Bad fiction, films fine - it's bad reality that really upsets
Residents and long-time expats who have watched the latest Hollywood comedy "Hangover Part II", which was mostly shot in Bangkok, may wonder how accurate the depiction of their city was.
In the film starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis, three buddies wake up after an orgy of drugs, violence and sex and cannot remember what happened the night before.
The movie reduces Bangkok to a city known for its sex industry, drugs, crime and gangsters, with an elephant, street vendors and strangely robed monks included as colourful props.
While some of the representations of Bangkok are accurate, you won't find the mundane, traffic-congested normalcy and boredom as experienced by millions of Bangkok white- and blue-collar workers. They are simply not exotic enough and will likely dilute the image of the Big Mango as a legendary city unlike others.
Truths that are inconvenient are left out and the fact that the film is produced by the powerful Hollywood film industry means it stands a good chance of being distributed globally.
The production grossed US$86.5 million (or Bt2.6 billion) on its first weekend on North American screens, according to Associated Press on Monday. It's also being shown in 40 other countries, including Thailand, and has been doing well.
Back to the movie. Since the film is about three farang having a hell of a wild night in Bangkok, mundane aspects of the city that do not mesh with the main narrative are omitted. In this way, they can strengthen the core message of Bangkok in a selective and simplistic way, and make it easier and more entertaining for viewers. (BTW, this writer encourages Thais and expats to go see the movie and think about how Bangkok is portrayed and to ask themselves why).
In a way, it's also like how the Thai authorities and most of the Thai mass media attempt to control the grand narrative about Thai society and politics, and about what is "Thai" and what is not.
So for example, "all Thais" are depicted by most mass media as having "unreserved reverence and love" for the King and the monarchy. When that narrative gets affected by Thais who express themselves otherwise with regards to the royal institution, they get quietly thrown into jail through the lese majeste or computer crime law. And in the case of 'Da Torpedo', her lese majeste trial was even conducted in secret, while the media tried to play down the news as much as possible, if not ignore it altogether.
These people simply got in the way of a feel-good story line, and the growing number of arrests has become an inconvenient reality. And so they will be further ignored and edited out of the "normal" conversation about Thai people's relations with the monarchy, politics and society.
Never mind if by doing so, things become inaccurate or even distorted, because what the authorities and most mass media want is to ensure that the grand narrative is convincing, special and unspoiled from unwanted distractions to the plot.
I have little problem about the selectivity and simplistic description of Bangkok in the movie "Hangover Part II" because it's fiction. But when most mass media keep on making a simplistic and fictitious portrayal of the current state of Thai society and politics, especially regarding facts and the issue of people's relationship to the monarchy, they are doing a disservice to society and only hindering Thailand from ever maturing.
A feel-good and simplistic story line without nuance and irony is best left to bad fiction that is too good to be true.