How many words does it take to write a scathing political or social critique? As evidenced by the new book “Politweet,” by Salman Aristo, it can be done in less than 140 characters.
Anybody familiar with the microblogging service Twitter knows that 140 is the maximum number of characters allowed per message, better known as a tweet.
The short character count can be limiting, but many writers enjoy the challenge of condensing their thoughts or even whole stories into the tiny space.
Salman Aristo is the sort of writer who enjoys a good challenge.
He is best known for writing hit Indonesian films such as “Laskar Pelangi” (“The Rainbow Troops”), “Ayat-Ayat Cinta” (“The Verses of Love”) and “Garuda di Dadaku” (“Garuda on My Chest”).
But he said he has grown increasingly captivated by the potential of Twitter over the past year.
He signed up on the microblogging service in September 2009 and at first only used it to promote his films.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure about what I would do with Twitter,” Salman said.
But in March, he learned of a Twitter community called Fiksi Mini, dedicated to sharing flash fiction, extremely short stories.
The concept was a revelation to him — Twitter could be a whole new medium to distribute his stories.
He abandoned his blog and switched to Twitter to share his flash fiction, becoming an active contributor in the Fiksi Mini community.
He has already posted more than 5,000 flash fiction stories.
“I am the user with the most retweeted stories on Fiksi Mini,” he said.
His tiny tales also helped him gain more than 9,000 followers for his Twitter account, @salmanaristo.
Salman said he is inspired by everything around him, and his flash fiction deals with a wide variety of serious and comedic topics.
But one subject he kept returning to over and over again was politics, specifically stories critiquing politics and society in Indonesia.
“I am a product of the ’90s,” he said, referring back to the tumultuous era of Indonesian politics surrounding the fall of Suharto. He added that it was during that time that he honed his critical thinking skills as a journalism student at Bandung’s Padjajaran University.
“The instinct to protest has ever since been a part of who I am.”
Salman’s incisive wit and large following on Twitter caught the attention of Bentang Pustaka, a publishing house.
They asked him if he was interested in publishing a collection of his microfiction.
He said he was apprehensive at first, unsure of how they could make an interesting book out of stories less than 140 characters long, but the publisher said they would package his stories with illustrations to help them come alive.
Thus “Politweet” was born. Each page is filled with amusing portraits satirizing Indonesian society, rendered in Salman’s sharp prose accompanied by illustrations from Miko, the book’s artist.
The story collection is filled with Salman’s commentary on current events. While most of the satire is directed towards the government, he also critiques the media and society.
One page features an illustration of a young woman crying on her mother’s lap. Salman’s one-sentence story, which accompanies the picture, is simply a quote from the mother: “Kid, if you are going to grow up to be a housekeeper, don’t get raped, no one will defend you.”
A dark story to be sure, but, according to Salman, it is a critique of ignorant sentiments typified in a comment made by the speaker of the House of Representative, Marzuki Ali, who said that the quality of Indonesian maids was so bad that it was understandable if their employers got upset and abused them.
Another picture in the book shows two middle-class men having coffee. The first says, “These days, corruption is just like coffee, it’s everywhere!” The second replies, “Yes, yes. Hey, how about this budget? Do you think the markup is correct?”
Salman said that story is meant to satirize the middle class in Indonesia, who complain about corruption even as they practice it themselves with little thought to their hypocrisy.
He said the story illustrated his belief that the middle class is the cause of many of Indonesia’s problems because they have failed to stand up to corruption and are unconsciously taking on the mind-set of the corruptors themselves.
Salman, who is busy balancing time between his writing projects and his second baby with wife Ginatri S. Noer, said Bentang is planning to publish another book, similar to “Politweet,” but focusing on love and romance rather than politics.
He is also in the middle of producing his second film, entitled “Jakarta Hati” (“Jakarta Heart”).