In Indonesia sadism is the new cool

There is a new word for cool in Indonesia: “Sadis”.

This is the final shot from a TV ad for Indomie:

The agro-looking young “Indo” (that is, half-caucasian) dude is playing at DJing – in his mind. But in reality he is actually stirring a pot of noodles. Sad and pathetic.

Sadis (pronounced Suh-deess) could be translated as “wicked”, but in Indonesian it means “sadistic”. As in, I saw an ad for a furniture store offering “sadistic” discounts.

Given the frustrations experienced by the burgeoning generation of young Indonesians it is not surprising that sadism would be the new “cool”:

  • Insane traffic jams in big cities like Jakarta and very little proper public transport.
  • Powerful taboos about sexuality and virginity strengthened by Islamic teachings, clashing with adult content available on the internet and in peer-to-peer communications such as sexting.
  • High inflation which is linked to a credit boom and economic growth pushing infrastructure to its limits.
  • Criminal defamation laws which make it a crime even to complain on Facebook about hospital treatment! A woman spent 3 weeks in custody after being charged with criminal defamation. Her acquittal was overturned and the conviction confirmed by the Supreme Court. Do think maybe Communist China has more freedom of speech than Indonesia?
  • Middle-class young parents forced to live at home with the in-laws.
  • Rampant corruption.
  • Few good-paying jobs and no white-collar unions, leading to a kind of corporate feudalism.
  • Declining oil revenues and therefore declining fuel subsidies. Indonesia has gone from oil exporter to oil importer.
  • Indonesian billionaires and millions of well-off middle-class Indonesians shop in air-conditioned mega-malls like Grand Indonesia. But just outside in the sweltering heat the homeless and underemployed try to sell trinkets and snacks on the street.

It is just extraordinary what the poor of Indonesia put up with. As a foreigner I am surprised how safe it is. That is, until the moment it isn’t safe. It is simply an unsustainable situation.

Earlier this year it seemed like new President Jokowi would be given time to make changes – that he would act as a kind of pressure-valve, and maybe even avert a full-blown revolution.

However his continuing unpopularity indicates deep discontent. His situation is so bad the death penalty is being wheeled out to stir up nationalist sentiment. This is damaging relations with a number of nations, Brazil and Australia in particular. The death penalty is the epitome of sadis.

Now comes a report of riots at Indonesia’s biggest airport. Having traveled to and from this airport, I can tell you the traffic congestion is horrific and these people would have every right to be outraged that having made the journey, they are first fobbed off and then turned away.

So my prediction is Indonesians will, to use their term, run “amok” soon, just like during the financial crisis of the late 1990s.

The deep irony is that Indonesia’s ruling class is very preoccupied by the ethnic diversity of Indonesia and always feels very sensitive about perceived foreign threats to their unity (East Timor, Aceh, West Papua), and so endlessly promotes a sense of nationhood. But the real threat to their dominion is just below them outside their window in the streets of Jakarta.

The fissure threatening Indonesia is economic and the ruling classes are very late to the party in addressing concerns. For example Jokowi as Jakarta’s governor had been developing improved public transport. But progress is glacial and the ruling class has few answers, indeed they like things the way they are. Household help is cheap, goods and services are cheap, and sitting in an air-conditioned car for hours, traffic-jammed on the way to the mall, is fine when you have a mobile phone.

The spectacular malls of Jakarta are potent symbols of the economic divide and sitting ducks for the unrest which will start amongst the students, spread through the young middle class and then erupt from the millions of impoverished residents of Jakarta.

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