What has just happened was inevitable. Hundreds of Indonesian Muslim protesters have attacked the offices of Playboy, the American adult magazine. 300 activists from the Islamic Defenders' Front rallied outside the Playboy building to demand that the local version of the magazine cease publication.
The angry crowd indulged in a fair bit of vandalism by throwing stones at the building and shattering windows. Unfortunately a policeman was injured. Salim Ali Hamid, one of the leaders of the group, said: "We will carry out more attacks if Playboy refuses to stop publishing."
The wisest thing Malaysia did ages ago was to ban the Playboy magazine. Now you may ask how a liberal like me would ever support the banning of the print. It’s true that I uphold the right of people reading what they want to read, but at the same time, with this freedom we must exercise some social responsibility - we need to protect young minds and eyes from the trash that the Playboy magazine exhibits, namely exposed female body parts.
It’s an adult magazine set to exploit our primitive senses, and that's fine so long as the readers are adults who can think for themselves. But unfortunately in Malaysia, such magazines have a habit of ending up in wrong young hands because of the irresponsibility of vendors.
Even a liberal nation like Australia has its TV media screening adult movies or violent shows only in the latter part of the night when the younger members of the families are (supposedly) asleep. The programming is to protect the young from having their immature and impressionable senses battered by graphic unsociable behaviour depicted on the screen. In fact sociologists and criminologists have associated sex and violence with true life crimes.
In Thailand recently a young British woman was raped and murdered by two Thai boatmen after they viewed a sex video on board their trawler. They were so aroused by the pornographic movie that they both dived into the sea and swam to the nearby shore, looking for a victim to satiate their awoken lusts. They chanced upon the unfortunate tourist on a beach, and after raping her, killed her as well.
Therefore I was rather surprised Indonesia had permitted the publication of a local version of Playboy. Although very much watered down in comparison to the western edition, the titillating notoriety of the magazine saw its first print all sold out, to the extend that copies later changed hands at more than three times the cover price of 39,000 rupiah (RM 10 - 12).
Mark my word, if the Indonesian government still allows the publication and sales of Playboy, the magazine will escalate its pornographic fare from the current slightly undressed models, one of whom has been Malaysian Ambia Chia, to full frontal one day. Indonesia has a population of 220 million, which undoubtedly has set Playboy's management drooling - think of the associated advertising revenue! And with an Indonesia badly needing American military aid, it was hardly surprising that Playboy realises its golden opportunity to slide in and enlighten Indonesians with a bit of American culture.
In February President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had questioned the magazine's benefit to the country, but as a man very much beholden to American largesse, he couldn't or wouldn't have done anything. Indonesian Muslim leaders had naturally expressed worries that the magazine would corrupt a culture already inundated by Western influences.
Well, I would just say ‘corrupt’ and let this word stand for itself without further embellishment.
Believe me when I, like President SBY, dare say there’s no value in such a semi-pornographic magazine. I have noted that Playboy has a rather disingenuous and insidious approach to penetrating every reach of society. It would typically employ 2 cunning tactics.
Firstly, the quality of the magazine in terms of print standard and images follows that set by family magazines such as National Geographic – glossy, beautiful photos and charts of high quality print to present itself as a document of quality – you know, the Benson & Hedges or Dunhill approach, demonstrating 'quality craftsmen in the finest tradition' of this & that bullshit - which the British cigarette companies are so good at.
Playboy’s pièce de résistance is of course the monthly centrefold. Miss January to Miss December are virtually household words in western society, and certainly highly desired company for red blooded males.
Secondly, it masks its pornographic characteristics by complementing its highly-exposed beautiful women with high-quality articles on virtually anything – politics, current affairs, high-profile interviews, science, music, fine arts, theatre, social problems, etc. In other words, it’s sending a message that it’s a magazine of taste and intellect (and not pornographic, which it actually is) while at the same time mitigating the readers’ guilty conscience with the convenient pretence of reading high brow stuff. Thus the magazine ensures the readers continue their custom.
Once I accidentally came across a very senior Malaysian official reading Playboy, obtained I suppose from the black market. He reacted to my unintended unannounced presence with embarrassment, and guiltily recommended for me to read Playboy’s ‘high quality’ articles, perhaps implying he didn’t look at the centrefold. I assuaged his embarassment by borrowing the magazine and flipping it straightaway to the centre pages, rotating the publication by a naughty 90 degrees, and truthfully, enjoying what I saw. Varooooom!
Not surprisingly, Indonesia’s Playboy in its first edition featured (apart from its core attraction of underwear-clad women) an interview with Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's most famous author. I dare it to interview in its next edition Bapak Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah.