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.