AUSTCHAM AND ADS
By Andrew Biggs
That unexpected fire at the Thai Belgian Bridge caused havoc with the inner-city traffic last Wednesday.
That was the evening of Sundowners, the monthly meeting of Austcham (the Australian chamber of commerce) at the Grand Hyatt Erawan. It was also the evening Austcham was having its presidential elections but how to get there?
The short journey from my office at Phrakhanong to the Hyatt by car would have taken more than an hour. I decided to catch the BTS.
What a swirling cacophony of idiotic messages and aural turbulence. What an uncivilized assault on my ears. Not Austcham, dear reader! The BTS!
Something radical has happened to the BTS in a few short years. When it first opened in 1999 it was considered an oasis in the maelstrom of Bangkok noise. You could escape the madness by walking up that flight of stairs to the platform or, had you performed some meritous task in your previous lifetime, you might even be lucky to use an escalator.
The platform offered respite from the streets. And once inside the trains it was even more tranquil, with minimal white noise other than Khun Sarocha telling me to please mind the gap between train and platform at every friggin’ stop.
Those were the olden days.
First of all, those ads blaring on the platforms.
I am a man who has successfully avoided watching television now for more than ten years. Now and again, if I’ve had a little too much to drink, I will flick on local TV but strictly for anthropological reasons. It is a pity Karl Marx never had a holiday in the Land of Smiles, for he would have relegated Thai game shows alongside religion as the opiate of the masses. One does not watch Thai game shows for any cerebral enhancement; in fact the opposite is the case. As I watch such programs I can literally hear my neurons fizzing and popping before they sputter out forever.
They are exercises in extreme idiocy. They have more bells and whistles than a gathering of Thai security guards. But it works and they rate very highly. The whole country, it appears, loves to watch local celebrities engage in inane activities. It is proof that to be a celebrity on Thai TV, you don’t only have to be stick-thin and good-looking; you must also possess an element of retardation.
So it was more than a little upsetting for me to arrive at the Phrakhanong BTS platform only to have such a program screaming out at me.
The king of Thai game shows is Panya Nirunkul, the owner of Workpoint, which churns out game shows at a frightening and successful rate. Panya not only owns the company — he also hosts many of the shows himself.
His classic modus operandi is to ask a question of a game show contestant, usually either an anorexic starlet or male comedian with some physical defect such as a giant mole or, even more hilariously, Downs syndrome. I am not making this up. Then, when it is time to reveal whether the answer is correct or not, Panya says: “And your answer is …”
There is a five-second pause as the camera zooms in on the participant.
“And your answer is …”
A roll of drums. The tension allegedly builds.
“And your answer is …”
By now the viewing audience is collectively wetting its pants. If the prize in question is particularly high, he will add, one more time:
“And your answer is …”
The music swells. More drum rolls. Anticipation floods the face of the starlet or Downs syndrome comedian. Pants-wetting turns into impeding orgasm.
“We’ll take a break and when we come back we’ll reveal the answer!” Cut to five minutes of advertising.
Game show fans are a little like goldfish; they have limited short-term memory. Five minutes is an eternity for anybody who finds hilarity in anorexia, and so after the ad break, there needs to be a short recap. At that point I mentally make a choice between the remote or a firearm, and to this day the remote has always won.
You can imagine my displeasure, then, when upon reaching the platform on my journey to Austcham, there he was, Khun Panya, onto his second “And your answer is” blaring out over the platform.
I turned in the direction of Erawan Square to make a quick prayer to the Lord Buddha, asking Him to send a sudden power surge to the Phrakhanong electrical system, shorting out the TV set, but it occurred to me that might also short out the train system, so I ceased and desisted immediately. Anyway, Panya was gone after an interminable 30 seconds, and in his place was a joyous teenager with ghost-white skin from the lightening cream she had just applied. That was when the train arrived so I did my best mainland Chinese tourist impression and pushed myself forward, stampeding over locals and jumping onto the train to escape this awful, awful noise.
Nothing got any better inside.
First, the good news. Khun Sarocha is no longer reminding me to mind her gap. The bad news; in her place are television sets inside the carriages. Inside, dear reader! Now it is Panya and the lightening cream lass within one metre of where I am standing.
In an effort to escape the TV monitor I glanced at the walls. They are now plastered in weird red ads for some company promoting something called “11st”.
What on earth is “11st”? Shouldn’t it be “11th”? The only thing worse than a blaring ad is a grammatically challenged blaring ad! The advertisement features a young Thai man who, if he isn’t transitioning then someone needs to have a good talk to him. He is holding up two fingers about five inches apart.
It looks more like a Tinder profile than an ad. I thought Thai authorities clamped down on obscenity in advertising; and besides, at five inches, why on earth is he boasting?
(It turns out the product is “Eleven Street,” not “Eleventh.” The graphic designer for that logo forgoes his bonus this year.)
Why are we still paying for the BTS? The purpose of ads is to support the cost of a product or service, such as in the hoary old past when advertising paid for newspapers and TV shows. I am being sandblasted by ads while using a service I have paid for — try using that business model for a paid internet service or App.
Back home after my experience I trawled the net and discovered there is a group of concerned citizens in Bangkok actively campaigning for a reduction in BTS advertising. This only happened two weeks ago. I realize there are far more pressing problems in Thai society but I’m signing up.
In the meantime, our prime minister should seriously consider taking time out from wielding Section 44 to catch that elusive embezzling monk over at Thammakai Temple, and turn it towards the BTS. It’s time for a public burning of ads in public places. It is abhorrent and anyway, anything that makes Austcham look peaceful needs to go right now.