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.

Tessa Houghton

Global Voices: July 18, 2012

http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/07/18/malaysia-national-harmony-act-greeted-with-cynicism/

 

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Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that Malaysia’s Sedition Act of 1948 is to be repealed, and replaced with the National Harmony Act (NHA.)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.

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.

US Sponsored “Democracy”: New Egyptian TV channel to only feature fully face-veiled women

The first niqabi-only TV channel will be launched on the first day of Ramadan; eyebrows raised in media circles

Ahram Online: July 7, 2012

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=31805

 

The first Egyptian satellite channel completely operated by women wearing the full face veil (niqab) is set to be launched 20 July, which will coincide with the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.

This…

…or this?

Honey, pass me the remote…

The channel will be named “Mariya” after one of Prophet Mohamed’s wives, who was a Coptic Egyptian freed slave. A full niqabi film crew will manage and operate the channel, including TV presenters, producers, directors and correspondents.

The channel will air its programmes through the ultra-conservative Islamic Umma Channel for six hours every day. The majority of the programming will focus on the niqab and married life.

The channel will be exclusively managed by women. Men will be prohibited from working in or appearing on Mariya, and even participating in phone-ins during live programmes.

El-Sheikha Safaa Refai, a preacher who will head the channel, said that Mariyaprogrammes aim to educate Muslim women about their religion.

“Our message will be directed at Muslim women, to teach them the Sunna (practices) of the Prophet Mohamed,” Refai told Al-Ahram Arabic news portal Thursday.

Refai pointed out that this is not the first time niqabi women work in the media, adding that they have already been working as presenters in several religious channels over the past few years.

She insisted that the niqab is the proper Muslim attire as stipulated by Islamic Sharia law.

Refai went on to label any woman who does not wear the full face veil as “uncovered,” stressing that the niqab is a “red line” that cannot be crossed.

She indicated that Mariya plans to feature only niqabi pundits. However, if the channel airs a programme about an issue and cannot find a niqabi expert, they will host a non-niqabiand give them two options: either to wear the niqab temporarily during the programme, or have their faces blurred out while the programme is being broadcast.

However, Refai added that this does not mean that they will be “excluding anyone” explaining that Mariya aims to bring back the dignity of niqabi women who were oppressed and fired from their jobs over the past few decades.

Among the programmes that will be featured on Mariya is “Memoires of a woman,” which will discuss marital infidelity, with the focus on women cheating on their husbands.

The channel currently has 30 niqabi TV presenters. They also have a temporary male director, Mohamed Dunia, who will be replaced with a niqabi woman soon, according to Refai. Similarly, the “uncovered” camerawomen Mariya has hired for the timebeing will also soon be replaced.

The head cover (hijab), the more common Islamic attire in Egypt, was banned on Egyptian TV channels during the Mubarak era. It was, however, common in a variety of religious satellite channels.

News about Mariya caused shockwaves across the Egyptian media sector.

Al-Jazeera TV anchor Mona Salman, who is also Egyptian, says that facial expressions are an important tool used by TV presenters when programmes are being aired.

“They are vital tools in connecting with your audience, including eye contact,” Salman said.

She added that Mariya’s concept seems more appropriate for radio.

“There are certain types of programmes in which the TV presenter does not appear. These include documentaries or other programmes where the presenter is not on camera.” Salman explains. “However, once the presenter is in front of the camera, then yes, facial expressions become very important.”

According to Refai, the idea of the channel was presented in 2005 by El-Sheikh Abu Islam Ahmed Abdallah, the owner of the Umma Channel. Abdallah began by producing several niqabi only programmes on his channel, before coming up with the idea of creating a channel exclusively for niqabi women.

Refai refused to reveal who is funding the channel.

Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, Egypt has witnessed an ongoing Islamist ascendency. During the Mubarak regime there were heavy crackdowns on Islamists, with the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group, officially banned, though tolerated.

Members of the Brotherhood were routinely detained, their properties regularly confiscated, and they were often banned from running for political office. This situation changed after the 25 January 2011 uprising, with the Brotherhood launching the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

Islamists have since enjoyed a predominent presence in the political sphere, with the Brotherhood and the Safafist El-Nour Party winning 47 and 23 per cent of parliament seats respectively.

The presidential race also saw several Islamist candidates vying for the top post, including Salafist Hazem Abu Ismail, Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh and the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, who went on to win the elections and become Egypt’s first Islamist president.

COMMENTARY

Rights in democracy, the naked truth

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post: June 24, 2012

http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/299426/the-naked-truth-about-rights-in-a-democracy

Letting it all hang out…with the King: On the footbridge to Paradise Park SHopping Mall, Srinakharin Road, Bangna, June 2012

What the 23-year-old female contestant on Thailand’s Got Talent painted with her breasts was a mess. It wasn’t art. The performance was crude and tasteless, cheap and tawdry, appealing to the lowest common denominator. Be that as it may, she had every right to perform, with the appropriate blurring of images, of course.

Last Sunday’s performance on the popular reality TV show definitely made an impact. The audience cheered. The two male judges loved it. The lone female judge walked off the panel.

”This is degrading to Thai culture!” That’s the most frequently invoked cry against any speech or expression deemed ”un-Thai”. But according to this logic, wouldn’t Thai culture then be narrow-minded and intolerant, incapable of embracing the differences and diversities that come with freedom and democracy? I hope not. I find narrow-minded intolerance degrades Thai culture.

Civil rights is a double-edged sword. It’s liberating, but also corrupting. It frees individuals, but also divides society. To embrace civil rights is to be, if not accepting, then at least tolerant, even of the hopelessly stupid and the downright idiotic.

Society is divided over the scandal. The conservatives are appalled. The liberals say it’s art. The always ultra-fragile Cultural Ministry is shocked. The National Broadcasting and Television Commission (NBTC) fined Channel 3 operator Bangkok Entertainment Company (BEC) 500,000 baht for failing to censor ”inappropriate content” according to Article 37 of the 2008 Broadcasting Act.

Meanwhile, the girl and her parents were pressured to offer public apologies.

News stories have it that Work Point Entertainment, producers of the show, engineered the topless performance for ratings, that the girl was hired for 10,000 baht and that the judges were even in on it. However, this has not been proven, even if we believe reality TV capable of such treachery.

As a writer who can trace any issue to the democratic development of a nation, I’d like to look at the performance in this light.

Civil rights are a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedoms from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organisations, and ensure one’s ability to participate in civil life without discrimination or repression. The right pertain to life and liberty, speech and expression _ the right to make art, even tasteless art, and not be discriminated against or repressed by the establishment.

However, there are limits to these rights, such as when a saying or doing something can cause harm. Yelling ”fire” in a crowded theatre and causing a stampede is not exercising one’s freedom of speech. Rather, it is criminal negligence.

The breast baring did not cause a stampede; all it did was offend the fragile sensibilities of the conservative public and members of the traditional establishment, who instead of exercising their freedom of choice by clicking to another channel, invoked their authoritarian mind-set to discriminate and repress.

In every society there are the right-wing conservatives and the left-wing liberals _ the yin and the yang in balance. Let them debate and argue, it can only benefit society’s democratic advancement. Leaning too far to one side would upset the cosmic balance and the yin might miss the yang.

However, while Thailand is democratic in theory, in practical terms the cultural and political mindset is still entrenched in authoritarian values. Hence, instead of debating, the default response is to discriminate and repress, with government agencies interfering and infringing, in this case the Cultural Ministry and the NBTC. Let there be Fox news and let there be MSNBC news. Let there be a yellow channel and let there be a red channel. However, let there not be government discrimination and repression. The blurring of the naked breasts, since it’s free TV, should be an acceptable compromise to both sides.

When government agencies discriminate and repress, it sets a standard whereby we only have rights if they meet with the approval of the morals police. That is not democracy. That is authoritarianism, control and conformity. And that is backward and dangerous.

To appreciate freedom, democracy and human rights, one must understand that humans have different natures. We are martyrs and morons; saints and scumbags; geniuses and idiots. We should appreciate the former and tolerate the latter, as long as they don’t cause a stampede or the like.

But let’s bring balance to the yin and the yang, because we should not let the liberal faction have their heads too far up in the clouds.

The argument that painting with bare breasts on national TV is an artistic expression is moot and mundane. We live in an age where one could throw faeces on a canvas and call it art.

The concept of art is highly subjective; everyone has his or her own interpretation. My own interpretation is that the naked, painted breasts of the show’s female judge, Pornchita ‘Benz’ na Songkhla, on the cover of Image Magazine, is art _ beautiful art, in fact, simply because she looks good.

The painting created by the Thailand’s Got Talent contestant, however, is not art to me. It was just messy colours on a canvas; I could do the same thing with my bare feet. Had she painted the Last Supper with her bare breasts, then I would have been impressed.

But that is just my opinion. No one has to like it. No one has to approve of it. And I don’t force my interpretation on anyone else _ acceptance and tolerance are key.

So when I clicked onto a Bangkok Post online article that showed the fashion photo of Benz’s painted bare breasts, I went ”Wow, let’s have another look,” and was tempted to click ”like”.

On the contrary, watching that particular episode of Thailand’s Got Talent, I was not really interested, though I did watch the whole thing through. But the point is I could have just switched the channel.

In fact, both pairs of breasts were used in an exploitative fashion. One pair just so happened to look good, while the other made a mess.

Freedom is not an easy thing to handle. It begs for an open mind. It requires hard work to cope with. It makes life more difficult, because instead of being blissfully blind, deaf and dumb through censoring, we are exposed to the realities of the world, both good and bad. We can choose to either resist it or to learn from it, becoming more intelligent in the process.

The difference is the stagnation versus the advancement of a democratic society in Thailand.

Of course, painted bare breasts on national TV which children can watch makes parenting difficult. But that’s what TV ratings are for and that’s what parenting is _ teaching the child, not censoring. Freedom isn’t for the narrow-minded and the inept. You take the good, you take the bad, that’s a fact of life.

This is not because we love bare breasts (although we do), but more because we love freedom. In aspiring to become a democratic society, we must embrace civil rights. However, we should not exploit those rights. The failure of democracy is true and certain if we intend to corrupt democratic values for fame and ratings, power and profit _ both in the political and social spectrums. So if it proves true that Work Point Entertainment purposely engineered that inartistic breast painting display, then that’s public fraud, worth a civil lawsuit, because it is good old corruption.

There must be a balance struck between conservative and liberal forces, reached through reason and decency, not discrimination and repression. This means the balance will never be reached, since we should know better than to expect reason and decency out of any society, not just this one. But we do aim for the heavens, so that we might get to the stars. For if we aim low then we’re stuck in the smog and pollution. While if we don’t even make an attempt then we struggle in the gutter.

I for one think Thai culture is open-minded and tolerant, embracing the diversity that comes with freedom and democracy, appreciating civil rights and individualism. But this will only be a delusion if society at large does not agree with me.

Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at voranaiv@bangkokpost.co.th.

                                       Shigeko Kubota 1965                                                                                                      Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen 2009

* Pussy-painting. But is it art?

Awesome video: http://vimeo.com/28547433

From this…

…to this! 

Owl by Elke Johanna

http://bodytracks.org/2009/06/shigeko-kubota-vagina-painting/

Shigeko Kubota performed her Vagina Painting on 4 July 1965 at Cinemateque, East 4th Street New York during Perpetual Fluxus Festival.

In an act both evocative and critical of action painting, Kubota attached a paintbrush under her short skirt and squatted to make painterly marks on a large piece of paper on the floor. In this way Kubota challenged the assumptions still prevalent in the art world at the time which connected masculinity with creative genius. This work is one of many feminist takes on abstract expressionism, a genre characterised by macho male practitioners.

Kubota’s work was part of the Fluxus movement, an international network of artists, composers and designers, including Yoko Ono and George Maciunas, noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines. Fluxus takes its name from the Latin word meaning ‘flow’ and is indebted to the Japanese movement Gutai which emphasized the artist’s body, gesture and the beauty of destruction and decay.

Further feminist performance works dealing with the expressive use of paint can be found within the ‘Action Painting‘ category and include: Carolee Schneemann’s Eye Body (1963), Helen Almeida’s Inhabited Painting (Pintura Habitada) (1975), Linda Benglis’ Blatt (1968-70) and Niki de Saint Phalle’s Fire at Will (1961-63) among others.

Kubota’s Vagina Painting was re-enacted by Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen in her piece Never Mind Pollock performed in various exhibitions worldwide including at “Once More with Feeling” at Tate Modern on 27 June 2009 and Re.Act Feminism at the Akademie der Kunst in Berlin in January of the same year.

[FACT has it on good advice that this ancient artform is still being practiced nightly in Bangkok…and with colours!…and no censorship.]

Ray Bradbury on Censorship

Libertarian Neocon: June 6, 2012

http://libertarian-neocon.blogspot.com/2012/06/ray-bradbury-on-censorship.html

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.

 [Louis Monier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images]

[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”.

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