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

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Visit Indonesia 2016 – A streetscape named desire

Diplomatic relationships between Cuba and the US have been restored.  Now the Caribbean republic is expecting shoals of tourists, many keen to snap the 1950s American fin-tailed monsters of their youth still used on the island.
Visiting this living car museum makes a U-turn in time when Chevy convertibles, Bel Airs and Thunderbirds cruised the turnpikes.
Here in the Archipelago the quaintly-titled Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy displays our wonders through its Visit Indonesia campaigns.  These feature volcanoes poking puffing cones out of mist-bathed jungles, coral reefs swirling with marine life, gorgeous dancers in batiks that stretch the imagination.  
No veteran Buicks but we have something equally rare to promote and draw in the dollars, available in only eight other nations. As these include Somalia, Eritrea, South Sudan and places better known for terror than tourism, Indonesia has to be the 2016 must-see.
And so accessible. No need to sit for hours in a bus struggling to clear suburban traffic snarls and make it to the mountains before nightfall; just stay in the comfort of your city hotel and gaze through the smog at sights not seen elsewhere for decades.
Blink back the tears of nostalgia! Gasp as you recall lost pleasures through the fog of memory: Amusing, entertaining, and informative - streetscapes of cigarette advertising.
But come soon – there’s a powerful group of killjoys working to take the color from our lives and make our drab cities even grayer.
Their foundation for righteousness is based on the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
This claims ad bans ‘protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.’
Most nations agreed -168 signed.  Though not Indonesia, thank goodness.  We’re big enough to light our own brand.  Butt out WHO, we’re the Frank Sinatras of the tropics. We do things our way.
The billboards and banners which enhance our cities and brighten our towns can’t show people enjoying a drag.  You may think this a silly rule, but it’s actually a Good Thing.
That’s because it’s given the ad guys the chance to show creativity, which is what President Joko Widodo has been calling for - a clever country.
One winner produced a stack of white coffee cups with the top one steaming. The product was cappuccino-flavored.  It didn’t mention nicotine.

Others show daring hipsters doing dopy things in SUVs on mountain tops, out-of-focus bimbettes in the background. Some sell sophistication, with men looking diplomatic in foreign lands. The captions are as challenging and witty as political election slogans.
The English words add to the prestige and help visitors relate. ‘Open new ways’, ‘Never say maybe’, ‘It’s time for action’ and ‘Love + Pride = Bold Choice’.  

Here’s the wordsmiths’ latest nugget:  ‘Feel the continuous freezing experience.’ This is also available in morgues.
One designed to blow smoke in the face of the anti-tobacco lobby mixes bold and plain type: ‘Don’t Quit’.   Irresponsible? Loosen up, have a laugh.

The prematurely aged wheezers peddling pedicabs under the banners look nothing like the macho models;  no-doubt the transformation will be Clark Kent into Superman once they inhale. 
And here’s something extra for the amazed visitors, though they have to be awake after 9.30 pm to enjoy aja. TV ads featuring the lithe and lovely relishing the good things in life by spending Rp 16,000.  Should the health warning flashed at the end annoy, just blink.

Australian addicts pay 20 times that sum to get the same kicks in a plain package.
These commercials are big-budget top quality productions employing actors, crew and camp followers; if the naysayers win these busy folk will have to shoot educational docos.  Likewise the tobacco farmers; they’ll have to grow food.
The advertisers’ cleverness is breathtaking.  Sex is used, of course, but also culture which would otherwise perish.
Tobacco companies are altruists.  It’s a little known fact.  For example they sponsor pop concerts for the kids, even though the posters don’t show company logos. 

OK, they get the brand name in through astute wording of captions. That’s not devious - that’s Bold.  Duncan Graham

First published in The Jakarta Post 10 January 2016

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