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Tourist Video Featuring Ancient King Tests the Boundaries of Artistic Expression in Thailand

Screenshot of one of the deleted scenes in a Thailand tourism music video. Source: YouTube

Screenshot of one of the deleted scenes in a Thailand tourism music video. Source: YouTube

A tourism video was almost banned in Thailand after some officials complained about the ‘inappropriate’ portrayal of a popular Thai literary figure.

Produced by the V Bangkok Co, the “Tiew Thai Mee Hay” (“Fun to Travel in Thailand”) music video featured Thotsakan, a demon king from the ancient national epic the Ramakien, which is the Thai version of the ancient Indian poem the Ramayana.

Thotsakan was accompanied by other characters in a traditional mask dance (Khon) around the country.

The four-minute video, which was made in support of the program of the Tourism Authority of Thailand to boost domestic travel attracted wide support especially among youth and netizens. Many praised the colorful visuals, the catchy song, and the message enjoining the public to visit the country’s main tourist destinations.

But on September 21, a former Fine Arts Department official in charge of identifying works of art not suitable for public viewing, complained that Thotsakan was inappropriately depicted in the video. The former official argued that the king of ogres should not be seen doing mundane things such as taking selfies, driving go-karts, riding a horse, having fun in a banana boat, and cooking a coconut dessert.

A prominent professional dramatist also complained that the Khon should only be performed in a suitable place such as the National Theatre or the Royal Palace.

The cultural ministry initially contemplated banning the video, but following advice from the prime minister, it allowed the airing of the video with some of the more controversial scenes removed. The V Bangkok Co agreed to delete about 20 percent of the original footage.

Screenshot of one of the deleted scenes in a Thailand tourism music video. Source: YouTube

Screenshot of one of the deleted scenes in a Thailand tourism music video. Source: YouTube

Many Internet users criticized the order to edit the original video. As of this writing, more than 70,000 people signed a petition uploaded on opposing the complaint filed against the music video.

Venus’ Vision, a columnist at a popular English language newspaper in Thailand, reminded the cultural ministry about the need to embrace creativity in promoting traditional art:

If it monopolises any form of art, drains it of involvement from the common man, that art is likely to go extinct. My friend Chana Sevikul, the veteran songwriter and art teacher, sees culture as a big tree of many branches. If we keep cutting off the branches, he says, one day we'll be left with a bonsai, pretty but forever stunted.

Some even noted that Thotsakan can be accused of doing far more controversial things than he was seen doing in the tourist ad, such as kidnapping the love of his life.

A Facebook page launched a fan art contest in response to the furore. Many of the submissions portrayed Thotsakan in various ‘inappropriate’ ways.

This video summarizes the scenes deleted from the original production:

  • nodomino

    This is by far the best piece of work I have ever seen that is devoted to the promotion of Thai culture.

  • go-indochine

    Travelled Thailand 2 times and totally impress. Beautiful landscape and colorful life style. You can also looking for more tips to travel Thailand here

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