Paper-thin alibi for kids' day gun play
The irony must have been lost on him and on everyone around him. This Children's Day -- the day of machine guns, tanks and rocket launchers -- Thai kids will also get to take pictures with our cardboard prime minister, 10 standees in fact, in various poses and costumes deployed around Government House as special attractions.
The descriptive term is somehow apposite: a cardboard prime minister. Something that looks real but is not real, a stand-in, a phoney, something that has an outline but neither dimension nor depth.
At least it's a development from last year, when the Children's Day's attraction at Government House was -- again the irony was lost on the organisers -- a set of dinosaur replicas. If nothing else, the prehistoric beasts had an academic value, besides doubling as a metaphor. How could children own the future when these dinosaurs are owning the present and shaping the course of history?
If the intention of the cardboard prime ministers was to inspire humour, then mission accomplished. They are hilarious, head-scratchingly hilarious, in an embarrassing way; as in when someone makes a joke but the joke backfires on them. The children will laugh happily as they take turns taking pictures with the standees, as so many people around the world have already laughed at them this past week. The prime minister unveiled his doppelgänger on Monday, partly as a sarcastic joke, and partly as an evasive subterfuge. That day, he told the reporters gathering at Government House that if they had any questions, "just ask him", pointing at the standee of his full-bodied image.
The video clip of this incident went viral. Virtually every news outlet – from the populist Buzzfeed to the highbrow Washington Post, New York Times, Guardian and Time -- spun mocking headlines out of it, most of them referring to one thing: This is a new tactic of a junta leader in Southeast Asia to evade tough questions from reporters. Thailand hardly contributes to world news. When we finally did, it was material that made us a global laughing stock, something you'll pause to watch on your news feed, like funny cat videos (I would say the standees beat even the world news headline of Yingluck Shinawatra shopping in Knightsbridge).
It's worth noting that while children will shake hands (maybe wai?) with the cardboard leader, they will get to play with real guns. I have complained about this every year, and we should keep complaining until the "standard practice" of letting kids play with weapons is reviewed -- or stopped.
Isn't it bizarre? No, the word is "hypocritical". Because when you watch movies on TV, sometimes they censor guns and cigarettes to keep us (and our children) safe from an exposure to bad influences. Watchdogs and parental groups complain about violence in video games. We cringe every time we hear reports about child soldiers in Africa. So, if guns on TV are not OK, why are real guns? Why on Children's Day do real M16s become toys when toy guns sometimes creep us out? Again, the irony escapes them when they have a cut-out PM to greet children, only for the innocent little boys and girls to move on to play with war weapons, with real soldiers guiding them how to look through the crosshairs.
The narrative of war and military idols is the identity of nations in conflict, such as North Korea or some African nations. It's just dismal that, on Children's Day of all days, the day in which innocence, intelligence and hope should be celebrated, we allow kids to soak up that narrative without batting an eyelid.
Perhaps that's the mentality of the land with the cardboard prime minister. We no longer know what's real and what's imagined, we're not sure if the person who's answering the reporters' questions is a real person or a programmed standee, a Dr Frankenstein or his Frankenstein. And the best part is, we're fine! Nearly four years after we've had this prime minister, the reporters don't seem to mind it at all.
The final irony is the Children's Day motto, a relic of the military government of the 1950s (this is something we should also abolish). For 2018, the PM has penned this axiom, "Learn to think, learn to see through things, be creative with technology."
Again, how that motto sounds self-mocking is lost on them all. To think and to see through things isn't really what this administration has championed. Haven't you seen that sarcastic T-shirt, "I think, therefore I am in jail"? Likewise, to see through things means to realise that the regime won't leave the scene as easily as they've promised. Or if they pretend to, they'll leave a cardboard PM there to watch over everything.
Kong Rithdee is Life editor, Bangkok Post.
Bangkok Post columnist
Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.