Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
I find it quite amusing and amazing how Thai people live their lives like planets orbiting around various stars. The stars I'm talking about are not the celestial kind, but stars in the entertainment industry. I'm not sure how many people could name any members of the current cabinet apart from the prime minister. But ask them about their favourite actors and actresses, they would come up with an immediate list, and tell you which television series they were in.
And if you asked them why they liked these people, the answer would first of all be, "Because they're good looking", followed by, "They're good actors/actresses", and not much else.
Behaviour is not an issue; they could be mean, rakish, selfish or irresponsible, but that only serves to put them more in the limelight. Thais are ready to forgive, and any negative publicity is soon put behind them, and those stars are ready to shine again in the eyes of their fans.
The fan club phenomenon itself is quite amazing. Each star has groupies who will follow them to the four corners of the Earth, just to be able to catch a glimpse of their idol, take a few pictures with them and say a few words to them during the course of the day. It doesn't matter how far they have to travel, and how difficult the trip. They'll get there, armed with a bag of snacks and drinks to ply their idols with, and a camera with telephoto lens to snap every move. They might also be holding placards with their idols' names in blinking lights. I'm not quite sure what these fan club members do for a living, but they must be quite well off to have the time and funds to do all that they do on their daily missions.
The superstar phenomenon currently in the news in that of Thrisadee "Por" Sahawong, who had a moment of touch-and-go as he battled against the onslaught of dengue fever. According to the Department of Epidemiology, there have been over 65,000 cases of dengue fever in Thailand this year, with six deaths. Yet none of this would ever have been a topic for conversation until poor Por succumbed to the dreaded Aedes aegypti mosquito.
I, for one, would never have known about a mosquito by this name except for Por. Without realising it, he has single-handedly taught the nation more about dengue fever than all the textbooks ever taught your from your school days. That's the power of stardom.
People are actually looking around their houses and gardens to clear any pools of stagnant water that would be potential breeding grounds for the mosquito. People are rushing to donate blood type A in answer to a plea circulated via social media. There are daily press conferences by the hospital, and people are lining up to sign the get-well-soon book outside the ICU where Por is still lying, comatose.
Yes, I admit there is a good side to the superstar phenomenon; but it's rather dangerous to let your lives be dictated by people who represent fantasy rather than reality.
I think Thais lack role models in their lives. We live our lives cocooned within the perimeters of our smartphone, seeing only our friends or colleagues. Newspapers and television newcasts ply us with crime -- thefts, murders, rapes, suicides, corruption. Parents are too busy earning a livelihood to spend time with the kids, who feel even more isolated as a result.
Television drama offers an escape from the drab reality of everyday life, into a world of romance and wealth, where women look slim, and sport perfect V-shape faces, fabricated aquiline noses, fluttering eyelashes and ecaille-tinted hair, and men are tall, with rippling muscles, six packs, perfectly coiffed hair and cheeky grins.
These are the Amazons that we yearn to be, the people we see when we look at ourselves in the mirror and squint a little to distort the harsh reality.
An event I attended last night featured some popular superstar icons on the catwalk.
Outside the venue, a hoard of fans were waiting, and their unplugged screams rose above the music from huge amplifiers and speakers as their idols appeared. It was astonishing, amusing and sad at the same time. There must be more to life than this.
Usnisa Sukhsvasti is the features editor of the Bangkok Post.
M.R. Usnisa Sukhsvasti is Bangkok Post’s features editor, a teacher at Chulalongkorn University and a social worker.