The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Saturday, August 20, 2016


BTW: Uniformity – one way of viewing the world

On the day when Indonesia paraded its smart red and white outfits at the Olympic opening ceremony my wife ducked the monthly community gathering of granddames known as arisan.
That’s because Her Naughtiness didn’t have the right uniform. 
Fortunately the Rio jackets weren’t chosen by organizers for the 120-minute chatathon famous for its rigorous topic-selection process: 
Should another sign be erected warning motorcyclists against competing in the 250 meter asphalt sprint? Little kids also run the course as there’s a lack of training facilities.
Perhaps the riders should be disqualified.  Or better still drug tested because it seems they can’t read the warnings.  That could be tricky as everyone knows the treasurer’s son is a major offender and his Mom might have a Sun Yang meltdown if her precious was accused.
So best concentrate on issues less controversial.  How we look is more important than what we do, so let’s all wear a uniform while we pass around the cakes and comment on the cooking.
Protests that Suharto’s Orde Baru era had long gone and citizens were now allowed to express their individuality were dismissed as latent Communism.  With Hari Kemerdekaan coming this Wednesday and the red-and-whites already fluttering it was time to remind that unitary applies to citizen as well as state.
So Madam was issued with a bolt of cloth and told to tailor-up an ensemble to suit the status of the street.
The color mimics our fish pond when cleaning is overdue so at least it’s faithful to the local environment.  The shapeless design will ensure no errant husbands are lured to check their flagpoles when the ladies stroll by.
Having decided to flaunt the edict my beloved felt it unwise to attend the opening ceremony and so missed out on the gossip.  No matter; the catch-up came with the dawn street-sweep when creased pyjamas and tatty nightgowns can be worn outside without shame, headscarves and bras optional.
The Indonesian team did look neat in Brazil’s seaside city– and also tiny.  Just 28 competitors against Australia’s 418 – but the blondes have more space to flex their anti-Asian prejudices - and so much exercising from jumping to conclusions about their northern neighbor.
True, the folks Down Under have a catchment area of only 24 million people to select their top athletes, but they haven’t got the issues and distractions that beset the archipelago of 250 million.
Like ensuring everyone looks and behaves the same, whether in religion or sexual preference.
In New Zealand (population 4.5 million - Olympic competitors 199) graduating high school girls dash to Wellington harbor on their final day. They fling themselves off the wharf wearing the uniforms they’ve endured for the past six years.
Teachers warn against this wet ritual but to no effect.  The teens have reached the age of defiance, and determined to make their own fashion statements.  These tend to be brief.
So unlike Indonesia, where offices demand staff wear the corporate gear and perform like robots when dealing with customers, and some tertiary institutions make students don the same wardrobe.  Aren’t universities supposed to encourage independent thought and action?
Foreigners don’t understand the economics. These regulations encourage the textile trade and assist administrators with shares in clothing companies.
Outsiders also fail to realise that looks trump (to use a prejudicial term) performance.
This month the Malang football club Arema celebrates its 29th anniversary with fans, rightly known as Aremaniacs, plastering streets, bridges and walls with crude banners.
They’re celebrating with such abandon that their posters threaten to eclipse the streamers for 17 August, which remembers a pivotal moment in world history.
No matter that the team hasn’t been able to make a serious mark since 2012.  The screaming traffic stoppers aren’t commemorating victory.  They’re compensating for the facts of failure using the excuse that malang has another meaning – unlucky. 
The crazies wear blue – Arema’s color.  It’s important to be uniform even when there’s little worth celebrating. 

First published in The Jakarta Post - J Plus 20 August 2016

No comments: