Love, manufactured

Hipster The King challenges perceptions of leaders and labels

There always seems to be an invisible tyrant hanging over the audience’s head in Thanapol Viruhakul’s creations. But in his latest production, Hipster The King, at Democrazy Theatre Studio, this tyrant is not so invisible.

In 2012’s Post Show Talk With Pina Bausch And Dancers, the audience and performers were placed under a rule of silence, where orders were communicated through a laptop from an unknown source. Last year, we were inexplicably seduced to spend our money in an economic system at once strange and familiar in Transaction. This time, however, we are told who the bad guy is.

Yet you will find echoes of Post Show Talk in the new production. In the 2012 show, the performers spoke to each other and the audience in silence, mouthing their words. In Hipster The King, the performers stand in silence in a tableau beneath thick layers of clothing designed to make them look impressive and powerful. They strike poses that make them look saintly, original, iconoclastic — all fit to be admired, idolised, loved. Unlike in Post Show Talk, where the late dance icon Pina Bausch was reduced to a noisy blender, here in Hipster The King, Thanapol uses the term hipster, one of the most hated species of nonconformist, with the most beloved figures of this era.

Thanapol first plays with images in the media that we have been conditioned to perceive as those of world leaders one should respect, be in awe of, or even worship. It is not first clear who they are, just that they are somehow good and respectable people. Soon, the information about these silent and still figures in the form of printed words appear on the wall. The director is the tyrant; these actors — the “leaders of the hip” — love the audience, defy the tyrant on our behalf, and work tirelessly without complaining in the name of love.

Then, it comes time to give back. At first, almost timidly, the text on the wall suggests ways to help out these performers. “You can show them your love by giving them a standing ovation” or “Come stand in their place and take their pose”. As the show progresses and the tasks of the actors become more challenging, suggestions and polite requests elevate to commands. “Stand up and clap for our leaders”. And if we don’t comply, it turns accusatory. “Why don’t you help them? Why are you not doing anything?”.

The information about these non-speaking figures, again from an unspecified source, also reveals their inner lives, acts like a caption to the still images, and asks rhetorical questions. “You are always on their mind”, “The idols care so much”, “Not even for a second do they think about themselves”, “See how they ache? See how they suffer?”, “Can you still be cruel to them?”.

Through this unusual performance, Thanapol gives us a live construction of propaganda. The visual presentation of these figures begins as vague images of great humans; we can only put adjectives to them. As they leave the stage and return over the course of the show, it becomes clearer what they are each time, and finally we are able to put names to these figures: Aung San Suu Kyi, Frida Kahlo, Steve Jobs, Che Guevara, Mao Zedong.

Even then, these names and images are merely labels, just like hipster, leader, inventor, pioneer, rebel, saint, artist. In these forms, none of them are wholly humans, but rather carefully constructed images. Their aura and power are amplified by the words from an invisible authority, and the audience’s responses to them — none of which come of our own free will, but rather through suggestions, subtle manipulation, commands, and even coercion. Our love and gratitude for these “leaders of the hip” are assumed, even imposed, but not earned or considered.

The show may seem repetitive, but I believe that repetition and the subtle increase in aggression of the commands are at the heart of Hipster The King. It forces us to question our responses to messages of greatness and goodness. It forces us to question the love we believe is our natural human reaction to the so-called mighty and benevolent of the world. Like their images, love, too, can be manufactured.

- Hipster The King continues its run at 7.30pm at Democrazy Theatre Studio on Soi Saphan Koo, every Thursday to Monday until June 16th.The show is in English and Thai.
- Tickets are 590 baht for walk-ins and 500 baht for pre-paid reservations.
- Call 08-1441-5718.

About the author

Writer: Amitha Amranand
Position: Reporter