There has been a sharp rise in intolerance against the LGBT community in Indonesia in recent years due to rising conservatism and political fear-mongering. Not only can sexual minorities face intense public shaming and potential criminalization, anything associated with support for the LGBT community, from a statement about inclusiveness from a major local company to a gay beauty pageant in Bali and even rainbow colored ice cream bars can lead to overblown controversy.
The latest cause of an LGBT moral panic in Indonesia? Pocky.
Yes, the innocent candy-coated biscuit sticks are now an implement of immorality in the minds of many Indonesians following the viral spread of photos and videos of a Pocky Challenge contest held during a K-Pop related event at Magelang Town Square mall in Magelang, Central Java.
The mall’s “Little Korea” event, held on Sunday, was primarily meant to be a singing and dancing competition targeting the local K-Pop community. In between performances while waiting for the judges’ scores, the organizers held a Pocky Challenge contest with same sex player pairings.
If you don’t know what the Pocky Challenge is (and can’t guess from the photos) it involves two players, each holding one end of a Pocky in their mouths and taking bites until they almost kiss. The loser is the first to drop their Pocky or turn away in embarrassment. It started as a cheeky party game ala spin the bottle in Japan but is also very popular in Korea (though they may go for local Pocky competitor Pepero)
One of the organizers of the “Little Korea” event in Malang innocently told Kompas, “For the challenge we paired men with men and women with women because if it was men and women it would clearly not be acceptable by religion.”
But, as it turned out, men almost kissing men and women almost kissing women, even with a Pocky between them, still proved to be shocking to many Magelang mall goers. Photos and video of the candy contest went viral very quickly and led to the police shutting down the Little Korea event that same day.
According to the Magelang District Police, they questioned 13 witnesses related to the incident, including the mall’s management, event organizers and spectators. They concluded based on their statements and the evidence on social media that the events did not include any criminally pornographic elements (even under Indonesia’s draconian and vague pornography law).
Magelang Police Chief Hari Purnomo said that’s because there was no kissing or touching of the lips between the participants and also because it was just a game.
The police chief also said that rumors that the event had been forcibly shut down by a group of people was incorrect and claimed that police only stopped the event because it did not have a proper permit.
Both the mall management and the event’s organizers emphatically apologized to the public and the organizers quickly dismantled the event’s stage after the police ordered it shut down.