During the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming businesses and online platforms enjoyed explosive growth, especially for the entertainment industry. In Thailand, however, one particular traditional music business — molam — plunged into dire circumstances. Yet to be afforded legitimacy, molam artists receive little to no support from the government. Today, they hang onto a dimming hope that they will return to the stage as their art form gradually dies.
A tradition supported by a law which no one seems able to cite seems to be coming to an end in theaters around the country, as movie-goers remain seated during the playing of the royal anthem prior to the showing of the main feature. It’s happening in Isaan, too.
In 2007, Chotisak Onsoong refused to stand during the royal anthem in a theater and faced legal action and harassment. Since then, moviegoers who felt uncomfortable being coerced to stand have chosen to cluster around the theater entrance and wait for the royal anthem to be played before entering.
Since August, student protesters have demanded reforms of the monarchy and the culture surrounding it. In September, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, a student protest leader, declared ten demands to reform the monarchy and invited people to use eight means of peaceful protest against the dictatorship.
One of these means was for moviegoers to remain seated while the royal anthem was played and instead display the three-finger salute.
The Isaan Record sent special reporters to survey one of the theaters in Khon Kaen on October 8 to see how five audiences of the movie, “Love you, Khok E-Koeng” were responding to the new circumstances.
Prior to the movie, as usual, teasers and advertisements were shown. But when the royal anthem was played, none of the audiences stood up or paid respect.
One man who chose not to stand up is a 25-year-old employee of a private company. When asked why he didn’t stand, he said that more people are now comfortable with not standing up for the royal anthem.
The man recalled that in the past when people did not stand in a theater, their photos would be taken and they’d be shamed and reviled on social media sites. Some were assaulted, he said. To avoid the risk of harm, he’d always stood and paid respect.
But things are changing.
“Many people are now doing it [not standing]. They’re talking about the monarchy more openly now,” the same man said, who asked his name not be used. “There’s no need,” he said, to hide one’s feelings and actions anymore.
“When I go to see a movie now, no matter what genre or with whom, I will not stand and pay respect to the royal anthem,” he said. “I think it’s not an appropriate question if anyone questions me and won’t have to answer because standing [or not] is an individual right.”
A 21-year-old female student who didn’t want to share her name said she waited outside the theater until the royal anthem was played because she did not want to pay respect and confront any group that might attack people who do not stand.
“Standing and paying respect to the royal anthem is an individual right,” she said. “It is not the value of people these days. People with different opinions should not be forced or harmed.”
At the same time, she said the campaigns of the student demonstrations and their demands for reform of the monarchy had a dramatic effect on her decision.
Following the demonstrations in Bangkok and other cities throughout Thailand in August, the Facebook page “memerth” scheduled an activity, “Not standing in theaters,” during the royal anthem was set up to encourage fighting against censorship and open spaces for the public. As of September 1, there were almost 4,900 Facebook users interested in joining the activity called, “Not Stand at Major Cineplex: They can’t stop all of us.”
Some scholars have dated the practice, borrowed from the United Kingdom, of standing for the royal anthem before movies to the 1940s. Not standing might be adjudged as a minor violation of culture laws of that period with a fine of 100 baht, or more recently as a form of lese majeste that would incur a punishment of up to 15 years in jail.
On September 20, 2007, Chotisak Onsoong was accused of lese majeste after he not standing and paying respect during the showing of the royal anthem in a theater. He was reported to Patumwan Police Station. Later, the special prosecutor of the 4th south Bangkok criminal division dropped as Chotisak’s actions were merely failing to stand up while the royal anthem was played and that he had not defamed, insulted, or threatened the heir-apparent or the king. Therefore, it was not considered an offense under Article 112 of the Criminal Code.
Although not charged, Chotisak’s addressed had been published online and he spent years suffering under the stigma of being disrespectful of the monarchy.