There’s an on-going trend of movie-goers not standing for the royal anthem. Perhaps a few people choose to remain seated. Maybe half the theater. Many movie-goers can tell, these days, it’s common for people to stay seated.
This is a trend mostly unspoken in public. It’s still quite a taboo.
During the reign of King Rama 9, it was unimaginable. Back then, some might stood up sincerely from their heart. Some might have done it out of the social convention. Some might have done it for fear of chastisement. But in general, everyone stood up.
During the reign of King Rama 10, the unimaginable becomes a reality.
A bit of history
There’s no legal requirement to stand during the royal anthem at the theater. But it’s something we Thais do, as has been done since Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who was military dictator 1959-1963, introduced the practice.
During the Cold War, when civil wars spread across the region and with the Thai society divided, Field Marshal Sarit introduced measures to bring the monarchy into the forefront to unite the people around a single identity.
From the royal news at 8pm to the royal anthem at the movies and members of the monarchy giving out diplomas at university graduation ceremonies, these and other measures become an integral part of the Thai society.
But the present is not the past
These days, not only are people not standing up, some even post about it on Facebook.
On 9 September, a Facebook user publicly posted about what happened when he chose not to stand up for the movie theater’s royal anthem. Even though he made the post public under his name, we shall omit his identity in this article, because the law can be quite arbitrary. However, his post has over 52,000 shares and over 19,000 comments.
His profile is of a regular young, middle-class person. He lives in Bangkok but is from Khon Kaen. He’s a graduate of Bangkok University and a trainee for inflight-service at an airline.
This is what he posted
“My friends and I went to see a movie at Major, the Central Pinklao branch. There were three of us. When they played the royal anthem, we did not stand up. When the anthem was almost over, a middle-aged man yelled out, ‘Keep your seat! No matter what, you’ll have to listen to this song until the day you die!’”
The Facebook user then got into a verbal exchange with the man and a woman accompanying him. He referred to them as “uncle and auntie.” But when the movie started, everyone stopped.
According to the Facebook user, after the movie and outside the theater, he saw the uncle charging at him and thought he was being attacked. He pulled out his camera to record. The auntie pulled out her camera to record. After a few minutes of verbal jousting, theater staff broke them up and sent everyone on their way.
These were their parting words:
Auntie: “How were you born?”
FB User: “My father and mother.”
Auntie: “How were they born?”
FB User: “My grandfather and grandmother.”
The Facebook user also posted photos of the incident on his page but said he did not want to post the video for fear of the Computer Crime Act.
Time is changing
Too fast for some. Not fast enough for others. Not too long ago, no one dared to discuss the monarchy in public. Today, from the protest stages to social media, the monarchy has become a recurring topic.
The question is: How will society deal with changes?
Can we imagine a Thai society where it’s normal for some people to stand for the royal anthem, while others stay seated, and everyone respects each other’s choices and goes about our own lives?
Or are we treading on a very thin thread that may break at any time?