A series of protests and rallies have spread across Thailand, condemning the government. The protesters, many of them high-school and university-aged young people, are using art to circumnavigate the lèse-majesté laws in place, making it a crime to defame, insult, or simply criticize the royal family. By using the images, symbols, and narratives in Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, protesters can critique a government which has acted in eerily parallel to the books’ plots:
- King Maha Vajiralongkorn was crowned King Rama X of Thailand in 2016, and later the Palace led a campaign that changed the constitution to give the king increased emergency powers.
- The Thai Crown is closely linked with the Thai military, as the king now has personal control over several influential army units and the Prime Minister previously led a military coup
- Police have increasingly harassed activists
- Nearly ten dissidents who have fled the country have “disappeared,” and at least two are confirmed dead
- Public school students face stricter behavior and personal appearance guidelines set forth by the government.
The imagery and language of Harry Potter are being used by the protestors to call out their government. Many protesters use “Wands Up” gestures using prop wands or glowing cellphone flashlights to evoke imagery of the final battle for Hogwarts against the Deatheaters in the penultimate book. Some dress in Gryffindor colors or witch/wizard robes. A few dress as Deatheaters and hoist gilded gold framed images of Lord Voldemort– gold being the color of The Crown in Thailand.
The youngest protesters also use other art forms to tell their stories. The New York Times published a photograph of high-school-aged children performing the Mockingjay Salute. Their article also explains a piece of performance art by one such child protester: she was tied to a chair, a pair of scissors on her lap. Audience members (fellow protesters) are instructed by a nearby sign to cut her hair to the government-mandated crop length– even with the bottom of her earlobe.
Hundreds of young protesters use pop culture iconography, imagery, and narratives to indirectly criticize their government that limits free speech. It is indisputable, at least in Thailand, that art continues to be a powerful tool against oppression.
Sources + Read More:
- “Thailand protesters openly criticize monarchy in Harry Potter-themed rally “ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/04/thailand-protesters-openly-criticise-monarchy-harry-potter-themed-rally?fbclid=IwAR2n3xY32sMNnSPPf2xT9X-pBhF89-KD2DOEGQa0nHEd5wM7aqZeafxcPPs
- “In Thailand, Students Take on the Military (and ‘Death Eaters’)” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/11/world/asia/thailand-student-protest-military.html
- “Thai protesters dress as Harry Potter to denounce the government: Demonstrators are demanding constitutional reform and an end to harassment” https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/08/04/thai-protesters-dress-harry-potter-denounce-government/