Tuesday, May 01, 2007




They believe Cho Seung-Hui was a big fan of violent movies. Quickly after the trails of blood were wiped off the walls of Virginia Tech, theorists performed snap analyses and scrambled to explain the horrible incident on the morning of April 16. When the disturbing photographs showing Cho wielding a hammer and handguns appeared in the press, comparison was immediately drawn to the Korean movie Old Boy, whose fascist hero hacks a score of enemies to pulp using only a hammer; and in a subsequent bid to locate a precise reference, Cho's double-pistol stunt was linked to the shooting style in John Woo movies. Thus we're hearing the same old questions: Does watching violent films make a healthy man a violent person? If your boy is hooked to the anti-establishment lyrics shouted by gold-chain-wearing rappers, would that de-sensitise him from all the vices and encourage him to go out and sell crack on the street? Is it okay for kids to play shoot-'em-up video games? Was Cho crazy before or after he watched those films? But hey, did he actually watch those films?

Debate will continue on how much contemporary pop culture exerts a corruptive force that hypnotises unsuspecting minds into embracing evil behaviour, and it's inevitable that the essence of this debate will continue to be politicised between the camp that backs state censorship and puritanical control, and the one on the left which believes that constructive mechanisms should be fostered to immunise citizens with good judgment against negative vibes.

The first camp, especially in Thailand, believes they are endowed with a semi-divine power to protect the conscience of the whole nation and that, by law, their judgment represents the moral exactitude unchallengeable by any god or man. Rest assured, they will decide what is ''proper'' for us (though on Tuesday the Culture Ministry said it would ''set up a sub-committee on improper media to lay down guidelines for deciding what improper media actually is''). Those who wish to oppose their decisions are often deemed irresponsible, unpatriotic, or accused that their real agenda is not to promote artistic freedom but simply to make porn. The deep-seated feudal mindset of the ruling class means the government will always prefer the easy task of banning and ''protecting'' us fools, to the more creative mission of building museums, galleries, or theatres to advocate young people's cultural appreciation and to make us all a wee bit smarter.

There's a deeper implication to all of this. The recent demand of the censorship board to cut four scenes from the film Saeng Satawat, for example, could be interpreted as a violation of our basic human rights. It is debatable whether the scenes objected to are ''improper'' _ scenes showing a monk playing a guitar, two monks playing with a radio-controlled toy, doctors drinking whisky, and a male doctor kissing his girlfriend _ but the more useful debate is whether we have the constitutional right to see something that may be improper, and whether the government is at fault for failing to acknowledge this right by blindly operating on the antediluvian censorship law instead of initiating a more democratic system, like film rating.

It is crucial that the state stop acting like a patient with a paranoia disorder. Contemporary pop culture surely has its dark side, but to blindfold the people is not a civilised way of dealing with it. Education, parental responsibility and progressive cultural policy are the intellectual serum that will strengthen the moral underpinning of young people. The government knows this, but it still lacks the courage to shake itself loose from its own straitjacket of traditionalism, and that's only multiplying the risk as time in the Internet age comes rushing past more swiftly than ever.

What if the movies really produce a killer mind like Cho Seung-Hui's? Poet Jeeranan Pitpreecha said in her speech campaigning for the end of movie censorship last week: ''The movies can be a bad influence, but Cho Seung-Hui is a one-in-a-dozen-million case. Are we ready to sacrifice our basic right to see in exchange for the illusory concept of absolute safety?'' That is a question worth pondering long and hard by all of us.

Kong Rithdee writes about movies and popular culture in the Bangkok Post's real.time section.

1 comment:

celinejulie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.