People, poets, puppets: popular performance and the wong cilik in contemporary Java.
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Many studies have analysed the ways in which the dominant forces of state and capital are shaping contemporary Indonesian political economy, social relations and cultural production. More and more of such studies have evaluated the significance of the "middle class(es)" as a burgeoning social force. Few studies specifically address the social agency of the subordinated classes, the bulk of Indonesia's population, identified as the wong cilik in this study. Only recently have some scholars begun to take seriously the rapid formation of an urban working class as an increasingly important component in Indonesian social dynamics. An underlying assumption of this study is that cultural production, in particular, popular performance, is an important window on, and component of, wong cilik social agency. This assumption is pursued by observing three principal sites of cultural contestation, poetry, the shadow play, wayang kulit, and "modem" theatre. These three, often overlapping sites, are set within a broad survey of popular performance in Java, followed by a regional focus on Tegal, located on the north west coast of Central Java.A bias in analysis towards the more formal and visible aspects of cultural production, such as performance text and conventions, has led to a distortion and insufficient recognition of wong cilik social agency. The first task of this study, therefore, is to develop a better approach to identifying and evaluating wong cilik cultural agency. The approach for which we are looking demands attention be given to the less formal aspects and social context of popular performance. Here, the relationship between performance and audience is central to identifying the cultural agency of the wong cilik. Depending on the surrounding social relations which constitute the performance, space can exist for wong cilik control over cultural production and meaning through audience participation.During the course of a performance the social significance of its changing nature is closely associated with changes in audience composition and involvement. An absent, indifferent, sometimes hostile, wong cilik audience can undermine the potential of formal moments to reinforce dominant ideologies and social relations. Conversely, heightened audience participation often characterises the informal moments of a performance. The possibility of social potency is greatest in these moments of close affinity between wong cilik audience and performance. This is apparent in the relationship between audience and dalang (puppeteer) in many local performances of wayang kulit. The informal 'comic interlude', in particular, can provide opportunity for the articulation of shared meanings and concerns between the predominantly wong cilik audience and sympathetic dalang, dependent on their patronage and coming from a similar socio-economic background.As part of the intelligentsia, the dalang, as with other cultural workers, has an important, often ambiguous, role in determining the significance of cultural production for the wong cilik. Here, it is important to recognise that the cultural workers, themselves, and their performances are socially constituted. In a study on theatre in Tegal observations of audience participation assist greatly in evaluating the effectiveness or sincerity in representing or asserting wong cilik sentiment in "modern" theatre and populist wayang mbeling. In general, this focus on audience participation helps situate popular performances in their surrounding social relations. This approach helps avoid elitist or essentialist tendencies that may occur from an over emphasis on the idealised characteristics and conventions of cultural forms or genres.
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