Aussie bands skewered over Indonesian tobacco deal

Australian bands Wolfmother and The Vines have been challenged to justify their participation in a tobacco-sponsored rock festival in Indonesia next month.

The event is the Gudang Garam InterMusic Java Rockin’land 2010 in Jakarta on October 8-10. The Smashing Pumpkins will headline the festival, supported by a host of other foreign acts including Stereophonics and (ironically) The Living Things. It will be the biggest rock music event in Indonesia’s history.

It’s being sponsored by Gudang Garam, a major producer of deadly kretek clove cigarettes. The company owns an Indonesian badminton team and is a prolific promoter of popular music, which it uses to increase tobacco addiction rates among young people.

Writing on The Drum on the ABC’s website, Simon Chapman and Becky Freeman of the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health describe Indonesia’s tobacco regulations as ranking among “basket-case nations (such as Somalia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan and the USA)”.

Indonesia has virtually no tobacco control policies or significant education programs. British American Tobacco (Bentoel) and Philip Morris (Sampoerna) are both massively engaged in Indonesia, a kind of last frontier of Marlboro Country. Despite repeated unctuous statements from both companies about their corporate social responsibility and not wanting youth to smoke, they are frequent sponsors of youth-oriented music events. Admission often includes free cigarettes.

But the authors reserve most of their scorn for Wolfmother frontman Andrew Stockdale, who claimed in a recent interview that there was some sort of righteous goodness about his musical life:

Now all I’ve got to do is make music. That’s all I’ve got to do. Music and playing shows is cool. I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m not killing people. It’s not starting a war, I’m not polluting the atmosphere, I’m just making music.

Chapman and Freeman highlight the stunning hypocrisy of the singer’s attitude by pointing to the fact that tobacco industry marketing is a “key factor” in the deaths of about six million people a year from smoking-related diseases.

It’s pretty easy to poke fun at the utterances of some rock musicians, but there are times when no amount of cruelty is enough. Chapman and Freeman continue:

In his interview, Stockdale reflected on his newborn daughter “And you look at her and you think, she’s four months old. What kind of world is she going to live in when she’s, you know, 40? That’s a scary thought.” The scary thought is that nations like Indonesia can still play open host to massive scale tobacco promotions and that international entertainers are lining up to help the companies sell as much tobacco as possible.

To get an idea of just how repulsive Indonesian tobacco advertising can be, take a look at Gudang Garam’s explanation of its involvement in the local music scene. The company says it has a commitment to Indonesian rock music and wants to “open the eyes of the international world that Indonesia is conducive”. Right… Could whoever wrote that please take an English lesson? It continues in similar, sickening style:

… we feel that compared to other genres, rock embodies of soul, spirit and personality of the Gudang Garam International brand, Adamant, Masculine, Courageous and Modern, and also continues to evolve.

Through this grand event, Gudang Garam International also attempts create [sic] a closer proximity for the genre’s younger crowds to their idols and continue [sic] to inspire them to create new work of arts [sic] and shake the nation’s, and event [sic] international, rock music scene.

And if we can get a few thousand more kids to became addicted to our deadly product that would be good too! I wonder how Stockdale would feel knowing that his “courageous” and “masculine” image is just what this tobacco company wants to make its drug attractive to teenagers.

Chapman and Freeman conclude their piece by asking whether Wolfmother will follow the examples of Kelly Clarkson and Alicia Keys, both of whom became embroiled in tobacco sponsorship scandals in Indonesia. Both women played their Jakarta gigs only after the tobacco companies dropped their advertising.

Other artists – such as James Blunt, Jamiroquai, Incubus, Anggun and Slash – have felt no such qualms about selling their young fans to the tobacco industry.

(Photo of Stockdale via Wikimedia Commons)

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