Sunday, October 12, 2014

Chris Coles Talk at Thammasat University on Some of Bangkok & Southeast Asia Noir's Source Material

The Bangkok Noir and Southeast Asia Noir context is fertile and deep and provides a rich almost infinite source of materials, ideas, stories and visual images for all sorts of writers, musicians, film-makers and artists (and journalists).

While there's a lesser or greater degree of noir everywhere in the world, I think each country and area has their own version of noir, with their own characteristics, cast of characters, colors, music and ambiance.
In the case of Southeast Asia and Bangkok noir, in my view at least, some of the characteristics often used, and sometimes mis-used, as "Raw Material" for Noir creation, are the following:
An atmosphere of fatalism, acceptance and passivity in the face of adverse circumstances, no matter how unjust, unfair and unpleasant those circumstance might be.
Resignation in the face of unavoidable Karmic burdens acquired in past lives and deeds, burdens from which there is no escape.
A world where endemic corruption is not only considered  to be "normal" and "permanent" but in some cases, "essential".
Double helpings of impunity, disenfranchisement and rule by Big Men. 
An absence of meaningful Rule of Law.
Almost no guaranteed rights for the general population, whether unassailable property rights, equality under the Law, the right to equal opportunity and social mobility, or what are sometimes referred to as "Civil Rights" or "Constitutional Rights".
Individuals portrayed in much of Southeast Asia and Bangkok noir are often arbitrarily subject to state and Big Man violence, selective and biased law enforcement, in extreme instances, even assassination and disappearances.
In many of the noir stories, songs, films and art, Southeast Asia and Bangkok are sometimes, but not always, portrayed as worlds in which some of the inhabitants accept their own powerlessness or impotence in the face of arbitrary, unrestrained authority. 
Accept that they have little or no recourse in the face of widespread injustice.
Accept that large and endemic commercial sex industries as well as rampant illegal drug industries are deeply and permanently embedded in the structure of their societies and that these socially corrosive industries often operate with the complicity and are sometimes even under the control of state authorities as well as the various Big Men.
Accept that, in certain geographic areas and locations, there are organized child or underage sex businesses, accompanied by inevitable corrosive impacts and consequences.
Accept that, even in year 2014, there still exists indentured servitude and even outright slave labor, an ongoing trafficking/indentured-related movement of men, women, and children across international borders.
Accept that there is large-scale trade in illegal and counterfeit goods and weapons, drugs and narcotics.
Accept that there are and always will be huge disparities in incomes, living standards, asset ownership, etc. etc.
For the various writers, musicians, filmmakers and artists working in Bangkok and Southeast Asia who are inspired by or looking for noir subjects and themes, there seems to be an abundance of noir material with which to work.
Playing a central role in all this surplus of noir is, of course, the widespread and sometimes industrial scale nightlife/commercial sex industry that exists in Bangkok and throughout Southeast Asia.
And while almost every country and every part of our world has at least some nightlife/commercial sex industry, what is unusual in Southeast Asia and Bangkok is not only the sheer scale but also the high level of creativity and resources brought to bear.
The use of multiple, overlapping music tracks.
An astute, often very creative use of casting, costumes, lighting, neon, signage and dynamic colors. 
The seemingly endless supply of delicious and aromatic cuisine that accompanies and is present in many SE Asia nightlife venues.
An often warm and inviting ambiance that is an integral part of how the nightlife is delivered and consumed.
And of course, the Southeast Asia and Bangkok nightlife's most essential core ingredient, without which it could no longer exist, the hundreds of thousands of young and attractive females, males and ladyboys, many with a surprisingly high level of intelligence, wit, style and charm.
There's definitely a kind of power that radiates out from the Bangkok and Southeast Asia nightlife and a magnetic noir that is unique, unusual and often compelling.
Something that, year after year, draws in millions of people, workers and consumers, from every walk of life, every part of the world, every level of life.
Most of my own paintings are drawn from this richness and noir power.
The girls, boys, ladyboys. The customers, staff and infrastructure.
The music, lighting, neon and signage.
The ambiance, the stories, the lies.
The beauty, poignancy, tragedy.  The hundreds of thousands of lost opportunities.
The alienation, dis-connection and objectification.
I often wander through the Bangkok Noir looking for inspiration. 
I find it to be a rich source of  ideas, characters, costumes, situations, colors, stories and lighting.
I hope I've managed to capture and convey at least some of it's myriad levels of beauty, ugliness, horror, sadness and joy.
The virtues, deficits and defects of some of the people who inhabit it. 
And some of the dreams, nightmares and dilemmas of mankind's existence on our post-modern and globalized version of Planet Earth.

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