Gender and Cultural Transition in the Sinetron, Misteri Gunung Merapi

Author: Sri Kusumo Habsari

Habsari, Sri Kusumo, 2008 Gender and Cultural Transition in the Sinetron, Misteri Gunung Merapi, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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ABSTRACT This thesis offers a feminist cultural analysis of the popular Indonesian television serial (sinetron) Misteri Gunung Merapi (Mysteries of Mount Merapi). It investigates the television text in relation to its various contexts within the social and cultural transformations of contemporary Indonesia. Misteri Gunung Merapi has been produced since 1998, shortly after the financial crisis and the fall of the New Order regime. Since it was first broadcast by the Indosiar television station, it has ranked among the top-rating television programs in Indonesia, and I am interested in its success in this era of social transformation. The purpose of my study is to examine the significance of this success, including exploring the possibility that it is due to the serial’s engagement with recent issues in contemporary Indonesian culture, in particular the changing roles of women. The discussion falls into three main parts: a consideration of the contexts of socio-cultural change and the globalisation of the television industry within which the sinetron is produced; an examination of the way the sinetron draws on traditional theatrical performance, popular memory and supernatural belief; and a study of its representation of women and gender issues within the action-adventure genre to which it belongs. In the context of the television industry, this sinetron’s production signals the changing character of the industry, from state control to free market. In the socio-cultural context, as state control grew weaker and civil society flourished, the flow of globalization became more visible, foregrounding conflicts between Islamic and secular groups, often over the roles and representations of women. As a sinetron kolosal-laga or epic, the series tells historical and legendary stories in such a way that they speak to contemporary Indonesia as it is in the process of reinventing itself. Misteri Gunung Merapi draws on the narrative and dramatic conventions of both traditional theatrical performance and internationally popular genres of action cinema; it constructs popular memory to raise issues about the present; and it employs popular fascination with the supernatural to invoke the mixture of spiritual traditions that has always characterised Javanese culture, in particular. Focussing on the emergence of warrior women in film and television in both the Hollywood action-adventure and Kung Fu/wuxia genres, the thesis investigates the construction of female fighters on screen. I suggest that the sinetron does not share the same problems of gender representation that feminist criticism has identified in either of these genres. Four areas of analysis - heroism, body, power, and the camera - demonstrate that there is a different concept of gender in Indonesia which is illuminated in this sinetron’s representations of women and gender issues.

Keywords: sinetron,feminist cultural studies,cultural transition,Indonesia,fighting woman

Subject: Women's Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2008
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Prof. Susan Sheridan