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Absurdly catchy Thai roots music from the protester stage at Pathumwan intersection, Bangkok

Here's a short clip I made at Pathumwan intersection; it's a concert from one of the protester's stages.* The sound quality is not good, and it starts out noisy, but when the chorus comes round you'll see what I mean. A better and longer recording would show that this was a really excellent band: Great sound, great dancing, plenty of swing, very tight. But for reasons that will become clear in a moment, I wanted to get outta there, so this clip is all we've got. Sufficient to make the point, I think:

I have yet to write the master interpretation of Thailand's political situation -- MsExPat's post from 2010 is as brilliant now is it was then, and will have to stand in for the 2014 post I have yet to write -- but a correspondent asked a question that unlocked one aspect of this year's protest in Bangkok for me:

I remember that during Occupy, you wrote about the joy that people felt at finally being socially alive, at being actual full participants in the society around them. Did you sense that joy from the anti-government protesters in Bangkok?

I answered:

No, I do not, and I'd argue that's because there's really no self-organizing going on. The expensively funded stages, tents, generators, and food are all proof of that.

You can see all that in the image: Big stage (funding), power cables snaking all over (funding), big banners (funding), projection screens (funding), and the band itself (fundng). That's before we get to the materiel not visible in the photo: A pavilion for shade (funding), tents for protesters to stay over-night (funding), food (this being Thailand, there are constant breaks to eat).

Contrast Occupy:

[T]he "rage" trope, which the usual suspects habitually deploy against the left -- even though, typically, the left doesn't advocate, let alone practice, "open carry" at its events -- is a consequence of lazy journamalism.* The real story at the Occupations is not rage, but relief and above all, joy, partly from self-organizing, and partly from the "opening out" of public space for use by the public.

In Thailand, fun (sanuk, implying fun in groups**) is a cultural value. And I suppose the concerts are indeed fun. They are not joyful in the sense that Occupy was joyful. The protesters wear whistles, which they blow when they agree with something said from the stage. The sound is shrill, menacing; I will be glad not to hear it, and I don't like to be around it. The contrast between the protester's iconic whistles, and Occupy's iconic human mic couldn't be greater: The one shuts down communication; the other made it possible in a harsh environment. The one is full of rage; the other of joy.

NOTE * The protesters do have a reputation for putting on excellent concerts, oddly enough.

NOTE ** IMNSHO the ideal Thai "selfie" involves at least five people, and ideally food. Did I mention food?

NOTE Thailand is a monarchy, and the Lèse-majesté laws are enforced, even against foreigners. Therefore, readers, discussion of the Thai monarchy or royal family is off-topic. Guests in Thailand must obey its laws. Their house, their rules.

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Submitted by lambert on

In the same setting, there was a farang -- shirtless, of course; we just represent so badly -- waving one of those big Thai flags, which could get him shot or deported. Not sure if the song choice, then, is an effort to get tourists involved -- many seem to think the protests are carnivals, which they are not -- or whether that's just happenstance.

The band really great though, I wanted to stay for an hour and dance about or at least shuffle, but I really don't like being around the protester stages.