2012 in review

January 1, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 160,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy Halloween!

Thailand’s first blocklist was created by the Ministry of Information and Communication [sic] Technology in January 2004 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. It blocked 1,247 URLs by name.

Thailand’s first blocklist marked the first and only attempt at transparency by Thailand’s Internet censors. Every subsequent blocklist, the webpages blocked, the reasons for blocking and even the number of pages blocked is held in secret by Thai government.

Thailand’s first blocklist concentrated on the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), a banned group of separatists from Thailand’s deep Muslim south. In subsequent years, we’ve seen how well that censorship strategy worked out. It created an enormous militant insurgency which has resulted in more than 5,000 murders.

Following Thailand’s military coup d’etat on September 19, 2006, the military’s fifth official order on its first day in power was to block the Internet. Under the coup regime, tens of thousands of webpages were blocked.

Most famously, Thailand ramped up its censorship with a complete block of popular video sharing site, YouTube, for seven months in 2007. It appeared Thai censors didn’t have the capacity to block individual videos.

Thailand was the first country to block YouTube, claiming a handful juvenile videos insulting Thailand’s monarchy were a ‘threat to national security’. Following this stand-off, Google, YouTube’s parent company, created a system of geolocational blocking which is now used to block YouTube videos in dozens of repressive regimes.

However, the coup government’s first legislative action was to promulgate the Computer Crimes Act 2007. In its first drafts, the CCA prescribed the death penalty for computer crimes; this was modified in the final law to ‘only’ 20 years in prison.

The CCA contains full censorship powers but also a provision that MICT must seek court orders for blocking. Revealing these court orders would also make blocking information public so all the court orders, paid for by Thai taxpayers, are sealed in secrecy.

An appointed Democrat administration followed the military junta. However, when mass demonstrations in 2010 threatened its power, the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration declared martial law decreeing a state of emergency. The Emergency Decree suspended all normal rule of law, as well as constitutional and international treaty protections for freedom of expression.

The Dems created two military agencies with Orwellian names and even acronyms. The Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) and the Centre for the Administration of Public Order (CAPO) were given complete extralegal power to censor the Internet.

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) was just one website to be censored early by the ‘emergency’.

FACT continues to publish leaked blocklists and court orders as well as providing instructions for circumvention of Thai censorship to readers. FACT teaches its readers how to pressure ISPs and govt censors to unblock URLs. FACT has also published censorship blocklists from 16 foreign countries.

However, research by Thailand’s iLaw Foundation revealed that MICT had quietly continued to use the CCA’s provisions for blocking the Internet using court orders. Thai government was ‘legally’ blocking webpages on a wholesale basis, submitting for court order thousands of URLs each time.

The new elected opposition government has continued the folly of its predecessors. It was further revealed that Thai government censorship was rising at a rate of 690 new pages blocked every single day.

Other than court-ordered censorship, Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act has only served one further purpose. Many of Thailand’s scores of political prisoners have been charged with lèse majesté using the CCA.

This has resulted in prison sentences up to 15 years using multiple charges. Charges have not only been brought against content creators but content providers, page designers, webmasters and other intermediaries, including those overseas who dared to visit ‘the land of smiles’.

Furthermore, Thai judges have decreed that hyperlinking to ‘offensive’ or ‘inappropriate’ content is just as criminal as publishing it. Unspecified delay in removing such commentary is also illegal. And so is clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook.

Thailand’s censorship has shown no signs of abating and almost none of the webpages blocked during the ‘emergency’ have been unblocked. In 2012, more than 90,000 Facebook pages were blocked. So are online pharmacies and gambling sites.

Many observers think Thai government censorship solely targets alleged lèse majesté. However, the fact is, we are not allowed the freedom of expression about anything guaranteed by our Constitution.

Meanwhile, Thai censorship that we know about continues to rise at a rate of 690 new blocked URLs every day. In fact, with complete secrecy by Thai censors, the real number is likely to be far higher.

The cost to society by creating a dumbed-down public not in possession of all the facts is impossible to quantify. The economic costs, however, can be. To block 690 web pages, Thai government spends THB 1.5 million (USD $50,000), or THB 2,174 (USD $71) per URL.

To date, Thailand has spent THB 2,173,913,043—more than two billion baht—(almost USD $71 million) to censor our Internet.

On December 28, 2011, Thailand was blocking 777,286 webpages. Today, November 1, 2012, Thailand blocks ONE MILLION URLs—Happy Halloween.

ไม่ประนีประนอม!

NO CENSORSHIP!

NO COMPROMISE!

 

CJ Hinke

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)

Bangkok: October 31, 2555

 

 

 

[FACT comments: Boob censorship! We think surveillance is the fun part…]

An Interview With NYC’s Topless Activist

Moira Johnston wants to “expand the vocabulary and definition” of breasts: “They can be non-sexual in any culture.”

Shiuan Butler

AlterNet: July 19, 2012

http://www.alternet.org/story/156402/should_women_have_the_right_to_go_topless_in_public_an_interview_with_nyc%27s_topless_activist?page=entire

 

Moira Johnston is 29 years old and lives in lower Manhattan. She shops at Whole Foods and practices yoga in Union Square. She visits her family often. She’s also a “topfreedom” activist who recently began receiving media attention for walking around in public without a shirt on.

Johnston, who started going topless in public this past January, recently shared her thoughts about her life and activism with AlterNet. Naturally, Johnston was topless throughout the interview, which was conducted in New York’s Union Square. During that time, one female passerby told Johnston politely but firmly that she should put a shirt o; a man asked her about her views on polyamory; and another woman expressed support for Johnston’s cause. But Johnston says most people — men and women — simply turn away in embarrassment.

Johnston argues that gender discrimination is a civil rights violation, and if men are allowed to go topless in public then so should women. In fact, women are legally allowed to go topless in New York state. The same is true of several other states around the country, though many cities have anti-female toplessness ordinances in place. (Topless activists argue that such ordinances are unconstitutional.)

So who is the woman who has the ovaries to fight topless discrimination in New York City?

Shiuan Butler: Are you topless all the time?

Moira Johnston: I do go topless as much as possible. In public, I’m usually topless. Unless I go into some kind of business that requires shirts. Then I wear a shirt.

SB: I was wondering about that. Like Starbucks — they have shirt requirements.

MJ: Yeah.

SB: How was your first time going topless?

MJ: It was very draining. [laughs]

SB: In what way?

MJ: Just the response it gets from people, and it’s a lot of talking to people. Doing something that’s different from the social norm can be draining energetically.

SB: What is your main reason for going topless?

MJ: My main reason is to educate the public about women’s rights. People don’t know that it’s legal for women to be topless in the whole state of New York. So it’s primarily about raising awareness about that and about equality for women.

SB: I read about how bras can be detrimental to our health by weakening our tendons so we’ll sag more when we’re braless. Is that part of why you go topless?

MJ: It wasn’t part of my thinking initially, but I certainly think it strengthens the case for women to go topless or for women to go braless at least.

SB: How did you first get into topless activism? What inspired you?

MJ: I was practicing yoga at Jivamukti [Yoga School] right here in Union Square and I felt like taking off my shirt during class. I didn’t do it at first. I actually went to the founder and asked her if it was OK because a lot of my male counterparts practice without a shirt there and in other yoga studios as well. So I practiced yoga topless and a bunch of people complained about it, and so I realized that they didn’t know it was legal. That’s what inspired me to become more active about letting people know that it’s legal.

There are other yoga studios in the city that are saying that men are allowed to practice without a shirt but women are not allowed to. And that is actually against the law. It’s a civil rights violation to make a distinction based on the sex of a person. And so the more people become aware that it is legal for women to be topless, the more that won’t be an issue in places like businesses.

SB: What’s the most hilarious or best reaction to your toplessness that you recall?

MJ: Best reaction? [laughs] Well, I don’t know if you know I was falsely arrested.

SB: Yes, I did read that.

MJ: That I guess was one of the worst things that has happened because I was near the children’s park right over there [in Union Square] and a bunch of adults called and complained about it. And I had never been arrested before so that was kind of traumatizing.

SB: Were the cops rough with you?

MJ: It was just humiliating. It’s not really cool to get taken away and go to a jail cell for not doing anything wrong.

SB: What is your end goal? What do you hope to achieve through your activism, other than raising awareness?

MJ: This issue of women being able to show their breasts is related to a lot of other issues around women’s rights. For instance, it’s related to breast-feeding. I feel that if people felt more comfortable with just seeing breasts in public, breast-feeding wouldn’t be so socially stigmatized. Another thing is our bodies don’t have to be sexualized or commercialized. The way we see it now in American culture, female breasts are seen in an exclusively sexual or commercial territory. I want to expand the vocabulary and definition of what breasts are. They can be non-sexual in any culture.

SB: Guys have boobs too.

MJ: Right. And then there’s the idea that it’s against the law to be sexy or something. It’s OK for women’s breasts to be sexual. And for some women a man’s chest can be very sexual as well. And that’s OK. We’re sexual. Human beings are sexual. We can be non-sexual. We can be civil. We can act in an appropriate way in a social circumstance. But there’s really no escaping the sexuality of humanity, what it is to be human.

SB: Do you want to be nude in public too?

MJ: No. Not really. I don’t consider myself a nudist, although people do ask me often if I’m a nudist. But that would be like asking a guy who’s not wearing a shirt if he’s a nudist. I feel like to me that’s the same thing. The same issue. It’s known as “topfreedom.”

SB: Oh, I like that.

MJ: There’s actually a Web site. It’s the Topfree Equal Rights Association. They’re a Canadian organization. They have a lot of material and information that addresses the issue of topfreedom and equality between men and women.

Find out more about Moira Johnston on her Facebook fanpage.

Shiuan Butler is an Asian American feminist, entrepreneur and blogger. Follow her on Twitter: @shiuanbutler.

Routing Gone Wild: Documenting upstream filtering in Oman via India

CitizenLab: July 12, 2012

https://citizenlab.org/2012/07/routing-gone-wild/

PDF

Key Findings

• Data collected from Oman shows that web filtering applied by India-based ISPs is restricting access to content for customers of an ISP in Oman. While unusual, content filtering undertaken in one political jurisdiction can have an effect on users in another political jurisdiction as a result of ISP routing arrangements – a phenomenon known as “upstream filtering.”

• Content found to be filtered includes news sites, political blogs and file sharing sites.

• Some variability in filtering was documented, potentially linked to certain measures to loosen filtering regulations in India.

Background

The OpenNet Initiative1 (ONI) has investigated Internet filtering and surveillance practices since 2003 and has documented national-level filtering of the Internet in over forty countries.2 Traditionally, such filtering is implemented by Internet service providers (ISPs) at the request of governments for the purpose of restricting content available to domestic audiences. In general, conventional web filtering is designed for exclusively domestic impact, though other forms of content control, such as takedown requests, may affect access across borders.

However, content filtration is not always limited by jurisdiction. ISPs may engage in peering3 or transit agreements4 with other providers as a means of gaining access to the broader Internet. If ISPs peer with providers who filter the connection provided to their peers, that filtering may be passed on to the ISP’s user base. While unusual, past ONI research has documented this practice, known as “upstream filtering,” on several occasions. For example, in 2009, ONI research in Kyrgyzstan found that a number of websites, including news sites and blogging platforms, were inaccessible as a result of blocking by the state ISP in Kazakhstan, which sells its service to KyrgyzTelecom.5 Similar behaviour was observed in Uzbekistan in 2004, where content filtering on one Uzbek ISP closely matched that seen in China, a finding supplemented by evidence that this ISP was purchasing connectivity service from China Telecom.6

This brief documents and analyzes the upstream filtering of web content for users of Oman’s Omantel ISP as a result of content restrictions implemented in India. Both India and Oman, it should be noted, already have domestic filtering regimes in place. Previous research by the OpenNet Initiative on Omantel has documented filtering of Internet content related to pornography, circumvention tools, gay and lesbian content, as well as content critical of religion.7 Similar research by the OpenNet Initiative has found that ISPs in India selectively filter content relating to conflict/security and Internet tools, with a high degree of variability between ISPs.8 Read the rest of this entry »

China Turned Michelangelo’s David Into Porn

Alexander Abad-Santos

The Atlantic:  July 10, 2012

http://news.yahoo.com/china-turned-michelangelos-david-porn-130954982.html;_ylt=A2KJjalsNfxPP34ALkP_wgt.

 

In one of the more amusing and intriguing stories of Chinese censorship, it appears state-run China Central Television just couldn’t decide whether or not Michelangelo’s David was classified as porn, so they decided to pixelate the statue’s famous junk.  “[E]ditors from China’s CCTV decided to blur-out parts of Michelangelo’s ‘David-Apollo’ statue, triggering criticism and a barrage of jokes from hundreds of thousands of internet users,” reports The Telegraph’s Tom Phillips, adding that CCTV was reporting from an opening of a major Renaissance exhibition at Beijing’s National Museum of China. Jokes like “The real David has a penis” and comments like “Without the mosaic [the pixelation], it is art. With the mosaic, it has become porno,” floated on China’s social media outlets and web portals like Weibo and NetEase, reports Phillips.

The odd thing is, and we’re not sure (and may never know) if whoever is in charge of CCTV was moved by the Internet outrage and mocking, that CCTV decided to un-blur David in a subsequent broadcast. “CCTV removed the mosaics when it rebroadcast the program at about 3:54 pm on July 9. As of the morning of July 10, CCTV had not offered any explanation for adding or removing the mosaics,” reported China Daily’s An Baijie. Bending to free speech would be unusual for the China, considering how seriously the country takes censorship.

While we don’t know what moved CCTV to change its mind about the pixelation, the country’s Xinhua news agency (by way of BusinessInsider) reported, “China will launch a renewed campaign to crack down on the distribution of pornographic material, the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said Monday.” So, if it you or I were the guy/gal in the editing booth with our finger on the pixelation trigger with stringent Chinese law enforcement looming in the background, we too might err the same way CCTV did.

John Koetsier

VentureBeat: July 4, 2012

http://venturebeat.com/2012/07/04/russia-looks-to-censor-the-internet-of-porn-drugs-suicide-and-extremism/

 

A bill created by all four parties in the Russian parliament would censor the internet in Russia, creating a unified blacklist to block access to websites containing “banned pornography, drug ads and promoting suicide or extremist ideas.”

The bill, which is really a series of amendments to existing laws, was originally drafted in June, according to Ria Novosti, a Russian news agency, but will be presented to legislators this week, on July 6. If the amendments pass, Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal service for supervision of communications, IT, and mass media, will be in charge of the blacklist and will work through a non-profit organization to monitor compliance.

When a website is found to contain illegal content, the government agency will give the owner of the site 24 hours to remove it. Failing that removal, the site will be entered on the blacklist. In some cases, such as sites advocating violence, the courts may need to get involved.

Opposition has already arisen, comparing the Russian effort to China-style “great firewall” censorship.

As the Financial Times has reported, the country has already seen questionable cases of harassment and attempted censorship on .ru domains. Compromat.ru, which publishes stories on official corruption in Russia, was closed by a Moscow prosecutor, and moscow-post.ru, a news site, suffered a similar fate. Both websites subsequently relocated to .net or .com domains.

Even the Kremlin’s own human rights watchdog is complaining, saying that it is important to stop censorship on Russian language websites. And the Voice of Russia reported that Minister of Communications and Mass Media Nikolai Nikiforov does not “appreciate the bill in its current form.”

Regardless, the bill may be passed in first reading, says RAPSI, the Russian Legal Information Agency.

COMMENTARY

If the TV went a breast too far, then turn it off

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post: June 23, 2012

http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/299307/if-the-tv-went-a-breast-too-far-then-turn-it-off

 

Ray Bradbury was right: Television destroys culture and makes us dumb. Turn on the blow-torch and burn books, because the mass hypnotism prescribed by TV is the status quo of modern consciousness. Regardless of your race or religion, your colour and your god, your sex or age, everyone has the same altar upon which daily worshipping is proffered, prime-time or otherwise. Every house has the same shrine, flickering, rectangular, sucking the hologrammed gods from space.

The problem is addiction, for we can’t take our weary eyes off it. If television has been such a cause of distress, infamy and national hysteria during the whole month – starting with the “black screen” of European football to the abstract-expressionist breast-painting in Thailand’s Got Talent that would shame the entire modernist canon from Pollock to Richter – if TV is so evil, in short, why don’t we just turn it off? Which god or devil compels us to leave it on? We’re all complicit in this idiocy, enslaved by the airwaves, and the only censorship we need comes from us – not from the state – by closing our eyes and turning off the tube.

It’s even more distressing that the breast-painting shock-show has evoked questions we never thought to discuss, from the meaning of art to media ethics, while puritans seize the day to beat the war drum of censorship and the need to preserve Thai values; the Culture Ministry wants to block the YouTube clip of the show because – music please! – it hurts the image of Thailand. Soon the smell of hypocrisy and cheap moralism grows stronger than fresh paint. And just when we thought Workpoint, the show’s producer, was the villain-in-chief, a newspaper upped the ante by tracking down the family of the bare-breasted woman, Duangjai Jansuanoi, in a tabloidesque dispatch that ended with the woman’s mother apologising to the viewers. Apologies to us? What a fatal blow to cap this shameful affair. Yet if we’re too weak to turn off the tube, it’s time to set the record straight. The giddy point that has accompanied the Thailand’s Got Talent uproar over the past week is whether the whole thing was a set-up. The show was supposed to be “real”, with “real” people performing unscripted acts, with the judges (I can’t stand any of them) unprepared for the “real drama” unfolding on stage. The great myth of modern television – the myth that sustains the billion-dollar industry – is that what happens on screen is a direct transport of reality and truth. Such myth is magnified by the proliferation of the most cynical genre called reality TV, from singing contest to human zoo and Whatever Got Talent, and in effect we’re turned into reality junkies addicted to reality porn.

By this I don’t mean porn as in naked flesh. That is simple, even lucid. But I refer to how mainstream TV shows employ the mechanism of porn: an excess of fake reality, of fantasy disguised as actuality, of vulgar sensationalisation, all aiming to stimulate our basest instincts and to boost ratings. This hysteria about topless painting on national television is not an issue of obscenity, as moralists are shrieking about, but of low media literacy among the viewers, which is a bigger problem.

The authorities, in their typical shallowness, confine the debate to the matter of indecency and “inappropriateness” (televised breasts are obscene, televised coup d’etats are not). What they should do instead is broaden the frame of discussion and take the opportunity to push for the cultivation of media literacy, starting by promoting viewers’ immunity against the manipulation of media corporates, against the greedy masquerade and mercenary ploys executed under the banner of “reality” and “talent”. To promote media literacy is to promote critical thinking. It’s to equip the people with necessary resistance against the frightening flux of information, propaganda, advertisements and consumerism. Media literacy also means the end of state censorship, because we can choose to close our own eyes instead of being blindfolded. Media literacy, let’s hope, is also the backbone of democracy, for it’ll help us realise that a televised coup (and many parliamentary sessions) is more obscene than televised breasts.

I opened with Ray Bradbury, so let me end with another sci-fi hero, Philip K Dick: “Things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream.” It’s time to turn off the TV.

Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post.

 

[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: We like boobs (a lot!) And let’s face it, everybody’s got ‘em. As a ThaiVisa poster noted: “Thailand’s Got Tits!” Boobs are depicted in murals in nearly every wat in Thailand and regularly appear on govt webpages. Boobs are beautiful! So screw all this ultramoralistic, political posturing. What’s really obscene is breast implants. Lewdness is in the mind of the beholder…and a lot of govt bureaucrats apparently have dirty minds. Incidentally, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission issued the top fine to Channel 3—THB500,000 (we hope FACT co-founder and NBTC commissioner Supinya Klangnarong boycotted this travesty) even though the boobs were pixelated. Guess even pixels are immoral. (Like isn’t the purpose of pixelation to hide the nasty bits?) I suppose none of these prudes have been to an upstairs Patpong pussy-painting show!]

Thailand’s topless talent show shock: Are some breasts more equal than others?

Kaewmala

Siam Voices: June 19, 2012

http://asiancorrespondent.com/84500/after-thailands-bare-breasted-talent-show-shock-are-some-breasts-are-more-artistically-equal-than-others/

It’s bound to happen again – and again. That is, yet another scandal exposing tender feminine flesh and Thailand’s uneasy relationship with female breasts. Why, for all its peculiar mammophobia (the correct term is mastrophobia by the way), Thailand just can’t get enough of breasts, especially the bare kind. It’s an untreated national psychosis.

Bare-breast painting

This time the Thai fear (or fixation) of female breasts was stirred by a Thailand’s Got Talent contestant, who stripped and painted with her bare breasts on national television. She definitely shocked the audience and got the lone female judge quite upset.

Given the studio audience’s reactions – a mixture of gasps, laughs, smiles and cheers – it was clear the audience was more delighted than not. The two male judges let the contestant go on to the next round, while the female judge was aghast, outraged and walked off the stage in a hissy fit. See for yourself in this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDlOxMLk_bY&feature=player_embedded.

Personally, this bare-boob painting neither tickles my artistic sensory response nor offends me. But who am I to judge? Is it talent? Is it art? Is it a cheap, surefire way to get noticed? I’m not quite sure what to make of it. As it happens it triggered quite passionate reactions among the conservative Thai public (and many chuckles in the not-so-conservative quarters).

Swiftly and unfailingly the Ministry of Culture (abbreviated here as ThaiMiniCult) came out to express its customary outrage. Culture Minister Ms. Sukumol Khunploem said:

There must be limits on artistic expression. I was shocked when I saw the clip. The ministry will meet the organisers of Thailand’s Got Talent to get an explanation.

Since the show was pre-recorded, the “inappropriate” content should have been edited out, she added.

Then there’s the famous Ms. Rabiabrat Pongpanich, a staunch defender of Thai family values and self-appointed Thai culture watchdog, who growled for the Bangkok Post:

Thai society does not accept this. The police will consider whether this is obscene. This also shows that Thai society is ailing and it’s becoming a sex-consuming society.

Their reactions are all very predictable really. We’ve heard all this before from both ThaiMiniCult and Ms. Rabiabrat, whom I myself have honored as one of the leading Thai culturalists (afflicted by a grand delusion of Thai CULTure with accompanying symptoms of historical mammary amnesia. See more here.)

Art or obscenity?

What is art is highly subjective, especially when it comes to abstract painting. For instance, which is art to you, among all these silly abstract paintings? I reckon what’s identified as art in this case would be different from one person to the next.

And what’s a paintbrush as an artistic tool as opposed to limbs, boobs or trunks?

Upon further reflection the bare-boob painting reminds me of Thai elephant paintings, though admittedly the comparison might have worked better if the artist had used her nose instead of her breasts as the painting tool, but then that wouldn’t have been so interesting, would it?

Come to think of it, are elephant-trunk paintings art? Would anyone – human or elephant – complain that this “Foxy Lady” painting is obscene?

The judge vs. the artist

In any case, what’s interesting here isn’t whether or not bare-breast painting is art, or how much talent there is in the artist. What interests me is the female judge, who to me is a stunningly beautiful woman, even when she cringes. But more than her beauty, I was captivated by her reactions.

The judge Pornchita Na Songkhla, who is a highly versatile talent herself (multiple award-winning actress, model, singer, presenter, spokesperson, cultural ambassador, talk show host, etc. – see her Wikipedia page) delivered her verdict in a style befitting a judge on Thailand’s top talent show. Benz (her nickname) told the bare-breast artist after she completed her painting performance (at 2:40 min):

I’m not saying it’s bad, but it’s inappropriate in Thai culture. Benz does not support this sort of thing.

 The judge vs. the artist

Judge Benz’s hauteur was impressive, but the contestant took it admirably well, with a nice smile as you can see.

But Judge Benz didn’t stop there. After her fellow male judges gave the contestant a green light to go on to the next round, both agreeing the performance was art, she cried, “Are you serious?,” maintaining her impressive judgely hauteur. Then after a few more expressions of incredulity (at 3.42 min), she swung her axe with a no less impressive theatrical flare:

Incidentally I’m not artistic. So no go from me!

And some more:

I really don’t get it! I don’t get it! I don’t like it!

And then she stormed off stage. Boy, did I enjoy her theatrics!

The master vs. the apprentice

Judge Benz’s outrage was delicious. Almost as delicious as (what looked like) a chocolate-covered body of hers – beautifully, artistically photographed less than two years ago. No wonder she was outraged! (Look at the bare-breast artist on the right. What a haphazard, unpolished way to make art with a woman’s body, Benz must have thought. Not to mention one can’t eat paint!)

Judge Benz in IMAGE Magazine in 2010 vs. The bare-breast painting contestant in 2012

It must have been painful for Benz to watch the girl’s inexperienced attempt at sauciness. For this Benz has my sympathy. The aspiring artist definitely could learn from the master like Benz. I am inclined to think that Benz must have just used MiniCult’s “inappropriate in Thai culture” reason as an excuse to cover the fact that she couldn’t bear watching such ineptness in an amateur. It would explain why she was so angry.

I imagine, while Benz was wincing, several glorious images of herself were passing through her mind. If she was so inclined, she might have snapped at the contestant, “Watch and learn, girl!”

That’s how a woman should pose covered up with sticky stuff on her skin… Not like that!

Inanimate canvases are so passé. Look at possible alternatives, you little noob!

And if you have to wear clothes, wear them in style!.. Shed that carpenter shirt. No, no, not here! Keep it on!

It’s undeniable, the skills of the apprentice are light years away from those of the master. There is absolutely no doubt that there is much Judge Benz could teach the bare-breast painter, if she would ever be inclined to accept an apprentice. (Get more glimpses of Judge Benz’s masterly skills here.)

Just one small question clings to my mind though: How the talented Judge Benz would explain to the Ministry of Culture (which once employed her as its spokesperson) how the bare-breast painting on her show was inappropriate in Thai culture, and how her modeling for the IMAGE Magazine in 2010 was not.

Would her explanation be “some breasts are more artistically equal than others”?

h/t Bangkok Pundit for Benz’s modeling images, which are from Postjung.com.

UPDATE: (1:50pm 19 June 2012) …

This bare-breast painting show has got a huge buzz not only in Thailand but also internationally. There has supposedly been so much outrage that the Thailand’s Got Talent’s producer came out to apologize to the Thai public. I bet the TGT people were counting on morally hyper-sensitive Thais’ reactions to garner domestic and international headlines. (There are even suggestions that the bare-breast painter was hired to go on the show. If that’s true, the show would pretty much have been staged, possibly even Judge Benz’s outrage. The staging is entirely plausible given the nature of Got Talent shows in other countries.)

Credit goes to the crafty TGT producer Work Point or whoever in TGT that approved the bare-breast painter to go on the show. The stunt, if it was a stunt, has certainly worked. Even realizing this, I still can’t resist. TGT has certainly given much for the public to discuss. Thailand does need more discussion on sexuality and could loosen up a lot, especially concerning the female sex.

This morning, a Twitter friend shared a YouTube video of another topless TGT contestant from last year, a young man who showed a lot more than bare breasts. See Judge Benz’s reactions to the male contestant’s nudity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeWIwu7g-SY&feature=player_embedded

The gender reversal of the contestant and the reversed reactions of the one female and two male judges give some food for thought. Staged or not, it’d appear that not all Thai breasts are equal, and some breasts are viewed and treated as artistically more equal than others, depending on gender, timing, and perhaps whether the show needs a scandal to boost its ratings. And when it comes to outrage, women can be counted on to bear the brunt and show expected contempt for “culturally inappropriate” display of bare breasts.

h/t Associated Press’s Thanyarat Doksone for the YouTube video from last year

Kaewmala is a writer, a blogger and an avid twitterer. She blogs at thaiwomantalks.com and is a provocateur of Thai language, culture and politics @thai_talk. Kaewmala is the author of a book that looks at the linguistic and cultural aspects of Thai sexuality called “Sex Talk”.

COMMENTARY

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post: June 9, 2012

http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/297250/ladda-gone-but-the-thought-police-aren-t

“Cultural Surveillance”: Ladda Tangsupachai

Amidst the ballyhoo of black-screen TV, broadcast-rights rivalry, football fracas, reconciliation war and constitution horror, we return to visit the most beloved media agency of all: the Cultural Surveillance Office, aka the Rottweiler, the guardian of Thainess, or the Department of Propriety.

Last month, the Culture Ministry made a surprising move: they transferred (“promoted”) Ladda Tangsupachai, the controversial head of the surveillance office whose past record inspires shudders among artists, singers, actors, and anyone who dares test the limits of official appropriateness. Ms Ladda’s new post is analyst and supervisor of the southern cultural policy, an appointment that has sparked an impromptu joke about the South bearing the brunt, once again, of Central prejudices and conservatism.

 One of Ms Ladda’s last campaigns was against the fad of planking.

Whether or not there’s a political angle to this move is a moot point, one can never judge the depths of such a labyrinth. Ms Ladda’s latest involvement was to push for the new bill to drum up the funding for “safe and creative media” – a name that evokes either easy optimism or necessary caution, for “safe”, in linguistic cartwheeling can be a euphemism for censorship. The details of the law, which has been proposed to parliament, are not available, but the earlier draft contains a clause that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission should inject money into the fund which will be distributed to “producers of safe content”, whatever that means. It was widely expected that Ms Ladda, a senior officer, would supervise the funding once the law had been passed. But now, no more.

While parliament, which has recently adopted the lively bar-room brawl and thuggish tournament style, is embroiled in the reconciliation mess, the “safe media” bill is likely to wait. But let’s make sure we keep an eye on it. Not that we don’t want safe TV, but we shouldn’t confuse precaution with prohibition, and protection with moral paranoia.

That last term is what we often attribute to a surveillance agency. Ms Ladda’s transfer ended her long tenure at the cultural watchdog marred by resentment, scandals, and even T-shirts bearing her infamous quote. To be honest, there have been sighs of relief at the news of her move. But to be fair, Ms Ladda, to whom I talked personally on a few occasions, is a steadfast believer in her cause: to protect the nobility of Thai culture and weed out unpleasant surprises, from short skirts to TV bitchfests. She’s a crusader on the eternal horseback to Jerusalem – her war cry is authentic, and her dogmatism is transparent. Her run-ins with the more liberal sections of society illustrate the wider contest to own, or define, the meaning of Thai culture in the 21st century.

It’d take hours to revisit her high-profile outcries at media “indecency’, but here are the two most infamous cases: in 2008, Ms Ladda gave an interview to Time magazine [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1670261,00.html] and described Thai film audiences as “uneducated” and thus needing parenting from the ministry (somebody made T-shirts featuring the quote); then last year, she angered many by speaking out against a hit soap series and the portrayal of its men-lusting female lead, which led to an episode of national hysteria.

Lost in translation: Many Westerners believe their dogs to be enlightened. Ladda banned this image!

Symptomatic though not necessarily emblematic, Ms Ladda is easily villainised, sometimes unfairly. The problem is not her; the problem is the fact that the government blithely believes that something called the Cultural Surveillance Office is even necessary. As if we were a mansion so susceptible to cultural vandalism, or a terminal patient in need of 24-hour vigilance, or an ungodly girl under perpetual threat of demonic possession. The fact that we still need to spend tax money on this agency is an issue worthy of public hearing. And that the government still relies on the watchdog’s (dis) service betrays the feudal mindset that it believes the people are so weak they can’t think for themselves.

Society should be trusted to be its own watchdog. Top-down control isn’t working any more in the new environment of great flux, of rapid advances in technology, and of heady, global interconnectedness that keeps redefining “culture”. Civic bodies, consumers organisations, industry associations – say, TV producers or filmmakers – and the audiences themselves should be encouraged to have the power to control the media’s performance and to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not in an organic way. Governmental parenting is as dated as last week’s football results, and the Culture Ministry is too valuable to spend its time, like East German thought police, carrying out surveillance on the people. It’s a shame that they still don’t realise this at this hour.

Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post

Mwangi G

All Africa: June 1, 2012

OPINION

The issue of censorship has been on my mind a lot these last two weeks. In fact, ever since the issue of the Spear hit the headlines here in South Africa, I have been thinking of the many excuses given by the authorities whenever they want to stop something that will embarrass them getting out.

The Spear, in this context was a controversial portrait of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma in which his genitals are exposed. The painting was done by a white South African artist, Brett Murray. [Note to readers: As this is taking place in South Africa, mentioning people's race is vital in a story such as this.]

Immediately the news of the painting hit the public domain there were those in support of the painting and those who opposed it. The painting’s supporters said it was all about the freedom of expression whilst those who were against the painting decided it was a racist piece of art as it depicted the president in such a disrespectful manner.

There was a lot of talk of freedoms and rights and arguments as to whether the freedom of expression as guaranteed in the South African constitution was absolute or whether there were limits. From where I sat, I must say the painting made me squirm a little when I thought of the shame and embarrassment that would be visited on the president’s immediate family including his school-going children.

But on the other hand, the journalist in me who has been a long-term supporter of Article 19, the London-based human rights organisation with a specific mandate and focus on the defence and promotion of freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide, I felt that no matter what my personal feelings, nobody had a right to ban the painting.

The whole affair reminded me of a few times in my professional life as a journalist that I had been at the business end of censorship. The first time was when I worked for the now defunct Kenya Times Media Trust. The Kenya Times newspaper was owned by the then ruling Kanu party and fairly often, there would be calls to the senior editors purporting to be from State House (occupied then by President Daniel arap Moi) demanding that one story or the other be killed. It was the day of the first ever Saba Saba (July 7) riots in 1990 and I had joined some of my more senior colleagues on the news desk to report on the protests in Nairobi. It was an exciting beat for a young fellow such as I was and a tough day covering the violence of the police on the demonstrators.

We got back to the newsroom all pumped up and ready to write up the day’s events but as we sat down to our typewriters, there were already whispers that “State House” would kill the stories. Undeterred, we wrote our stories and developed our photographs and left the office that evening secure in the knowledge that we would carry the news of the day just like the other two independent newspapers of the time, the Nation and the Standard, though perhaps with a pro-government twist.

You can imagine my shock and disappointment the next morning when I ran to the news vendor on our street to buy the paper only to find that while the other two newspapers had saturation coverage of the riots, my newspaper didn’t even mention them. It was as though we had been on a different planet. Apparently the call purporting to be from State House had come and my then editor had quickly capitulated, whilst the editors of the other two newspapers had not.

Another memorable incident was years later when I was working at another newspaper where the cartoonist had come up with a drawing of the First Lady sitting on the President’s back dictating a press statement to him about family size matters. This time it was not State House that killed the cartoon, but the editors of the newspaper who felt that it would be in poor taste and worse still, it might provoke the wrath of Mama Lucy.

The cartoonist decided not to hand in a replacement drawing and the newspaper appeared the next day with a photograph where the cartoon should have been. I ended up keeping a copy of the cartoon and for many years displayed proudly on my wall of photographs in my flat. The point I am making is that though the censors stopped the cartoon from being placed in the newspaper, it was still seen by hundreds of thousands of others who saw it on the artist’s website and so the censorship proved to have been a failure. The same goes for the Zuma painting, even before it was defaced by vandals, it had been seen by millions on the internet and continues to be seen by millions more.

 

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