National news in Thailand has a sweet backdrop to the ingrained woes of the protracted political schism and more recently the spectre of a bloody civil war: The Great Panda Story.
The money shot
Panda stories, since the Chinese started renting out precious bears on a global scale in the 1970s, have acted as the perfect smokescreen to the kind of news that some viewers might find offensive, or even difficult to follow. Pandas have been loyal news items since they broke out, whether they act as breaking news when days are slow, or act as an ameliorant and distraction when in other news things are looking pretty awful.
In Thailand the panda story is continually used to gloss over more urgent matters of social and political dysphoria, while creating large amounts of money for anyone involved in the panda racket: I’m not sure which takes precedence, but if I were to bet I’d bet on the money.
The hyper-exploitation of this seemingly daft animal and its attendant commercial gains has arguably made panda propaganda Chiang Mai’s most repetitive headline dirge behind ‘Drug Mule Arrested with Amphetamines’. Since Lin Hui and Chuang Chuang graced the zoo in 2003 assiduous local journalists have been tracking the bear’s every footstep, in tandem with the zoo, whose overly-zealous Public Relations department came up with the genius idea of giving the pandas loads of birthdays in one year. On these days the zoo bursts at the seams with guffawing spectators following a media blanket on any other news, while the bewildered animals do all kinds of stunts that would be incredibly undignified if the pandas had been endowed with the consciousness we are made to think they have at times – such as when they smile or do high-fives on greeting cards. Had the bears a labour union they’d probably go on strike due to the amount of hours they have to work.
I heard that the Panda Channel, which was a less clamorous but equally effective way of brainwashing people into belief in The Great Bear, was now defunct, but in line with technological advancements, you can now watch the panda enclosure online. In Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland they have a panda-cam where you can watch mostly a blank screen, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a panda scratching its balls or chewing on some wood. Thankfully Edinburgh has a robust heroin culture, a requisite state of affairs when watching blank TV screens is a part of the culture. Although in bonny Scotland numerous animal rights groups have already criticized the exploitation of the bear, while the media, far from acting as agency to the zoo, has asked questions about the ethicality of panda-praxis. In Chiang Mai no such analysis has occurred, and in the absence of a heroin epidemic, the Chiang Mai public has to take the full-weight of panda marketing.
Expensive number plates
After Chiang Mai Zoo’s arguably most lucrative bear (Lin Ping) left the premises we were told that Chiang Mai citizens were in mourning, so it was with great happiness that these same pathologically misguided residents welcomed the news about Lin Hui getting up-the-duff thanks to realistically invasive artificial insemination. Not surprisingly the depressed bear and her best mate did not feel like fucking out of their natural habitat, watched by thousands of people, caged, with panda-porn playing in the background. No, it seems that in captivity pandas adopt a kind of Schopenhauerian antinatalism during their enslavement and the rampant exploitation by their owners. Just as a whale’s dorsal fin collapses when it’s bullied and broken during its stint working out of its depth for Seaworld, a panda’s penis seems naturally flaccid when its reason for living is perhaps underwhelming against the argument for suicide. Pandas may not be as fond of jumping through massive birthday cakes as we, the fatuous public, are led to believe.
So another chapter begins, and outside the zoo the venders are likely already rubbing their hands thinking about another t-shirt, mug, doll, and pack of playing cards. The cameramen and Chiang Mai’s finest writers have booked their place at the (free) buffet and conference. Red telephones have been buzzing from the Ministries of Bangkok to the Great Halls of Beijing.
“The birth will also likely be caught on camera. Members of the public can visit the nursery room set up by the zoo following the birth,” wrote Thailand’s National News Bureau, who commented that the last birth in 2009 resulted in stampedes of onlookers at the zoo in line with national “panda-mania”.
While the actual idea of a zoo itself is somewhat repugnant to much of the civilized world in 2014, pand-exploitation in Thailand is in full swing and hardly devalued by any kind of critical conscience. Pandas are literally (think candy, or inscrutable meat heads at Korean BBQs) shoved down our throats.
It’s no surprise we are forced to buy into this panda plot as the bears have cost Thailand and the zoo a considerable amount of money in loans and upkeep – loans which China inflated this last year after taking back Lin Ping. We, soft-hearted, weak-willed, affectionate public, are of course made to believe that all this is done in the name of conservation with the added bonus of the goodwill gesture, and not for primarily fiscal objectives. If that were the case then wouldn’t it be better if the ill-fated bears were swanning about in virtual forests, left alone by business’s sticky fingers and the vacuous countenances of the adoring public – rather than locked up in air-conditioned rooms for our enjoyment? If we cared about the cuddly bears we’d fight for their rights, not engender the crux of the problem.
As we await another little panda to surface into the media, and we clasp our hands with excitement – as the zoo checks the contract to see how much time they have on the cub before it’s due for a flight out of Thailand – maybe we should ask ourselves if our fascination with this endangered species warrant the vicissitudes of its incarceration. We could ask this about many animals in captivity. If you don’t believe animals have feelings then I suggest you visit a zoo. As is alluded to in the goofball comedy film about a news room, Anchorman, perhaps the panda story is only applicable to the realm of idiots, a realm where the animals are cleverly exploited and subjected to the lunacy of giddy consumers.