To make it popular, ban it — Roger Crutchley
MAY 20 — One would have thought that by now the authorities would have realised that if you ban something it will become popular, or at least more widely known. That will probably be the case of the film Shakespeare Must Die, a Thai adaptation of Macbeth. It was originally banned in April and an appeal by the film-makers was rejected last week. The authorities seem to think that the Thai public is incapable of making up its own mind whether a film is any good. Of course, the publicity created by the ban means that the news has gone around the world — not exactly what the moral guardians responsible for the ban had in mind.
Shakespeare himself would not have been too impressed that something based on one of his major works would be thrown in the bin. The Bard would most likely have agreed with respected US judge Potter Stewart who once observed: “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.”
Saving our wicked souls
At least the Thai censors are a bit more liberal now than back in the 1970s. Goodness knows how many films were ruined by those diligent gentlemen with the scissors. Nudity and disrespect for authority were the two main targets for the moral watchdogs and nipples were totally taboo. However, it will come as no surprise that violence was left untouched. It was clear the scissor-hands regarded the odd exposed breast as far more horrifying than a mangled corpse or someone being blown to pieces.
There was one splendid occasion when they banned Bugis Street from being shown at the Bangkok Film Festival in 1998. The censors announced that the film about transsexuals in the famous street in Singapore would offend people in Thailand. One could only assume the gentlemen making these decisions had never set foot on the pavements of Bangkok after dark.
The bottom line
Of course, censorship is not restricted to films. In 2003, the Culture Ministry decided to crack down on Thai songs with saucy lyrics, although it was suggested at the time there could possibly be more pressing cultural issues facing the ministry than a few mildly dodgy ditties. A total of 18 Thai songs came under scrutiny, three of which were banned, including the splendidly named Big Flabby Buttocks.
One of the other banned songs had actually been doing the rounds for the previous 20 years suggesting that the fearless watchdogs did not exactly have their fingers on the pulse. One explanation for the crackdown was that the songs “violated the rights of people who disliked them”. Now, if we banned everything that somebody disliked, there wouldn’t be anything left. Just about everybody has songs they seriously loathe, but they don’t demand they be banned. Admittedly I wouldn’t complain if I never heard Feelings or My Way ever again, not to mention Me and You And A Dog Named Boo.
The net result of the ban was that thanks to all the publicity generated by the censors, the original 18 naughty songs all had a big boost in sales, while Big Flabby Buttocks was proudly elevated to the status of Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman).
Never mind the reality
Another lost cause in the sorry world of censorship was a ban on Thai radio stations playing the 1984 hit One Night in Bangkok on the grounds that it gave Thailand a bad image. They didn’t appear to realise the fact that the song had already become a No1 hit around the world, making any concerns about image totally redundant. A case of locking the stable door.
It seems the song ruffled a few feathers by suggesting there might be some sort of nightlife in the Big Mango, heaven forbid, in which “the tough guys tumble”. Despite the radio ban, the song still became a big hit in Thailand and any night you went out in Bangkok you were bombarded with it from all corners. It also probably boosted tourism figures as it made Bangkok sound a lot more exciting than other cities in the region.
Incidentally, for the worst-ever version of One Night in Bangkok try Mike Tyson in The Hangover Part II. Anything sounds good after that.
The ding-dong song
Another absurd situation occurred back in the 1970s featuring an appalling song entitled Ding Dong which came from an equally awful Italian film called When Men Carried Clubs and Women Played Ding-Dong. The film, featuring scantily clad cavewomen chasing around after scantily clad cavemen, was banned in Thailand. Actually it probably deserved to be banned on the grounds that it was absolute rubbish, but that handy word “inappropriate” emerged once again. The ban would have been a little more effective if it hadn’t been implemented two months after the wretched film had first been released and already seen by half the country.
Unfortunately the song, which featured the inspiring lyrics “ding-ding-dong-a-ding-ding-dong” repeated about 49 times, wasn’t banned and you just couldn’t escape it. Even worse, the expression “ding-dong” remained for years and became the Thai equivalent of “bonking”. You couldn’t get in a taxi without the conversation getting around to “ding-dong” somewhere along the line. And if someone suggested “bpai ding-dong” they weren’t heading off to play the church bells. — Bangkok post
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.