Thailand flips out over Saturday Night Live sketch

Ah, we're back here again. The pack mentality. Many in Thailand have reacted angrily to something  they believe casts their country in a negative light. The offending piece this time? A sketch from Saturday Night Live. It's basically a parody of a commercial for the Rosetta Stone foreign language learning programme. In it, a bunch of would-be sexpats talk about their reasons for learning Thai. As one oddball character puts it: "I'm learning Thai. So I can go to Thailand for… a thing." If you haven't seen the sketch yet, here's your chance:

As you can see, the video pokes fun at the stereotypical, Thailand-bound sexpat. It's not really anything new, but it's the first time America's biggest comedy show has taken on the subject matter. The reaction among some Thais here has been pretty much as we've come to expect. Here are a few examples, lifted from a now-removed version of the video on Youtube:

The joke about Thailand is not funny at all though. I know that it's meant to be funny but at the same time you should respect my nation.
'Thailand has bad image about prostitution enough and we do not need more.'
Please show your respect by banning this commercial, Thank you !
by the way, there are so many ways to present Thailand and Thai language. Please respect each other.

you're guy suck. That's not funny :( It's not a joke and it never been. I do dislike and never been supported you all again idiot

You think you're better than that in our country (Thailand) directly to the people in the country when your country is filled with people who insult others. Do you think your country if your country does not really prostitutes. I accept the humiliation. That your country than we actually grow.

this video is joke?
but i think not joke,why you think so for Thailand?
i think american is well! , but now i was wrong
i'm so sad, you think counties you good? no!! it fucking *american*
i hate american father you die lol+

But wait. We're just getting started. Cue the 9/11 comments:

To some of American idiots! Put yourself in other shoes. Think carefully, if other people make joke of the 9/11 that your Twin Tower was attacked or a young man took a gun to fire the innocent kids in the kindergarten then how you feel! !

9/11 som-nam-na [serves you right] stupid idoit american FAT bastards!! You guys totally deserved it. hahaha!! American like to make fun of other people/countries. It is only a joke, isn't it?? Now I hope you don't mind if I make fun of your 9/11. It is only a joke as well.

I would like to do a parody show about 911 and school shooting, then post on youtube. You will understand how we feel from being insulted.

The 911 incident and school shooting in United States are total jokes! Serve them right.

Can you feel the hatred? You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of the reaction to that article on CNNGo (now CNN Travel) about How to be a Bangkok local: 10 tips on faking it. That piece poked fun at Bangkokians and boy did it get a frosty reception from some Thais.

Bangkok blogger Greg then asked the question, "Can Thais laugh at themselves?" They can, of course, but there are some issues that cut too close to the bone. The sex industry is a big one. Internal affairs another. Thailand's image abroad is something many Thais will fight tooth and nail to protect, even if it means shoving inconvenient truths under the carpet.

This image of Thailand is more important to many than the reality itself. When international media outlets or foreign embassies are seen as overstepping the line and potentially damaging this image, all hell can break loose, as CNN's Dan Rivers and the staff of the US Embassy can testify to.

It all becomes very hypocritical when you see how willing many of those same critics are to laugh at the expense of others. I have never heard such raucous laughter as the time I went to the cinema in Bangkok to watch The Dictator, a movie that pokes fun at several world governments, the United States included. Why is satire like that OK whereas the Saturday Night Live sketch is met with a bomb threat? Oh, did I forget to mention the bomb threat? (h/t Richard Barrow)

Even the government has waded into this one, calling on Youtube to take the video down (one version has already been removed).

Culture Minister Sonthaya Khunploem said on Monday that the Culture Watch Centre is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in an effort to have the video removed from the world's most popular video sharing website.

The government will also inform the United States embassy that the commercial spoof is tarnishing Thailand's image and will ask the embassy to explain the situation to the producer of Saturday Night Live, Mr Sonthaya said.

The short story here is that people have overreacted. The long story is that there are issues in Thailand many would simply rather pretend do not exist. It's this mentality that can hinder progress on many levels.

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2 thoughts on “Thailand flips out over Saturday Night Live sketch

  1. Recently, Saturday Night Live caused an uproar with the Thai Minister of Culture, Sonthaya Kunplome, when they parodied the Rosetta Stone Thai language course. Since the SNL cast in the United States was poking fun at Thailand and the Americans who visit the country, I thought it only fair I provide Thai people who do not speak English a list of useful phrases for when they're in the United States.


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