Well, it’s been a fun few days.
Spiting passionately and poetically about the woes of Thailand in general and the flaws of military dictatorship in particular, the song “My Country (Prathet Goo Mee)” from a new, young hip-hop outfit, RAD (Rap Against Dictatorship), went viral.
And then, people went nuts.
To get the obvious out of the way, one doesn’t have to agree with the content of the song. One may even hate the content of the song. But if freedom of speech is in our cultural value, our national conscience and our constitution, then there should be no problem. One may argue over the content, but one wouldn’t scream for a ban of the song. There would be no legal repercussion.
But Thailand insists on proving the young rappers correct about our woes and our flaws. As such, there have been no shortage of: “Traitors!” “Get out of my country!” And a personal favorite: “How dare you air our dirty laundry to foreigners”, as the song came with English subtitles.
Also, there was almost a legal repercussion, courtesy of the kingdom’s favorite super-cop and best-friend of the rich and powerful, Deputy National Police Commissioner Police General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul. He huffed and he puffed. He threatened with the handcuffs. But overwhelming public supports for the song caused him to back off.
Of course, times are sensitive. Elections may be coming in February of next year. General Prime Minister Uncle Tu and General Deputy Prime Minister Uncle Pom are on good behaviors, or at least they try to be. Therefore, they mostly stay away from the issue. It wouldn’t look good to potential voters to throw tantrums and flex dictatorship muscles over something this popular, so close to potential elections.
Not everyone may know this, but there’s another rap song that recently went viral, even though not to the same mega proportion of the aforementioned song. This one is also called “My Country”, but the content and the music VDO flip the script of anti-dictatorship.
In this version, the anonymous rappers wax poetic about “parliamentary dictatorship” in general and the crimes and corruptions of the Shinawatra siblings and the red-shirt movement in particular. Predictably, those who hate RAD, cheer for and applaud the song. While those who love RAD, jeer and boo this copied version.
Earlier I said, “to get the obvious out of the way”, because defending freedom of speech is the obvious stance for me to take. But here, let’s discuss something that should be obvious, but it simply isn’t in the eye of most people.
That is, no matter which side you are on, no one has been able to disprove the validity of the contents of both songs. The contents may contain embellishments here and there, as is expected, these are songs, not scholarly articles. But in general, no one can disprove the points both songs made. As well, both songs are pretty much a crash course on recent Thai history.
If we were to recognize and embrace this point, then we would realize that despots are despots, no matter if they wear a uniform or a suit. But because we either are blinded to, or turn a blind eye to, this point, Thailand will remain Thailand: a country divided, where the people are used as pawns by rivaled groups of rich and powerful elites in their “game of throne”.
This is not to say that both sides are equally bad. There isn’t a measuring tape long enough to judge. But bad is bad no matter the color, and we deserve better than simply, “the lesser of two evils.”
The rap song “My Country” is important and timely. It demonstrates courage and generates discussions. But as soon as it went viral, the spin-doctors went to work and took control of the narrative. And now, the same old song is blasting over “My Country”. The same old song that has a people divided against itself, with one side yelling “you evil establishment slaves”, while the other side screaming, “you evil Thaksin slaves.” And so, we are stuck in same cycle.
Despots are despots, no matter the color. Slaves are also slaves, no matter the color. Herein lies the real problem. Instead, the song we should sing is “We are Thais, and we are slaves to no one.”
In the upcoming elections, is there a prime minister candidate or a political party that’s willing to unchain the shackles that imprison us? If there is, the people should give them the key by casting our votes. If there isn’t, vote anyway. At least, get democracy back first, tainted democracy though it may be. One step at a time.
If the power of the people can cause the power-that-be to back off from “My Country”, then the power of the people can make changes to “Our Country”.
But this can never happen, as long as we are a nation divided against itself.