Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stand Up Comedy Indonesia

Yesterday evening, I finally had the chance to see Stand Up Comedy Indonesia. Like other 'anything new' in Jakarta, it is quickly becoming a burgeoning scene where those in their twenties and thirties flock to be part of the trend. Or so I had thought.

A few years back while I was writing a paper, I came across journal articles on humour studies. Before you throw an encyclopedia at my head for even over-analysing laughing, bear with me. Firstly, a joke can only be funny if it's socially and culturally acceptable as 'the norm'. Laughing needs to be politically correct. It is the reason why different communities, societies, countries, region, etc, have 'localised jokes'.

Secondly, we have a tendency to laugh, nervously, when we are in uncomfortable situations. When we forget someone's name, arrive late, or other trivial mistakes. Laughing is a 'normaliser of discomfort'. Bring that on a societal level, anything we laugh about signifies what collectively makes us uncomfortable. Last night's topics: gender stereotypes (Miund), being an Indonesian-Chinese (Ernest Prakasa), and being overweight (Mo Sidik).

The articles I read came into mind as I was seeing everyone perform. Out of the performers that night, Ernest left the deepest impression on me. Aside from the fact that I laughed my ass off during the whole 20 minutes he performed, he opened up cultural taboos that the pluralist in me thoroughly enjoyed. Being mugged (palak) as a Chinese boy and that the difference between an NU and Muhammadiyah Chinese is that a Muhammadiyah Chinese celebrates Imlek a day before.

Pandji Pragiwaksono's performance in Comedy Cafe.

And, the nerd that I am, I spent the night Googling and reading about the performers. Some of them had their own political mission. Mo Sidik is fighting against discrimination towards overweight people (i.e. how his nephews and nieces asked him to be an Angry Bird) and Pandji Pragiwaksono is a cancer activist who advocates for the use of marijuana in cancer-related medical treatments (i.e. the weed jokes).

Although the cynic in me could not help but realise that many of the people who came that evening, after hearing a joke, looked at the friends they came with to know whether the joke was funny or not (i.e. social approval); listening to the performers I have great respect in the movement and the interest behind it. I look forward to seeing more to come.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

That of Banda Aceh

For the last phase of my PhD data collection, I travel around the country (Denpasar, Banda Aceh, Jayapura, Makassar, Jayapura, Banjarmasin, and, err, Jakarta) to explore the dynamics between Islam, national identity, and television culture among young Indonesians. I have completed my Denpasar and Banda Aceh visits and, as usual, what I've learned so far - although far from finished - has made me felt just about the size of a pebble.

I met with a former student of mine, a local Acehnese, and one of the most intelligent human beings I've had in my class. Overlooking Lampuuk beach, she told me about her childhood, the long history of violence in Aceh, and how, during dinner with family, they overhear gunshots and continue eating. "When a relative has gone missing, it means they're not coming back," she told me.

Lampuuk Beach, Aceh.

Exploring the thoughts of my Acehnese respondents, the local customs, the food, the panoramic view, and reading about its political history - it is difficult not to realise the uniqueness of this region. I believe if it were not for the acculturation between traditional Acehnese culture and Islam, the socio-cultural practices would not be as peaceful, particularly after three decades of military occupation.* I found instances that prove the implementation of Islamic law in Banda Aceh a result of consensus, far more consciously formed than most of Javanese Muslims I have come to know all my life.

I cannot help but fall in love a bit with Serambi Mekkah, where the women I meet veil their heads and not their minds.

* For those interested to read more about the history and culture of Aceh, I recommend Aceh: History, Politics and Culture by Arndt Graf, Susanne Schroter, Edwin Wieringa (Eds).