Sun, 22 Oct 2000

Sitting in the dark seeing stars with 'Midnight Affair'

By Bruce Emond

JAKARTA (JP): The producers of Midnight Affair know all the tricks of a two-bit soft porn peddler in trying to get suckers to steal a peek: they tempt and titillate but fail to deliver the money shot. Thankfully.

Midnight Affair, broadcast every Tuesday on TPI at 11:30 p.m., gives its come-on with a breathily voiced disclaimer that "this program is only for viewers 25 years of age and above". It should rightfully be followed by another warning for viewers to remove all heavy objects from within their reach for fear of hurling them through the TV screen.

The live hour-long show takes place in the apartment of Lutfi, a pretty 20-something who, conveniently, has a male astrologer for a friend. Lutfi's friends come over and a discussion ensues about the topic of the week, with viewers invited to call in about their own experiences.

Low lighting in the living room set is perhaps meant to add to the feeling that all of us -- from luscious Lutfi to her bespectacled astrologer friend to those sitting at home -- are venturing together into dark and taboo territory. But it's a false camaraderie built from a society at loose ends, still trying to pick through the muddle of ideas and the feast of freedom to find what it needs. We are the Belsen victims who, finally freed to eat to our heart's content, are in danger of gorging ourselves to death.

The program dives head-first into the "naughty" topics of sexuality; in the last three weeks they have been sexual deviation, lesbianism and on-location affairs. Like several other current TV shows, notably RCTI's Selamat Datang Pagi (Welcome the Morning), it weaves its themes around a simple tale, such as Lutfi running into her lesbian friend from way back when.

And then the calls come. During the sexual deviation program, the phone lines were crammed with heavy breathers telling of how they cannot get enough to satisfy their sexual appetite. The lesbian show, which was perhaps a benchmark in Indonesian TV for having a woman openly acknowledge her homosexuality, was derailed by a male caller confessing he liked nothing better than to watch lesbian scenes in porn movies.

The astrologer, plotting the zodiac's chart, ventured that his astrological signs showed he liked masculine women.

The program is inevitably prurient and voyeuristic; it's like stumbling in on your parents making love. Equally disturbing is the blatant ignorance of the comments. For instance, in talking about sexual deviance, Lutfi tells a woman friend about the frequent stories of fathers molesting their daughters.

"And you know the offspring won't be right," Lutfi said solemnly.

Huh, come again? The subject is incest, not the breeding of two closely related pet pigeons.

The inanity of the questions to the lesbian, Widhie, were only to be expected: Are you the "man" or the "woman"? What do you do when you are attracted to a heterosexual woman? How do you make love?

And, of course, why not try going straight? "You should see her when she's dressed up in a skirt, she's so pretty," Lutfi said. In her estimation, it's obviously a case of clothes really do make the man -- and the mannish lesbian. Put a skirt on her, and she will be back on the straight and narrow in no time.

Last Tuesday's show probably set a new low in breaching the boundaries of taste. Lutfi's friend this week was an actress who enjoyed having affairs while on location, but the problem was she would not shut up about her preferences. As the friend rabbited on in an affected and irritating squeak, Lutfi could not get a word in edgewise. After Lutfi retreated to a side sofa, silenced by the torrent of chatter, the friend showed the type of men she liked by pulling her eyes into a slant.

Midnight Affair should be seen just once for its curiosity value. Ten minutes should be enough to gain your own understanding of the show, and also to consider what might have been if the program -- and issues -- were in different hands.