In a cynical sense this might just be my contribution to the debate or perhaps I am just looking for hits to increase my blog ranking or something.
I am sure that Indonesia is no different from anywhere else in the sense that there is debate amongst the local population and the expat population revolving around the pros and cons of the relationship and the merits and value of the conduct of this relationship. But this is an Indonesian specific post and issue with regards to the term "bule". Bule gila is literally translated as crazy white person.
The debate is generally academic but it also inspires heated and emotional response from commentators across the board. If you want to have a bit of a squizz at the debate as it rages on somewhat endlessly on other blogs and sites, then you need to go no further than the offerings of Indonesia Matters and Unspun, both of which I read -- daily (time to return the favour gents!). Both are masters at spurring the debate, and why not if people are willing to go hell for leather at the opportunity to spout their respective points of view.
However, I want to restrict my musings to the TV show "Bule Gila". There have been a few offerings of the show and it seems to be back for another season. The show is a sort of a candid camera meets I will do anything to be on tele affair but usually with the full knowledge and participation of the participants.
In essence the show relies on white folk (bule means albino in Indonesian) doing things that are part of everyday Indonesian life. Some classics have seen white fellas dressing up in drag and doing the rounds of the road side eating stalls singing Indonesian songs and begging for tips. Others have seen people pushing food carts around the place trying to sell martabak and other Indonesian food specialties.
The English saying for this probably goes along the lines of "taking the piss" out of oneself. And I guess when it is all said and done, if you want to embarrass yourself on TV then as a consenting adult you have that right. Yet, there are some issues that are worthy of further debate and this is one of those.
Without getting into too detailed a discussion of the word 'bule', it has been noted that the translation of this word is albino. This overtime has come to refer to white people and presumably Caucasians, this then gives the word not only color undertones but racial ones as well. The use of the word gets some people's knickers in a knot. A word can have, depending on its use, benign meanings quite different to their original intent.
An example might be faggots. Faggot originally referred to a faggot of sticks or to a type of meatball but overtime it has morphed into a word with a meaning no longer reminiscent of the original and its utterance can now bring charges of vilification of homosexuals. So, in this regard perhaps the innocence of the term bule has been lost overtime as well. And the use of the word even with the best of intents, that is it is not intended to offend, may in fact cause considerable offence to the hearer of the word.
And the fact that some of us bules might use the word (there is a book with the title Bule Gila and a bar called Bugils which can either be an abbreviation of the book title or the Indonesian word for naked both of which are associated with a prominent Dutch resident in Jakarta) does not mean that this is an attempt to take control of the word and empower ourselves meaning therefore the word is now devoid of any previous racial connotations.
However, once again back to the point. If a television station in Australia or perhaps even in the UK or the USA were to air a show called "Crazy Blackies" or Crazy Yellowies" or "Crazy Reds" there would be a public backlash and uproar even if the shows were intended to be innocent entertainment where particular people are taking the piss out of themselves for the enjoyment of others. Even in Indonesia, I wonder what the reaction would be to TV shows like "Cina Gila", "Batak Gila", "Pribumi Gila" (this one's for you Achmad because I know you have issues with the connotation of the word pribumi), "Kristen Gila", "Muslim Gila", "FPI Gila", or "FBR Gila"? Discrimination and distinction between people is not based purely on the colour of their skin!
To all and sundry, in spite of the intent of the users of the word bule, it must be noted that the word despite the initial descriptive nature to colour has now taken on the form of a word that has racial connotations. Therefore, the only way to truly justify the title "bule gila" is to ensure that the participants in the show are albinos and not just "white people" so the title reflects the original intent. Albinism relates to an unfortunate genetic inability to produce pigment whereas white people are genetically engineered in such a way as they produce limited amounts of pigment.
But, alas, the show really is about taking the piss out of white people and not albinos. Perhaps, this TV show goes on not because the word bule is not racist or offensive but rather the participants do not fully appreciate the term and its meaning. If they do understand the words racial connotations and still choose to participate, then go for it!
Once you distinguish a person on the colour of their skin then you are discriminating against them unless someone, somewhere out there in cyber space thinks that this is simply a case of affirmative action and giving the white folks an opportunity to be on Indonesian TV too :)
We can all agree to disagree and that disagreement does not have to degenerate into name calling and other insulting commentary (even though it may in fact be fun to read sometimes) but it is worth noting that the offensiveness and the insult is determined by the receiver and not the maker of the comment because if it was to be determined by the maker of the comment then people are free to say whatever they want without limitation because based on this logic provided it does not offend the speaker's sensibilities or was not intended to cause offence then it is anything goes and whether that be a case of fortunately or unfortunately this is not how the world works!
To be clear...my point of view is that the word bule is a term with racist connotations and I am yet to be convinced otherwise. I am open to a convincing argument if someone can make one! I think that the TV show is intended not to racially vilify but it is intended to be entertainment that takes the piss out of a particular group of people. The title though is a reflection of the general misunderstanding or ignorance of the racial undertones of the word. I have watched the show a few times but I am not a regular watcher (I think it was on last night but I was probably blogging because I did not watch it).
If anyone is thinking of contacting me to be on the show, don't waste your precious time. I am not interested, but I do appreciate the fact that you think I am crazy :)
Thus endeth the sermon...
Enjoy the remainder of your week...