Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lord of the Thighs

The pornography law has passed onto the statute books and we now live in a country in which extremely vague and conservative conceptions of public indecency are permitted to be enforced by extra judicial vigilante groups. Time will tell whether Indonesia will come to resemble the oppressive society across the water in Malaysia (which this week banned Muslims from the infidel practice of Yoga). Perhaps this new law though, like so many others here, will remain largely un-enforced. Given the binary encrypted Tsunamis of filth that spill out over the internet, the porn law can be seen as a rearguard action in an ultimately losing battle.

On the other hand, a more fundamentalist, firebrand version of Islam seems to be in the ascendancy here and fundamentalist religion, as we all know, is primarily about sex. Whether it’s clerics shouting over grating mosque Tannoy systems or shiny faced American evangelists, sex always looms large over proceedings like some diabolical, bikini clad Satan. War, famine, genocide, grinding poverty and environmental collapse, in contrast, barely seem to get a look in.

Sexual guilt and repression are great engines of religion of course and have helped to energize it ever since men and women first learnt to walk upright and found that their hands now fell to a natural resting position next to their genitals. Guilt and repression do not inspire humankind’s better nature though; just think of all those young men with AK-47s in one hand and a copy of the Koran in the other, sublimating their sexual tensions through militarism. Think also of the various sexual scandals involving catholic priests sexually abusing young boys in their charge as a consequence of their enforced celibacy.

Has Indonesia’s new pornography and indecency law actually changed anything out there on the streets though? I thought I’d venture forth and insert a probing thermometer between the city’s rosy cheeks in order to take its post porn law temperature.

The city’s school girls were out in force as I headed off to Hero. For a number of years now they’ve been required to wear ankle length skirts that trail rather impractically in the mud. The previous knee length numbers are now but a distant memory. Hopefully though when these brave young citizens become student activists they will lead a bikini clad, anti porn law protest down to the Hotel Indonesia roundabout.

Later on that day I decided to check out the city’s nightlife scene to see if any new sense of morality was prevailing on the dance floors of Batavia. Halfway to Loewy’s, currently the most uber-trendy joint in town, my taxi driver got out and relieved himself in a nearby ditch. Presumably under the new law he could have been arrested for exposing his family jewels in a public place. Thankfully though our refreshed driver returned to the driving seat unmolested and we continued on our way. Score one for freedom.

When I finally arrived at the achingly hip Loewy’s, the elite movers and shakers were out in force, schmoozing the night away over vats of Martini. Patrons didn’t really seem to be tending towards the conservative in their choices of clothing. A prosecutable display of bare midriffs, wobbling thighs and clinging frocks seemed to be the order of the evening among the assembled hipsters (and that was just the guys).
Indecent? Seen through the rigid lens of the new law then perhaps yes. Personally I’d be more inclined to find the ostentatious display of conspicuous wealth and elite schadenfreude rather indecent but that’s another issue. Clothing wise, there seemed to be little sense of a new, upper class piety or sobriety on display. I guess that it’s middle class moral indignation that more usually strives to uphold public virtue as opposed to the two more decadent and colourful classes that abut it on either side.

The next day, I headed down to a cheap, low class mall to see if the city’s plebian hordes had done anything to reign in their sexiness in light of the new legislation. Melawai Plaza in the Blok M area is full of budget ladies’ apparel shops and my research provided me with the perfect opportunity to pop along there and loiter around a few bra counters.

Both the clothing on sale and the young ladies browsing it seemed as coyly flirtatious as ever. I asked one of the shop girls if there’d been a decline in sales of backless tops, sequined two inch long skirts and dental floss like G strings in recent weeks but she replied in the negative. She enthused that, “Jakarta girls like to dress up if they go to a bar or disco.” Or even the supermarket it often seems to me.

So has nothing really changed? Is the new law a lame duck? Its always been a mystery to me why politicians here thought that they could make traction with this bill ahead of next year’s election. Despite what Indonesia’s electorate may profess in public, the country’s post New Order elections have shown that in the privacy of the polling booth, they have little appetite for the Islamic parties. Let’s just hope that those vigilante groups don’t materialize.

The real sex crimes in this country involve the virtual kidnapping, trafficking and enforced sexual slavery of women, allegedly with tacit support from rogue elements in the police and military. There’s also the cleric in East Java who’s just married a 12 year old girl. Let’s try and keep our eyes on the ball shall we?