but I thank him to this day for opening my eyes.
Political correctness hadn’t been invented yet, I’m glad to say. People shouted the words “Chink!” and “Suzie Wong!” in public with abandon. If I’d been bigger or had actual balls, I could’ve called him “Nazi!” right back to his face. We were in touch with each other’s feelings & the truth was not hidden or glossed over. Meanwhile in shouting matches across the stream, the village children called us “Frankenstein!” Such was our class war. Everyone laughed & no violence occurred because we’d all let off steam.
If you were small like me, you couldn’t fight back directly but at least there was no spin to portray you as the oppressor, and no fuss to make you feel sorry for yourself. You just dealt with it. Through it all I’ve come to understand that pretense & distortion are the only real hate speech. Childish name-calling I can deal with, and nowadays I’ll dish it out to anyone dishing it out to me, but malicious lies do engender hatred because a real injustice has been committed.
This is hard to imagine now that political correctness has become a tool of oppression, abused by tyrants with lobbyists even more readily than victims. In these absurd times, accusations of hate speech are just as likely to be directed at angry victims by fictitious, impromptu NGOs & whore academics as at the people actually doing the dividing & conquering. I have no doubt whatsoever that corporate usurpation of democratic & human rights lingo is hugely responsible for the global breakdown of the democratic system, engendering helpless resentment that turn into Brexit, Trump & jihadism. People get angry but don’t know why exactly, then direct their rage at convenient targets rather than the real culprits. They know drastic changes are needed, but what kind of change and how? This renders them easy meat for predators.
If you abuse the means by which democracy communicates with itself, how would you ever know or understand the socio-political reality? Talk is our medium of exchange for points of views, feelings & resentments. Now that discourse is corrupted, honest exchange has become impossible & confusion reigns. I think it was TS Eliot who said that nothing is worst than doing the right thing for the wrong reason. How right he is, (if he did say it). Truth & lies become indistinguishable. That’s the end of the peace road and the precursor of war, civil or otherwise.
With all the panic about refugees taking over Europe (and over Third World tourists with no pre-booked route & accommodation, effectively banning independent travellers—well, goodbye to your old friends & customers & good luck with all the packaged tourists who only confirm your prejudices), there’s no panic left when confronted by the mundane fact that London is widely acknowledged as the preferred refuge of deposed despots & other crooked corporate/political tyrants in need of full laundering services both for their image and their cash. British law does not require PR lobbyist agencies to declare their customers’ names, thereby aiding & abetting international crime. Top London law firms often have meeting rooms that block cell phone signal.
Haven’t you seen the TV ad for ‘London Direct’? That sickening, faux plummy male voice dripping with unctuousness (possibly your future dream English butler, impeccably attired) hawking prime London property to us apparently Crazy (& Corrupt Evil Elite) Rich Asians. Shouldn’t the British be more worried about the local effects—political, cultural & ethical—of these unnatural industries that cater to the unnaturally rich & unnaturally powerful? Turning London into the preserve of the literally filthy rich, sending real estate prices skywards beyond the reach of the natives. Relatively affordable Shepherd’s Bush, for instance, used to be a relaxing village full of Irish & Jamaicans, with a friendly Pakistani grocer or two & a sprinkling of yuppies. Now parts of it are a sea of black burqas. Public resentment & perception of a threat are understandable but surely distorted & misdirected.
With Brexit, our hitherto smug English family & friends begin to glimpse the reality beyond the veil. Doesn’t ‘apocalypse’ mean the unveiling? The ordinary people there will soon realise, as we in Thailand have realised, that these are not ordinary times. Sometimes the ordinary have to take matters into their own hands and become extraordinary to fight for peace, freedom & truth—for survival, in other words.
Amidst all the cynicism, it’s easy to forget that reform is a real aspiration for those who have fought for it. Some months ago the fab fearless females at 2 Magazine asked me for an essay on freedom of expression for their art in Thailand issue (March/April 2016). It came out in the form of a short film, the kind a student might send in as homework on the theme. Hope you’ll enjoy the movie below & that all’s well with you despite all the apocalyptic images on TV.
With Love from Bangkok,
A SHORT FILM STARRING THE GENERAL
EXT. Government House – Day
Establishing shot. Track in with a day-tripping line of uniformed SCHOOL CHILDREN, like a row of ducks following their TEACHER.
INT. Prime Minister’s Office – Day
PM is not seated behind his desk but pacing the room. He sees:
the Last-Ditched PR Expert (PRX), an aging hippie in a Paul Smith suit, being ushered into his presence by an AIDE.
Prime Minister Sir, this is the last-ditched PR expert they recommended.
I’m a no-nonsense man, and irritable, as you know from TV. Cut to the chase.
Say anything you like.
All 3 sit down at the sofa grouping on one side of the room.
His Excellency has another appointment with visiting school children
in ten minutes.
The brief calls for drastic and speedy fixes. Obviously, or you wouldn’t
have called me in. Here are four measures, ranging from easy no-brainer
to near-impossible. I’ll lay them out for Your Excellency’s consideration
in their order of difficulty. The easiest, and therefore number one, is:
Legalise same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is win-win, in Thailand.
This costs you nothing. Big human rights score and a tourism bonanza.
Indians and gay people have the most lavish wedding celebrations.
Indian fantasy destination weddings already bring in billions a year.
The gay wedding market is potentially as big.
And you, sir, would be forever known as an LBGT champion.
Number Two is slightly more controversial: Legalise marijuana.
The whole world is waking up to the fact that the US, having forced us all
to ban an ancient sacred medicinal plant as an evil drug, is legalizing it
as it realizes its potential to be the world leader in hemp and
hemp products, which the US was, before tobacco, before oil, before Ford,
before Apple and Hollywood.
There’s sure to be some backlash from the moralistic freaks,
but also huge popular support. A Free Ganja law reform meeting
held at the Bangkok Art Center (BACC) recently was so packed
the room overflowed. The panelists including a doctor
and an anti-corporate colonialist were all pro-legalisation,
all advancing solid reasons and medical findings.
Think of the gains for the agricultural sector! Thai ganja is more famous
than Thai jasmine rice. You’re telling farmers to switch from thirsty rice
to more drought-resistant cash crops. Ganja is it.
Isan farmers would be rich, the drug mafia would lose income.
Australia has invested heavily in it because it doesn’t need much water
and is even good for the soil. Worldwide, legalization is gaining pace,
it’s inevitable. This is a matter of some urgency:
a US corporation has already bought up the rights to Bob Marley’s
face and name—the Jamaican government can do nothing! This is typical
of the lose and lose vicious cycle that client states have found ourselves.
Since the US has been acting like an enemy to Thailand,
this is the perfect time to declare independence by legalizing ganja.
Uruguay and Mexico have done it, and they should know.
Again, great PR and economic gains.
Your hip quotient would go through the roof, sir.
Thaksin’s PR nasties would be stunned. You’d be forever known
as the PM who freed ganja, daring to defy the corporate colonialists
for the betterment of his country.
Uh-huh. Look into that.
Three: Free Thai Cinema. End the banning of films.
Everything to gain here, but first the government must lose its fear of artists
as toxic creepy-crawlies who can’t be trusted with the people’s vulnerable
hearts and minds. This is not easy. Two main obstacles:
the fascist mindset and ideal of nationhood as set down by Field Marshall Plaek Pibulsongkram and his propagandist Lhuang Vichitvadakarn, an insistence on
only one version of nationalism, tolerating no other vision of ‘Thainess’;
and the Thai film industry itself, whose de facto union is chaired
by a representative of a national chain of multiplexes.
That’s why, despite the absurdity of banning films in the digital age,
it’s second only to the last one in difficulty.
It can’t be changed by normal democratic means.
You are a dictator, sir. You can just do it. Delete 26(7), the banning clause.
Imagine the PR gains: “Thailand ends banning of films”!
No enthusiasm from either PM or the AIDE.
Consider, sir, the Creative Economy angle.
To make money from media, art and culture, you must liberalise
the cultural economy. You want Thai movies to sell like Korean movies,
you must unchain Thai filmmakers. They can’t compete with their hands tied,
they’re not allowed to touch anything that’s actually relevant to audiences.
If you want money from art, you must let art be. Stop interfering.
Respect the artistic process as you respect other professions.
Controlled art is not alive. It is dead art. Dead art doesn’t sell, sir.
It doesn’t move people or inspire discussion.
This isn’t just about entertainment. Smart films elevate their audience.
It helps to make it harder to manipulate Thai people.
Do you still want that, sir?
I think so.
Recently the Administrative Court gave hope
when a judge said the film ‘Insects in the Backyard’ was not obscene
and the censors infringed on the filmmaker’s rights.
However, the actual verdict on Christmas Day  sided with the censors!
Only your dictatorial powers can make it happen now.
The other film to sue the Film Board is ‘Shakespeare Must Die’,
banned by Yingluck as a national security threat.
If the Court were to unban this film, think of the PR fruits from the headline:
“Thailand unbans Shakespeare”* [*Full disclosure: the writer of this screenplay
directed ‘Shakespeare Must Die’. Observe how in classical fashion I’ve inserted
my real agenda in a list of other people’s demands.]
That’s very sexy.
Look into that. Next?
Amend the Lese Majeste law.
There is SILENCE in the room.
The children will be waiting—
112 amendment is of course the hardest one. But like the others,
It’s inevitable. 112 is not an unchangeable monolith. It’s undergone much
change in practice especially in recent turbulent times. According to at least
one history writer, the founders of the present dynasty recognized that the law
contributed to the degradation and eventual downfall of the Old Capitol.
Strangely, the law has become more oppressive, not less, with the advent
of democracy, as the US secretly took over Thailand after World War 2
and the monarchy became a shield against communism.
Now Article 112 is out of control, its powers extending to cover criticism
of not only members of the royal family, but also past kings—an honest
examination of our history has become impossible.
As a PR problem, 112 is Thaksin’s greatest ally.
It damages the institution it’s supposedly protecting, even as it burnishes
his aura of Mr Democracy, successfully obliterating his blood-soaked
track record: you don’t hear a word from the US or EU of the thousands of
extrajudicial killings in the War on Drugs or the South.
He wins both ways—as the fanatical royalists are made more paranoid
and hypersensitive over real and imagined transgressions, it becomes
harder and harder for people who have campaigned for years to quietly
amend the law. They get lumped with the cynical, fake anti-monarchy
movement, even as these people are making it impossible to change 112.
They are making it impossible. People feel their beloved institution
is under attack.
What’s necessary is never impossible. You can cite that His present Majesty
has publically supported amendment of 112. You will never win if you do not
amend 112. You’d be forever forced to play the enemy’s game, always
dancing to their tune.
It’s not that I don’t see that, I’m not stupid. But it’s impossible
in the present climate.
The PR harvest would be huge. Thaksin’s gang would be robbed of
their only righteous and most convenient weapon.
I know. (sighs)
But it’s impossible at this time. Surely you see that.
Well then, you will always lose and so will the rest of us.
PM nods. PRX is ushered out by the AIDE; as the door opens, the previously glimpsed party of SCHOOL CHILDREN pour into the room, bright-eyed and thrilled to be where the big decisions are made over their future and the country’s fate.
Photographed in Technicolor
Made in Hollywood, USA
[First published in 2 Magazine, March/April 2016 issue]
A pioneer of environmental investigative reporting, Ing Kanjanavanit is a filmmaker, painter & bilingual writer, best known in Thai for the cult classic travelogue/handbook for environmental activism, ‘Khang Lhang Postcard’ (‘Behind the Postcard’) under the nom de guerre Lharn Seri Thai (136)—‘Free Thai Descendent/Force 136’, to evoke the Free Thai Movement against fascist forces during World War 2, which fought for the Allies then after the war was betrayed by the Allies. Sadly, she no longer attends Free Thai merit-making rites, not since Thaksin’s redshirts appropriated the name & equated Thaksin with Free Thai leader Pridi Banomyong, which is a travesty & a sacrilege.