That’s not how you preserve traditions (and treat your own family)

As an Indonesian, I rarely watch Indonesian films voluntarily. So, the fact that I decided to watch this newly-released feature is a rarity.

Ngeri-Ngeri Sedap (I still don’t know how to translate the title) tells the story of a fractured Batak family; the parents struggle to persuade their university-educated adult sons return home after years. They cannot stand their cold, headstrong father who disapprove of their life decisions.

One of them wants to marry a woman from another ethnic group, one becomes a TV comedian instead of a law practitioner and the youngest child isn’t interested returning home for good, even though tradition calls for it.

Desperate, the parents pretend they are going to divorce, which would compel the sons to return home and talk their mom and dad out of it. The plan works. But, the moment they saw their father, the atmosphere immediately thickens and it will get even worse from here.

The film is not that great, execution wise. The dialogues are full of info dumps, the cinematography fails to capture the beauty of rural North Sumatra (I have visited Lake Toba and I know how ethereally beautiful it is), the crying scene is unintentionally funny, the emotions could have been more intense and the conflict resolves a bit too quickly.

But, the film does have some gems in it.

While I cannot verify the authenticity of the Batak life depiction as I am not a Batak, I adore how it does not use a regional and/or ethnic identity as a punchline or a token, as the common practice in a country where media productions mostly centered in one snobby, cosmopolitan city.

I also love that it is written and directed by an actual Batak filmmaker and most of the main cast members are of Batak lineage; the ones who aren’t grew up surrounded by Batak people. It is refreshing how a film about a certain culture is made by people who have experiences with it.

But, that’s not even the best part: it is also a giant middle finger to “traditional” parenting and toxic loyalty to family.

The father loves accusing his sons of selfishness, even though he is the one who makes everything about himself. The sons always look uneasy and awkward in his presence. The comedian son loves making spiteful comments, even saying that his family is a joke, something to be laugh at. Even though the mother is just as traditional, she openly disapproves how her husband behaves.

It becomes so toxic, not only his sons depart angrily, his wife ends up wanting to divorce for real and the daughter – I forgot to mention the family has a daughter – leaves with her as well.

It also has unexpected commentaries about gender.

When the daughter asked why her brothers seem awkward with each other, the eldest son said their father was always aloof towards his sons, hence their inability to be warm towards other men.

She is also a testament that girls and women often have to sacrifice the most in a patriarchal society. She had to break a romantic relationship because the man was a non-Batak and she gave up her dream as a chef – her cooking talent has been shown from the very beginning – because the father thinks it is not a real job.

She could have easily rebelled. But, if she does, she would severe ties with her elderly parents and no one would take care of them.

The grandma – the father’s mother – is unbelievably wise. She gently points out that different children require different parenting style. You shouldn’t raise university-educated children like you raise ones who didn’t finish middle school, she says.

Okay, maybe not that wise. Surely, you deserve your parents’ warmth regardless of your educational level; I don’t see how dropping out of school makes you less of a human being with feelings.

But, as problematic as her advice is, her point about there is no one correct way to raise children still stands.

The daughter and grandma also represent the gender situation in Indonesia. While the film barely focuses on either character, they add depth to the story. Men are at the forefront with women supporting them behind the scenes.

What I love about the ending is the father finally and sincerely realises his mistakes and tries to amend his mistakes.

He makes a surprise appearance at his comedian son’s TV show which is shot in Jakarta, asserting he is not proud of his son’s success. Why? Because it is his son’s, not his. He has no right to take credit for it.

He visits his other son’s non-Batak lover in West Java and, much to his surprise, she is interested in learning Batak traditions. As a rural dweller, he seems unaware that many urban Indonesians have experiences traversing different cultures; dealing with other regional Indonesian cultures is a mundane task for them.

His visits his youngest son’s boss in Jogjakarta and he learns that his son helps the local farmers – a vulnerable group of people – increasing their agricultural yield, practically making their lives better.

After he gains his sons’ sincere forgiveness (which is what their mother desires), the family reunites.

I love how the film asserts that a family’s unity cannot be achieved unless every member – including the parents – makes their best efforts. In this case, the family reunites after the father finally leaves his bubble, both in literal and figurative sense.

Literally as in he leaves his rural homeland and travels to three different provinces, none of which are in Sumatra. Figuratively as in he leaves the world where views like his are king and enter one with greater diversity of thoughts.

I also love how the film is not anti-tradition. The traditional festival is depicted respectfully (or so it seems), the sons still love Batak food and the soundtracks feature Batak-language songs.

It is not about whether we should preserve traditions or not, it is more about HOW we do it. It is a cautionary tale of how tactlessness will tear your family apart and putting your beloved heritage in even greater risk of extinction.

And, in a rare moment, I feel proud of my fellow countrymen. I don’t know what the haters have to say about the film. But, I have seen so many positive comments online; many feel their negative experiences with traditional parents and/or husbands are validated.

I am glad such Indonesian film exists.

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A tangent about religion:

Indonesia is a place where religiosity is held with high regards, regardless of one’s ethnic and religious backgrounds. The film not-so-subtly hints at that fact.

The family’s house has a quite a few Christian-themed ornaments (if I can call them that), like the cross and pictures of Jesus Christ. There is a moment of brief close-up on a knitted(?) The Last Supper picture and the parents’ bed are often filmed using wide shot, ensuring the overhead cross is seen as well.

They also respect the local pastor. The father wants to impress him by putting a pristine mask on his marriage. The sons also ask him to discourage their parents from divorcing, even though his advice is the same as theirs.

Oh, and in the beginning of the film, one of the sons explicitly say, “we are Christians”.

While religion is not focused on, the film makes sure we don’t forget about its existence.

I wonder how much of the conservative attitude is attributed to their religious beliefs.

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How NOT to praise Baby Boomers

 

Praise them for boosting the prosperity

Obviously, this has been brought up many times before and it only applies to modern countries which economic booms happened almost right after the second world war.

If you want to credit anyone who created the booms, credit the Boomers’ parents and grandparents. They were the ones in charge.

In my home country Indonesia, I would not say they ruined the economy. They did improve it. But, our country has yet to become an economic powerhouse with extremely low poverty rate and high rate of ease of doing business. The improvement is meagre and unimpressive.

If anything, many joined forces with Soeharto in making the country a more sectarian, more anti-intellectual and more brutal place to live. Many were already adults in the early years of his regime; therefore, they had the option to not get brainwashed. I am sure those who participated in the still-glorified anti-Communist purge were also Boomers.

Praise them for having great taste

Well, admittedly, Boomers do have a great taste in music. But, I cannot fully praise them for having so.

Why? Because their taste was mainstream. Therefore, they were not special. That’s like praising someone who was raised among English speakers for being fluent in the language.

I prefer to credit the pre-war generations for influencing the Boomers’ musical taste. I mean, they were the recording studio bosses! They were the ones who decided what kind of music the youngsters at the time should listen to!

Oh, and don’t forget that Boomers are also among the current music producers who churn out craps, sacrificing artistic integrity for profit’s sake.

If I want to go further with American Boomers, not many of them had a good taste in cinema as well.

The Hollywood Renaissance, which was marked by directorial independence and respect of artistry, would not exist without the university-educated young Americans who loved watching the more aesthetic European and Japanese cinemas and formed the majority of moviegoers in the 1960’s America.

That’s a very specific demographic. Unless a boomer was among the moviegoers studio executives tried to pander to, we cannot credit him/her for a having a good taste in films.

Praise them for their great personalities

Some Boomers are known for overplaying their greatness and accusing Millennials and Gen Z for being entitled snowflakes, even though they themselves were raised in a significantly more prosperous era (again, in some countries), demand absolute respect just because they are old and get offended by OK Boomer, one of the mildest memes ever.

When they do admit their roles in wrecking the prosperity (which they enjoyed immensely), they shamelessly and openly wash their hands of their sins and act like old age and near-death are to be regarded as absolution.

To sum things up, they are conceited, delusional, fragile, hypocritical and irresponsible. Only donkeys think any of those traits are wonderful in any ways.

Oh, and even if I am willing to pretend military enlistment makes one an inherently heroic and courageous person (it inherently does not), you cannot use the American war in Vietnam to make the Boomers look heroic and courageous.

Why? Because conscription.

Able-bodied young men were obligated to enlist, whether they wanted to or not. If they were indeed heroic and courageous, they would have enlisted voluntarily without being forced to. They would have to enlist simply because they loved the idea of serving their countries (or, to be more accurate, their countries’ political establishments).

We can also use this argument to debunk the myth of the ‘heroic’ and ‘courageous’ generations of both world wars.

Praise them for their progressiveness

Some Boomers claim they are the bastion of progressiveness, supposedly due to many of them being Hippies in the olden days. So, let’s just pretend the Hippie movement was indeed all about peace and freedom (sceptical about it).

I may acknowledge that Boomers did lead a sexual revolution in the west. But, that’s the extent of their progressiveness.

Even the resulting sexual liberty was still very heteronormative. The west started to become widely pro-LGBT rights just mere two decades ago; even as late as the 90’s, gay Hollywood actors were forced to stay closeted.

If anything, many Boomers in the US and UK ended up voting for conservative governments in the 1980’s. And you cannot convince me there are none of them in the reactionary and war-mongering establishments.

War-mongering…

Never mind the Afghan and Iraq wars. How can one defend a generation for being peace-loving while at the same time lauding them for participating in a war?

“You are a hateful, ageist Millennial!”

No, I am not.

My words are expressions of frustrations against the ageist Boomers who try to convince everyone about their generation’s absolute supremacy. If I am a hateful ageist, wouldn’t I use their old age as an argument of how pieces of shit they are?

Obviously, if you really want to defend the Boomers, you would need facts and refrain from dramatising them. In order to do so, you need to be a reasonable and truth-loving person.

If you are a Boomer who believe in your generation’s divine greatness or a younger person who believes we must always respect ALL older people regardless of their actual respectability, then you are neither reasonable nor truth-loving.

If you belong to either category, then I can easily dismiss your argument. You cannot prove anyone wrong by using falsehoods and overstatements.

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