One of the most recent adult products on offer in Indonesia is a VCD called Kasting Sabun Mandi (Shower Soap Casting). The 9 young models, cameramen and production house involved became the focus of public and police attention this year because it was claimed that the film was 'pornographic'. Although the women interviewed by police claimed they thought they were doing casting shots for a soap product commercial, the controversy has naturally helped to sell thousands of copies of the film.
Pornography, whether you see it as exploitation or as sexual expression, is an issue that will never go away. Like abortion and drug use, there will always be some members of society who want it to exist. Many countries recognise this reality and introduce very specific legislation to control it, with a range of censorship classifications for different media, and then enforce these laws and classifications. They also have enforcement of copyright laws and tighter control on pirated goods being smuggled into the country. Indonesia has none of this: no specific legislation, inconsistent censorship, and negligible law enforcement. Pornography is dealt with under articles 281, 282, 532, and 533 of the Indonesian Criminal Law Code (KUHP), but because it is only defined as being anything that offends public morals, a perhaps deliberately open definition, anything that is vaguely sexual is in danger of being labeled as 'porno'. No wonder then that there is panic about this deluge of pornography that is desecrating Indonesian culture and family values.
The Kasting Sabun Mandi scandal is only the last of many incidents involving 'pornography' in Indonesia, but the response to it and the issues it raises generally follow the same pattern. After whatever it is that offends public morals causes public outcry, usually from Islamic groups like KAMMI, Marka, KNPI and the infamous FPI, who are all members of KMAP (Anti-Pornography Community Consortium), or from women's groups, the police will investigate, generally focusing on any celebrities or 'artists' involved rather than those distributing and making real money from the product. There will be calls for specific laws to be introduced, for those laws to be enforced, a number of scapegoats will receive minimal penalties, KKN (corruption, collusion and nepotism) ensuring that no-one important or rich is affected, and the issue will be swept aside by the next new scandal.
This is not to deny that there are groups in Indonesian society who are trying to act on their concerns about the impact of pornography, such as the exploitation of women and the easy access that minors have to hardcore pornography in Indonesia through unregulated pirate materials on the street and internet services provided without any filters. However, instead of, for instance, assisting with establishing definitions for the drafting of specific legislation, their reactions tend to be blanket and ultimately unconstructive, such as burning magazines, or MUI's (the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars) recent idea of initiating a class action against the mass media for having pornographic content.
In Indonesia, pornography is also blamed for everything from teenage promiscuity, to rape and AIDS (and is also linked in the public mind with drugs), when there has still been no real research on connections between pornography and criminal or 'undesirable' behaviour. This attitude also denies the increase in the level of discourse about the sexual in general, not just sensationalistic reporting of rape cases and celebrity sex scandals, but also in the form of advice and medical columns, radio call-in shows, and self-help books.
Under the Soeharto regime, it was harder to see pornography if you weren't looking for it, but with greater press freedom and a less controlled society, it's now everywhere. Soft porn photos can be found in calendars, magazines and tabloids, and hardcore photography is increasingly available on the street. And of course you can see whatever you want on the internet, which if you live in a reasonably large Indonesian town, is only as far away as the local warnet (internet cafe). As early as 1995, the Indonesian government was trying to block online porn, but as there is no specific legislation to regulate or filter internet access, or enforcement, naturally these attempts have been futile. Apart from overseas sites, there is also an astounding range of Indonesian material available. Most of these sites are photographic, but often also have email services, a chat room, articles, and links to yet more sites, including those with Indonesian language stories and translations from English or European stories.
One of these sites is Cerita-Cerita Seru (CCS - 'Way-Out Stories'), which has achieved the status of being the first and still most popular of its kind, to the point where the site is now copyrighted, more a sign of its prestige than a serious attempt at protection since many other Indonesian adult sites often plagiarise from CCS. In comparison to the print media, stories on sites like CCS are much freer in the range of scenarios, locales and experiences described. (Another Indonesian adult site, 17tahun.net, has same sex stories for both genders.) Many stories are told in the first person, and they are often presented as recollections of 'real' events. For instance, one story was apparently written by an Indonesian man living in Melbourne who sleeps with 'easy' Australian girls!
And whilst women are overwhelmingly still the objects rather than consumers of pornography, it seems that there are Indonesian women creating and consuming it on the net in the form of emails, eGroups, chat room sex, seeking photos and posting photos of themselves, and as writers. Sites such as 'Romance for Indonesian Ladies' include chat rooms, surveys, articles on sex such as descriptions (with photos) of sexual positions, and information about services like gigolos in the Jakarta area.
For those without access to the internet, there are also sex stories circulated in magazines, tabloids, and as stencil books, all of which are relatively cheap and accessible. The print media stories are noticeably tamer than those on the internet, or Western equivalents, in terms of experimentation and more 'deviant' sexual practices.
One infamous example is Enny Arrow, who is the supposed author (because no-one seems to know if 'he' really exists) of stenciled books of Indonesian language pornographic stories, most of which appear to have been produced in the 70s - 80s. These books are now considered classics. In the 80's they used to cost 3,000-5,000 rp., but now the price is around 15,000rp which in Indonesia is not a small amount for such a low-quality publication. This is crass and repetitive writing that perpetuates stereotypes concerning class, ethnicity and gender, including the idea that 'no' means 'yes'. Many of Enny's stories describe a young woman who is single, or a divorcee/ widow (janda), who comes to the city from the village to find work. She often becomes a housemaid, or a factory worker who, after she is coerced into having sex, which she invariably ends up enjoying (how could she not when all the men are 'as big as horses'?!), very frequently becomes a prostitute. Obtaining Enny's work used to be like buying illicit drugs: you had to have the right connections because dealers from the big cities sold it through underground networks. Now, however, you can get Enny or his equivalent from newsagent kiosks on the side of the road, and many of the consumers of this kind of material are high school students.
In terms of film, despite legislation, Indonesian and foreign sex movies have been shown in cheap cinemas for years. There have been cases of prosecution against cinema owners, sometimes merely because of the promotional posters they used, but yet again this is arbitrary and generally not aimed at the actual producers, so more films are made, or the old ones are simply re-released under new titles.
However, the increasing use of new technologies makes taking the risk of being caught at a disreputable movie cinema unnecessary, and VCD/DVD is definitely the most prevalent and easily accessible form of pornography in Indonesia today. It is apparently common now to find someone with a VCD machine and pornographic disks who charges a minimal price for others to watch, in even the smallest villages on the main islands of Indonesia. And anyone with a computer can go to the corner VCD/DVD rental shop to get a 'bf' (blue filem) to watch in the comfort of their own room. Huge amounts of pirated material are smuggled into Indonesia from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Hong Kong (mostly Western or Hong Kong products). Apart from Kasting Sabun Mandi there are a few other infamous local products, notably Anak Ingusan and Bandung Lautan Asmara or Itenas.
Indonesia does have a problem with pornography because it has no control over it, and as long as KKN runs the country, Enny and Kasting will circulate freely. Although there has been a huge increase in the level of Islamic rhetoric and 'morality' in the public sphere since the end of the Suharto regime, there are also more people now who are brave enough to speak out for freedom of the press, the right to individual privacy, and a woman's right to display her sexuality and be paid for it. It is often these same voices that call for distinctions to be drawn so that there can be an acknowledgement of the erotic, and a limit on the pornographic. If they can engage in a real dialogue with Islamic and women's groups, and the government, then Indonesia might be able to take steps towards controlling this problem in a more pragmatic way.
Justine FitzGerald (firstname.lastname@example.org) is currently the coordinator of the Indonesian section of the UNMISET (UN Mission in Support of East Timor) Interpreting, Translating & Training Unit.