A song of ice and fire

A song of ice and fire

This seems familiar. A young woman, a girl really at 16, is thrust into the centre of a national blood sport, her every move subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism. A father figure who means well speaks some tough truths knowing she will eventually be better for it. The government gets involved and manipulates her into fulfilling their agenda. And finally she's thrust into an arena with 23 of her peers where they fight to the death.

Yes, it's the plot of The Hunger Games, but everything except the arena of death applies to what we've seen in the past week. And just like in the books and films, even though the kids aren't perfect, it's the adults in this story who should be ashamed of their behaviour.

The unsuspecting star of our story, the Katniss Everdeen of Thai entertainment news if you will, is an actor on Hormones, a popular cable TV show about kids being young adults who try to have sex, smoke, get in fights and listen to their iPods instead of singing the national anthem at school assembly. (This in itself is enough to upset those who want to contain culture the way they might bonsai.) We will not name her here, even though her name and image have been widely circulated, because she has rights under the 2003 Child Protection Act and because she has been exploited enough as it is.

Where Katniss was the girl on fire, this young Thai celebrity was pictured apparently using ice, aka crystal methamphetamine. Cue the social media storm and confected outrage from people who have forgotten they were imperfect as teenagers, or were so perfect they had no fun.

Stepping in to advise and mentor our flawed heroine was her father, who seemed forthright and honest when telling the world his daughter did in fact try ice. He asked for forgiveness. "I always tell my daughter that we can lie to everyone, but we cannot lie to ourselves," he was quoted as saying in words superimposed on a picture on Facebook.

Katniss's mentor Haymitch Abernathy might have been pithier _ "Here's some advice. Stay alive" _ but both have their hearts in the right place even if their words are harsh to hear.

This should have been the end of it, but as Hunger Games fans know, the Capitol will never miss an opportunity to make an example of someone.

Because of the scandal's nature, in comes Chalerm Yubamrung, who heads the government's centre to overcome drugs problems, and Office of the Narcotics Control Board secretary-general Pongsapat Pongcharoen.

Katniss had a government escort and prep team to ensure she was on time and looking her best for the cameras. These characters wore ridiculous and colourful wigs, often had plastic surgery, favoured style over substance and usually had connections to the prevailing political power. Decide for yourself how the comparison with the former gubernatorial candidate can be drawn _ all I'm saying is Pol Gen Pongsapat sat next to the girl at a media conference a week ago and confirmed she would soon be appearing in the board's anti-drugs campaign.

Given Thailand lacks an evil and cruel dictatorial overlord, the part of President Snow will be played by Chalerm. There are no particular parallels between the Labour Minister and a character who never speaks without thinking, but Chalerm is the senior government figure in this farce.

He announced to the world that the girl in question had been cleared of drug use. It's true enough that she had passed a drug test, but still they paraded her in front of everyone and are forcing her to appear in an advertising campaign.

This is a reprehensible display of adults exploiting a teenager who is dealing with a difficult situation, one who has the legal right to protection. Crystal meth is not recommended to anyone, much less a person who is still growing, but the calculated use of a celebrity caught in an inappropriate moment is a far uglier example of human behaviour than a 16-year-old trying drugs.

Granted, there are worse examples of adults exploiting children to be found in the world, but they are rarely this high in profile or condoned by those in power. There are reasons young people are offered legal protection; we don't hold the mistakes of youth against people forever _ the fact the girl is a film and TV star should change none of that.

Sadly, like Katniss, adults have thrown the young actor into a storm she should never have had to face. We will all get to watch whether she burns like fire or melts like ice, all the while wishing it didn't have to be like this.

Michael Ruffles is a journalist for Life.

Michael Ruffles

Chief sub-editor of the Bangkok Post Sunday

Michael Ruffles is chief sub-editor of the Bangkok Post Sunday.

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