A Dream of Indonesian Pop Culture

A photo of a burnt down market section I took around Tanah Abang. Why this picture? It is an image of destruction, but it also signifies chance to rebuilt, constructing something new on an old land. Or I just don’t know what picture to show.

So far, the influences of Japanese and Korean pop culture have been everywhere; reaching out audience beyond national border, even continents. The Japanese pop culture invades in variety of media. First, though probably not the earliest, is the popular 2D art in the form of manga and anime, which successfully differentiate itself with Western style and maintaining a distinctive style with worldwide fans that will be the envy and object of imitation across the globe. Then, they have the idol industry that exports image of youth and “kawaiiness” that grabs hearts of so many people who then buy merchandises to support their idol and promote them among their friends. Following behind them is the J-drama and game show which have find its own strong loyal supporters even overseas. Furthermore, not only Japanese effectively conserve its historical legacy, they also cleverly insert it into its pop culture media mentioned above and promulgate it to other civilization. Japanese history does not defend itself from foreign and modern cultures, but fiercely attacking them at their own foreign land.

Morning Musume '16 at Anime Matsuri, which is in Houston, USA (source: tenkigumi ameba)
Morning Musume ’16 at Anime Matsuri, which is in Houston, USA
(source: tenkigumi ameba)

The Korean pop culture wave, which is more recent than the Japanese wave, invades in comparable but distinct way. It started out with Korean dramas that laid the foundation for the invasion; admiration for Korean “beauty”. Then, the Korean idols and performers proceed to assault. By combining western style of dance and fashion with Korean sexy and adult image, they differentiate themselves with their Japanese counterparts. And can we forget the famous “Gangnam Style” that conquered both world of the west and east in unprecedented level in a very short time span? Refusing to stop there, though initially following Japanese manga style, Koreans try to popularize their own manga art through webcomic platform and found limited but gradually growing fans. Can anyone stop this merciless invader from devouring every nation known to man?

PSY at MTV Europe Music Awards (source: bbc.uk)
PSY at MTV Europe Music Awards
(source: bbc.uk)

Then it comes to the hard question. When will Indonesia achieve such level? Will we ever be in that level? So far, we have generally been the consumer, the influenced party. So tremendous is our penchant to foreign culture that it has reach a detrimental level to our own culture. Young generation hailed foreign culture as the culture they want to have, while our own historical culture have been put in the confinement of museum to be left rotting and forgotten. Even our cultural artists who work passionately to rejuvenate our national culture are more respected outside our border than within, where they are largely unknown by their own people. It is not impossible that at this rate, we will gradually lost our identity, and our culture got substituted by amalgamation of foreign cultures; effectively eliminating our chance to lead and therefore will continuously follow.

Unless, some measures are taken. An article by Mario Rustan in The Jakarta Post might sound a bit pessimistic about our pop culture, but it also points out matters that have to be dealt with to create a proper future for Indonesian Pop Culture. And a writing by Johannes Nugroho in Jakarta Globe describes a need for “a strong cultural profile that is sustained by an equally vibrant yet uniquely Indonesian pop culture”. Both mentioned government support as a critical factor in shaping Indonesian Pop Culture and what measures have to be taken. Both also inspired me to imagine a future where our popular culture stands strong and influences people outside our national border.

Lumina Scarlet, an idol group from Bandung, Indonesia (source: localaidoru.blogspot.co.id)
Lumina Scarlet, an idol group from Bandung, Indonesia
(source: localaidoru.blogspot.co.id)

What ideas do I have ? Well, if you excuse my nonsensical imagination, I have some ideas that I hope will help shaping Indonesian Pop Culture. First, a central hub for our pop culture to flourish. We already have a lot of artists with great potential to become pillars of our pop culture; take a look at our locally produced cergam (an equivalent of manga?) at Re:on, our local idols like Lumina Scarlet or Happy Kingdom‘s group, or our historical re-imagination literature like Gajah Mada. Now, let’s assemble them! By having a central physical pop culture hub, like Akihabara or Harajuku, a street where there are shops and other attractions related to our pop culture, we can introduce our pop culture icons far more easily to the audience. Audience can go to this one location and browse through all of our pop culture icons, get to know more about them, get acquainted to them, and become their fans. We can also put a virtual hub; a website where netizens can get to know and enticed by our pop culture. Second, a “Dear Stage“-like establishment. Why? Well, just because I love the concept. An establishment meant to provide a space for individuals to tread their way to stardom, not through big agency sponsored audition, but through all-round performance: determining a show concept, setting up the stage, designing the costume, making the song setlist, or in short, producing yourself. By having such place, we can endorse a richer variety of performers with pure creativity, not yet mainstreamed or commercialized by big firms. Third, a grand collaboration for the advancement of Indonesian Pop Culture. PopCon is a nice example of gathering different artists together, where they can meet and share inspiration with each other. And I imagine we can make something like Osamu Tezuka’s Star System or at least when same pop culture icons can be referenced and presented by different artists across different art products, so that audience will be allured to search for those icons across the universe of our pop culture. Fourth, making our history hip again through our culture. Just like what Japanese has done, I want to see more and more of our legacy represented in our pop culture to garner younger generation interest in our history. Imagine you are in a cafe and everybody around you are discussing about the Battle of Bubat or the heroism of Srivijaya admiral and others (ノ≧∀≦)ノ.

So, my ideas might be quite off from reality. But the thing is I am very excited for it. I am interested to imagine our own pop culture spreading to the world. I will be delighted to participate in such movement, an I-wave boom! It will be awesome: looking at an Indonesian idol group getting thunderous ovation in an overseas concert reported live by mainstream channels, playing a multiplayer keris-battle game with foreign player, reading a fiction cergam about what-if scenario that Mataram Sultanate successfully westernize and play pivotal role in WW1. Can you imagine that? Are you getting excited too?




2 thoughts on “A Dream of Indonesian Pop Culture

  1. A very good dream! I think your idea of a centre of Indonesian culture si a good one, that was one of the idea of having TMII, see how that is well executed. *pardon the sarcasm. In Japan and Korea people work really hard in developing their cultural produce, it didn’t happen in 1 year. It needed the 15 – 25 years of investment. They also have a high quality product, they don’t stop at OK. Compare the production value of Indonesian Drama series and Korea drama, for example, although the Korean drama stories are so- so but mostly their production are on a high standard. Similar to their design, music etc. What we can do is continue to curate what we see as good cultural product and rave about it to everyone. There also in general public if things are made in abroad people are valuing them more by paying more and being prouder of owning them compared to those that are made in Indonesia. I could go on. 🙂

    1. Hey, thank you for a very positive outlook! 25 years? I can live and wait that long! I’d like to translate your comment as an assurance that such beautiful state is definitely possible if we all chip in a collective effort toward that goal. What makes the realization of such dream sweeter is the fact that everybody has some contribution in the process.

      Your point on the drama series hits home for what we can see on our national TV, but I’d like to point out that Indonesia is catching on, sort of. Some indie production companies have been making great products that got published on less monopolized channel like Y*utube, short budgeted, but bravely pushing new genres not yet adopted by mainstream media. I also like some sitcoms started at N*t TV. The big homework is making sure these people can eat well and sleep well for all their hard work and your advice to curate and rave is a great start.

      As for the fact that many Indonesians value products made abroad more, I can say that the trend is reversing. I can see that a lot of Gen Y and Z are considering Indonesian products as hip and giving certain prestige for the owner. Damn I l*ve Indonesia is a good example and some local “cergam”s have found loyal (and paying) fans. But, yes, we have a lot of work to maintain and accelerate this trend. Let’s help the producer or be the producer that will make Indonesians buy Indonesian cultural products because of the quality not just “made in Indonesia”!

      Anyway, thank you for leaving a comment! The last time this blog got a (non-spam) comment was like an eon ago. ^^

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