MEDIT Seminar: Drama of Thailand - Visual Representation and Interpretation of Thainess by Southeast Asian audiences
Time: May 24, 15:30-17:00
Thai TV dramas, which have been a staple of the nation’s TV landscape for over four decades, tend to be what Thai people call lakorn nam nao ("polluted soaps"). The namnao or "polluted" characteristic lies in their portrayal of unrealistic life, presenting a visual grammar of lavish and luxurious settings, over-exaggerated acting, and melodramatic plots. Recently, to everyone’s surprise, there has been a phenomenal rise in the popularity of Thai television dramas in Southeast Asian countries and mainland China. Thai TV dramas has become an export commodity and viewers in Southeast Asia and China finding melodramatic plots, the presence of evil female characters and over-exaggerating emotion in Thai dramas an alternative to ubiquitous Korean dramas.
Based on my research project focusing on the cross-cultural consumption of Thai soap operas in Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, this paper looks particularly on the visual representation of Thainess portrayed in these drama series. It asks: what images and representations in these drama series have been perceived and interpreted as things “Thai” by audiences in these three countries. Despite the localized cultural references and nationalism at the heart of Thai TV dramas, the paper argues that regional audiences find attraction in over-exaggerated emotion in Thai lakorn and perceive emotions as thing “Thai”. The paper asks to what extent, emotional effects in Thai lakorn challenge or conform to traditional narratives about morality in these countries.