Essay ini dibuat untuk memenuhi tugas akhir mata kuliah Mass Media and Pop Culture di Victoria University of Wellington. Saya tahu, sudah ada banyak analisis tentang fenomena flex culture di media sosial. Tapi sepanjang yang saya tahu, belum ada yang menganalisis seperti yang saya buat dalam tulisan ini. Biasanya analisis yang sudah ada berhenti pada konsep excessive consumption dan conspicuous consumption yang pertama kali dikemukan Thorstein Veblen dalam Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899. Tapi mereka tidak menganalisisnya dengan teori-teori media sosial. Padahal fenomena ini tidak bisa hanya dilihat dari sudur pandang ekonomi, karena ada peran besar dari media sosial yang ikut melanggengkan budaya pamer dalam masyarakat kita. Karena itu, saya menganalisisnya dengan menggunakan “celebrity capital life cycle” framework dari Carrillat, F. A., & Ilicic, J. (2019) dan menganalisis bagaimana selebgram mengumpulkan celebrity capital dengan pemikiran dari Brooks, G., Drenten, J., & Piskorski, M. J. (2021).
Asyiknya belajar pop culture, kita bisa mengangkat masalah-masalah yang sedang happening atau viral dalam keseharian kita, untuk diangkat dalam pembahasana akademis di kampus. Saya jadi ingat kata dosen saya, “Teori itu bukan hanya untuk dibaca di dalam buku, tapi untuk diaplikasikan di dunia nyata.”
Ketika belajar Pop Culture, saya belajar bagaimana ‘menghidupkan teori’. Teori dan keilmuan itu bukan hanya digunakan untuk mengukir langit, tapi harus kita tarik ke bumi untuk menjawab permasalahan-permasalahan yang kita temui sehari-hari. Mengapa orang pamer di media sosial? Bagaimana media sosial bisa semakin menguatkan budaya pamer dalam ruang publik kita? Itu yang saya coba jelaskan dalam essay ini, dengan mengambil studi kasus dalam kasus Indra Kenz dan Gilang Widya Pramana. Enjoy!
Crazy Rich Indonesians: An Analysis of Indonesian Flex Culture in Social Media
Kevin Kwan’s novel Crazy Rich Asians were released and became a best-selling in 2013. Crazy Rich Asians tell a story about Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American professor at New York University who has a long-time boyfriend, Nick Young. One day, Young invites Chu to his native Singapore to attend his best friend’s wedding. In Singapore, it revealed that Young came from an extremely wealthy family. Following the novel’s success, in 2018, this book was filmed with the same title.
The success of this novel and film inspired netizens in Indonesia to give the title “Crazy Rich” to rich people who like to show off their wealth on social media. However, unlike the Young family, who are old money, “Crazy Rich,” who shows off their wealth on social media in Indonesia, is usually not old money who has been rich for generations. They are typically new rich people who gain popularity by showing off their wealth on social media.
Social media is a new power in Indonesia. Based on data from We Are Social-Hootsuite, there are 191.4 million social media users in Indonesia in January 2022. This number is equivalent to 68.9 total population. In addition, there were 129.9 million users on Facebook, 139.0 million YouTube users, 99.15 million Instagram users, and 92.07 million Tiktok users (aged 18 and above) in Indonesia (Kemp, 2022).
The rapid development of social media in Indonesia gives Indonesians new media for self-representation. Since thousands of years ago, humans have performed self-representation. In the stone age, native Australians left their handprints in caves. In our grandparents’ era, people used diaries to write their life experiences for self-representation. With the development of social media, humans use social media to do self-representation with a much larger audience than before (Rettberg, 2018).
Likewise with the crazy rich in Indonesia. They show off their wealth as a form of self-representation using various social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, and Tiktok. They show off their supercars, private jets, and branded goods as a self-representation using social media. Based on this lifestyle, the research questions in this essay are:
How does social media give rise to the show-off culture in Indonesia?
This essay will use an analysis of Jean Baudrillard’s theory of consumer culture to answer this question. Baudrillard’s analysis investigates social phenomena in the context of post-modern society by examining the social symbols of society. In addition, there will also be an analysis using the concept of conspicuous consumption, which Thorstein Veblen first coined in the theory of the leisure class. How social media provides the show-off culture in Indonesia will be analyzed using the “celebrity capital life cycle” framework.
The methodology will use a case study by analyzing two cases of flex culture in Indonesia, then comparing the two cases with cases in other countries.
This essay describes the contemporary lifestyle and its dynamics as a logical consequence of the sign consumption and symbolic meanings. Moreover, how social media encourages the show-off culture in Indonesia also will be discussed.
Indra Kenz, instant wealth ends in prison
“Flex” is a slang word for showing off your wealth (Smith, 2020). According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, flex is to talk in a boastful or aggressive way or to make an ostentatious display of something (Merriam-Webster, 2022).
Flex culture cannot be separated from human civilization. Pharaohs flaunted their wealth with golden crowns and pyramids, Indian Maharajas built lavish palaces, and Incan rulers lived in gold-plated palaces (Sundie et al., 2011). This show-off culture associated with excessive consumption continued into the post-modern period, mainly when social media was widely used in 2008.
Excessive consumption occurs to crazy rich in Indonesia, as shown on their social media. One example is Indra Kenz or Crazy Rich Medan. Medan is a city in the province of North Sumatra, Indonesia, where he originated. Indra often shows off expensive items on his social media, then says it with the tagline “murah banget” (“very cheap!” in English).
Kenz’s wealth was obtained in a relatively short time. In a podcast interview on VDVC Talk, he claimed to come from a middle-class family (Rahmawati, 2021, 11:16). However, his wealth has increased sharply in just three years since 2019. In his Tiktok account, he often showcases the purchase of luxury goods such as Rolex, shopping for designer products at Louis Vuitton and Gucci, to buying a house for IDR 20 billion with cash (NZD 2,164,000).
One night, he claimed he could not sleep because he was caring for his sick girlfriend. Not knowing what to do, he then bought a Tesla car for IDR 1.5 billion (NZD 162,300) at 03.00 AM. This Tesla purchase was shown off on his YouTube channel, which immediately went viral and got more than 1 million views (Kenz, 2021).
In YouTube videos showing off his wealth on Indra Kesuma’s channel, he always includes the website address www.kursustrading.com, where he teaches online trading. Kenz claims that teaching this online trading course is one of his sources of wealth (Rahmawati, 2021, 11:16). From this trading course, he attracted 130,000 members and provided online trading mentor services. There are two types of membership offered by this course, namely VIP and private. VIP type has a subscription period of 6 months or 12 months, while private has a 12-month subscription period. The standard membership fee varies between IDR 166,000 (NZD 17.96) to IDR 216,000 (NZD 23.37) per month (Jonata, 2022).
He recruited members from this trading course to invest in binary options trading on the Binomo platform. A binary option is an activity of determining the price movement of an asset within a specific period of time according to the trader’s choice. In binary options trading, traders can bet on a financial asset to make quick profits (Mukarromah, 2021).
The Indonesian Commodity Futures Trading Supervisory Agency (Bappebti) later declared the binary options system an illegal form of online gambling in Indonesia. Members who follow this scheme are at risk of experiencing massive losses. Indra Kenz was detained by the Indonesian Police on 25 February 2022 and is now facing a 20-year prison term (Sandi, 2022).
Kenz’s behavior on social media by buying excessive luxury goods is conspicuous consumption. Thorstein Veblen first introduced conspicuous consumption in Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899 (Trigg, 2001). Conspicuous consumption is when someone buys expensive goods or services to build an impression and assert wealth and status (Sundie et al., 2011). Another definition of conspicuous consumption is when someone buys an item, not because of its primary function but because the product symbolizes social class or lifestyle (Firat et al., 2013).
Jean Baudrillard also explains Kenz’s consumption pattern in the idea of symbolic exchange. Symbolic exchange is when an item is exchanged as a commodity but has added value in the form of a status symbol to consumers (Koch & Elmore, 2006). In Indra’s context, he buys luxury goods as a symbol that makes him “crazy rich” status.
The concept of symbolic exchange also explains why capitalism persists in post-modernism. People buy goods or services not only because of their primary function but also because of the added value of social status to consumers.
This excessive consumption is now being strengthened by social media, where social media has become a medium for flexing. Kenz’s conspicuous consumption becomes a socio-cultural currency collected to get celebrity capital. According to Driessens, celebrity capital is the media visibility obtained from representation to gain public recognition that can be transferred to all social fields (Brooks et al., 2021).
As an influencer who builds personal branding on social media, collecting celebrity capital is very important. There are four stages in the celebrity capital life cycle, usually passed by social media influencers. The first stage is the acquisition, a stage when celebrity recognition is still limited but continues to grow (Carrillat & Ilicic, 2019). A social media influencer must have a selling point and uniqueness that makes him famous ( Khamis et al., 2017, as cited in Brooks et al., 2021, p. 530). In the acquisition stage, Kenz uses self-representation to get celebrity capital.
Kenz’s does a visual representation through photos and videos of luxury items that he uploads on Tiktok, YouTube, and Instagram. Pictures and videos of supercars, private jets, and Rolex are objects reconstructed to represent wealth. While, conspicuous consumption and flexing are Kenz’s selling points as a social media influencer. He also uses the tagline “very cheap” for the expensive items he buys as a form of uniqueness used for personal branding. From the self-representation he built, he got celebrity capital and managed to collect 1.6 M followers on Instagram @indrakenz. In addition, he amassed 1.31 M subscribers on YouTube.
The second stage in the celebrity capital life cycle is consolidation. Consolidation is the stage where a celebrity is at the peak of fame and is widely known (Carrillat & Ilicic, 2019). He consolidated with several parties for profit. In Kenz’s case, he is consolidating with followers and subscribers, who are interested in getting rich instantaneously like Kenz. They then consolidated so that these followers and subscribers took trading courses and became members of the binary options he managed. This trading course invites them to invest and become members of binary options with multi-level marketing systems. From these members, Kenz got his wealth.
The next stage in the celebrity capital life cycle is abrupt downfall/slow decline (Carrillat & Ilicic, 2019). At this stage, Kenz experienced an abrupt downfall when many of his members lost, and online trading was declared illegal. He should be able to identify declining capital by looking at how many members have lost. If recognized early on, this problem can be anticipated by, for example, reducing the number of members and content flexing or thinking about a new type of legal business. However, Kenz failed to mitigate the scandal and was eventually arrested and faced a sentence of 20 years in prison. Then he deleted his Instagram account, and his social media activity stopped instantly.
Then the last stage in the celebrity capital life cycle is redemption/resurgence. However, in Kenz’s case, it seems almost impossible for him to get redemption because the celebrity capital he has accumulated has been lost along with the loss of public trust in him.
Gilang Widya Pramana, when flexing becomes advertising
A Cessna Citation Latitude private jet arrived from the United States at Abdurrahman Saleh airport, Malang, East Java, Indonesia, on January 26, 2021. This private jet is the latest release from Cessna, of which there are only about 200 units worldwide and for the first time in Indonesia (Eri, 2021). An Indonesian YouTuber, Fitra Eri, immediately reviewed this plane on his YouTube channel on the first day of the arrival of this private jet to Indonesia.
In this YouTube video, Eri shows the features and luxury of this newly arrived aircraft. Gilang Widya Pramana, nicknamed Crazy Rich Malang, is the owner of a private jet. In an interview with Eri, Pramana said he chose the Cessna Citation Latitude because the plane’s price was affordable and it had luxurious facilities. Eri coughed when he heard Pramana say that the price of this private jet was affordable. For most Indonesians, this private jet costs IDR 280 billion (NZD 27,050,000) is far above a dream and will never be possible to have in life.
However, about a year after this video was released, a Twitter user expressed his suspicions about Pramana’s ownership of the private jet. His doubts were proven; it turned out that the private jet did not belong to Pramana. In a press conference in March 2022, Pramana finally admitted that this private jet was only chartered (Dewi, 2022).
Just like Kenz, Pramana amassed his fortune in a short time. He came from a middle-class family and previously had various professions, such as owning a motorcycle washing business and being a freelance tour leader. His wealth had snowballed since 2015 when he and his wife opened a skincare business under the brand MS Glow.
In contrast to Kenz, who has gone through a celebrity capital life cycle from the acquisition stage to an irreversible abrupt downfall, Pramana is still in the acquisition stage, where he continues to acquire celebrity capital. Therefore, this case analysis focuses on the acquisition stage. The process of collecting celebrity capital in this acquisition stage is called Brooks et al, as an influencer celebrification.
Influencer celebrification is the process of collecting celebrity capital by social media influencers in the social media ecosystem (Brooks et al., 2021). According to Brooks et al., there are three types of celebrification influencers; generative, collaborative, and evaluative practices. These three types of influencer celebrification often overlap or recur.
Generative practices are when the acquisition of celebrity capital begins. In this stage, influencers work to gain followers (Brooks et al., 2021). In this stage, Pramana carries out a flex culture in the content on various social media to get celebrity capital. In carrying out these generative practices, his flexing is excessive and requires much money to get celebrity capital. An example is when he sponsored a side event at Paris Fashion Week to promote MS Glow skin care. MS Glow’s promotion to the Paris Fashion Week side event received much attention from the Indonesian public, significantly impacting celebrity capital acquisition.
The second is collaborative practices, namely expanding the acquisition of celebrity capital by establishing relationships with other influencers, fans, and other parties (Brooks et al., 2021). When they did content flexing about their sponsorship in Paris, they paid for several other influencers to go to Paris to create content. Another example of collaborative practice is when he shows off his private jet on YouTube. In addition to publishing private jet content on his YouTube channel, he invited several other YouTubers to create content about their private jets. Establishing relationships with other influencers makes their celebrity capital grow.
The third type is evaluative practices when celebrity capital is valued, and potential influencers provide significant value to a product (Brooks et al., 2021). In other influencers, celebrity capital is used to attract other brands to advertise on them. However, for Pramana, celebrity capital is used for marketing their products to gain the public’s trust. With the celebrity capital they have, the audience is expected to buy their skin care products or in other businesses, such as the transportation business.
Flexing culture in Indonesia and other countries
Social media that facilitates humans to do self-representation with large audiences has been a medium to do flex culture. Not only in Indonesia, but this culture also occurs in other countries. Social media influencers in Indonesia, such as Kenz and Pramana, usually do flexing for marketing strategies. They do flexing as a selling point and a way to acquire celebrity capital. After collecting celebrity capital, they promote and market their business: Kenz markets binary options, and Pramana markets skin care, transportation, and other businesses. Kenz owns a business that offers wealth to its members. To get the members’ trust, he must show that he has succeeded and got wealthy from this business.
This flexing purpose for online advertising also occurs in other countries. Tai Lopez, an entrepreneur, investor, motivational speaker, and online personality from Los Angeles, the United States, also does this. He often shows off supercars such as Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati, and the luxury house he owns. Like Kenz and Pramana, Lopez did this to promote his business course and attract investors to the business he manages.
Apart from doing online advertising as Lopez did, there are other reasons why people do flexing on social media. Another purpose is for philanthropy; this occurs when someone does flexing on social media by distributing gifts as the American YouTuber MrBeast did. An example of philanthropy flexing is when he distributed 40 cars to his 40,000,000th subscribers. Giving gifts is the easiest way to get a celebrity capital because people volunteer to become subscribers and followers when they get a lure gift.
One of Indonesia’s social media influencers, Arief Muhammad, has done something like this. Muhammad often distributes gifts to his followers on Instagram to get celebrity capital. After having a significant number of followers, he promoted his businesses. Even though Muhammad does compassionate flexing, eventually, his goal is similar to Kenz and Pramana: doing flexing for online advertising.
However, several well-known flexing cases in the United States have violated the law, such as identity fraud, theft, and bank manipulation, such as those of Anna Sorokin (Anna Delvey) and Shimon Yehuda Hayut (Simon Leviev). So far, no cases of stretching have been carried out by falsifying identities in Indonesia.
Show-off culture cannot be separated from human civilization. However, in this post-modern era, flex culture is gaining a place with the existence of social media. Through social media, flexing gets a much larger audience than before.
In Indonesia, social media influencers use social media to perpetuate the show-off culture. They use flex culture as a self-representation to acquire the celebrity capital needed to increase the number of followers and subscribers.
Kenz and Pramana do a visual representation through photos and videos of luxury goods that he uploads on Tiktok, Youtube, and Instagram. Pictures and videos of supercars, private jets, and Rolex are objects reconstructed to represent wealth. Eventually, the celebrity capital they get is used to promote their business.
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