Saturday, 13 January 2018

Dark Road Newly Painted

Santa Claus mall valet ready for a
Bangkok X’mas, December 2017

Bangkok Love Letter
Dark Road Newly Painted

Monday 8 January 2018, Bangkok

Dear Foreign Friend,

People have been sending me a videolink, of a scene straight out of my first banned movie, ‘Khon Grab Mha, My Teacher Eats Biscuits’, except it’s non-fiction and full of giggling kids playing at worshipping a dog, who takes it all as his due, a lot less shyly than my dear departed Mhi Kwai who had to be gently coaxed into acting the canine divine in the Ashram of Boundless Love. Is this a sign from God that we should resubmit the 16 mm film from 1998 to the censors, in the coming year of the dog?              
A rabid dog, according to some Thai astrologers. The pink-headed Daily News’ squad of celebrity fortune-tellers say everything’s mostly OK, except in May, October and November—in fact by November “the atmosphere is brooding and dark, the situation is dark and gloomy, the people sad and depressed”, with changes in government in December 2018. What is it with us and May, October & November?

Statues of Ms Thongdaeng & Mr Jo Cho,
the King’s Beloved Pets guarding the Royal Pavilion
in the Royal Crematorium precinct

At the end of last November I finally reached the inner sanctum by hitchhiking on a group tour of the Royal Crematorium with some respectable arty types. We even went in through one of the screening checkpoints that had previously ejected me. With a pre-booked time, we didn’t have to wait too long among the uniformed school trippers.
This was a serious art outing but you don’t need me to critique the much-seen and photographed Disneyesque exteriors. Inside the Royal Pavilion, however, a close inspection of the frescoes of King Bhumibol at work revealed them to be in the psychological style of Christian religious icons, as if composed by Cimabue, with the most important person in the narrative rendered physically biggest with no foreshortening despite the otherwise photo-realistic depiction, creating a somewhat schizophrenic visual contradiction.
On every panel I was soon struck by an extraordinary oversight by the artists:  your average man, woman and child are not represented. Only uniformed civil servants, uniformed soldiers and uniformed politicians or academics/technocrats (shirt & tie but with a Thai ‘electioneering parliamentarian’ bomber jacket instead of a suit) crowd around the King. Apart from some hilltribes in ethnic costume, the only ‘ordinary people’ I could find on these walls are 2 boys molding buffaloes from clay, 2 women weaving baskets, and some farmers in traditional dress seated on the grass with their agricultural products. There’s no one who looks like your average next-door neighbour, your co-worker or remotely like Thai Saint & Hero of the Hour, rocker turned national obsession and inspiration, Toon Bodyslam.

School girls posing in front of
a mural of King Bhumibol at work

Since most Thais, and certainly all the artists who worked on the murals—art teachers with teams of students from art colleges nationwide, including the ancient and venerable Poh Chang Art College (in that lovely old jade green building with red pillars)—have more in common with Toon than with these uniformed caricatures, I wonder if other viewers of these murals also feel slighted and excluded, as if we had no part to play in the life of the King, nor he in ours. If the essence of monarchy is inclusivity, the artists have missed the brief. Even if the official brief was to focus on royal projects, drawing from news photos with the King ever surrounded by the underprivileged and officials, I wish they could’ve included the rest of us somehow. We may not be poster children for Siamese exotica, but we really are no longer the minority, you know.
Here’s a factoid left over from the Royal Cremation: 42 people with outstanding arrest warrants were arrested at various Screening & Filtering points, caught as they attempted to enter the royal precinct.  Some were thought to have been wanted for lese majeste, though the police refused to confirm this.

Leo Singto Gauvain, left, with his father & brother
at an art opening less than 2 months before he died

As befits this past blood-lusty fiery cock year, my holiday season was bracketed by yet more funerals, with a cremation on the eve of Christmas Eve followed by another one on the eve of New Year’s Eve, both of which deserve their own blog, especially the callously senseless death of 23 year old Leo Singto Gauvain, the photographer Shrimp’s eldest son, victim of the carelessness of building contractors Sarathat Engineering of the bloodstained project The Grove Residence on Sukhumvit soi 22 (owners represented  by society ideal couple ML Khwankamol (Devakul) & ML Kathathong Thongyai). The brand-new design graduate, with a lovely girlfriend and a beautiful future about to bloom, was doing the stereotypical Bangkok thing: at the end of the day he nipped out of the house for a bowl of noodles on the street nearby. On his way home a half-tonne iron gate at the construction site for the new apartment block fell on him, killing him instantly. This mind-numbing tragedy has shaken the highrise-menaced village to its core.

My Singhaseni great grandfather with his descendents’
Christmas Eve dinner reflected on his glass-framed photo

Before the turkey on Christmas day itself, my cardiologist younger brother Dr Mong gave the gathered cousins some hands-on training in CPR, including the use of the defibrillator, (“now widely available in airports & train stations,” he says, bending over his Little Anne dummy, “Just break the glass when the need arises.”) This idea came about after the high-profile sudden deaths of apparently very fit celebrities, especially former ASEAN chairman, politician & keen jogger Surin Pitsuwan. As a bonding exercise, pumping a dummy’s heart to the beat of ‘I Will Survive’ in front of all your family is highly recommended. Petty squabbles fall away when you’re reminded of how little time you have together. Dr Mong rated my posture as excellent but my strength is less than half what’s needed to start a heart. You have about a 40% chance of being saved if you had a heart attack in my presence.

Death Meditation:
Dr Mong’s Christmas Day CPR Class

For so-called peacetime, there can’t have been many a year as eventful as this past one for the world, though 2018 promises not to disappoint in that department. Refugee tides, floods and tempests, volcanoes; fiery red horizons as whole forests turn to ashes, hill upon hill—all surely say it’s time for even the most contrary & crooked among us to finally admit that these are not normal times.  One would have thought, but in vain.
As the whole world knows except the Thai and British governments, Yingluck has fled, 2 days before her rice scheme sentencing, to London, that welcoming refuge of deposed rulers with all the legal aid they may require conveniently arrayed including the best lobbyist & PR services money can buy. Bell Pottinger, one of the biggest & most unscrupulous, appears to have closed, however. Thai people know it well because her brother Thaksin Shinawatra is its client, alongside the Syrian tyrant’s British wife Asma al-Assad, the Saudi government, Belaruss dictator Lukashenko, Margaret Thatcher, and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet as he fought extradition to trial in Spain through a UK-based ‘NGO’ client named Chilean Reconciliation Movement (sounds familiar? Ever heard of Yingluck’s Amnesty Bill, which started the avalanche of Shutdown Bangkok protest?). Bell Pottinger was also known as Bell Pottinger Sans Frontierres. (Talk of expropriation of NGO dash; you can’t get a more cynical name than that.) Bell Pottinger Public Affairs is another of its manifestations, reportedly with “nuclear clients”.

Thaksin’s Bell Pottinger’s reported demise

The British PR Association has withdrawn its PR license when Bell Pottinger finally went one atrocity too far with the ol’ ‘Evil Elite’ storyline, this time with more obvious racist overtones to suit the context, in the service of South African oligarchs. This only came to light after the SA opposition complained to the association. Thaksin’s opposition, political party or ordinary people, do not have the knowhow or the strings to lodge such a complaint. But no need to fret for Yingluck; other capable hands in her brother’s service will no doubt take good care of her. There’s always Kissinger Associates, said to specialize in “advice on dealing with governments & entering markets.”
After a long silence, Yingluck is resurfacing with ‘spotted shopping at…’ snaps on social media, most memorably just outside Harrods, wearing (according to a fashionista quoted on New TV 18 evening news) “a Prada suede jacket, a Pucci purple scarf and a magenta limited edition Hermes croc skin Birkin bag worth 7.1 to 8 million baht [USD 270,000]”. This is some serious retail therapy, or she’s just back to her old self before her brother demanded the impossible of her.

Yingluck outside Harrods with her “7-8 million baht”
magenta croc skin Birkin

Meanwhile to the delight of people seriously hoping for the amendment of Article 112, the gift that keeps on giving for the likes of Bell Pottinger, the cops at Chana-Songkram police station (Khao San road’s precinct, more used to dealing with rowdy tourists) have accepted a lese majeste against King Naresuan the Great complaint made by two retired army generals against self-professed royalist & royal critic Sulak Sivaraksa. They’re upset with a lecture he gave on 5 October 2014 which had the temerity to question the heroic deeds of the 16th century king.
This is a miracle, I thought, a blessing from heaven, so monstrously absurd; it will bring the core problem—the Gordian Knot (which we will have to just cut, as Alexander did, rather than untie)—of our society out to the public forum.

From long experience of being blacklisted as well as banned, I can attest that being banned in itself is not enough to enlist support and sympathy from those with the power to make a difference. The struggle for freedom of expression is not the point. For many journalists, curators and academics the most important questions are: who is being banned and who is doing the banning? If neither protagonist fits the proscribed script, then it is not a story.  The banning alone is not enough to highlight the issue.
In terms of careerist benefits, being banned by the military is of course the most desirable; if like me you’re banned by a ‘democratic’ regime that funds academic seminars and employs international PR firms, then you must be drowned in horseshit & barred from the conversation.
Ajarn Sulak’s case ticks all the right boxes. For the choruses, the absurdist victimization of such a high profile person lends us the best possible context in which to tackle this question once & for all: why is history private domain?

This pink house still remembers:
fresh marigolds for King Bhumibol,
Sathorn area, 1 Nov 2017

To me, there’s actually no question. We have the right & the responsibility—the duty, even—to constantly bear witness, to examine & reexamine our own history. No one has the right to stop us from trying to understand ourselves. Ajarn Sulak’s lawyer can cite the Central Administrative Court’s dismissal of our right to visually reference October 6 in our Thai Macbeth film ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ while, to quote from the verdict:

 “[The Court] sees that even though many Thai films have used past Thai history in which there was conflict among the people of the nation in their films, but the aforesaid past Thai history is history that occurred very many years ago so that Thai people of the present day can no longer trace from the story whether any person in the aforesaid history has any connection to or were actual relatives of theirs or not and in what way. Therefore the aforementioned films [evidently a reference to the ‘Suriyothai-Naresuan’ series of films cited by the plaintiffs as being more violent yet were widely released with ‘Recommended’ rating to which whole classes of schoolchildren were sent to learn from] do not cause hatred and vengeance to arise, unlike the two plaintiffs’ film which brings in the violent events on 6 October 1976, which is a contemporary event, as part of the film with the length of the aforementioned scene extending to over two minutes, which would naturally cause resentment among the relatives of those who lost their lives or who were part of the aforesaid event, causing vengeful and hateful feelings to arise, which may become the spark for disunity among the people of the nation.”

In other words, director Mom Chao [His Serene Highness Prince] Chatrichalerm Yugala who made historical epics of the Ayuthaya era at a time of great conflict in the nation has that cinematic right because there are no close relatives to get upset about what happened over 400 years ago—alas except the soldiers who have adopted King Naresuan the Great as their ‘Royal Father’ & feel affronted by any doubt concerning the authenticity of the ‘Legend of King Naresuan’, to use the name of the series of films obviously referred to.

Crowds visiting the Royal Crematorium,
27 Nov 2017

Now another Ayudhya historical epic is playing on TV, on 3 channels at once, the also star-studded drama ‘Sri Ayodhya’ by Mom Luang [the Honourable] Pandevanop Devakul, a friendly veteran director who once told me how much he’d love to adapt ‘Macbeth’ himself. Elaborating on his vision for the meet the witches scene, he said, “My drunken Macbeth would sway to the side of a road for a piss in a tall sugarcane field, and as he unzips his pants, the 3 transvestite witches would appear, dressed to the nines…” I do hope he commits this to film one day. But perhaps he already has, with ‘Sri Ayodhya’, having chosen to focus on a much more interesting reign, the time of Khun Lhuang Khee Ruen [the “Royal Leper Lord”] just before the fall of Ayuthya. His CP-funded loosely historical costume drama is shot mostly at Ancient City theme park and Ayudhya World Heritage Site.
An early English-speaking scene has Laotian-Australian Thai matinee idol Ananda Everingham as a hip history professor in denim shirt and tie taking his international students around the haunted ruins of once glorious Ayudhya. The pacing and story-telling is much more flamboyant than the Naresuan epics. Along with sudden Tiffany-style song and dance interludes to enliven the historical earnestness, the director’s take is clearly Ayudhya as an idea, a lost thing of beauty, encapsulated by a ghostly maiden in a sabai [Thai dupatta] who stalks the leading actor of a movie being shot in Ayudhya (leaving flowers for him to find, etc.), who happens to be Ajarn Ananda’s best friend. A storyline then develops concerning flashbacks to past kingly incarnations.
If I’d made either ‘Sri Ayodhya’ or the Naresuan epics, they would at the very least be viewed with grave suspicion and most likely be banned or even charged with lese majeste, though hopefully not because, unlike the directors of these historical dramas, I have no royal title.

Grand Palace wall with Royal Crematorium
in b/g on 6 Jan 2018 at 9.24 pm

How can anyone, any state or institution claim to own our story, our identity, our oft-cited national dignity & pride? How can you claim to own our pain & our dreams? What kind of megalomania is this insistence on one version of the story of this land, of this world? Are we dumb, voiceless beasts?
If you’re not merely pretending to believe, but truly believe, that people are equally entitled to basic human rights & dignity, you must accept the bare fact that history belongs to us all, the history of the ordinary man as well as the history of kings. In a speech to a roomful of school kids in advance of Children’s Day, and I hope he’s serious, PM Prayuth said the study of Thai history and comparative history are vital for the development of sustainable democracy. Amen. Fix the lese majeste law & end the banning of films, so we could have our equivalent of ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘Victoria & Abdul’ or even the long-overdue Thai version of ‘The King & I’.
Absurd cases like this one are usually filed to muzzle the person being charged.  Their meritless nature doesn’t prevent them from becoming exploited as a sword of Damocles, to hang motionless above the person until it’s needed to shut him or her up on something else entirely. It’s likely then that they want to prevent Ajarn Sulak from speaking out about something other than a battle in 1593.

Dark road newly painted, on a
chilly Christmas night in Chiangmai, 2017

 Not only lese majeste but the criminal libel law against non-royal persons, entailing serious jail time, is also exploited in this way, most notably by Thaksin, whose lawyers have filed libel charges against uncountable people despite being himself a self-exiled fugitive from the law.
They were still doing this as recently as a couple of months ago, to senior journalist Sermsuk Kasitipradit & ex-senator & journalist Somchai Sawaengkarn merely for saying on TV that Yingluck was in London.
Thaksin’s lawyers have even filed such a complaint against me (sorry if I’ve already told you this), not in the city centre where the alleged offence occurred on the main protest stage at Patumwan intersection in February 2014, but at a police station in Nontaburi, a so-called ‘redshirt stronghold’, whose summons arrived at my house exactly one year to the day of the alleged offence. I duly appeared there to be fingerprinted—all 10 fingers—in greasy black ink alongside my host, TV anchorwoman Anchalee ‘Pong’ Paireerak, who was responsible for inviting me to explain to Shutdown protesters Thaksin’s web of PR and lobbyist firms, why the Western media ignore or even malign their incredible protest & always portray him as ‘the good guy’, why Thaksin the businessman is not really anti-monarchy and is unlikely to want to amend the lese majeste law, whose draconian existence only serves to burnish his freedom-fighter aura while damaging rather than protecting the monarchy.
After questioning, the police at the army bunker-guarded station, some of whom wore the official red ‘Truth Today’ polo shirts, have not charged us, so far. Perhaps they agree the case is meritless or were intimidated by the way I wiped my ink-stained fingers on their cutesy welcome sticker of a cartoon girl in Thai dress giving a wai in front of the Ladies, in which no soap had been provided. Nevertheless, it hangs over us, just as it’s meant to. Ajarn Sulak’s alleged lese majeste against a 16th century king has taken 3 years to be activated.

Like many people, I had high hopes of this absurdist case. One couldn’t design a more promising context to force Thai society to confront the central question of the ordinary man’s right to freely examine Thai history, as well as the obvious need to amend the much-abused lese majeste law, so detrimental to the monarchy itself as well as the development of authentic, organic democracy in Thailand.
 The story that emerges after checking and cross-checking is not encouraging, however. I now know enough not to expect from the case any such harvest of sincere debate. And so we continue to look elsewhere for the truthful reckoning that we so long for. The case is to be decided in military court on January 17. I could be wrong; I hope I’m wrong.
And now China considers instituting lese majeste legislation to protect “national heroes & martyrs”.

Gold shades at Royal Crematorium

Talking of national taboos, this past October 6 the National Film Archive invited me to join a panel headlined ‘Oct 6 in Thai cinema: the memory they want us to forget’,  as part of their day-long commemoration of the October 6 Massacre, with some fascinating clips of past October films, new short films including ‘The Two Brothers’, a moving documentary on the 2 electricians lynched & hung on a red gate to nowhere 2 days before October 6; the reenactment of their hanging on the protest stage at Thammasart was a pretext for the storming of the university by anti-communist fanatics & the ensuing massacre.  A screening of this year’s Supanahongse [Thai Oscars] Best Picture, ‘Dao Khanong’, ended the programme. The film’s director Anocha Suvichakornpong was also on the panel, along with Archive curator Putthapong Cheamrattonyu and curator & co-moderator Sudarat Musikawong of Mahidol University.

Tosagan or Ravana in a suit in ‘Gao Yod’ [‘9-Headed’, 1977),
at National Film Archive on 6 Oct 2017

There were amazing images of or inspired by October 14 & October 6. The 10-headed demon king, Tosagan (’10-necked’ meaning “10 Headed One”, the name of Thai Ramayana’s Ravana), dressed in a business suit, dances his way through the thronging chaos of our painful October histories in ‘Gao Yod’ [‘9-Headed’-direct unofficial translation] from 1977. The use of the marching song, ‘Su Mai Thoy’ (“Fight with No Retreat” composed by October 14 student leader Seksan Prasertkul) during street protest scenes in the documentary about the heroism of the women workers at the Hara factory astonished quite a few people, especially young people who only know of this song as the Shutdown Bangkok anthem. They didn’t know the song was already encrusted with history. Frankly the whole programme by the state enterprise, lovingly curated by Putthapong Cheamrattonyu & Sudarat Musikawong, could form the basis for ‘Shakespeare Must Die’s appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court. Look how many films have been made about October 14 & 6! Why are we alone disallowed?
At the start of the talk Anocha shared the news that the military had banned her film from screening at the independent cinema Warehouse 30 that very evening; an odd development  considering the same film was being screened by the National Film Archive simultaneously right after our discussion, and that ‘Dao Khanong’ [official English title: ‘By The Time It Gets Dark’] has also been playing on TV many times as part of the Thai movie channel’s October programme, alongside ‘Horror University’, which is how I saw both films. ‘Dao Khanong’ also had another screening earlier the same day at Thammasart as part of the university’s October 6 commemorative events without any problems whatsoever.  Though Anocha said the military had banned the film from screening for the whole month of October, Bangkok Post film critic Kong Rithdee who has twice written about this says the local police had ordered the ban. But by whose authority? Since 2008 police are no longer in charge of censorship or empowered to ban film.

MV director Chardchakaj Waikawee
surrounded by soldiers on his Facebook page

Other unofficial mystery banning much hyped by the media includes fake banning as a self-promotional tool. Exhibit A: the Fake Banning of the Music Video. An MV director with the name of Chardchagaj Waikawee [“Brilliant-Nature Quick-witted Poet”] who proclaimed the “banning” of his music video by posting a photo of himself bravely flashing V for Victory despite being surrounded by soldiers in uniform, who had apparently summoned him for the much-desired ‘badge of honour’ “attitude adjustment”. A friend of his then says that the photo’s from his dad’s funeral—the guy was never in detention; he was merely sitting at a military funeral. Turns out the MV had been withdrawn because, instead of setting up his own neon sign, the director had shown the real live location’s actual sign, and proceeds to reveal the doorway as the entrance to a brothel full of pole-dancing lingerie models, so the owner threatened to sue because he said his place is a bar, not a brothel.
Earlier, 2 galleries, Ver and Cartel, took down their exhibitions some days before the official end, after being told to remove some photos by some soldiers.  One of the photographers involved, Harit Srikhao, has few details to tell of the incident. “I wasn’t there. I just got a phone call from the gallerist at Ver informing me that soldiers came in to take down some of the photos. The reason given was they could be interpreted as a violation of 112 [lese majeste].”
But the photos had been showing for a month already, right?
“No. This happened 3-4 weeks after the opening. The gallery said they didn’t want problems. Since they didn’t want problems, I went along with that. I didn’t release any news and didn’t give any interview,” he said, adding, “I know some artists use controversy as a career path, but I don’t claim to be a political artist. I prefer ambiguity, so I didn’t expect trouble. The gallery’s PR made it seem more political, and then Prachatai news website made it seem even more political, so the soldiers came to see.”
So without an official order and no identifying who they were, at whose behest and what agency they came from, in whose name, under what law, these ostensibly ‘political’ galleries obeyed the verbal order without a fight. I would not have obeyed an order unsubstantiated by signed official documentation, and perhaps not even then. Unlike with cinema, there is no legally-sanctioned Art Censorship Board, so how can you censor art? Hell, how can you censor art anyway?
Harit could now parley ‘being banned by the military’ into a glittering international art career, but despite such gains he says he feels damaged by it. “It’s easy to label people and misunderstand them. Now I’m seen as being on the opposite side of the military. I have good friends who are military cadets, and even they now view me with doubt. I feel like a pawn in someone else’s game.”

One of the apparently “objectionable” photographs
of army cadets from Harit Srikhao’s ‘White Wash’ series
Closer to home my producer & partner Manit Sriwanichpoom was banned twice in December. First by the Bangkok Post, which refused to publish our right to reply after printing a story that said our film was a “political allegory” banned for “inappropriateness”. Given that we’re involved in a lawsuit with the censors on behalf of all Thai filmmakers & need to be meticulous with the facts, I have to print the correction here since Postbag has banned our letter:  

27 November 2017
To: Postbag
Dear Sir,
Please permit me to respond to certain inaccuracies in ‘Redefining what’s “appropriate(27 Nov 2017, Life section, by Melalin Mahavongtrakul), your feature on Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s ‘Insects in the Backyard’ and the history of film censorship, which mentioned that our film ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, “a political allegory based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, was banned…the censors cited “public order” and “inappropriateness”, referring to the film’s allusion to the period of the Oct 6, 1976, massacre.”
‘Shakespeare Must Die’ was not banned for “inappropriateness”, but as “a threat to national security” and “offensive to national dignity”. It is also not a “political allegory” based on ‘Macbeth’, but a literal, word for word adaptation of ‘Macbeth’, so literal that the film’s English subtitles are by William Shakespeare. As such it is, like ‘Macbeth’, a study of megalomania, not a political satire on Thaksin Shinawatra or Hun Sen or any one specific dictator. (A scene inspired by an iconic photograph of the October 6 massacre is indeed cited as a possible cause of national disunity, despite the fact that many Thai films on both October 14 & October 6, including this year’s Supannahongse awards Best Picture ‘Dao Khanong’, have not been banned, which clearly shows that October 6 is not the real reason.)
Like Khun Tanwarin, we sued the censors in Administrative Court and, like Tanwarin, we lost. Unlike her however, we have appealed the verdict. Ironically on October 6 we received official notification that our appeal has been accepted for consideration by the Supreme Administrative Court on 22 Sept 2017.
Thank you sir for allowing us to clarify these facts.
Yours Sincerely.
Manit Sriwanichpoom
‘Shakespeare Must Die’ producer

Then his December 4th submission, for his regular ‘Art & Culture’ column in Siam Rath Weekly Review, which he’s been writing for almost 20 years, was deemed too scary by the magazine.  The verboten topic is hairstyle. It was inspired by a viral video of a 3 year old crying her eyes out over Daddy’s new haircut. I’ve pasted an English translation of much of it on the end of the letter so you can judge for yourself how scary it is not.
If we can’t object to a haircut and a 3 year old child can feel the oppressiveness and injustice of it all, you know we have far bigger problems than elections. The echo chambers know it even as they continue to shout down the real story, some out of greed, some out of spite and some out of cowardice. We should ask these people: why do the rest of us have to suffer the consequences of your evil? A plain question with sane answers, but we’re just too tired to ask.

‘Our Next Step’ moral & morale campaign
on the skytrain platform:
“Love [Royal] Dad with action, not with words”

All this is inspiring me to see the much-hyped apocalypse with new eyes. For deceivers or, in Biblical lingo, those in service to the Great Deceiver, Revelations are certainly the end of their world. Apocalyse—the Unveiling—is the shattering of mirrors. Their psyche cannot handle it; this is death to them. In this death is liberation, but they can’t see it. They unravel and lose their minds, manifesting their chaotic inner state in scary harmful ways.
If lies make us tired to hear them, what must their effect be on those who breed and repeat them? This leads to the next inevitable question and possible conclusion: it must be exhausting to be a fraud. The lies you live and then the constant terror of being found hollow.
What is their coping mechanism? The fake newsman & the fraud have to demolish everything and everyone who might remind the world, by their existence, what truth and authenticity look like. There must be no dangerous comparisons; the real thing must not be permitted to exist. Next comes the need to justify their obliteration of truth and would-be truth-tellers with the liberal use of tar and feathers, in their own minds as well as in the world that they control. Thus, to the soundtrack of wolves howling at the blood moon, is the selfie demonic possession complete.

Here’s to howling alongside you, my dear.

With Love from Bangkok,
Ing Kanjanavanit

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.

Below is the Art & Culture column slated for 4 Dec 2017 edition of Siam Rath Weekly Review, but deemed too scary:

‘Neo-Mahadthai Style’
by Manit Sriwanichpoom

Out of the blue recently around mid-November, Police General Chakthip Chaijinda issued a lightning order for all patrolling police officers to wear their hair cut short and orderly, especially while in uniform, to reflect a strict adherence to discipline; all unit leaders are told to lead by example.
         The result was rapid. Police officers in every precinct have all shorn their hair, leaving their heads with smooth white sides like an airport runway. Anyone watching the news on TV has surely noted this bizarre change. Since they’ve been unable to reform the police, the hairstyle change will have to suffice; at least the people can see some real results here.
         It’s not just the Thai police that are displaying this sudden tightening of discipline. Brave military commanders of all the armed forces have also ordered the rank and file under their command to adopt this hairstyle. It appears that no one dares to disobey this order. The only protest came from a police officer’s little daughter, who wouldn’t stop crying at the sight of her daddy’s new hairstyle. Her mother probably thought it was cute that her 3 year old was throwing such a bitter tantrum over Daddy’s new hair, so she filmed it and posted the video on Facebook, gaining an overwhelming number of likes.
         Some media outlets have attempted to investigate the source of it, but no one seems to have found the definitive answer. All that’s certain is that the new hairstyle first came to public notice during the recent Royal Cremation ceremonies for King Rama IX, when the people first saw it sported by all Royal Pages, the Royal Guards and members of the Royal Household Bureau, marking a clear change from before.
         Actually, the new ‘White Sides’ hair dubbed by some the ‘Phra-Raja-Niyom’ [“royally-favoured”] style, is not an entirely new thing. Anyone who revisits the book of photographs from the time of King Rama IV [King Mongkut], ‘Siam through the lens of John Thompson, 2408-09’, published last year [2016], can see on page 65 a photo of King Chomklao [Mongkut]’s merit-making procession to [Wat Bho] monastery, an on page 70, the hair-knot cutting [coming of age] ritual for Prince Chulalongkorn [the future Rama V], that the bearers of the royal sedan chairs all wore their hair in the ‘Mahadthai’ style, the short-back-and-sides well-known to us, with the top worn long and parted into bird wings. The big strong oarsman on page 61 also clearly sports this hairstyle.
         The difference between Rama IV era Mahadthai style as seen in the British photographer John Thompson’s pictures and the white-sides style of today is that the new style’s top is shorter, 2-3 cm short, in fact, rendering it impossible to comb into the traditional elegant bird wings. Accordingly, the new hairstyle should be called ‘New Mahadthai’ or ‘Neo-Mahadthai’, symbolizing a return to the traditional mores of Siam even before the days of absolute monarchy [official absolute monarchy began with King Mongkut’s son, Rama V, Anna’s star pupil]. This nostalgic phenomenon is intensely interesting.
         This past November as news of the new Mahadthai hair began to spread, various media made comparisons with North Korean hairstyles. Why North Korea? Because they have Kim Jong Un, the young Dear Leader with the world-renowned Mahadthai-like hairstyle, namely white sides with a mop top, a unique trademark of the Red Ginseng dictator. Kim Jong Un has furthermore issued instructions on how the citizens, male and female, should wear their hair, with fifteen styles to choose from. Such satirical references by the [Thai] media seems directed at the policy to force all military and police officers to sport New Mahadthai hair nationwide, reminiscent of the ‘Rath-Niyom Mhai’ [“new fascist state nationalism”] policies announced by Field Marshall P. [Pibulsongkram, WW II Thai fascist dictator], consisting of “12 state-sanctioned rules” [for citizens of the new type of state] in 1938.
         In that period, H.E. Field Marshall P. specified the required dress code. “..Those who would be known as one of good culture, on his head must be a hat. The stricture making the hat a compulsory part of dress began to cause complication from unfamiliarity, frequently resulting in comical incidents. Ordinary folk attempting to deal with government agencies found that the hatless were denied service. Ordinary people had to resort to anything to put on their heads in place of a hat. Some folk’s hats were accordingly water-bowls or paper folded in the shape of a hat. People suffered because some had no money to buy a hat. Meanwhile royalty also suffered because they felt oppressed by nonsensical orders. When someone advised her to wear a hat, one said testily:
        “…These days I hardly feel like myself, and now they want to mess with my head and my ears…No, I won’t wear it… If you want me to wear one, cut off my head, set it down somewhere and put one on it yourself.”
        These are the words of Her Majesty Queen Srisavarintira Barom Rajadevi Phra Panvassa Ayigajao, royal daughter of King Chomklao [Mongkut], one of the royal consorts of King Chulalongkorn, in response to the person who advised her to wear a hat.” (From Silpa-Wattanatharm magazine, August 2003)

Rocker turned national inspiration Toon Bodyslam
[photo from Drama Gazip website]

Neo Mahadthai hair on an aide of
Privy Counselor Chairman Gen. Prem

          Such commands claiming the preservation of order and discipline are in reality merely the abuse of power by those above upon those under their command. When commanders are not so smart and lack real ability, they resort to “order and discipline” to tame their underlings into obedience, wasting time on petty issues like hairstyles and facial hair, dress, shoes, more than on their essential tasks.
A clear and obvious example, the polar opposite of the New Mahadthai hairstyle, is [Thai rocker] Toon Bodyslam, Thai national hero of the hour, who’s giving his all to run from Betong in the south to Mae Sai in furthest north to raise funding for hospitals. Toon wears his hair and moustache long like a hippie; he is thin like a junkie. If he were judged from appearances according to military and police standards, they’d say he lacks discipline because he’s let his hair and moustache grow long against regulations, and his figure is not muscular like a good macho soldier. This would be a very superficial assessment of Toon. In fact, Toon is extremely disciplined. If he were not, he wouldn’t be able to run such a distance.  I reckon he has more discipline than several military and police men put together. Running thousands of kilometers requires a body and mind with the highest level of endurance, discipline and threshold for pain.
Thus I’d like to tell our leaders in the military and the police that order and discipline are not measured by hairstyle.

All Photographs by Ing K unless otherwise stated.