News From Indonesia

Cultural Bricolage in Indonesia

Posted in Blogroll by artemisays on December 21, 2010

Indonesians are particularly good at bricolage; consolidating their own cultural lifeworlds with goods and icons imported from overseas into a menagerie of uses and meanings peculiar to them.

Take for example, the ubiquity of plagerism in Indonesia, whereby anything from handbags to dvds to slogans and television shows are shamelessly copied and reconstituted. The resulting simulacra of goods and images take on a life of their own, fuelled by the different cultural environments they become embedded into and by the different conditions of their production. The abundance of copied items thereby merely distributes and perpetuates  iconography, but for most intents and purposes, they exist in an Indonesian void whose own cultural and social imagery overwhelms previous signifieds of most imported goods. This void incorporates curious oppositional aethestics such as Louis Vuitton handbags on the arms of jilbab wearing women whose socio-economic standing dictates that they will probably never enter a Louis Vuitton store and neither, that they will ever possess the ‘social capital’ to realise the associated faux pax in fake goods.

But what is a fake in Indonesia? Most people are sublimely unaware of any faux pax in buying and owning fakes, be it a copied slogan, bag or television show. If anything, in Indonesia it’s more like borrowing ideas. And to be quite honest, most of these products are mere intertextual representations of their originals once they are in such an alien context. No one in Indonesia would penalise ‘CFC’ (pronounced as chee eff chee) for its exact resemblance to ‘KFC’ merchandising and exact replica of meals right down to taste. None of these products are conceived as fakes, and to copy is a person’s right. They are but Indonesian versions of items that are already proved to be popular and commercially successful.

Pirated dvds are sold in stores within shopping centres, just as conspicuously ipod looking MP3 players are sold beside them. They do not hide in dark corners of the store to be requested with a nervous whisper. These ‘fake’ items are the original thing here, because there are not many people who could afford the original versions. It is beyond comprehension or justification to sell a dvd or handbag at western prices, yet Indonesia is still a huge market where the same products do equally well, therefore they are watered down in price and quality to fit into the market. No girl proudly carrying a Prada will consider it a fake- its cost balanced out by the Indonesian economy- but she will see it as a sign of her fashion consciousness and knowledge of connotative signs of value and status within consumer culture.

In addition to products, there’s the bricolagic effect of a mish mash of symbolism and iconography that is also grafted onto Indonesian life. It’s as if Indonesian societies consume potentially value laden and ideologically conflicting foreign products and images only to regurgitate them as e neutitherralised or confusingly hypocritical within an Indonesian context. For example, there is the common sight of young boys wearing cannabis leaves printed on their shirts and smoking cigarettes in a country that kills foreign and local drug traffickers, has a multitude of lists of what is ‘haram’ (forbidden), but has some of the most lax smoking laws in the world. Or hearing rap music swearing and blaring out of surf stores whose staff have no idea what the lyrics are advocating and whose clothing products they assume should be automatically accompanied by such music. Surf stores in Palembang do not sell any swimming or surfing clothing or accessories, but the idea of surf shops and their pop culture grafics appeals to youth so they sell this concept as style. Thus, there are many stores that copy the surf style only to make it more street, more feral, more neurotic. Indonesian youth imitate western styles but the Western images are hybridised with their use on culturally specific bodies, so typically Indonesian sandals, batik clothes and Muslim attire is thrown in the mix.

These confusing images that blend foreign consumer culture with Indonesia’s traditionally closed society, are what give Indonesia its bricolage effect. Indonesian consumer culture is based on the appropriation of foreign products and images but is heavily influenced by Indonesian preferences, economic constraints and a willingness to re-present original ideas as absolutely legitimate versions.

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