Episode 40      19 min 59 sec
Politics Meets Pop Culture In Indonesia

Anthropologist Dr Ariel Heryanto speaks to Up Close host Jacky Angus about how Indonesian pop culture both influences and is influenced by complex social and political forces.

"In the past there was no deliberation, there was no consultation ... there were orders and instructions from the top. Now, you have all this freedom, but everybody screams at the top of their voice, so, nobody listens." - Dr Ariel Heryanto




           



Dr Ariel Heryanto
Dr Ariel Heryanto

Dr Ariel Heryanto is Convenor of the Indonesian Program at Asia Institute.

Ariel's main interest has revolved around issues of cultural signifying practices, especially the everyday politics of identity and representation. He is interested in the study of semantic history (key words), discourse analysis, media, popular culture, ethnicity, nationality, hybridity, and diasporas.

Credits

Host: Jacky Angus
Producers: Kelvin Param and Eric van Bemmel
Audio Engineer: Craig McArthur
Theme Music performed by Sergio Ercole. Mr Ercole is represented by the Musicians' Agency, Faculty of Music
Voiceover: Paul Richiardi

Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param

Melbourne University Up Close is brought to you by the Marketing and Communications Division in association with Asia Institute.

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Politics Meets Pop Culture In Indonesia

VOICEOVER
Welcome to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities, and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au. That’s upclose.u-n-i-m-e-l-b.edu.au.

JACKY ANGUS
Hello, and welcome to Up Close from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Today’s guest on Up Close is Dr Ariel Heryanto of the University’s Asia Institute. Dr Heryanto’s area of scholarship is Indonesia. Listeners may know of Dr Heryanto’s book, State Terrorism and Political Identity in Indonesia: Fatally Belonging, published in 2006. This attracted very favourable reviews including comments like ‘subtle and original’, ‘path breaking’. And, Dr Heryanto has been referred to as ‘one of the most theoretically challenging, original, and stimulating scholars writing on Indonesian politics today.’ However, in a new book, Popular Culture in Indonesia, edited by Dr Heryanto, the focus is rather different. It addresses the significance of pop culture in the public domain. That is, popular culture as a means of reconfiguring Indonesian identity. Welcome to Up Close, Dr Heryanto.

ARIEL HERYANTO
Hello Jacky, thanks.

JACKY ANGUS
I’d like to start by asking you to define ‘pop culture’ or ‘popular culture’ in the Indonesian context.

ARIEL HERYANTO
Well, we have to rely on the existing theories from the West. There are more than one definitions of pop cultures, but I’m particularly interested in two of them. One is, any communicative practices, so, its culture, that is produced for the people – usually, mass-produced – or, one that is by the people. I use both of these in my analysis.

JACKY ANGUS
And why is identity and popular culture a particularly hot issue in Indonesia at the moment?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Well, you know, Indonesia is so diverse. Perhaps, even the word ‘diverse’ is an understatement. And that diversity or complexity of the country has come to the surface more visibly lately, with the fall of the authoritarian regime of the New Order in 1998. In the past, that is, before 1998, there was only one single power that monopolised the state power in our public life. Since that regime has gone, now, factions within that society are battling with one another to try to get dominant.

JACKY ANGUS
When you say ‘factions’, do you mean ethnic factions, or religious or cultural factions?

ARIEL HERYANTO
There are basically four major ones. There are definitely more than four that are in competition, but [there are] four major ones. The first one, I would call the vernacular cultures. But, definitely the largest one would be the Javanist and usually we refer to Javanism as one particular stream of social force that shapes Indonesia. The second one would be, Islamism, which is distinct from the religion itself, but also a kind of ideology with the ultimate aim of establishing an Islamic state. And then the third I would call, socialist, populist or Marxian stream that used to also shape Indonesia, but was already marginalised since 1965. And finally, we have the liberalists that are very much indebted to the school of thought from the West.

JACKY ANGUS
And the liberalism, or liberalist would presumably be the push towards democratisation.

ARIEL HERYANTO
Among other things, yeah. We are talking about the four forces that shape Indonesia from about, I would say, 400 years ago. They are in competition. And they are still in competition today.

JACKY ANGUS
But, liberalisation of the political culture, is presumably, relatively recent in Indonesia.

ARIEL HERYANTO
It gets more dominant lately. But the kind of liberalism I’m talking about, is one that was also responsible for the so-called development during the colonial period. The particular idea and ideologies and political parties that shaped Indonesia to develop into a modern nation state and developed industrialisation following that labour path.

JACKY ANGUS
So, presumably, liberalisation has allowed for the expansion of political culture in a popular sense.

ARIEL HERYANTO
Definitely, yes.

JACKY ANGUS
I’m thinking you see, of the last election when the president – SBY – as he is called, was elected. And they all kind of – they were dressed in yellow and he was singing a pop song, as I recall -

ARIEL HERYANTO
Yes, yes.

JACKY ANGUS
Now, this means, in a sense, the political domain has become a popular domain, or was that always so?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Yes, it has always been so. Sometimes it is more acknowledged than other times. But for example, in this last election, something that was really phenomenal was that the president had to sing, to woo voters.

JACKY ANGUS
Did this help make him more popular, did it?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Not necessarily. But it was expected that he should do that if he want to be acceptable in Indonesia. I know some countries in Africa, for example, you need to be a great supporter of the soccer team and if the soccer team lost the international competition the government lost their seat.

JACKY ANGUS
So, what does this say about the political domain and the public domain in Indonesia? Does it suggest, really, that popular culture is of the people as well as of the political elites? Am I right? Is there a convergence here?

ARIEL HERYANTO
What happened, as is typical of other Asian countries, there is a lot of authoritarian practices and concepts being held by the elite. And most of the people, the majority of people, were denied of a share of power. So as a result, these people usually unrepresented well enough in the parliament, tend to start to pursue their own political interest in that way. And sometimes popular cultures become a major avenue, channel of expressing their aspirations, their anxieties, their angers and so on.

JACKY ANGUS
And from the point of view, I suppose, of villagers, and ordinary people in Indonesia, there is a sense of trying to make pop culture their political voice?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Definitely, definitely. Because they are not well represented in the existing political institutions. The formation, the negotiation of identities in Indonesia is plural things. What it means to be Indonesian these days with the liberty that we have now after the authoritarian regime is gone. What it means, at the same time to be Muslim, and to be liberal, modern Muslim. These are very hard questions that even among Muslims there is very little consensus.

JACKY ANGUS
Now, I understand that one of the icons of this pop culture, was a singer and dancer called Inul Daratista and even though she in fact expressed this desire for liberalism and this desire for freedom, as you say, in a new political climate, in fact, she came into conflict with the more conservative forces. Can you tell me a little more about Inul?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Well yes, Inul comes from Java, East Java, next to Bali island, there, from a very modest family background and you know Javanese have been Hindunised [sic] for many, many centuries, when Islam came to Indonesia, or what is now Indonesia, many Javanese embraced Islam, without giving up their Hindu[ism] and their animism. So, their Islam is a kind of syncretic Islam.

JACKY ANGUS
It’s a mix.

ARIEL HERYANTO
And that makes some Muslim people very unhappy, saying that this is a very corrupt version of Islam. Inul comes from that background – where, incidentally, I also come from – these people call themselves Muslims, but they don’t necessarily practice prayers five times a day, they drink alcohol, they love gambling -

JACKY ANGUS
Pretty relaxed.

ARIEL HERYANTO
A very relaxed kind of Islam.

JACKY ANGUS
So, what was popular about her and why did she lose her popularity?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Well, what happened was that, she had this particular style of dancing that attracted a lot of people, and that popularity has also spilled over her class, her rather lower class that intervened the public middle class, that offended some of these middle class moral purists, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

JACKY ANGUS
Because she was so popular? Because I gather she danced in villages…

ARIEL HERYANTO
Exactly.

JACKY ANGUS
She was on You Tube, everyone was photographing her.

ARIEL HERYANTO
Yeah. I think, if she was popular only in her village, people would leave her alone, now that she has appeared in a middle class sanitised public space, that would really bother some people.

JACKY ANGUS
But then, what happened?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Well, some, regional governments and Council of Ulamas, banned her.

JACKY ANGUS
They banned her from appearing?

ARIEL HERYANTO
From performing, yeah. But at the same time you also have liberal Muslims who supported her.

JACKY ANGUS
But, how can you ban her if she is on all of these videos and she is on the internet?

ARIEL HERYANTO
She was banned to perform on stage in some cities.

JACKY ANGUS
And did she accept that?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Well, there’s not much she can do. But this is the time when there is a lot of tension, going on between the more fundamentalist Muslims and the more liberal Muslims in defining what is proper. You must understand that during the New Order, there’s a lot of economic development there, there’s a lot of economic growth, but there was also a lot of corruption, and military repression. So, people were a bit ambiguous about this. And, people wanted to correct some of the social ills and they thought the kind of practice that Inul has done is part of the problem with Indonesian corrupt practices.

JACKY ANGUS
It was bad behaviour in public.

ARIEL HERYANTO
Exactly. So, people wanted to correct it by employing and deploying Islam.

JACKY ANGUS
But, I gather, interestingly enough, that there was support for Inul amongst a lot of women’s groups, and indeed, even the President’s wife. is that right?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Exactly. Actually, a lot of support from women as well as the Javanists that she represents. Not from the purist Islam. She represents many things. She professed to be a Muslim herself. But this kind of Muslim that is syncretic, a Javanese Muslim.

JACKY ANGUS
So, when you say Javanist, Dr. Heryanto, can you explain a bit more about what that means? It obviously comes from the word Javanese, that’s a sort of a cultural perception…

ARIEL HERYANTO
Yes. It is a kind of mysticism, that is practiced by the largest ethnic group in Indonesia, who live in the island of Java. Java, by the way, is only seven per cent of the total nation’s land area, but Java accommodates about 70% of the entire population. We have about 100 plus million people in Java alone.

JACKY ANGUS
So, it is the dominant ethnic group.

ARIEL HERYANTO
It is the dominant one. It is very mystical.

JACKY ANGUS
My guest today is Dr Ariel Heryanto, and we are talking about new developments in popular culture in Indonesia. Well now, looking into the future, you obviously know a lot about Indonesia, how do you feel it is going to pan out in terms of cultural liberalisation within Indonesia, will there always be these conflicts, internal, will it be fragmentary, or will there be some sense of resolution of Indonesian identity?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Well, I’m afraid there is going to a long, protracted conflict in Indonesia among theses four forces: the Javanists, the Islam[ists], the socialists, as well as the liberals. Until one becomes really dominant, and monopolise the rest of the population, there is going to be continued tension among the four. As I said earlier, we have in the past, this tension for more than 400 years. There are moments when one group dominates the rest. And that happens only because of the external forces that help shapes this dominance. For example, during the Cold War, you have the military, liberals get support from the US, from Japan, Australia to repress the Islam, and to kill the Communist. So, we had that moment for about 30 years. Once the Cold War is over, that dictatorship is gone. So, we come back to square one, fighting between the four forces again.

JACKY ANGUS
So, it starts in a sense, again. And do you see the Islamic uprising, for want of a better word; do you see this as being able to be held in check by democratisation?

ARIEL HERYANTO
It’s checked by the other three forces. And the three other forces are checked by Islamists.

JACKY ANGUS
Now you mentioned socialism. Isn’t socialism surely on the decline in Indonesia?

ARIEL HERYANTO
Definitely. In formal organisations, institutionally, yes. It has been stigmatised as being banned. But in spirit, in practice it is out there. If you only know what happened during May Day for example, there was a huge celebration as well as commemoration of the labor movement there.

JACKY ANGUS
So, there is a sense of celebration, is there? Now this has always been there at the village level hasn’t it? As an example of communitarianism.

ARIEL HERYANTO
It is partly an expression of haplessness. If you can’t fight, what else can you do in life, but to celebrate what you have? But also partly because, those in power try to co-opt them, by sponsoring some of these events so that they can be domesticated. So, it is both forces at work.

JACKY ANGUS
So, the state is still very powerful, still penetrated throughout -

ARIEL HERYANTO
The state as well as the capital, the corporations and so on.

JACKY ANGUS
So, in the public domain there is not a sense that you want to appear to be neutral, rather that you want to be generous and sponsoring.

ARIEL HERYANTO
Exactly.

JACKY ANGUS
So, it is a very different political domain to what we are used to in Australia. Is dissent not acceptable? Is agreement the thing? Consensus. That kind of environment?

ARIEL HERYANTO
It is something new, as I said. It is only because of the fall of the authoritarian regime. In the past there was no deliberation, there was no consultation. Just, there were orders and instructions from the top. Now, you have all this freedom, but everybody screams at the top of their voice, so, nobody listens; that’s the problem. That is both the beauty and the problem in Indonesia today: everybody has a say, from the most liberal to the most extreme.

JACKY ANGUS
I guess there are a lot of voices in there.

ARIEL HERYANTO
Very noisy.

JACKY ANGUS
Well, Dr Heryanto, when you look at the number of people in Indonesia – what’s the population, again?

ARIEL HERYANTO
240 million.

JACKY ANGUS
Well, it is clear that Indonesia is an enormous market for the entertainment industry.

ARIEL HERYANTO
It is so novel, so new that it can go in any given direction. In other societies, where it is already well established or mature, a lot of elements have been filtered out, whereas in Indonesia it is only the beginning. It is a sunrise. It is full of possibilities.

JACKY ANGUS
And very authentic.

ARIEL HERYANTO
Well, we are also very indebted to the works of others, definitely.

JACKY ANGUS
So, I guess, in a sense, it is both syncretistic and authentic: it’s a mix, isn’t it?

ARIEL HERYANTO
That’s right.

JACKY ANGUS
Thank you very much, Dr Ariel Heryanto.

ARIEL HERYANTO
My pleasure, thank you.

JACKY ANGUS
That was Dr Ariel Heryanto discussing his book, Popular Culture in Indonesia, on Up Close. We spoke separately to one of the contributors to Popular Culture in Indonesia, Penny Coutas. Penny is from Murdoch University in Western Australia. She writes about the phenomenon of Indonesian Idol. The Indonesian version of the Idol global television franchise.

PENNY COUTAS
Indonesian Idol is based on the reality TV format created by Freemantle Media. And it is very similar to Australian Idol, American Idol and the Pop Idol that was in the UK. Indonesian Idol is very similar to the Australian Idol format, in that each week they have a different theme. So, one theme would be rock, the next theme might be pop, the next one might be swing, and so on. 50% of the songs would be in English and 50% would be in Indonesian. So, in the week on pop music, there would be Indonesian pop as well as songs in English. In the seasons one and two that I analysed, there was only one instance of something sung in Javanese, which is a dialect in Java. So, it was a mix of genres, but it was always readily identifiable to an international audience. The first season winner, her name was Joy, and she is a Christian gospel singer. She went on to some fame in Indonesia and beyond. But with her it is quite interesting because she actually turned down the contract given to her by Freemantle Media because she didn’t want to sing in shopping malls anymore. She wanted to go on and become a bigger celebrity than Indonesian Idol would allow her to. But we haven’t really heard a lot of her since, outside of Southeast Asia. The runner up, however, Delon, was very handsome, very trendy and quite a good actor and he has gone on to quite a bit of success in the Indonesian film industry. The second winner, in season two, whose name is Mike, and he was a bit of an alternative choice as well, because he was quite overweight, and he wasn’t your typical handsome, trendy – it is called ‘cakep’ in Indonesian – style of celebrity, so, it was sort of alternative choices for seasons one and two. I think Indonesian Idol really struck a chord with the ABG set – the Anak Baru Gede, ‘the children who are newly big’, literally, but we would call them yuppies – and it was really quite Javanese as well. The cities were the ones that really got into it. Such as in Jakarta, the ABG youth of Jakarta were very much participating with Indonesian Idol. You could go to a shopping mall and it would be everywhere. But, politics also got involved because at the time, in the 2004 elections, the candidates actually went on these reality TV shows and sang. Because Indonesia has very much a performance culture. And one could argue that it has always been interactive – reality television is really nothing new because the audience has always participated with Indonesian performing arts.

JACKY ANGUS
That was Penny Coutas of Murdoch University, Western Australia on Indonesian Idol. Relevant links, a full transcript and more information on this episode can be found on our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au. We also invite you to leave your comments or feedback on this or any other episode of Up Close. Simply click on the ‘add comment’ link at the bottom of the episode page. Melbourne University Up Close is brought to you by the Marketing and Communications Division in association with Asia Institute of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Our producers for this episode were Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel and myself, Jacky Angus. Audio recording by Craig McArthur. Theme music performed by Sergio Ercole. Melbourne University Up Close is created by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param. I’m Jacky Angus, until next time, thank you for joining us on Up Close. Goodbye.

VOICEOVER
You’ve been listening to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au, that’s upclose.u-n-i-m-e-l-b.edu.au. Copyright 2008 University of Melbourne.


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