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The War On Fun

For the last seven years, we have lucubrated beyond the bounds of propriety around here.  It's gained us a loyal little following of very smart people, and we really appreciate all the folks who stop by regularly to listen to us enumerate our inner-most hopes and desires.  Thanks y'all!

Just thought I'd get that off my chest, because I was starting to asphyxiate from the weight of it.

So what's going on around the ranch, or tempat pertanian yang luas berikut gedung-gedungnya as they say around these parts ('ranch' is one of those words that doesn't translate into Indonesian).

As you regulars already know, we've started up Indonesia's first cabaret.  Like the word "ranch," it's a bit hard to translate a 500-year-old Western tradition into Indonesia.  Things like satire, double-entendre and dry wit just don't exist in this culture.  It is hard to translate something that is untranslatable, and humor is one of the hardest.  Doesn't stop me from taking up the challenge, though.  There is certainly enough interest in it, and being the only one of anything is usually a good thing.

The kicker is trying to raise investment.  How do you describe something that doesn't exist?  Basically, to fully appreciate what I want to do, I have to actually produce the show, and at that point, I don't need the investment.  It's one of those glorious Catch-22s in life.

There is a method to my madness, though.  Or so I like to think.

Since economic tracking became wide-spread, it has become axiomatic that entertainment and education are the two best industries to survive an economic downturn.  The problem is, you can't be like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and say, "Hey kids!  I've got a barn, let's do a show!"

Entertainment is a fickle business.  To me, Monty Python is hysterical, but to a lot of people I know, it just mystifies them.  To me, Citizen Kane is a brilliant character study that broke every single rule of camera movement in place up to that time, but to many people, it's a boring old black-and-white movie with no special effects.

So how do you make fun of politics in a country where, for 30 years, such a thing got you a personal firing squad?  How do you play with sexual mores in a highly conservative culture where children still marry off in birth order and kids live at home until they get married?  How do you make literary allusions in a culture with precious little literature?

You can begin to appreciate the rather fine line I am attempting to tread.

But the biggest challenge is not culture, or language or any other controllable factor.  No, it's government.

I'm not the brightest monkey in the tree, but if I know enough to understand the relationship of entertainment to economics, then you can bet someone in government does too.

Sure enough, the Province of Jakarta went and raised a 30.5% tax on all entertainment, except oddly, golf.  As one might expect, government in desperate attempts to support useless bureaucracies  will, like all parasites, kill the host by sucking it dry.  Obviously, this kind of egregious tax has a massive chilling effect on people's desires to operate venues, bring or produce shows, and especially attend shows that are expensive enough just to cover costs.

Thinking that it will cash in on the survivability of entertainment in slow economies, the geniuses in government will do everything possible to kill operators and audiences, thus having the exact opposite effect of what was desired.

In the end, what we have is social engineering, whether intended or not.  Just when people need a couple of hours of escape from their misery, the government steps in to make sure that even that tiny relief is equally miserable.

More importantly, though, what we see here is a kind of proof that bad times are coming.  Governments, who steal our money to perform studies to figure out how to survive at our expense, are obviously seeing the writing on the wall.  And the evidence comes from a place where most people wouldn't look...entertainment.  I'm willing to bet there are similar moves around the world to suck on entertainment revenues, but I am also willing to bet that the horrific box office numbers from this past blockbuster season are a symptom, as well.

My bet is that we will start to see the rise of a massive underground entertainment market.  People will seek entertainment, and suppliers will find a way to circumvent the burdensome taxes and regulations trying to cash in on it.  Look for things like underground cinemas and cabarets presenting home-grown fare at very reasonable prices.  And since the places where these things will arise are not registered venues with broad market awareness, the place to start looking is in underground publications.

It is one of Nature's Laws that when government tries to squeeze the population a little tighter, more of them will slip through the fingers.

One thing is absolutely certain - art is like life, it finds a way.  No matter how hard tyrants and dictators have tried to control and suppress art and entertainment throughout the millennia, it has always found expression some how.  If there is a defining feature of human beings, it is that they create art for the enjoyment of others and the elevation of the spirit.

At a time when people will demand entertainment as an escape, governments will try harder to both control and profit from it, which will in turn cause art to (once again) go underground.  The one big hope is that when this has happened in the past, it led to great periods of creativity and explosions of expression.

That's one thing Hollywood has never figured out - it's not the budgets, but the limits that make creativity happen.

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