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.
July 21, 2012
[FACT comments: We’re tempted to call this bus censorship. Its goals may be noble but who will decide what films are “appropriate” for bus passengers? After all, Thai soap operas are notorious for domestic violence. This is a little too politically-correct for us. Don’t like the movie, read a book, sleep or look at the scenery.]
บขส.รับปากยุติฉายหนังรุนแรง เรตอาร์ หลังจากคุณศจินทร์ (ภาพด้านบน) รณรงค์เรียกร้องผ่าน change.org
(English summary at the end)
หลังจากที่มีการรณรงค์ผ่าน change.org เพียงไม่กี่วัน การเรียกร้องให้ บขส. ยุติการฉายหนังรุนแรงบนรถทัวร์ ของคุณแม่อย่าง คุณศจินทร์ ประชาสันติ์ ก็ประสบผลสำเร็จ
โดยเมื่อวันนี่ 18 กรกฎาคม คุณศจินทร์ได้รับจดหมายจาก คุณวุฒิชาติ กัลยาณมิตร กรรมการผู้จัดการใหญ่ของบริษัทขนส่งจำกัด แจ้งว่าตน ได้รับข้อเรียกร้องทั้งหมดของทุกคนและได้สั่งการให้ฝ่ายธุรกิจเดินรถหามาตรการเข้มงวดให้พนักงานประจำรถมีความระมัดระวังในการนำภาพยนตร์ไปเปิดให้บริการบนรถโดยสาร พรอ้มทั้งกล่าวว่าตนไม่ได้นิ่งนอนใจ และต้องการพัฒนาการบริการของ บขส. ให้ดีขึ้น
คุณวุฒิชาติ ยังได้ให้สัมภาษณ์หนังสือพิมพ์มติชนเพิ่มเติม http://bit.ly/NnEqlg
ถือว่าเป็นความสำเร็จครั้งสำคัญหลังจากก่อนหน้านี้คุณศจินทร์ คุณแม่วัย 32ปี ได้พยายามส่งจดหมายถึง บขส. หลายต่อหลายครั้ง แต่ไม่เคยได้รับการตอบกลับแต่อย่างใด
แต่เมื่อเริ่มรณรงค์บน change.org เพียงไม่กี่วัน ก็มีผู้ร่วมลงนามสนับสนุนเกือบ 300 คน ทำให้การเรียกร้องของคนคนเดียว กลายเป็นการเรียกร้องของคนหลายคน เพราะทุกครั้งที่ทุกคนคลิกสนับสนุน หมายถึงอีกหนึ่งอีเมล์จากคุณส่งตรงไปถึงคุณวุฒิชาติ
คุณศจินทร์ กล่าวว่า ทันทีที่ได้รับจดหมาย รู้สึกยินดีเป็นอย่างมาก และอยากจะบอกเล่าต่อทุกท่านแทบจะทันทีที่ทำได้ เพราะนี่แสดงให้เห็นว่า พลังเสียงของทุกท่านได้ยินไปถึงบริษัทแล้ว
เพื่อให้เกิดความมั่นใจคุณศจินทร์ต้องการให้มีการจัดทำแนวนโยบายออกมาเป็นลายลักษณ์อักษรเผยแพร่ต่อสาธารณะผ่านเว็บไซต์และสื่อประเภทอื่นๆ และจะติดต่อแจ้งไปทาง บขส. และคุณวุฒิชัยเพิ่มเติม
Change.org รู้สึกดีใจที่มีส่วนช่วยให้ปัญหาที่ดูเล็กแต่เป็นปัญหาที่อยู่ในใจหลายๆคนได้รับการแก้ไข การรณรงค์ที่เริ่มจากคนธรรมดาๆ อย่างคุณศจินทร์ กับการพูดถึงปัญหาใกล้ตัวอย่างเรื่องการฉายหนังบนรถทัวร์ เป็นการณรงค์ที่มีพลังมากที่สุด เพราะว่าประชาชนทั่วไปจะเข้าใจ และเห็นอกเห็นใจ รวมทั้งอาจเคยประสบปัญหาแบบเดียวกัน และพร้อมที่จะร่วมสนับสนุน
Less than a week since Sajin Prachason launched her campaign on Change.org, bus operator Transport Co has agreed to ban inappropriate movies on its coaches.
For almost a year Sajin has been campaigning to stop operators showing violent movies after she saw children distressed during a long bus trip. She is delighted that it took just days to win using Change.org.
Sajin thanked everyone who signed her petition saying “without all your signatures, change would not have happened”. She found using Change.org very easy, and was amazed how quickly hundreds joined her campaign. President of Transport Co Wuthichart Kalayanamit automatically received an email every time someone signed the petition, and he told Sajin that he was responding to those emails when he put a stop to the movies.
What do you want Changed? Start your campaign now – it takes less than three minutes to start a petition, and like Sajin, you could win small but important change in just days.
Share this campaign on Facebook
Change.org (เซ็งจ์ ดอท อ็อก) ประเทศไทยพร้อมแล้ว คลิกไปที่ www.change.org/th เพื่อติดตามแคมเปญรณรงค์ล่าสุดของไทย แล้วเริ่มสร้างแคมเปญของคุณเองได้เลย Change.org คือใคร http://www.change.org/th/เกี่ยวกับเรา
Find out more about Change.org http://www.change.org/about
Global Voices: July 18, 2012
The Malaysian social and alternative media sphere is describing an impending ‘National Harmony Act,’ as “Orwellian” and “draconian.”
Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that Malaysia’s Sedition Act of 1948 is to be repealed, and replaced with the National Harmony Act (NHA.)
The Sedition Act, a hangover from Malaysia’s era of colonial rule, was originally introduced to quell opposition against the British, but is infamous for its vague definitions and use by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition to silence political opposition.
Rather than celebration, there is widespread concern that the new National Harmony Act will not prove any better than its predecessor. Barisan Nasional has dismantled several existing laws only to replace them with barely improved or even worse versions. For example the Internal Security Act, the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Evidence Act amendments.
Many Malaysian netizens are concerned that the NHA is yet another example of double-talk.
Mustafa K. Anuar, writing for Aliran describes it as a ‘Seduction Act in the offing’, identifying the widespread cynicism towards the new Act as predictable:
In the recent past, the promise of a repeal of certain undemocratic laws such as the equally draconian Internal Security Act turned out to be a nightmare for Malaysians, especially human rights activists, as the replacements are either the same or even worse than the laws they replaced.
A political cartoon by well-known Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, depicting what many Malaysians fear from the planned National Harmony Act. [Zunar Kartunis Fan Club' Facebook page]
Phil Robertson, the deputy director Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, also summed up this worrying legislative trend in the alternative media website The Malaysian Insider:
He said “the government should realise that change for change’s sake is not enough”, adding that the drafting of replacement laws “has gone on behind closed doors with little input from civil society.”
As reported by Malaysiakini (paywall-protected site), Catholic Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing (as well as Lim Chee Wee, head of the Malaysian Bar Council) has suggested that the government should just repeal the Sedition Act, rather than replace it with more legislation prone to selective enforcement:
“We have seen a politician or two and some religious leaders raise the bogey of Christian proselytisation of Muslims and proffer no substantive proof in support and yet they have not been hauled up for seditious speech.
“Don’t replace obsolete laws with newfangled ones, especially if you cannot be counted on to enforce them with equity,” he contended.
Commenters on the Malaysiakini article seem to agree:
Hang Babeuf: Of course, the National Harmony Act provokes scepticism. Just look at the name.
Absalom: If you want national harmony, you don’t need an Act, for that’s all it is, an act.
Ez24get: National Harmony Act – harmony for whom? Harmony for the corrupt BN as nobody could question or take away their gravy train?
Similar sentiments are expressed in yet another Malaysiakini commenter round-up:
Kee Thuan Chye: The Sedition Act should be repealed, not put into a new wine bottle with a nicer-sounding name. A repressive law by any other name still stinks just as bad.
Abasir: Deja vu! We’ve been here before. Remember how he introduced the so-called Peaceful Assembly Act following which a well-publicised peaceful assembly of citizens was deliberately trapped, gassed, beaten by gangs of unnamed men in uniform and thugs in mufti?
Kgen: Knowing Najib, the false democrat, the new Act will be even worse than the old Act. Just like the Peaceful Assembly Act, which is even harsher than the existing Police Act.
However, PM Najib Razak claims that the Act will “ensure the best balance between the need to guarantee the freedom of speech for every citizen and the need to handle the complexity of plurality existing in the country”, as reported by the state news agency Bernama:
”With this new act we would be better equipped to manage our national fault lines. It will also help to strengthen national cohesion by protecting national unity and nurturing religious harmony… and mutual respect in the Malaysian society made up of various races and religions.”
Najib also stated that the government wants to invite views and opinions from Malaysian individuals and organisations on the legislation, naming the Attorney-General’s Chambers as the agency responsible for consulting with such stakeholders.
Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, a minister in the Prime Minister’s department, stated that unlike the to-be-repealed Sedition Act, the NHA will allow for criticism of the Malaysian government:
There should be no absolute freedom to the extent we can call people pariah, pimps and so on.It is [obvious] we want to protect the Institution of the Malay Rulers. They are above politics and this country practises Constitutional Monarchy
According to Mohamed Nazri, the new Act is not expected to be tabled until next year. It is therefore likely that the Sedition Act will remain in place until after the 13th Malaysian General Election, which must be held before March 2013.
ในวันพรุ่งนี้จะมีการสืบพยานโจทก์นัดแรกคดีเอกชัย ห. คนขายซีดีสารคดีเรื่อง สถาบันกษัตริย์ไทย ซึ่งผลิตโดยช่อง ABC ออสเตรเลีย
เอกชัยถูกจับที่สนามหลวงเมื่อมีนาคม 2554 ด้วยข้อหาตามมาตรา 112 และพรบ.ภาพยนตร์ ฐานขายวีดิทัศน์ที่มีเนื้อหาหมิ่นประมาท ดูหมิ่น อาฆาตมาดร้าย พระมหากษัตริย์ พระราชินี และรัชทายาทและขายวิดิทัศน์โดยไม่ได้รับอนุญาต ต่อมา เอกชัยได้สิทธิประกันตัว
ข้อสังเกตประการหนึ่งในคดี คือ เนื้อหาของสื่อที่ทำให้ถูกฟ้องไม่ได้เป็นข้อมูลและความเห็นของเอกชัย แต่เป็นเนื้อหาสารคดีที่ผลิตและเผยแพร่ที่ออสเตรเลีย
ท่านที่สนใจสังเกตการณ์คดี สามารถเข้าร่วมฟังการพิจารณาคดีได้ที่ศาลอาญารัชดา ห้อง 802 เวลา 9.00 น. เป็นต้นไป
โดยการพิจารณาคดีจะมีขึ้นระหว่างวันที่ 17 – 20 กรกฎาคม 2555
WE URGE ALL READERS TO SPEND AT LEAST ONE MORNING OR AFTERNOON SESSION TO SUPPORT EAKACHAI AND TO STAND UP FOR FREE SPEECH.
July 17 is the first day of witness hearings of Ekkachai Hongkangwan, accused under Article 112 for selling CDs with offensive contents related to the King, Queen and the Heir Apparent. Ekkachai explained that the CDs he was selling were a news documentary about the Thai Monarchy from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He was also charged under the Film Act for selling CDs without license.
July 17-20, 9:00am, at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya) on Ratchadapisek Road near Lat Phrao MTR station, Exit 4. The trial is being heard in courtroom 802 unless public demand forces a change.
More detail: http://freedom.ilaw.or.th/case/68#detail
July 9, 2012
A Reluctant Provocateur Tweaks Thailand
Wall Street Journal: July 4, 2012
“If (Suha Arafat) really wants to know what happened to her husband (we need) to find a sample — I mean, an exhumation… should provide us with a sample that should have a very high quantity of polonium if he was poisoned,” he said.
Thai photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom says he’s reluctant to assume the mantle of “artist provocateur,” but in light of his recent work, and the controversy that surrounds it, he admits that he can’t dismiss it either.
One of Thailand’s leading contemporary photographers, Mr. Manit runs Bangkok’s bohemian Kathmandu Gallery and was among the seven artists chosen to represent the country in its first appearance at the Venice Biennale in 2003. He has held solo exhibitions at Galerie VU in Paris, Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Photography and the Yokohama Museum of Art in Japan. His work was the subject of a solo retrospective at the Singapore Museum of Art in 2010.
In April, the 50-year-old artist and his wife Samanrat Kanjanavanit, a Thai filmmaker better known as Ing K, made headlines around the world when their film “Shakespeare Must Die” was banned by Thailand’s Ministry of Culture, which issued a statement saying that its content would “cause divisiveness among the people of the nation.” The movie, shot and produced by Mr. Manit, reimagines Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in Thai, with a contemporary setting and political shadings.
He first came to international notice with the launch of his “Pink Man” project in 1997, a photo series featuring the paunchy Thai poet Sompong Thawee dressed in a hot pink three-piece suit. In the various Pink Man works that followed, the eponymous anti-hero is seen pushing his matching pink shopping cart through Southeast Asian cities, landscapes and archival images of historical atrocity – all part of a playful but trenchant criticism of the materialism and apathy of the Thai upper crust.
His latest exhibition, currently on view at Bangkok’s H Gallery through July 30, offers two new provocative photo series in one. The first is a collection of dramatically lit female nudes and semi-nudes in saturated color. According to Mr. Manit, the hues and objects that accessorize the figures – such as red sickles, guns and designer handbags – are a critique of Thailand’s prime minister and the red-shirt political movement that supports her and her brother, ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. The second series is composed of blurry monochrome photos of Thai phallic totems – inspired, the artist says, by a moment of middle-aged sexual insecurity.
Mr. Manit, who wore a bright red button-down shirt to the show’s opening, spoke with the Journal about obscenity, the hunger for power and why his iconic pink man is taking a break.
The Wall Street Journal: You worked as a photojournalist early in your career. How did that inform what you do as an artist?
Mr. Manit: To become an artist you need experience. Everything comes from your experience. When I graduated from art school, I knew I was young and that I didn’t really know much. I thought becoming a photojournalist would be a good way to see all kinds of things. I was sent out to cover stories and conflicts near the Thai border, and I got to travel to places in Thailand I had never had a chance to see. So it was a way to learn about my own culture and my own country. And that’s important. Also, when you work as a photojournalist, you have to know how to tell your story with one picture. It’s quite challenging to do well.
As an artist, you’re best known for Pink Man, but he hasn’t made any recent appearances in your work. Is Pink Man dead?
I’d rather not say that he is dead. But he is less active now. Pink Man was born and lived through a particular time. He was synchronized to a specific historical situation. He was a critique of the greed and consumerism of that period. At the current moment, the issues are more complex. It’s difficult to use him to make useful comments currently. Let’s say he’s resting.
Your photographs often have a strong social or political message. Do you feel social engagement is one of your responsibilities as an artist?
If you just ignore the lies and problems and let things happen around you, or sit back and complain without doing anything, well, I don’t think that’s fair. Everybody has to engage from their area of activity. I’m an artist; this is my area. So this is how I can contribute.
Why is your new exhibition titled “Obscene”?
Well, it’s a nude series. But I always try to put some stories into my work; and the story I’m trying to tell in this one is more obscene than the nudity. You know Thailand is now run by our first female prime minister. This is something we should all be proud of. But sadly, I don’t think many Thai people feel that way. Many people think that she doesn’t really have any qualifications for running the country other than her family name and her political backers. And that’s not enough.
Do you see your role as partly that of the provocateur?
I never saw myself that way, but looking at this new work, maybe I have to accept the title. If I provoke, it’s to get people to wake up.
At the moment in Thailand, both sides are fighting for their own power, not for the benefit of everyone. They don’t progress society. They put society in danger. And when big conflicts do happen, both sides gain their interests, because people are forced to choose sides. Then everyone bombards each other with hatred, and the elites on each side gain their power from the hatred and passion. You can see this happening in many societies. Maybe this is something you recognize from the situation in America?
Tell us about the origins of the other half of the exhibition, “Holy Machismo.”
Last year I turned 50. You know, man, when you come to a certain age, you start to worry that something inside you might be fading. As a man, maybe you worry about your testosterone levels. But it’s not just about sex drive. It’s scary to think that you might be losing your passion for life. I normally try to avoid putting personal stuff in my work. I used to do it when I was younger — you know the teenage thing, “Oh me, oh my, who am I?” Now I usually have other things I want to address. But I thought that this issue was universal and worth exploring.
Giant phalluses, hot-button political issues and a nude model used to critique the country’s first female prime minister – this is a pretty controversial show. Did you worry about how it might be received?
You can usually get away with expressing yourself freely in art galleries in Thailand. For film, there’s a mechanism in place for censorship. Raising questions in film scares them, because they fear the power of the medium. But we’re safer in art.
Edited from an interview with Patrick Brzeski
July 9, 2012
The New York Times: July 3, 2012
When government censors in Lebanon reviewed a new film, “Beirut Hotel,” there was one scene that particularly caught their attention — a reference to a USB memory stick with documents on it about the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The censors tipped off their colleagues in another department of the General Directorate of General Security, the country’s internal intelligence agency, which then demanded that the film’s producer turn over the USB stick.
Of course, the film was fictional, and the stick nonexistent. And although the film contained risqué sex scenes compared with other Lebanese films, the censors banned it instead on grounds of national security for having simply mentioned the Hariri assassination — the defining event in recent Lebanese history.
The filmmaker, Danielle Arbid, said she moved to France in disgust. “Beirut Hotel,” released late last year, was her third feature film in a row to be banned in Lebanon. She joins a parade of artists to leave the country, following businesses and investors whose frustration with Beirut was more practical, and probably even more consequential.
With a new government dominated by allies of Hezbollah, long a proxy of Syria, censorship has been on the rise. Four new films have been banned this year — a record for the Media and Theater Department, as the censorship bureau is formally called.
Intellectually and artistically, Beirut has long been freer than other places in the Middle East; some now fear that is under threat as never before. With the rise of the Shiite Islamists of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims — traditionally moderate — have been increasingly challenged by extremists, from Salafi mullahs in Sidon to Al Qaeda in the northern city of Tripoli. All of them have been pushing back against secular license.
“Why freer? Why an -er on that word?” asked Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, a group dedicated to freedom of expression, and named in honor of a journalist and critic of Syria who was assassinated after Mr. Hariri. Most of the rest of the region has little or no bragging rights when it comes to freedom of expression.
Christian groups have also been joining the call for censorship. “The majority of complaints are initiated by the churches,” Mr. Mhanna said. It is perhaps the only thing religious parties on all sides seem to agree about. “When it comes to censorship, they’re all perfectly O.K. with that.”
After its civil war ended in 1990, Lebanon never did regain its role as the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, and as a natural bridge between East and West. That did not help matters, either — prosperity has always encouraged greater freedom. Then Lebanon’s economic collapse last year was set off by the new government’s refusal to cooperate with the United Nations special tribunal investigating the role of Syria and Hezbollah in Mr. Hariri’s assassination, after it indicted Hezbollah officials. The uprising in Syria next door worsened investor confidence even further.
For many businesses and even cultural institutions, places like Doha, Qatar, and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates just seemed like a better bet, even though censorship is rife and political freedoms virtually nonexistent. Western museums and universities opened branches in the Persian Gulf states, not in the city once called the Paris of the Arab world.
In Beirut, the censors have banned “The Da Vinci Code” as anti-Christian and the TV series “The West Wing” as anti-Arab. The General Security directorate has broad powers in other areas, too, refusing permission, for instance, for the director Francis Ford Coppola to land his private jet in Beirut in 2009 because the engine included parts made in Israel; he had to land in Damascus instead, and travel overland.
After the civil war, says Sarkis Naoum, a columnist for the newspaper An-Nahar, “at first business did come back, but we did not regain our old position. In reality, the civil war did not end, just the military actions of the civil war ended.”
Sectarian squabbling between ministries adversely affected Lebanon in ways important to both the business and cultural communities. Internet speed is among the slowest in the world, 172nd among countries, according to Speedtest.net. “It takes me two days to download a short movie,” said Nadim Lahoud, a film producer. Cellphones and land line telephones are equally bad, and expensive.
“Nothing works in this country except the censorship bureau,” Ms. Arbid said by telephone.
Mr. Mhanna said infrastructure problems like that were cultural concerns as well, particularly Internet speed — which he feels the government keeps slow out of a misguided view by censors that it makes it easier to keep tabs on troublemakers. “Slow Internet service is one of the fundamental impediments to freedom of expression,” he said.
Mr. Lahoud decided to take on the censorship bureau directly, with a weekly dramatic series called “Mamnou3!” — a “mockumentary” set in a re-creation of the ’70s-styled office space of the censorship bureau, full of steel filing cabinets where the only computer is the size of a small refrigerator. (Mamnou means forbidden in Arabic.)
Financed by European Union grant money through the Samir Kassim Foundation, the series had its premiere on Monday — not on television, which would require approval of the bureau that it mocks, but online, promoted by social networking sites.
“We’re guessing they won’t do anything about it,” Mr. Lahoud said, “not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have the capacity.”
The Nation: July 1, 2012
Although it has been banned since April, the co-producer of the film “Shakespeare Must Die”, Manit Sriwanithpoom, continues his campaign to overturn the Film Board’s decision, which was based on fears that the satirical work would be interpreted as a criticism of Thaksin Shinwatra, inflaming social divisions. Manit talked to The Nation on Sunday’s Pravit Rojanaphruk about the road ahead. Excerpts follow.
What do you think is the real reason behind the banning of the film?
I think the [Film Board] members fear that it will affect the image of Thaksin and mock him, but they won’t say it. It’s like when we’re in a state of fear, we tend not to mention the name of the person we are afraid of.
Should a film that risks causing social division be censored? Why or why not?
We must look at the context. Thai society is beyond what any film can or cannot do. The society is already divided. I don’t think the film is capable of making it more divided. Mostly, the rift that is happening today stems from politicians.
In the case of the National Reconciliation Bill, it turned the Parliament into a forum for division and this had nothing to do with the movie.
If they think the movie defames Thaksin, then lets prove it in court by filing a libel charge against me. I am ready and willing to fight it in court.
What does the banning of your film tell us about Thai society?
It reflects the fact that Thai society is still fragile on virtually every issue. So when something similar to the real situation is told it causes uneasiness and overreaction.
It could be a journalist who constructively criticises the monarchy institution, who has fallen into a [legal] net.
Overreaction comes from all sides, be it Pheu Thai or the Democrat Party. This reflects the insecurity of power.
What is your next move?
The National Human Rights Commission will release a statement no later than [mid-July]. We consider the use of power without proper reason to constitute a [rights] violation. It took no less than two to three years to produce the film, and one meeting and a piece of paper to ban it. We shall use the statement by the NHRC to petition the Administrative Court [to revoke the ban].
We must be open-minded but we aren’t, because we don’t have a democratic culture. Today, we only have an autocratic culture. We must open up space for differing opinions, be patient and tolerant. Censorship is a product of the lack of a democratic culture.
[The film] may seem amoral, but only [to those with] a set morality. We must be open to different views and try to understand the reasons why people think differently.
June 28, 2012
Ray Bradbury on Censorship
Libertarian Neocon: June 6, 2012
Ray Bradbury, who wrote one of my favorite books ever, Fahrenheit 451, just died at the age of 91. As we mourn his passing, take a look at a piece he wrote after he found out some of his work was being censored back in the 70′s (h/t Cato):
There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib/ Republican, Mattachine/ Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.
Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.
“Shut the door, they’re coming through the window, shut the window, they’re coming through the door,” are the words to an old song. They fit my life-style with newly arriving butcher/censors every month. Only six weeks ago, I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from the novel. Students, reading the novel which, after all, deals with censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony. Judy-Lynn Del Rey, one of the new Ballantine editors, is having the entire book reset and republished this summer with all the damns and hells back in place.
A final test for old Job II here: I sent a play, Leviathan 99, off to a university theater a month ago. My play is based on the “Moby Dick” mythology, dedicated to Melville, and concerns a rocket crew and a blind space captain who venture forth to encounter a Great White Comet and destroy the destroyer. My drama premieres as an opera in Paris this autumn.
But, for now, the university wrote back that they hardly dared do my play—it had no women in it! And the ERA ladies on campus would descend with ball-bats if the drama department even tried!
Grinding my bicuspids into powder, I suggested that would mean, from now on, no more productions of Boys in the Band (no women), or The Women (no men). Or, counting heads, male and female, a good lot of Shakespeare that would never be seen again, especially if you count lines and find that all the good stuff went to the males!
I wrote back maybe they should do my play one week, and The Women the next. They probably thought I was joking, and I’m not sure that I wasn’t.
For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent type-writers. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my “Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” so it shapes “Zoot,” may the belt unravel and the pants fall.
For, let’s face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Ham-let’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones. Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer—he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.
In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-defiations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.
All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It’s my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m out again, giving it the old try.
And no one can help me. Not even you.
If the TV went a breast too far, then turn it off
Bangkok Post: June 23, 2012
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.
Press Trust of India: June 10, 2012
An 87-year-old epic silent film by Indian actor Himanshu Rai on Lord Buddha which was banned in Thailand has been screened for the first time in Bangkok in a movie hall, with a slight modern twist given by a live 15 member orchestra.
As the 1925 black and white film, The Light of Asia [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8lLuKPsgks], lit up the mega screen at Bangkok’s Scala theatre, one of the very few lone standing cinema halls in the city, the band sitting on either side of the screen played appropriate background music to the trumpeting of elephants, galloping horses and around the main stars, Prince Gautama, (Lord Buddha) played by dashing Himanshu Rai and his wife played by Sita Devi.
As Gautama silently wept, the violin played, helped by the koto’s murmuring melody, when he enters a contest with arch-nemesis Devadatta on horseback, tabla music came to fore.
The highlights were two Indian musicians, Ustad Matloob Hussain Khan on sitar, and Vasi Ahmad Khan on the tabla.
“There’s no problem (for a Muslim to play and sing) in a Buddhist film,” says Vasi, who started by reciting the Gayatri Manta for the films opening shot.
“Musicians have only one religion, and that is music. This is an old religious film, and it will be a special performance,” he said.
Indian Envoy Anil Wadhwa said that the embassy was asked to provide Indian musicians and the sitar and tabla were essential to give the background score since it was an Indian movie.
The fact that this was the first movie on Buddha and there are only two prints in the world gave it special significance, Wadhwa said adding that “close to 900 music and cinema lovers who watched the movie were impressed by the novelty of watching a silent movie with live music by international musicians.”