01 May 2010

Kuta Cowboys -- Gigolos, Prostitutes, or Self-Employed Entrepreneurs?

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.

Oh well...

Islamic Defenders Front -- Giving Islam a Bad Name...

Now, I am not usually one for the conspiracy theories. However, I often wonder how an organisation like the Front Pembela Islam or the Islamic Defenders Front can be so naive with the manner that they go about promoting their brand of radical violent Islam gives rise to serious questions about who they act for. It sometimes reaches a point where one has to wonder whether there is a conspiracy at play here. One where particular interests are using the highly gullible and easily influenced in order to give Islam a bad name. And, let's face it the FPI gives Islam a bad name.

The FPI and their most recent cause saw them storming a hotel in Depok, West Java, to disband a transsexual lingerie contest. Unfortunately, the FPI had been had. It was not a lingerie contest but rather a seminar on human rights. A seminar that in fact was teaching Indonesia transsexual and transgender individuals about their human rights. There was not a lingerie-clad transsexual in sight (probably much to the disappointment of the FPI thugs in attendance).

The seminar itself was supported by the Indonesian National Commission for Human Rights and had the requisite approval to proceed. This approval was granted by the Indonesian police force among others. Unfortunately, it seems no one bothered to get the approval of the local chapter of the FPI. The failure to get the FPI's approval is seemingly a sin against Allah and undoubtedly against Allah's Prophet, Muhammad.

The perversely funny thing here is that by raiding the seminar the FPI has given the Indonesian transsexual and transgender community a profile it might not have had, particularly if they had been left alone to go about their business of attending a seminar on human rights. So, one has to wonder about the agenda of the FPI here. If the FPI is really all about ridding Indonesia  of such "perversion" then why bother helping promote acknowledgement, and perhaps acceptance, of the fact that there are different parts to the broader Indonesian community. In my mind, it is the FPI that is the perversion and needs to be shut down and not my brothers and sisters in the transsexual and transgender community that are pursuing their right to learn about their human rights in an approved forum.

Alternatively, the FPI could show that they have learned a little but about tolerance and accepting difference (my guess is that the FPI will never come to appreciate difference) then they can continue to exist. However, if their continued course is one of violence and intolerance then they must be punished to the full extent of the law and shut down. Any failure to punish the FPI and to shut them down which allows them to continually and unashamedly break the law and violate other individuals human rights begs the question as to why the police and the Indonesian government tolerate them. One would seemingly have to ask: "does the government and do the police approve of the FPI actions?" Should silence and failure to act be construed as support for the FPI agenda?

Ultimately, respect is a two-way street. If you want to be respected then you must respect others. In very simple terms, respect is earned. FPI has not earned respect and is undeserving of respect because of its repeated failures to respect others.