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Through the Eyes of Researcher: Drunk on Screen  

by on Wednesday, 27 May 2009No Comment | 1,419 views

Balinese People

Here is an interesting excerpt on Balinese’s view on television and advertising taken from Mark Hobart’s writing entitled “Drunk on the screen: Balinese conversations about television and advertising”. It will give you an interesting insight on how Balinese see television and advertising

According to Thatcherism ‘greed is good’. Capitalism is naturalized by declaring economic activity to be based on rational choice, rational choice on egoism and egoism on greed. That the connections do not work well (for example, Hindess 1988:29-41; and as the Soeharto régime belatedly found out at the nation’s expense) does not prevent them, like advertisements, from being recycled endlessly. The old actor’s point was that that is no reason to accept the argument.

I take it that explanations of complex processes like contemporary capitalism, advertising and mass media are undetermined. That is, there are several explanations which fit the facts, albeit in rather different ways (Quine 1960). Additional criteria are required to decide between explanations (Hesse 1978). Politicians and economists may be interested in those explanations which make their policies or theories look attractive. As an anthropologist I am interested in explanations which avoid ethnocentricity and are commensurable with people’s understanding of the conditions of their lives. I am therefore more interested in accounts that permit people critically to reflect on themselves as agents, not just the practices which may tend discursively to produce the passive subjects or objects of others’ actions, such as advertising.

Balinese bring a considerable arsenal of religious and philosophical ideas to bear on the explanation of human action. I shall mention only two, which bear directly on advertising. My sources are from television. Hinduism is a state-recognized religion in Indonesia and most Hindu broadcasts are produced by Balinese. Understanding the earth-shaking economic and social changes taking place, hardly surprisingly, is a preoccupation. As with the old actor’s analysis, the trend is to locate the areas of antagonism within the person or between people, rather than displace them onto external structures, that objective reality loved of scientism.

One of the best known classical frames of reference is the sadripu, the six inner enemies, which each human has as part of their being. These are kama, desire, the pleasure of the senses; kroda, anger, passion; loba, greed, covetousness; moha, infatuation, darkness of mind, ignorance; mada, intoxication, whether by passion, drink, fury or whatever and matsarya, envy or jealousy (Zoetmulder 1982; Sadripu Téater Nusa Denpasar, broadcast February 24, 1993). Here at last, surely we have greed (and desire, for that matter), and a framework which bears at least a passing resemblance to the seven deadly sins.

Although the sadripu are widely known, they are too general to be applied usefully to the critical analysis of human action on specific occasions. They are overshadowed, in religious broadcasting in the nineties at least, by a different explanatory grid: the Sapta Timira, the seven forms of benightedness, or intoxication. It is these to which Balinese broadcasters appeal in addressing the problems of the contemporary world.

Let me quote from the programme entitled Mada, intoxication (the fifth of the sadripu listed above):
Surupa is a person being intoxicated with beauty, or with handsomeness. Dana is being overwhelmed by money. Guna is when someone is inebriated with their own abilities. Cleverness, of course, also intoxicates. Kulina is obsession with status and title. After that Yowana is being infatuated with youth. Sura is being intoxicated on strong liquor, like Pan Suba (a figure in the story) who gets drunk to the point of being Sura. Finally there is Kasuran, that’s getting carried away by victory. So, for example, winning at gambling is also a cause of intoxication.

Why so many Balinese feel so ambivalent about the island’s most famous tourist resort, Kuta Beach, starts to make sense. It is the place which best instantiates all seven Timira at once on a daily basis. From the excerpts above, it should be clear that, as Balinese talk about them, advertising has on the whole far more to do specifically with forms of intoxicating than with the other inner enemies. In different ways, different genres of broadcasting address different kinds of intoxication. The most widely spoken about when discussing advertisements is surupa – the intoxication is double. It is not just your own appearance, which impels purchases of shampoo, skin whitener, clothes and so on. More broadly it is intoxication with the attractiveness of the actors in the advertisements. Obsession with youth is another, if less remarked upon, feature of advertisements, as kasuran is in quiz shows and televised sports.

I do not wish to force the issue, but Balinese have a wide vocabulary to talk about their engagement with television. This relates to quite distinctive complexes of ideas about the nature of the human subject (cf. Wikan 1990). Indian Samkhya had developed an intricate account of the subject and its dispositions as part of a world of transformative material processes, the triguna (Larson 1987). Quite how generally Balinese versions of the triguna were used in, say, the precolonial period, by whom and on what occasion, I am not in a position to say. It seems to be the dominant frame of reference in Hindu religious broadcasts and is often referred to in theatre. The theory is not just dialogic, but treats humans as continually making and being remade by the world about them. It is an account of the subject which fits post-structuralist approaches far better than the atomist theories prevalent for example in psychology.

Advertisements make people drunk. That is why they feel they must buy things suddenly. The image of intoxication is significant. It presupposes choice and its forfeiture, excess and loss. There is a recognition of the threat to one’s self-command (not self-control, with its mechanistic image of the subject) and the impossibility, in a world of transformative process, of total command over oneself anyway. This account of intoxication also presupposes the dangers of a false appreciation of oneself and its relation to the world, and a disjuncture between a desired or imagined object and reality.

It is a relational term, but one that involves rupture and so signals the end of dialogue, now replaced by narcissistic monologue (the favoured form of theoretism) or vacuity. The primary relation is now to the subject’s own longings. But this in turn presupposes a double other. The first is the imaginary being who really appreciates your beauty, wealth, prowess or whatever. (In Bali even drunks used to get drunk together in tuakdrinking groups.) The second is those others, Peirce’s community, who both appreciate its allure – kapetengan is an inevitable part of being a sentient human – and misery; and form the conditions of the possibility of recognition of intoxication.

Drunkenness in Bali can also be contagious. Balinese are bitterly aware of their proclivity to nuut lubukan, to walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before, never veering from what others have done before. No one even knows the number of ‘artshops’, homestays and paraphernalia thrown up in an epidemic of Dana across what was once, by their own admission, a rather lovely landscape. There were never remotely the customers to justify the riot of intoxication, which was itself cut short by the riots across Indonesia as an economy itself built upon intoxication imploded. Much of the development turned out to be a simulation.

Put this way it sounds as if intoxication in whatever form is out-and-out bad. That, however, would be to impose a quite different, and puritan, metaphysics upon what Balinese are arguing about. The point was made nicely by the rich farmer, who turned to me one day during a conversation and remarked that he was mad. To my astonishment, the others all chimed in laughing and announced that they were mad too!

The farmer put me out of my misery by expatiating. He was mad about bricolage. He was mad about repairing things and messing with odds and ends. The old actor was mad about theatre: it did not matter how old he was, how bad the weather or how far away the show, he would be there. Everyone is mad about something: something intoxicates them. Meditative abstinence is for saints. And there have never been many of those around, not least because so fierce a negation of ordinary mortal frailties sets up the likelihood of a correspondingly ferocious reaction into excess. To be mad or drunk may be bad, but it is human. Anyway those who proclaim their restraint or advocate it to others all too often, sadly, turn out later to have indulged in excess themselves.

Advertisements simply tap into human frailties. To return to advertising, it is not simply that watching the television screen makes you intoxicated by what you see. A striking feature of advertisements is the ecstacy which is supposed to overcome actors when presented with a cold-relief pill, on pouring chilli sauce all over your food or given the chance to wear a proprietary sanitary pad. What is distinctive of advertisements as a television genre, perhaps not just in Indonesia, is that it is not just the viewers, but the actors too who are drunk on the screen. That it no longer matters that it is a simulation is part of the point of advertisements.

Television advertisements are part of a new emerging régime of pleasure. Ideas of pleasure, gratification, happiness, and the conditions for their achievement, are highly discursively specific (Foucault 1986a, 1986b). The pleasure theory of human drives nicely fits capitalist ideology, because it is linked to an Enlightenment theory of the psyche as an internal market to start off with, a model now being displaced by consumption as ecstacy (Ferguson 1990; or as Balinese prefer, inebriation).

The disciplining discourse which television advertisements aim to impose is connected with the imperative of seeking pleasure almost as a moral and civic duty to further Indonesian economic development. As Baudrillard remarked caustically: The best evidence that pleasure is not the basis of consumption is that nowadays pleasure is constrained and institutionalized, not as a right or enjoyment, but as the citizen’s duty … The consumer, the modern citizen, cannot evade the constraint of happiness and pleasure which in the new ethics is equivalent to the traditional constraint of labor and production. Baudrillard (1988b:46, 48)

And as he has been at pains to make clear, what is consumed are signs of difference, driven by a desire for social meaning. Were it not so, consumers would have long ago been sated. This is why advertisements are as much about consummation as consumption.

What my Balinese companions had to say about televised advertising involves presuppositions broadly similar to those in Baudrillard’s analysis. They continually stressed the overwhelming importance of the image and the need to think critically about its relation to the object, which is never fully revealed. They were also quite clear that their moments of enjoyment came about from appreciating the images for themselves, an aesthetic consummation. As they were fairly poor people who could not buy most of what they saw, to what extent was this vicarious pleasure or even, as mall walking is supposed to be, an act of resistance? No doubt it is that in part, although quite how you tell I do not know. From what they said, however, it has another aspect. Where the school-teacher was evidently caught up in the civics of consumption, the others were articulating the counter-case for a quite different account of the subject. It is a subject placed in a complex dialogue of seduction, excess, intoxication and often, by virtue of the human condition, inevitably disappointment. If nothing else, I hope that the analysis of these conversations has made the point that, if we imagine our discursive ideas about consumption, pleasure and the human subject are universal, we are likely to miss much that is of interest and importance. There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in writing about advertisements and television.

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