What the Thai BL series, “Bad Buddy,” has to tell us about societal reset

“Reset” is a popular word for our “starting over” (as if from a clean slate) or “starting again” (as if restarting from where we are). But there are other ways to think about “reset” as it applies to societal issues.

One is unfamiliar to readers of this blog: the recent response to a Thai BL (Boys’ Love), “Bad Buddy.” It’s a twelve episode series, now moving to the 11th “cursed” episode. BLs, like other Asian dramas, are full of tropes, one of which is: Things must get worse in the next to the last episode (just) in order to get better at last.

–I’m not going to describe the history of BL series (they’re not, e.g., Greek boy’s love), nor how Thai series differ from BLs in Japan, Taiwan, or more recently South Korea, which themselves differ. For those interested, the sinkhole of web-links awaits you (by the time you get to the history of China’s censorship of BLs and their current wink-wink, nudge-nudge “bromances,” you’ve learned a great deal).

What I want to focus on here is one major response of YouTube viewers to “Bad Buddy” (with its millions and millions of episode views and tens and tens of thousand episode comments): This series represents, right now, a “reset” of Thai BLs.

I want to argue that the “reset” talked about in YouTube comments (at least those in English) is an optic through which to think about calls to reset specific contemporary politics and society.

–One of the first things “Bad Buddy” viewers comment about is the great acting and chemistry of the two male leads, Ohm and Nanon. Just say it’s astrophysical. The higher-quality of storyline, filming and direction, original sound track, and pacing are also singled out for note. All and more are clear in Episode 5’s lead-up to the roof-top scene, where in the language of Asian dramas Ohm confesses his feelings and they kiss.

–That last sentence in no way conveys the intensity of what we viewers actually saw and what that embrace conveyed. There is something very fitting in the reset being triggered the moment Ohm utters a mai (“no”) unlike any before.

One convention of many BLs has been that these be straight actors kissing according to a storyline written by a female author for a largely female audience–where the kiss would more often be two sets of closed lips compressed together. Not so in “Bad Buddy”!

Other BL conventions have been bumped out of the way by “Bad Buddy.” Most invidious to international viewers has been the question of “who’s the top, who’s the bottom?” or “who’s wifey” in the relationship. “Bad Buddy” makes it clear the protagonists see themselves as boyfriends. Nor is there the usual, “He’s the only guy I’d ever love.” Nor are the females cyphers funny or incidental as has so often been the case.

I could go on about why I’m such a fan, but suffice it to say: At the time of writing, many of the viewers of this series agree they are witnessing what they take to be a bigger reset of cultural conventions at least in the BL industry.

–Now I shift the register and talk about my views of their views.

It seems to me that this type of “reset” is not one of resetting Thai society views of LGBTQ+ communities there or elsewhere (watch the Thai Channel 3 BL series, “Miracle of Teddy Bear,” to get some comparison). Nor is the reset one of setting a gold standard or benchmark for future BL series.

The reset I take away from the comments–that is, the reset I believe I’m witnessing through to Episode 10–is more akin to shaking the kaleidoscope of BL conventions and then making a new twist. The different colored shards—those conventions and tropes—don’t disappear but are being reconfigure anew. YouTube viewers of “Bad Buddy” are recording, participating in and energizing just such a reset. In more conventional terms, expectations are changing and viewers are managing the changes and those expectations.

–So what?

For someone living in the United States at the start of 2022, the economy is narrativized almost always into top and bottom. The top shafts the bottom; rich and poor are all having to take it up the ass. A lifelong Democrat or Republican says this is the first time ever voting for someone like Trump or Obama. This US drama of ours is cursed to end early. The notion that top and bottom could be “friends,” that the other half aren’t funny or incidental, that even when we’re fucked up and down, it’s complicated, and that even if society can’t be reconfigured as a whole, some major representations and conventions can be so as to make them work better–well, that’s one imaginary too far in the US, it seems to me.

If so, then I take the positive upshot of–let’s call it “a Bad Buddy reset”–to be: Focus on kaleidoscopes that can be twisted.

Two examples as far away from BLs but ready, I believe, for “Bad Buddy” resets will have to be illustrative.

(1) Once you refocus, philanthropy needn’t be viewed as the city’s rich helping the city’s poor; urban-generated remittances needn’t be seen as one set of family members helping other family members elsewhere. Both philanthropy and remittances twist into something else when it’s “urban citizenship”–its duties and responsibilities–that come into better view through these very transactions.

(2) Another example. A more traditional configuration of dryland herds as assets is being twisted into a newer configuration of herds as global environmental liabilities. One consequence of the latest twist is to exclude pastoralists from being considered part of the near-global asset boom in rising prices of stock, bonds and real-estate.

At some point in the twisting ahead of what patently is a kaleidoscope of very different configurations of herd assets and liabilities, it will be clear that a big question was missed in the earlier twist: Who benefited when public attention was distracted by reclassifying cattle as global environmental liabilities from recognizing instead that their owners/managers were and continue to be entrapped in capitalist asset bubbles, and on a global scale?

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