วันพุธ, พฤศจิกายน 23, 2559

The Royal Anthem: Shaping Thai political views through cinemas nationwide

The latest version of the Royal Anthem music video

on Tue, 22/11/2016 - 14:34
Prachatai English

Kornkritch Somjittranukit

Throughout modern Thailand’s history, Royal Anthem music videos have played a significant role in transforming the foundations of royal legitimacy. While the palace previously emphasised the King’s commitment to his duties as ‘Father of the Land”, anthem videos now push the Thai people’s duty to love the monarchy as ‘good children’.

On 14 November 2016, the Television Pool of Thailand released a new official music video for Thailand’s Royal Anthem. According to the video director Chatrichalerm Yukol, the video will now be played before movie screenings in cinemas nationwide.

Thai cinema-goers will know well the pre-movie tradition of standing up and paying respect to the King while the Royal Anthem plays. This ritual, however, is not a stagnant process. Through Thailand’s history, the anthem’s music videos have changed many times to shape the public’s political ideologies. Different political contexts lead to different motion pictures.

The new video marks the last version of the Royal Anthem released under King Rama IX, since Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is expected to take the throne on 1 December. The nine-minute long video opens with a speech the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej delivered on 31 December 1976, the year of the 6 October Massacre, during his annual New Year address. The last two minutes feature footage from the mass singing of the anthem by over 50,000 Thais at the late King’s funeral on 22 October.

We, servants of His great Majesty,
prostrate our heart and head,
to pay respect to the ruler, whose merits are boundless,
our glorious sovereign ,
the greatest of Siam,
with great and lasting honor,
(We are) secure and peaceful because of your royal rule,
the result of royal protection
(is) people in happiness and in peace,
May it be that
whatever you will,
be done
according to the hopes of your great heart
as we wish (you) victory, hurrah!

This is an unofficial translation of the Royal Anthem provided by Wikipedia. The song was first composed in the reign of King Rama V and was used as a national anthem during the King Rama VI regime. The anthem entered cinemas in 1935 when the then government ordered theatres nationwide to play the anthem after each show.

In the very first days, the song was played live by traditional bands (piphat) since most movies at that time were silent films. Only when technology allowed for films with sound were music videos of the anthem produced. During the first period between 1980 and 1994, music videos merely consisted of the late King Bhumibol’s portrait combined with several historical buildings such as Democracy Monument, Grand Palace and Government House.

The very first version of the Royal Anthem music video

Anthem videos in this era aimed at strengthening the ideology of “Nation, Religion, King”. This ideology was the main discourse employed by the Thai state during the Cold War era against the Communist Party which was actively operating in rural areas. One of the most popular modes of film-viewing at that time was “Nang Klang Plaeng,” where caravans traveled across the country and played movies in temporary cinemas. Wherever the caravans went, they proliferated state ideology through the Royal Anthem music video.

In this period, each cinema created their own version of the music video so there were many versions. Yet despite the variety of creators, the videos were similar in combining the late King’s portrait with footage of him at work -- visiting rural villagers, inspecting crops and so on. The late King’s image was changing from that of an elegant king to a hard-working “Father” who travels across the lands to improve the wellbeing of his “children”. The music videos in this era contained strong depictions of “the King of Development”.

In the 1990s, cinema complexes, also known as cineplexes, emerged in Thailand. With better filming technology and quality of visuals and sounds, cineplexes wiped out small-to-medium cinemas. The only two big cinematic companies who have survived until the present are Major Cineplex and SF Cinema. The Royal Anthem music videos in cinemas have been dominated by the two companies ever since.

In this era, computer graphic technology was also introduced into the movie industry. Anthem music videos were now embellished with vibrant computer graphic technology. Here, we can observe the depiction of the King through various graphic effects such as rain, jigsaws and paint. Each video has its own theme and symbolism.

The “Rain” version symbolises the King as rain nourishing the drought land

The mid-1990s coincided with the decline of the late King’s health which obstructed him from visiting people in the rural areas as he did when he was young. Younger generations had fewer opportunities to see his daily missions on TV. But since cinemas became more affordable and popular among teenagers at that time, younger generations could still realise the late King’s greatness through the Royal Anthem’s music video in theaters.

Although huge technological differences mediated how the King was presented in the periods before and after 1994, the meaning stayed consistent — the greatness and devotion of King Bhumibol.

The “Jigsaws” version reflects a variety of the King’s tasks

Over the last decade and a half, however, the messaging of the anthem videos has changed significantly. While the videos previously asked audience members only to watch and appreciate the King’s greatness, they now demand people actively practice and perform in order to become “good children of the Father.”

After the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra and subsequently two coups in a decade, the legitimacy of the monarchy has been challenged in an unprecedented manner. According to Thongchai Winichakul’s work on ‘hyper-royalism’, the ideology that the King is the Father of all Thai people cannot work properly anymore.

“‘Since [the 2006 coup], there has been abundant evidence not only of the palace’s anti-democratic politics but also of the injustice inflicted upon Thaksin supporters and those who opposed the coups. Widespread disappointment turned into derision, then disillusion with the monarchy. The continuing suppressions of these people since the 2006 coup, especially the brutal killings in 2010, have intensified their bitterness and anger against injustice by the royalist state. The royalist spells that held sway over a massive number of ordinary Thais were broken.”

Thongchai also documents rocketing dissent against the monarchy as political conflict continues.

“Although dissension vis-à-vis royalism is not new, the current wave — known among dissenters as the “Ta Sawang” phenomenon (literally cleared-eyes or brightened-eyes, i.e. disillusioned), is unlike earlier ones … The earlier anti-monarchists were limited to the radicals while the current one is spread across various sectors of the population and regions … The Ta Sawang survives by open politics and operates in the public sphere; it is not a clandestine operation like the anti-monarchy radicals of the past.”

As disillusionment with the monarchy as the people’s protector grows, Royal Anthem music videos have rooted Thainess in a very basic requirement — a great love for the great King.

In recent music videos, fewer images of the King’s hardworking life are presented and have been replaced with images of people expressing their gratitude for seeing the King. Some of them cry, prostrate, wave the King’s flag and raise the King’s portraits on their head.

By incorporating image after image of citizens expressing their devotion to the King, the videos frame not loving the King as bizarre and unthinkable. A good example are the music videos produced by Major Cineplex group, in coordination with the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Instead of showing a series of the late King’s portraits, this music video portrays people across different ages, careers, regions and religions participating in various ceremonies praising the late King. This presentation carry a very simple message “everyone loves the King”.

The Royal Anthem music video produced by Major Cineplex

As lèse majesté incident rates hike, pro-monarchy ideology embedded in the anthem videos have correspondingly intensified. A piece of proof is the music video produced by SF Cinema group in 2013. This video was published when political conflict in Thailand was at its peak, with a coup taking place a year later.

While other videos usually begin with the message, “Please pay your respect to His Majesty the King,” this videos begins with a dramatic message, “The country has faced various crises… But we remain strong and hopeful... We have the centre of the heart … Because we receive the great morale… from the Father’s blessing.”

Each message is followed by pictures of ordinary people who have lost hope due to sickness or other causes, but who are made hopeful and happy by the King’s teachings. Then the Royal Anthem is played.

In the original version of the most recent anthem video, there is a 30-second recording after the anthem ends of people shouting at a royal birthday ceremony, “Long live the King.” After the video was launched, public questions immediately arose over when the audience should sit down -- whether after the anthem ends or after the “long live the King” voice ends. In response to that concern, SF Cinema later removed the 30-second recording from the videos.

Royal Anthem music videos have evolved from telling the story of the King’s dedication to actively setting norms of love and devotion for all Thai people.

The Royal Anthem music video produced by SF Cinema