Here’s a list of things that, for me, more or less represent 2016 and probably set the stage for the coming year:
The mushrooming of giant video screens on Bangkok streets.
It’s a sign of a big leap – albeit driven by materialism. No longer small or blurry, they now emit huge moving images in high-definition clarity. And their proliferation is not limited to major, upscale locations, either.
Old-fashioned billboards still prevail in most areas, but there was a time when SMS was prevalent, too. The video screens are more than just a signal of what future commercials will look like. They radiate technological advancement, the progress of Bangkok as a metropolis and Thais’ readiness to get up to speed with global changes.
The social media’s most formidable demonstration of its power yet.
First, a DJ claimed he was a “victim” in a traffic accident but then got exposed as a big liar and lost his job. Then a mother was bombarded with online criticism after forcing a flight attendant who inquired about her autistic daughter’s condition to prostrate before the youngster and make a humiliating apology. But the most explosive social media wrath was probably reserved for a B-list celebrity who was taped slapping a motorcycle rider and forcing him to “wai” his Mini car following a minor accident.
Yet these don’t cover even half the story. The social media this year rattled its mainstream cousin more than ever before. People still share and value news content from mainstream outlets, but these sources are finding it harder and harder to generate revenue, despite their bigger audiences.
The digital-TV slippery slope.
The launch of digital TV channels started with a bang, promising revolutionary content and daring business approaches. But as the year wore on, financial burdens set in and content reverted to the same old formula of sponsor-pleasing ratings-winners. The TV “revolution” has triggered a struggle for survival rather than an explosion of creativity.
Much-maligned charter draft crosses finish line with aplomb.
The “Yes” camp had been expected to win, but it’s fair to say that the surprisingly wide margin of victory was of Donald Trump proportions. One may argue that the controversial draft passed the referendum because the country was under military rule, but that overlooks the fact that nobody was forced at gunpoint to vote “Yes” and there was no witch-hunt against “No” voters.
The passage, in my opinion, said more about what kind of politics Thais want than what conditions the country was under when the referendum took place.
Dhammachayo case tests essence of Thai Buddhism.
It has been a year when Thai Buddhism has mixed dangerously with divisive politics. The final outcome is not yet known and the tension and suspense are still rising. When the dust settles over the charges of fraud against former Dhammakaya abbot Dhammachayo, the country’s proud tradition of Buddhism – a religion that preaches non-violence, simplicity and detachment from prejudice and ego – will come under harsh scrutiny.
Anxious Thais on Donald Trump watch.
The US presidential race divided many Thais along domestic political lines. Some cheered Hillary Clinton not because of what she would do for America, but because of what she would do for Thailand if she won. The same went for Thai supporters of Donald Trump.
The thing is, while the Thailand policy of the outgoing US administration and Clinton is clear, nobody can say for sure how Trump will approach our country, its military government and the upcoming election. Let’s just say one camp in Thailand is hoping for the best while the other is fearing the worst.
Thai soccer trapped in between worlds.
The year has ended with the Thailand stamping their supremacy in Southeast Asian football but remaining a minnow among the continental giants. A recent draw at home against Australia was more of a consolation rather than proof of progress in an otherwise abysmal World Cup qualifying campaign.
The Southeast Asian pond is getting smaller and smaller. But it’s a red ocean out there.
The boiled-frog economy.
Experts are using a lot of economic jargon, but my own understanding is that the year is not “crash-landing bad” but “little-by-little bad”. It’s the kind of bad that you get used to after a while, like a frog in a pan of water that realises too late it’s being boiled.
Business owners are strongly advised to err on the side of caution in 2017: the first thing to keep in mind is that “leveraging” could kill them. The man on the street, meanwhile, has been urged to eat in more and eat out less, and avoid buying new-tech gadgets. In other words, the suddenly cheaper iPhone 6 shouldn’t be regarded as immediately obsolete because No 7 has come along. The same goes for high-definition TVs and other shiny novelties.
Rice scandal remains one big scourge.
If the Dhammakaya case is shaping Thailand’s religious direction, corruption charges related to the Yingluck administration’s rice-pledging scheme are dictating the country’s political course. The issue, unsettled this year and likely to become explosive in the months ahead, will determine a lot of things politically. Peace, harmony, the future of major political parties, the country’s stance on corruption and how our democracy should evolve are all tied to this very case.
Can the children become the father?
The biggest thing that happened in 2016 leaves us with that crucial question. Thais loved his Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej very much, recognising his contributions, sacrifices and devotion. But will the outpouring of sorrow, gratitude and worship translate into the greatest payback of all – a Kingdom that tolerates differences yet holds fast to genuine virtues, is understanding, helps the needy and also prospers in a sustainable and self-reliant way? The passing year has seen the most important person pass away, but the consequences of that unprecedented event in modern Thai history are still flowing.
Published : December 20, 2016
By : Tulsathit Taptim The Nation