It is Songkran weekend, or Thai New Year, the biggest holiday in Thailand. It is a rite steeped in tradition -- more than water throwing and massive death tolls on highways. But for me, it is not truly Songkran until the Ministry of Culture has issued its annual edict to young Thai women to put some clothes on.
This year, the ministry has chosen the perfect role models: Girly Berry. Known for their racy music videos, short skirts and strapless, midriff-exposing tops, Girly Berry was recently paraded before the media, dressed up in chaste Thai traditional ceremonial gowns. Here is coverage from the Associated Press:
One of Girly Berry's singers, Mananya Limsatien, urged young women "not to wear tank tops, strapless tops or very short pants" during the April 13-15 holiday.
"Don't dress in anything too revealing or too sexy because it can be dangerous," she said in a statement.
Songkran is celebrated by raucous water fights in the streets, which have led to complaints of sexual harassment of women. Authorities typically urge women not to wear skimpy outfits and white tops that become more revealing when doused with water.
Culture Minister Anusorn Wongwan said Girly Berry should not be judged by how they dress on stage.
"They don't dress in revealing clothes in real life," the culture minister said. "It's just for their job. I met them and I found them to be very good girls who want to do the right thing."
The goal of the campaign is to get "young people to realize that there's more to Songkran than splashing water," he said.
The Bangkok Post has more (cache):
This is our new pro-active PR strategy. This year the Culture Ministry will not preach. We will lead by example," said Prompong Nopparit, the ministry's newly-appointed spokesman.
Mr Prompong, a former actor-cum-politician, said Girly Berry's image U-turn may set a new trend for Songkran festival fashion.
"It is not only about what to wear. It is about behavioral change. If the Girly Berry girls can change, teenagers will follow," said Mr Prompong, a member of the ruling People Power party.
The former actor, who also heads the Culture Ministry's public relations team, said cultural promotion campaigns should make use of celebrities to convey their messages.
The enlistment of the RS Music quartet follows the appointment of three young actresses, Benz Pornchita, Noon Woranut and Aef Taksaon as deputy spokeswomen for the Ministry of Culture.
Critics say the enlistment of high-profile celebrities to act as cultural role models could backfire. One of them is cultural scholar Lom Pengkaew. Here's more from the Bangkok Post:
Cultural promotion campaigns won't work if the presenters don't have proper behaviour and love the Thai culture from their hearts. Their way of life must also conform with our traditions," Mr Lom said.
He said the way the girls dress and act on stage shows no signs that they are true fans of Thai culture.
"It is just another superficial campaign that uses female beauty and sexual enticement as the selling point," he said.
Mr Lom, who was one of the cultural experts pushing for the establishment of the ministry, also expressed disappointment over its performance, saying it had rarely come up with useful or constructive activities and campaign.
The Culture Ministry was established in 2002 as part of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's bureaucratic reform scheme.
A number of Thai artists have been living in very poor conditions, while the great Thai traditional music bands have been dying out due to a lack of financial support, Mr Lom said.
"Does the Culture Ministry really care about them and do something to help them and save our valuable cultural assets?
"They only think about superficial campaigns and waste a lot of money on them," said the scholar.
Ajaan Lom has struck the root of the issue with the Ministry of Culture, which since it started has concerned itself more with trying to dictate a hegemonic "Thai" cultural image and clamp down on free expression, rather than foster, promote and support what the French call "droit à la culture", or "the right to culture".
(Via Bangkok Recorder)