Two days before Ramadan started, I had a chance to watch a reality show broadcasted by RCTI, Masihkah Kau Mencintaiku (MKM). Helmi Yahya and Dian Nitami were the hosts for this program.
Wearing a mask, Hani, a wife told of her experience that she did not have sex with her husband Gatot for a year. Her husband was there as well as her relatives. Both sides then quarreled, blaming each other.
The host seemed to let this happen, while the audiences enjoyed the spectacle at the couple’s cost.
Once, Helmi Yahya interrupted the debate between the couple by asking Gatot: “Is it true that you haven’t slept with your wife for a year, I mean [aside from] only pinching her?”
This was really aggravating and insulting. People in the audience — who came to the TV studio to watch the program live — laughed as they thought this was very funny. Instead of focusing on how to solve the problem of the couple, the host exploited the couple and their relatives; inviting viewers to laugh at their suffering for having been in conflict and for not enjoying sexual relations as a wife and husband are supposed to do.
The two psychologists on the program, Mbak Rae and Bu Win; were both sympathetic to the wife. It then became somehow a must to side with the woman for the sake of gender equality.
However, the presence of psychologists or experts participating in this kind of TV show gave no guarantee that the show would educate the audience.
Instead, reality shows like MKM are simply junk-food for the viewers. If you do not side with the woman in the context of contemporary gender-analysis trends, then you are not a nice guy and they can tell you that you don’t understand the problem.
Imagine if you are either the husband or the wife on a reality show program. I wonder if you would be willing to tell everyone your problems the way they do on TV unless you are somehow out of your mind or the host has promised you benefits before the broadcast. Or perhaps you think that it will be fun to be on a TV show?
Helmi Yahya is himself is a famous host of several TV programs broadcast by private television stations. These shows imitate what they have in the US.
TV stations in Indonesia exploited the political situation after the fall of the Soeharto regime in 1998; they enjoy their freedom to broadcast almost whatever they like for the sake of making money.
The majority of Indonesian viewers are lower and middle class families who enjoy reality TVs programs so they can escape from their own everyday struggle by watching other people’s struggles instead.
TVs bring modernity with all its implication, penetrating to almost all parts of the country including remote areas.
Society portrayed by TV moves so quickly that the majority of local people especially in rural areas cannot keep up with it.
Here we see the collision between exploitative consumerist ideology promoted by the TV industry pitted against the more fragile growth of local-sustainable culture while coping with modernity. But TV drives viewers to consciously or unconsciously absorb consumerism and junk-food ideologies.
The writer is a lecturer at Malikussaleh University, Lhokseumawe, Aceh.
This article was published at The Jakarta Post, 6th October 2009.