Indonesian films and television shows often feature popularly though only superficially known figures from Javanese mythology, including the Goddess of the Southern Ocean Nyai Roro Kidul and her counterpart the Queen of the Snakes Nyi Blorong. In this study I examine the effects of placing the stories about these entities in ‘media space’ (Sen and Hill 2000:199), thus removing them from the local context that in the past infused them with its truth, and making possible their apposition to other truths and values that were previously unconnected to them, and may or may not be congenial with them.
Social constructions of reality must account for adversity and calamities. In East Java this is commonly done with reference to the spirit world and to God, with only occasional appeals to modern science. Rather than being a uniform phenomenon, adversity can be conceptualized as happening on the individual, the household, the community, and the state levels. Explanations similarly vary from specific individual offences, to communal household or community culpability, and national-level disasters like tsunamis and volcanic eruptions that are blamed on the activities of gods and spirits. All these social units are seen as porous, and care must be taken to protect them from deleterious outside influences. Parallel to these explanations at all levels run appeals to God and His mercies. The difference between these streams of explanation is resolved in the case of the more pious by either denying the spirit world, or otherwise resolving them in various ways by unifying the categories of God and the spirit world.