David Carradine's Death Photo

The Thais seem to have a ghoulish liking for explicitly gory photos; or at least, Thailand’s media does. The latest example is ‘Grasshopper’ David Carradine’s death photo, published by one of Thailand’s tabloid newspapers, Thai Rath.

Those living in Thailand are used to this from all sides of the popular media, print and TV. Road accidents and their victims are shown in vivid detail. Perhaps it is that the Thais have come to terms with the reality of death while we prefer to keep it ‘locked away in a closet’, pretending that it doesn’t exist. From a very early age, children receive Buddhist teachings about the inevitability of birth, ageing, pain and death, how to come to terms with the natural processes of life.

Or is the use of such graphic images simply a cynical manipulation by a relatively unfettered press? Hardly a day passes without images of bloodied corpses featuring in lead articles in the Thai popular newspapers. Earlier this year we were treated to snaps of piles of bodies, burnt beyond recognition, outside Bangkok’s Santika discotheque. More recently, strolling past the news stands, you might have spotted a front page photo of a man’s head, hanging from a rope tied to the Rama IV bridge in Bangkok. No, not a grisly murder scene. The portly suicide victim had used rather too long a rope to hang himself, with gruesome consequences.

Khao Sod is another culprit amongst the Thai tabloids. The entire front page can be plastered with sickening images of death in all its forms, from car smashes, to bullet-ridden murder victims. David Carradine’s photo, if that is what it is, is mild in comparison.

How hypocritical are we though. We profess disgust at the in-your-face hardcore images, the lack of respect for the families involved. Yet today there are reports that one in five of all worldwide Google searches are for “David Carradine’s death photo”. We buy the tabloids and spurn the more measured, informative publications. We feast on reality TV shows and the suffering of others. Our morbid fascination for sensationalist images and news drives the news machine, and publishers fall over themselves to satisfy our insatiable appetite for more.

There has been a half-hearted recent attempt by a group of Thai academics to persuade the Thai media to tone down its approach. Their complaint was that the showing of such images was not only tasteless, but that they were shocking for children, and shamed the families of those involved. However the banner proclaiming the sacrosanct freedom of the press (at least in this domain, if not the political arena) will as usual be brandished high by affronted publishers, and the dumbing down of the worldwide media and its followers will continue apace. A familiar phrase to those in the business, "if it bleeds, it leads". So much for journalistic integrity.

This is not some kind of ‘Third World’ phenomenon. Kids everywhere are being blitzed with violence through their game consoles, TV screens and the internet. The threshold for satiation is rising; the suppliers of thrill and titillation compete with each other to supply ever more shocking images to grasp our dwindling attention.

Oh yes I forgot, David Carradine’s death photo. Sorry, if you’re one of the multitudes of people searching for a fix of the macabre, I won’t post a link to it here, not least because there is no evidence that it is genuine. I understand from more circumspect sources that it shows a decidedly ordinary looking and small room for the 5-star Swissotel Nai Lert Park hotel suite, where Carradine was staying. So here’s a pleasant, non-violent photo instead. Life, instead of death. Ha, fooled you! Anyone who typed those four words into your search engine... well maybe it's time to rethink your priorities?!

Update 08.06.09 2340hrs Thailand: The photo was withdrawn from their Internet site by Thai Rath earlier today. One would be forgiven for thinking that the publication is itself having doubts about the authenticity of the photo. What a surprise. Not.

For those of you that have actually seen 'the' photo, here is one of the Nai Lert Park's 'ordinary' rooms. Not even a suite. David Carradine, unsurprisingly, was staying in one of the 5-star hotel's suites.

Update: 10.6.2009: The Bangkok Bugle is following up on this story. Latest reports are of the Carradine family's outrage at developments, only to be further exacerbated today by the appearance of what this time seems to be a genuine photo of David Carradine's autopsy on a Hungarian website. The US-based website examiner.com is making an indirect appeal to American tourists to consider boycotting Thailand, if it fails to recognise the strength of US feelings in this matter. The authenticity of the original Carradine death photos remain in doubt. Check out the latest news at the Bangkok Bugle.

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Western Observer said...

Publishing the photo was tasteless and Carradine's family have every right to feel upset but what I don't understand is their reported hostility towards Khunying Porntip. She's Thailand's top forensic pathologist and no friend of the police. If anyone can ascertain the truth, it's her.

hobby said...

Freedom of the press in Thailand???
Freedom about everything, except the elephant in the room!!!

The FrogBlogger said...

Western Observer, reports now that Thai Rath have removed the Carradine photo from their website. Perhaps they know something about its authenticity that we don't. Yes hostility towards a forensic pathologist seems misplaced, although her report seems to confirm the rather sordid nature of this affair, it doesn't rule out foul play.

Hobby, yes the press does seem to make a lot of noise about their freedoms when it suits them! Of course Thailand has an unbiased and uncontrolled media, just look at at paragon of journalistic integrity, The Nation ;-)

Catherine said...

I understand the family being upset - I'd be furious too - but this is Thailand and not the US.

I don't know how many times I've seen photos of Westerners, in poses of misadventure, plastered across the internet after being scanned from Thai newspapers.

The dead don't seem to have any rights to privacy in Thailand.

I'd like to hear what a Thai has to say. Are they bothered? Or is it a matter of the Thai press running wild?

Mike said...

ok this is the first time commenting here but i got to say.

lese majeste! we cannot insult the king or take certain picures out of respect.

hey, what about Americans? where is the respect for our pictures??!?!?

sounds like a one way street

The FrogBlogger said...

Catherine, I've not got my head around the Thai attitude to this. Sure they have a much more matter-of-fact acceptance of death, and a fair percentage of the population sees suffering close-up on a regular basis in their daily lives, while for Westerners this is something that is kept out of sight as much as possible. But the lurid details plastered over the tabloids is just so much exploitation by unscrupulous publishers of a voyeuristic tendency, surely.

Interesting in a society that is so ambivalent about sex, that violence is not censored to the same degree. The cable film channels show all manner of horrors throughout the day, with no equivalent of the 9pm threshold for safe viewing by kids. Yet the cigarette about to be smoked is treated to the fuzzy screen treatment, as is, horror of horrors, a bare nipple.

Mike, yes it's hard to understand why a people that places so much store in respecting others, face, and family values, fails to accord the same respect to the families of those involved in incidents like this. Still, it's not only farangs that get this treatment.

Catherine said...

Pete, for a minute I thought you were discussing Western ways as I've lost touch.

So I guess that I now have two cultures where I don't quite fit.

I left the West way before political correctness became the norm and doctored cig photos were a given, so I'm not quite up to speed on it all.

And I'm still not sure if the doctored cig bits are from the West, or Thailand.

When I was in the US, the showing of nipples was quite fine and streaking was a fad. I've done one and admired the other.

I haven't seen any nakedness on Thai tv but I've seen an awful lot of death.

I'm getting to the age where I can talk about the 'good old days' and worry about what is to come.

Throwing in Thai ways increases the complexities of it all.

blukor02 said...

The family of actor David Carradine is already having to mourn the death of the late actor who was found hanging dead from his closet in Bangkok, Thailand.

The FrogBlogger said...

Catherine, don't remember blurry cigarette photos on TV/in films in Europe? I almost certain that this is Thai censorship at work. Yes... it's a mixed-up world; one which seems to have lost its moral compass, or at the very least is searching for a new one, after a century of such rapid change where traditional ethics have been regularly challenged.

job1866 said...

think about this...Why would David do that to himself knowing hed be showing up on the set the very next day with rope marks around his hands and throat. David was murdered. Dont believe the ravings of an exwife from a divorce document!!

Martyn said...

Pete I've read your post three times now and it's time to make comment. I may lose friends and make enemies but I've really got to react to your excellent post.

I find it very doubtful that someone of David Carridine's age, wealth and status would take the risk of allowing a stranger or perhaps strange ladyboy into his room. I am by no means clever but even being of a much younger age I would not take a risk like that. Streetwiseness always comes to the fore. Mr Carridine's wealth and status would surely have allowed him access to only the most trusted of the sex industry spoils. Perhaps suicide is a plausible conclusion, although I do wonder if stupidity not curiosity sometimes kills the cat. God bless David and I really enjoyed his Kung Fu series.

Martyn said...

Sorry Pete but I shot off at a bit of a tangent with my previous comment. The morality of Thai newspapers and their daily obsession with death and gory photos. I have often wondered about this subject but have never come to a satisfying conclusion about it. Are they merely giving the people what they want or is it because of the Thai way to never complain that has made the press push the boundaries further and further outward so that now the gore is viewed as acceptable. I see from your footnote that Thai Rath has withdrawn the offending photograph and lets face it the picture was hardly crystal clear in the first place. As far as Mr Carradine goes then I think the truth will never come out, best stop there as I can see another tangent appearing on the horizon.

The FrogBlogger said...

Martyn, Kwai Chang Caine of the Kung Fu series was a real hero for many of that generation. Haven't seen it for decades, yet scenes still stick in the mind. Remember the blind monk?

I don't know what if anything fascinates the Thais with respect to the graphic imagery, but they definitely have a way of 'telling it like it is' in everyday conversation. For example if someone is overweight, they say so, no messing. Not in a nasty way, just a statement of fact. Maybe that's got something to do with it, I don't know.

When I did some meditation training at a Theravada Buddhist monastery years ago, I remember reading about how some more advanced monks would meditate on death in all its horror, just to come to terms with it. I think I'll stick to aummmm.... aummmmm ;-)

Charles Frith said...

There's no comparison to violent movies and real death. My daughter's grand mother was stabbed to death 20 odd years ago and put on the front cover of Thai Rath. I've been paying the the price of trauma for years.


The FrogBlogger said...

Sorry to hear that Charles. You must loathe the rag. Thanks for dropping by, I'm enjoying reading 'Punk Planning'... a lot to get through.