Meghan Downes: Media, Marketing, and Morality in the Meikarta Development Project
In this paper, I take the ambitious ‘Meikarta’ development in West Java as a case study for examining shifting relationships between infrastructure, media, and the natural environment in Southeast Asia. Located to the east of Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta, and billed as the ‘Shenzhen of Indonesia,’ Meikarta is being marketed as an entirely new city, a 500-hectare property development with 100 hectares of open green space, 250,000 units of residential property, seven new industrial estates, six major infrastructure projects, and 1.5 million square metres of prime commercial space. The developers, Lippo Group, who also own several major media outlets in Indonesia, have heavily advertised the project during 2017–2018, and much of their marketing strategy relies on the contrast between the smoggy, congested, and morally corrupt present-day Jakarta and the safe, clean, and efficient future Meikarta. By analysing the official advertising campaigns, subsequent media coverage, and critical responses to the Meikarta project, I seek to highlight the significant role of media and popular cultural representations in shaping how people engage with and understand infrastructures, urbanization, and environmental problems. In doing so, I also address broader questions around what has been dubbed ‘the infrastructural turn’ in media, communication and cultural studies, and offer insights into how the challenges and opportunities of rapid urbanization and infrastructure development in Southeast Asia become a key part of powerful recurring media narratives around morality and modernity.
Meghan Downes is a research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University Australia. Her research areas include environmental and digital humanities, urban youth, and the politics of media and popular culture, with a particular focus on Southeast Asia. She has previously held a postdoctoral research fellowship at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute, in the interdisciplinary Asian Urbanisms research cluster. She completed her PhD at the Australian National University and is also the recipient of two Australian government Endeavour Awards for her research on contemporary Indonesia.