Thai Protests’ Salute: how relevant is dystopian literature and film?


They salute because their government won't let them speak up.

They salute because their government won’t let them speak up.

I have just read an article about three university students who were arrested in Thailand for displaying the famous Hunger Games salute. Instinctively, I was reminded of an opinion piece which was published in The Guardian sometime in June. The writer, Jonathan Jones, could not have made me angrier with his dismissal of the symbol. In Thailand, “flashing the salute has become the unofficial symbol of resistance against the army’s coup with scores detained for raising three fingers in the air in an act of defiance,” describes The Mail and Guardian.

Jones, had a mouthful to say about the salute. For one, it is clear that he knows the significance of the salute in the Hunger Games – its symbolism for resisting the Capitol’s totalitarian regime. He is also fully aware of the recent coup which the Thai people are protesting against. What he fails to do, however, is  to draw the link between the two.

In the film, when the old man salutes to Katniss to demonstrate his recognition of her bravery (to rebel against the Capitol) he is dragged away by the guards. Similarly, when a female student displayed the three-finger salute in a Bangkok mall, she was taken away by police officers to be detained.

Students being whisked away by National Guards after displaying their salutes in Bangkok

More students being whisked away by National Guards after displaying their salutes in Bangkok

How different, really?

How different, really?

Here are some more of Jones’ thoughts on the use of political symbols from ‘sci-fi’ literature: The dystopian setting of these films has nothing to do with reality. In spite of vague satirical swipes at reality television and fashion, this cinematic world is basically a heady concoction of wilful absurdities… The whole thing is rooted in teenagers’ sensibilities and its images of politics are there to drive up dramatic tension, and sell more DVDs. Job done.

Perhaps I have simply written one too many essays drawing parallels in events in literature and real life. Perhaps Orwell, in writing 1984, was simply trying to entertain us, nothing to think about really. But then so would have Margaret Atwood, Aldous Huxley, Rodman Philbrick, Malorie Blackman, and every other author of dystopian literature. The point of dystopian concepts is alert people of what is, what has become and most importantly, what is yet to come.

While Jonathan Jones, and possibly many others, believe that, “when the best political imagery available comes from a corny series of paranoid science fiction films that are retro-1970s science fiction at best, and vacuous adolescent fantasy at worst, there is something missing…” I beg to differ. The use of this salute as a means of protest in Thailand is obviously intimidating the government, otherwise why would they have national guards lining the streets waiting to detain anyone who dares to raise their salute? Is the threat to democracy and freedom of expression only apparent to me here?

If anyone still doubts the relevance or effectiveness of adapting protest methods from ‘a corny series of paranoid  sci-fi films’, note Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-Cha’s response to the protests. “I don’t know whether it is illegal or not but it could jeopardise their futures. I don’t want to punish them [the students] so they were merely reprimanded, released and told not to do it again because it’s of no benefit to anyone” he said.

Prayut Chan-o-chan and Panem's President Snow are one and the same

Prayut Chan-o-chan and Panem’s President Snow aren’t all that different after all.

No matter how seemingly insignificant a gesture, in a revolution, every single gesture which shakes the government so as to start acting to suppress the people…that gesture must continue.


Here is the link to Jones’ analysis of the ‘unpolitical’  essence of the Thai protests’ salute:


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