Saturday, May 26, 2007

Do I Have the Guts?

Yesterday, I had a chance to examine the Thailand Cultural Center's latest contract. It seems that that clause, the one created specially as a result of their attempts to censor my opera last year, has not yet been removed from the contract. It states that if anything in their production violates Thai culture or morals, the police can close down the production in mid-performance. Left carefully unsaid is the question of who is to determine whether such a violation has occurred, but one assumes than any bureaucrat could hold the fate of the opera in his hands.

If I sign this, am I selling out the cause of artistic freedom? Would any bureaucrat actually have the nerve to act on such a clause, knowing that the wrath of the entire international press would descend on this benighted government? After all, two hundred papers and newsmedia wrote about it when they merey threatened to close us down but didn't actually do it ... including Fox News, the Sunday Times, ABC News, the New York Times, and so on ad infinitum. Would refusing to sign it simply be an empty gesture? This is a matter of some angst to me.

In fact, this seems to be a bit of a game of chicken. Who will blink first?

While it is extremely unlikely that anything in a Wagner production would fall into the cultural crimethink they have envisaged here, what about the principle? Last time, an attempt was made to censor my opera on a completely arguable point of tradition. However, it never occurred to anyone at the ministry that such opinions were arguable. That is the danger.

Apichatphong told me in a recent email, writing to me from communist Vietnam, "it is becoming harder for me to work in Thailand." It is true that there is something very disturbing going on. Just when things were opening up, when this city was turning into a major beacon for cultural renewal, the Renaissance seems about to be interrupted by a Dark Age.

I know that the forces of ignorance cannot win, in the end, but I do have a problem seeing myself in the role of the messiah. I absolutely and wholeheartedly support Apichatpong's refusal to compromise. Perhaps he will be The One. I wonder if I have the guts. Would I be willing, for instance, to be jailed or shot for my artistic freedom? It's a question I never dreamed I would have to ask myself, but now, I see the big black ? looming in the distance.


  1. I understand ur angst and there is no easy solution. If u sign the contract then de facto u have given the govt the right to close u down. If u complain after the fact they can easily quote the contract back at u. A better solution might (I repeat might) be to sign the contract but send a letter objecting to the relevant clause. Depending on the response u could then send a letter to the nation or Bangkok Post, preferably co-signed by other artists. Takes some guts but it is one way to go.

  2. Dear Adam,

    Thanks so much for your comment. I'm being advised by members of the Bangkok Opera board to sign this contract because they do not think there is any risk of anything in the production sparking off some bizarre kneejerk reaction among the bureaucrats. This may well be true. That being said, PART I of my RING production last year did have some clear political overtones, and the intent of this production of THE RING has always been to highlight Southeast Asian issues and sensibilities. Ultimately, art is always subversive in some way. I've never done anything INTENTIONALLY to outrage anyone, but it is true that anything important that is said by anyone by definition outrages someone. I have to think about this carefully. If Galileo could recant and live another day and then go on to discover new worlds ...