Thushara Dibley and Wayne Palmer
Norman singing his heart out
Norman Kamaru, a Mobile Brigade police officer, filmed himself lip-synching Chaiyya-Chaiyya, a famous Bollywood hit, on the job in a backwater post of Gorontalo province. He did it to lighten the mood of a colleague who was down in the dumps after a domestic dispute with his wife. The video was uploaded by an unknown person to YouTube on 29 March 2011 where it quickly caught the attention of Indonesia's lively cyber community. Within a few days the video went viral and Briptu Norman became an overnight celebrity.
Norman's newfound fame has brought him many opportunities. Record studio Big Knob offered him a contract to produce a single. Bung Karno University offered him a full scholarship to study law. And there was even talk of him being given a motorcycle. Celebrity status will most likely bring him much much more. But it brought the police force, an institution in national disrepute, something even more valuable – a human face (with a tongue piercing).
The force's initial reaction to the YouTube clip was that the dancing cop should be sanctioned for breaching its code of discipline. Spokesperson Anton Bachrul announced on 6 April that Norman should be punished by his superiors in Gorontalo province. According to Anton, Norman's 'undisciplined and childish behaviour' had caught the attention of Indonesia's top brass in Jakarta, who called for disciplinary action that could well affect his future chances of promotion.
But his superiors had changed their tune before the day was out. Instead of disciplinary action, Norman received nothing more than a slap on the wrist. What's more, they promised to make good use of his creative talent. He was granted permission (or ordered) to appear on the late night TV talk show Bukan Empat Mata on 7 April, only a day after talk of sanctions. Dressed in official attire, he was seated alongside Indonesian celebrities. His playful personality, which came across so clearly in the YouTube video, had disappeared somewhere between Gorontalo and Jakarta. Even so, the police had obviously decided that he was an asset, and sent an audience full of uniformed officers who cheered him on each time he did a number.
Within two weeks, the storm about Norman's conduct had totally blown over. Images of him with the movers and shakers of the National Police force as well as with (infamous) celebrities such as Luna Maya show how quickly this very junior officer was recast as a pin-up for the Indonesian police.
The power of the internet
Much of Norman's story was recorded on the internet. Indonesia's online community responded with indignation to the announcement that Norman was to be sanctioned for his performance, rallying to the defence of the man they saw as the human face of law enforcement in the country. The YouTube clip has had almost two million hits, and has been shared by over 167,000 users of Facebook and by many more Tweeters. Multiple Facebook pages in support of Norman were set up and numerous profiles sporting his image and name emerged within days of the YouTube posting.
Norman's official Facebook page alone now has over 93,000 fans. In fact, the Norman phenomenon has become something of a juggernaut. On April 8 his banal status updates only attracted 300 'likes' and 60 comments. By 15 April a prayer that Norman posted on his page received 5686 'likes' and 2443 comments. People told him he was 'cool', they wished him luck, they told him they loved him. Eliyha Yha BungsuQinchay asked him to come visit her in Jambi.
One of the resounding themes in the commentary was how Norman had given the police a human face. Corrupt and otherwise illegal behaviour has severely discredited the institution, and the public has followed report after report about the police selling special treatment for a price. The comments sections of the YouTube clips and newspaper articles showed that people felt that the dancing cop was a breath of fresh air when it came to public perceptions of the police. Norman's appeal lay in the fact that he liked the same music, he liked to fool around – and he didn't look scary. As one person commented in English: 'heheheheeheheheheheh like that ........... now i love police ,,,,,,,,,,,'.
Norman for president
Online communities turned Norman into a star and helped the police get a toehold into legitimacy. By setting up Facebook pages in support of Norman and writing thousands of comments below his YouTube clip, likeminded Indonesian internet users made it very clear that Norman had a lot of PR potential – something ultimately recognised by the police themselves. In the words of the head of the force's Public Information Section: 'We hope that Norman is able to create the spirit of partnership with the community.'
The response of Indonesian internet users to the Norman phenomenon also demonstrates the power that the web has in Indonesia, as in other parts of the world, to create stardom out of everyday tom-foolery. Indonesians make up one of the biggest groups of Facebook users and are some of the world's most frequent tweeters. Norman is only one example of how increased access to and use of the internet can change a destiny.
In the meantime, interviews with Norman show a man who is overwhelmed by his newfound fame. He has made modest statements that despite the red carpet treatment and freebies that go with it 'he is still a police officer with responsibilities'. But we saw in the last election how many celebrities got into parliament. Popular faces get votes in Indonesia. So the question on everyone's lips is: Will Norman run for President?
Thushara Dibley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a PhD student in the Department of Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney, where she researches how local and international NGOs working on peacebuilding in Aceh and Timor Leste.
Wayne Palmer (email@example.com) is a PhD student in the Department of Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on illegal practices in Indonesia's labour export program.