Bangkok Noir, Part Deux: The Red Light Lit Scribblers Convene
If the “artwork” of Chris Coles was not enough to sate the average sex tourist’s refined aesthetic appetites, then rest assured. In coordination with the Coles exhibit was the release of a pulpish collection of short stories by such luminaries as Dean Barrett, Stephen Blather, Christopher Moore and, drumroll please, John Burdett. Yes, you read that right, cowboys: the same ecrivain who simply copied the existing red light lit formula and found himself on the New York Times best seller’s list, thus offending the entire reading public’s sense of decorum and already questionable taste in literature. How did he achieve this? A few positive reviews were drunkenly submitted by critics who knew nothing about Thailand or the implausibility of the ridiculous, error-strewn plots. While his novels about Thailand are all equally unreadable, he should nonetheless fire his publicist for convincing him to join in this enfeebled discussion at all (unless of course the whole trip to Thailand and accompanying trips to Soi Cowboy were tax write-offs). Pico Iyer, arguably the most talented of the lot, wisely stayed away from this rice paddy. Far away.
Thankfully, some bored soul, aroused from his own intrusive and recurring thoughts (“How soon can I get to the Eden Club?”), recorded the whole noirish circle-jerk (at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on March 17) and uploaded it to YouTube. Here, Barrett humiliates himself as usual (as he sits next to Burdett) by reading a nonsensical definition of “noir” that he actually cribbed from some guy on the Internet. Saphan Loy has not provided subtitles because, well, it is difficult to understand Barrett’s point (if he even intended to make one.) Clearly, the word processors assembled here were warmed up by the local spirits (and knock-off sedatives) in some Washington Square hell-hole before the event took place.
Listening to Christopher Moore’s exaggerated French pronunciation of “noir” and his accompanying attempts to describe what “noir” really is, is simply painful. Perhaps as painful as listening to an inebriated Burdett drone on and on about how bar girls represent the “noir” economy of Thailand. Really? Panty and lingerie vendors on Soi Cowboy stimulate the Thai economy? Or do you mean (just as certain farang typists have always done) they simply want a cut of prostitution’s filthy lucre? The grim reality is this: Burdett and the other foreign dissemblers assembled here, tired of sitting on bar stools and paying for sex for decades at a time, sought a way to recoup their sex ”deposits” by writing bad fiction for sale in order to cynically enjoy a bit of a return on their years of dedicated “field research”.
And notice the former Thai Police General’s (Nai Vasit Deijkunchorn) reaction to Burdett’s insinuation that go-go bars pay off the police to allow them to stay open later. Burdett’s adolescent gaffe is almost unbearable to watch. For someone who supposedly has spent years in Asia, his indiscretion and offense to his Thai hosts is irrefutable proof that, rather than convey nuances in Thai culture, or capture Bangkok’s “noir economy”, or whatever other rhetorical reasons they can concoct, these bar stool writers merely seek to profit from the miseries of poor girls from the Isarn countryside and the “noirish” stories that they tell in broken English, night after night.
In addition to an ailing water buffalo, extended money-strapped families, and the monkey of addiction, bar girls have several more mouths to feed: farang ”artists” and “scribblers” who simply enjoy the act of kissing, and telling.
The View from Above