BANGKOK – The three-finger salute of resistance from Hollywood movie “The Hunger Games” is being used as a real symbol of defiance in Thailand. Protesters against the military coup are flashing the gesture as a silent act of rebellion — and they are being threatened with arrest if they ignore warnings to stop.
Thailand’s military rulers said they were monitoring the new form of opposition to the coup.
“Raising three fingers has become a symbol in calling for fundamental political rights,” said anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngam-anong on his Facebook page. He called on people to raise “3 fingers, 3 times a day” — at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. — in safe public places where no police or military are present.
The gesture emerged over the weekend as protesters joined small groups, or stood alone, flashing three fingers in the air.
“We know it comes from the movie, and let’s say it represents resistance against the authorities,” said Col. Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, a spokesman for the junta.
“If a single individual raises three fingers in the air, we are not going to arrest him or her,” he said. “But if it is a political gathering of five people or more, then we will have to take some action.”
He added, “If it persists, then we will have to make an arrest.”
Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams decried the junta’s threat, saying the “Thai military’s assault on basic human rights has apparently grown to not only target peaceful protesters, but now also silent ones as well — since now just holding up an arm with a three-finger salute is enough to earn the junta’s ire.”
In “The Hunger Games” movie series and book trilogy, the salute symbolizes rebellion against totalitarian rule, signifying thanks, admiration and goodbye to a loved one. But Thai protesters gave varying explanations. Some cited the French Revolution’s trinity of values: liberty, equality, fraternity. Others said it means freedom, elections and democracy.
A photo montage circulating online paired a picture from “The Hunger Games” with a graphic of three fingers, labeled 1. No Coup, 2. Liberty, 3. Democracy.
While the strife-imitating-art nature of the phenomenon is extraordinary, it is not unprecedented. Other examples of pop culture symbols being used to express political sentiments include anti-capitalist Occupy protesters wearing a Guy Fawkes mask from the movie “V for Vendetta.” The practice of tying a yellow ribbon as a symbol of support for hostages, missing soldiers or prisoners was popularized in part by the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” which topped the charts in 1973.
“The Hunger Games” films have been popular in Thailand, but not unusually so.