Lady Gaga's Belly Button Is the Least of Indonesia's Worries

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By William Pesek

Too Sexy for Indonesia. Lady Gaga can add this bit of infamy to her resume as the nation with the largest Muslim population bars her from performing. It seems she is too vulgar to fit Jakarta's conservative culture.

Some in the Philippines also are aggrieved with the singer's plans play Manila later this month. On Friday, Christian youths held protests, complaining that Lady Gaga's costumes are too racy and her lyrics too sexually provocative.

And that's fine; taste and decorum are in the eye of the beholder. Malaysia, for example, likes to ban artists who show a bit too much skin, including Beyonce. I just wish there were similar outrage over the real obscenity in Asia: the failure of governments to reduce corruption and poverty.

Why don't many Indonesians speak out as forcefully about the corruption that squanders so much of their nation's annual output as they do about the exploits of some pop star? Here's the real outrage: the nation’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2011, it came in 100th out of 183 economies, tied with Argentina, Burkina Faso and Mexico.

Or take the Philippines, where protesters are more likely to denounce Lady Gaga and Dan Brown's best-selling "The Da Vinci Code" series than the economic-growth-killing graft in their midst. One in four of the nation's 102 million lives on less than $1.25 a day, while the politically connected elite line their pockets. The Philippines's Transparency International ranking? 129th.

Why aren’t Indonesia’s masses more incensed by their leaders’ failure to raise tens of millions out of poverty at a faster rate? Ditto for Filipinos and Malaysians struggling to climb the economic ladder in a harsh global environment.

Objecting to forms of entertainment is indeed the purview of governments. South Korea, for example, only allowed Lady Gaga tickets to go to fans aged 18 and older. My worry is about misplaced anger. If only public officials lining their pockets at the expense of entire populations would evoke similar passions as the belly buttons of pop divas.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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-0- May/18/2012 19:31 GMT