Thais have been diverted by a craze for lifelike “Angel Dolls” that are supposed to give their owners good luck and are treated as real people by businesses from airlines to restaurants. The trend is also being read as a metaphor for a wishful ideology coursing through the ruling junta’s efforts to remake politics and kick-start the economy.
From the anti-corruption lectures in the country’s (latest) draft constitution to appeals for technology companies to self-censor in exchange for tax breaks, Thailand’s elites seem to some to be dealing with the country as they wish it to be rather than as it actually is. In this reading of the nation’s runes, announcements ranging from growth forecasts to shake-ups of parliament reveal the kind of magical thinking that animates the luk thep doll fad.
The phenomenon of the pint-sized luk thep — and the treatment of them as human beings — is on one level simply another of the myriad ways in which people keep the spiritual alive in the everyday. But the dolls have also triggered a growing backlash, ranging from mockery to practical concerns such as the possibility they could be used to smuggle drugs past security officers reluctant to search them.
By coincidence — for those who believe in coincidence — the story’s narrative arc has mirrored the reaction to the fresh draft of what one commentator has described as the luk thep constitution. That emerged as a curiosity and has since been scorned by politicians on both sides of what was the democratic era divide before the May 2014 coup.