Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Filth and the Fury

Well lot of people seem to be getting so hot under the collar about life's more erotic side at the moment in Indonesia that it is perhaps a good thing that we've been having such a lot of unseasonable rain this year in order to cool the general population's amorous ardor or purple faced religious indignation, whichever side of the fence they reside on. We've had the home made porn of the stars recently, along with a rash of Busway gropings (if that is indeed the right collective noun), statues of women being torn down by Muslims and teachers checking students phones for smut.

And above this whole moral morass of fleshly lust sits the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Tifatul Sembiring. A member of the conservative Islamic Prosperous Justice Party, Mr. Sembiring reckons he can stem the tsunami of Internet filth that has swept the world in a mere two months. In this, I believe, he has set himself an impossible task and will end up looking like King Canute himself (or some near anagram of that name at any rate).

Far be it from me to suggest though that all of this through the keyhole, curtain twitching, thigh wobbling titillation dressed up in the burka of outrage and scandal is a diversionary tactic to try and distract the public from continued rampant corruption. No Siree Bob, not me, there's no connection there at all, and you'd be a subversive and an atheist to even suggest such a thing.

Nevertheless, I thought I'd try and take Jakarta's erotic temperature this week though and so first headed out on the TransJakarta Busway in the hope that someone would give me damned good groping, or a gentle fondling at the very least. A plan to segregate the genders on the buses and in the bus stops has failed already, however uniformed anti-grope officers are apparently being deployed on the system.

I boarded a bus traveling the Kuningan-Ragunan Busway corridor and was immediately almost groped roughly by the badly designed automated rear door, which has the ability to flatten one against the glass partitions on the bus like a mosquito against a car windscreen. I surveyed my fellow passengers. Who were the most likely gropers? It was hard to tell by just looking. I mean it's always the quiet ones isn't it?

Rubbing and frotting are not the only problems though. Mobile phone cameras have spawned a new global phenomenon, namely the cheeky up skirt shot. Apparently, in Japan, the problem is so bad that all new mobile phones are required to make a sound when a photo is taken and the sound cannot be switched off, thus acting as a warning to potential up skirt victims. Well, what do you expect from a country that has vending machines selling used knickers?

The Busway stops now feature signs indicating separate waiting areas for both men and women, although everyone seemed to be ignoring them. A poster proclaimed, "I like Jakarta clean" however this was a literal, rather than a moral, affirmation. 

I disembarked from the TransJakarta and went in search of some DVDs and what do you know? Before too long, I was being proffered plastic bags full of quintuple X-strength movies, accompanied by a sly wink from the vendor. Old Mr. Sembiring may be trying to clamp down on the Internet naughties but Jakartans are vociferous consumers of pirated DVD pornography. Stemming the sleaze tsunami is seemingly impossible. We live in the postmodern, hyper real world of infinitely reproducible images, the ecstasy of communication, a million gadgets and computational devices accelerating our central nervous system towards an unknowable future. Real reality as we knew it ended years ago.

DVD-Rs, flash drives, Bluetooth, e-mails, the only way to stop the stuff these days would be for Indonesia to pull the plug and forcibly regress back to a bucolic, pre-industrial existence. I can see it now, the Islamic Amish of Southeast Asia. Cyberspace warrior Sembiring is perhaps barking up the wrong fishnet stocking, as most Indonesians have Internet connections so slow, if they have them at all, that DVDs are by far the best option for those looking to enjoy a quick session of family jewels polishing.

In fact, one very easy way to recreate the Indonesian dial-up Internet X-rated experience is to take the cover of one of these 'jazzy' pirate DVDs, cover it with a sheet of white paper and then gradually move the paper across the cover image at a rate of 1cm every five minutes. In fact, instead of filtering out porn sites, I’d prefer that local servers post images upside-down, so that we can see the most interesting parts first.

In a sense, it’s been argued, human sexuality is inherently pornographic. Human beings, uniquely of all animals, exist within the symbolic order of language and possess memories and the ability to fantasize, and so our sexualities are always inscribed by the images in our heads. Strip away the fantasy and sexuality disappears with it, and that’s not just some specious argument to account for the fact that I go through a box of tissues every two days.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Saminamina Eh Eh Waka Waka Eh Eh

Well I'm back in town once more after my World Cup dalliance over in South Africa and busy reconnecting myself with Indonesia's current issues of the day. Alas, the country seems to be in a bit of a pickle doesn't it? Police corruption, political corruption, religious fundamentalism running rife, exploding gas canisters killing people and porn scandals.

Perhaps it’s just the increasingly tenacious probing of the media that are affording me this depressing perception of the country. I mean, there's always been something of a stink surrounding Indonesia’s political, social, financial and religious institutions. Now however it seems as if the toilet lid has been lifted and the torch has been shone into the murky depths of the pan, revealing the odious floaters happily bobbing in a bath of their own sleaze and cant.

It's a rum do all right. Still, in comparison with the other countries around the region, perhaps things are par for the course. Singapore: still a crypto-fascist Orwellian nanny state. Malaysia: an autocratic 'Rainbow Coalition' supporting institutionalised racism and disturbing theocratic tendencies. Thailand: a monarch obsessed democratic failure. The Philippines: a classic US sponsored feudalist banana republic basket case. Myanmar: a jackbooted Nazi dictatorship. Welcome to ASEAN folks! The future is ours!

There, that should get the knee jerk letters flowing in. And Indonesian democracy itself? Inspired by the late, great Richard Feynman, I'm tempted to call this country a cargo cult democracy. The Pacific Island cargo cults built air traffic control landing towers out of wood and runways out of stone in order to tempt down the plane of the great prophet, John Frum. Similarly, this country has the superficial appearance of a real democracy: elections, parliaments, political parties and campaigns and so on. However, on closer inspection, it is clear that nothing really works and everything is just a lot of old pretend.

Things seem to be so bad that the Suharto era is now often touted as the good old days. You should always be suspicious of people harking back to, "The good old days." Nobody ever thought they were good at the time.

My, I am in a bad mood today. Well, the football is still on at least and so I grabbed my souvenir Vuvuzela (plastic World Cup din making trumpet) and took it out and about on the streets last weekend before the German machine kicked Diego Maradona's impeccably tailored butt all the way back to Buenos Aires.

Alas, last Saturday night it was so busy, around the Kemang area at least, that I had to abandon the car and walk to the pub. Still, at least this gave me the opportunity to scare a few people with the old Vuvu.

I persuaded various Saturday night revellers on the street to try a quick par on the 'zela, however very few of them had the jazz chops and Miles Davis embouchure necessary to squeeze more than a damp fart out of the thing. It does take a bit of practice to get a full stadium rattling blast out of a Vuvuzela to be fair. Although God help us all if they start mass-producing the things here and selling them with the Ramadan fireworks next month.

It was busy alright last Saturday night though. The combination of World Cup quarter-final fever and a torrential downpour produced a pell-mell chaos on the streets so severe that I started to think that I was in some end of the world disaster movie. I theorized that people were blocking out the dire political prognosis for the country with the mindless escapism that spectator sport offers.

Not that I'm immune of course. "Why am I watching so much footy?" I wondered. Why is it promoted wherever one turns? Are modern spectator sports part of a system of illusion, deception and indoctrination whose function is to distract people from the things that might actually matter to their lives? Does sitting in front of a screen watching the World Cup, as opposed to actually attempting to play the bloody game of football oneself, merely induce passivity and jingoistic, anti-intellectual group cohesion?

Not that a lot of brain power and passion isn't devoted to sport of course. I've been in conversations with people, including Indonesians, who possess the most amazingly arcane knowledge of football and its intricacies and tactics. I usually feel inadequate in such exchanges and head to the bar for a round of rugged ales, lest my masculinity be called into question.

Imagine though if all of this energy was channelled into popular struggle, rather than being diverted in this way. The world would perhaps be a very different place. Or perhaps this is all just sour grapes. A post-South Africa comedown brought on by being back in Jakarta and the fact that England were knocked out after playing like a team of arthritic old ladies on their way to the supermarket for a few tins of cat food and some hair nets.

I eventually crawled home after the second match had finished at 3:30 AM, several sheets to the wind and barely able to manage a blast on the old 'zela by that point. Sport can be positively ruinous to one's health. Enjoy the final everyone.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Stay Tuned...

Just back from the World Cup so am having a rare week off. More ill informed drivel next week grapple fans...