What do Prayuth, Thaksin, Thanatorn, Lisa Blackpink and Peck Palitchoke have in common?
If perhaps you’re over 40 years old, checking out top trending hashtags in Thailand can be very confusing. You’re bombarded with hashtags about people that make you go, “who?”, what?”.
For instance, this morning’s top trending hashtag was #MEAN22ndStepsUp. Who? What? It took a few clicks to understand, ah okay, it’s the 22nd birthday of Mean, Phiravich Attachitsataporn.
Who is he? No idea.
It’s a kind of magic
Obviously, Phiravich is a very popular young star. But the research stops there, because when you’re over 40 years old, you just don’t really care. However, if you’re a political or social commentator, you can’t help but notice – If people aren’t triggered by politics, viral outbreaks or epic crimes – top trending hashtags are always about pop idols, the likes of Lisa Blackpink or Peck Palitchoke.
Young people love pop idols – worship them, in fact. Reading tweets about pop idols would have you in tears over the amount of love one person has for another, often times without having ever met. Politicians wish they could have such fan clubs (FC).
The power of influencers is both hypnotic and magnetic. They mesmerize you. They get you hooked. You invest the emotions of love and trust into them – you become attached to them. That’s why pop idols get paid millions to become a brand ambassador- to push a product or sell a service. This is because there are millions of fanclubs ready to obey and consume whatever the pop idol is pointing at, wearing, eating, etc..
Such is the meaning of love and devotion.
Hilary Clinton had Beyoncé and Jay-Z on stage with her during the 2016 election in the USA- but their influence did not affect the end-result at the ballot boxes. However, it apparently worked out for General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, singing in a nationally televised show with legendary band, Nuvo, ahead of Thailand’s general elections last year. Also don’t forget, all those selfies with celebs, beauty queens and girl bands.
Such is the power of influencers.
Criticize Prayuth, Thaksin Shinawatra or Thanatorn Juangroonruangkit and some might cheer you, while others might fight with you. But say something negative about Lisa Blackpink, and the FC would smite you down with great vengeance and furious anger. You would close down your social media account and might even contemplate suicide.
Politicians would love to have such FC. That is why building a cult of personality is an important function in politics – from the days of Egyptian pharaohs to Chinese emperors and modern-day politicians.
Prayuth, Thaksin and Thanatorn walk into a bar
A cult of personality comes with a spell-binding (often mythological) narrative. Everyone loves a story, especially of good versus evil, or a tale of triumph.
Take Prayuth for example. Just a soldier, giving his life to king and country. Reluctantly pulled into politics, because Thailand needed saving. The savior in times of trouble, who despite age and tiredness, still sacrifices himself for king and country by reluctantly continuing to rule Thailand. Why? Because this old soldier can’t fade away. Thailand needs him. He is, simply put, a good man, a “khon-dee” guarding the kingdom against forces of evil (see the two names below). He’s the savior of Thailand.
Take Thaksin for example. Some 14 years after he went into exile (with a brief return when People Power’s Party was the government), his FC is still going strong. Why wouldn’t it? The narrative is captivating. A poor boy from Chiang Mai who built himself a business empire. After conquering the business world, he lent his skills and talents to rebuild Thailand after the economy crashed. Out of his own pocket, he paid back the IMF loans. Under his management, Thailand prospered into a golden age and drug lords were shot down in the streets. Look at our economy now. Only Thaksin can save us. Only Thaksin can be the savior.
Take Thanatorn for example. A handsome young idealist. A tycoon, who sacrificed a carefree and luxurious life to enter politics and become the voice of democracy, the voice of the younger generations. With passion and fury, he awakes young people and leads the nation with calls for changes we all can believe in. He’s the embodiment of Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron combined, with a little bit of Jesus Christ, even. He’s the future savior of Thailand.
For each personality, if you’re an avid FC, you might just believe in every single word written, and then some. Because it’s love.
But if you’re not an FC, you would go WTF! You would become triggered and angry, and may even post very mean things about this article, plus an angry emoji and a mean hashtag.
Because the goal of politicians is the same as for pop idols, to hypnotize, to be a magnate. To build a cult of personality with millions of worshippers who invest their emotions into you truly, deeply and madly.
So that when you say vote, they vote. March, they march. Protest, they protest. Hate, they hate. Attack, they attack. So that they ignore your corruption. So that they applaud your dictatorship.