Elephant’s Leg


THE LEO BEER CALENDAR CONTROVERSY: NO SEX (OR BEER) PLEASE, WE’RE THAI

It is often assumed that the people who complain loudest about something have the most to hide. That’s the prevailing logic about homophobia – that those who hate gays do so because they are seeking to deny something about themselves.

And it is certainly the case with the recent controversy over the Leo Beer 2010 calendar launched here in Thailand last week – and promptly banned from sale or distribution by the government.

The reason for the ban was two-fold. First of all, alcohol advertising laws in Thailand forbid the linking of alcohol with fun. Secondly, nudity is forbidden in the media. As this was a calendar promoting beer through the use of body-painted (so, officially nude in that they weren’t actually clothed, even though they were at least visually covered) models, it was always likely to offend someone in a position of power.

Now, if a government wants to control how alcohol is advertised, that is fine. You could even praise them for being responsible about what is, after all, a health issue. Furthermore, there are those who will have their arguments against presenting the female form in a sexual context. Again, there are valid arguments for this.

But this is Thailand. It’s not Utah or Indonesia. I’m not criticising those places, but the point is, they practice what they preach. They set out their stalls and they stick to them. The hypocrisy in the Thai government banning a sexy beer calendar is striking.

Let me take the two offending points one at a time.

First of all, the advertising of alcohol. They say alcohol should not be equated with fun. Fair enough. But then why is it most concerts and festivals here are promoted by major beer and/or whisky brands? Are concerts and  festivals not fun?

A friend of mine went to a Chang Beer-sponsored reggae festival in Bang Saen beach a couple of months ago and said his 1,500 baht (30 pounds) ticket included 32 bottles of beer. Thirty-two! Per person! To be consumed in one day.!Perhaps the logic there is that even if it were physically possible for any human being to drink 32 bottles of Thailand’s strongest beer (6.4%) in one sitting, it would cease to be fun long before you even hit the halfway mark. Alcohol = fun? Not when you’re puking your innards out en route to an 18-hour hangover.

Furthermore, how puritanical can a government be in terms of promoting alcohol, when it is possible – no, easy – to get a drink literally 24 hours a day in Bangkok?

If the government was so concerned with reducing its citizens’ alcohol consumption, then perhaps it would be better served looking into the illegal after-hours pubs, the itinerant street bars, and the unlicensed shops, than cracking down on a calendar which doesn’t even depict actual beer, only the logo of the brand.

Now, personally I’m not against the idea of all-night bars. The responsibility of how much a person drinks, and until when, surely rests with that person. I’m a bit of a night owl and it’s good to know I can go out at 2am if I fancy it. But surely if a person is an irresponsible drinker, it’s more to do with the wide availability of affordable drink in this city, than an affordable drink being painted on a girl’s chest.

Secondly, there is the issue of using nude models to promote a product. Some people will argue that such strategies, or indeed any depiction of the female body in a sexual context, demeans them. I don’t agree with that, so long as there is no exploitation involved, because I know a lot of women take pride in their appearance, their sexiness, and if they have the confidence in themselves and their figures to flaunt them, then that is their choice. For some women, to appear in a tasteful nude calendar would be something to be proud of.

Some people may disagree with this, and that’s fine. Apparently the Thai government is among those people.  Again, it’s not the stance I object to, but the hypocrisy.

Thailand, and Bangkok, justifiably has a worldwide reputation for its vice. Just as I can get a drink at any time of day or night, similarly I could buy sex at any time. Or I could go to watch semi-nude girls parading on stages. Or doing worse. And then I could take one of these girls home for a modest fee.

So, I can watch sexual content in the flesh – I can even indulge in sexual acts for a price – but I can’t buy a sexy calendar. Because there is a beer logo on it.

Right. As if the literally hundreds of go-go bars in Bangkok serve only orange juice.

The point is, if I was of a mind to do so, I could drink myself into oblivion every day and night in Bangkok. At the same time as I did this, I could watch barely-dressed girls in bars. For many, either or both of these factors are what makes Bangkok such an enticing place. Everybody knows this, many people even embrace it, but the only people who make a show of being conservative is the Thai government.

In fact, it wouldn’t be absurd to suggest the government doesn’t actually want to tackle the problems of alcohol and vice, because these industries are simply too profitable. It just wants to be seen to denounce them.

Tackling the problems of alcohol and vice by banning a calendar is like trying to cure skin cancer by putting a plaster over the tumour. Only in this case, it’s a see-through plaster. We all know what’s beneath.

* You can see some of the uncensored images from the calendar here. Judge for yourself if this was worth banning.


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[…] Leo Beers (a beer brand under Singha Beer company, the largest beer company in Thailand) releases a girly calendar with their logo in the background each year. This year was no different and the calendar was produce by “Lukkade” Metinee Kingpayom and apparently it’s against the law because it’s a form of print advertisement for alcohol. So the government is banning the sale and distribution of this controversial calendar. Now there is all this buzz about it. Read more about it here and an opinion piece about it here. […]

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