Everybody has their own story. All people knew it. But what makes a story more interesting than the other stories is because its covey values that we expect to enrich our lives. Story is a kind of imaginary world that we shape with language for living in human interactions. Sometimes, it has powerful narrations that persuade people to conduct in a certain kind of direction. Therefore, story is an essential element of human culture.
Maybe, someone tends to define story as the objective dimension of human experience. It is accurate as far as the story is shared human experiences. Our natural conditions necessarily need a story to identify and construct ourselves for living with others. So, as Max Weber famously put it, “man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun,” the story is a form of significance. In other words, what made the story possible is the meaning of life itself. And it is transferred from one person to another and transmitted across generations through collective memory and historical accounts.
From such abstraction, we need to pin it down to conceive a better understanding. I would begin with my last weekend’s story about modern popular culture called cinema. In my developing countries, cinema movies are popular entertainment that attracts most middle-class people. They enthusiastically follow the film story as a sign to be modern. It is also the way to appropriate modern cultures. For this reason, the cinema theatre is the main site of reproducing modern imaginations and disseminating its values through fascinating narrations. When I was there, I attempt to reflect on the position and mechanism of the movie within modern cultures.
From the consumer perspective, the cinema theatre service is clearly making people comfortable. The room is full AC, and the movie theatre is a good effects setting. But this service must be paid with the amount of money that not everybody is able to afford it. The cost of one cinema ticket is $5. This amount is the average daily living cost in my city. This year, my city’s minimum standard wage is around $ 150 a month. When we divide it by 30 (day), the labour class just take $ 5 per day. So, the labour class hardly prefers to watch a movie in the cinema theatre and tends to spend their money on more affordable or costless entertainment.
What makes this popular culture inaccessible to the lower class is the logic of capitalism. This logic operates when we perceive the population of society as potential consumers to build the market. The capitalist mode of cinema making tends to produce films or movies with a massive budget to achieve some degree of qualities that are expected to gain attention in the market. For them, movies must be costly produced in order to craft the narration of the story with special features and effects that provide new experiences for the audiences. This is why the genre of movie films varies from romance, drama, action, and horror to science fiction.
I must point out that all these genres lie from imagining contextual human experiences. But as a cultural product with market logic, the film story must be distributed with a restrictive mechanism (ticketing) to gain revenue. And the cinema theatre’s main function is to maintain this mechanism. So, when the modern stories are intertwined with the market logic the consequence is cultural products tend to be functioning as distinctive identities. This mode of distinction is conducted not only by the well-off people but also by the poor ones. For instance, poor people can consume the costly modern popular culture through alternative channels. Thanks to the ICT revolution, the alternative movie channel is flourishing widely and costless distributing. This account can be called the popular cinematic story in the modernized city.
Despite modern culture being dominant, I found the resilience of traditional popular stories. This resilience seems clear when I attend to pagelaran wayang (shadow puppet show) a few days ago. When I was a child, I perceived that the wayang performance is often held by the traditional public figures who are well known as wealthier people. And wayang is a popular culture show among Javanese people. The popularity of wayang comes from the well-established moralistic narrations performed by the dalang (shadow puppet master). Besides that, wayang as a public show has a deep root in the history of Javanese cultures.
What makes me feel amazed when attending wayang showsis the skill mastery of dalang. A dalang necessarily knows the stories of Mahabarata and Ramayana and is sufficiently mindful of the biography of its characters. Because of pagelaran wayang is the performative show, dalang must mastering the motions of wayang (puppet). And more interestingly, dalang is also able to make different voices regarding the character of wayang. However, shadow puppet shows—performed one full night in length—have thematic wayang stories. This thematic story is regularly chosen according to the celebrating events. It can be a wedding, public promotion or anniversary.
Attending pagelaran wayang in the rural setting get me think that one of its key functions is to maintain social cohesion. It seems obvious to me when this show originally is presented to people who live in the rural community. I observe two different clusters of audience. The first one is the audiences who have a connection—it can be bold or work ties— or influence in the rural community. All of them are the preferentially targeted audience. And the second is the public audience who live in the rural community or have curiosity about wayang. The two clusters of the audience are not divided strictly, they can sit down wherever they feel comfortable and appropriate. But the first one has a different treatment because they are invited.
I suppose the narration of wayang stories carries essential values for human living. For instance, the story of “pandu swargo”— the title of pagelaran wayang I have been attended—can be interpreted as the value of respecting the old people. This title is chosen to remind us (the audience) that people who are born later must respect their parents. I must recognize that I hardly understood the flow of the wayang story because the show was narrated in high strata of the Javanese language. I am not familiar with it. But I try to make sense of it as far as I can.
One last thing we must consider in pagelaran wayang is the role of women singers (pesinden). Pesinden has a beautiful voice to sing Javanese lyrics (tembang). Their vocal ability is unique because possess a highly controlling level and sometimes are energic. Unfortunately, this aesthetic part in wayang is difficult to grasp the meaning. Concerning this phenomenon, I must assert that this is a clear sign that Javanese culture accommodates women’s role in public. By such a short comparison, modern times certainly possess their own popular culture as the story of distinctive identity. But when we travel in the periphery, the popular tradition still exists with its own value; namely the story of collective and inclusive solidarity.