Indonesians rarely take things seriously. Except for religions – which are sensitive issues – almost everything can be parodied and trivialised. I have recently discovered the joy of bad television again through my discovery of mivo.tv, which enables me to watch some Indonesian television all the way from the all-beige Adelaide. Apparently this is old news to my ex-compatriots as it has been the avenue used by Indonesian students to watch their favourite programmes from home.
There was nothing really interesting on TV last night so I visited the site and shared the link with Yani. Big mistake. She instantly hooked herself to one of the local soapies, which we call sinetron back in Indonesia. Bad unbelievable story lines, with a parade of constantly-shocked faces of discovering that: [a] your boyfriend is actually your long-lost half-brother; [b] your girlfriend has fallen pregnant by a menacing uncle who is also blackmailing your mum; [c] your new friend is actually your presumed-dead arch nemesis after a complete plastic surgery. You get my drift. The sinetrons are full of bad storylines,one-dimensional heroes and villains, corny voice overs, melodramatic and bad – seriously bad – background music, as well as actors and actresses whose only asset is to look good on camera. As I type, I can hear Yani talking to her computer with utterances such as “Lebay!” (the Indonesian word to say when you see something over the top) – watching Indonesian TV is like watching a car crash – you know it’s ugly but you can’t help watching it. It’s very mesmerising.
I watched a programme a while ago which is another variant of a talk show which will never go to air here in Australia or even in the United States – Uya Memang Kuya. It’s hard to translate, but it’s something like “You’re really such a drongo, Uya”. He walks around in shopping malls with his entourage, searching for people who are willing to be hypnotised and share what is bugging them privately on national television. In tonight’s program, he finds a mum with three of her daughters. First, Uya hypnotises the eldest daughter – Lisa – who then shares that she’s feeling unloved and thinks that her mum favours her younger siblings more than her. She also tells the audience under hypnosis that she has been stealing money from her mum to buy smokes and that she has two boyfriends although her mum forbids her from dating anyone. Then, when the host hynotises the mum, she shares a bombshell that Lisa is actually not her daughter. She took Lisa as her daughter from her older sister’s family to be the catalyst for her and her husband to have children. It’s a common practise back home for childless couples to ‘adopt’ a child from a relative to spur their own children. This is done in front of onlookers in the mall and is shown on national television. Not surprisingly Lisa is upset and wants to leave the show but she is convinced by the host to stay on and listen to whatever else that the mum has to say: that she loves her, and so forth.
It was a mix of fascination, disbelief and annoyance – I wonder whether the producer cares at all with the subjects’ mental wellbeing after being confronted with such a private piece of information. The host offers generic advice that bitter things in life are necessary to build us up – yadda yadda yadda. I wonder if he truly cares or has the capacity to understand the seriousness of the issue.
However, in a country with more than 200 million inhabitants that is constantly mired in crisis, over-the-top television is an outlet for people to forget their problems and just be entertained (and poisoned) by numerous gossip shows, talk shows, naff quiz shows, and unbelievable sinetrons. How else can you survive when you are constantly confronted by news of corruptions, poverty, and disasters? You just need to take things easy – even when you trivialise things that should be taken seriously. It certainly manages to evoke more emotions from me rather than watching the all safe, all politically-correct and all vanilla Australian television.