Friday, April 18, 2008

Celebrity role models: The backlash

Seems there is some confusion about exactly what role the girl band Girly Berry was supposed to play as role models for proper behavior during Songkran, and even what behavior is proper. Just a week or so ago, they were trotted out for the press, wearing demure traditional Thai ceremonial gowns, to talk about proper dress and behavior during the Thai New Year holiday.

But during Songkran festivities this past weekend, the quartet was back in pure Girly Berry mode, wearing shorts and tank tops as they performed their bump-and-grind show on Bangkok's Khao San Road, where the most raucous of the water-throwing celebrations go on.

The band came under criticism by Culture Minister Anusorn Wongwan, who was shocked, shocked, I tell you, shocked, to find the singers had reverted back to their customary skimpy clothes. According to the Bangkok Post (cache), he threatened to blacklist the band. And this is after an Associated Press article, in which he said the girls "should not be judged by how they dress on stage".

Hyprocrisy, like logic, is a concept I don't think many Thai government officials have entirely wrapped their heads around.

Anyway, why all the fuss? Though they were pictured in the Daily Xpress, dressed politely but casually in pink polo shirts, "waiing" to say "sorry" to the Ministry of Culture, the story took on a different tone. One of the band's members, Piay "Giftza" Pongkullapa said Girly Berry was just being Girly Berry. Their Songkran performance outfits, tastefully layered tops and colored swimming trunks over shorts, enabled them to still effectively perform as Girly Berry and take part in the water mayhem. Giftza was quoted as saying in Daily Xpress:

We all feel glad we took part in promoting culture for youth. But we want to say that we have more than one role.

“We are young people who campaigned for youth to be safe while having fun with water, raising awareness of Elderly Day and warning people not to drive drunk. We were excited to dress up in traditional costumes during the Culture Ministry’s Songkran festival conference.

“But our second role is that we are all artists who entertain people and make them happy with our songs.

“As everybody knows, Girly Berry is a girl group whose image, singing and dancing are influenced by Western culture. That day we were Girly Berry."

The rest of the singing group are Vanida "Gybzy" Termthanaphorn, Mananya "Belle" Limsathian and Phattaranan "Nannie" Deeratsamee.

Sudhipong Vatanajang, executive vice president at RS Music, the band’s record label, sought to clarify their role, telling Daily Xpress:

“The truth is that Girly Berry wasn’t the ministry’s presenter for promoting traditional costume or anything. They took part in promoting culture.”

Culture. Get it? Girl bands are culture.

RS Public Company Limited spokeswoman Nusra Kongsujarit had more. She is quoted in the Bangkok Post (cache):

The campaign had its time [only during the Songkran festival]. The band had offered their services free to the ministry and the girls had to 'live a normal life'.

The Bangkok Post additionally quoted an unnamed official in the Ministry of Culture, who said the Ministry normally sets a "high standard" in choosing its cultural ambassadors. Here's more:

In the past, we have turned down many, many companies that offered sponsorships just because they are producers of liquor or other questionable products. Cultural campaigns need consistency and presenters who lead by example. Without both elements, it is better to do nothing," said the official, who asked not to be named.

Meanwhile, the three young actresses appointed as deputy spokeswomen for the Ministry of Culture have their first big job: Explaining what they will be doing as deputy spokeswomen for the Ministry of Culture.

Thaksa-orn “Aaf” Paksukcharoen, Woranuch “Noon” Wongsawan and Pornchita “Benz” na Songkla will be making public-service messages, says Ministry spokesman Prompong Noppalit, adding that young people would be more likely to listen to celebrities than they would politicians and bureaucrats.

Each actress will have a different role to play, Prompong says. Thaksa-orn will handle issues concerning teenagers and good manners. Woranuch will focus on performing and the arts, while Pornchita will be involved with family matters.

Pornchita offered her take on her new role, telling Daily Xpress (an earlier story, can't find the link):

“Older people have more experience, but teenagers do love to hear what young celebrities have to say,” she said.

She believes she can promote better communication between the young and elderly.

Pornchita was quick to add didn’t want to become a politician even though she was working for the Ministry.

(Photos via Khao Sod and Daily Xpress; bottom photo, from left: Aef, Woranuch and Benz)

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