On a recent visit to a cinema in Bangkok, I was reminded of the dual role that movie theaters play in Thailand. One, of course, is to show films, local and foreign. The other is to reinforce in the audience a belief that their monarch serves as a unifying pillar in the Southeast Asian kingdom. That lesson plays out just before the main feature, when the screen in the darkened auditorium displays a message requesting the audience to stand as the strains of the king's anthem fill the hall, accompanied by images of the king's achievements.
The response of audiences -- standing up for the anthem -- was almost universal until the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in late 2016 ended a 70-year reign. The collage of images that accompanied the royal anthem during his reign reinforced the carefully crafted official line that King Bhumibol was a benevolent father figure and unifier of the nation. To foreigners like me it was further evidence of what appeared to be a culture of devotion to the monarchy.