Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why Bad Reviews Don’t Stop Me from Watching X-Men: Apocalypse

Rotten tomatoes rated X-Men: Apocalypse, the latest installment of X-Men universe, rotten, with only 49 percent of approval. Critics’ consensus in the website mentioned that the movie had wasted several “strong performers” and “resonant themes.”

Meanwhile, Metacritic gave a mixed review for X-Men: Apocalypse with 
a 52 Metascore, making the movie to be the lowest rated of the X-Men movie adaptation since X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), which has a 58 Metascore. An X-Men movie which is even worse than The Last Stand? How bad can it be? 

Apocalyptic reviews have indeed slammed Bryan Singer’s latest take on X-Men. However, I still went and watched the movie last night. I was satisfied. love it. And I want more … 

X-Men: Apocalypse is set 10 years after Magneto’s attack to the White House in the acclaimed movie X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), which was also directed by Singer. In Apocalypse, Charles Xavier aka Professor X (James McAvoy) has finally started his School for Gifted Youngsters. Along with his longtime friend, Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Professor X teaches young mutants, including Scott Summers aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Jubilee (Lana Condor) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), to learn to control their power and abilities.

The world, however, soon plunges into a terror when a group of people in Cairo, Egypt, revives an ancient God and a tyrant, En Sabah Nur, who is also known as Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac). CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) then reveals to Charles and Beast that Apocalypse is the world’s first mutant, with a Godly power. 

The revived Apocalypse then recruits Angel/Archangel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Ororo Monroe aka Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Erick Lehnsherr aka Magento (Michael Fassbender) as his four horsemen. Together, they attempt to conquer the world. The young X-Men team, led by Beast and Raven aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), then tries to stop Apocalypse and his four horsemen from bringing Armageddon to the world.

Apocalypse's Four Horsemen: Psylocke, Archangel, Storm and Magneto 
Critics argued that Apocalypse wasted the talents of the many strong performers. This may be true, in some extent. However, in my opinion, that is a classic problem for a movie which includes so many cast. The original X-Men trilogy (X-Men, 2000; X2 United, 2003; and X-Men: The last Stand), for example, had the same problem, in my opinion. In those three movies, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) becomes the center of the spotlight. He overshadows other characters, which includes Academy Award winner Halle Berry, who acted as Storm, or diminishing the role of Cyclops (James Marsden), from an X-Men leader to be a jealous boyfriend. Both Storm and Cyclops were given little room to shine and develop their character in that movies.

X-Men: Apocalypse, despite the many casts, is able to develop some of the key characters, such as Cyclops and Jean Grey, who play important roles in X-Men Universe. Cyclops, for instance, who is introduced as a fragile and anxious teenager can turn into a youngster with apparent leadership skill by the end of the movie. Meanwhile, Jean in the first part of the movie is depicted as a young lady who is insecure with her power. In the last part of the movie, she can channel her Phoenix power and seem to have her power in check. Even, veteran character, such as Mystique, also experience character development in this movie.

All new Jean Grey, Nightcrawler and Cyclops
However, it is true that several supporting characters, need more screenplay and development. Jubilee, for instance. Since her appearance, I thought that X-Men: Apocalypse would allow her to have more dialogues or a chance for her to showcase her power. The same can be said to Storm, another contender in X-Men universe. Although this movie narrates Storm’s past live, a milestone on its own since Storm’s past was never revealed in other movies, X-Men: Apocalypse unfortunately still gives little screenplay for Storm to fully exhibit her weather controlling power. It causes her for not having her own glorious moment in this movie compared to other characters.

While Psylocke has her own shining moment, Storm has none despite her importance in X-Men universe

Another thing that critics said about this movie is that it relied heavily on computer generated imagery for most of the destruction scenes. Pardon my cheap taste, but I actually enjoyed this. 

In the movie, thanks to Apocalypse, Magneto is now fully aware of the extent of his power i.e. metals are everywhere to be found on earth. Magneto then decided to obey Apocalypse to alter Earth’s magnetic field in order to restart the world. Magneto, who has felt nothing toward humanity, then went on rampage, tried to destroy the very earth itself. Although the movie does not show any human casualty caught up in Magneto’s rampage, for me, this movie part is still significant to make me think that Apocalypse is happening.

I was in awe when watching Magneto at his full power in all of the X-Men movie franchise. There was a sense of admiration to the extent of his power, believing that he is indeed an omega level mutant, and a fear of his power that could bring the world to an end. This kind of effect and feeling, in my opinion, will not be reached if CGI was not overtly used.

I felt the same feeling when when Jean taps to her true power and exhibit her Phoenix persona. I cheered! Finally! The Phoenix is properly presented. Fiery bird envelopes her body when Jean is tapping to her true potential. This image is the closest depiction of the Phoenix as it originally appears in comic book and television animated series. This is much better than how the Phoenix is seen in X-Men: The Last Stand, where Jean (Famke Jensen) causing havoc by only standing in the center of destruction. This CGI-ed Phoenix is nothing but awesome.

Lame portrayal of the Dark Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand

The other thing to cheer on the movie is the character of Quicksilver (Evan Peter).. Since his first appearance in Days of Future Past, Quicksilver has been able to win the heart of the viewer. His cheerful and glee character is very different than the rest of X-Men characters who are very serious. In X-Men: Apocalypse, Quicksilver has more screenplay that will make viewers even love his character more.

Some critics also argue that this movie lacks of philosophical meaning and plays around a straightforward good-vs-evil conflict resolution.I have a mixed feeling to this critique. True, X-Men: Apocalypse lack of philosophical significance compared to Batman v Superman (2016) or Captain America: Civil War (2016), which indeed play around philosophical concept of human with superpowers.

Compared to those two box office movies, indeed, X-Men: Apocalypse’s theme is very usual: a Godly evil mutant arises to bring chaos to the world that needs to be stopped. However, should it be more complicated than that? I personally do not think it necessary. For once, I spent my money for a movie that I can watch purely as an entertainment without having to think what is the contextual meaning behind it. I believe, however, Singer is capable of making this movie more complicated. Just see what he has done in Days of Future Past, which combine storyline between two timelines of X-Men universe. It takes a genius to film that complicated concept. 

All in all, I enjoyed the 2 hours and 27 minutes of X-Men: Apocalypse. I truly did. My eyes were always fixated to the screen, as I enjoyed the action, the story and the effect. I do have one regret, though. I regretted the casting of Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse.
 Oscar himself, however, has actually warned that his image of Apocalypse may not be liked by X-Men fans. Sorry Oscar, but I did not really like it, too. In comic book and television series, Apocalypse is portrayed for having a giant body. When watching him in television series or comic book, his posture itself sends a message that he is very powerful and a troublesome foe. However, in this movie, Apocalypse is seen with small body that diminishes the eerie image of Apocalypse. I wish other actors with bigger bodies could take the role as Apocalypse.

Apocalypse encounters Cable in X-Men animated series in the 90's 
As a fan of X-Men, I still believe that this movie can made much better. I agree that this is not the best X-Men movie. However, I disagree if this movie is called as worse than The Last Stand, because I think, Apocalypse is way better than that. In fact, X-Men: Apocalypse can potentially open the door for new X-Men movies. As a fan, my review may be biased. But, who cares? I love X-Men: Apocalypse and I plan to rewatch it. 

Rate: 4/5 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

People Behind Pendekar Tongkat Emas Could Have Fought Better

There was a time when martial arts movies or television series were very popular in Indonesia.

At such time, I really loved watching Saur Sepuh movies on local television. I also really enjoyed watching popular TV series such as Si Buta dari Goa Hantu, Wiro Sableng or Misteri dari Gunung Merapi.

Therefore, I was very excited when I heard that Mira Lesmana and Riri Reza would produce an Indonesian martial art movie called Pendekar Tongkat Emas (The Golden Cane Warrior). “About time,” I said to myself."Can't wait to see it!"

Since its resurrection in 2000, Indonesian film industries have never paid much attention to martial arts movie. They have mostly produced crappy horror movies, or romantic comedy, which frankly deserved no place on the big screen. Thus, I thought that PTE could rekindle my lost joy of watching martial arts movie.

I became more excited when I learned that Ifa Isfansyah, the man behind an acclaimed movie, Sang Penari, would direct PTE. My expectations further rocketed when learning about top Indonesian actors and actresses casted for PTE.

Finally, Pendekar Tongkat Emas was released on December 18, 2014. Alas! Due to my hectic schedule, I could not watch it in a movie theater. Interestingly, I did not hear any news about the movie being a hit. Mira and Riri targeted that some 1.7 million people would watch it. However, until January 2015, only 230 thousand people watched it. I wondered what went wrong.

I answered the question myself when I watched PTE last week: Pendekar Tongkat Emas unfortunately did not quite meet my (and probably others') expectations as a colossal martial arts movie.

The movie tells a story of legendary martial arts master Cempaka (Christine Hakim), who is trying to find a worthy successor of her Golden Cane. She has four students: Biru (Reza Rahardian), Gerhana (Tara Basro), Dara (Eva Celia) and Angin (Aria Kusumah). Biru, being the strongest among the four, expects that his master will hand the legendary cane to him. However, he is devastated after learning that he is not the chosen successor. PTE then explores devastation, betrayal, friendship, love and solidarity among Cempaka’s students as its plot and storyline.

PTE has a standard action movie plot, which is easy to follow. You can easily divide the plot into set up, confrontation and resolution, with some flashback scenes as inserts. However, contrary to action movies which usually have quick pace, PTE has a slow pace so that it failed to engage me. In fact, I spent several minutes playing my cellphone, waiting the characters’ to finish their sophisticated dialogue in formal Bahasa Indonesia.

As an action movie, PTE also lacks memorable fighting scenes. If I recalled correctly, there were only three memorable fighting scenes i.e. the beginning, middle and ending. The fighting scene in the beginning excited me the most, despite poor visual effects (which I understand considering this is an Indonesian not a Hollywood movie). I loved the fighting the ending, although I expected it to be better constructed or presented considering it was the “bomb” scene.

Biru vs Elang fighting scene was dominated by medium shot
What made the fighting scenes less memorable was partially due to the overly used medium shots in the film. The medium shots only captured half of the characters' body, thus limiting viewers' eye on the screen. The medium shots are excellent to portray dialogue scenes, but do not really work well to present fighting. In my opinion, a mixture of medium and long shots is best to portray fighting scenes because they can better showcase the characters' fighting mastery and also their interaction to the environment when the fight occurs.

Take Crouching Tiger Hidden Tiger, for instance. Its audience must still have remembered the memorable fighting scene in the woods. If you watch it back, the scenes mix long and medium shots. Such shots not only showcase the characters’ mastery on martial arts but also showcase interaction to the environment. It shows how the characters can make use of the environment as an element of their battle.

In the ending fighting scene of PTE, long shots are mainly used as a transition between two concurrent battles. Other than that, the cinematographer mostly used medium shots to package the battles that, in my opinion, only make the scenes boring. Besides, the extensive use of medium shots in PTE has also concealed the fighting choreography, which actually is pretty fantastic.

PTE hires Xio Xin Xin, a martial arts master from China, as the action director. Xin Xin is not a stranger in a film industry since he was involved in Once Upon A Time in China movie franchise. Xin Xin’s kung fu influence is rich in PTE, thereby creating the fighting style in the movie to be more of kung fu, instead of pencak silat (Indonesian martial arts).

Some moviegoers criticized this nuance. They said they wanted to see a pencak silat movie, not a wuxia (Mandarin martial arts movie genre). I shared their frustration, at first. But, I came across a PTE review at Cinemapoetica, which stated that PTE maybe pay a tribute to wuxia that indeed influenced Indonesian martial arts movie.

The reviewer may be correct. If looked closely, PTE has actually “promoted” that it will be more of a wuxia movie instead of a pencak silat movie. The stances of PTE characters in the movie poster, for instance, resemble kung fu stances rather pencak silat stances. Gerhana and Darah’s stance in fact is very similar to kung fu stance, as seen in the pictures below. The reasons why Ifa features more Kung Fu style fighting remain unclear until now. Even so, PTE should be recognized because the fighting choreography is indisputably on its own league.

Kung fu stances vs PTE characters stances

PTE should also receive recognition because if compared to other Indonesian action movies, it actually features more female fighters. The female heroes and villains in PTE are also depicted as powerful fighters although still dependent to the male characters. This kind of spectacle is rarely found in Indonesian action movies, which usually portray ultra powerful male characters and helpless female characters.

To conclude this post, I would like to say that PTE is not a bad movie, not at all, if compared to other Indonesian movies. However, after watching it, I did not really feel the excitement that I expected. It could have been made better, considering the budget which according to news was more than Rp 20 billion (one of the most expensive Indonesian movies in 2014). With such budget, I think Pendekar Tongkat Emas could have been made much better considering the big names in Indonesian film industry involved in the movie.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Meet the 2015 Supergirl; A vulnerable female hero with superpower

Female-led superhero movies are rare US’ export commodity.
CBS Supergil Poster

Since the booming of superhero movies in 2000, for instance, only Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005) featured female as the lead hero. Unfortunately, citing many reasons, the feline antihero and the female assassin successfully failed in the market.

The failure of female superhero movies re-affirmed the existing myth in Hollywood that female superhero movies are cursed (or, are allegedly set to fail according to this website). This is interesting because according to the statistics released by the Motion Picture Association of America, 52 percent of moviegoers are women.

Therefore, I was excited when I found out that a Supergirl series was being made. And, after watching the first episode of the series, I actually think that this time, female superhero characters will not fail.

Supergirl series first aired on Monday, October 26, 2015 at CBS. This is the latest installment of DC Comics character after Flash, Arrow and Gotham are being aired at CW.

The episode opens with a standard narrative of superhero origin. It tells the story of how Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) came to earth. Kara is sent to earth from the dying Krypton after her baby cousin Kal El. She is sent with a mission to protect Kal-El. However, her escape pod was caught in Krypton’s explosion and was then rerouted the Phantom Zone. By the time she got to earth, Kal El has already become what earthlings call as Superman. Kal El then sent Kara to live with the Denvers, so that she could learn to adapt as a human. Half of the show then continues with the story of Kara being torn between living as a “normal” woman or using her Kryptonian power to save people.

Supergirl pilot episode offers an easy storyline to follow. It sets Supergirl’s history, mission and conflict. It also gives its audience a clear perspective of what the next episodes as Supergirl’s main enemy has apparently being introdu

Supergirl’s easy storyline shies away from other narrative contemporary superhero series, like Arrow or Heroes Reborn. It took me seven episodes to understand Heroes Reborn, for instance. Arrow, meanwhile, offers a more complex storyline.

CBS’ Supergirl also distances herself from the dark and gloomy depiction of contemporary superhero characters. Particularly, Supergirl breaks away from the latest gloomy image of her cousing, Superman, in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013).
Henry Cavill as Supernan in 2013
Zack Snyder was criticized by Superman fans and critiques for portraying a grim of the Man of Steel. Some fans were disappointed because the hero, whom they know as a beacon of hope, was turned into a dark and gloomy character. Probably, learning from Snyder, Supergirl, was not constructed to follow her cousin's dark portrayal. 

In the series, she emerges as a gleeful young female character, true to her comic book portrayal. This is a good take, in my opinion, because public have been exhausted with dark superhero portrayals. I need more lighter superhero narratives, I can say that. Thus, I was glad when I found myself smiling alone at some moments when watching Supergirl's pilot episode. The other superhero series that made me smile is just the Flash, which has positive reviews so far.

Further, CBS also tries to pull Supergirl away from Superman by clearly narrating that this girl is the earth’s other superhero. CBS tries to emphasize that Supergirl is not just Superman’s cousin and sidekick. The pilot episode tries to instill the idea that Supergirl is a hero on earth that should be reckoned beside Superman. “Earth doesn’t have just one hero anymore. Now it has me. Now it has Supergirl,”  says Kara at the end of the episode.

She was cut by a weapon from her alien enemy

Besides attempting to set her image off Superman’s shadow, Supergirl also breaks away from the conventional narrative of superhero as indestructible characters. The pilot episode has already revealed that Supergirl, like Superman, is weak to Kryptonite. Not only that, it also tells the audience that Supergirl can actually be hurt even though she is bulletproof.

“Kara: I never have felt pain like that before […] I never felt pain”
“Alex: You are not indestructible Kara”
After watching the first half of the episode, I had drawn an image of CBS’s Supergirl as a strong superpower female hero but with flaws. True, she can fly and lift an airplane. It is also true that she can shoot heat rays from her eyes. But, at the same time, she still sustains injuries if she is not careful when fighting her enemies. 

An destructible super powered girl is the image of Supergirl that CBS tries to introduce, at least in the first half of the pilot episode. This representation is advanced further by contextualizing her in a feminist discourse, a must-have discussion when talking about female heroes.

In one of the scenes, Kara furious asked her boss, Cat Grant, on how the later named the new hero in National City in the newspaper: why Supergirl and not Superwoman? To which, Cat calmly answered: 

“What do you think is so bad about girl? I’m a girl, and rich, and hot and smart. So if you perceive Supergirl is less than excellent […] Isn’t the problem is you?" says Cat Grant
Had I not taken Amerian Women classes, I probably might not catch that Cat Grant’s response was based on the prevailing girl power movement, one of the agenda of the third wave feminism. Girl power movement advocated girl’s independence on herself to define her own identity. Cambridge explains that girl power is
the ​idea that women and ​girls should be ​confident, make ​decisions, and ​achieve things independently of men, or the ​social and ​politicalmovement that is ​based on this ​idea
Not once have I read elsewhere that Kara Zor El was upset that her codename was Supergirl. But CBS’ Kara apparently took a Feminist class that she thought Supergirl is not equal with Superman. Such thoughts, if I believed correctly, stemmed from a Second Wave Feminism.

However, Cat Grant wanted to take Kara to the third wave of feminism by initially liberating the hero from a trivial fuss about woman vs girl. In her response, Cat as if suggested that it did not matter whether the hero was named Supergirl or Superwoman, as long as she could define how she wanted the world to know her by herself.

The image of the revived Supergirl has thus been completed: a vulnerable girl with superpower who wants to protect people of earth. With her vulnerable and humane depiction, and also affiliation to the girl power movement which is prevalent in the western world nowadays, even though Supergirl soars high in the sky, people can still closely relate to her.

Maybe this time, Supergirl can even lift the curse placed on female-led superhero movies. Maybe. 

Let's Kick Our Colonial Mentality Out

The Philippines also experience colonial mentality

Last night, I had dinner with two friends at an Italian restaurant around Thamrin area, one of the main business districts in Central Jakarta. It was a nice and open door restaurant to hang out since I could enjoy the beautiful scene of Jakarta’s glowing skyscrapers from where I sat.

My friends and I then ordered some snacks and beverage. The food was good and not too pricy. But, just a couple of minutes after I finished my meals, one of the waitresses cleaned my plate and my glass.

“Do you want to order anything else?” she asked me who replied with a simple “no thanks.”

Then, the same waitress approached and cleaned my friend’s plate as soon as she finished her meals, while asking the same question she asked me. To which, my friend said, “later probably.”

My friends and I continued chatting for a while, talking about life and future plan. While chatting, my other friend was finishing her food and enjoying her second bottle of liquor. Right after she finished her meal, that waitress came to our table again, cleaned my friend’s plate and took away the empty beer bottles.

“Do you want to order anything else?” the waitress said.

That was the third time the waitress asked that same question to me and my friends. We then knew that it was the waitress’ "polite" way to say “you finish your meal, please leave the place immediately.”  

I am a Javanese, my other friends are Maduranese and Floresnese. In short, we are just typical Indonesians: black hair, darker skin, not so tall, you know the rest. We stood out among other visitors of the restaurant who happened to be white, having blond or white hair, speaking French or English.  

After a small observation, I noticed that no waitress approached the tables where the foreigners sat even though they had finished their meals and emptied their beer bottles. No one bothered asking whether they wanted to order anything else.

Why? My best guess was because they were foreigners thus the waitress ‘did not have the guts’ to do what she did to me and my friends.

It really upset me that the waitress, who is an Indonesian, treated me and friends differently than how she treated those foreigners. I probably would tolerate her act if there was a queuing line outside the restaurant. But, there was no such line. There were still many empty tables. Then, why did the waitress try to kick us out? Why didn’t she kick the foreigners out?   It was like she instinctively did this racist treatment only to her fellow Indonesian nationals.

Studies and theories mentioned that the waitress’ act and treatment to me and my friends was based on a colonial mentality. Wikipedia writes that

A colonial mentality is a conceptual theory around feelings of inferiority within some societies post-European colonialism, relative to the values of the foreign powers which they became aware of through the contact period of colonization. The concept essentially refers to the acceptance, by the colonized, of the culture or doctrines of the colonizer as intrinsically more worthy or superior”

Indonesian society, which was occupied by the Netherlands for over 300 years, without a doubt exhibited such mentality. I would not lie that I still felt inferior to people from the Western society every time I interacted with them. However, as much as I feel inferior to the Westerners, I cannot believe that such feeling of inferiority has led the waitress to unconsciously did a racist act to me and my friends, her fellow Indonesians.

If my anecdotal story cannot be categorized as a display of colonial mentality, then you probably need to read this opinion piece of Dewi Anggraeni at The Jakarta Post. In the article, Dewi shared some instances of encountering people with colonial mentality. You probably ever experienced this yourself without realizing it.

Image result for inferiority clipartColonial mentality is a sickness in our society that we all need to eradicate. It is a dangerous trait because it makes you always feel inferior of our own nation.

I have been working in international setting for almost three years and I dare to say that Indonesia has its own distinctive beautiful values that other nations lack of. Indonesia may not be a perfect nation, but so are other nations. The superpower nation, USA, for instance, is a nation of paradigm. While it declares itself as a champion of human rights and democracy, the nations’ policies and social reality quite often contradicts those core values.  There is nothing as a perfect nation, I believe. Each country has its own positive and negative values.

Therefore, we really need to start throwing away the feeling of inferiority to citizens of other nations.  Once we are able to kick our feeling of inferiority, then I believe Indonesians can more develop themselves and will have better confidence in facing the global society and competition. Lastly, be proud of being an Indonesian because believe me; the Westerners I have worked with, they really love Indonesia.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Is app-based ojek a messiah for Jakarta’s traffic?

App-based motorcycle taxi, known as ojek, in Jakarta is the capital’s newest sensation. When you hit the road, you will find it extremely easy to see motorists donning green helmet which displays Gojek or Grabbike logo on it. They boast that they have thousands of drivers in the capital.

Gojek and Grabbike are two smartphone applications that enable users to order ojek with a rational price. They break away from the conventional ojek which usually charge irrational fare. They calculate fare based on distance through google map.

For instance, I once tried to take an ojek from my office building to a train station which is only 5 km away. If I took a taxi, it would cost me around Rp 40 thousand. However, it was a Friday evening, meaning that only miracle could help me get a taxi in Sudirman area, the main business district in the capital. After waiting for an empty cab for more than an hour, I gave up.

The notorious 'Macet' in Sudirman Area during peak hours
Then, I decided to take an ojek to take me to the station since my train was about to leave in an hour. I approached one driver, who he told me that the fare was Rp 50 thousand. I then tried to find 4 other ojek drivers only to be offered with similar range of fare. I finally agreed with Rp 45 thousand since I got no other choice.

The ojek drivers cited he charged me with Rp 45 thousand because the route was far; they should navigate through the congestion; and many other irrational reasons. I did not buy their reasons because I am a motorbike rider myself. I know what ‘far’ is and I think 5 km is not that ‘far.’

Gojek driver and his passenger
If only I used ­app-based ojek, I mostly would spend less than Rp 25 thousand for that travel. Gojek, for instance, charges its passengers with Rp 25 thousand for minimum use of 6 km. If there is a promo, I probably will only spend Rp 5 thousand!

Rational price, transparent fare calculation and reliability. These are probably the reasons why app-based ojek is so popular in Jakarta for the last two months. Both Gojek and Grabbike (downloaded as GrabTaxi) have been downloaded by more than 1 million people in Play Store.

The popularity of app-based ojek shows that Jakartans actually really need public transportation that they can rely on. I sometimes find it exhausting to ride my motorbike, navigating through the crazy city traffic all the time. That is why, I have been using these app-based ojek for some times now and I find them extremely helpful. All I need to do is open my phone, wait patiently, and just hop on the bike.

Inside a crowded TransjakartaCredit:

True, the Jakarta city administration has been developing other means of public transportation. The city favorite Transjakarta bus is one of them. With only Rp 3,500, you are able to commute all across the city. However, the bus is oftentimes not reliable. The headway is still very long. Sometimes, you have to wait for an hour for a bus to show up. In peak hours, the bus become extremely crowded and inconvenient to ride. Either being squeezed in the bus or going home late at night, your call.

'Fish in a can'
The other means of transportation is the city train system Commuter Line. Similar to its cousin, Transjakarta, Commuter Line is also a favorite since we can travel to the outskirts of Jakarta and its satellite cities with low price. Also, it is free of macet! However, as its cousin, riding in a Commuter Line train at peak hours is like being a fish in a can i.e. you barely can stand.

Other than Transjakarta bus and Commuter Line trains is crappy city buses, which have roamed the city traffic since the 80s, probably. The buses are old and poorly maintained. And, you need to pay more cautions since pickpockets love to ride such buses as well. While it is true that some bus operators start to rejuvenate their fleet, but the number of the new buses are still very limited.

Enough said. The city lacks proper public transportation. Thus, when app-based ojek is launched, it suddenly becomes popular because Jakartans consider such ojek as the alternative for proper public transportation in the city.

Inside the legendary PPD 213bus (by Rizqi Arifuddin)

However, people should also realize that these app-based ojek is not the solution to the city problem. Even though I really love these ojek, I still firmly believe that mass public transportation is still the answer to solve the worsening traffic in Jakarta. Motorcycle is not a form of public transportation as it only accommodates two people.

As the graphic above shows you, train is the answer for Jakarta’s traffic as it can accommodate thousands of people into one set of train. Ojek meanwhile can only accommodate one passenger. Imagine how many ojek the city will need if more and more people use gojek and grabbike. In fact, Jakarta streets already house thousands, if not millions, of motorcycles every day. Thus, I highly expect that the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train that the city administration is developing will not fail us. It may be the answer to solve the city’s worsening congestion.

Until that day comes, gojek and grabbike may become the alternative way of commuting in Jakarta, at least for me.

MRT Jakarta Plan

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ramadan Lifestyle in Capital: Partying or Praying?

In one week, Muslims all around the world will welcome the holy month of Ramadan. In this month of devotion, evaluation and reflection, Muslims are all expected to increase their prayers so that after the month ends, they will become better persons.

The Holy Quran has taught Muslims that during the Holy Month, they should have more worshipping activities. Muslims are essentially taught to be closer to the Creator.

However, my two year stay in Jakarta has taught me a different face of Ramadan

The capital city has taught me that Ramadan is the month of discounts and sales. Starting next week, malls around the city will probably start offering discounts that are so hard for us to ignore. Thus, during Ramadan, instead of swarming mosques, people will swarm malls.

Sales and discounts have clouded our memories of a promise that God once made. We suddenly forgot He once said that our one good deed would be counted as ten good deeds during Ramadan. We suddenly forgot that there is a night in the month when one night of prayer is equal to a thousand months of prayers.
We just forget that, or probably we choose to forget that. We probably choose to remember that Ramadan is a month when I can “buy two get three” at malls.  

The capital city has also taught me that Ramadan is the month of excessive social gathering. Breaking the fast together, known as bukber, is ubiquitous during this time of year. Have you for once tried to count how many bukber you had last year?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Presidential Election, Metro TV and TV One

News Giant Battle Credit:
As the presidential election draws closer, observing some major media in Indonesia has become a very interesting activity to do. By doing such a thing, one can really learn how media actively engages in the nation’s political environment.

This post was written as a simple result of observation in some online media. I observed the twitter accounts of television stations Metro TV and TVone.

Metro TV belongs to the Media Group owned by businessman Surya Paloh, who happens to be the chairman of the National Democratic Party (NasDem). In this presidential election, the party sides with presidential and vice presidential candidate Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Jusuf Kalla, or known as JK.

Meanwhile, TV One belongs to the Viva News group owned by businessman Aburizal Bakrie, who chairs the Golkar Party. The party chooses to support presidential and vice presidential candidate Prabowo and Hatta Rajasa.

I once wrote in this blog about media’s role in politics. I reasserted existing opinions that those who control media control the nation. And there is no more vivid period than this time to observe that opinions. 

Although both the Media Group and Viva News Groups have pledged to maintain their independence regardless their owners’ political affiliations, the reality speaks differently. They cannot avoid bias reporting in their news, each group supporting a certain presidential candidate.

I observed twitter posts of the two media published throughout the whole day on May 30, 2014. During the period, I noted tweets and news concerning presidential candidates. Some difficulties encountered included the two media’s activeness in Twitter. Metro TV’s account @Metro_TV is very active but TV One, @tvOneNews,  is not. Within one hour, Metro TV can post between 9-13 tweets, while TV One can only post between 2-5 tweets.

TV Station’s Twitter Account
News on Jokowi – JK
News on Prabowo – Hatta
Metro TV
TV One

Now, based on the figure above, Metro TV gave equal amounts of news of both Jokowi-JK and Prabowo-Hatta. Meanwhile, TV One, during the observed day, only ran 4 news on Jokowi-JK, nearly half of news on Prabowo-Hatta it ran. Reflecting from this figure, I could argue that TV One is more bias than Metro TV in terms of quantity of news of both presidential candidates.  This bias can probably be influenced by the fact that TV One is owned by Bakrie, who was promised a special position in the cabinet if Prabowo was elected as a president.

Aside from looking at the quantity, I also observed the theme of the news ran by Metro TV and TV One in their twitter accounts. Based on my own notes, I could classify the news they presented on May 30, 2014 in their twitter accounts in two major themes.

The first theme concerns on how each presidential candidate gathers supports from various members of society. Metro TV ran a couple of news on how Jokowi was endorsed and supported by youth groups, women’s group, businessman, farmers and fishermen and religious group. It only published one news on people from Makassar that chose to support Prabowo. Meanwhile, in its twitter account, TV One ran two news on Prabowo that received supports from former athletes and youth groups. It did not run any single news on groups that declared their supports on Jokowi.

Looking at this news theme, it can be argued that Metro TV tried to strengthen Jokowi’s image as a pluralist leader who can embrace various layers of society from farmers to businessman, youth  groups to women as well as religious group. Likewise, TV One attempted to shape Prabowo as a leader who cared for neglected group like former athletes and appealed to young generations. In this construction, it can be seen that both tv stations no longer apply their ‘non-bias’ views. They try to foster the good image of one particular presidential candidate to influence their viewers. So, imagine if you only watch Metro TV, then you will be brainwashed with all of the goodnews on Jokowi. Likewise, that will happen in you only watch TV One, you will be brainwashed by Prabowo.

The second theme concerns on exploiting the weaknesses of each presidential candidate. As an illustration, both of the presidential candidates have some grey areas in their past that can be exploited to attack them. Prabowo, a former military commander, is suspected as one of the masterminds behind various human rights abuse in Indonesia during Soeharto regime. Jokowi, current Jakarta governor, is allegedly implicated in a graft case concerning the procurement of Transjakarta buses. Both media, as predicted, use these allegations to attack the presidential candidates they are not favor of.

Metro TV, for instance, ran one news on statement from human rights activist, Haris Azhar of Kontras, who demanded that the government should open the reason why Prabowo was fired from the Indonesian Military Army. The news stated that Haris alleged Prabowo was fired due to his involvement in the forced disappearance of activists in 1997-1998 who criticized Soeharto, who was Prabowo’s former father in law.

Meanwhile, TV One, run three news that in my opinion discredited Jokowi. One news video, titled “Jokowi on leave, Jakarta Still Has Abundant Problems”, narrates that Jokowi still leaves various problems lingering in Jakarta. They include floods, traffic jam, social disparity and others. Uniquely, the video does not have a voice over in it. Rather, the video is built up of many old images and video footages. The other two videos tells a group of 1998 activists who complained to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) because they thought that Jokowi’s way of fund raising for presidential election opens door to gratification. And one last video tells that the Attorney General Office (Kejagung) never summons Jokowi although he has been rumored to be implicated in the Transjakarta graft case.

The two tv stations exploited the grey and uncharted side of each presidential candidate to attack them. And imagine if you only watch Metro TV, then you will not really pay attention to the graft case allegation that implicates Jokowi. Similarly, if you only watch TV One, then you will not know that Prabowo is still believed to be responsible for serious human rights abuse in this country. This grey area,  I believe, will always be exploited to attack them if one of them wins the election. 

The observation on the twitter accounts of Metro TV and TV One, although conducted in a very short time and simple manner, has proven that they are not independence as they promised. They are politically engaged with the presidential candidate that is endorsed by their owner. Each television station tries to foster good image of a certain presidential candidate, and likewise, each also tries to shatter the image of a particular presidential candidate.

I believe that those who read this post are critical thinkers. My simple and not so scientific writing here proves that media can direct and control you if you are not critical. Thus, I encourage you to be more critical in reading media in Indonesia during these determining times. Do not be consumed by blatant fanaticism to a particular presidential candidate just because based on media representation.  You have to have valid arguments as to why you choose a certain presidential candidate as well as why you do not want to choose the other presidential candidate.

What is so good in knowing one candidate so much but not knowing a single thing about the other candidate? Well, anyone you choose, I just want to remind you to be considerate because he (sadly no she this time) will lead Indonesia for the next five years.