Are BL roles in Thailand just tickets to fame for straight male actors?
“BrightWin, MewGulf, MeanPlan,TayNew, KrisSingto”. Have you ever heard of these words before? If you have, I am 90% sure that you would also know about BL series. These are examples of the famous couple names that Thai BL actors were given to by their fanclub. In the entertainment industry, BL stands for Boys’ Love. Series or drama that are prescribed to be BL, depicts homoerotic relationship between men or the male protagonists.
Thailand is one of the most prestigious countries in producing BL content. One of the first famous Thai BL films that was produced is Love of Siam (รักแห่งสยาม) in 2007. This film had paved the way for the entire BL industry in Thailand. With the amount of success both the movie and the actors had received, shows how much attention people gave to this new type of film. One year after Love of Siam was released, a novel called Love Sick was also published. This novel tells a story of how two male friends that fell in love and decided to be more than friends in an all boys school. Also following Love of Siam, this novel became so popular that in 2014, it was made into a TV series. Keep in mind that in 2014, there were no other platforms other than televisions that this series was broadcasted, the amount of recognition this series has gotten could be called a phenomenon.
Seeing how successful both Love of Siam and Love Sick were, many production houses and mainstream television productions started to invest more in the BL industry. The prosperous era of Boys’ Love series really began when LineTV application, a video streaming platform, was released. Within 4 years, from 2016 until 2020, LineTV had broadcasted 33 Thai BL series. This does not include other video streaming platforms such as Viu and WeTV which also broadcast Thai BL contents.
GMMTV is a television production and a talent agent which focuses more on teenage contents compared to other tv productions in Thailand. GMMTV alone had already produced and broadcasted 15 BL series with 9 more to come this year. This production company is the owner of the most watched BL series in LineTV, 2gether the Series. Throughout all 13 weeks that this series had been airing, the hashtag #2gethertheSeries had always been at the top of the global trending hashtags. There is no doubt why the company continuously produces this genre of series. The two main protagonists of 2gether the Series are Bright Vachirawit and Win Methawin; their popularity skyrocketed overnight, even though at that time their acting skills were not considered as professionals yet. Bright did not start his acting career with this drama. He had joined the entertainment industry since 2013, yet he did not grasp any attention prior to being in this series. While Win debuted into the industry with this BL role. After the broadcast of this series, both of them took the world by storm. They signed multiple contracts with major brands both in Thailand and internationally. Tremendous opportunities were opened to them from just being in this one series. This ignited the Boys’ Love era once again. Production companies hop on the bandwagon. And the craze had started.
Referencing from “An Analysis of the Popularity of Thai Television Drama in China from 2014 until 2017”, an article from Atlantis Press, Chinese audiences have always paid attention and been a fan of Thai soap operas. However, since the broadcast of Love Sick the Series, it has shifted their interests, moving more towards the Boys’ Love genre. The production of this drama genre is banned in the Chinese broadcasting media due to its ideology and political stance. Therefore, when contents like this were imported into the country, it is unsurprising why it has gained so much popularity. Groups of Chinese audiences even gathered together, creating a group called the “CFan Group”, which translates the series from Thai to Chinese and updates news related to the series and the actors. Not only in China that Thai BL series had catched the people’s attention, but also in other countries like Indonesia, Japan or even in western countries that Thai BL Series became their new favourites. A clear indicator of this global sensation is the extent of how the fans support their favourite actors. 600 grams worth of gold and a pink diamond was given to Mew Suppasit (a famous BL actor from TharnType the Series) on his 31st birthday by his fans. Another example is at the Gulf Kanawut’s graduation venue. Gigantic bouquets of money worth over a million baht can be easily spotted around him. These might be some of the more dramatic examples. However, these habits of showing support are becoming more and more of a tradition rather than an occasional activity.
After understanding the basics and the cultures of the BL community, I believe that most people would have the same question. Are BL roles in Thailand just tickets to fame for straight male actors?
Why does this particular field of entertainment suddenly become so successful? And how does the talent of the actors been shoved under the trope of homosexual relationship. The majority of Thai BL series’s storyline revolve around the cliché heterosexual perspective of a relationship which highlights the stereotypical masculinity and femininity in the two main characters. For example, Love by Chance, Until We Meet Again the Series and Cutie Pie Series. All these series I have chosen portray a strict physical appearance of how a dominant and a submissive should look like. Furthermore, the ironic truth that is still hard to comprehend is that a big part of the BL entertainment industry is still in favour and cherishes straight males.
Why does the BL entertainment industry itself favours and cherishes straight males to the point where actors are getting declined from the role solely from being gay? According to an observation of mine, it is because of the fans’ fantasy which roots from an inevitable truth that obsolete social values still unconsciously run in people’s mindset impacting how the media responds to that particular concept. For instance, fantasising over the possibility of they themselves being in an intimate relationship with the actor, the belief that the actors are soulmates that were only born to find and love one another or the only reason for them not to be in a heterosexual relationship is because of this one boy. A perfect example to depict the previous statement is when Mean Phiravich, a male actor who got famous from a BL role mentioned in an interview that he will only act in a BL Series again if he is financially unstable. Most actors that gain popularity tend to shift their work regime, from BL roles to a regular heterosexual romance. This could be an implication that even an actor that became successful in the entertainment industry because of the BL role he played still has an attitude that BL roles are just gold mines and pathways to more opportunities in their future career growth. How can we expect the entire industry to have a proper understanding and respect towards the LGBTQ+ community they are profiting from?
More Harm Than Good?
Diving deeper about the context and the messages majorities of Thai BL series convey. Scarcely do they properly support or illustrate the idea of gender equality. Thailand had produce countless amounts of BL series but yet still has not recognise same-sex marriage or any other forms of same-sex union. From the queerbaiting to the sexual exploitation, it is plain to see that the production of BL series still has not improved from where it was decades ago. This kind of series often get away with portraying sexist narratives, jokes and misleading ideas about homosexuality just because their genre being a representative of the LGBTQ+ community.
At this point, why does it seem like producing BL series creates more harm than good. No serious implementations were made to advocate for equal treatment of all genders, while the industry as a whole is making a prodigious amount of profit from the notion itself. More and more boys are receiving free passes to absolute succession in this extremely concentrated industry. Only a bare minimum of those successful names seem to have the correct understanding and concerns towards how they could use their popularity to make a change.
What should be the next step?
From my point of view, the BL industry should put maximum effort to help the society to better understand the struggles that people from the LGBTQ+ community have to face on a daily basis, and how the society could support them. The question of whether or not BL roles in Thailand are just tickets to fame for straight male actors, is a question that I believe no individual could answer. Nevertheless, I do believe that raising these questions, although might be controversial in someone’s eyes, is mandatory in evolving our society to be a better place for each and everyone of us.
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