The Death of Shakespeare
The news that the film ‘Shakespeare Tong Tai’ (Shakespeare Must Die) has been banned by the censors comes as no surprise to teachers of English literature in the nation. They report an ever-growing list of censored works, and are often bewildered by the official reasons given for the bans.
‘Shakespeare Tong Tai’ is an adaptation of the famous Shakespearian tragedy ‘Macbeth’ and is set in a fictitious Asian country. Press reports say that a committee of the Ministry of Culture’s Office of Film and Video, headed by a Police Major General, refused to allow the film to appear on Thai screens, under the authority of the Film Act of 2008. Despite the fact that it was partly funded by the Ministry of Culture itself, the committee decided the film “undermines the unity of people in the country”.
The film’s producers have not, as far as I know, questioned the expertise of Police Major Generals in Shakespearian scholarship. Or in their understanding of “the unity of people in the country”. But this case has become one more example of a disturbing trend in Thai society of trying whitewash out of existence any hint of divisiveness or disunity.
The first sector to feel the effects was education. Schools and universities are becoming desperate to find any material that can avoid charges of promoting social disharmony.
“I’m surprised that the ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ people thought that they could get away with it,” said one Acharn who teaches English lit at a leading tertiary institution. “We had to get rid of all Shakespeare ages ago.
“Virtually every history play portrays a contested succession which the Ministry said was ‘unhelpful in the current context’. The tragedies also deal with conflict in various forms, be it revenge in ‘Hamlet’, jealousy in ‘Othello’, or sibling rivalry in ‘Lear’.”
The ban does have its supporters, though. “The students are all for it,” noted the Acharn. “They always found Shakespeare difficult.”
Novels and short stories have come under the same scrutiny with one misguided teacher actually threatened with prosecution under Article 112 of the Criminal Code. She foolishly included H G Wells’ short story ‘The Country of the Blind’ on a reading list. The authorities at her college went ballistic when they discovered the story contained the line: ‘In the Country of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King.’
It is not just at the top end of the educational pyramid that teachers are running into trouble. A primary teacher was flummoxed to find ‘Noddy Goes to Toyland’ on the banned list.
“The committee only read the first paragraph and promptly ordered all copies to be burned,” said the distraught teacher. “It reads ‘Big-Ears the brownie was hurrying through the woods on his little red bicycle, when he bumped into somebody.’
“They claimed it encouraged racial discord because the victim is brown, political polarization because of the reference to ‘red’ and road rage.”
Educationists had been hoping to rely on the Ministry of Culture for suitably anodyne texts, even if students found them crushingly tedious. But with the Ministry banning a work it had itself sponsored, they have had to be wary even of this source.
News media reporting has also been cramped by the insistence by the powers-that-be that any hint of disagreement must be excised. Reports of parliamentary debates have had to be cut, as has any and every announcement out of Democrat Party Headquarters.
“It’s just incessant whingeing,” noted one veteran reporter. “Pheu Thai couldn’t even take a shit without the Democrats complaining it was either too much, too little or the wrong colour.”
Other organs of state find themselves similarly constrained. The National Human Rights Commission has decided to amend its mission statement, which now declares that human rights will promoted and protected just as long as this doesn’t upset anybody. The Commission immediately felt it had to suspend all activities, though long-term observers failed to note much real change.
Traffic police are wondering if red lights discriminate in favour of vehicles allowed to proceed on green and are considering another attempt to speed up traffic flow by permanently switching all lights to green.
The National Election Commission decided that political campaigning in any form was almost certain to provoke arguments and issued a blanket ban. They have also proposed that ballot papers be banned for the same reasons as ‘Shakespeare Must Die’.
When questioned as to how democracy could survive in a system that prioritized unity above all other considerations, a respected senior statesman said that this was no problem for Thai-style democracy.
“When a true patriot has any doubt, they should simply agree with their superiors. In this way, Thai society will progress and prosper and anyone who says different is a traitor and will be shot at dawn,” he said harmoniously.