I just returned from my favorite Bangkok cinema where I saw what will surely be this year’s most exploitative trafficking movie. It did not have a truly big star, but big enough, and it did not seem to be heavily promoted (I hope not anyway) so some other movie can still jump on the crazy, extreme trafficking bandwagon and out exploit this one. But SKINTRADE will surely be this year’s worst. By worst I mean the movie that is the most exploitative of the social panic issue of trafficking in people.
There is a benchmark. The all time worse trafficking exploitation movie remains “TAKEN” with Liam Neeson who kills over 20 people some of which appear to be normal security guards, commits two acts of torture, two car jackings at gun point, and shoots a police official’s wife. After this vigilante spree the American hero rejoins his family back in America untouched by French officialdom. I consider this a horrible example for any hot headed, armed American man who thinks he is seeing a pimp or someone else he associates with trafficking. Anything could happen.
SKINTRADE “stars” Dolph Lundgren, Thai actor Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, and (a favorite of mine) Michael Jai White. It is exploitative because it is very violent in ways that are unrealistic. There are two massive stereotypes throughout the movie.
First, the movie plot is cookie cut production like so many other action movies. Lundgren is a typecast aggressive policeman. He kills the son of a violent gangster. The gangsters kill Lundgren’s wife and daughter. The Lundgren character chases the gangster to Thailand, just like Neesonn rushed off to Paris. And, after a huge fight, bonds with Tony Jaa. The two extreme cops save the day, kill everyone in sight, and provide a set up for a sequel. Every comical action movie stereotype was applied to SKINTRADE.
Second, the other massive stereotype at play is to add to the ridiculous distortion of the issue of trafficking of people. There was the steel-shipping-container-full-of-dead-Asian-women stereotype. There was the Russian-mafia stereotype. There was the bad-guys-use-drugs stereotype. There was the bad-guys-force-drugs-on-young-girls stereotype. There was the “girls” stereotype, since many Thai women who were locked in cages looked old enough to be of interest sexually to anyone except the 2% of the population who are thought to be pedophiles. There was the “cages” stereotype. There was the dozens-of-bad-men-willing to indiscriminately-use-automatic-weapons stereotype. If more follow in this style movie critics will soon talk about this as a new genre of traffick-issue exploitation movie, as they did Black exploitation movies of the 60s and 70s. .
If anyone should be embarrassed by this it is Thai actor Tony Jaa who grew up in Thai culture and surely has been to many of the locations in the movie. He, more than anyone involved, knows that the movie story line is crap. It seriously distorts understanding of Thailand.
So, what’s the real problem, the deeper problem? The problem is that these extreme stereotypes about trafficking in people simple are beyond belief. But some do believe them. People who watch these kinds of movies, at least most people, know these stories are extreme and deliberately sensationalized for entertainment value. The same is true for slasher movies, for sci-fi movies, and some other kinds of movies that simply are not realistic.
Unfortunately not everyone understands that the craziest and most extreme things they experience in movies like this are there for the emotional entertainment experience.
The real problem is that SKINTRADE is not a slasher movie. It is not a sci-fi movie. It is a movie that mascarades as a documentary. People are supposed to be taught to be afraid that these terrible things they are see on screen could happen to their own children.
SKINTRADE looks a lot like a documentary that supports what other media are also selling as being the truth. As you can read elsewhere on this blog, internet media is being exposed more every year as being full of baloney, even deliberate lies. If a blogger tells you that 12 years old is the average age sex workers were forced to sell sex for the first time your common sense starts to tingle. You realize that is at least highly suspicious. But a movie, looking like a documentary, might provide the affirmation that leads people away from their own common sense. BTW, yes there are websites who seem to have copied each other who do say that about 12 years old being the average age when girls are forced to be prostitutes. And, yes, that is baloney. Our own research in one of the world’s largest sex tourist sites showed an average age of 23.2 years of age. And use your common sense to consider how many “girls” under 12 years old is needed to statistically offset even one 23 year old to maintain an average of 12 years old. Only the most extreme feminists can believe that there is a significant market for sex with a child under 12 years old. I digress, but this is another example of the craziness being used to by good hearted, but ignorant, people to keep the social panic issue of trafficking in the hearts of Americans.
SKINTRADE adds that extra touch. At the end of this movie it shows some highly challengeable statistics in white letters on black and just lets them sit there. As I recall it said: “Between 20 million and 40 million people are trafficked every year.” I am not going to reward people responsible for this movie by paying again to take notes and get that quote or any other details exactly right. You can probably find sources to confirm what they said there and to confirm that everything you saw has happened – somewhere. In deed it has happened. But this movie does not teach you what is normal. The entire plot consists of extreme elements which individually are rare. Yes, rare! The few words that give large numbers in the millions conflate this entire plot as if that represents “normal” trafficking. It does not!
Government agencies want to show you they are doing important work and so they want you to think this is a big, big problem. The academic world sees this kind of presentation as an explanation of a whole series of social panic issues that threaten us all in our own homes. Common sense helps us understand that we have little or nothing to fear.
If you want to earn a paycheck working for an NGO in times of tough employment, you have to receive donations for your NGO. An extreme sensational story does that better than a true story. Government organizations take on a “mission” and wonder what their next job will be if theirdaily activities fall out of fashion, as they do.
In the world of social panic issues the vaccination panic, the campus rape epidemic panic, the gun violence panic, and more are all in competition with the contrived social panic of trafficking of people in another country.
The more extreme story and a very action packed movie, looking like a documentary, is great for business. These days it is difficult to make any sense at all of which issue deserves your donation, or anyone’s donation.
The vast majority of sex trafficking is not trafficking at all. Trafficking is largely defined by force, deception, or coercion. Smuggling is about willing people seeking an opportunity. The United States Department of State Trafficking in People (TIP) program constantly demands other countries must find more victims of trafficking. But all these people who benefit from the social panic of trafficking are conflating and often deliberately confusing the issue of trafficking with the real issue of smuggling, and maybe neither. Elsewhere on this blog I have told the very real story of several sex workers I know personally who explained how they travelled to Bahrain, Europe, and to Malaysia. I asked them about those around them who were forced to do this or were having their first experience as a sex worker. They looked at me like I was crazy and said that all the women they had met were already experienced sex workers and, like them, knew what they were doing. This is the real story of sex trafficking. If the brutal Russian and Albanian trafficking gangs and all the activities they are blamed for are the exception, not the norm, first, the issue is a social panic. Second, normal police efforts might be appropriate without acting as if we should be in a panic.
Of course my purpose in writing this is to offer a different point-of-view, a more modest, nuanced understanding of this issue to offset social panic. There is danger to us all in having many social panic issues that could result in vigilante activity and also distract people from our real issues that need attention.