I was looking at a Thai newspaper from the 1930s called the Siam Rashdra Daily News. The front page for April 24, 1935 had an image and a notice right next to each other, and something about this juxtaposition struck me as significant.
In the top right-hand corner of the page is a lovely photograph of “Miss Nakhon Sawan.”
Below her picture is then an announcement that the authorities were allowing for an extra showing of the film, “The Blood of Thai Soldiers,” because no matter how many times they had already showed it, there were still viewers who wanted to see it but hadn’t yet.
Beauty queens and soldiers are two of the pillars of modern nations. The beauty queens embody all of the pure values of the nation, and the soldiers selflessly defend it with their blood.
In 1935, Siam was clearly trying its best to be a modern nation. It had beauty queens, and it had movies about the blood of its soldiers. And both were there for Thai citizens to see on the front page of the newspaper.
In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson talks about the role which the newspaper plays in the creation of a national consciousness. He focuses mainly on the idea that when people in different parts of the country read the same news at the same time, that this creates a common sense of identification.
We can obviously take that line of reasoning a bit further and say that when people in the different parts of a country all read about their beauty queens and dying soldiers, that they also will form a common sense of identification. “Real Thai women” are like Miss Nakhon Sawan, and “real Thai men” are like the nameless soldiers whose blood is spilled defending the nation.