How could a woman wearing a blazer with red and yellow flowers on it lead to her being thrown out of a Thai Temple and receiving death threats? To understand the weight of this situation we must look through Thai politics and a cultural lens in order to understand the weight that colors have in Thai culture.
Thai culture has a significant amount of reverence and respect for the King. Having traveled to Thailand myself, I witnessed how every day at 6pm, the national anthem would play and every person would stop what they are doing and have a minute of silence in respect for the king. People only speak of the King in a positive light in public and they can be imprisoned and put to death if they do otherwise. Therefore, Thailand does not have freedom of speech policies.
The Prime Minister also plays a critical role in Thai politics. And the latest issues have arisen because in 2006, there was a military coup and Thaksin, the Prime Minister, was ousted. Thaskin’s supporters would wear red. Protesters wore yellow, the color that represents the Thai monarchy. This information allows us to understand the weight of Rosalynn Carmen wearing a blazer with red flowers on it to the late Thai king’s memorial. The memorial was in honor of his cremation on October 26, 2017. Through a cultural and political lens, the color red is disrupting and disrespectful to the monarchy.
The interesting aspect of Carmen’s choice in outfit is that it was not like she was only wearing red. Her outfit was composed primarily of black, in respect and mourning for the late king. Then, the blazer she was wearing was outlined with red and yellow flowers. I see this outfit as a unifying art work showing the mourning over a king and the unity of Thailand. It is evident that crowd at the memorial had a different perspective. They saw the small red flowers as a sign of deep disrespect for the king and felt it was necessary to revoke Carmen’s right to free speech. They did not even acknowledge the fact that there are also the same number of yellow flowers on the blazer. Not only did they ask Carmen to leave the Temple, but they also proceeded to make death threats to not only her, but her husband, and her family that still remains in Thailand.
Carmen and her husband have had to move to an alternate location in light of the response to her outfit and the death threats. This occurrence brings to light a fundamental issue, freedom of speech. Although Thailand does not ensure freedom of speech for its citizens, how does Thai culture translate in America where free speech is not only allowed, but encouraged. Were the people’s upset with Carmen’s outfit justified? What about their threats? How can the United States encourage freedom of speech while also respecting the values of diverse cultures? These questions are asked because there is often a conflict between what is more powerful in a person’s life, the law that they are under or their cultural ties. The way that the people at the Thai temple treated Carmen are evidence that cultural ties have more weight in human interactions.
It is clear here that something as simple as a blazer, can create a message that enrages others and brings to light important issues like freedom of speech and cultural respect. It would be interesting to see what the late king thought about Carmen’s outfit and if he saw it as an artwork displaying disrespect, or a message of unity.