Saturday, June 14, 2008

Deconstructing Jeerawat Na Thalang: Thai Soaps, Thai Social Values and Rape



The Nation

This weekend, Rinlada's fate will be decided. The producer has decided to punish this bad girl by having her raped by 12 men. Women's groups are furious. Palakorn Somsuwan, the producer, defended the decision to honour the original plot, but the most revealing comment comes from Araya A Hargett, the actress who plays this part. She was quoted by Khao Sod as saying: "The soap ends in the way it should. A bad girl deserves bad things." Rinlada will face gang rape to ensure a "happy ending" to this soap.

In fact, the production crew was trying to convince the audience that Rindala "deserves" her fate. Rindala is portrayed as bad. Her father went to jail, and she was brought into a family in which everybody loves Uamdao. Rinlada took at least two of Uamdao's boyfriends and would kill anyone who got in her way. "Tainted Star" is a combination of Hollywood's "Fatal Attraction" and "The Assassin".

The episode in which Rindala successfully seduced one of Uamdao's boyfriends before his wedding to Uamdao saw ratings go through the roof. Audiences were convulsed with anger as they rooted for Uamdao. Rinlada had committed an unforgivable sin. Thus millions are anxious to see how Rinlada will be punished this weekend for her past deeds.

When rumours began spreading that the producers would hand down justice to Rinlada by having her gang-raped, the women's groups asked the producers to change the ending of the story to give the right message to society that rape and sexual assault are serious crimes. The problem, the women say, is that TV producers are suggesting to the audience that crime is acceptable in certain circumstances.

I raised this issue with one of my colleagues, asking whether the fate of Rinlada, albeit fictitious, should be considered a happy ending.

"If so, then there must be something wrong with this society," he replied.


What is equally sad is that the TV rapists are not branded as bad guys. In "Sawan Beang", a popular TV drama also aired during prime time, the male lead character, played by heart-throb Theeradej Wongpuapan, the Thai version of Brad Pitt, committed rape. In "Sawan Beang" 's final scene, the rapist married his victim and everything was happy-ever-after. I don't know whether it was supposed to be a happy ending or a tragedy that the rapist was not prosecuted for the crime he committed.

The old adage, what comes around goes around, is a popular concept in soap operas. In "Tainted Star", the producers expect that the audience will rise to its feet when the bad girl gets her just deserts and the curtain falls.

I am glad Jeerawat wrote this column. Sometimes it is good to get away from the typical "Thaksin is the source of all evil in the world" columns we get on a weekly basis in The Nation.

Personally, I don't subscribe to notions of political correctness and censorship, so I am not going to join any group in urging the producers to censor the soap or change their storyline. It is fiction, after all. Though I find it fascinating that the producers did change the storyline when air hostesses were put in a negative light when their so-called honor and sexual morals were questioned in another soap a few months ago.

I am disturbed, however, that many Thai soaps adapt a storyline that rape is an acceptable form of karmic justice. I am totally against violence against women, even if they are evil women.

Thais love to preach to all and sundry that they are a loving and compassionate people, eager to forgive every ill-intentioned slight, but that culture is definitely not present in television dramas, where rape against femme fatales is an acceptable form of social retribution. There is definitely something misogynistic about Thai television. And I think Jeerawat was right to bring it up. I also think Jeerawat was spot on when she points to the hypocrisy of social conservatives who love to preach about nipples, sexy clothes, and spaghetti straps, but when male producers exploit violence against women for profit, they get a free pass. Pretty sick, if you ask me.

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