Cultural Preservation and the Logic of the Zoo

I went to Jawa Timur Park the other day, basically just having a good time with my friends. What struck me most, however, is how this contemporary theme park is laid out. So much can be drawn, as my obsessive inner cultural analyst turned my simple recreational trip into another intellectual analysis of a third world’s nationalist respect for their traditions. I shall expand this elsewhere in Indonesian, but here is my thesis briefly.

The very concept of the educational theme park is of course the standard one in which they strive to preserve Indonesian heritage by showcasing customs and artifacts for people to admire. What strikes me, however, is the very texture of their display, i.e. these certain routes you are supposed to follow from entrance to exit, as it were. Immediately after showcasing cultural artifacts, the track brought us to displays of plants and animals. And then it’s back to cultural heritage, then it’s either fossils exhibition or the reptile zoo. In front of a a giant statue of the Javanese mythical hero Ken Arok as a backdrop of a giant water world, Dipsy and Po from the Teletubbies walk around greeting kids.

I am not merely talking about this crude Marxian notion of how everything becomes commodified and so on, but also, more importantly, of how they need to be presented as some sort of heroic capitalist action to save the national cultural heritage. The mystification is, of course, unconscious, as with other mystifications of commodities as mystical objects — the proverbial model businessman always believes he is doing a good thing. The ultimate anthropocentric gesture for me is not that of ruthlessly killing animals (as this would be too monstrous and against the idea of our superior kindness towards the other) but precisely that of keeping them in cages for us to enjoy. Then, are these acts of preserving cultural heritage not an act of putting ourselves behind bars, treating our cultural heritage as fascinating animals?

This, I think, illustrates the most dangerous trap if we are to preserve cultural heritage. It is a false cultural heritage — a mere visual heritage that can so easily be adopted into today’s capitalist ideology. To be a true traditional-nationalist (for lack of a better phrase), I think we should reject this idea that our cultural legacy is a visual-ornamental one, daring to look for its more ideological sides. The problem is not that our cultural heritage is disappearing and we have to make it appear — it is that our cultural heritage appear too much behind the zoo bars of global capitalism.

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