Yohana Belinda, Jakarta – According to the Cambridge dictionary, flexing is "a way to exhibit excessive pride in one's achievements or possessions, especially in a manner likely to irritate others."
The new practice of public officials in Indonesia showing off their lavish wealth on social media has driven a stir. It is triggered by the arrest of Mario Dandy Satrio, the son of tax officer Rafael Alun Trisambodo, for assaulting a juvenile on Feb. 20. In the following days, photos and videos showcasing Mario's lavish lifestyle and his father's rumored Rp 56 billion (US$3.6 million) fortune surfaced, prompting inspection regarding the source of the funds, as reported by The Jakarta Post.
Andhi Pramono, head of customs in Makassar, whose family also flaunts his wealth, made headlines shortly after. His daughter had posted photos of herself wearing a Rp 22 million ($1,458) top and Rp 1 million ($66) trousers on her social media account.
As such, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo urged public officials not to flaunt their wealth, at the Cabinet Plenary Session in the State Palace, on March 2.
"I urge you, don't flaunt your authority or fortune, especially on Instagram and other social media," President Jokowi said, as quoted by Detik. "That's very inappropriate bureaucratic behavior," he continued.
Hard to eradicate
The founder of Asosiasi Influencer Indonesia (AFI), Wenny Fatma Triyanti, said the widespread availability of internet access that can reach a broader audience becomes the primary factor that makes it challenging to eradicate flexing culture from the general public.As of 2021 there will be around 191.4 million social media users in Indonesia, as reported by Statista, an online platform specializing in market and consumer data. After China and India, Indonesia had the third-highest social media users in the Asia-Pacific region in 2021.
Furthermore, appealing to a niche audience through displays of cultural capital becomes a quick way to go out of business. She explains that in a nation of 273 million people, with varying socioeconomic classes and a significant social divide, many individuals are interested in gaining a glimpse into the lavish lifestyles of the wealthy.
Citing Statistics Indonesia (BPS), the poverty rate in Indonesia was reported to be 9.57 percent in September 2022, with 26.36 million people living below the poverty line.
"There are the possibilities of people who dream of achieving the success they want through consuming the flexing culture content," Wenny said.
In addition, the flexing material has been packaged or aimed in a novel way that attracts a great deal of interest rapidly. This trend brings back the story of Indra Kenz, a Binomo trading platform "affiliate," containing content detailing his extravagant spending habits for all to see.
Yunike Balsa Rhapsodia, a clinical psychologist residing in Jakarta, explains that "it's normal" if a large population consumes flexing culture because "we live in a consumerist society." This normality means that people from all walks of life consume the material, not just low-income people.
"We are used to believing that success is measured by the things we can only afford. It's either new clothes or a new house," Yunike said. She goes on to say that according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, humans require physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging needs (friendship), esteem and self-actualization. As a result, people are conditioned to believe that success in life can be measured in terms of monetary wealth.
"Essentially, money, position and material possessions can indirectly satisfy our four needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, and self-esteem," Yunike said, adding that ideas of measuring happiness with possessions are not always accurate. She further offers her insight into the phenomenon of "flaunting one's wealth" by listing many factors, such as external social pressures, influence and an individual's initial stage of development.
Yunike said some people resort to flexing to boost their social image to maintain their status. As humans are social creatures, our social standing and reputation are crucial. Clinical psychologist Laras Margaretha, 34, from Jakarta adds that some individuals engage in the flexing culture because they experience a "fear of missing out" (FOMO) when most of the group is flaunting their possessions.
This situation leads to them being evaluated based on various subjective criteria, including wealth and attractiveness, to even followers on their social media.
Unfortunately, humans are subject to a certain level of societal pressure in their daily social lives. Along the way, some people firmly desire external confirmation of their possessions. "Soul-wise, they are penniless," Yunike said.
The 32-year-old clinical psychologist elaborates that flexing has zero correlation to social standing. "It all boils down to the individual's capacity for establishing inner tranquility," she said.
But why is it becoming increasingly demanding when public figures flaunt their wealth?
The Post reported an analysis by Drone Emprit indicated that the case had caused public fury about the misuse of public funds and the possibility that justice would not be delivered because the judiciary is now dealing with the wealthy.
Drone Emprit looked at more than 30,000 tweets to determine public opinion between February 21 and 28 when the Rafael case went viral. The results indicate that people were shocked by the excessive wealth of tax officials.
Florentina Dwiastuti, a research assistant for the politics and social change department at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), explains that the main reason why there is even more outrage when public officials flaunt their wealth or flexing is due to the assumption or fact that basically the salaries or income of state officials generated from the public, for welfare and service to the community and not to gain profit/benefits themselves. Therefore, distrust will arise when they show off their wealth because the money used to finance the state (including its officials) is misused for their interests.
The intention contrasts with the entrepreneurs or celebrities, whose goal is explicitly to seek as much profit as possible and not to serve the community. In Government Regulation (PP) No. 42 of 2004 concerning the Development of the Corps Spirit and the Code of Ethics for Civil Servants, Article 10 point (a) states "actualizing a simple lifestyle," hence the state employees/officials who flaunt their wealth or flexing are perceived to have deviated from existing regulations.
"Referring to existing regulations, state employees/officials are required to use social media appropriately, such as promoting the activities that they have done, especially in society. The Communications and Information (Kominfo) Ministry's Public Information Communication Directorate General issued a guidebook titled Maximizing the Use of Social Media in Government Institutions, which describes the role of social media in government circles such as to reach a wider, faster, personal and communicative public," Florentina explained.
Florentina also stated that the Guidelines for the Use of Social Media for Government Agencies stipulated by the Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry concerning the principles and ethics of using social media in government circles, intended to maintain the image, reputation and good name of government agencies.
However, public officials' use of social media is perceived as a two-edged sword; when used correctly, it can increase public trust and vice versa.
"Therefore, public officials should ostensibly be instructed not to flaunt a luxurious lifestyle because doing so might backfire," Florentina said.
Moreover, Laras states that it is common for viewers to feel upset about content, especially from prominent figures.
Many elements influence our emotional state when witnessing the flexing of others. The emotional causes that lead to our sensitivity to flexing content, as explained by Laras, include the possibility that we, too, unknowingly want the life that they have.
"We might not be in the proper frame of mind due to factors like dealing with economic concerns. It's because some people have unmet psychological needs," she explained why the material triggers certain people.
The culture you're trying to flaunt here must be presented to the correct people. Although public officials are paid to serve the public, Laras argues that cultural appropriation favors influential people instead.
As for now, flexing culture is here to stay for the foreseeable future. "I think it's almost impossible to kill it [flexing culture] soon because it's tough to filter out our content on social media," Wenny said.