Bali is a must-visit destination for travel bloggers, influencers, and social media stars. Yet, as a result, local people have had to contend with more than their fair share of their homes, culture, and communities being disrespected in the name of ‘content’. Despite calls for high-quality tourism, Bali remains vulnerable to exploitation. In a video that many are finding almost too distasteful to believe, YouTube superstars NELK Boys grossly disrespect a local Balinese artist during an art class. The Bali Sun will not provide links to the incident out of respect for the Balinese people and art teacher.
NELK Boys are an American-Canadian group of content creators who have over 4 million followers on Instagram and 7.55 million subscribers on YouTube. NELK is an acronym for the founding members Nick, Elliot, Lucas, and Kyle. They are famous for their prank videos and vlogs. Their brand, Full Send Entertainment, is the production company behind the videos and sells merchandise and health supplements.
While pranking videos can be genuinely hilarious, when the butt of the joke is someone in a vulnerable position, the laughs just don’t hit.
In the clip, the NELK Boys attended an art class. They introduce their friends as being deaf, which they are not. They attempted some insulting sign language-like gestures toward the art class teacher. During what is supposed to be a traditional Balinese art class, the NELK Boys paint phallic symbols. During the lesson, another of the guys pretends to try to eat a paintbrush.
At the end of the class, they shove cigarettes into the teacher’s mouth and ask if they can give him a tip. By which point ‘Rafus’ is wearing a bra on the outside of his t-shirt, leaving viewers wondering if this content made the edit, what was cut out? They then half-throw a bunch of IDR 100,000 notes at the art teacher. To add insult to injury, they grab him by the side of his face and kiss his head. Touching anyone’s head in Bali or across Asia is considered a sign of profound disrespect.
To make matters even more bizarre, they claim that that part of the video was filmed in Thailand. The rest of the YouTube episode is filmed in Thailand, though some other scenes appear to be in Bali accommodation. Online commentators suggest that this is because, perhaps, beneath the bravado, they have at least an inkling that this is wrong and that they’re trying to keep themselves in the clear.
The internet is having none of it, and commentators are tagging everyone from President Joko Widodo to Tourism Minster Sandiaga Uno and the Indonesian Immigration department. The video has caught the attention of a few public advocates for the Balinese people.
Australian content creator Damien Hoo, who works in partnership with the Indonesian Department of Tourism, has been the first to openly call out the NELK Boys for their actions. In an Instagram reel, Hoo says ‘this could be the biggest disrespect of an Indonesian man I have ever seen on the internet. He says the video is the ‘lowest I’ve seen for a bule creator in this content’.
Prominent Balinese businesswoman and social justice activist Niluh Djelantik also shared the clip on her social media. Her followers were as outraged as many of the NELK Boys’ audience. Djelantik suggested that the creators should receive the same public humiliation as the art teacher to ‘learn your lesson’.
Comments on the NELK Boys post are hardly complimentary either. Though it’s unlikely that will matter much when the intention appears of the video appears to be inflammatory and to generate a reaction. While commentators don’t likely want to fuel their engagement, the content is hugely disrespectful and, as many note, even goes against community guidelines as they are showing someone smoking.
One commentator wrote, ‘This is in Indonesia. This is not Thailand. You guys disrespected his business, touched his b@!!$ and made him smoke 3 cigarettes on camera for a couple hundred bucks. In the vlog before this one you p**sed on the bed in the villa. Places whose economies rely on tourism are just bouncing back from a global pandemic, and these guys are acting like total jerk-offs disrespecting cultural tourism, businesses, and people.’
Another wrote ‘degrading and shaming other people, showing people smoking tobacco products. How is this content even following community guidelines? Balinese people are generally respectful because most people here are friendly. You have taken advantage of the courtesy that is so ingrained in our culture for a cheap piece of content. Shame on you’.
Despite the backlash, NELK boys have not removed the content nor responded to comments that are calling them out.
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