After making some necessary additions from the peer review, I am still a little worried that the background/theory section is lacking. This is only the introduction, so a few other sections include some theoretical framing, but the bulk of the argument is in the following section:
Politics have made countless cameo appearances via various media in the form of parody. To many scholars, parody – whether consumed through sound or sight – is an expression of passive resistance. As Ebenezer Obadare puts it, “In short, humour is (or more appropriately ought to be regarded as) an important weapon in the armoury of civil society against perceived state high-handedness,” (Obadare 2009, 244). The way humor is used can be regarded as a defense found somewhere, as Obadare puts it, “between escape and engagement” with democracy. For the purposes of this paper, I will be exploring a specific set of visuals which one might define (in the contemporary sense) as “memes” – small images, often with few words that are exchanged electronically. These shorthand cartoons zoom in on one image, pair it with a witty quip in bold font, and disseminate its message virtually with the click of a button. They are almost as easy to make as they are to share and can quickly reflect the political landscape of any country with access to the internet. Indonesia’s staggering Blackberry- and Facebook-using population makes this exploration into the use of memes as resistance particularly unique. With a relatively young democracy and a history of censorship, “memes” are not just glimpses into popular culture, but a newly discovered and difficult to suppress form of expression.
As the country transitioned rather abruptly – literally overnight – from Old Order under Sukarno to New Order under Suharto, the country underwent massive changes for reasons beyond the scope of this paper. Suharto’s New Order was particularly repressive in areas where leftist ideals might have been open to surface, protecting the country from the threat of Indonesia’s communist party after the 1965 putsch. “The New Order was adept at regulating the supply of newsprint through the Ministry of Information. It arbitrarily and publicly banned newspapers if they published articles considered sensitive by the government,” (Tapsell 2012, 230). Tapsell’s essay chronicles the history of media censorship in Indonesia, first by government interest and more contemporarily, as he argues, by corporate interests who own the big outlets. As an important tool of legitimacy, the media was key to Suharto’s success and worthy of censorship (Tapsell 2012, 231). After his ouster in 1998 though, the legacy of reformation (Reformasi) laid the groundwork for Indonesians to play a more participatory role in information sharing as it relates to the average Joe (or Joko in the Indonesian context) – meanwhile the country’s press and internet statuses still remain “partly free” (Freedom House 2013) and 139th out of 179 countries ranked for press freedom (Reporters without Borders 2013).
The continued regulation through defamation laws and the 2008 Information and Electronic Transfers Law are undoubtedly hinder freedom of expression, though these freedoms have expanded by leaps and bounds since the era Reformasi and tahanan politik (political prisoners). The social media capability provides deep insights into a landscape that has historically been mindful of its level of criticism – a landscape that has crossed over from supportive to cynical. How these freedoms are utilized can lend itself to an understanding of what resonates between individuals vis à vis democracy and justice.
Indonesia has undergone a series of transitions, some more explosive than others, off and on since independence in 1945. From the communist purge of 1965, to the 32 year reign of Suharto, to riots and economic crisis in 1998 and elections ousting presidents, present day Indonesian democracy is seemingly tranquil. With over 65 political parties, pulling elections off are no doubt challenging, but have managed to occur most recently with the successful second term of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2009. Despite seemingly peaceful and regular elections, corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN) still presents serious challenges for the relatively nascent democracy.
The goal of this paper is to explore why parody is a means by which Indonesians choose to express their political culture and what the exchanges say about their opinions on democracy and justice. I will use the following sections to theorize why memes make useful and likely ways to exchange those opinions and then use a few case studies as examples of memes exchanged as satirized responses.