*paper ini saya buat untuk tugas sekalian sebagai penyaluran keresahan saya saat asian games kemarin. saya publish di sini karena saya emang sok penting. mon maap inglais terbatas tapi terpaksa karena dosennya gak bisa bahasa indonesia. saya cuma bisa mengandalkan grammarly dan kepercayaan diri. sekian trimatengkyu.
The relations between identity and culture are complex. A way to explain this is by understanding both terms not as coherent entities but as flux that is closely related to the power play in the local and global level. In this paper, I will analyse the recent Asian Games held in Jakarta, specifically the opening ceremony. I will illustrate how it was a performance of national identity that helped to re-establish the idea of “unity in diversity”, by evoking a sudden pride of the nation, collective belonging, and self-identity of being an Indonesian. However, I argue that nationalism here is only a representation of the dominant sociocultural group, portraying diversity through an internationally standardised aesthetics, a multiculturalism that is palatable for the middle class global and Jakarta audience. As meanings are mediated, the social media plays a crucial role in the shaping of self-identity as a proud Indonesian to both local and global audiences. While the dominant group leads the conversation on national pride and values, hegemonic values are enhanced at the cost of ongoing social and cultural injustice.
I will use Couldry’s framework to look at culture as a system of representations and analyse the asymmetrical power distribution by considering social media as a contemporary site of representations. I will expand on Simon Frith’s idea on how performed culture not only represents but forms the identity, by using a postcolonial perspective in considering the influence of ‘Western’ hegemony. I will apply Frith’s conception of music, to the Asian Games opening ceremony.
Sports festival as diplomacy
Sport plays a vital role in constructing national identity in the context of globalisation. Hosting an international sports festival is a strategy frequently used to boost international reputation (Silva, 2014). In the national level, the sport has a capacity to build national identity (Sotomayor, 2016). Maguire (2011) did an analysis on cricket to see how globalisation affected the national cultures and cultural identity in Australia. In Indonesia, the sport has been historically political. The use of sports for nation-building and strengthening international influence in Indonesia can be traced back from 1962 when the first president Soekarno, made a radical initiative to create Ganefo (Games for the New Emerging Forces) as the counter Olympic after his withdrawal from the IOC (International Olympics Committee). He disagreed with the IOC’s ‘neutrality’ in seeing a sports festival and stated that the IOC only supported the colonial-imperialist West (Hasan, 2017, November 10). Thus Ganefo invited all the non-bloc countries in Asia, Africa, and South America.
The 2018 Asian Games were held in the midst of political instability nearing the 2019 presidential election. Popular debates are polarised: one supporting the current president’s Jokowi re-election, while the other is rooting for Prabowo. Debates were intense in Twitter and Facebook timeline, Whatsapp group, and even the more conventional media. The situation was made worse by the conservative Islamic groups that are steadily gaining more power. Radicalism in Indonesia has attracted international media attention (Arifah & Renaldi, 2018, May 8). The conservatives mostly back Prabowo, but a recent decision made by Jokowi surprised public, as he picked a notorious Islam conservative leader as his vice presidential candidate. In other words, Indonesia is at the peak of a postcolonial identity crisis, as the imaginaries of Indonesia as a multicultural and one of the biggest moderate Muslim country in the world is ruptured. Therefore, the hosting of Asian Games serves several political purposes in the perspective of the nation-state: reinstate the image of the moderate Muslim nation and the value of “unity in diversity” (translated in the national slogan as bhinneka tunggal ika, a value Indonesian schoolchildren learn uncritically ever since elementary school).
The opening ceremony is an entry point that established the image of national identity conveyed throughout the festival. Three acts gained the most attention and became the key performances of national identity the festival want to convey. Firstly, the Ratoh Jaroe dance performed by 1600 dancers. Ratoh Jaroe is originally a traditional dance from Aceh, a Muslim-majority region in northern part of Sumatera where the Islamic law, Syariah, is practised. The harmonious, unified fast-paced movements of the hands and body create a grand effect altogether with the sound the hands make and the song they sing during the dance (alansaputra2561996, 2018, August 25; JajangRidwan19, 2018, August 18). It is not commonly performed with such a massive number of dancers. In the ceremony, the dance made up the Indonesian flags and colourful motives if seen from above, that it sent shivers to those who watched it (fiqinayati, 2018 August 19; kezialaskari, 2018, August 18). Secondly, the president’s theatrical arrival into the stadium (Indonesia Morning Show NET, 2018, August 18). Jokowi was shown in the video riding a motorcycle to cut through the traffic jam, did some acrobatic moves, and enter the stadium in person. Lastly, the extravagant, elaborate pyrotechnics following the lighting of the torch on top of a volcano mock-up on the stage (NaLa Channel, 2018, August 18; dian_elysa, 2018, August 19; melyafransisca23, 2018, August 19).
Frith (1996) explains how music evokes a certain sense of collective belonging, which in turns form the self-identity. He argues that identity is a process and a becoming and cannot be separated from the social. He explains how music is key to identity because it gives “a sense of both self and others” (p. 110). My interpretation is that the ceremony has a similar effect. The extravagant ceremony was experienced live in close proximity by the Jakarta citizen. Not only once and live, but the performance was also repeated and shared over and over again especially through multiple social media posts. Below are some of the reactions:
Witnessing #openingceremonyAG2018 make me more proud of being an Indonesian (anonymous, 2018, August, 25).
Proud and happy can see it live… this is an authentic proof as a witness of Indonesian history. (anonymous, 2018, August 22).
Praise Allah…. Shivers, proud, touched, uplifted everything became one when I watched #openingceremony#asiangames2018. Really, so awesome! (anonymous, 2018, September 5).
Identity, Culture, Power
What Frith does not explain much in his article is how power relations influence the process of forming the self through the performance. Cultural activities and aesthetic judgement are ways in which people recognise themselves as groups. The aesthetic judgement has a lot to do with power. As Couldry (2000) says, “the external realities of culture, what passes on its surface, is linked to inequalities in distribution and power” (p. 101). Ulf Hannerz (Couldry, 2000, p. 99) explains that culture is meanings created by people and creates the people. It is the practices of representations. The making meaning process is always mediated. There is no authentic culture, so there is no authentic identity, although it might appear as such.
The Ratoh Jaroe dance, which was originated from Aceh, had the power to evoke a sense of pride in being an Indonesian, although you do not come from the same region. It transgressed from a regional identity to the national symbols during the ceremony. It suggested Indonesia as a moderate Islam country where women are at the centre stage. For the purpose of the ceremony, it was choreographed by Eko Supriyanto and performed by high school students from Jakarta. The dance is indeed popular in Jakarta, practised as an extracurricular activity in school by many students for many years. The dance, just like what Frith argues about music, already “has a life of its own” (Frith, 1996, p. 109).
However, we should consider the position of the choreographer. Not only because he is a Javanese, the dominant ethnical group since the New Order era, but also because he has an international reputation. We also have to consider the positionality of going to school in a city where most development is concentrated. It is arguable that the performance of Ratoh Jaroe might be called appropriation. But there is an obvious paradox here. If it supposedly portrayed the country’s diversity, was Ratoh Jaroe a representation of Aceh, or was it a representation of the omnipotent Jakarta? This would be what many have criticised about the narrative of diversity and multiculturalism (Stratton & Ang, 1994). It poses two risks: essentialising culture and colonising other minority cultures. This also confirms what Couldry (2000) mentions how a shared national culture is regarded by many as a myth because it is not possible (p. 92).
The dynamics of power also has to be seen in the context of globalisation. The globalisation influences the ‘double-bind’ process of forming national identity and at the same time aligning it with the “global” culture and international aesthetics. Craik, McAllister, and Davis (2003) term this as “schizophrenic quality” (p. 23). As many research suggests, sport as a platform to build nationalism cannot be separated with the globalisation (Maguire, 2011; Silva, 2014; Sotomayor, 2016). Silva (2014) explains how a nation has to make certain compromises to international standards. I will turn into the postcolonial perspective which views there is a dominant ideology at work in the global level that becomes hegemonic in the local/national level and could successfully evoke such national pride. Thus the process of forming identity involves both differentiation and association with the imagined global.
There was a need for world-class elements and aesthetics throughout the opening show. I discussed how the Ratoh Jaroe has been transformed into such grandeur spectacle, using an internationally-acclaimed choreographer. The president’s acrobatic stunt with a motorcycle bears resemblance to the 2012 London Olympic opening ceremony, where the queen did a parachute jump from the helicopter. Both nation’s leaders were symbolised as cool and adventurous, humanising the leader figure into a ‘commoner’. The lighting of the torch into a mock-up volcano represents an Orientalist view of Indonesia as mystical, vulnerable (Indonesia islands are the meetings of three world mountain ranges, mostly active), but surviving and, as the fireworks went, thriving. Below comment precisely describes how world-class performance meets some representation of locality creates a sense of pride of being Indonesian:
Although I only watched it on TV, I shivered and cried when I watched the Opening Ceremony #ASIANGAMES2018 ! 🎉👏🏻 Proud of having this beautiful country visualised in a super epic way by the nation’s great talents. I feel that this was the world-class performance! … Beautiful Diversity! Amazing Performance! (anonymous, 2018, August 19).
Therefore the “unity in diversity” was portrayed by showcasing the difference in a palatable manner to the audience. There was a need to respond to the global fear of Islam radicalism by showing a moderate, Islamic dance that is performed by women. There was a rigorous effort to create a show in a massive, budget-intensive way to fulfil the ‘Western’ hegemonic aesthetic. These inlanderism mixed with inferiority complexes made the ceremony hit the hearts of many Indonesians.
Social Media for ‘authentic’ self-expression
Hannerz (Couldry, 2000) argues that culture is translated into public consumption, where the media play a significant role. He suggests it is also about a network of perspectives because people also make meaning from the people around them. Thus in today’s world, the social media serves as a site where two of those things happen, where representations are produced, contested, or reinforced. However, dominant values seem more visible and circulate more where alternative ideas are easily dismissed. The social media echo chamber most likely influences this and I will focus within this Indonesian educated middle-class chamber.
Nationalism is evoked by the conversations in social media, hashtags, documentation of grandness, and status enhancement of actually participate in the event whether to come to see it live, be part of the committee, or creative team. Participation seems the key, where social media post serves as a proof. The #openingceremonyag2018 hashtag in Instagram displays numerous expression of pride of being Indonesian. There is a sense of collective belonging throughout the virtual space that seems to amplify the nationalism. It is also interpreted as a cure for the recent threats to Indonesia’s unity, a “people’s party”.
Asian Games is like a cure for old wounds… because of the recent news that almost brought us to separation. But after two weeks I understand again the meaning of nationalism. World-class opening Ceremony and sports facilities… to welcome this people’s party with the spirit of togetherness, I have never been so proud as Indonesian… we CAN be united if we WANT TO… Thank you Asian Games 2018, Indonesian Government, all committee, 13,000 volunteers, Indonesia, we DID it – we just made a wonderful part in our history ❤️ (anonymous, 2018, September 3).
So proud to join the hype of Asian Games, 5 years ago I helped to prepare materials from Dentsu Sport to bid on the Asian Games host… yesterday I was truly happy to see the result we have fought for. (anonymous, 2018, September 3).
Moreover, there is a certain awareness and confidence that Indonesian netizen would create a global buzz. It suggests how important global perception is and how the imaginary of it evoke stronger pride and nationalism.
Indonesia’s gonna be trending everywhere, especially our netizens are the champion in making things viral. (anonymous, 2018, August 19).
Challenging ideas criticised the budget-intensive ceremony while it could be used for Lombok earthquake victims.
@jokowi can give 30 billions for asian games but cashing out fund for Lombok earthquake is so hard… (anonymous, 2018, September 17).
Some others lamented the relatively expensive opening ceremony ticket, while others saw that as “sensible price”.
There were also jokes on the president motorcycle stunt.
Maybe the president is only a stuntman? A precession of simulacra? (anonymous, 2018, August 20).
The stuntman debates dismissed as the killjoy.
If people are overcritical, they can’t be happy, they are entertained but won’t be pleased. (anonymous, 2018, August 19)
More importantly, an article titled “Bloody arrests for the sake of Asian Games 2018” exposes the extreme measure taken by the police to improve safety in the city (Widhana, 2018, August 15). It states there were 52 arrests with shooting, which caused 11 people dead and 41 hurt.
The nationalism expressed is a symbolic violence against the certain groups. It is taken for granted as the norm and expressed as part of the ‘authentic’ self by the educated middle-class. Modes of thoughts are externalised then socially distributed within the echo chamber of educated middle-class Indonesians. What were circulated were mainly positive attitudes and strong nationalism, while critics were silenced as killjoys. While not denying any expressions as genuine, my little finding suggests that asymmetrical distribution of power is still reproduced in the social media. The narrative of diversity denies many social problems that are still going on and it is largely left unquestioned.