Thursday, 23 October 2008

Indonesian pornography - a definition

One of the most hotly contested issues in Indonesian politics for the past few years has been the draft bill on 'pornografi dan pornoaksi' which has been grinding through the parliament (the DPR) for a while now.

Rarely is it possible to trace a controversial law to an individual enmity; but on this occasion it is. Let me tell you a little story...

Once upon a time, there was a dangdut singer called Rhoma Irama. Dangdut is a form of Indonesian pop sounding curiously like Bollywood film music and associated with working-class Muslims, but culturally bearing more than a passing resemblance to Country and Western. Anyway, by the 90s Rhoma Irama's star was on the wane - associated with an old-fashined, un-hip form of music and gradually descending into paunchy middle age, the one-time "King of Dangdut" decided to jack in the music business, become what one can only describe as a "born-again Muslim", and entered parliament as a celebrity candidate for an Islamist party. (Think "country-and-western singer known for rhinestone suits finds Jesus and gets elected as congressman for South Carolina".)

And then, a new dangdut star emerged onto the national stage - young, energetic, female, curvacious and decidedly too raunchy for the imams, who started having fits watching her videos, which they nonetheless forced themselves to watch as a moral duty. Yes, it was the time of the 'Ratu Ngebor' (the drilling queen, named for her trademark hip-swivelling dance), Inul Daratista. Suddenly, dangdut had a new monarch and Rhoma Irama was left blinking in the dust. (The opening words of the song you'll find by clicking her name run "O audience - ladies and gentleman, all who are here - please forgive me if I get a bit se-xxyyyyy ")

And did the old duffer take it graciously, perhaps writing a song for her and inviting her for dinner to discuss dance moves? Did he heck - in an unbelievable display of spite, bile and political opportunism, he forbade her from singing any of his old songs and railed against her to any crowd or media outlet that would listen about how she personally endangered the morals of the nation. Following which, he introduced a bill in the DPR outlawing "pornographi dan pornoaksi" - pornography and, er 'pornoaction'. Pornoaction being a term for any 'obscene act' performed live, including - in fact especially - Inul's sell-out shows and TV appearances.

Mind you, she's actually relatively discreet. There's a form of music known as campursari, the female performers of which get even raunchier than Inul.

Anyway, having let the genie out of the bottle, Rhoma Irama soon found it out of his control. In vain did the government point out that pornography was already banned by a perfectly clear law; in vain did many point out that despite that law's existence you can buy hard-core DVDs from under-the-counter cardboard boxes in any market in the nation; no- he went right ahead regardless. And here a fresh problem emerged - there isn't one Islamist party in the DPR, there is a whole bunch of them, most with only a pathetic handful of MPs, all jostling madly to distinguish their indistinguishable policies. And so when Rhoma Irama stood up and said "I think we should ban sexy dancing", that served as a cue for a rival MP to chip in with "I wholeheartedly support that idea, but call for the new law to ban women going bare-shouldered in public as well as sexy dancing..." and so on, like some insane fundamentalist version of the game 'my aunt went to town'.

Finally, this week, The Jakarta Post finally came clean with the working definition or pornography that these zeebs are going with:
"man-made sexuality materials either in the form of drawings, sketches, illustrations, photographs, text, voice, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, poetry, conversations, gestures, or other forms of communicative messages through various kinds of media; and or performances in front of the public, which may incite sexual desire and or violate moral ethics in the community" [sic]

Well, that's perfectly clear then, isn't it? I fail to see how, under this definition, I - anybody - could get through the average day without falling foul of the law as interpreted by the kind of bone-headed, permanently angry zealots who will see it as their holy duty to enforce it on everyone else (the linked clip shows members of the "Islamic Defenders' Front" - a self-appointed vice and virtue squad - attacking a pro-religious tolerance rally in Jakarta on 1 June this year).

Like the puritans who left 17th century England for the Americas, the reality of their complaint is not that they are being oppressed, but that they are being prevented from oppressing everyone else. And this proposed law gives them the excuse to harrass scantily-clad women (i.e. anyone not wearing what they believe to be modest dress), non-Muslims, and anyone enjoying themselves.

I shall be deeply disappointed in Indonesia if it passes.


scarlet-blue said...

"too raunchy for the imams, who started having fits watching her videos, which they nonetheless forced themselves to watch as a moral duty."

Yes, I've witnessed these fits, very messy they are too but nothing that can't be sorted out with a box of Kleenex.

P.S What's happened to everyone's comments boxes?

Gyppo Byard said...

Ms Blue - I have no idea what happened to the comments things, but I suspect the person responsible would attempt to dignify it with the word 'upgrade'.

The attitude which you describe was neatly encapsulated by the leader of the FPI meat puppets, who responded in court to the prosecutor raised the issue of the several hundred copies of 'Playboy Indonesia' found in the FPI office by saying "We confiscated them to preserve national morality. you are just trying to make out that I have a large collection of porn mags. This is not true. I also have a nude photograph of 'Miss Indonesia'"...

scarlet-blue said...

Hello Gyppo, hope you don't mind but I've tagged you. It's a fun game. Pop over to mine and find out the rules and stuff.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Oh dear of dear, it's a sad day when anybody tries to take the sexuality out of the world. And the hypocrisy of these people appears to be monumental. How is the island of Bali taking it? Aren't they mainly Hindu?

No Good Boyo said...

My South African uncle assured me that Cape Malays are among the most cheerfully depraved people he's ever met. Their women are prized for having their front teeth removed, apparently. They clearly have a lot to teach their melonheaded kinsmen back home.

Gyppo Byard said...

Gadjo - Bali is indeed Hindu (see my earlier posting 'the bitter-sweetness of serendipitous discovery' for something about this). And in fact the spectre of non-Muslim provinces (not merely Bali but Papua, North Sulawesi and North Sumatera among others) being driven towards separatist sentiments is what makes the bill an especially hot potato for the government.

Boyo - quite. There's no puritanical lunacy that can't be solved by prolonged exposure to the Dutch.