Unexpected Soft Power : Thai BL
Nowadays, many genres of entertainment surround in the area of the mass media market. It is evincible to say that one that is most popular among teenagers to the middle age is the Boy Love series. The Thai Boy Love series gained popularity not only in Thailand but also among Asian countries and Latin America. Moreover, The surprise discovered that the Thai BL market has a value of more than 1 billion Thai baht. The Thai Boy Love series is taken into account especially when Thailand is encountering an economic crisis, In the case of Thai, BL could become a new hope for the economy as The Korean Wave was successfully done in the past 17 years.
Boys Love, Japanese subculture?
Thai Boys Love is a local appropriation of yaoi, the Japan-originating form of homoerotic fiction that revolves around the romantic narratives between a masculine boy (called “seme”) and a more feminine boy (called “uke”). Traditionally, yaoi is created, consumed, and favored by women. This Japanese subculture arrived in Thailand a decade ago in the form of novels. The community of Boys Love readers flourished long before the culture came to the small screen. (Kaoyasomboon,2020) According to Dr. Utain Boonora, who is an LGBTQ fiction author, said that Thai BL fiction started underground, before surfacing around 2011-2012, and blossomed in around 2014-2015.
The character of LGBTQ+ was often seen in Thai media for a decade ago. It is not so surprising about the existence of homosexuality in Thai media, but what is so surprised is The LQBTQ+ roles were not portrayed for humor appeal and instead saw them as main protagonists. In October 2014, Love Sick became the first show in Asia, and perhaps the world, to feature two teenage boys as the main couple that we were meant to root for, the true stars of the show. For the first time in the history of TV, the straight stories became side stories. Thus, Yaoi had become mainstream as it entered the TV screens for the first time in Thailand as Thai BL.
In fact, Love sick was not the first visibility of Gay couples in Thai media. In 2007, a film about young men who develop feelings for each other in high school caught Thai audiences off guard – Love of Siam. The film becomes an unexpected hit bringing in over 40 million baht in the first month. However, Love Sick is the series showing that LGBTQ+’s love can happen and not necessarily have a bad ending or tragedy ending because in a decade before, The Thai LGBTQ+ couple in the film, lakorn, or series always portrayed the bad ending and made people feel like their love could not make it.
Since the premiere of Love Sick in 2014, the number of Thai BL series offered every year has increased dramatically. In 2015, only one BL show aired in Thailand. Four years later, more than a dozen BL series were aired or streamed in Thailand. Support for international fans has also increased, with many of the shows providing their own English subtitles. The rise of International fans made Thai government see the opportunities in this niche market and announced its support.
How government reaction?
Somdet Susomboon, director-general of DITP – Department of International Trade Promotion – said that the DITP was organized the events and activities to highlight that Thailand is a hub of BL content. The DITP invited international content providers from Asia and Latin America to meet online with Thai TV providers and was able to sell content for 360 million baht. In two recent years, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam were among the countries that purchased Thai BL content the most. The total market value of Thai BL is over 1 billion baht. Thailand is regarded as one of the world-leading BL content producers in the world and number one in Asia. Moreover, In the past year, viewership has increased by more than 328 percent through various online platforms.
What the ministry of Commerce tries to do nowadays is not something new, this was successfully done in Korea in 1994. The South Korean Soft Power strategies were started from a governmental report that compared the revenue of the film Jurassic Park to the revenue South Korea could earn from selling 1.5 million Hyundai cars overseas. This made the president, Yongsun Kim, change the economic strategies to focus more on Cultural industries. These early policies were particularly focused on bolstering the South Korean entertainment industry’s export potential. The South Korean government established a Cultural Industry Burea to develop the country’s media sector. In addition, it encouraged the investors to expand their investment in movies and media. Only later, once starstruck fans in Asia, then in Latin America and the Middle East, and finally around the world got hooked on these South Korean pop culture exports. (Gibson,2020)
Shift back to Thailand, It’s seems like the government sees the potential in the BL market, and officially announced its support. However, The National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission and Ministry of Culture still regulate the BL series to put a disclaimer before broadcasting all BL series as the ‘inappropriate behaviors that should not be imitated‘. some producers also put ‘ The producers were not intended to lead, induce, or create sexual value that immoral to the society and give negative attitude towards a particular gender.’ Isn’t it mean that in the perspective of some powerful public official still see the story of Gay couple in BL series as inappropriate behavior and creates sexual activities which defined as immoral in Thai society?
This also lead to controversy in Thai society about the purposed of the BL series. Is this genre of series and drama was created to support the equality of LGBTQ+, to meet the needs of girl audiences, or the financial support from stakeholders? Society was questioning whether the LGBTQ+ community is really benefitting from the increasing popularity of Boys Love novels and series?
Parallel Universe: LQBTQ+ , Boys Love
Several local LGBTQ+ advocates have shunned Boys Love culture, saying that it doesn’t reflect the real lives of LGBTQ individuals, and even portrays a false perception of the community. (Kaoyasomboon,2020) Meanwhile, Noppanat Chaiwimol, A director and producer for GMMTV argues that he has been researching on Boys Love series for more than five years. He doesn’t think these series are too fantasized and are not an appropriate reflection of the LGBTQ+ community.
“All Boys Love dramas revolve around same-sex relationships so, personally, I think they represent diversity. They are a sub-part of the LGBTQ genre. However, at the end of the day, we’re talking about the Boys Love genre that focuses on romantic fantasy and not more serious LGBTQ issues such as equality and HIV. Being in the middle of this lengthy discussion for so long, I have had to find the right balance between what the audience needs and what needs to be done,” he explains. “Many LGBT individuals possibly live their lives like those [in Boys Love series]. You see young same-sex couples everywhere, right? Society is now more open and they might not have to overcome many obstacles like those before them. So if you take this case into account, the Boys Love series could be real [examples of society].
An LGBTQ advocate himself, Noppanat tries to inject a message about gender acceptance into every boy Love series he produces. He also added that we could see new narratives and more diversity popping up every day. Moreover, he is also interested in gender fluidity and he would continue pushing forward the communities. The world of LQBTQ+ is sensitive and needs further exploration.
Although the Thai Boys Love series still have a lot of questions to discuss, It’s invincible to ignore the rise of popularities of Thai Boys Love across the region. The popularities of Thai Boy Love is more obvious and dominant when 2gether the series was aired.
The Phenomenon were begin
Throughout the 13 weeks of its airing, the #2gethertheSeries hashtag topped global trends on Twitter—the most favored social media of Boys Love fans—and triggered millions of virtual conversations about the series in various languages, from Thai to Chinese to English. The series was so popular that its lead actors, fresh-faced Vachirawit “Bright” Cheva-aree and Metawin “Win” Opas-iamkajorn, garnered more than a million Instagram followers from all over the world in just a few weeks. 2gether: The Series became the global phenomenon no one expected. It’s was the first time that Thai producers saw opportunities in a new market: South America, Europe, The western hemisphere.
Why Thai BL popular among international viewers?
Some of you may curious why Thai BL is so popular among international fans. There are some reasons from the Webboard of Quora.com. The most common reason is that it’s new. We have millions of straight shows with a similar storyline. BL is news and exciting including the obstacles that are different. The other reason is almost every BL series have a happy ending. I personally think it is the winning point of Thai BL because some research point out that international fans love Thai drama because you could know at the first glance when you see the drama who is the main protagonist or who is the villain. In contrast to Korean or Hollywood series which you need to follow throughout the story to differentiate who is the villain. People prefer to watch something to make them happy even if for a few hours. Some also provide the reason that he was gay and he wants to watch gay love stories. Simple as that.
Thai Boys Love Trend In Japan
2gether the serie trends in Japan was so surprising. Its start from some Japanese netizens was post suggestions about this series due to the lockdown of Japan on their social media. Accidentally, the post went viral. It urges Thai Boys Love Trends in Japan. Some of them not only watch the current aired series but they also go back and watch other Thai BL series. The interesting information is Japanese people don’t usually learn the Thai language. There is a Thai woman who lives in Japan and she works as a Thai teacher in a Language Institute. She posted on Twitter that she has been taught Thai in Japan for 30 years she has students with no more than 50 people but only in This year, Japanese people are applying to learn the Thai language more than 270 people in her institute because of Thai BL series.
Thai BL series not only make Japanese people want to learn Thai but also make them want to buy the product that they usually saw in the series. They also want to eat Thai food and travel to Thailand because they want to go to the place that the series was set in. To be easy, the Thai Boys Love series was accidentally spread the cultural product to their international fans. According to Expedia Japan, The number of tweets of Thailand as a popular destination was increasing. It is indicated that the Japanese people are searching for Thailand as a travel destination more. They have even the guidebook on how to travel in Thailand following the location that BL was set in. Moreover, GMMTV also release 2gether the movies as a completed version that comprises highlights of all 13 episodes of the drama series, new scenes are taken, as well as narrations that describe the feelings of the two main characters. The movie premiered in Japan. It was shown in 3 theaters in Tokyo and 48 theaters throughout Japan. The movie received good feedback from the Japanese audiences even though the movie was released among the covid – 19 situation. The ticket was sold out and the merchandise also sold out from before noon on the first day of the movie premiere.
There is also an interesting number from the online survey company to prove that the soft power of Thailand is now propagating in Japan. The number of tweets that Japanese people talk about Thai drama in 2019 was 2,520 tweets but in 2020 is 49,740 tweets. The number of tweets doubles around 19 times.
The chance of Thailand to expand the soft power arrives. It would be an immense help if the government could provide financial support to content creators and begin a long-term plan to develop the Thai BL industry. I hope the government will be more supportive of this market since Thailand has the potential of becoming a leader in the BL industry. Perhaps, Thai BL content will be an example for other countries in the future.
Let’s me know what do you think about this trends by comment down below.