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No Boobs Please, We're Thai

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This video has been causing a bit of a buzz in Thailand. In it, a female contestant on Thailand's Got Talent comes out onto the stage, starts painting on a blank canvas, takes off her shirt and bra, pours paint on herself, and then proceeds to go to work on the canvas with her bare chest. But the female judge on the panel, actress and model Pornchita "Benz" na Songkhla, is not happy, especially when the act makes it through to the next round with the "yes" votes of the two male panelists.

Clearly agitated by the performance, Benz voices her displeasure before walking off stage.

"I'm not saying this is not good, but it's not appropriate," she said. "Within the Thai cultural context, I don't support this."

Some say Benz's reaction sounds like it came straight from the folks at Thailand's Culture Ministry, who have a history of admonishing those who appear to choose vice over virtue. Culture Minister Sukumol Kunplome was quick to speak out against the breast-painting incident, calling it "very shocking" and summoning the show's producers to explain how such an act could have made it onto the airwaves.

Once again this has stirred an age-old morality debate in a country full of contrasts, leaving the artist in question to take a back seat while users of social media bicker about right and wrong.

High-profile displays of public nudity don't usually go down very well in Thailand. During Thai New Year celebrations in April, a transvestite was charged with indecent exposure for "dancing provocatively in the streets". Last year three teenage girls incurred the wrath of then-Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombut for dancing topless during the New Year shenanigans. That came at a time when the Culture Ministry's website featured a large banner image of bare-chested women. The image was quickly replaced after much criticism.

Benz appears to be concerned about how a performance like this gels with Thailand's cultural image. It's worth mentioning that in 2008, Benz was one of three young actresses enlisted as deputy spokeswomen for the Culture Ministry. The idea there was that young people veering off the beaten moral track would be more likely to listen to celebrities. Benz was put in charge of "family matters".

"Older people have more experience, but teenagers do love to hear what young celebrities have to say," she said in an interview with the Daily Xpress.

But not everyone is convinced. Some have speculated that the fiasco is simply too bizarre not to be part of a scheme orchestrated by the show's producers, Work Point Entertainment, to gain publicity. They knew exactly what they were doing when they aired the footage because the segment is pre-taped. It could easily have been cut from the show, had they so wished.

If it was staged, was Benz in on it? Was she just acting up to grab a few headlines?

Here's another video of Benz in action on the judging panel of Thailand's Got Talent, this one from last year:

In the video, a young chap comes on stage dressed like Michael Jackson. He then does an awkward striptease until he is left wearing only a thong. What follows is a lot of gyrating and prancing around. Benz appears to enjoy the performance and even cackles with laughter as one of the presenters grabs the dancer's crotch towards the end of the segment.

While the debate has raged online, many have been quick to point out that Benz herself has posed in various states of tasteful undress during her modelling career, once covered in what appears to be chocolate.

No doubt all will be revealed soon enough and the fact that people are even talking about this means that the producers got exactly what they wanted and we've all been sucked into another boob-related drama in Thailand.