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Fighting Music Oppression in Indonesia

A coalition of artists fight back against RUU Permusikan, a bill aimed at curtailing artistic freedoms as art and culture continue to clash with Indonesia’s religious state. But this clash is nothing new.

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Music oppression is nothing new in Indonesia. As the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia is constantly grappling with Western ideology as it navigates what it means to be a religious state in the 21st century. Whether it is local artists mired in censorship, or international acts missing the freedoms of home, state vs art in Indonesia is something that I have long been familiar with. It is also something that the Indonesian music community is fighting once again as it comes together to stomp dead recent legislation aimed at curtailing basic artistic freedoms.

Growing up under a military dictatorship, you listened to what was “acceptable”. During my youth in the 1980s, music on the radio and on television was limited to state-run television and radio. Indonesia didn’t get a second television channel (the first private one) until 1989. MTV did not arrive for years and commercial radio and Top 40 kept it simple- Casey Kasem was the most offensive thing on the air. Searching for the musical underground was not an option for me as a kid and I do not remember hearing or seeing international acts touring during my early years. Only in the 1990s did things seem to change, but progressive acts did not have an easy time infiltrating Indonesia.

When I saw Green Day on their Insomniac tour in 1996, one of my most vivid memories of the show was the sight of police caning punks who were “rioting” outside the venue. I believe it is one of the reasons why Green Day have never been back to Jakarta, the sight of police caning concert goers is not something Billie Joe and company were interested in returning to.

For me, it was vivid, but not out of the ordinary. This wasn’t the first time I was privy to this sort of behavior in a world where music, art, and people hungry for it had to fight against the confines of the state and law.

In 1993, Metallica visited Indonesia on their Nowhere Else to Roam tour (their fifth tour to support the Black Album) and played a stadium not far from my house. It didn’t end well, with paying ticket goers clashing with those crashing the event, rioting ensued, cars were overturned and lit on fire (including my assistant headmaster’s- which at the time, we found hilarious). And as I remember it, there was also a long stretch (over years) where international acts boycotted touring in Indonesia during the 90s in response to many of the government’s policies. It just felt like an absolute barren spell of music-less years.

In the decades that followed there has been a continued clash between state and entertainment. Despite this, the current generation has had opportunities within the arts that mine did not. There has been a greater sense of freedom to create art, and music in particular has flourished as social media and the popularity of digital mediums has given new avenues for young artists to share their work. However, this doesn’t mean they haven’t run afoul of the religious fundamentalists.

Back in 2003, Indonesian folk artist Inul Daratista was publicly persecuted for her dance moves. She danced to traditional folk music but gyrated her hips like Shakira on Red Bull and this was deemed “pornographic” by the Indonesian Muslim Council. The ensuing backlash was on par to when Justin Timberlake got handsy with Janet Jackson at Super Bowl 38, except it wasn’t uptight suburban moms and dads writing letters to a television station, it was crazed religious fundamentalists demanding Inul’s public shaming and apology. How bad did it get? A national anti-pornography bill was introduced during the height of this controversy, one that would become law in 2008 where “a sexually suggestive performance could attract a 12-year prison sentence”. Imagine a world where Shakira’s hips are a nation’s moral outrage, and you have the type of hysteria that engulfed the world’s largest Muslim nation.

Late last year, a bill titled ‘RUU Permusikaan’ was drafted that many Indonesian musicians believed would suppress their freedom of expression. The bill would prohibit “bringing negative influences from foreign cultures” on top of creating rules against music that was “blasphemous”. It included such articles stating; “everyone is prohibited from […] bringing negative influences from foreign cultures or demeaning a human being’s dignity“. Draconian and prehistoric, with ambiguity as its strength.

In response, a coalition of over 263 artists was formed to fight the bill, stating that the laws were ambiguous, discriminative, and hindered independence.

Said one hardcore punk musician,

“Music is supposed to be universal and I think stating our opinions should not be controlled by a law.”

Following a campaign to raise funds and awareness, the coalition, along with noted rock band Slank (Slank are Indonesia’s Rolling Stones) met with legislator Anang Hermansyah from the House of Representatives of Indonesia back in February and successfully convinced him and the House to drop the bill. It is a win for artists and musicians in Indonesia and proof that you can still chip away and tear down the most ironclad of barriers.

I asked music reporter Wening Gitomartoyo whether this was the end of it but according to her although things had died down a little the problem [of state vs art] hasn’t gone away. In the face of the recent national elections in Indonesia, this matter seems to have quietly dissolved into the backdrop of national politics. However, the coalition continues to raise awareness and isn’t resting on any laurels. Instead, they are remaining steadfast in making sure this bill is well and truly buried.

It is and has been the rallying cry for musicians the world over- their music and art are extensions of their selves, the bullhorn for their opinions and beliefs and no state, especially in 2019, should be able to control it. It is this clash between traditional state control and progressive ideology that has been at the heart of this conflict.

This past decade has seen growth and change, with greater artistic freedom for creative Indonesians and less interference by government. However, artists, musicians, and fans must continue to stand up to fundamentalist oppression to ensure that progress continues to be made, and Indonesia doesn’t go backwards. It will take the united efforts of both the younger and older generations to fight against the kind of state legislated tyranny exemplified by this bill.

Whether it is a military presence at a NOFX show or Lady Gaga getting her show canceled, Indonesia’s firm religious bedrock means it’ll be a long time, and a long fight, before the so-called blasphemy of art and music are able to thrive and flourish on a grand scale.

Sports

The Sad Demise of Bolton Wanderers Football Club

It is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton Wanderers find themselves in

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If you watched the English Premier League during the early 2000s, you would have been familiar with the plight of Bolton Wanderers. The long running club is now in absolute dire straits, bereft of resources, searching desperately for new owners as it staves away its seemingly inevitable end. It is truly a sad turn of events for a club that has been around for almost 150 years, once known as the plucky, never-die team of English football’s top flight.

The Greater Manchester club, gleefully nicknamed ‘The Trotters’, were always a group of ragtag underachievers who constantly overachieved. The club, under the tutelage of Big Sam Allardyce, spent several Premier League seasons languishing at the bottom end of the table staving off relegation before progressing to mid-table safety. It wasn’t that they were good, because, for the most part, they weren’t, but it was because they always found a gutsy way of surviving by sheer determination, miraculous last game results, and for finding the last remaining ounce of juice left in washed-up players looking for one last round of glory.

It’s the latter point perhaps, that endeared Bolton to fans who didn’t spend their weekends at the Reebok Stadium. Bolton was the home to many talents that found new life under Allardyce. Players that managed to thrill a mostly dull part of the footballing world with European flair and Nigerian spice. I have fond memories of the indomitable Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff reminding fans of their class. Then there were the bruising, hard-hitting playing styles of Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro- adding much-needed steel to that Bolton lineup. They complimented the steadfast if not boring quality that came with the ever-present Jussi Jääskeläinen and Kevin Davies. Atop them all sat Big Sam- who long before he became a joke in English football, was the no-frills, old-school English manager who took Bolton up from the old Division One to the Premier League. And during his run, he became known for being able to get Bolton out of trouble at the last minute, no matter how ugly the season had been. They made an FA Cup Semi Final and the Round of 16 of the UEFA Cup, somehow beating Atletico Madrid along the way.

As of July 21st, the club had a total of 7 first-team players. Barely enough to field a full first team.

Those days are sadly long gone as the club find itself languishing in the third tier of English football, once again ending the previous season relegated. Mired in financial disarray, the club has been in control of administrators since May, with its long-awaited takeover by new owners (whoever they may end up being) dragging on and on. The sad state of affairs has been punctuated by the club unable to pay its players and staff, canceled pre-season friendlies, and quite possibly the saddest team sheet in all the time I’ve been a fan of English football. As of this time, their official team page has but 7 players listed (no defenders), not even enough to field a full first team. If by the time you read this they’re able to pull their socks up and field a full team, it’ll be a miracle.

Their financial downward spiral hit breaking point in 2015 when the club found itself £172.9 million in debt. It only seemed to get worse from there. Unpaid taxes, transfer embargoes, manager changes, poor results, and most depressingly, non-playing staff having to use food bank donations to feed themselves (including donations from rival club Preston North End).

It really is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton find themselves in. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a true Wanderers fan to face the reality of their club in 2019. It’s not that the club has ever been successful (their last significant trophy was the 1958 FA Cup), but from the outside, their grit, their pluck, and their ability to seemingly escape the direst of circumstances made them endearing. They were the underdog team of has-beens, never-rans, forgotten souls, and Big Sam.

Now it seems their darkest days are closing in. Football fans surely would love for new owners to come in, reset the club, and start that long, arduous journey back into stability. But their new season hopes don’t even start on any positive note, with their financial failings they’ve already been docked 12 points before the start of the new season. Even with new owners, it will take a significant time to turn things around. The best they can hope for is to pull a Rangers and find themselves back on the up after 5 or so years… but the English Premier League is a far different beast to that of the Scottish Premier League, just ask Leeds United.

The long road back is never going to be easy. And for Bolton Wanderers, once a club that found its soul with players looking for one last spot of luck, may have run out of its own.

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Divided We Fail: How Individualism is Holding the U.S. Back

The bootstrap mentality is about as American as apple pie. But it’s destroying our already frayed social net and education system. Can we resist our individualistic roots to mobilize and enact progressive policies?

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To understand the swampy depths of American individualism is also to acknowledge that we have a serious inability to comprehend looming disaster. In fact, we’re uniquely terrible at it. 

Loosely defined, American individualism is the idea that prosperity and growth is overwhelmingly the result of an individual’s hard work, cleverness, grit, and all that. (It’s both hilarious and fitting that one of our most reviled and economically disastrous presidents, Herbert Hoover, was the main architect behind the notion of American individualism.) 

On one hand, this belief in individualism seems empowering. It tells us we are the captains of our own ships. It tells us we don’t have to be defined by our childhood traumas or underfunded school systems. It tells us that through scrappiness and ingenuity and discipline, we can rise above our circumstances and succeed, no matter what. 

The inverse, of course, is that our failures are also ours alone to bear—with little regard for the systems and circumstances that cause some people to spend lifetimes catching up to where others were simply born. 

American individualism explains so much of what we get wrong as a country, even in 2019. We downplay the systemic racism and violence of our police force through tunnel vision that tells us there are only a “few bad apples” rather than a flawed, oppressive police state. We’re unable to treat things like healthcare or housing as basic human rights, positing instead that those without access to food or shelter probably just haven’t “earned” it. And higher education—often treated as the great equalizer by meritocrats—is so expensive, it’s crippling our economy as a whole. Yet too many students are blaming themselves, and too many people are blaming students.

One is the Lousiest Number

These days, it’s hard to pick what to worry about more in the U.S. The list of societal threats certainly is long—climate change, the impending retirement crisis, the ongoing student debt crisis. These problems have been worsening for decades, and they’re all the result of failures at a systematic level. 

The climate crisis was ramped up by decades of poorly regulated industries that pumped carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The retirement crisis that will likely come full force when Generation X starts leaving the workforce was set into motion by a shrinking pension system and the increasingly uncertain future of Social Security. And higher education became outrageously expensive over years of unchecked soaring tuition and fee increases.

But not everyone recognizes these mass-scale problems for what they are. Instead, too many people are blaming individual choices for giant societal failures. And these arguments are distracting us from collective solutions. Realistically, no one should be arguing that student loan forgiveness is a “half-baked” idea steeped in self-interest. Or that climate change can be reasonably combatted through laudable (yet mostly insignificant) individual actions like going vegetarian.

The numbers prove just how puny our individual actions really are against these larger-than-us problems. For example, even the most generous, self-massaged estimates put a single company like ExxonMobil’s annual carbon emissions in the range of well over 100 million CO2 equivalent metric tons. The average American, through even the most radical lifestyle changes and discipline, would likely only lower their annual emissions from about 20 metric tons to 8 metric tons. It would take millions and millions of people selling their cars and going vegan to equate to just one ExxonMobil. (Spoiler alert: There are way too many companies just like it.) 

As Aaron Huertas of the Union of Concerned Scientists eloquently states: “We can’t ignore individual choice and responsibility; at the same time, we also have to recognize that our individual choices are constrained by corporate practices and government laws and regulations.”

A Way Out and Up

All is not lost, though. There is hope.

While the 2020 presidential pool for the Democrats may be a bit flooded, the makeup of the pool has revealed a trend: the ideas of sweeping economic relief and safety net programs are becoming more mainstream. If the Democratic party can just avoid spending its time strategizing against democratic socialism, we could enact policies that tackle these problems at the level they’re actually at.

Party insiders and centrists aside, it looks like voters are—even if just subtly and slowly—pressuring politicians to stop blaming individual choice for societal woes. The idea of multiple presidential candidates touting competing student loan relief programs would have seemed outrageous even a few election cycles ago—and now Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Julián Castro are all on board.

The point is, we’re getting there. And if we can fight against our very American instincts, we can realize—en masse—that our efforts to save our planet might be better spent organizing than remembering to recycle our empty salsa jars. We can take solace in knowing a liberal arts degree isn’t a personal failing that deserves financial punishment. We can accept that, as individuals, we may not be as powerful on our own as we thought, but we also may not be as much to blame for our struggles.

And then, we can mobilize. 

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