Friday, February 03, 2006

Playboy Comes to Indonesia

Playboy is coming to Indonesia next month. Will the world’s largest Muslim nation ever be the same? Playboy Indonesia will be the first local edition of the American nudie magazine in a Muslim country since the demise of the Turkish edition in 1996.

Of course, the Indonesian edition will not be the same Playboy we know and love in the U.S. The local publisher and the American parent have promised that Playboy Indonesia will “respect local values” -- meaning no photographs of naked women. Or, as local promoter Avianto Nugroho says, “the contents will be suitable for whatever is acceptable in Indonesia.”

So here we have another large American company with world-wide brand recognition that wants to do business in a large Asian country that is censoring itself. Except that Playboy’s actions are more in the nature of preemptive self-censorship since there are no specific laws that would prevent the unadulterated Playboy from publishing in Indonesia.

The Indonesian criminal code does not clearly define what constitutes pornography. Parliament is working fix that now, but, like in other countries, the anti-porn bill is running into difficulties in defining what exactly is decent and what is indecent.

Playboy’s self-censorship hasn’t drawn the same censure that Google received for allowing Chinese authorities to block access to certain politically sensitive terms on its new Chinese-language search engine. After all, the Chinese want to block out such lofty subjects as “democracy” or references to the “Tiananmen massacre.”

All Playboy plans to censor are boobs.

But it might be argued that boobs are as central to Playboy’s products as “information” in the broadest sense is to Google’s business.

Playboy’s editorial director, David Walker, solemnly pledged that, “any magazine we launch in Indonesia would be focused on the many of the other things Playboy is well known for: high-quality editorial, including interviews and feature stories written by renowned local writers and journalists.

But not even opponents of Playboy’s entering Indonesia seem willing to buy that one. Vice President Jusuf Kalla said, “if the Indonesian version differs from the American Playboy by replacing photos of naked women with tasteful articles on lifestyle, political and economic issues, consumers will justifiably feel cheated.”

Indonesian model Tiara Lestari said much the same thing on her weblog: “What kind of content adjustment do you need to make it so Playboy can be accepted by Indonesians?” she asks. “It’s like asking Time to only do Hollywood gossip.”

As every one of Indonesia’s 241,973,879 citizens over the age of ten knows, Tiara Lestari recently became the first Indonesian woman to pose in a Playboy spread that appeared in one of the European editions last summer.

The local promoter has suggested that initially Playboy Indonesia will be available only through subscriptions and book stores, not on news stands and kiosks. Translation: If the vice squads don’t trash the books stores or Islamist radicals don’t bomb them, we’ll consider selling the magazines in the open.

But in practice, Indonesia is not as prudish as the squabble might suggest. Indonesia already has a thriving market in hardcore pornography, including pirated DVDs and smutty magazines. The country’s domestic television stations broadcast late night programs that show scantily clad models in fashion shoots.

You can even find a publication colorfully entitled “Tits” for sale on the nation’s kiosks with pictures of undressed women. So it is likely that the real problem in the eyes of Indonesia’s conservatives is that Playboy is a foreign, especially an American publication.

Anyone who has worked in Asia knows, that what might seem perfectly normal and acceptable if published locally can be scorned as “cultural imperialism,” coming from as foreign source.

Of course, the question that most Indonesian’s are really asking is who will be Playboy’s first Indonesian playmate (not counting American Jodi Ann Paterson, “Playmate of the year for 2000,” who was born in Balikpapan.)

Tiara Lestari says that she doesn’t plan to volunteer, although it is possible she might be drafted. She doesn’t have control over the pictures that Playboy has already taken for the European editions. Meanwhile, another comely model/diva named Indah Ludiana is rumored to have flown to California for a photo shoot. Stay tuned.


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