The lyrics of laborious life: popular music and the reassertion of migrant manhood in Northeastern Thailand
ABSTRACT The focal subject under investigation in this paper is the gendered identities of overseas male migrant workers as presented in the contemporary popular song lyrics from Northeastern Thailand. My reading of such lyrics is informed by my ethnographic fieldwork of Thai migrant workers in Singapore. I intend to uncover some complex, cultural junctures of transnational labor migration, in which men, mobility, and music have come across and formed a social force to reshape cultural imagination of migrant manhood. I argue that popular music celebrates male heroism of overseas migrant workers. Instead of challenging existing structures of hegemonic masculinity in the region, popular song texts poetically reaffirm and reassert the traditional dominant gender ideology and cultural practice. Overseas workmen are usually depicted as hard-working, self-sacrificial heroes in their attempts to rescue their families as well as romantic, caring lovers and morally responsible fathers.
KEYWORDS: popular music, transnational labor migration, migrant manhood, male heroism, Thai-Isan overseas migrant workers, Northeastern Thailand
Pattana Kitiarsa holds a doctoral degree in sociocultural anthropology from the Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. He is a former researcher and lecturer at Khon Kaen University and Suranaree University of Technology, Northeastern Thailand at two different times between 1993 and 2003. The areas of his research include popular Buddhism, religious commodifications, transnational labor migration, and Thai boxing. His recent publications include an edited volume, entitled Religious Commodifications in Asia: Marketing Gods (Routledge, 2008). He currently teaches in the Southeast Asian Studies Programme, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore.