Are Asian values becoming sinfully Americanized?

April 12, 2006

Are Asian values becoming sinfully Americanized?

Are Asian values becoming sinfully Americanized?

From the Indonesian Playboy to the Rolling Stones in Shanghai, Tom Plate wonders about Asia's moral developments

By Tom Plate
Pacific Perspectives Columnist

Monday, April 10, 2006

"The perfecting of one's self is the fundamental base of all progress and all moral development." — Confucius

Los Angeles — I am not at all a prude (more about that later). And I am certainly no saint — I'm a journalist (which some might consider a sin in itself). But I am getting a little worried about Asia. I'm not sure about the rate of its moral development any more.

Take the news from Indonesia. For the first time in the history of this secular state that has a deeply Muslim culture, a version of the Playboy Magazine is now going on sale there, though greatly modified from the sinful original available here in the States. The lovely ladies are mainly clothed and the articles offered in the first Indonesian edition looked to have enormous socially redeeming value. This sanitized Indonesian version could prove a good market test of an old joke in America — "I only read Playboy for the articles."

I understand that Indonesia can be properly described as a moderate Muslim state. Many women are seen in public in Western dress, and all sorts of versions of the Muslim faith are practiced that allows for different social practices. (Did I mention I like Indonesia very much?)

Even so, doesn't it strike you as a little odd that Playboys are for pubic sale in the world's largest Muslim nation?

It seems that the next target of the Big Bunny's Asian publishing invasion is India, the world's largest Hindu nation. Do we sense a trend here?

Then there's the Rolling Stones, one of the oldest living Western rock bands, and still one of the most ribald. You have to hand it to those sex-obsessed sexagenarians, especially leader Mick Jagger, 62, who still prances around the stage even today as if shot from a steroid cannon. The group gave a sold-out high-voltage concert in Shanghai the other day. But the tickets were expensive by Chinese standards, leaving the audience dominated by well-heeled Shanghainese and foreigners.

It's true that the Ministry of Culture pruned the concert song selection in advance. Famous Stones' staples like "Brown Sugar," "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Honky Tonk Woman" were banned from the performance. But somehow the government censors missed excising "Bitch," to the evident delight of the crowd.
Even so, Mao must have been rolling over in his grave over the very idea of the Rolling Stones rocking and rolling in Shanghai. This was not exactly the Cultural Revolution the late Maximum Leader had in mind.

And so, one has to wonder whether the rest of Asia isn't more or less rolling downhill like an amoral rolling stone. Take a look at Singapore, heretofore the most superficially prurient place in the region.

You still cannot officially buy Playboy there, not to mention serious pornography (though the place is reported to have a very lively underground, about which I will reveal no secrets). But it does now offer tourists — and locals — what they call bar-top dancing. This is the entertainment most notably celebrated in the mostly forgettable American film Coyote Ugly, the moving tale of young girls who bulk up their bar business by dancing (clothed) on the bar top.

Las Vegas or Los Angeles or New York is one thing — but Singapore? The fact is that the recent licensing of this kind of frisky cabaret was so un-Singapore that the controversial go-for-it decision had to be rendered at the cabinet level.

Speaking of Las Vegas, the city-state of Singapore is officially planning to offer casino gambling, as well. So you really must ask yourself: Is Asia going downhill or what?

I must here confess certain truths to avoid the charge of rank hypocrisy. Some of my best friends in the world work for Playboy, and it is true that I have once or twice read the magazine (though — I won't say whether it is for the articles or not). And of course, living in Los Angeles, a mere 55 minutes flight from Sin City, I have been to Vegas many times…and…well, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Even so, we Americans have over the years been so over-exposed to lectures and serious essays about the reality of Asian values — and exposed to the possibility that they may be superior to Western values — that it comes as a bit of a shock that Asian values may be getting closer to our own, faster than we thought possible.

Or, instead of it coming as a shock, maybe it should come as a relief?

The views expressed above are those of the author and are not necessarily those of AsiaMedia or the UCLA Asia Institute.


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