[Recorded Lecture] Thailand’s “Boys Love Machine”: Producing “queer” idol fandom across Southeast Asia

Tay Tawan Vihokratana (left) and New Thitiphoom Techaapaikhun (right) are a perfect example of the new celebrity “ships” developed by Thailand’s “BL Machine”

I gave an online lecture as part of the monthly Research Seminar Series of Macquarie University’s Department of International Studies on Friday 3rd April 2020 from 2pm-3.30pm (Sydney Time) via Zoom. The presentation draws upon my recent book project on Thai Boys Love media.

The lecture was recorded and you can stream it via this link!

Thailand’s “Boys Love Machine”: Producing “queer” idol fandom across Southeast Asia

This presentation explores the emergence of a form of popular culture that has recently developed in Thailand known as “series wai” or “Boys Love (BL).” Drawing upon five years of observation of this emergent media genre, I argue that Thailand is fast becoming a new regional hub for Asian queer popular culture. This presentation traces the celebrity culture that is central to Thai BL fandom through case studies of celebrity management and promotion by two production companies. I argue that GMM, Thailand’s largest media producer, has developed a “BL machine” that deploys Japanese and South Korean celebrity management techniques to produce “BL ships” designed to be consumed by heterosexual female fans of homoerotic media. I argue through a case study of one such “ship” named TayNew that Thai media companies have explicitly and strategically co-opted the grassroots practices of K-pop fans in the production and promotion of their celebrities. I then turn my attention to the transnational nature of this fandom through a discussion of a fan-meeting for Thai BL celebrities held in Manila. Through interviews with Philippine fans, I reveal that “Thai BL” has important emancipatory affects, dislodging Japan as the leader of Asia’s queer popular culture production within the Philippines.

3 thoughts on “[Recorded Lecture] Thailand’s “Boys Love Machine”: Producing “queer” idol fandom across Southeast Asia

  1. I like this concept of “BL Machine”. It is really inspiring. And as a new polca I have wondered for the last two months since they rarely interacted on social media and even when they promoted GLOBAL LIVE FM on May 22 along with other 3 couples, they were very cautious to avoid intimate physical contact.
    Some old polcas explain to me that New Thitipoom suffered so severe cyber violence last year that he closed his twitter account and unfollowed Tay’s FB account. And since then they have acted like, as we might joke about, “a divorced couple”.
    I wonder is it just personal stuff between the 2 entertainers or is it a part of the BL Machine to make their story more circuitous and more appealing (because it’s also true that though they rarely deliver fan service as a couple for the last 5 months, quite a few fans have been drawn into this fandom of polca — as some may refer to as “polclownthejourney”. Is it like hunger marketing or sort of thing….?

    1. I don’t think it’s hunger marketing as such because the break-down with New was all manifested by social media responses form anti-fans (or Polca fans who couldn’t separate their engagement with the celebrities’ star personas within the fictional couple from their individual, private lives). What I find more interesting is how the BL Machine keeps Tay and New together despite this personal problem between them, promoting a narrative of reconciliation so that the couple can continue to make money for the company. During the question and answer segment of this presentation that I wasn’t recorded due to privacy concerns, I added onto the BL Machine to highlight the inevitable “graduation” of members from a khu jin couple once they have established their fandom and their presence within the entertainment industry. I think TayNew will pass through this stage, as Krist and Singto did before them, with them occasionally coming back when there is an economic reason to do so.

      I want to note here I make this analysis as a fan of TayNew who enjoys their relationship and the ship. But I am also aware, as an academic, of the economic nature of the the ship and how GMM use them (and others) for a very specific purpose – to make money from young female fans in Thailand and across the Asia-Pacific.

      1. Much appreciation for this elaborate answer! i’ve seen your interaction with TayNew (i’m not being jealous >w<

        This “graduation” reminds me of something in mainland China entertainmant industry – I'm not sure if you happen to know a thing or two it. in February 2016, a web series called Addicted Heroin which features boys love was a hit in China. It was adapted from a bl novel and the author is also the producer of this show. But it was removed from the online platform without being fully released. And in 2017, there came this regulation on web series that forbids homosexual in TV series. So on TV series website like MyDramalist there arose this very funny concept as "censored relationship" which The Guardian in 2018 and The Untamed in 2019 are tagged as. Both shows are adapted from hit BL novels. But the main characters cannot be depicted as obvious lovers in the show but… anyway the audience is well aware of their relationship. I'd privately label this "censored relationship"(CR) as a mutant of BL with Chinese characteristics.
        So the main actors of the CR show undergo a similar process of "graduation", but much quickly and rapidly and brutally than GMMTV's stars. Their fans can be divided into fans of A, fans of B and fans of both (aka, shippers of AB). Take The Guardian as an example, it started to be broadcast in June and ended in July. After the final, the fans of each actor had a fight on social media. And the ship sunk very fast – it is easy to understand because the 2 actors come from different agent companies and are in fact competitors with each other. The Guardian's actors are Zhu Yilong (ZYL) and Bai Yu(BY). What intrigues me most is they didn't earn equal popularity from this show. ZYL is way more famous than BY now. This happens with The Untamed as well. But when it comes to SingtoKrist or OffGun or TayNew, I think each member of a khu jin is equal without one side being overwhelming.

        Btw I am one of the young female fans across the Asia-Pacific :P and your study is very meaningful and inspiring. Thanks again!!

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