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Creativity that leaves one agog

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Opinion » Opinion

Creativity that leaves one agog

  • Published: 31/10/2009 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: News

They're trying to drill into our heads a new buzzword: Creative economy. And we're being lulled into joining in the government's reverie that Thailand will now produce celebrated fashion designers, famous chefs, star singers, Cannes-winning filmmakers, four consecutive Miss Universe winners, etc.

We will become, as promised by Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot, "the hub of creative industry in Asean", and the government will "enhance the economic value of creative industry from 12 to 20% of GNP by 2012".

To accomplish all that - and in just three years! - the Abhisit administration earmarked 5 billion baht in September to develop human resources and infrastructure.

Great. It will be a lavish buffet table.

In truth, Thailand has already produced celebrated fashion designers whose clothes are slung from the racks of Parisian boutiques, star chefs with booked-out restaurants abroad, and Cannes-calibre directors who are continually persecuted by the conservative cultural agencies.

The government is right when it says the big money to be spent on the creative industry will focus on developing human resources, but what's scary is whether they have a clear idea how to do it. Whether they realise that to encourage the environment of flowering creativity, they need to open the valves and let the juices flow, or that no matter how they devise a populist term for it, the gist of the whole "creative content" project is to give importance to artists and their art. And, most importantly, whether the state realises that they cannot measure the success solely on the financial returns, especially within the span of just three years.

A naked example of the authority's confusion - or is it cluelessness? - about this whole creative brouhaha is the fact that at least two movies have been censored, and one banned, in the past two weeks despite the new ratings system and the promise of "creative freedom".

Look at the new Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in Pathumwan, which is labouring to get a firm footing. Some ministers still pine for a TV series based on the premise of Tom Yum Goong even though Korea has forgotten about Dae Jung Guem and already moved on.

And please, I'm tired of having to repeat to the Tourism Authority of Thailand for the 153rd time that the Bangkok International Film Festival is NOT ranked ninth on the list of the world's biggest film festivals. Creativity has a lot to do with imagination, but sir, not delusion.

To begin with, how can we foster the creative atmosphere amid primitive-minded censorship? Don't the two concepts cancel each other out?

Frighteningly, it's political content that pricks the censors even more than iced nipples, proving that the concept of critical art is not permitted here in this awesomely creative land.

A new Thai horror film Haunted Universities (I know the title doesn't give us great hope about the creative industry, but anyway) was ordered to cut two shots that show a soldier shooting at university students in an event that refers to the Oct 14 uprising, which left the university haunted.

Despite the new ratings system, the Culture Ministry's committee demanded the scene be cut, or else the film would be banned since the shots threatened "national security". Can you top that? So the shootings never occured? Blindfold yourself, not us.

Then two days ago, a Thai film This Area Is Under Quarantine was banned, again, mainly for its inclusion of the footage of the Tak Bai incident (this footage, however, has been available at flea markets everywhere in this country for years).

The filmmaker is Thunska Pansittivorakul, who was honoured as Silpathorn Artist by the Culture Ministry itself two years ago, and thus the ban exposes the cultural hypocrisy as well as the flaws of the new Film Act.

Thunska's movie, a provocative melange that deals with gay and Muslim issues, will be liked and hated in equal numbers, but that's no reason to stop it being shown - especially at a film festival where there can be no more than 40 (mostly crazy) people at the screening.

And in case you haven't heard: if you're making a video of your wedding, according to the new law you have to submit it to the ratings board first! Likewise, films made at film schools to be shown for the instructors to grade will, officially, have to go through the censors, too. That's the most creative idea we've heard in this country, and no doubt we'll lead Southeast Asia in our creative glory very, very soon.

  • Kong Rithdee writes about movies and popular culture in the Bangkok Post real.time section.

About the author

Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Reporter

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Report objectionable comments click here. Include: discussion #, commenter name, comment date / time as it looks on the page. Example: discussion 15: 09/01/2009 at 10:00 AM.

  • Bubba

    Discussion 9 : 31/10/2009 at 06:33 PM9

    PS It could be worse.

    It could be a clone of Hollywood, worthless modern art galleries in New York and L. A. and formula writers that get rich by filling in the words and characters and story-line accordingly.

    The positive thing in that would be, occasionally something does come along that changes the world for the better. But that is almost only when social injustice is criticized, or exposed, which ain't about to happen here.

    At least we do not have to let our kids watch, and know the name of every singer that shows her crotch on MTV...

  • Bubba

    Discussion 8 : 31/10/2009 at 06:28 PM8

    I think I can count the number of people I have seen reading books in public, per year, on the fingers of one hand. And that's in Bangkok. Of course, young girls' love stories and comic books excluded.

    To have a thriving literary world, or other art world, you need freedoms that are simply absent in Thailand. You need people that are curious about things, absent to a large extent in Thailand also. You need to accept that art raises questions and often those questions are not easy to brush under the table. In Thailand people are not allowed to ask questions.

    The people at the top have such a tight control over everything cultural there is little room left for the artistic, and what artists there are, soon almost always discover they have a choice. They can either perpetuate the cultural preferences and join the party or, create harmless, innocent, puppy dog style art that can be accepted with a smile and a sigh of relief that everything will go on tomorrow, as it "always has".

    The mentioning of screening of films by censors is a good example. I believe only films that show Thailand in a good light are accepted. Agaian, soft puppy dog style mush.

    Historical films, books, painting...ok. (as long they do not question the interpretations of history given)

    Religious films, books, painting...ok. (as long as they stay within the boundaries that will not shake anyone's belief or shame the country)

    cultural films, books, paintings etceteras in general. The same thing goes.

    everything must be harmless, sweet repetition of what the powerful want everybody to think, believe and see.

    How the country can ever expect to evolve is beyond me. Let alone art for arts sake. It just won't happen.

    And just look at the actors. They look like they all come from the same rich families, have all lived the same protected lives and all graduated from the silly acting schools that has taught them exactly what clone-like facial and verbal expressions to make at the behest of directors who, too have come from the same mould.

    Life is not expressed, rather a lack of life. Everything just characters from the great, Thai mould.

    I am being harsh, because I love the real Thais. But it isn't the real Thais that are thought about either way.

  • lalida

    Discussion 7 : 31/10/2009 at 04:38 PM7

    Nice piece, Bravo...;)

  • singlecelled

    Discussion 6 : 31/10/2009 at 04:28 PM6

    Creatives will have to go underground or use clever allegory to tell their stories. This is not new - many of the subversive films in Europe were made by visionaries like Bunuel, Pasolini, too many to list here. Technology will play a leading role in subverting Kafkaesque cultural laws in Thailand. Invisible high quality cameras and internet streaming are set to subvert the traditional production and distribution systems that are already desperately looking to re invent themselves as global financial systems heamorrhage. The "artist's name" will need to take second place to the "art" in order to push for the content value and not the celebrity status of the artist. It is a war for your mind. There is hope. Dont give up. Push harder. Expose the bigots and bureauocrats.

  • Pete the Handsome

    Discussion 5 : 31/10/2009 at 04:08 PM5

    I have to say I like your analysis. It is brilliant and not shallow at all. It is true that Thailand is viewd by many as the most advanced nation in the Southeast Asian region in terms of cultural creativity and press freedom but not in industrial creativity terms. ASEAN itself has little to offer to its member states in terms of funding or valued guidelines. Their concensus style is still haunting us all here. Do not expect anything creative or innovative here in ASEAN.
    What I worry is the Ministry of Culture's understanding the essence of cultural promotion or cultural industry on a global scale.

  • max meier

    Discussion 4 : 31/10/2009 at 03:34 PM4

    what the writer forgot is to suggest a close look where this money goes ! understand ?

  • Saul

    Discussion 3 : 31/10/2009 at 09:59 AM3

    great column, Kong, keep at it........

  • Truth Everyday

    Discussion 2 : 31/10/2009 at 08:50 AM2

    As a teacher I try to give my students lessons that combine history and current events whenever possible. I am continually amazed at the lack of knowledge students have about these two topics. they do not read newspapers nor watch the news. They do not read books. They get their "information" from gossip and innuendo.
    Unfortunately, the "phu yai", who assume they "know better", like it this way. Nothing must be said nor done to spoil the facade of "Thai culture" - tradition and history is invented, manipulated or distorted so that everyone keeps a Pollyanna perception.
    We need to recognize and deal with our past, warts and all. We can learn from our mistakes. The truth will set us free and enable our beloved country to move forward and improve.

  • Aussie John

    Discussion 1 : 31/10/2009 at 06:11 AM1

    In order to produce quality art/design one must have the ability to question and critically critise it's creation otherwise it is just an exercise in decoration which leads to banal creations devoid of knowledge and yes real quality.
    Questioning and critical thinking are not inherent in Thai culture, quiet the opposite.
    Restraints on allowing true freedoms of expression are most evident in the Thai education system where rote learning totally resrticts the application of not only critical thinking and questioning but that of the imagination itself.
    This form of education has lead to a dumbing down of the nations future artists/designers.
    Unfortunately to allow for this freedom those that rule must accept that the present social conditions in which they have created to control the people will never see a flowering of real Thai creativity as this would mean Thais would be encouraged to question and critically create what trully exists.
    Will this happen.?
    No this wont happen as the powers to be will never trully allow questioning and critical thinking to flourish in Thai culture as it undermines the very contol Thai elites have imposed over the majority of the population for their own selfish gains.


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