When Buffoons Are Given Power … (part 279)

It is difficult to imagine a scheme more ripe for abuse and inefficiency than this one. If it is true (and one must always be cautious about taking what appears in the newspapers at face value), then five private companies are to be given 100 million baht each to make films with a view to promoting Thai culture, as well as boosting the Thai film industry.

It is not clear how these companies are to be selected (which in itself raises suspicions) nor what criteria are to be used for determining the extent to which the money is being well-spent. If this had been a plan announced by Thai Rak Thai or PPP, then unelected senators would already be preparing cases for ‘corruption’ to send to their pals in court.

What kind of films can we expect from such a scheme? Well, it seems reasonable to assume that any kind of adult content or consideration will be right out – so, no use of cigarettes or alcohol (although violence towards children and women will probably be considered acceptable). Certain ideological positions will be favoured over others (there should be no need to spell this out – watch out if there are any Burmese characters included or farangs, come to that) (especially farangs buying up prime beach side land with a view to smuggling it out of the country). There will be lots of people bowing before monks, the timeless wisdom of old people and especially old farmers happy to exist on what they have, plenty of dangerous creatures out in the wild which mean we must have a strong military to protect us.

I am all for Keynesian solutions to economic crisis such as we facing at the moment but the people who need most help are those being laid off from their manufacturing jobs – women in particular, since new jobs (if the government ever does get around to doing something) will be concentrated in sectors in which men dominate most jobs (e.g. construction). For once, this is an activity that the private sector should lead – unless a very worthwhile film project cannot be made because of lack of finance, which does not seem to be the case here.

Thai Horror

Nearly every television program here in Thailand will include a supernatural element from time to time. Usually these are based on longstanding elements of cultural knowledge or prejudice: for example, a tiger spirit may suddenly menace one of the characters in a reminder of the dangers of wandering away from the village and into the dangerous jungle; alternatively, a new and attractive girlfriend turns out to be a ghost, in a (largely fruitless) warning to men not to wander from their families.

Thailand, in common with many other East Asian countries, also has a thriving horror film industry and the films often take the same theme: ordinary and perhaps vulnerable people are menaced by some horrible thing which (especially after the success of Japanese film The Ring) is a figure with its face hidden. As the plot continues, it generally becomes clear that the horrible thing is in fact the victim (or sometimes the perpetrator) of some long hidden injustice about which no one speaks.

Since the injustice is hidden, people must suffer (die horribly); once the protagonists work out the cause of the initial problem, it is possible to lay the unquiet spirit to rest/slay the vile monster by setting right the initial injustice.

It is reasonable to assume that horror stories represent some trauma affecting a particular society: consider the Japanese films from the 1950s in which nuclear emissions create powerful monsters or American films which explore the fear that untrammelled science will unleash some kind of plague that threatens society. Migrant communities are often associated with some kind of vampire horror: the vampire is an ancient menace that feeds on younger people and infects them in the future – in other words, dark secrets from the ‘old country’ cannot be escaped even in the new home.

Does the spate of Thai horror films, many of them comedic in intent (but often not terribly funny in reality) tell us anything about Thai society? If so, it is the continued existence of dark and hidden secrets in the past which people are not allowed to talk about (exorcise) and hence tragedy and horror become inevitable in the present and future. You can imagine where I could go with this …