KPI: Feminine Male Entertainers are Ramadhan’s Disgrace

In the realm of the always-beloved Indonesian TV, Komite Penyiaran Indonesia (KPI)’s most recent complaint is about feminine male entertainers (FME). Respecting Ramadhan, a notion appears that FMEs, often labeled a derogatory ‘transvestites’ or ‘banci’ by the unwashed society, should be banned from appearing in television. Examples to this group are perhaps names like entertainer/fashion-designer Ivan Gunawan and presenter/comedian Olga Syahputra. These male entertainers (with Russian names, coincidentally) are deemed to be effeminate in their antics as well as what they wear.

There are mainly two reasons for this: one is how KPI feels a moral obligation to retain the purity and holiness of Ramadhan ibadah; the other is how KPI doesn’t want how FMEs portray themselves on TV ruins the message of education in Indonesia.

Ivan Gunawan an Indonesian fashion designer, often appears androgynous, even feminine, looking fabulous
Ivan Gunawan an Indonesian fashion designer, often appears androgynous, even feminine, looking fabulous

Ivan Gunawan responds this notion by asserting that art should not be interfered with religion. He believes that his form of artistry is a valid form of expression.

There are several problems that stems out of what KPI plans to do.

Insensitivity towards Gender Issues

The nature of Indonesian urban society is pretty interesting. On one hand, culture evolution has spawned room and existence for social groups non-existent two decades ago; for example, groups of career women and also, specific to this case, the group of feminine male entertainers.

On the other hand, although with a weakening grip, traditional values still lingers. They do not give room and acceptance for those newer social groups. To a certain extent, a negative stigma against the newer social groups is present as the result of the lack of acceptance.

The tug-of-war between these two directions paints a contradictory reality. Taking a general example of women, career women definitely already have their avenues to succeed in many kind of profession; many times, however, they still have to suffer from patronizing social clichés telling that women needs to stay home and have families. Same case applies for groups like feminine male entertainers. They exist and are even successful in their respective industrial fields; but at the same time they are being culturally denied and scorned upon.

Efforts to mend this paradox can be seen through feministic advocacy in politics with speakers like Nurul Arifin; people like Rieke Diah Pitaloka that chose down-to-earth advocacy through social empowerment; or Ratna Sarumpaet and Djenar Maesa Ayu that tries to challenge common pre-conceived notions about gender through their art. For the FMEs, we’ve seen Hj. Dorce Gamalama, who was previously a male, successful in her way of gaining social acceptance although previously belittled.

The outcome to achieve by these efforts would be to stimulate a social trend moving away from impeding stigmas. The removal of stigma would mean better options for different parts of the society and better chances for previously-undermined group to achieve a better quality of life. Unfortunately, these efforts are disparaged by the enforcements of archaic, undermining clichés. Women movement is sarcastically laughed at by thoughtless sinetrons like Suami-suami Takut Istri which unabashedly reasserts patriarchal hierarchy: men’s position is naturally higher than women’s; thus it’s shameful if a man is not in the position to boss his wife around. Many of the episodes are terribly disgusting for gender issues.

Suami-suami Takut Istri, together with what KPI tries to do on banning FMEs, shows a huge insensitivity towards gender issues. It’s insensitive in the way that of the ban being so legally patronizing. If in any ways KPI should have any problems with how the FMEs behave, it’s better to negotiate between the two groups and compromise to each other’s demands. To reason with FMEs is definitely a much more dignified option compared to treating FMEs like a creature of no reason that can only cooperate through a forceful, legally-binding regulation. In the past, this has worked in examples like Aming, the Extravaganza-based male comedian who often wears super-skimpy, glittered dresses with boa and over-the-moon makeup – somewhere between an overdressed diva and a circus clown. At that time, he decided to ‘tame down’ his flamboyance at appropriate events like more-serious talk shows and moments like Ramadhan or Idul Fitri/Idul Adha. When negotiations don’t work, the question of credibility lies on which part is stubborn enough not willing to have positive engagement.

Not only that the ban is very judgmentally patronizing; the targeting of FMEs as a solid group is also problematic, as this doesn’t take into account: 1. the individual difference between the members of the group, and 2. action-based judgment. It’s really unacceptable to state that FMEs are bad because they are naturally bad, per se. What has always been the basis of all regulatory system is an action – a ban is imposed to an action that an individual commits, instead of generalizing the traits of a gender group, glossing over individual actions and tries to justify a ban out of that.

In a multicultural society, it’s not affordable anymore to be insensitive towards gender. It’s historically regressing as well as morally unjustifiable.

Harm for Education?

The conservative supporters of this notion argue classically that dissemination of effeminate-male entertainment will spread the habit of being effeminate to innocent, labile teenagers. This is never a good message, they claim. It doesn’t help when conservative icons like Deddy Mizwar has a strong influence on KPI.

Despite being a conservative’s favorite, psychologically this statement is horribly unproven and rather simplistic. In relation to the problem about education in general, the statement also distracts the problem of education away from its cores.

‘Does the existence of FMEs impact badly on teenagers?’ might be the million-dollar question. Regarding this, the ban overlooks two things. First is the bright-side of FME; second is the function of parents.

When FMEs are claimed to be bad per se, the claim suffers not only from a derogatory class-bashing, but also from glossing over the other positive aspects existing in FMEs. FMEs are professional people that entertain people through a likable position. Scorned upon or not, a large part of the society is entertained by what these FMEs do or say, factually speaking. They can work well with the industry, which shows the value of interpersonal skill and professionalism. Not only that, but the FMEs are usually confident people who felt secure despite having stigma put against them. This can be a good role model for confidence. When FMEs portray these good values also, it’s unfair if these values are irresponsibly overlooked by the ban.

Furthermore, a child’s education in front of the TV deals a lot with parents’ function. A child can see a grizzly-bear documentary and be traumatized by a savage shot of a bear killing a deer, for example; while another child can see divine inspirations in Kurt Angle or The Rock on WWF Smack Down. To explain the good/bad values in a TV show would be parents’ job. It’s also parents’ job to educate children about dos and don’ts regarding FME, and this ban overlooks this role. If parents, in some cases, are circumstantially unable to perform this role, it doesn’t automatically mandates KPI to put a ban on FMEs; problems from TV are endless – all the violence, all the too-mature conducts, etc – and it’s ridiculous if a ban is put on every single problematic occasion. It’s better if parents realize their crucial part on being child’s filtering and perform alternative non-on-spot value-educations for their children to solve the circumstantial (time and space) limitations. When parents play a big part of education success, the ban again disregards this idea and refuse to push for more parental participation.

Another distraction posed by the ban would be on sinetrons. It’s strange when FMEs seem to be the epitome of misleading-education when at the same time sinetrons are mushrooming. Sinetrons usually are filled with less-smart dialogues; ‘unhealthy’ habits such as crying too much or being overdramatic; and many things that fill a kilometer long of complaint list. I wonder why sinetrons are so safe from all KPI critics while many educationally-problematic essences exist there.

At even a more general perspective, Indonesian education in still fails to deliver because of physical reasons such as the absence of/access to infrastructures caused by damaged facilities or poverty. On those areas, efforts to fix these problems such as funding for new school buildings, the BOS funding, free uniforms and books, etc, are often diminished in effect because of the mishandling and corruptions done by local officials. This is obviously an imminent problem. Rather than advocating on an anti-FME regulation, putting tighter scrutiny on education conducts at the locals’ level through demands of higher transparency would do a better function of social-control and address educational problems better.

Politicizing Ramadan

If really the conservatives’ problem with FME is that the FMEs can be teenager’s misleading role-model, I find it strange if the moment suddenly comes at Ramadhan, when Indosiar’s Super Mama show from which Ivan Gunawan gained his most recent spotlight had been running for months. I find it inconsistent that ‘tarnishing ibadah’ is an argument coming alongside ‘tarnishing education’, for the part of society that KPI tries to protect deviates here. Does KPI embody the will of Indonesian parents in general concerning about education, or does KPI embody the will of Indonesian Moslem conservatives?

It’s ironic how Ramadhan is put forward by religious conservatives in Indonesia as their strongest battlecry. It’s a political power-up that can be put upfront without possible questions. Previously, at a non-Ramadhan situation, the conservatives have to propose a negotiation with the industry gears of TV entertainment in Indonesia, possibly a long and difficult one. But with Ramadhan, an automatic leverage from the wahyu appears – everyone has to respect the Moslems at Ramadhan, thus the willingness of everyone to bow down to whatever the Moslem wants, in this case, the ban.

Ultimately, banning FMEs on Ramadhan is an idea filled with too much defects, misleading concepts, and abuse of momentum. We have to concur that TV in Indonesia does not have very much to offer, and FME doesn’t contribute that significantly to the better quality of Indonesian TV shows. If we are all to do something for Indonesian TV, it’s supposed to be a well-reasoned advocacy instead of ust the-spur-of-the-moment. Or, have we been too much exposed to the glamorous idiocy in today’s TV that the confounding state we are in no longer enables rationale to function optimally?

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