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3.8 YOUTH: The Obedient Rebels
Clifford Geertz' The Religion of Java has a section entitled "Youth Culture," where he defines the youth as “a group of restless, educated, urban young men and women possessed of a sharp dissatisfaction with traditional custom and a deeply ambivalent attitude toward the West, which they see both as the source of their humiliation and 'backwardness' and as the possessor of the kind of life they feel they want for themselves (minus, of course, the gangsters, the kissing, and the materialism)" (Geertz 1960: 307).
In the 21st century kontemporer performances the youth are often presented as rebels, ready to engage in conflicts with the previous generation. However, as this analysis will show, their rebellious spirits are always either ‘tamed' or criticized. My first two examples deal with performances where the rebellious spirits of young people are eventually subsumed in the world of knowing "adults." This does not mean that the oppositional strength of their positions is completely lost. Through the performances they challenge accepted ideas in words and actions. However, in both cases, the young eventually "come to their senses", usually via the mediation of older people. The first of these examples is Cebolang Minggat, which was created by Slamet Gundono in collaboration with Elizabeth Inandiak, the writer of the novelized version of the Serat Centhini which inspired the performance.
When I met Elizabeth to ask her about this collaboration, she described Cebolang Minggat as a parable of adolescence: Cebolang has a disagreement and leaves the parental home to seek knowledge and experience, eventually to be reintegrated into the family he had left. During his travels, Cebolang challenges established rules, and has sexual relations with women and men. He also talks to a variety of wise men who instruct him in unconventional spiritual perspectives (see Spirituality). But in the end, he feels lost, recognizes his mistakes and becomes enlightened in the true meaning of life. He then returns to his parental home (I have quoted this passage, for a different purpose in Spirituality).
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ELIZABETH. Cebolang went back to Sokayasa. The nights and the days went very fast. As the end of the Ramadan approached. His father welcomed him with soft words. Cebolang, my child, your mother and father always thought about you after you left. We remembered you with this prayer: "Don't forget him, so that he does not forget you". Cebolang was silent and he approached the Mosque's veranda. Sheik Akhadiyah repeated this wise words to his son. Cebolang, I see from your four-colored clothes that you have already learned the Spiritual teachings. Get rid of those clothes before they get stained by pride. Forget everything and concentrate on the most basic science of all. It will take you to everything else.
CEBOLANG [played by Elizabeth]. Father, what science is that?
SHEIK [played by Elizabeth]. Love.
With his final comment, Cebolang's father is rendered as a wise figure who knew all along that Cebolang would eventually come back to his senses. The final fatherly piece of advice frames the travels of the young man as a temporary insanity, which Cebolang outgrows at the end of the performance. It is interesting to notice that Wayang Hip Hop follows a similar pattern. Let us first consider how an inter-generational conflict is presented in the opening scene, where there is a dialogue between Werkudara (Bima) and his son Gatotkaca (both played by the rappers). Werkudara felt his son had been neglecting his duties and did not want to speak to him.
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GATOTKACA. Father. Up till now I have done my tasks as well as possible. However in your eyes I am always wrong. Why father? Don't tell me I'm adopted! That's not so, right? You behave like a child. Please, my father, the handsome Werkudara, I, Gatotkaca, ask you to show me my mistakes. [...]Father! I see. You are angry because you feel threatened by your own son. Is that so? Please, father... don't behave like a child. Be a good sport. Father...
WERKUDARA. Don't talk to me. [He moves away.]
GATOTKACA. What is this? He walks away when I only want to talk. [To the audience] Ladies and gentleman, these are the signs of those who are becoming old. They need more distance when they read and less distance when they pee. Where earlier, they would sleep facing their wives, now they both sleep with their backs to each other. Where before, they would use perfume before leaving, now they would only use medicinal ointments. And this last is the worst of all: Earlier, they would reproach the old. They would call them old fashioned... villagers... old. And now, they reproach the young. They say: "You don't follow the rules. You don't know the traditions. You are ignoring the wayang rules." Ladies and gentlemen, that's him. And if they have no arguments they resort to violence like this.
WERKUDARA. Tot! [short for Gatotkaca]Shut up!
This excerpt perfectly captures the inter-generational conflict which is a topical issue in Java. Wayang Hip Hop is itself caught up in this conflict, as the self-reflexive joke about the wayang rules indicates. The conflict between Werkudara and Gatotkaca then escalates to the point of physical violence, where father and son fight each other. The conflict will eventually be resolved by Arimbi, Gatotkaca's mother, who makes them aware of their foolishness and forces them to make amends.
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ARIMBI. Now listen up! Violence will never end problems. It will actually create more problems! So now you get it. No need to fight anymore.
Although there is a moment of confrontation, the principle of harmony so important for family life eventually prevails. Wayang Hip Hop is constructed as a sequence of loosely related scenes, and this is not the only scene that thematically explores the behavior of the youth. Later in the performance, Gareng speaks about his views on education.
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GARENG. According to Ki Hajar Dewantoro education depends on a triad. One is the family, the second is the school and the third is the social environment.
MBILUNG. So are all three needed?
GARENG. Yes, they need to work in synergy.
As explained in Familial Ties the concept of family-ism originated in Ki Hajar Dewantoro's Taman Siswa school system. Even a performance that uses hip hop music and aggressively promotes youth views recuperates the dominant ideas about the role of the family in education. In the last story to be developed by the Wayang Hip Hop show, Bagong is lured into drug abuse and trafficking by his uncle Bilung. Eventually Petruk and Gareng find out and capture Bagong. Confused about what to do, they bring him to his father, Semar.
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PETRUK. Bagong is your son and our brother. So what shall we do?
SEMAR. This is the thing, kid. Those who have broken the law need to be punished in a way that is proportional to their crimes. It doesn't matter whether they are our friends, children or brothers. They need to face justice. [...] I will not protect Bagong from the fact that he made a mistake [...] Uphold the law in as fair a way as possible. That is my message for you.
In a way that evokes more traditional shows, Semar offers his bit of father-knows-best advice. Semar often advises both his sons and the Pandawa heroes of the Mahabharata in traditional lakon. Bagong's youthful mistakes are an opportunity for learning, before he can eventually be readmitted into the world of the family. Albeit in different ways, both Cebolang Minggat and Wayang Hip Hop provide examples of youthful rebellion which is then re-inserted into the established social order.
Besides this perspective, there are two other performances that articulate a view of the youth as ignorant. In both cases, this is presented through tangential comments. The first one is Sujiwo Tejo's Kasmaran Tak Bertanda, where the dalang accuses young people of not knowing enough about wayang. When introducing Amba, he jokes about the fact that she could be confused with well-known western figures.
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DALANG. She will be confused with Michael Jackson, won't she? The problem is that children these days know nothing about wayang. They will think she is Madonna. Now, this is the giant. I have already made this as a PowerPoint presentation.
A similar comment can be found in Catur Kuncoro's Wayang Republik. Here, an old man admonishes a younger one for his lack of knowledge of the history of Indonesia and for his lazy attitude.
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YOUNG MAN. Why do we play this song today, mbah? It's old!
OLD MAN. Watch your mouth! Your grandma is walking backwards! [Expression of anger] This is a battle song, which was used to inspire the fighters in the past. Not like you. You only sleep every day. You wear a red cap and white glasses. Your clothes are a mess. This is how today's youth looks like! Horrible!
YOUNG MAN. Mbah, you don't know what you are saying. I am part of the next generation.
OLD MAN. How come the next generation looks that awful?
Despite the aggressive creativity with which kontemporer performances engage in aesthetic explorations and embrace elements from youth culture, their attitude towards the young is still rather conservative. Dissidence and rebellion are expressed, but then they are reinserted into established systems through repentance, punishment and fierce criticism. Or the young are caricatured as ignorant and ridiculous. The ethical question of how the youth should behave is something that is left for older people to decide.
This is perhaps surprising since the kontemporer performances are often aimed at young sectors of the population who would not watch traditional wayang. The performances abound in references to youth culture, in terms of the music used, the language spoken and topical references in the dialogues and monologues. Strangely, though, the performances that speak about the youth are not necessarily the most artistically daring. For example, even though some of them combine new music and gamelan, none of the performances considered here use non-conventional music. This is a telling fact since music is one of the most obvious examples of youth interventions in the contemporary culture of Indonesia. This absence supports the thesis I advance in this section; namely, that the picture of the youth presented in these performances is inconclusive at best and conservative at worst.
Innovation is certainly present in all other aspects of these performances and we can also note that none of the performances above use traditional stories. Yet, for all the innovative thrust developed in these aesthetic incorporations, the performances remain deeply ambiguous in their depiction of the youth. As this section has shown, the most ambitious of these performances, Wayang Hip Hop and Cebolang Minggat flirt with the power of youthful rebellion but stop short of exploring and articulating their full potential. In the end, the rebellious spirits are dutifully tamed and reinserted into conventional social frameworks, thanks to the mediation of older people.