Not long ago, in Bangkok, there were a number of so-called “anti-government protesters” wearing Guy Fawkes masks in order to symbolize their defense of freedom, justice and the monarchy of Thailand. It wasn’t long before guffaws were heard throughout the kingdom (through the media, of course), pointing out the unintended irony of using the image of a would-be regicide as a symbol of stalwart defense of monarchy.
At the same time, clever folks pointed out that like in so many things, these Thais had failed to interrogate the history and therefore the meaning of the Guy, and had simply, mindlessly, adopted the image from the Hollywood film, V for Vendetta. For these folks, the Guy mask was just a way to say “Fight the Power”, being the evil corrupt Thaksin administration, and present what is in essence an extremely conservative, right-wing, quasi-fascist movement in the light of liberalizing anti-establishment values.
Of course, now that the “Thaksin administration” has been removed by what has become the usual series of judicial solecisms, followed by administrative shenanigans (on the part of the “independent bodies” that exist to provide the checks and balances every democratic system relies on), and finally a “military coup”, the anti-establishment shoe is on the other foot, as it were.
And so Hollywood has been scoured yet again to come up with a fitting image to show the defiance and courage of the Bangkok “anti-coup protesters”:
Reports in international media that the junta has made the gesture from Hunger Games illegal and that protesters have been arrested for it has the guffaw crowd snuffling again like well-trained pigs digging for truffles. Only this time it isn’t the protesters they’re laughing at: those right-wing Thais are just an inexhaustible supply of opportunities for condescending wit. How stupid can they be, really?
Arresting people for imitating a movie?
Of course, no one has pointed out the irony of using the Mockingjay Salute in Bangkok, especially at Bangkok’s notoriously glitzy malls.
In the film, the salute is first performed by an old man, a poor and undernourished old man who has obviously spent his life toiling in the fields of District 11. All of the districts in Hunger Games are subject to The Capital, a place where vacant fashionistas entertain themselves by watching representatives of their virtually enslaved subject Districts kill each other.
The Capital,with its ostentatious wealth and its ruthless exploitation of the provinces, is the Enemy. It isn’t hard to view the relationship between Bangkok and the impoverished provinces of the north and north-east as similar to that depicted in the film between the Capital and the Districts.
Interestingly, Rue, the young woman for whom the salute acts as a kind of memorial as well as a gesture of solidarity in resistance, is black. And everyone knows how Bangkok middle-class folk feel about the dark-skinned “buffaloes” who serve their food and drive their taxis.
It’s nice to see that a few hundred Bangkokians are willing to risk the wrath of Prayuth to protest the imposition of military rule yet again in Thailand. And it’s good of the media, both social and mainstream, to do what it can to follow up on the whereabouts and treatment of these people once they are taken into custody.
But reports of thousands of arrests in the provinces are basically ignored. And when they are reported they are reported as arrests for gambling, drugs or weapons. Just because they happen to be taking place in the provinces with the highest concentrations of Redshirts doesn’t seem to cause many folks to wonder why, suddenly, the Junta is sweeping up gamblers and pot smokers.
And no one in the media seems to want to look behind the “Reconciliation Process”. What happens at these meetings? Who attends? Under what form of compulsion do they attend? What sort of threats hang over these provincial activists if they were to play Hunger Games like their urban cousins in the Capital? Would they receive the “catch-and-release” leniency being accorded to Bangkok? Would anyone know? Where are those thousands recently “swept up”?
It will be interesting to see whether or not some of the intrepid reporters who drift from hotel to mall and back again in the glitzier regions of the Capital ever find it in themselves to get out in the countryside where the real military dictatorship has its foundation.
But Bangkok is just so much fun. And it’s easier to laugh at a dictatorship than to report on it accurately.
*Added July 8:
And now we have a group of pro-democracy students promising to “fight the power” to the Last Man Standing and calling it their “Alamo”. They tweet as
@TSCD_EN and have a tendency to strike dramatic poses (in ungrammatical English) against “slavery”, by which they appear to mean the junta.
No matter that one of the issues causing the Texans at the Alamo to revolt against the Mexican government was the Mexican abolition of slavery.
In September 1829, the Mexican government outlawed slavery. The outraged Texans, not wishing to give up their peculiar institution, protested, and so the government excepted Texas from the general abolition, thus allowing the Anglo-American settlers to keep their slaves.
A few months later, a new government rescinded the blanket exception for Texas and restricted the American settlers from “importing” any new slaves. And taking away a white American’s right to own another person did not go down well with Texans, even if they had agreed to settle in a new country that might have different laws.
The rest is history. But the Alamo story as these Thai students are using it, is a myth, a myth celebrating Anglo superiority and American imperialism, a myth purporting to tell a tale of freedom and rights, when it actually tells a darker tale of white men willing to die to maintain the institution of slavery.
Odd that people ostensibly fighting for human rights and democracy would choose such an image for their fight. Now let’s look at the fascist imago as it bubbles beneath the surface of Last Man Standing, shall we?