I See Red

State, State of the now
Everything, get me out
It’s a state, State of Emergency
Take me down, everybody out, check

(“I’m in a bad way” by Satisfact )

On the cover of, in my opinion, the most significant album of 1999, is a bright light emerging from a landscape filtered by red. The shadows amid the landscape are eerie and otherworldly. This album cover, for Satisfact’s The Third Meeting of the Third Counter (1999), is an appropriate point of entry to the landscape of politics raging with red and the flashes of light the Thai media uses to magnify the scope of a coming event. They are what Richard Price calls “the shooters.”

Yesterday it became apparent that a State of Emergency would be declared throughout Bangkok, surrounding provinces, and more than 20 other areas throughout the country by means of the Internal Security Act in the attempt to control an uncertain surge of UDD (“red shirt”) protests anticipated to be anywhere between 100,000 and 600,00 strong. The Internal Security Act B.E. 2551 (2008) went into operation on February 28, 2008 under the command of an older institution, known as the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), which Baker & Phongpaichit (2009) aptly describe as a Cold War institution designed to eliminate the “external” virus of communism now refurbished to battle the “internal” threat of new enemies. The main vein of protest processions is Rachdamnoen Avenue, where I live, and with various calculations on how many people can fit in each square meter, shooters have suggested that any amount exceeding 200,000 with bring Bangkok’s bureaucratic core to a halt.

The shooters have been busy framing for over a week, between Thai language newspapers reporting on weaponry gone missing from Army units (‘internal’ operations) to the inundation of Thailand’s largest city with red shirts who will first surround it at 10 checkpoints. The framework of the red shirts is antithetical to the logic of the Internal Security Act built around stabilizing the internal core, aptly expressed by Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban here: “the UDD had split into many factions which were acting independently and lacked a coordinated approach. This would make it difficult for security authorities to control them.” (Bangkok Post “Govt lowers security Net” 9 March 2010) The red shirts are largely comprised of disenfranchised and neglected villagers from the central, north, and northeastern Thailand. Their geographical strongholds constitute the majority of Thailand. Their elections have been overturned, and they organized in response to Bangkok-centered middle class movements (PAD, “yellow shirts”) to take away their right to vote.

The node that connects politics with a method of presentation is itself the promise of its existence. One of the reasons why Satisfact’s album was so great was because it signaled a situation song arrangement. In “Locate” (1:31) a complaint is followed by a drum roll that dissolves into keyboards emerging like the roaring crowd of protest that then transitions into another song part. It is the sound of processing and movement slowed down to increase the intensity of the repetitions. The same technique is used on the final song “Upon Arrival” (2:40). This reminds me of Ranciere’s argument in The Flesh of Words (2004) and how one can read Woodsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud” using the “I” of “wandering cloud” as a “perceptual space, of giving it rhythm in a walk, a journey, a crossing.” There in the poem is an apparatus of transport, moving a subject from one point to the other, from an “I” to a “We”—the cloud to the daffodil, from location to displacement, from old world to new world, and so on.

The color of red seems to exist as another mode of transport, the propensity for overtaking the older bureaucratic order of “amataya” politics in Thailand but also other conventional orders of presentation. Uthid Hemamul’s introduction to his collection of short stories called No Return (2008) he talks about the inspiration of Suchart Sawadsiri’s short film “’Red’ at Last” on his mode of presentation.

“Red at Last” “tells the story of a minute in the life of Manus Siarsingh, who has lost his life in the October 6 1976 massacre. Suchart’s film opens with the soundtrack of the dead ‘My name is Red’.”

Color is the signifier of transport between life and death, that Uthid goes on to describe in Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red. Uthid makes a significant point. Amid previous Cold War tactics, the “red zone” was the term used to describe communist-dominated areas of the North and Northeast areas following the 1973 and 1976 bloodshed. Before the UDD began wearing red shirts they were already being identified as a “red zone” by those who orchestrated the September 19th 2006 coup—since they were supposedly “duped by populism” under the policies of Thaksin Shinawatra (Baker and Phongpaichit 2009: 300). It is hard not to be sympathetic to the Red Shirts. So-called “sources” are cited in a variety of articles to talk about the violence, grenades, and other forms of havoc these militant villagers (repetitively called “hard-core Thaksin supporters”) will wage upon the city. Here’s an example:

The red-shirts hope to deliver a knock-out punch to the government by Sunday, a source close to the group’s inner circle said but declined to go into details. Hardcore members of the group aim to create chaos in Bangkok with violence and perhaps explosions in many locations, the source said. (“Reds plan to paralyse BKK, topple govt : sources”, March 9 2010 The Nation)

This basically gets amplified by comments by politicians, as an excuse to implement the Internal Security Act, that this weekend the UDD “would threaten normal life and the welfare of city residents” (“Monarch gets briefing”, The Nation).

Regardless of the forms politics take to present their message, what strikes me most about this weekend is that the greater amounts of fear and the more vigorous the methods of control become, the greater the possibility for violence. And problematically, it appears that the prospect of a peaceful protest is the greatest threat to the order of things—in this case. And that’s why the song “I’m in a Bad Way” by Satisfact began ringing through my head, as tactical plans to contain the color red begin to unfold.

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