It’s been a week since the topless painting scandal broke but the fuss still keeps dragging on, and on – a bit surprising given the normally short attention span of both the media and the public. While many in the Thai public are by now quite fatigued by the latest bare breast saga, it appears Thai officials have thrived on their own collective furor over the incident. They just won’t let it die.
Throughout the past week, one government agency after another jumped into the fray, expressing outrage invariably accompanied by some kind of stern intervention in the topless painting affair. The absurdity kept rising to an ever higher level than any cynical Thai could have predicted.
From shock to shame and condemnation to absurdity
In this topless painting scandal the initial shock became a full-blown furor in a dubious publicity. A storm in a teacup inside Thailand became a typhoon blowing over international media. By now global interest has naturally subsided but at home Thai officials will not let the topless painting affair leave the media headlines.
In Thailand the initial reaction of shock quickly spiraled into absurdity. No one directly or indirectly involved in this topless painting scandal has been left unscathed. “Thailand’s Got Talent” show producers and judges have been variously condemned for having allowed such a lewd act to be performed on national television, for allegedly staging the performance to boost ratings, for passing the topless painter on to the next round in the case of the two male judges, and for hypocrisy in the case of the female judge.
But it is the topless painter, 23-year-old Ms. Duangjai Jansaunoi, who has suffered the most direct beating from the public. Since the YouTube video featuring her act became viral, she has been called various things along the lines of a talentless, shameless tramp masquerading as a contestant. Details of her personal life have been dug up by both the members of the public and the media. Clips of her past nude performances surfaced to support rumors that she was no artist but a nude model hired by the show producers to pull a PR stunt.
However, it must be said, not all Thais are judgmental. Though no one was enthusiastic about the topless painter’s artistic talent, quite a good number saw nothing to condemn her for and find the outrage hypocritical. But unhappy, morally outraged people always make a bigger noise.
Somebody in Phrae province where Ms. Duangjai hailed from cried loudly that she has shamed her hometown. A day or two later her mother was seen gaving a tearful apology to the Thai public for her daughter’s shameful act (Matichon).
Tearfully wai-ing, Ms. Duangjai’s mother told the media that she was distressed her daughter has caused such a shame. “She didn’t know any better,” the mother said. She asked for sympathy for her daughter, who is the breadwinner of the family, supporting her paralyzed elderly father, her six-month-old baby, her younger sister in school, and the mother who cares of the whole family in Phrae while she works in Bangkok. The topless painter’s mom believed that her daughter, who sends them 5,000 baht every month and sometimes more, would not do anything illegal, but she might not have a good understanding of the society and might have needed money.
After much backfire, the show producer Workpoint Entertainment also apologized to the Thai public – twice. In the first apology Workpoint gave an excuse that it had no inkling that the topless contestant would pull the bare-breasted stunt on the show. Few bought it. In the second apology Workpoint denied the rumors that it paid Ms. Duangjai 10,000 baht (about USD 320) to deliver the stunt to boost the show’s ratings, and promised that such an act would not happen again.
Meanwhile, the Thai culture watchdogs, with the Ministry of Culture (MiniCult) leading the pack, asked the police to investigate if a crime had been committed. The police met with MiniCult, the Thai Women’s Council and art experts to consult whether Ms. Duangjai has violated the obscenity law. If she’s found to have committed a lewd act, it’ll mean a 500 baht fine. There is as yet no word on their deliberation but given many precedents, Ms. Duangjai will likely be found a perverse criminal.
Ordinarily this type of scandal in Thailand would end about here, when the topless painter would be seen on television turning herself in to the police, looking uncomfortable but repentant to the camera. The media will report that she has paid the 500 bath fine and been released.
Not this time. The Ministry of Culture, among other government agencies, has called for the show producers and the TV station to take responsibility for not censoring the show. The Nation reported, Culture Minister Ms. Sukumol Khunpluem said:
The matter needed urgent action because inappropriate images had been shown to the public on a television programme that had been given the ‘thor’ rating for general viewing and was broadcast during prime time… All parties should work together to improve the content of the show and the producers and Channel 3 should apologise for broadcasting inappropriate content.
Thai authorities demand swift accountability from somebody. One might call it progress.
An act of violence against the public eye?
Given the extent of outrage and condemnation and the profuse apologies from those associated with the topless painter, one would think Ms. Duangjai has committed some serious crime. Or has she?
The bare-breasted painter, the show producer and judges have all been chastised by society. And TV Channel 3 operator Bangkok Entertainment Company (BEC) on which the offending show was broadcast did apologize to the public for the indiscretion on its airwave.
But apparently that wasn’t enough. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) was still not well pleased and felt compelled to act in the public interest. The NBTC called a meeting with BEC and Workpoint executives. By the tone of a Thai news report (MCOT), it was a scolding session, in which the NBTC board told BEC and Workpoint executives that they have committed (or perhaps more accurately allowed Ms. Duangjai to commit) “an act of violence against the public eye” (การกระทำที่มีความรุนแรงต่อสายตาสาธารณชน).
The NBTC lectured, BEC and Workpoint should have known better not to have allowed the inappropriate content, such a lewd act, to be inflicted upon the innocent public during prime time. Specially, they were found to have violated Section 37 of the Radio and Television Broadcasting Act 2008 which prohibits broadcasting of programs with content including acts of obscenity or acts that can cause serious harms to the morality or health of the public.
To teach them a lesson, the NBTC slapped the BEC with the maximum 500,000 baht (USD 16,666.666) fine allowed under the law — (which comes to 250,000 baht or USD 8,333.333 per Ms. Duangjai’s exposed breast).
BEC and Workpoint executives humbly admitted to their mistake and oversight, saying they were really sorry about the mistake and promised it would not be repeated. The BEC executive assured the NBTC that his company was implementing all measures needed to prevent such problems in the future. Good thing, because, the NBTC warned, if the mistake is repeated it has the power to make BEC and TV Channel 3 cancel the show and to have the BEC operator’s contract terminated.
Who would have thought a little naughty stunt could cause so much trouble.
Protecting the innocent
As far as Thai authorities are concerned, a serious damage has been done. The harm has been inflicted on every innocent Thai man, woman and child exposed to the scandalous bare-breast images. Moreover, Thailand’s national image has suffered yet again; MiniCult boss Ms. Sukumol explained; the offending YouTube clip has been viewed the world over millions of time.
MiniCult is asking for cooperation from Thai social media not to further distribute inappropriate images and appealed that any further news coverage on this embarrassing affair stop reproducing the images of topless females.
And to ensure moral safety of the public, MiniCult has also sought cooperation from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) to block the topless painting YouTube video. According to Thai Rath, it will also coordinate with all Thai TV channels to take measures to screen out and remove inappropriate images on air and on websites.
Now we return to the question: Is bare breast painting an act of violence against the public eye? Many might think this is a ridiculous question. But let me assure you, it is not possible to exaggerate the Thai officials’ fear of breasts. Although recently developed (only about seven decades or so), Thailand’s twisted relationship with bare breasts is a deep and untreated national psychosis (which I have written about in length here).
Was Ms. Duangjai’s premeditated toplessness an act of violence against the Thai public eye, an attack on Thai morality and sensibilities? It must be, according to Thai officials. If it needs any more convincing, let me present some more evidence in the following pictures.
Thai authorities strongly believe that female breasts, even tiny pre-teen breasts of Shizuka in Doraemon, are harmful to the delicate morality and innocence of the young Thai public. So much so that even when they are inside swimsuits or tight outfits they still need to be blurred. It goes to show how very protective Thai society is of our young.
What’s more, there has been new found official awareness about equality between the sexes. The notion of gender equality has been inculcated to Thai children watching Saturday morning cartoon on TV. For example, as seen below, blatant images of male bare breasts are considerately blurred.
And while we are at it, why not blur boys’ underwear too.
Anyone still not convinced that bare breasts are a form of violence against the innocent public? (In Thailand, that is.)
Note: This article was first published for SiamVoices on Asian Correspondent on 23 June 2012.