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All bra none

The age of the performers was a bit of a surprise, but the rest of the brouhaha surrounding 3 pairs of naked nipples on top of a car on Silom at Songkran was reassuringly predictable.

First the howls of scandalized outrage from the Ministry of Culture. Putting on their best maiden aunt act, they gathered their skirts round their ankles and bemoaned the damage to Thailand’s image.

The police then moved in, arrested the young women and set up a highly publicized yet anonymous confession followed by a 500 baht fine each. But not before extracting the admission that they had not been dancing under the influence, just in case anyone started wondering at the laxity of Bangrak Police Station’s enforcement of the underage drinking law. That’s the Bangrak Police Station that oversees the moral probity of Patpong.

Then the Ministry of Interception and Censorship Technology offers to slap a 10,000 baht fine on whoever uploaded the clips onto YouTube. If they catch anyone. Well, it is the damage to Thailand’s moral reputation that is at issue here, not the effect on the well-soused Hooray Henrys on the spot.

The second stage duly occurred when the commentators moved in with world-weary indignation. Why pick on these three when just up the road there are hundreds doing the same (and worse) every night of the week?

And what about those 3 pairs of bare breasts that suddenly disappeared from the Ministry of Culture’s website? The barely credible (and ungrammatical) explanation of Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombut that “sometimes, art and obscenity overlaps,” is nothing more, they claim, than a transparent attempt to draw the line a little farther away from hypocrisy.

And both sides are lamentably mistaken in their analysis.

The police had no business charging the women with obscene behaviour. They were violating Thai culture, and quite seriously, but not its sexual culture. Young women parading their unclothed charms for a baying crowd of males has been a normal, if unacknowledged part of Thai mores for generations.

Where the young women went wrong was doing it for free. Theirs was an economic sin, not a moral one. If they had done the same thing in a bar a few hundred yards away (and lied about their age, which sort of comes with the turf), they would never have been bothered by the law. And got paid for it.

The real crime is to do things for free. Any pro bono public service, whether it is providing a motley collection of males with an erection or protesting human rights violations outside a foreign embassy (to pick something I’ve done recently), is going to arouse suspicion because it is not done for economic gain.

Volunteering in Thailand is very much a minority activity and even then in many cases the ‘volunteers’ expect, and are given, payment for their services. Greed is perfectly acceptable as a motivation for human activity. Altruism, on the other hand, is highly suspect.

If you tell the Special Branch that you’ve turned up with your banner and your handouts because some poor sod has had his human rights violated by the government represented by the embassy before which we stand, he wants to know how much you’re being paid. And when you say you’re doing it for free and you’ve even paid your own bus fare to get there, he really wants to know who’s paying you.

The commentators have similarly misread the Culture Ministry’s decision to remove their carefully sculpted bosoms from view. This wasn’t to avoid charges of hypocrisy, but a perfectly sensible reaction to the latest amendment to the Computer Crime Act.

Quietly smuggled from MICT to the Cabinet, the proposed amended Act may be even more vaguely worded and draconian than the widely derided original. Reportedly included in its provisions is a ban on posting on a computer system anything that ‘does not correspond to the truth’.

Those who have seen the artistic (or possibly obscene) mural figures now withdrawn from the Culture Ministry’s website (i.e. anyone who has read a newspaper in the past week) will be aware that the bare breasts on show were artificial, a work of the paintbrush, not nature. Not the real thing. Not the truth.

So, along with all other works of art or of fiction, they have to go.

Orapin Yingyongphatthana of iLaw wants public discussion of the draft before it makes the job of this satirist completely impossible. ‘People will otherwise not be able to say anything other than “the sun rises in the east”,’ she says.

Which reminds me. Since the sun rising in the west on doomsday is predicted in Islam, they’ll have to take religion off the web as well.