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Maria Devina Sanjaya

Popular Culture in Indonesia: Fluid Identity in Post-Authoritarian Politic

Taken from Oxford Bibliographies, Dustin Kidd defines popular culture as a ​set of
practices, beliefs, and objects that embody the most broadly shared meanings of a social
system. It includes media objects, entertainment and leisure, fashion and trends, and linguistic
conventions, among other things. In further explanation, Kidd outlines that popular culture is
often related to mass culture rather than high, institutional cultures such as politics. This view
accentuates the capitalist characteristic in which popular culture is deemed to be produced
merely for profit-driven goals. In a sense, popular culture has often been overlooked,
underestimated, and even understudied among people in Indonesia as well as in the world.
Particularly in Indonesia, popular culture has been rising and facing growing trends in
an unexpected pace. The article stated that since 2000, sales figures by Indonesian pop artists
achieved unimaginable performance which were supported by the debut of several pop bands
including Peterpan. Despite of the optimistic outlook from the industry, there has been only
few published analysis and journals discussing the prominence of this particular culture. The
writer of the article argued that it was closely related to the characteristic of the society where
they have put excessive focus and emphasis over nation-building, economy, and other
national-political issues that were considered to be more relevant compared to the “shallow
and superficial” mass-production culture.
Those views, I believe, must be gradually put aside considering that how popular
culture was, is and will still be warmly received by most of the Indonesian population.
Moreover, as much as it sounds shallow and “childish or feminist,” pop culture has
undeniable power over the nation’s political aspect. It can be used for “soft campaign,” which
has been used by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during his presidential campaign where he
performed self-written songs in front of the public. Around 2007, pop band Peterpan was
even scouted as the ambassador of Malaysia’s largest telecommunication provider, Celcom.
To many, this was seen as an effort by both Malaysian and Indonesian government to
reconcile the heated relationship due to many diplomatic issues including territories and
migrants. South and North Korea have actually used this approach (using popular culture as a
way to cool off the tensions between two nations), in which South Korean soldiers and
territorial guards would play K-Pop songs loudly at the border of the two countries.
Maria Devina Sanjaya
Sometimes, North Korean government would even invite some K-Pop acts to perform in the
Popular culture, thus, should not only be used for export commodities and treated
superficially, considering its power to influence the mass. Besides entertaining people and
producing large amount of profits to the country, popular culture offer a tactical means to
calm down diplomatic tensions. Therefore, it can be said that popular culture provides safer
way to seal political deal. Furthermore, due to its ability to reach wide audience, popular
culture, either in form of musics, TV shows, or other kinds of entertainments, might help
politicians to gain better supports. However, I do believe that it shall be used wisely and not
excessively, and its main function of entertaining the audience should be held responibly.