In the two weeks since I wrote my first reflections on GMM’s “Global Live Fan Meetings” and their importance for the globalisation of Thai BL pop culture fandom, something rather remarkable occurred. I applied to be one of the “200 Lucky Fans” to be featured as the virtual audience for the fan meeting for TayNew – the couple about whom I gave a lecture available here – and was fortunate enough to be selected. Then, on the day of the fan meeting and 30 minutes before the show was scheduled to start, I was selected by GMM to be one of the “10 Lucky Fans” who got to directly ask a question of the two stars. In this post I reflect a little bit about what this experience has further taught me about Thailand’s BL Machine.
First of all, I’d like to confirm what I had suspected when I initially wrote my reflections on Krist and Singto’s fan meeting two weeks ago. The fan experience is heavily curated by GMM, who provided a number of strict guidelines for fans to follow before the show commenced during a special orientation session held over Zoom on the day before the fan meeting. During this orientation session, the 200 Lucky Fans (who had previously indicated their availability via email) were given both a run-down of the show and a dry run of the interactive activities to be held on the day of the event. GMM’s administrative staff shared a number of rules with us and we all practised cheering during a sound check. We also communicated with P’Wave, the interpreter and host of the show who provided instructions in English, Chinese and Thai. In this way, the event did indeed mimic After School Club in its careful curating of the fan experience, as I had predicted in my previous post.
What I didn’t expect was how the fans utilised the chat feature of Zoom to build a community around the event and I soon found myself invited to a Discord server as well as interacting with fans of TayNew on Twitter where we discussed plans for a fan-run project to celebrate the couple. Unfortunately, on the day of the show, this fan project was not permitted to go ahead as GMM had prepared their own event (in which fans showed off blue hearts, the colour of TayNew’s “Polca” fandom). Although our own fan-designed project did not eventuate, the communal feeling produced through fans’ co-opting of the Zoom meeting as a site to celebrate the global fandom of the two celebrities speaks to the importance of social media for the building of intimacy. In this way, the event once again mimicked important production precedents developed by the K-pop industry.
On the day of the show, we all joined the Zoom meeting approximately one hour before the show began. It was half-way through this one hour orientation – during which fans continued to chat, using English as GMM requested of us – when I suddenly received a private message from the GMM admins stating that I had been selected as the 3rd “Lucky Fan” to submit my question to Tay and New and be featured in the show. The admins presented me with a specific question to ask – a variation of the one I had submitted upon application a week previously – and informed me that if I deviated from the wording of the question that I would be immediately removed from the event. I was prepared for this directive as we had been told during orientation that the admins would be selecting questions that had been commonly submitted, which means that many other fans had submitted a question similar to mine. My impression is that the “Lucky Fans” are not selected as “randomly” as GMM has been stating within their promotional discourse, although I have no proof for this statement.
After enjoying the first song segment, it was time for us to ask our questions. I soon found my face plastered on the screen and had an opportunity to directly interact with Tay and New. I asked my question (“What advice do you have for your fans facing troubles in these difficult times?”) and had an opportunity to engage with the boys directly (I was happy that Tay initially tried to answer my question in English and was super pleased they both wished me “G’day” when they learnt I was from Australia!). One thing I didn’t expect, however, was that I would be the first and only male fan who would be selected during the fan meets so far and that this visibility soon resonated with fans across the globe who began to interact with me on social media (hello to you all!). Until now, I had gathered the impression that GMM was strategically curating the event to appear as female-exclusive, but my selection threw this theory out immediately.
The sense of engagement and connection I experienced built up further due to another unexpected occurrence. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the fan meetings include a section where the celebrity “ship” (khu jin) play a game together with their fans. Within our fan meeting, fans were expected to perform emotions (such as fear, anger, love) that the host P’Godji showed to us and Tay and New had to guess which emotion we were performing. Imagine my surprise when I learnt that both Tay and New were specifically watching my screen (conveniently positioned at their eye level) to guess the answers! Due to my shoddy performance of “tired,” Tay got a bit frustrated that I was actually performing “sleepy” but in the next round, he correctly guessed “fear” after seeing my performance. Tay then proceeded to run in front of my telescreen and thank me for helping me get his first win (some fans have described this moment on Twitter as the moment Tay “kissed” me, which is very sweet of them!). Words can’t describe how happy this made me feel…
…but I am an academic, and words are my business! Within academic discourse, we often speak extensively about “affect,” a pre-cognitive “intensity” that shapes our engagement with the world (at least this is the definition put forward by philosopher Brian Massumi in his seminal Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation). Throughout my scholarly work, I have reflected extensively on the role affect plays in conditioning engagement with queer popular culture and its transformative power. As an ethnographer, yesterday’s fan meeting helped me clarify just how affect is mobilised within Thai BL. My interactions with Tay Tawan were just another moment where the BL Machine draws upon feelings of fin (a Thai term similar to moe in Japanese and kilig in Filipino that refers to the fluttering of the heart brought about by strong attachment to something) to construct its fandom.
So what do my experiences reveal about the BL Machine and the turn towards BL shipping as a method of promotion within Thai cultural production? It shows me that the intensely affective nature of fandom is essential to how this capitalist system works. As a scholar, I have been a strong critic of how capitalism co-opts agency in order to achieve its logic of accumulation. But all of that went out the window yesterday – all I was left with was an intense feeling of happiness and connection with Tay Tawan and New Thitiphoom. Is this a bad thing? No! Not at all! After the show, I connected further with fans and continued to learn about the emancipatory power of Thai BL and as we all shared our feelings of fin/moe/kilig and relived the show, the only thing that was important to me was the fact that we were all connected together by our affective entanglements with TayNew and the BL Machine. All in all, this sense of togetherness is far more theoretically interesting to me than an attempt to “tear down” BL as some kind of exploitative capitalist fantasy machine.
Some final reflections: In my previous post, I lamented the lack of English language support and called on GMM to provide more Japanese language support to their fan meetings, downplaying the investment into Chinese interpreting. I can report that GMM has seemed to follow this advice (I wonder if they read my post – it did go viral among fans!). Of course Chinese fans quite rightly complained about the decreased language support for them and I am sensitive to this, but the impression I have received from fans is that the increased English support – particularly for the 200 Lucky Fans – had made the event more accessible to the incredibly global fandom. More so than during any fan meeting I have observed so far, the stars themselves also directly spoke in English to fans. This was particularly true of Tay, who is the spokesman for Wall Street English, a private English language tutoring school with offices across major Thai cities. I’m curious to see what happens at the final event next week and whether GMM will have finally ironed out all the kinks for what will undoubtedly be the biggest show to date – Bright and Win, the stars of the phenomenally popular 2gether The Series.