May 24, 2007

Culture police

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The above picture, from the Miss Universe site, has created quite a stir in Miss Thailand's native country, according to the Bangkok Post:

A National Dress? This question in bold letters was placed under the picture of a Thai beauty queen who is vying for the Miss Universe crown in Mexico City.

The picture, splashed on the front page of a Thai-language newspaper, shows 19-year-old Miss Thailand, Fahroong Yutitham, in a colourful, navel-displaying costume that has the ethnic Hmong look, complete with Hmong-like headgear and silver ornaments.

Such a costume, the caption states, has stirred many to question whether it should be called a national Thai dress or not. The answer was quickly forthcoming from the culture police.

The commentary, by Sanitsuda Ekachia, is eminently sensible. It is perhaps no longer amazing to regard something so mundane as a beauty contest as an expression of tolerance and secularism--ten years ago it would have been--but nevertheless it's gratifying to see Ekachia so ardently defend Miss Thailand's costume choice against the morals police. Her column also contains this bit of wisdom:

Women also greatly suffer from the Thai-ness rubbish which mandates virginity as an indispensable quality of good Thai women. This is why women who are raped or face unplanned pregnancies get social condemnation instead of help. Or why divorced women or widows are considered tainted goods.

A Thai beauty queen in an ethnic dress? Why not? Only when we can equate Thai-ness with cultural diversity, can we hope for an open and more humane society.

And for a world safe for bikinis...

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Posted by Ideofact at May 24, 2007 01:23 AM
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