Andrew MacGregor Marshall at Zen Journalist continues his remarkable excavation of what appear as seminal artifacts on Thailand’s royals. We have recently posted on two of these (here and here). All of these posts are important and we greatly appreciate Marshall’s work.
In this case, Marshall provides access to the first part of a 1998 BBC broadcast of a two-part documentary on Thailand’s royal family, entitled The Royal Court of Thailand, and associated with the death of the king’s mother. Marshall states: “Unlike the previous BBC documentary on the subject, Soul of a Nation, broadcast in 1980, it was a balanced and sometimes critical view of the monarchy.” Indeed, 5 minutes in, Sulak Sivaraksa is introduced and speaks immediately of lese majeste, the king’s rambling speeches and lack of coherence. But that is about as critical as it gets in what remains a royalist hagiography.
Many readers will find the initial syrupy royal propaganda on the princess mother a bit of a trial. The documentary struggles to be realistic in its portrayal of the royals and the princess mother because it relies on spokespersons for the royals. Made in the 1990s, the film continues to promote some of the great royal misrepresentations of history, including family history.
As one example of the uncritical presentation, the princess mother is claimed to have been a remarkable and bright commoner who gets a scholarship to study internationally. Today, even the recent King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A Life’s Work, explains that she was “not a particularly diligent student” and that her “scholarship” was provided when she was “adopted” into the aristocratic Viravaidya family and they decided her intellect was best suited to “a more vocational education.” She was then provided a royal “scholarship” to continue her nursing studies overseas. This was no remarkable breakthrough for a qualified commoner, but a part of the still remarkably feudal administration of Thailand under the absolute monarchy.
Likewise, the princess mother’s move to the north and her upland “work” with the Akha fails to mention how these people were sometimes forcibly moved from their traditional lands to make space for the royals and their projects and palaces, with the support of the military.