Classism in Thai Media
Physical appearance has long been a vital part of a person’s life, not because we humans are vain, but primarily because it is usually the first thing to be perceived by others in society. And with the default mindset of the community that always adjudges or associates something beautiful with goodness, it does not come as a surprise that a lot of us valued the famous phrase: “What is beautiful is good because what is beautiful is desired” subconsciously.
What’s characteristic of Thai beauty standard
It can be seen as clear as day that the entertainment and media industry, especially those in our country, values beauty above all things. You could see it in advertisements presented on both televisions and on billboards. Especially those lead characters in particular Thai dramas. It usually presented a good-looking person with either Korean beauty standards features or those of white eurocentric; with big dolly eyes, slim nose, and kissable pouty lips. But there’s one key feature that all of them seem to have in common is their skin color; to be particular, the whiteness of their skin.
The obsession with whiteness also correlates with the classism that has been rooted deeply in Thai culture. Since a long time ago, people associated whiteness with those of high social status, or simply rich people; mainly because it is believed that the rich mostly stay indoors to achieve their flawless pale skin. Following that belief, they would also view those with darker skin as working laborers. This problematic view will sooner (and still currently) be reproduced by mass media.
Examples of Classism in Thai Media
Examples of classism could be found all over the Thai drama that usually portrayed housemaids, gardeners, chauffeurs, or people from the Northeastern part (Isan) of Thailand in general as dark-skinned, square-framed faces with funny accents, and little to no education also the Thai drama often portray a prostitute as a low-class and disgusting occupation and make sex workers are not educated; that’s why they have to engage in sexual activity for money.
In this article, we will walk you through the example of problematic and harmful stereotypes in mass media that have been brought upon people of different classes and its consequences.
Before anything else, these outdated stereotypes of housemaid characters could be found mostly in Thai sitcoms featuring middle-class families that were set in Bangkok. It tends to tell the story about the cliché behavior of the servants with the following characters in terms of causing frustration, annoyance, and embarrassment for the boss. These characters usually have a weird appearance, low education, lack of moral perspective, and lewdness. In Heng Heng Heng (2545-2558), a sitcom that tells a story of the Heng, a Chinese-Thai middle-class family who owns a grocery store and have an Isan maid named Lamyai, a woman from the northeast who has athervish habit , cunning, love to play the lottery and can’t manage her financial problem. The style of storytelling emphasizes and reproduces stereotypes and the deep root classism idea.
Also, it appears that Thai media have many times that present mock appearance situations, body shaming and make it into comedy. For instance, Bang Rak Soi 9 (2546-2555) is a famous sitcom that presents the lifestyles of working-age people in rented houses and people in the alleys and situations that illustrate their perspectives on inequality in social status. And portray that view of society in the issue of discrimination against the economic class. Also in the story, there is a character named Lamduan, a maid in the house who is originally from the Northeast. In which the characters in the script are often mocked by other people about their looks with a classic word that is meant to scorn Isan people, such as the word “Nha Pa Ra”. The word that uses northeast local food to bully people’s appearance from being typical Isan people and doesn’t fit the beauty standard of society.
In the Thai drama series, Krong Kam (2562), Renu, who is the female protagonist, fell in love with the oldest son of a Chinese descent family, but Yoi, Renu’s mother-in-law, opposed the marriage because Renu did not fit into the typical daughter-in-law type since she was a prostitute. The way Yoi thought a stubborn lady, who came from a lower social class with (as believed by many to be) an immoral occupation like sex working against Thai values is a gold-digger and dirty, shows the negative perspective toward the sex worker is deeply rooted in Thai people’s mind from generation to generation.
Another example of classism and outdated depiction of the Isan people can be seen in Thai drama that aired in 2021 called ‘Mae Krua Kon Mhai’. A story that presented a successful female lead who decided to go undercover into the male lead’s house to prove her point to the family that he tried to use her family for fame and money. She applied as a housemaid, dressing up as a stereotypical Isan by using dark foundation to make her skin appear darker, with an additional fake mole, and an ugly bob-cut wig that resembles ‘Noo Hin’, a popular Isan character in Thai comic books.
In the said drama, the female lead is forced to talk in a not-so-funny Isan accent and act cluelessly all the time. It may seem harmless and necessary for the plot to some, but the way that the female lead has to act, talk, and look is quite questionable.
How about the consequences
The consequences of the reproduction of classism in Thai media eventually lead to harmful stereotypes of people who struggled with classism (both people from the countryside and the lower class), especially the prejudice against them that could develop into much worse discrimination and discord between Thai people.
A case of a horror movie ‘The Medium’ that was premiered around October 2021, a story about local supernatural beliefs in the Northeastern part of Thailand could illustrate the problem of what could happen when the media repeatedly represent a stereotypical image of a group of people, in this case, Isan people. Yada Narilya Gulmongkolpech, the actress who played ‘Ming’, the main character/antagonist of this movie suddenly received feedback from a certain movies critic that she’s too pretty to be from the countryside, further amplifying the effect that mass media were given a specific image regarding people of a different class. The critic in question, however, immediately received a lot of backlash from Twitter netizens.
Another case of the consequence of classism in Thai media is #คลับเฮ้าส์toxic (Clubhouse toxic) which was a trending hashtag on Twitter. This happens in a situation that occurs on an online platform named Clubhouse, an application that provides space for people to meet online through voice and everyone is able to participate in discussions or meetings. The hashtag originated in a room in November 2021. In that room, there were cynical and stereotyped discussions on Isan people, both individually and collectively. By the group of people who were talking, there was a discussion commenting that cursing the Isan people is a tradition and it is reasonable that the Isan people are born to be naturally insulted. There is a conversation that is hate speech that can affect people in the Northeast.
This room created a huge controversy among Thai netizens. On the next day, the hashtag #คลับเฮ้าส์toxic (Clubhouse toxic) was trending No.1 in Thailand, with content show people were disapproving of the actions of these people and condemning them. But some of the comments on the hashtag have gone back to criticizing the clubhouse crowd on the outward appearance by using the word “Nha Laab” which is a word that uses northeast local food to mock the face who fits the stereotype of northeastern people. And another word is the word “lower market”, a word used to stereotype the lower class. This can be attributed to an unconsciously internalized classism and still appears even in the comments which aim to defend Isan people in hashtags. Even Though some comments include stereotypes of people in the Northeast, this is a good accusation. It is still a stereotype from the media.
From the examples that we mentioned above, we clearly notice that the classism issue is still reproduced in Thai media through time. Although Thai people, especially the younger generation, raise awareness about the effects of classism and try to boycott classism content in media, many Thai media producers still decide to reproduce classism media for some reasons that cause some groups of people are still oppressed by the wrong stereotypes and makes other people still misunderstand about the people who don’t fit in the standard of the society.
To conclude, the way that the mainstream media portray a particular group of individuals in the way of mockery or ridicule would eventually develop a harmful stereotype and prejudice against them. This harmful stereotype would later fuel the already existing classism or racism. So in order for both society and the media industry to progress forward as a whole, this action needs to be eliminated as well.
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Lee, K. (2019, June 18). Krong Kam the lakorn: Of Social Class, identity, and ego. mrdefinite.net. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://mrdefinite.net/krong-kam-the-lakorn-of-identity-social-class-and-ego/
Yodhong, C. (2021, November 9). ภาพสาวใช้ กับขบวนการเหยียดอีสาน : ปัญหาจากภาครัฐที่รวมศูนย์อำนาจไว้ในกรุงเทพฯ. The MATTER. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://thematter.co/thinkers/isaan-racist-and-centralization/159927
workpointTODAY. (2021, November 7). สรุปดราม่า #คลับเฮ้าส์toxic . workpointTODAY. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://workpointtoday.com/clubhousetoxic/
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- Natthanicha Pongarporn
Interesting topic! This can be a matter of debate all day ! This is 100% truth in Thailand life , everything live on beauty standard not only about the movies but including priorities , intention , chances,and etc. People may not judge them or insult directly but their role in society is often shown to them like they’ve been insulted.
- Artitaya Paphakeeree
That’s a very interesting topic! Stereotypes had been around since our forebear’s generations. Nowadays, there are still some people who have classism views because they are stereotyped from most of the post-news dramas. When I was young I saw this classism in dramas as a normal thing because no one raise awareness about this problem but now more and more people are coming out to raise awareness of this, so I have a realization that every human is the same, no one is special more than others.
OMG, I do really care about classism in Thai Media, but to be honest, I did not notice it that much until I read this. Really get the picture from the content. Thank you!