Sunday, July 20, 2008


Last weekend I slid along to a swanky new shopping plaza called Pacific Place which is located in the Semanggi area. The plaza itself is an opulent yet half empty citadel of designer brands and fancy restaurants, much like the new Grande Plaza opposite Plaza Indonesia that I ended up scribbling about for MM last month.

My real reason for re-entering the bourgeois zone though was to visit a place called Kidzania. Located on the top floor of Pacific Place, Kidzania is a child sized replica of a real city. Parents pay Rp.150,000, shove their snack engorged offspring through the entrance and then trot off shopping, unencumbered by whining for three hours or so.

Meanwhile, their kids get to enjoy the whole Kidzania Weltanshauung for a whole afternoon. At Kidzania, children apparently, "Learn the value of money and work." Basically, the little nippers earn Kidzania dollars by working for various companies (familiar Indonesian corporate logos are splashed everywhere). The KIidzanians can then remove their ersatz junior cash from special mini BCA ATMs and spend it at the department store or at the Kidzania bakers, among other demands for the little ones’ hard earned wages.

Nearing the Kidzania lobby, I disembarked from the escalator and marveled at the Air Asia nose cone sticking out over the cashiers. Some serious money has been sunk into this place. I stepped through the Kidzania entrance and was immediately almost run over by a mini fire truck full of kids in firefighter uniforms with moustaches penciled in on their top lips (and that was just the girls). Clearly, the Kidzania simulacra of the adult world has been meticulously planned. I was starting to feel like Gulliver in Lilliput.

I strolled around the diminutive city square that constitutes Kidzania and was impressed by the attention to detail. There's a radio station in which kids can broadcast interviews out over the city, a theatre running acting classes, a Media Indonesia newspaper production office and a Pond's Sunsilk salon. There's a car track on which kids can drive mini Honda Jazzes, unencumbered by traffic jams, a mini PLN electricity office (no blackouts at Kidzania) and a BCA bank. There's a dentist at which kids poke around in a mannequin's mouth, a Holcim construction site for budding builders, an Air Asia flight simulator and even a mini courthouse, police station and jail complete with swarthy occupant that the kids have to bring to justice every hour.

The whole community has been rendered in miniature, deodorized, spruced up with the monolithic neo-feudal corporate logos of the neo-liberal adult world outside and fed to Kidzania's inhabitants under the guise of play.

Regular readers may have already correctly postulated that Kidzania raised a few bolshie MM heckles. There can be no denying though that the children were enjoying themselves. In my day the best we could manage was to push each other down a hill in a park in a disused shopping trolley while skidding on dog dirt.

After walking around this micro-economic miracle for a while I came across a plinth upon which the Kidzania mission statement, heavily borrowed from the US Constitution, was engraved. "Get ready for a better world," it starts portentously, "We the kids of the world's cities, countries and continents proclaim out independence from adults. We hereby hold the following truths to be obvious, that all kids are created equal and that we are endowed with certain irrevocable rights to be, know, care and play in the pursuit of our happiness of the world."

All very idealistic for sure and in Kidzania this fantasy of a meritocratic liberal free-market Utopia actually holds true, something that certainly can't be said of the real world outside. There are no kids begging at traffic lights on Kidzania's streets. All sense of the accumulating inequalities that come from the pursuit of wealth forgetting all but self have been airbrushed out of Kidzania and only the clean lines of simulated corporate capital and junior ATMs remain.

I'm sure that all of this social indoctrination is fun for the kids but they'd be having fun anyway. It's fun to play at being an adult when you're eight, and within Kidzania's inverted Peter Pan, hologram fantasy world of mini banks and boulevards the little ones were having a wail of a time trying to pursue the implicit Kidzania ideology, borrowed from the world outside: grow up, work, earn, spend, consume, rinse and repeat.

There will be plenty of time for the consumer neurosis hangover to develop later in their teenage years of course. The sense of inadequacy that comes from having an inferior mobile phone or MP3 player, the pressure to grow up and be sexy is currently intensifying within schools throughout the developed world and inculcating a sense of psychic dislocation and apathy in our teenagers.

Kidzania though, is perhaps just as much a flight of the imagination for the parents as it is for the kids. It's the classic parental fantasy that their offspring will all work hard, become lawyers and doctors and make their piles whilst making mum and dad very proud. This noble desire, however, is fighting against our narcotizing new world of Play Stations, web-networking and corporate entertainment media. Increasingly, kids seem to dream of ascending, effort free, into the ranks of celebritydom.

Any sense of social solidarity or political resistance to society's control program (as replicated at Kidzania) is nullified as we suck on the nipple of our new digital globe. Atomized and isolated within the Oed-i-Pod solitude of the entertainment consumer.

Brave New World? Give me a park and a shopping trolley any day.