Autoethnography is defined by Ellis et al (2011) as an approach to research and writing that “seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”. By producing a “thick description” of culture for insiders and outsiders, one can infer patterns in culture, and therefore gain an understanding of similar cultural experience.
I have found that screen media (especially cinema) is the most common and effective method of communicating one’s autoethnographic research and manifesting this concept of the “thick description”, as information is easily and widely disseminated in an entertaining manner, aiming to educate as well as humor. Recently I was able to simultaneously watch and live tweet my knee-jerk reactions to Andibachtiar Yusf’s romantic comedy Love For Sale (2013), a surprisingly touching tale on the transformative properties of love and romance in the digital age. The film presents love, relationships, marriage and family as seminal to the strength of the human spirit, and essential to a fulfilling life. As a third-generation immigrant from Malta, I was able to identify strongly with many of the values demonstrated and discussed in the film. My personal ethnic background (and family by extension) is intrinsically tied to the irreplaceable value of family and loving relationships as well, a common attitude among post-war immigrants from the Mediterranean seeking security in a foreign land.
Upon further research, however, it was clear that the concept of marriage in Indonesian culture is tied to an individual’s self-actualization – as marriage is an indication of reaching adulthood (Cultural Atlas, 2016). The slang term ‘jomblo’ – Indonesian slang for ‘single’ – holds a negative connotation, not for discriminatory purposes yet negative enough to create a distinction between single and committed individuals (Edira Putri, 2018). The film symbolizes the importance of relationships and marriage through the home of the protagonist Richard, appearing tidier and brighter as his love interest Arini weaves her influence throughout every facet of his life.
The film also benefits by portraying romance as quieter, more intimate and genuine. The “lovers” and their interactions are introspective in their clumsiness, as opposed to the Western counterpart of sweeping choral arrangements accompanying intense displays of passion between Hollywood A-listers. The struggle of lonely, desperate people is depicted and treated through a human lens; the protagonist Richard is clearly a loser enshrouded in an environment dripping with toxic masculinity, and yet the audience is allowed to empathize with him despite his faults (however, the anonymity of the actors to Western audiences does heavily contribute to the illusion of the mundane).
Furthermore, the traditional gender roles prevalent in the film (man as the breadwinner, woman as the caretaker) only reinforce the expectations of society that Richard is expected to conform to. Yet, the film also portrays these human traditions to hypothesize over the validity of such expectations in a globalized technological society. For all intents and purposes, the “love” displayed between Richard and Arini certainly is responsible for instigating change for the better, especially within Richard. Is this real love? Does it “count”?
I believe that Love For Sale is an important film in challenging how “real love” is understood within Indonesian/Mediterranean culture and between the various generations. Whilst it appears as an above average romantic-comedy, the touching and somewhat tragic outcome of Richard’s relatable transformation allows us to question the validity of societal expectations and the institution of marriage as an expression of true love.
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095. [Accessed 3/08/2020].
Putri, E. (2018). 15 Indonesian Slang Words to Help You Speak Like a Local. [online] Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/indonesia/articles/15-indonesian-slang-words-to-help-you-speak-like-a-local/ [Accessed 5 Aug. 2020].
Cultural Atlas. (2016). Indonesian Culture – Family. [online] Available at: https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/indonesian-culture/indonesian-culture-family [Accessed 5 Aug. 2020].
Mardian, R. (2018). “Love for Sale”: Putting a price tag on human connection. [online] The Jakarta Post. Available at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2018/04/02/love-for-sale-putting-a-price-tag-on-human-connection.html [Accessed 5 Aug. 2020].
Yusuf, A. (2018). Love for Sale. [online] IMDb. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8065796/ [Accessed 5 Aug. 2020].
Image: Visinema Pictures