Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Change Begins at Home

As part of my Indonesian civil servant recruitment (CPNS), I had to do a complete health check at a local State Hospital. I was ready to go through an inefficient, bureaucratic experience of a day (which was the reason why I had procrastinated for a year before actually doing it). To keep my sanity, I told myself to approach it as ethnographic research :p.

After being pointed to several mistaken desks, a hospital administrator directed me to the health check unit that takes care of CPNS like me. The lady in charge of the unit ticked some boxes after asking what ministry I was from. Then she put me in one group with several others who were also recruits like me.

We were lining up to get our blood drawn, and the lady put one folder on top of all our folders. "Yang ini diduluin ya, anaknya Pak Tono," she said, asking the laboratory officer to let the woman who came after all of us cut the line. The laboratory guy nodded.

I looked around for responses. Nothing. The five people before me did not feel that that was wrong.

I asked the whole room, including the woman whose back was to me, if that was alright. They were silent. "Jadi ngga apa ya, antrian kita diselak? Bapak, sistemnya gimana, ya?" I asked the guy what hell of a system he has. He took a deep breath, then asked me if one person cutting in would be okay. I asked back to the whole room. They said yes.

So apparently we have all agreed to let this happen.

As my order in the line came up, I hoped silently that they guy would not stab me with the needle repetitively (he didn't). Instead, he said softly to me that like me, he thinks it's unfair. "Siapa sih yang mau ya, Mba, membiarkan yang kaya begini. Tadi itu kerabat Direktur sini," revealing that the woman before was a relative of the unit's Director. I shared to him, as he was drawing my blood, that I was from UI. That like many bureaucracies, I have also experienced injustice, whether it directly or indirectly. "Tapi kan ngga bisa diam, Pak," I said. I asked what his name was, and saw his body tense up as he answered. I realised that he was afraid I would report him, when I had only meant to get to know a person, and let him know me as a person. The person he unwittingly wronged because he opted to avoid conflict.

I am not very sure how to process what had happened, aside from acknowledging the fact that power abuse is also permitted by us workers. That if we refused to be treated that way, it would not have happened. That being afraid we would get into trouble is not a reason to deprive others of what is rightfully theirs. We become just as responsible.

I also appeal to bureaucrats, despite handling 1,001 trinkets and facing frustratingly idiotic rules on a daily basis, to once in a while not delegate administrative tasks to our staff. By doing these things by ourselves, we are reminded of how we ourselves can inadvertantly participate in sustaining an inefficient system that could enable power abuse.

And, to me, it begins with little things. In our every day lives. Constantly, consistently, with practice.

If you're thinking of why we should do this, we are poorly paid and appreciated as it is. I'd like to share the opening of a book I was reading for a class (Mike Wayne [2003]):

For my son Jacob, because change begins at home.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Let the Bubble Burst

"Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy.”

Robert A. Heinlein

I first read that quote, or precisely retweeted it, from a dear friend of mine, Endah Triastuti (@dektitut). I began reading about the person saying it, Heinlein, a science fiction writer. The themes he raised in his work have been greatly about non-conformity, liberty, and self-reliance.

I write this post as a parent, as much as I am a child. And I will begin with how I see Jakarta’s upwardly mobile middle class society today, of which I am a part.

Let’s begin with where we live. We live in housing compounds, protected by 24-hour guards. We build fences around our homes, and have torrents to filter our water.

We take bank loans to buy private vehicles, because public transportation is so unreliable.

We are the world’s fourth largest communication technology user. We use it to maintain contact with people close to us rather than getting to know interesting strangers.

We use them to take pictures of ourselves, our children, what we eat. We share them with people who, in our minds, are closest to us.

We have irrational medicine use. At the first sign of flu, we take three types of medicine. We ask our doctors to give us antibiotics before giving time for our bodies to fight the viruses.

All of these are symptoms. That our environment has become so unsafe, we create a protective bubble around us.  

Now let us reflect on our children, and more abstract notions.

We vaccinate our children, in the largest sense of the word. We put them in schools that keep them away from harm. We hope that one day, if they know all the important things, these memories can be used as tools to fight off social illnesses.

In our consciousness, we see the world as a dirty, filthy place. And we try to keep our children clean.

How has that been working so far?

I see adults who never really mature. We were so afraid of infecting our children with diseases that they never really developed immunity. As adults, most don’t know exactly how to rely on themselves, and not objects around them, to mentally process life’s complexities.

And that’s why we have become such a consumerist society. Why malls are everywhere. We buy things; accumulate objects to keep our world safe and comfortable. From binging on food, collecting handbags and shoes, buying the newest gadgets without really using it to make our lives more efficient.

And how do we interact in non-consumerist spaces? Outside of malls. How do we interact online? We do it as consumers.

We collect likes from friends each time we upload a photo or a status. We collect friends. We group with those likeminded with us, and ‘other’ people who are too different from us. When the space has become too dirty, we move on to the next space. From Friendster (infected with alays), to Facebook (infected with distant relatives), to Twitter (infected with public personalities), to Path.

And at this point, we adults are in fact children who never really grew up. We are the ones ‘handicapped’, because we have had ourselves kept safe, we continue to keep our children’s world safe, and we come full circle to Heinlein’s quote.

This has been how we’ve been building our society for the past decades. A huge, safe bubble that is supported by objects to give a sense of comfort from an insecure, unreliable world. We have utterly weakened ourselves, and our children, in the process. How do we raise children to rely on themselves, if we ourselves have not?

I would rather not live in a bubble, than live with fear, thinking of how it might burst one day.

And perhaps, let it pop while it’s small.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Siapakah Sang ‘Imperialis’ Budaya?

Resensi Buku (Kompas, 24 November 2013, hlm 19)

Judul Buku: Countering MTV Influence in Indonesia and Malaysia
Penulis: Kalinga Seneviratne
Penerbit: ISEAS
Cetakan: I, 2012
Tebal: xxiii + 278 halaman
ISBN: 978-981-4345-23-1

Siapakah Sang ‘Imperialis’ Budaya?


Bagi warga perkotaan, hanya dengan melihat logo M kuning melengkung mungkin akan cepat mengasosiasikannya dengan gerai cepat saji McDonald’s. Jika melihat celana jins, akan teringat Levi’s. Globalisasi ekonomi telah mengantarkan produk-produk tersebut ke dalam kehidupan sehari-hari masyarakat urban di seluruh dunia.

Asosiasi logo dengan merk ini hanyalah pucuk gunung es dari struktur ekonomi global yang menopang kuasa Amerika Serikat atas negara-negara berkembang. Hal ini diyakini telah mencerabut penduduk negara konsumen dari akar budayanya. Beginilah lebih kurang gagasan imperialisme budaya yang didengungkan sejak tahun 1990-an.

Namun, buku Countering MTV Influence in Indonesia and memberikan bahan untuk mempertimbangkan kembali imperialisme budaya dengan mempelajari pengaruh MTV di Malaysia dan Indonesia. Seneviratne, penulis buku ini, menelusurinya dalam konteks musik irama nasyid (Malaysia) dan dangdut (Indonesia) yang justru naik pamor dari musik rural ke musik “bangsa” yang menurut penulis, semua terjadi karena telah beradaptasi dengan aspek-aspek MTV.

Sebelum menjelaskan tentang strategi bisnis MTV dan implikasinya terhadap budaya lokal, Seneviratne memaparkan terlebih dahulu eksistensi serta dinamika musik dangdut dan nasyid di negaranya masing-masing. Musik dangdut, misalnya, pernah berguna sebagai kendaraan politik demi menjangkau masyarakat pada akhir 1980-an (hlm 140). Pada 1995, Menteri Sekretaris Negara Moerdiono menyatakan bahwa dangdut amat “Indonesia” dan bahwa, seperti negara ini, dangdut adalah dari, oleh, dan untuk rakyat. Dangdut, yang tadinya dimainkan dari panggung ke panggung di daerah rural Jawa, disiarkan pula di TVRI. Di waktu yang sama, pemerintah Malaysia mempromosikan musik nasyid yang bersifat “Islami” dan juga Melayu, dengan mendukung pengorganisasian kontes nasyid di tingkat nasional serta menyiarkannya ke seluruh negara (hlm 55).

Setelah memaparkan hal ini, Seneviratne menjelaskan strategi MTV Asia ketika berekspansi dalam region Asia. MTV Asia bermaksud menjaring aspirasi kelas menengah muda untuk menjadi “keren dan modern” sekaligus menghindari risiko kegagalan bisnis dengan mengakui pijakan budaya mereka. Oleh karena itu dibuatlah MTV Syok (Malaysia) dan MTV Salam Dangdut (Indonesia).

Mempribumikan globalisasi

Keunikan dari kedua genre musik ini adalah bahwa di dalam liriknya, tidak terbaca adanya naratif dominan (hlm 55) yang mempermudah atribusi pesan-pesan lain. Karena itu, nasyid dan dangdut mampu beradaptasi dengan realitas sosial baru yang kini lebih melibatkan motivasi komersial media ketimbang kepentingan politik rezim tertentu.

Sebagai konsekuensi, ruang-ruang budaya baru yang dibentuk oleh MTV Asia justru menaikkan pamor musik yang kerap diasosiasikan dengan masyarakat kelas menengah ke bawah ini (hlm 78-79). Tentu hal ini terjadi berbarengan dengan semakin komersialnya musik nasyid dan dangdut melalui medium televisi masing-masing negara, sehingga sulit membuktikan klaim MTV Asia bahwa mereka adalah penentu dalam fenomena ini. Namun yang perlu digarisbawahi, saat MTV Asia memperoleh legitimasi bahwa merekalah yang mampu menentukan siapa yang “keren dan modern”, musik nasyid dan dangdut semakin relevan sebagai budaya populer karena kini juga memiliki nilai komersial. Hal ini memunculkan pertanyaan penting yang merupakan fokus studi Seneviratne: mempelajari dampak globalisasi dalam bentuk terpaan MTV di Indonesia dan Malaysia serta memikirkan ulang apakah benar imperialisme budaya sedang terjadi.

Kekhawatiran terbesar dari para pemikir imperialisme budaya dan mereka yang berjuang melawan pengaruh asing adalah bahwa masyarakat, terutama orang muda, tercerabut dari akar budaya lokalnya. Dalam konteks musik dangdut, melalui kasus goyang pinggul penyanyi dangdut Inul Daratista yang diprotes Rhoma Irama karena telah mencemari citra dangdut Islami yang ia bangun (hlm 190-208), Seneviratne mengajukan beberapa pertanyaan kritis. Bukankah goyang pinggul Inul yang menyertai musik dangdutnya bisa ditelusuri akarnya dalam tarian tradisional Jawa (hlm 234)? Bukankah popularitas dangdut yang terus meningkat membuktikan kalau justru budaya lokal menggunakan format modern, yang juga “format MTV”, untuk berkembang?

Ketimbang mengaitkan fenomena ini dengan “Westernisasi”, Seneviratne mengaitkannya dengan “modernisasi” (hlm 235). Tarian erotis Inul menuai protes bukan karena merupakan produk asing, tapi karena tidak sejalan dengan moralitas Islam masyarakat dominan yang juga merupakan alasan kenapa musik irama Malaysia dan nasyid begitu populer di negeri tetangga. Dengan argumen ini, penulis memosisikan baik Barat maupun Timur Tengah sebagai imperialis budaya karena budaya tradisional Jawa bagi penulis lebih cocok disebut sebagai akar budaya Indonesia. Ia menyebutnya sebagai “mempribumikan globalisasi” (indigenizing globalization), saat produk budaya lokal dikemas dengan cara modern, yang tidak hanya menghasilkan hibrida ekspresi budaya global dan lokal, tapi juga menjadikannya produk pribumi (hlm 248).

Satu hal yang mengganggu saya akan argumen Seneviratne adalah bahwa meskipun penulis meninjau konteks sejarah dan pengaruh budaya India, Cina, dan Arab dalam musik irama Malaysia, nasyid, dan dangdut, ia tidak berargumen bahwa percampuran ini juga adalah hasil globalisasi. Oleh karena itu, kesimpulan bahwa musik lokal adalah hasil dari “mempribumikan globalisasi” bagi saya kurang pas untuk menjelaskan kompleksitas pertarungan kepentingan yang bermanifestasi melalui ekspresi kebudayaan. Seluruh ekspresi kebudayaan yang tercatat dalam sejarah, termasuk apa yang tercatat dan apa yang tidak, adalah hasil kemenangan satu kelompok atas kelompok lainnya. Di sini, termasuk budaya tradisional Jawa yang disebut penulis sebagai akar budaya Indonesia. Oleh karena itu, buku Seneviratne membuka peluang bagi pemikiran baru yang mempertanyakan apa itu “akar budaya” Indonesia, apa manfaatnya, dan siapa yang menarik manfaat darinya.

Peneliti Kajian Media
Departemen Ilmu Komunikasi,
Universitas Indonesia