Thailand's overzealous cultural watchdogs made international headlines again this week, and as usual for entirely the wrong reasons. This time, they have targeted yet another apparent online phenomenon:
Thailand's military government warned women on Monday against posting 'selfie' photos of the lower half of their breasts - a social media trend that has gone viral - saying their actions could violate the country's computer crime laws.
Thailand's 2007 Computer Crimes Act bans any material that causes "damage to the country's security or causes public panic" or "any obscene computer data which is accessible to the public".
The culture ministry said offenders faced up to five years in jail, but did not say how they would identify the culprits.
"When people take these 'underboob selfies' no one can see their faces," ministry spokesman Anandha Chouchoti told Reuters. "So it's like, we don't know who these belong to, and it encourages others to do the same.
"We can only warn people to not take it up. They are inappropriate actions."
"Thais warned against taking 'underboss selfies'", Reuters, March 16, 2015
Yes, (regular readers know what's coming next) the self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything "Thainess" we usually call ThaiMiniCult are once again setting out on their puritan crusade again to safeguard sanctimonious sanctity of what's appropriate and what's not.
And even though there's no concrete evidence that the "underboob" selfies have gotten ahold in the Thai online community, as Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn admitted to Thai Rath, the director of the ThaiMiniCult's Culture Surveillance Center nevertheless insisted almost step-motherly that, "Thai culture [as a whole] doesn't approve public display of scantily clothed [people] anyways."
Predictably, this (non-)incident was picked up by the international media rather quickly (and due to the fact that an international news agency like Reuters actually wrote about it), further making a mockery of the ruling authoritarian military junta, which has already a tough time to promote itself and its "values" - let alone to foreigners. However, this open vigor by the ThaiMiniCult is not a new occurrence and popped up even before the current military government.
As previously with Buddhist tattoos on foreign skins, mediocre foreign TV-sketches, and whatever that short-lived 'planking'-meme was, Thai authorities - and especially their colleagues at the Ministry of Culture - always see the need to combat these with a threat to use the law to their fullest possible punishment. It doesn't make it any better when the law they are citing to clamp down possible offenders with - when these acts of perceived cultural indecencies are made online (and, much to the apparent annoyance of the Thai authorities, anonymously) - is the Computer Crimes Act, which we've lambasted in its current and very likely future form.
Also, long-time Siam Voices readers will have noticed by now, most episodes of ThaiMiniCult's outrage involve the public display of female breasts one way or the other. The most infamous case goes back as far as 2011 when the then-Culture Minister called for a public witch hunt after an online video emerged showing women dancing topless in the streets during the Songkran new year holidays - only then to find out the women were underaged.
Back then, author and Siam Voices contributor "Kaewmala" said in an interview with this author that Thai society "needs to get real" with sexuality and stop hiding behind a "taboo only when it’s inconvenient or causes embarrassment." In a later article on this blog, she said that the Thai cultural heralds have pathological "mammophobia". The underlying theme of sexual hypocrisy in Thailand was also picked up by Siam Voices contributor Thitipol Panyalimpanun, who recently wrote that "Thailand put itself into this struggle by positioning itself as noble society."
It is this holier-than-thou-attitude by the self-proclaimed Thai cultural heralds that leaves easily mockable, mostly because of their overzealousness in protecting whatever their one solid vision of "Thainess" entails, but also their argumentative inconsistency. In an online post that mercilessly mocks this brouhaha, while the ThaiMiniCult has an apparent problem with "underboob" selfies, it hasn't gawked at Thai magazine and newspaper covers featuring otherwise barely covered female breasts - and never mind that infamous banner (see above) the ThaiMiniCult itself had on their website in 2011...