Clash of Symbols

Written by Andrew Marshall

Posted on 5 April 2010

So who’s winning then: the red shirts or the yellow shirts? Hard to tell, I know, but perhaps a glance at their protest strategies will help us decide.

First, the yellows. In 2008, they not only mustered their largest forces during the cool season, but then chose to occupy Suvarnabhumi airport—one of the largest air-conditioned structures in Thailand. Now consider the reds. For the second year in a row, they have hit Bangkok during the hottest time of the year. And where are they camped? On the shadeless streets of the capital’s main shopping district—that is, outside some of the largest air-conditioned structures in Thailand.

Yellows 1, Reds 0

But let’s look at the symbolism. Occupying an international airport is high on hassle—it cost Thailand billions of baht—but low on meaning. What were the yellows trying to say? That they would no longer tolerate the rural masses departing on innovative weekend spa retreats in Bali?

The reds’ protest site at Ratchaprasong intersection is of course highly symbolic. When you have declared war on the elite, nothing is more fitting than forcing the closure of their most expensive department stores. It’s a classic DDoS attack: distributed denial of shopping.

Yellows 1, Reds 1

As a protest location, Ratchaprasong is not just symbolic but practical. It is near the Maneeya Center, home to CNN, BBC and other media organizations, a proximity which in theory ensures a decent quantity of international coverage.

Yellows 1, Reds 2

Perhaps sensing they were losing the battle of the metaphors, the yellow forces are apparently fighting back. On Saturday an angry young man drove a Porsche into a row of red-shirt motorcycles. “The windshield”—soon smashed by angry reds—”was plastered with membership stickers to posh places such as the Bangkok Royal Sports Club and Siam Paragon Platinum Club,” reported The Nation.

Yellows 2, Reds 2

So, a draw for now. But this game is far from over.


  1. Anne Holmes says:

    Ah now this is the kind of reporting that’s lacking from the BBC; better couched in tactical and football terms than political ones. I’m glad to hear it’s a draw. A little suspense is the just pepper needed to keep me interested. Well put, Mr. Marshall.

  2. richbkk says:

    Although the reds do have a bigger substitution bench.
    And a notorious results-driven coach.

  3. Andrew Marshall says:

    And a ready-made wardrobe. So many reds are wearing Liverpool or Man Utd football shirts.

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