If the TV went a breast too far, then turn it off
Ray Bradbury was right: Television destroys culture and makes us dumb. Turn on the blow-torch and burn books, because the mass hypnotism prescribed by TV is the status quo of modern consciousness. Regardless of your race or religion, your colour and your god, your sex or age, everyone has the same altar upon which daily worshipping is proffered, prime-time or otherwise. Every house has the same shrine, flickering, rectangular, sucking the hologrammed gods from space.
The problem is addiction, for we can't take our weary eyes off it. If television has been such a cause of distress, infamy and national hysteria during the whole month - starting with the "black screen" of European football to the abstract-expressionist breast-painting in Thailand's Got Talent that would shame the entire modernist canon from Pollock to Richter - if TV is so evil, in short, why don't we just turn it off? Which god or devil compels us to leave it on? We're all complicit in this idiocy, enslaved by the airwaves, and the only censorship we need comes from us - not from the state - by closing our eyes and turning off the tube.
It's even more distressing that the breast-painting shock-show has evoked questions we never thought to discuss, from the meaning of art to media ethics, while puritans seize the day to beat the war drum of censorship and the need to preserve Thai values; the Culture Ministry wants to block the YouTube clip of the show because - music please! - it hurts the image of Thailand. Soon the smell of hypocrisy and cheap moralism grows stronger than fresh paint. And just when we thought Workpoint, the show's producer, was the villain-in-chief, a newspaper upped the ante by tracking down the family of the bare-breasted woman, Duangjai Jansuanoi, in a tabloidesque dispatch that ended with the woman's mother apologising to the viewers. Apologies to us? What a fatal blow to cap this shameful affair. Yet if we're too weak to turn off the tube, it's time to set the record straight. The giddy point that has accompanied the Thailand's Got Talent uproar over the past week is whether the whole thing was a set-up. The show was supposed to be "real", with "real" people performing unscripted acts, with the judges (I can't stand any of them) unprepared for the "real drama" unfolding on stage. The great myth of modern television - the myth that sustains the billion-dollar industry - is that what happens on screen is a direct transport of reality and truth. Such myth is magnified by the proliferation of the most cynical genre called reality TV, from singing contest to human zoo and Whatever Got Talent, and in effect we're turned into reality junkies addicted to reality porn.
By this I don't mean porn as in naked flesh. That is simple, even lucid. But I refer to how mainstream TV shows employ the mechanism of porn: an excess of fake reality, of fantasy disguised as actuality, of vulgar sensationalisation, all aiming to stimulate our basest instincts and to boost ratings. This hysteria about topless painting on national television is not an issue of obscenity, as moralists are shrieking about, but of low media literacy among the viewers, which is a bigger problem.
The authorities, in their typical shallowness, confine the debate to the matter of indecency and "inappropriateness" (televised breasts are obscene, televised coup d'etats are not). What they should do instead is broaden the frame of discussion and take the opportunity to push for the cultivation of media literacy, starting by promoting viewers' immunity against the manipulation of media corporates, against the greedy masquerade and mercenary ploys executed under the banner of "reality" and "talent". To promote media literacy is to promote critical thinking. It's to equip the people with necessary resistance against the frightening flux of information, propaganda, advertisements and consumerism. Media literacy also means the end of state censorship, because we can choose to close our own eyes instead of being blindfolded. Media literacy, let's hope, is also the backbone of democracy, for it'll help us realise that a televised coup (and many parliamentary sessions) is more obscene than televised breasts.
I opened with Ray Bradbury, so let me end with another sci-fi hero, Philip K Dick: "Things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream." It's time to turn off the TV.
Kong is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post.
Kong is Deputy 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.