The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Image problems? Bad news? You need a distraction
Good morning, and welcome to Complaints Initiated and Actioned, otherwise known as the CIA.  We’ve been operating in Indonesia since the 1950s so know the market well.
 How can we help?
Are you a shoddy T-shirt manufacturer and sales are slipping and you need to get back in the black? Maybe a fading artist eclipsed by the younger generation? Perhaps a public officer whose reputation is going downhill?
We helped one gentleman a few days ago – advised him to buy a ring from a big name.  It cost him Rp 150 million, but it certainly distracted the media’s attention from his other problems. Did you see the positive photos?  Clever, eh?
It’s not a good line but your accent sounds South Sulawesi – right? Lovely! No problem, our professionals have worked with many people from your splendid province.
I’ll just run you through our service … may I have your name, please?  Thank you.  Is it alright if I call you Jusuf? 
Once you’ve paid a deposit work starts immediately.  We’ll send you some offensive designs from our range of political, religious, celebrity or sporting issues.
For example, you might like to check our latest - Syahrini Mimes her Songs showing the  artist pouting and looking fat.
That will be followed by a Twitter and Facebook campaign against your company.  Some of our most experienced people will post messages like: ‘I normally never comment on social media – but this attack on a lovely lady is disgusting.’
If that doesn’t work we’ll organize anonymous death threats.  That usually grabs the media’s attention.
We have contact with several tabloid and TV reporters.  For a reasonable honorarium they’ll report that hatred of your product has gone viral. Don’t worry, no one will check.
Then one of our staff will act as your spokesman offer sincere apologies, promise to withdraw the offending apparel and make a donation to charity. All sweet, they won’t check that either.
By then everyone will be clamouring to buy the T shirts and you’ll be famous for responding to complaints.
Within a week your product will have sold out and your company’s name will be known from Sabang to Merauke as an edgy trend setter.  What do you think?
Ethical?  Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.  Oh, you’re saying it’s not proper – though that’s a word we choose not to use at CIA.
Look, Jusuf, do you really think the kampongs are full of people expressing their outrage over every silly little thing in society?  Of course not – issues have to be provoked, and that’s the job of the CIA.
Look at it like this:  You’ve produced a boring film that’s going to lose a bundle at the box office; what better way to bring back the crowds than suggest the movie be banned because of its explicit sex scenes?
It doesn’t matter that there are no such scenes. For a relatively miniscule amount our most excellent friend in the censor’s office will say the film is being closely examined and could be withdrawn; the rush to see will recoup costs in a fortnight just from adolescent boys..
Journalists are busy folk and can’t wander the streets asking commuters what they think of Syahrini’s bottom or Flesh Eating Ghosts of Depok Mall Toilets.  Most people would reply: ‘You don’t want my views on the economy or leadership?  Get lost - I’ve got a life to lead, haven’t you?’
So you see CIA has stepped in to provide a service where outrage can be manufactured and help fill newspapers.
Fine – so, you’re not a film producer and you’d like our VIP service.  Now whose flagging fortunes can we help you recover?  Just say the name and we’ll create a plan.
Sorry, who did you say?  Jok ..what? …  And he’s your partner? Mmmm.  Look, just hold the line while I check with my bosses.
OK, here we are again, Jusuf.  I do apologise, but we really think this task is going to be just a teeny bit hard to accomplish.  Anyone else, no problem.  But perhaps this fellow’s image has gone too far down to recover.  Duncan Graham

First published in The Jakarta Post 10 May 2015

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