Mirror on the Wall, Is Everything Awesome, After All?

Singer Suthida ‘Image’ Chanachaisuwan, 19. Photo: ImageSwift13 / Instagram

What is it with those Thais who can’t bear any criticism of their own society by fellow Thais? Why are these people so fickle and fragile? Take the recent case of a teen singer’s critical tweets which provoked a thousand national backlashes.

Suthida “Image” Chanachaisuwan, 19, tweeted such criticism last week out of frustration at Bangkok’s unreliable and chronically delayed public bus service.

She began her series of tweets referring to Thailand with the Sino-Thai phrase Heng Suay, which roughly means “lousy” or “no-good.” Then she offered her prediction for Thailand by tweeting: “In 50 or even  years even a 1,000 years, it won’t become more developed. Shoot me!”

That wasn’t the end of what Suthida could lament in 140 characters or fewer. “I don’t know what there is to be proud of, 55555.”

Read: Teen Singer’s Critical Tweets Spark Nationalist Backlash

The 555s (most know five in Thai is hearty ‘ha’) soon faded as she became an object of vicious online attacks to the point she deleted her tweets and was pronounced as being emotionally stressed by her family.

Among those reacting strongly was 32-year-old male model Pharunyoo “Tack” Rojanawuthitham.

“I’m not a great person, but I never berate Thailand because it’s my home. In the past, people died so we wouldn’t be colonized. … If you berate or look down on my country, I can’t take it,”  he wrote on Instagram.

While the male model later deleted his post, others kept up the attack.

It is as if in Thailand, the idea of nationhood is so sacred that one can’t possibly be Thai or patriotic or even nationalistic if you say negative things about the country.

Some Thais have mistakenly regard their nation as something sacred and inviolable. It has became so anyone pointing out to the deficiencies of society is accused of harboring malice if not hatred toward the nation.

Also, the culture of criticism is weak if not almost non-existent. The importance afforded to face-saving means people cannot deal with criticism from others in a constructive way as they’re so accustomed to only dealing with conflict-avoidance to save face for themselves or others. When things cannot be kept superficially polite, they can erupt into verbal or even physical violence.

I suspect that these nationalists are used to dwelling in their own Happy!Thailand world where everything is perfect, good and unique.

This is an alarming situation for we cannot progress and become better as a society if we do not appreciate the values of self-criticism, constructive or otherwise.

Youths like Suthida should not be harassed into silence. Such intolerance of criticism, often manifested in questioning the identity of Thais who criticize things and telling them to live elsewhere, only deprives society of its much needed mirror.

Thailand risks plunging deeper into a state of unawareness if all we want to hear is good stories. There already exist defamation laws and the lese majeste prohibiting critical discussions about powerful people, institutions and the monarchy.

The junta is also very fickle and sensitive about people criticizing it and tries to ensure a climate of fear by charging critics of the military regime with sedition, myself included, in hopes they will be buried under a mountain of litigation.

What kind of society is one that cannot look at itself straight into the mirror? What kind of country only want to hear good stories about itself?

It’s time Thailand grows up. And if it refuses to do so, the task of making sure it does falls into the hands of all concerned citizens.