Contesting Indonesian Nationalism and Masculinity on Cinema (Asian Cinema, 2007)

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Asian Cinema, Fall/Winter 2007 (Vol. 18 no. 2)

Intan Paramaditha

In one of the most powerful films in the New Order regime in Indonesia (1966-1998), Arifin C. Noer’s Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (The 30th September Movement Treason/PKI, 1984), a scene shows a general’s daughter looking admiringly at a portrait of her father in his military uniform (illustration 1). The low-angle point-of-view shot of the portrait creates an aura of grandeur surrounding the general figure. The child tells her mother that she wants to have a star emblem on her chest like the one worn by her father. Her mother, while putting her husband’s uniform into the closet, replies that she has to  fight in a battle (berjuang) in order to get a star. The father is absent from this home setting but the uniform, an embodiment of his presence, binds the mother and the daughter. This scene establishes the ideal manhood in the Indonesian military with the general becoming a heroic father figure in both public and domestic spheres.  It introduces the culture of Bapakism/Father-ism in Indonesian politics, which is disrupted yet later restored within and outside the filmic diegesis.

Aired every year on national television until the end of Suharto’s reign, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI was probably the most important cultural artifact testifying to the military domination under the leadership of Suharto. Krishna Sen has pointed out that “the history of Indonesian independence in New Order cinema is largely the history of TNI, the Indonesian Armed Forces, particularly the army” (1994: 111). Analyzing historical films that populated the New Order period such as Janur Kuning (The Yellow Coconut Leaf, 1979) and Serangan Fajar (The Dawn Attack, 1982), Sen reveals how these films exaggerate the dependency of the ignorant, vulnerable Indonesian rakyat (civilians) on the army to protect them from injustice and suffering (95). While the main characters are dedicated generals, among whom is Suharto himself, the presence of women, children, poor rakyat serves as a foil to emphasize military heroism. Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI was especially commissioned by Suharto to provide an official narrative of the controversial 1965 coup by the Partai Komunis Indonesia (Indonesian Communist Party, PKI). The film highlights the suffering of the military heroes victimized by PKI as well as Suharto’s heroism in aborting the coup. Nationalism in Indonesian cinema during the New Order, hence, was defined within the framework of masculine militarism.

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