A Thing Or Two About Putting People In Boxes: Punk Enlightment

Photo credit: Alida R. Awaluddin
It’s not something I normally post, but this experience was so great that I had to write about it.

I volunteered myself to cover the live tweet and post an Instagram post at a community visit to Komunitas Taring Babi, a community of punk. It was part of Pekan Komunikasi’s agenda for the week, and one of the perks of being a competition finalist was that they could visit this community and learn from them.

Of course when I first thought about punk, I immediately went back to my memories encountering them: smelly, a whole lot of ripped denim and black, weird haircuts/colors, tattoos all over their bodies, piercings all over the face and ears, songs they sung are just ‘eh’ with an ‘eh’ voice. Honest to God. I encountered them many times back on when I used to go to places by bus. There was this feeling of disgust whenever I see them, like I didn’t feel so safe when they came into the bus, singing, and asking for a bit of money. I never gave them money because I didn’t like their crappy voice, their looks, and they smelled really bad. There’s this stereotype about these people. Since the new order (President Soeharto’s era of regime), citizens were told that people with tattoos were criminals. People with tattoos were either went missing or silently shot with a bullet, and most people who openly critiqued the government were likely to be put in jail. When I got the chance to visit and actually talk to these guys in person I tried to open my mind, put all those negative thoughts away, and looked forward to what they have to say to us.

House entrance


It was about 9 or 10 AM on a Friday, we arrived at somewhere Jagakarsa, South Jakarta, by bus and we walked to the community house, because it was deep in an alley. The alley was filled with houses of families. I had a glimpse imagination if I were a punk and had these people – parents overprotective of their children – staring at me, looking down on me, thinking they didn’t want to be near me. But on the day before I did a bit of research about this community and how eventually when they settled in their current house people accepted them and they didn’t have any problem towards these people anymore. I got more curious on that point.



Books that I couldn't read


It was a little house. Quite a peaceful house, I must say. When we arrived, we were greeted with handshakes and smiles by the members of Komunitas Taring Babi (+ they weren’t smelly like I imagined). When we were inside, to the right left side there was a bookshelf filled with books I never read, from political to books about religion. To the left side, there were posters in black and white, mostly artwork. Later we found out that they were printed from piece of wood, carved with drawings, painted with a certain color, and then transferred onto a medium like a fabric or paper. Old school graphic design. They sell those artworks as the community’s source of fund, aside from doing some gigs and open a tattoo parlor.



We then met one of the founders of the community, Mike Marjinal. Tattoo all over the arms, legs, even his head like he's Aang of Avatar, but he was dressed casually. He was doing all the talking when it was time to discuss what the community’s all about, stereotype about punk, and how the stereotype isn’t exactly true. He built the community in 1996. I didn’t catch exactly when the community settled in Jagakarsa but people didn’t really like them when they first came to the alley. He said people even held a secret neighborhood meeting to discuss about them, wanting to evict them, because they were scared. Punk in Indonesia is linked to criminal, likes to cause a commotion, just name all the bad things. Since they already rented the house for three months, they waited for three months to evict, but they did not anyway. Somehow people came to accept that they were not all bad. People around became open-minded towards them, until this day. Mike was a really nice person, and I could see that when we were on a lunch break. We brought food for the finalists, the committee, and the members who were present. Kids were coming in to see what was up, and Mike gave the some lunch boxes that were meant for him and other members for the kids. They were saying “thank you!” to Mike. He said before that there should not be anything wrong with choosing punk as a way of life. 
“It’s just a matter of some people having this different way of life, choosing a different path than people normally would. So why are people saying we are deviant? People like to hear what they want to hear, see what they want to see. When they see us, they’ll have their initial thoughts about us. When something bad happened to us, they’ll think it's normal that we got into trouble. We’re all the bad things people can think of. But it’s not like that at all. We want the things other people want too, like justice, freedom, the right to express ourselves, even the right to get an education. But people had to question the differences. We were defined as an object, by a symbol, not by our philosophy, not as a person. Those are the reasons why we built this community,” said Mike.


In the recording studio
So other than gigs, arts, and tattoos, they like to help people out. Upstairs we were shown to the recording studio where they record and produce their own songs. Mike showed us some of his music videos. The first video was about social criticism for the government, professionally shot and edited as a rock music video supposed to be. The second was a song to support KPK (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, a group chosen to investigate acts of corruption in Indonesia), featuring kids as the model, and the song was said to give a boost of morale to KPK as this song was dropped in front of their doorsteps when KPK was in chaos. The third was a song about supporting the women of Rembang trying to protect their land from corporates who wanted to build a cement factory there. You can hear their songs and see their videos on Marjinal TV YouTube Channel.


So I was very much enlightened during this visit. All the bad thoughts I had about punk were banished. This community gained my respect. Though maybe not all the other punks are like people in this community but at least I know more about the ideology of punk and understand why they sing songs about social criticism and all that. I understand why people around the alley came to peace with them. I write this story because I simply want to share that there is more to a person or a group than meets the eye. I feel a sort of difference when hearing about punk from a third-eye perspective and hearing punk from the actual punk. These people have bigger hearts than most stereotypical normal person do. I have no tattoos, have a normal bob haircut, dress casually, and here I am writing about a group of people – the victims of media stereotype – who went to places speaking about freedom and justice and just how cool and nice these people are. I hope you (who are reading this post) will question stereotype, not put people in boxes, and just think more open and positive.