Thai Culture: Can a Repressive Extreme Right junta “Spur Creativity?”

I rather play clubs than doing a CD, because no one can copy my club act

My Siamese cats tells me my song may be politically in-correct

By Tammy-this blog’s humanity journalist

The joke in Thailand is:

We Thais have lots of freedom to do things, not like in more advance countries that have lots of rules on controlling conduct. But we Thais don’t have the freedom to think, like in more advance countries that give people freedom to think.

Globally, economies are competing more on going to the market with cutting edge products that requires a great deal of creativity in their development. Thailand is also looking to do the same thing. In fact, the next 5 years National Development plan actually writes into the plan Thailand’s aspiration on creative economy.

That 5 years plan sees development of acting, movie making, music, design, fashion, architecture, advertising and software as the new Thai focus. The plan also calls for the focus on tradition, such as traditional medicine, culture tourism, Thai food and traditional arts and crafts.

  • However, Thailand is currently run by a very repressive right wing government. So how will this “Thai Creativity” drive play out? Will it fail or will it succeed? This blog does not have the answer, but the following raises some key points for the discussion-that is if you dare to go against the will of the current government and are brave and creative enough to seriously address the situation.

Abhsit Takes Thailand on a Creative Journey?

Today somewhere impressive, the repressive right wing government of Abhisit announced the launch of the “Thailand Creative Economy” with a US$500 million support fund for the next 3 years. Everyone was very happy that at last, Abhisit will follow his arch enemy Taksin lead in this direction.

Taksin got it all going?

Taksin got Thailand’s film festival going, first fashion week going, got the Thai design center going, got cutting edge IT going, got the Thai knowledge center going and a host of other projects-that were subsequently attacked by the right wing as taking Thailand too much into the modern world.

What is Creativity?

But what is creativity and innovation? Basically, it is the ability to “Think Outside the Box.” That requires lots of freedom, lots knowledge and lots of dotting the imaginative lines.

  • “I want to stress the importance of tradition and culture, and of Thailand’s arts and crafts as the creative cornerstone to Thai creativity,” said Abhisit.

In Thailand, traditional arts and crafts have been developed into high art with many such as hand-bags being sold in Thailand at prices near the same level as Ferragamo or Hermes.

“I am impressed with the quality and of the delicateness of these Thai products, but their design must be modern and be made more trendy,” said Vogue editorial, a few years ago as the Thai palace attempted to break these arts and crafts into the New York market.

But since then, these products have been successful to only a few globally-mainly with those who loves traditional crafts.

Creatively Repressive?

Only days before the launch party of Creative Thailand, a critic of Thailand’s class system got 18 years in jail for lese majeste, then Thai ITC in charged of developing Thailand’s new age communications infrastructure just put into operation a center charged with policing internet activity, and this type of list goes on and on.

Even today, when some nutty person re-edited Abhisit speech to make him look real mean-Abhisit threatened to use legal means to dissolve a major political party for forwarding the edited speech.

Creatively Hypocrites?

When Taksin was the Thai prime minister, re-edited Taksin pictures to make him look like Hitler spreaded via the internet like viral marketing and even newspapers ran fact less accusations reports of a complicated plot by Taksin to being down Thailand’s palace. What did Taksin do? Nothing.

  • But now, with Abhisit’s re-edited speech hitting the internet in viral ways, of all the millions re-edited speech that was forwarded through e-mails by thousands and thousands of employees at all sorts of companies-the police went and arrested employees of a company belonging to Taksin for forwarding the re-edited speech by e-mail.

If that isn’t bad enough, most of Thai right wing press immediately said the company was where the forwarding started-giving no facts to support the accusations. The bottom line here is that the Thai ICT ministry now is issuing a package of rules policing e-mail forwarding.

  • The package will literally kill viral marketing-both good and bad.

All of ASEAN looking at creativity?

  • But the bottom line really, is that only last week, Thailand’s high fashion industry, a burgeoning industry and very creative, issued a statement saying that the ASEAN free trade agreement will open up Thailand to massive new brands from other ASEAN countries and literally be “Wiping many cutting edge Thai fashion house off the map.”

And guess who used to attack Taksin for free trade area, as selling out Thailand’s interest? Well the right wing off course, who now takes free trade to levels Taksin did not even dared to do. So things like Thai high fashion? Well, in the name of free trade, much of it will be wiped out.

Downright Censorship?

Then, if all of the above are not bad enough, SF cinema, is really pissed off at the Thai censorship body that will start rating movies. SF said that the censorship had greatly hurt the quality of Thai films through its censor and now will likely hurt the movie box office ticket sales further-like the censorship has already moderated movies here and now ratings on top of that?

  • “All the great achievement in Thai creativity came before the right wing took grab of Thailand,” said Thai Animation editorial.

The Thai ICT ministry has banned some 15,000websites, and much of the Thai media is controlled by the right wing government that pours right wing propaganda into the Thai society 24 hours a day, everyday of the week.

Downright Propaganda?

The key message in all of the right wing propaganda is based on, “Love Thailand, unite and do not fight or argue because it will hurt the economy and the palace.” Unfortunately, creativity depends a great deal on outside the norm thinking, and that brings with it certain levels of border breaking.

In the mean time, Thai media is propagating the sufficiency theory at full tilt in its simplest form and that is to basically “Stop Dreaming” about a better modern life and to head instead to living in the traditional ways.

  • But other says there is still a chance. “Thailand has been in the news so much because of politics, the name recognition is strong, but unfortunately, it is a strong negative image,” said Mark, a blogger on Thailand out of California.

Copy Right Violation?

Then Thailand is still a heaven for copy-rights violations. But then, things like copy right violation CDs are now even being manufactured in Burma and Malaysia and then smuggled into being sole in Thailand. At Patpong, Sukhumvit or most tourist heavy traffic spots, copy-rights violation products are everywhere-being sold next to next to Thai traditional arts and crafts.

  • Things are so bad, several of Thailand’s most famous musicians never even bother to put a CD together because of counterfeiting. “I rather just play clubs than doing a CD because they can not copy my club act,” said a girl bass guitarist at Thailand’s most famous and followed girl band.

And the sorry fact is that it is not an isolated event. Walk around Chatuchak or Sampeng markets are there are literally hundreds of artist doing their creative thing on a small scale, with no intention to become more than having a cult following.

The right wing is trying to crack down on this, but as right wing, it only knows how to use brute force. And this use of brute force has back-fired and resulted in open conflict with counterfeit merchants-who now bands themselves into a united force ready to protest any move against them.

Incubators?

“The Thai venture capital business just does not take the type of risk venture capital in other countries are taking. And the universities are not much better,” said Som, the creator of a paper-based packaging material that sold his invention to German grocer giant.

And in one very creative industry, even with all the efforts in venture capital, incubators and clustering in Thailand’s software industry, out of nowhere, like overnight, Vietnam now has now about the same numbers of software companies and exports about the amount of software as Thailand.

  • As Thailand’s premier IT magazine goes on complaining how IT people in Thailand are low paid-Vietnam has targeted producing about 100,000 IT graduates a year. That is about 3 times Thailand’s level, who will be working for much less.

The right wing has laid plans to up-IT education and make computers available to school children-very much like Taksin and his laptop computer to every student campaign. But is that enough to support a “Creative Economy?” The US$500 million looks like a great sum, but ten compared to other government hand-outs and subsidy-Thai Creativity is getting peanuts.

As other sectors of the Thai economy gets lots and lots of tax breaks and subsidy from the government, the right wing  solution to creative Thailand is like pumping money into the third installment of a movie about a Thai King liberation of Thailand against occupation. After the first two, the finances ran out for the movie.

  • So here again, is playing right wing politics.

Thailand Creativity Hub?

And as Thailand goes on a negative spin, other countries in ASEAN are also hot on turning their country into the creativity hub. Singapore is attracting many of Thailand’s best animation talents away to work in Singapore. Movies makers from Singapore, Malaysia to Indonesia are making movies about Thailand.

  • And as Bangkok gets its first official modern art gallery, that came about from private donations, hundreds of Thai painters sits and all they do is to copy other people’s painting to make a living, with only about 30 Thai painters that can be both original and successful. Ane at Bangkok’s city art museum, most of the museum, stands empty.

So what has spurred this right wing “Creative Thailand” drive with the right wing?

Well perhaps because they are repressive and tend to use brute force, it appears they need an image of a softer touch. And Thai goods clearly need to compete in higher value added level-and that requires creativity.

  • All of the above are some basic facts needed to figure out if Thailand will be benefiting much from the US$500 million spending package to turn Thailand into a “Creative Economy.”

Creative Economy or Stupid Economy?

But then this blog might be wrong, because in the first quarter the Thai economy shrunk some 7% and in the second quarter another 5%. Abhisit immediately said that means the Thai economy grew 2% in the second quarter. Most Thais bought it and now say Thailand is on the road of a strong recovery because it just grew 2%. Not many think of the 5% contraction anymore.

  • If that is a sign of “Creativity” or “Stupidity” you be the judge.

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