Ringtones spark riots in Indonesia

Coat of Arms (Lambang) of City (Kota) Jayapura...
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I just read an article in the Hindustan Times about an Indonesia riot sparked by ringtones. According to the report, hundreds of Wamena tribesmen descended on members of the Yoka tribe on Wednesday morning (November 17, 2010) in the Papua provincial capital Jayapura, after learning that Yokas were sharing a ringtone which insulted them. It’s tempting to raise a smile, were it not for the fact that 23 houses were burned to the ground, and dozens of vehicles damaged.

How could a ringtone cause such fury? The lyrics, of course. Why else are homophobic or racist songs banned? Yep, people do actually take lyrics seriously – sometimes very seriously. Songwriters object when politicians use them. Parents object when songwriters use the wrong words. People write films, books and plays using song titles. Advertisers use them as an endless source of inspiration (often unattributed). Politicians also rail against them and censors do what they know best: censor or “bleep” them. Rebels use them to motivate their followers.

How many offensive songs – such as the one written by a GI in Iraq – were actually intended as a piece of fun more than anything else? As songwriters, where do we put the limit? It would be a miserable place if songwriters could not push the envelope a bit. But it’s something worth bearing in mind.

Are there any particular songs that you find offensive?

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