Why does P’ Toon Bodyslam run?

The short and sweet answer is that he invites people to join a recently-announced virtual run, which starts tomorrow, to raise money for 109 Matayom 3 students from very poor families so they can move on to an upper Matayom or a vocational level education.

However, the long and more nuanced answer is much more complicated. 

P’ Toon has become heroically synonymous with his charity runs, which he started off to raise funds for medical equipment for hospitals. Remember when the Ministry of Public Health ironically contributed one million baht to his run in 2017? In fact, the aforementioned virtual run for education had its inaugural edition in 2020 in conjunction with the Kaokonlakao Foundation. In the past, people seem to have nothing but praise for P’ Toon but why do many have reservations and objections to this latest run that he fronts?

Comedian Henning Wehn famously quipped, “We don’t do charity in Germany. We pay taxes. Charity is just a failure of governments’ responsibilities.” This seems to resonate with critics of this virtual run campaign.

Isn’t it the government’s job to provide basic education for citizens using the taxpayers’ money so they can have a fighting chance of making something out of their lives? I agree with Wehn’s statement to a degree but we can’t always rely on the government to help people who are at a disadvantage or marginalised in some way. If we have a virtual run for musicians or sex workers whose livelihood has been destroyed by the pandemic, I would have no objection to that. I mean would you expect conservative Thailand to admit to having sex workers in the first place? But the thing is that we already have something called the Equitable Education Fund. 

More importantly, can we stop spending taxpayers’ money on things or projects that are for decorative and cosmetic purposes, and use them on what matters and, you know, on us people instead? I think it’s more than fair to question whether the government uses our resources effectively.

Many view the virtual run as a bandage solution to a much bigger and structural problem that is largely left unaddressed. Many call for P’ Toon to use his celebrity status to take authorities, whose pay cheques aren’t affected by Covid-19, to task instead of asking people, whose pay cheques are very much affected by Covid-19, for money for a cause that will make him a hero. 

Some say P’ Toon could pay for the education of the 109 students with his own money since he must be so rich. Some even went as far as saying that his charity runs help cover up the government’s shortcomings and bring no lasting solution. Ouch. And his seeming alignment with Uncle Tu doesn’t help either. 

People also have issues with the number 109. They don’t understand why these 109 students and not the many others that are at risk of dropping out. The number definitely has significant meaning and political implications in Thai society and that’s all I’m going to say on that matter. 

Some argue in favour of P’ Toon, saying that charity runs are also held in other countries. You see, there’s a difference here, in my opinion. While what P’Toon has accomplished is nothing short of heroic feats, he can’t deny that it isn’t a purely selfless act. He’s the face of it and he’s a celebrity, after all. Relevancy is his currency. Unintentionally or not, he gains cultural capital, which can lead to more opportunities and accolades for him. Bodyslam stans, please don’t come for me.

I think the anger and criticism against this run are perhaps rooted in the collective frustration people feel about the government, not necessarily P’Toon and his political alignments. Thailand’s state welfare isn’t something you can truly rely on and this run inadvertently points to that, again.

While I think some critics are way too harsh on P’ Toon (but he probably can take it since he has run so much that he has zero fat on his body), many also appreciate what he and the organisers have done for Thailand. However, we also question, out loud this time around, whether there is a better and more lasting way to go about addressing issues instead of making a touching/feel-goodery event out of it every time.

If the government really cares for its people, do we even need such a run in the first place? Are people misdirecting their frustration with the current government and the status quo onto him? Are they reading into things too much and ending up politicising the run when it needs not to be?


Pornchai Sereemongkonpol

Guru section Editor

Guru section Editor

Email : pornchais@bangkokpost.co.th

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