Is nationalism our ‘Love Destiny’?

politics April 08, 2018 01:00

By PHATARAWADEE PHATARANAWIK
THE SUNDAY NATION

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THE astonishing popularity of the television period drama “BuppeSanNivas” (“Love Destiny”) has contributed to a boom in digital TV, tourism, food and beverage retail, fashion and even literature.



The series has been a massive hit, sparking a mania among Thais to visit the Ayutthaya Historical Park where scenes for the soap opera were shot and have their photos taken in classical costumes from those times.

So many people are flocking to Wat Chaiwattanaram within the park that its visiting hours have been extended into the evening.

His Majesty the King joined in the nostalgia for what are widely regarded as “the good old days”, inviting citizens last month to an “Oun Ai Rak Klai Kwam Nao” (“Love and Warmth at Winter’s End”) festival in the Royal Plaza.

More than a million people donned the clothing of a bygone era.

Now the government wants to keep the ball rolling, promoting Thai culture and nationalism as a match for the Bt100-billion “Thai Niyom Yangyuen” (“Sustainable Thainess”) programme it launched earlier this year. Government officials have been encouraged to wear clothing made of Thai fabric during work hours, though the move has drawn complaints that those who don’t comply face discrimination. 

The Culture Ministry and Tourism and Sports Ministry dived into the “creative economy” concept with the goal of celebrating “Thainess”. Anyone wearing traditional Siamese attire has been admitted to national museums and historical parks during Historical Thai Heritage Conservation Week, which ends today. 

The TV series has been the talk of the town since its debut on BEC World’s Channel 3.

The series, which will end later this month, is about a kind-hearted woman, “Kedsurang”, whose soul is transported back in time to the Ayutthaya period to live inside the body of a beautiful woman called “Karaked”. Karaked was initially a wicked woman, who plotted a murder and was cursed. 

“It’s been an interesting phenomenon – it’s got the younger generation watching TV soaps again,” notes Asst Professor Yukti Mukdawijitra, a lecturer at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology.

“It reflects nostalgia, a yearning for the past, especially for ‘the good old days’. But the belief that the past was better than the present has been linked to biases in memory.

“It shows the mental illness of our society,” Yukti says. “Today we’re living in conflict, especially on the political front. Watching comical and fantasy soaps can temporary heal people’s hearts. In reality we remain divided, and the fantasy is that we are united.”

The show’s history is woven into a contemporary plot and features a modern, liberated woman as its heroine, touching on issues of feminism and democracy, but it is also steeped in nationalism and conservative attitudes. Due to the series’ massive popularity and the government’s endorsement of it as a valuable vehicle for preserving traditional Thai attitudes, Channel 3 is working on episodes for a second season.

And the Culture Ministry is planning to co-produce similar historical dramas evoking Thainess.

The whole “phenomenon” has its critics. It’s been pointed out that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s Niyom Thai effort bears a striking resemblance to the Rath Niyom (State Customs) cultural mandates issued by his predecessor of the 1930s through 1950s, the dictatorial Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram.

“Nationalism and conservativism are political tools to unite the nation,” says Yukti, “but the revival of Thainess cannot solve society’s root problems. Democratic election is the key.”