A recent documentary exploring the life and times of Bali's Kuta Cowboys has caused an uproar. An uproar that sees Indonesian police trying to build a criminal case against the film's director, Singaporean, Amit Virmani. The life and times of Kuta Cowboys is not something new nor is it something that is not widely known about. Most Balinese, most Indonesians, and most visitors to Bali are aware of the Kuta Cowboys irrespective of whether they have ever been in need of the special services that these young men provide.
A Kuta Cowboy might be described as a tour guide ++. Generally, the services provided depend on the demands of the respective client; it may be a full-service gig (no allusion to gigolo intended), then again it might be as simple as providing company during a holiday. Are the Kuta Cowboys male prostitutes? No. The service provided is so much more than a pure sexual one. The service might include sex, but the sex is not a core service nor is it the primary service. So, it is pretty hard to sustain an argument that Kuta Cowboys are male prostitutes.
Are they gigolos? Perhaps, but in my mind, No. A gigolo, strictly speaking, is a man supported by a woman in return for attention. This attention is primarily based on sexual encounters. So, once again, it is hard to sustain and maintain an argument that Kuta Cowboys are gigolos as the services provided are much more varied and are not premised solely on sex.
It is more likely that the best way to look at Kuta Cowboys is looking at them as self-employed entrepreneurs. They are generally young men who provide myriad of services that may or may not include sex. These men are then compensated for their time and service.
However, that said, the reality is also one where I have not heard of a Kuta Cowboy that has not provided sexual services as part of the full-service experience. Yet, I have not been actively researching the topic with a view to writing some sort of thesis on the subject.
The police have gone to some lengths to state that they are not pursuing the Kuta Cowboys as criminals, although perhaps they should if there is a belief that they are prostitutes as prostitution is illegal in Indonesia, but rather the police are arresting them as a means of being able to interview them and build a case against Virmani. The police are acting under the provisions of the 1992 Film Law, apparently. The police interpretation is that Virmani has shot a film in Indonesia without first obtaining the correct permits. For this breach of the law he could conceivably be sent to prison for one year and / or fined up to IDR 40 million.
This got me thinking. Would one need a film permit to bring a hand-held video camera into Indonesia and take holiday video footage? What about if this holiday footage is then cobbled together and put on YouTube? Or, heaven forbid, it was cobbled together at some later date and made into a short film and shown at a film festival? Are Indonesians and foreigners going to need to get a film permit to carry mobile phones with cameras? Let's face it, there is a lot of footage on the internet at places like YouTube, LiveLeak, and others that has been shot using the video function of a mobile phone. This video is clearly video that can be cobbled together into a more substantial piece of creative work and published.
It would seem that Indonesia's film law, and the people who drafted it, has not considered the available technology and the widespread use of social networking opportunities quite deeply enough.