Monday, January 19, 2009

Oh, Grow Up, King

From time to time I'll mention in conversation that my son and daughter were born in the same hospital as the King of Thailand. Bhumibol Adulyadej is the only sovereign monarch ever born on American soil.

I don't see it as a point of pride, necessarily, that my children share their point of entry with a reigning royal. A woman in my RA group in college once announced, with a flush of adoration in her cheeks, that she'd been given her name by some sultan or other who had taken a shine to her on a long airplane flight. Well, her parents had named her first, but the sultan had renamed her, and this was a great honor, and so on and so forth. I can't say I get the same royal kick out of my kids' brush with "greatness" — I think because King Bhumibol (pictured below, before and after a wild night out on the town) seems like a bit of a jerk.

You see, notwithstanding that Bhumibol was delivered in Cambridge, Massachusetts — in a town, a state, a nation historically unimpressed by royalty, and deeply skeptical of any averments about a sovereign's infallibility — he insists on enforcing an absurd lèse majesté law that sees his remotest critics imprisoned for what they say about him. Why, just today Thai authorities slapped an Australian author with a three-year prison term for a single paragraph of text that the King deemed offensive. The text appeared in a novel that had a print-count of fifty copies, only ten of which the defendant ever sold. Hey, CNN: what exactly did this guy say about our buddy Bhumibol?

CNN has chosen not to repeat the allegations made by Nicolaides because it could result in CNN staff being prosecuted in Thailand.

And there you have it. An octogenarian multibillionaire with a Yul Brynner complex commands, and the cowed international media fall in line. C'mon, Anderson Cooper: you're not afraid to chew out elites, plus your mama's a VANDERBILT. Take this guy on.

But you can hardly blame them: this is a country that arrested and imprisoned an air traveler to Bangkok because he refused to turn off his overhead light at the urging of the Thai princesses on board. (What's with all these royals hopping flights with the rabble, anyway? Shouldn't they have their own planes?) The Thai government recently pledged between 100 and 500 million bhat (between $2.8 and $14 million) to block domestic Web traffic to sites like YouTube that refuse to take down content that insults the King. There's money well spent in this economy.

All this is just silly. I might understand if you're a twenty-year-old King, newly coronated, and you want to take your dad's lèse majesté law out for a test drive, haul in some old prep school rivals and see them flogged and abased. It could be fun — a novelty. But this guy's 89, and he's still not secure enough in himself to avoid diverting the power and legitimacy of the state to petty preoccupations about his image? A sad case, because it sounds as though he's done some good works in his lifetime and is fairly well-liked (recent significant political schisms notwithstanding). But we'll remember Bhumibol the Uncriticizable for his love-hate relationship with YouTube.

And now I suppose I've gone and violated this crappy law myself. I figure that since Google owns both YouTube and Blogger, my criminal insults here will stay up. Sad, though, that I won't be able to go to Thailand now without risking the Turkish prison treatment. But I didn't want my tourist dollars going off to build firewalls against free speech, anyway. We can say what we like here at Feigned Outrage — at least until we set up our Bangkok bureau.


Mithridates said...

I've only been to Thailand once. I went to Bangkok with an ex-Navy guy I worked with in Hong Kong. Yes, it's true, sailors love Bangkok. We ended up at a Thai biker bar that played country music, had American and Thai flags flying, and served nothing but beer and Jack Daniels by the bottle. He gave me one piece of advice before going in:

"Like everywhere else, there's a framed portrait of the king hanging behind the bar. Whatever you do, DON'T make any joke about the king."

It's not just the authorities that will get you over there. A few improper comments about his majesty and you just might get the crap beaten out of you by a bunch of Harley-Davidson riding, whiskey drinking, Thai bikers.

But the islands are beautiful and the food is delicious. So yes, I'm censoring myself here because I want to go back one day . . .

Anonymous said...

You know, I just friended King Who-see-whats on Facebook. I'm gonna tell him what you said...


Phutatorius said...

I should have expected this from so promiscuous a Facebook-friender! Be careful you don't trade him away in the Whopper promotion: I hear he can be pretty vindictive about these online slights.

alli said...

Ouch. I haven't been called promiscuous in a while...

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