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Primary Education News
News Thailand's answer to Skins shocks some, thrills others
Director of Hormones says calls for ban shows 'adults closing their eyes to reality'
From the opening episode, it becomes clear why Hormones, a drama of daily life at a Bangkok high school, has become the most talked about programme on Thai television.
Within the first few minutes, there is the sneaky cigarette during morning register, the bathroom quickie during break time, the mindless chatter about who likes whom, the agony of a boring lecture, and the impending suspension of a handsome bad boy.
Day-to-day life in Thailand is still largely conservative, with programming revolving around game shows and anodyne soap operas, and sex education premised on abstinence over birth control.
Which is why, much like Skins did in Britain, Hormones has struck a nerve in Thailand, where fans appreciate its honesty and critics lambast its "reckless" scenes of youths smoking and kissing on-screen.
Officials have even called for outright censorship, but its director, Songyos Sugmakanan, says the series plays an integral part in Thailand's culture, primarily because the issues it touches upon – teenage sex, drugs and general hormonal confusion – are not usually discussed at home or in school.
"Thai society has been closed for a long time," said Sugmakanan, 39. "In my day, adults chose not to teach us about sex in the classroom because they feared it would lead to us having sex, when actually it just forced kids to go out and learn on their own."
Thailand has the second-highest number of teen pregnancies in the world, year-on-year increasing rates of STD infection among its youth, and the highest rate of HIV/Aids in Asia.
While sex education is mandatory, teaching the subject is limited to just eight hours a year, with campaigners claiming that conservative teachers often fail to address essential issues such as how to practise safe sex, preferring to focus on abstinence.
Hormones portrays this modern-day dilemma through contrasting characters. In one episode, the self-aware, sexually advanced Sprite storms off after a boy refuses to produce a condom during a classroom-based rendezvous, while later, the mollycoddled, naive Dow is forced to visit an illegal abortion clinic after losing her virginity. Such scenes have angered the National Broadcast and Telecommunication Committee, which wants them censored for being too "obscene". But Sugmakanan says avoiding such subjects would be another example of "adults closing their eyes" to reality. "The abortion rate here is so high – the teenage figure is around 100,000 every year. It's impossible not to talk about safe sex," he argues.
The series, which is the first of its kind in Thailand, has proven hugely popular, ranking third behind two major terrestrial channels during its Saturday night slot. A second series is slated for air next year. Non-cable viewers are able to catch each week's episode on YouTube the next day, where some episodes have reached more than 9m views. Sugmakanan says that parents often watch with their teens to get an idea of what school life may entail.
With each episode themed around a particular hormone – such as testosterone or oestrogen – the series follows nine characters, from heartthrobs and goody-two-shoes to wannabe musicians and tomboys. As topical issues are woven neatly into the script, including single parenthood, abortion, homosexuality and class bullying, the series has been lauded as "quality, thought-provoking programming" that could change not only the way Thais see TV, but their own culture as well.
"Hormones is based on real-life problems in Thailand, but that's scary to most people," says Jaded Chaowilai of the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, which campaigns for greater sex education in schools.
"We cannot talk openly about sex education in Thai society, so most of the youth don't know what they're doing when they have sex. Most of the young women have abortions because they don't know how to protect themselves – they don't even know how to use condoms."
Unsumalin Sirasakpatharamaetha, 22, who plays class president Khwan in the series, says most of the characters are based on real people, with many of the actors incorporating their own life experiences into the series.
"The aim is to provoke the audience to think, and because it acts like a mirror for teens, they know what can happen with each path they might take, and from that learn what to do," she says. "Censorship is really only to protect those who can't think for themselves."