When will we stop romanticizing rape in Thai soap operas?
Dated: 20 July 2017
Author: Tanyalak Thongyoojaroen
All kinds of television programmes are available here in Thailand: cartoons, dramas, sitcoms, reality shows, just about any kind of show you can think of. But for several generations of Thais now, the most popular shows seem to be soap operas with rape scenes. Yes, you heard that right -- rape scenes!
We all know about the big controversies over violence in the movies. Some people think violent scenes attract and excite audiences, and reflect reality. Others say such scenes promote violence in society.
However, few Thai people give much thought to the pros and cons of violence in films. Instead, they romanticize rape. Soap operas portray sexual harassment and rape as the ways in which men express their "love".
What surprises me most is that the rape, violence and sexual harassment are committed by the “heroes” of the stories. Typically, the plots begin with misunderstandings. The main male character mistakes the female character for someone who deceived his family or relatives. Or he targets the woman to seek revenge following conflicts between their families.
First, he kidnaps the woman and rapes her brutally. The next scene shows the woman crying miserably the next morning. Some of these rapists try to apologize and console their victims; others mock their victims after finally exacting their revenge. After that, the victims might get pregnant, and this is when the “hero” comes back to ask for forgiveness. In the end, they live happily ever after.
One current example is “Pagammathep” or Cupids Jungle in English with actors Willy McIntosh and Pog Piyatida, on GMM channel. The story starts with the couple getting a divorce because Willy’s character has been having an affair. Pog’s character starts a new life and is dating a new guy, and Willy gets jealous. He kidnaps and rapes her. Pog’s character gets pregnant and they reunite as a family. The show also has scenes of sexual harassment. Probably, the all-time most popular Thai soap opera was “Sawanbiang” or Perverted Heaven in English, which aired nine years ago. Kavi, the male character, kidnaps and rapes Nari, the female character, in order to take revenge against Nari's sister. Nari’s sister had married Kavi’s father and often mocked and lied to his father.
Thai soap operas with rape scenes run during prime time and re-run during daytime if they gain enough attention from viewers, which they usually do. Despite being criticized by some news media--mostly foreign ones--the only progress in media regulation has been that stations now tack on to the beginning of the show a notice about what types or ages of viewers the show is suitable for. Still, no one would knock on your door if you let your children watch those rape scenes. In fact, I’ve encountered lots of children who have watched this kind of soap opera and, much to my surprise, some boys consider those rapists as their “heroes.” The worst impact on both boys and girls--and even adults--is that they can easily overlook the horrible consequences of the rape culture when the main male characters are portrayed as men who take responsibility for their actions by coming back and proposing marriage to their victims. Most people watch such scenes and think it is completely normal.
It’s hard to say when Thai people will stop romanticizing rape in soap operas since this has been going on for ages. It would be a big issue and there would be tons of critics if Batman or Superman committed sexual abuse or harassment. I just hope that this cultural stain will soon disappear from Thai society and a new generation will be more aware of everyone’s rights and recognize that rape is unacceptable and we should not try to “normalize” it.
Tanyalak Thongyoojaroen is a young feminist and human right activist.