Midnight in Thailand

by mr


25.03.2013 – 30.03.2013. Ko Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
By: Petra Tomljanovic

I’m on Thailand in search of the mythic Beach! My grandpa’s Volvo Penta boat is transformed into a long-tail boat, a local Thai sea vehicle powered by oversized truck engines strikingly resembling the Mad Max movie set, navigated by a local fisherman reminiscent of the “Waterworld” characters.

In search of the authentic moment, a tourist becomes an organic part of an indigenous environment, and to the inhabitants an indispensible part of the everyday landscape. Tourists are but a mere iteration to the “locals”, a part of the expected horizon, simultaneously confirming and negating their own position.

Additional confirmation of the predefined tourist vision of Thailand dates to the pre-colonial times, and is supported by the historical fact that this is the only South Asian country that successfully resisted French and British colonial pretensions. Already in the 19th century, the “Land of the Free”, as called by its people, diplomatically manoeuvred between trade and tourism, making its current status not particularly surprising.


Similar to what the pyramids of Giza have done for Egypt’s popularity, antique temples for the image of Greece, or their models for Las Vegas, completely fictive stories had done for the myth of Ko Phi Phi Leh Islands. The islands had become globally famous only when in 2000 Ko Phi Phi Leh Island was chosen as the shooting set for the movie “The Beach”. What is more, the film was followed by a scandal in which the production company considerably “adapted” the island’s landscape by pouring tonnes of sand and planting a couple of more palms in order to make the beach more authentic.

The final result of the movie was the commodification of emotions, and the nostalgia for the authentic. The lust for the paradise lost is as old as humanity – seen from the economic point of view, it is also rather lucrative. This very simulation and the lust for the primal is well described by the platitude “Mediteranian as it once was”, which refers to the wealth of Croatian natural and cultural resources . The one that “was” is in fact no more authentic than the one that “is”.


Contemporary society and its attitude towards collective memory is marked by a high level of contingency and digitalization, meaning that everything that a society remembers or forgets – be it events, symbolic meanings or ideas – is no longer a part of an organic whole which completely defines social identity, but something that can just as easily be disintegrated, deconstructed and negotiated.

The categories of „important“ or „irrelevant“ no longer exist when it comes to collective memory. Such a framework implies that the emergence of the lust for the authentic, for the mythic beach, is the remnant of pre-digital memories exploited by the film industry and tourism. The nostalgia thus remains an unfulfilled wish. While there are no means of recreating the authentic, it is possible to simulate a mythic space. In reality, such space will never contain memory; it will only become the place of consumption, entertainment and hopefully something more.

Thailand is therefore a performatively authentic place, meaning that its authenticity is mediated and created by the media image, the simulation of the reality. It sells a meta-space of the last primal landscape constructed by a movie; swimming like DiCaprio with another hundred Caucasian tourists (since the locals never swim); and, finally, the transformation of one’s own view into a photograph, deliberately posed, well arranged, and mediated via Instagram with the rest of the globe. It is truly the most sincere moment of our time.


“Midnight in Paris”:

“Gil: Adriana, if you stay here though, and this becomes your present then pretty soon you’ll start imagining another time was really your… You know, was really the golden time. Yeah, that’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying.“


foto: miro roman / smartphone