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Open Access Soap Opera and Muddy Affairs in Indonesia

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Soap Opera and Muddy Affairs in Indonesia

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The Cultural Politics of the Lapindo Mudflow Case (2006–2014)

In May 2006 a devastating mudflow engulfed East-Java’s densely populated area of Sidoarjo. Nine years later, the origin of the disaster still remains the topic of an ongoing scientific debate. Two opposing conclusions dominate: the catastrophe was either ‘natural’—caused by an earthquake—or ‘man-made’, triggered by drilling activities of the oil and gas company Lapindo Brantas. Soon after the eruption of the mudflow, a Surabaya-based artists’ association produced a Javanese-language soap opera called Gali lubang, tutup lubang, ‘Dig a hole, fill a hole’. Several national and international newspapers described the television programme as a damage-control device, because the series was sponsored by the oil-and-gas-winning company implicated in the disaster. This article, however, shows that the series cannot simply be set aside as propaganda. A profound study of the production process and of the content of the soap opera—placed within the broader context of the (inter)national debate on the origin of the mudflow catastrophe—reveals the panorama of self-interests and cultural politics that gave shape to a controversial series about a controversial topic.

Affiliations: 1: Independent researcher Southeast Asian Studies judith@bosnak.nl

10.1163/22134379-17104002
/content/journals/10.1163/22134379-17104002
dcterms_title,pub_keyword,dcterms_description,pub_author
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In May 2006 a devastating mudflow engulfed East-Java’s densely populated area of Sidoarjo. Nine years later, the origin of the disaster still remains the topic of an ongoing scientific debate. Two opposing conclusions dominate: the catastrophe was either ‘natural’—caused by an earthquake—or ‘man-made’, triggered by drilling activities of the oil and gas company Lapindo Brantas. Soon after the eruption of the mudflow, a Surabaya-based artists’ association produced a Javanese-language soap opera called Gali lubang, tutup lubang, ‘Dig a hole, fill a hole’. Several national and international newspapers described the television programme as a damage-control device, because the series was sponsored by the oil-and-gas-winning company implicated in the disaster. This article, however, shows that the series cannot simply be set aside as propaganda. A profound study of the production process and of the content of the soap opera—placed within the broader context of the (inter)national debate on the origin of the mudflow catastrophe—reveals the panorama of self-interests and cultural politics that gave shape to a controversial series about a controversial topic.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22134379-17104002
2015-01-01
2017-11-25

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