After the murder of two young tourists on a beach in Thailand earlier this month, the nation’s military ruler captured world attention when he suggested foreign women would be safer in his country if they stopped wearing bikinis — unless they happened to be “not beautiful,” in which case they could “get away” with it.
After an international fuss, Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army general who took power in a coup in May, issued an apology. The apology was more out-of-character than the strange comment, however. Appointed prime minister in August by his hand-picked parliament, the general is an unsmiling, relentless, unapologetic moralizer devoted to wiping out behavior he considers divisive to promote what he calls “sustainable happiness.” And he’s made it clear he’s prepared to enforce happiness if people don’t go along. Get happy or else.
His previous targets included sandwich-eating on the streets, which is associated with protests against his coup; the three-finger salute popularized as a protest gesture in “The Hunger Games“; and public readings of George Orwell’s “1984.” Such crusades, along with repression documented by Amnesty International and the glorification of Prayuth by sympathetic media as the personification of the Thai ideal-“his classmates said Prayuth was also the best looking boy in the class” said one paper—prompted comparisons of him to North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il both inside and outside Thailand.
Last week, he took on his biggest target yet: Thai soap operas, called “slap-kiss lakorn” — the steamy, often-violent shows that remain the single most popular form of entertainment in the country.
“I have ordered that scripts be written, including plays on reconciliation, on tourism and on Thai culture,” Prayuth told reporters. “They are writing plots at the moment and if they can’t finish it I will write it myself.”
As Prayuth sees them, “they make people fight and they create divisions so we have much improvement to make in this area,” he said. His suggested story line: “One plot will be two foreign families come to visit Thailand, they meet each other and come to love each other.”
This surely will not do. Here’s the typical Thai soap as described here by blogger Ryan Zander, a Wisconsite living in Thailand.
Typically, the lead male character will imprison the lead female character in a house and rape her out of anger after falling for some trick of the jealous evil female character, who tries to make the leading man think that the leading girl is a bad person. Later on, he will realize that the leading girl was a good girl all along — she was even a virgin until he came along and violated her! Somehow the two lead characters come to the conclusion that they love each other, and the wedding is planned. It’s a happy ending for everyone — except of course for the evil female character. There’s a good chance that she’ll get raped by some thug types as the producer’s way of dishing out punishment for her evil deeds.
Here’s another summation that appeared on Coconuts Bangkok recently:
She can resist, and she can run, but she’s gonna get raped. And we’re going watch it – again and again and again. Night after night, turn to any channel and along with the scheming bad girls and funny ladyboys, there’s one thing no television drama is complete without. “I started in Thai lakorns when I was 14 or 15, and I’d done like seven rape scenes by the time I’d actually done a kissing scene in a Hollywood movie,” said Sara Malakul Lane, a British-Thai model-actress who left Thailand to pursue a career in Los Angeles.
It’s not his first foray against the soaps. In August, he told subordinates in the military not to spend so much time watching them, but to instead focus on the country’s history. In one of his weekly happiness speeches, he urged all Thais to watch documentaries instead of soaps: “It is fine if you like watching soap operas, but you need to watch other documentary programmes as well. We should see how the cities and environment in the foreign countries are kept clean and people are disciplined and abide by the law.”
Prayuth takes his chances messing with soaps in Thailand, where parents name their kids after soap opera characters. “Prayuth should be wise to the fact that soap operas are really the opiate of the masses in Thailand and if the masses are not getting their entertainment from watching the drama, back-stabbing, fighting, and love triangles in soap operas then they may turn their attention to other matters,” wrote Bangkok Pundit.
But few doubt Prayuth’s commitment to “sustainable happiness,” as he wrote his own song to promote it. Called “Returning Happiness to Thailand,” it’s played constantly across the country.
“Returning Happiness to the People” is the name of Prayuth’s weekly TV show, in which he speaks sometimes for more than an hour, alternately explaining government policies, threatening the media and complaining that people aren’t minding him. “Sometimes I feel a bit slighted. I am not sure whether you have heard me or listened to the information that we have sent out,” he said in one.
“Certain newspapers and news agencies have yet to improve themselves,” he said in another. “I ask for your cooperation. Please do not force us to use more laws as there will be inconveniences to journalists, the press, radio channel, and television channels.”