Indonesians are celebrating the emergence of Nurhadi-Aldo – the satirical internet meme candidate pair for the 2019 presidential elections running under the tagline Dildo (NurhaDI-aLDO). Calling themselves ‘presidential candidate no 10’, the pair have become a social media sensation. For many, the pair are a refreshing presence in an election that has been heated, vicious, stuffy and stifling – and not at all humorous.
But at the risk of incurring misogynist invective, casting me as a raging feminist, I do not feel this refreshing mood. I too smiled when the Nurhadi-Aldo ‘movement’ first emerged, cheerful at having a fictional candidate as an alternative to our present political rigidity. I considered the pair a clever response to Indonesia’s low-rent politics.
As time has passed I’ve found the movement increasingly disappointing. As Nurhadi-Aldo have developed, their brand of humour has been far from their image of ‘cultural resistance’.
One or two of their campaign poster memes have shown intelligence. For instance, Nurhadi’s parody of Marx: ‘If Karl Marx dreamed of a social order without classes, then where would we study?’ But for the most part, their political criticisms have been cliched, and their word play decidedly average.
Moreover, their humour incessantly employs lewd, vulgar and sexist terms, associations and acronyms. The same applies to the memes and posters their fans have produced, which are posted on Nurhadi-Aldo’s Facebook site.
But this Dildo phenomenon has been celebrated without end, as if they are the messiahs for Indonesian politics, and people have overlooked or excused their fundamental flaws. Could this be because our politics is of such base quality?
Or perhaps I was expecting too much.
I had hoped this parody presidential pair might become an incisive method of ‘resistance’ to mock our wearisome politics, all the more so after many activists joined Dildo’s camp, declaring him their candidate.
Some of these activists produced campaign poster memes as if they were Dildo party candidates, including short but witty programs. One proposed palm oil plantations be converted to marijuana fields, as part of a legalisation push. Another proposed appointing farmers as civil servants. But other Nurhadi-Aldo party programs have been sexist, such as ‘training for women to use their indicators’.
If this wave continues, without a touch of enlightenment or elementary awareness about sexism, I fear a parody of the Dildo candidates will emerge promising training for women to act civilised in the women’s-only carriages on public transport. Or there could be a program for wives to keep their shopping habits in order so their husbands don’t become corrupt; a program for girlfriends to get ready quickly when they’re being picked up; and various other programs based on sexist gender stereotypes.
Then we’ll all guffaw. ‘It’s just a joke you know, it’s all fiction, dark humour, a satirical parody. Surely you can understand, don’t let your horns sprout just because of something small, dear frigid feminist demon.’
For whatever reason, when I see so many people relaxed, understanding and permissive to the lewd and obscene tone of this Dildo pair’s satire, it reminds me of when Trump supporters made ‘Trump can grab my pussy’ t-shirts.
When they wore these shirts to condone and defend Trump’s comments, I couldn’t understand how Trump’s fanatical supporters could be so immoral, just for the sake of politics.
And so far I’m only talking about a binary, hetero-centric world.
The world has changed, bro
This is the nineteenth year of the third millennium, and the world has changed so much. Political and social awareness has come a long way, with new sensitivities among the educated classes – including feminists, I would say.
No longer can politicians or public figures (99.9999% of the people we’re talking about here are males) count on laughs if they make indecent, vulgar jokes.
Male jokes, that is, phallus-centric and talking about male sex.
A public figure making that sort of joke in public these days would face a roasting of criticisms and denunciations, particularly on social media.
Film director and comedian Ernest Prakasa is one figure who has experienced this, and learned his lesson. Several of his films, including Susah Sinyal (Hard to Signal) and Cek Toko Sebelah (Check the Store Next Door) have been criticised for sexist humour that objectifies his female characters. He has publicly acknowledged his sins, said he has much to learn, and committed to be more sensitive in his future films and stand-up work. A new awareness grows. We welcome it.
Recently also, Triawan Munaf, head of the Creative Industries Agency, faced unending mockery for inadvertently coining the acronym IKKON-TOL for an innovation program around toll roads, which sounds like kontol, an Indonesian slang word for penis.
In past times, Munaf’s gaffe would have been stock standard political humour, and just seen as funny. In fact, many people would seek out word play of this sort as jokes. When sikon (situation and condition) was still a popular term, people would play around and talk of ‘the situation and condition of tolerance for society in the east’, creating the acronym sikontol mati (the dead penis). People would laugh.
But times have changed, people are more aware of ‘correct’ language, and social media provides a forum to object to politicians and public figures making such jokes.
And yet, Nurhadi-Aldo continue to get away with it. No-one has objected to their mottos, spelled out through the red lettering within their campaign slogan, of 'golden penis’ (kontol mas) and ‘most enjoyable penis’ (kontol maha asyik). No actual political candidate, film star or businessperson could use such language.
Perhaps we can forgive the pair’s acronym, Dildo, as something new, and something that their ‘campaign team’ told me was a marketing strategy to grab immediate attention, which over time I think can be ‘straightened out’.
But how come, now that they’re the centre of attention, they’ve continued to rely upon sexist, obscene, vulgar, phallus-centric idioms?
Initially we said, 'it’s kinda crazy but fun’ but Nurhadi-Aldo’s #DildoforIndonesia coalition have never moved on from just 'kinda crazy’.
But is obscenity wrong? Am I being overly moralistic or a killjoy? Let me take you on a journey.
In Indonesia, sex and the obscene are matters for ridicule and political satire, whereas there are other countries where those subjects form part of real campaign materials and programs, without a sexist edge.
Ilona Staller, a former Italian pornstar turned politician, has campaigned to decriminalise sex work as her political program. Fiona Patten, a former sex worker, was elected to the Victorian Parliament in Australia in 2014 representing the Australian Sex Party, and has campaigned on various issues related to the sex and pornography industries, as well as a range of social issues spanning child sexual abuse, a safe injecting room for drugs users, and euthanasia. Respected for her work, she was re-elected in 2018 for the same party, renamed the Reason Party.
In Indonesia, politicians can keep mistresses, rent celebrities at astronomical rates to fulfil their sexual and chest-beating needs, and open pornographic images during parliamentary sessions. But sex could never be a campaign topic.
Instead, politicians will feign morality, compete to make the strongest statement on eradicating vice, and if they’re caught red-handed with a companion in a hotel room, make unbelievable excuses, such as ‘I was teaching her religion.’
Sex only becomes a serious topic when a handful of activists discuss it. Inevitably they are accused of promoting Western culture. Or else, any serious discussions of sex will centre on morals and religion.
In public space, sex is only discussed as a joke, an object of ridicule and satire, sadly devoid of any cleverness in the humour.
I remember, in the past, and in fact, still, public figures treating events and official or unofficial gatherings as festivals of obscene, sexist, phallus-centric humour.
Sometimes they complete their low-grade humour by raising their eyebrows, smirking with a lewd expression, and – if they are senior enough – providing the signal for people to laugh at their joke.
People will roll around laughing, or look left and right as if to see who is not laughing.
If I were to name a figure guilty of this behaviour, it wouldn’t necessarily be a well-known politician or high-ranking military officer. I could just as easily find examples from the student movement, resistance groups or NGOs.
There was a time when we would just bitterly laugh along – perhaps because gender awareness remained low, because there was no #metoo movement yet, or because we – I – were still such young, green newbies in the movement.
I’d remind myself then of the common expression at the time: ‘The Suharto regime is of low quality, with a low quality opposition, and low quality resistance groups as well, and low quality humour. No wonder Suharto ruled for so long’.
That’s why I now feel déjà vu. But how could what happened then, reemerge now, even when Indonesia (its politics, civil society, activist movements, and yes, politicians as well) is much more enlightened and aware.
Maybe Nurhadi-Aldo have provided a momentary breath of fresh air, all the more so because they’ve taken as their symbol a masseuse – a symbol of the lower classes.
Maybe some of us find it a pleasant escape, once in a while, to laugh at the bleak situation using phallus-centric humour based on these sexist foundations.
But we – supporters of ‘candidate pair no 10’ in the presidential election, are no better, no more enlightened or aware than the supporters of candidate pairs 01 (Jokowi-Maaruf) and 02 (Prabowo-Sandi) whom we’ve been criticising. (Or am I hallucinating?)
So the venerated pair of Nurhadi-Aldo have so far only offered us uproarious laughter. They remain a long, long way from representing an alternative pathway or a resistance or a counter-culture (and some of their memes have even had moralising religious undertones.)
But perhaps this is as far as our political intelligence will go, even for those who consider themselves outside the mainstream or fed up with the establishment or with the vicious competition between Jokowi’s tadpoles (cebong) and Prabowo’s bats (kampret).
Yes, I’m hallucinating.
But I choose to remain hopeful for the satirical Dildo pair: hopeful that in the future they come out with funny but more seriously thought-out ideas, that smash sexism, destroy the patriarchy (as they have promised to do), respect and uphold LGBT rights, and provide education on orgasms for women, and so on, and so on. (As this is only imaginary, I might as well!)
Here ends my outpouring as a hostile dry wild feminist. I’m relieved to finish it.
Now I’ll seek out what’s left of myself as a cheerful feminist, who enjoys and practices sex but not sexism.
Tunggal Pawestri (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a feminism, gender and human rights consultant.
A version of this piece in Indonesian was originally published on BBC Indonesia.