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During ten weeks of antigovernment protest in spring 2010, the Thai military used physical and psychological tactics, including coercive broadcasting of music and sound, to combat demonstrations in Bangkok. Before a violent crackdown in May, protesters and soldiers spent ten weeks in a standoff in which such broadcasting figured crucially. An analysis of sound and its reception during those weeks reveals the precarious status of nationalism in a country where other political loyalties, including regionalism and class, have come increasingly (and in this case study, audibly) to the fore.
The army’s sonic broadcasting unit was successfully attuned to the regional ear of the largely rural protesters; however, the army may have been winning the battle even as the state was losing the war. The broadcasting unit had its greatest success playing rural-inflected genres like mor lam and luk thung, even as protesters failed to respond to broadly patriotic songs and gestures. The primary locus of sympathetic listening had become local or regional rather than national. I refer to this mode of listening as one of “insurgent sympathy,” an indirect entry point for class-based alliances otherwise impossible in Thai political life.