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Grief Porn: the money shot

4 Dec

cricket

The Courier Mail coverage of cricketer Phil Hughes’ funeral includes a heart-rending close-up of his dad Greg, face contorted with grief, carrying his son’s coffin on his shoulder. It also includes a similarly heartbreaking shot of Hughes’ mother Virginia, in deep grief and shock.

I wondered what could be the purpose of these shots. Anyone with a gram of imagination would know the parents are devastated at the loss of their son. None of us needs to see images of their devastation in a newspaper to convince us this is the case.

I could barely look at the images. Not because I’m squeamish about grief, but because I couldn’t help thinking how I would feel if similar images of me and my grief-stricken family were used to sell newspapers. I think that is the only possible reason for these photographs  to have been taken, to sell newspapers. I don’t think there is any public interest issue involved in showing us close-ups of the Hughes’ family’s shock and devastation. It’s grief porn. It’s disgusting.

A subject photographed without consent surely becomes an object. If the image is then used for profit, the objectification is complete. We are so inured to this process it generally passes unremarked, but really, what right does the Courier Mail have to profit from a deeply private expression of grief?

The funeral was a public event, it can be argued. Anyone attending was fair game for the media, no matter what their state of mind. This apparently justifies appropriating grief as spectacle, for Murdoch’s profit.

The agonisingly distorted faces of the bereaved family will always be the money shot in grief porn. As if their loss is not enough to bear.

Tim Wilson HRCommissioner spruiks for Abbott on ABC

1 Dec

Tim Wilson

 

I can’t believe what I just saw with my own eyes. On ABC’s The Drum tonight, Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom Tim Wilson, parachuted into his $320,000 a year job by Attorney General George Brandis without even so much as an interview, was a panelist on a program that had nothing to do with human rights or freedom of speech, the latter being Wilson’s specific portfolio. Instead Wilson spruiked for the Abbott government and Tony Abbott, in a display of political partisanship that I’ve never seen before from a public servant.

Wilson resigned from the Liberal Party when he took up his new job with the HRC.

Questions.

Why was Wilson invited to be a panelist on The Drum when his area of expertise wasn’t on the agenda?

Why did Wilson accept the invitation when his area of expertise was not on the agenda?

Is Wilson exempt from the APSC Code of Conduct as regards taking care to avoid partisan positions?

Is it mere coincidence that Wilson appears on The Drum to support Abbott on the day the Prime Minister admits the government’s had a ragged week?

If it isn’t a coincidence, at whose insistence did host Steve Cannane invite Wilson on the panel when his only possible purpose for being there was to talk up the Abbott government?

Why was Wilson given a platform on the ABC to express his personal views as he clearly wasn’t representing the HRC or his portfolio?

What does Wilson’s boss Gillian Trigg think of his blatant public political partisanship?

I’d ask Wilson these questions myself but the Commissioner for Freedom blocked me on Twitter when I asked him how he would handle a situation in which there were competing rights.

 

 

 

Save the last dance for me

1 Dec

When a performer has reached the age of  seventy-nine one can be forgiven for fearing every appearance might be his last, and it was clear at Leonard Cohen’s concert in Brisbane last night that thought has also crossed his mind.

Though he is enviably fit (he drops to his knees with strength of feeling, and there’s not a catch in his voice when he rises again without even putting his hands on the floor) and his voice has thrillingly deepened since I saw him last some three years ago, he is an old man and I have prepared myself for last night to be the final time I see him.

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey 
I ache in the places where I used to play 
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on 
I’m just paying my rent every day 
Oh in the Tower of Song

The man was on stage for well over three hours, finally remarking that he really wouldn’t mind if we all decided to go home, but nobody wanted to go home, nobody wanted to leave him,  and we stamped and clapped and yelled “More please, more please,” like two-year-olds presenting our empty bowls for refills.

And refill them he did. Perhaps it’s to do with his sojourn in a Buddhist monastery, but Cohen has a talent for living in the moment that allows him to sing every song as if it’s the first performance, with a freshness and passion that lets the audience hear the lyrics anew, even though some of us can recite them in our sleep. He’s surrounded himself with musicians who can do exactly the same thing, performers for whom Cohen expresses the most gracious respect, granting them time and space to shine as he steps quietly away, his hat doffed, his head bowed in deference to artists such as Javier Mas, the “sublime” Webb Sisters, and long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson, whose breathtaking interpretation of Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving” I present here for your pleasure.

Music is, of course, from and for the emotions, but it takes a rare talent in any genre to convey the kind of feeling that deeply moves the heart, mind, body and spirit. Cohen and his fellows share the ability to imperceptibly nudge their audience out of the everyday into the realms of poetry, that is, to evoke meaning over and above the prosaic, the obvious. Cohen stirs the emotional imagination, the man can’t help it, a brief account of his journey through the Brisbane tunnels on his way to the Entertainment Centre becomes a metaphor for life. The tunnels were therapeutic, he says. He entered them feeling not so well but by the time he emerged he was feeling splendid. Through darkness into light: there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

Although Buddhism became a significant part of Cohen’s life, like Bob Dylan he is also fascinated by Christian imagery, and often references the traditions of that faith, especially in his latest album, “Old Ideas.”

I have to add here that there’s not much else Dylan & Cohen have in common attitudinally. Cohen assumes everybody likes him and won’t hold it against them if they don’t. Dylan assumes everybody is his enemy and especially hates them if they like him. I could write a thesis comparing the two, and I might well one day.

“Old Ideas” has the feeling of a man preparing for the end of his life, especially the quite lovely “Come Healing:” Behold the gates of mercy in arbitrary space, and none of us deserving the cruelty or the grace…

Yet it is a measure of Cohen’s astounding talent that he can imbue the 1960’s Drifters classic “Save the Last Dance for Me,” recorded by, among many, Dolly Parton, the appalling Michael Buble, Ike & Tina Turner, Harry Nilsson, Emmylou Harris et al, with such poignancy, as he performs it as his last song of the evening (no matter how much we shout and plead he’s skipped off stage, yes, he skips, and he won’t come back) and the familiar song takes on the quality of a farewell to the audience that he loves, but knows he must finally leave, and he wants us not to forget him, he wants us to save our last dance for him cos he loves us, oh so much.

Ah, Leonard. Right back at ya.

The Convoy of Cleavage. In which the breast strikes back.

17 Jun

After a week of astounding personal attacks on Prime Minister Julia Gillard, some of us Twitter women have decided we’re done with this shit, and we’re not taking it anymore.

The last straw (at least up to this morning) came yesterday, when AFR columnist and industrial relations consultant Grace Collier complained on ABC Radio National’s Sunday Extra that Ms Gillard had, offensively, according to Collier, revealed cleavage in the House of Representatives.

The PM had displayed too much flesh, Ms Collier declared, and in her professional opinion cleavage is inappropriate in the work place.

Bind your breasts, sisters, lest they cause any man or woman to be distracted from their tasks by that enemy of capitalism, desire.

It seems to me that if we are to stamp out this irrational horror of the female breast, (see DSM-V: Horror of and Repulsion Towards the Female Breast, A Disorder in Both Genders) we have little choice but to use immersion therapy, in which we expose Ms Collier and fellow sufferers to images of that which they so fear, in the informed hope that they may become desensitised, and return to their normal, hinged lives.

With this in mind I tweeted that obviously we must all post images of our cleavage on Twitter. This suggestion was enthusiastically received by one @MsBaileyWoof, herself a deceptively ditzy blonde with attitude who likes to sleep on picnic tables. In an astonishingly short time Ms Bailey Woof created the hash tag #convoyofcleavage which in turn was taken up by racy Twitter women who believe it’s time everyone accepted that women have breasts and got over it, to the best of their ability.

As MPs return to Canberra today, we hope women all over Australia will join us in our Convoy of Cleavage by posting images of yours, remembering of course to use the hash tag. The Convoy will be led by myself and women who have pledged to join me. (Don’t leave me hanging out there on my own, sisters. You won’t, will you?)

They didn’t!

Update: As I have now unveiled my breasts on Twitter, it seems cowardly not to do the same here. In solidarity with Ms Gillard, this is No Place for Sheep’s contribution to #ConvoyofCleavage

DSCN1988

But wait! There’s more! Understandably there will be women who do not feel comfortable making intimate images public. However, it appears that almost every one of Ms Gillard’s physical characteristics have been fair game for the loons. Please feel free to tweet images of your fingernails,your ear lobes, your hair, your glasses, your jackets, or, if you feel like it, your arse. Do use the same hash tag, in the interests of order.

Yes, this exercise is entirely frivolous and will achieve nothing. Yes, I expect we will be gored by Helen Razer (after Baudrillard) for our mindless capitulation to empty symbolism. Though as that lady recently posted an image of her own cleavage, struggling to escape an appallingly tasteless pink brassiere as she held aloft the dripping carcass of a Peking duck, maybe not.

For any of you who are uncertain about cleavage etiquette, here’s an excerpt from Seinfeld, in which Jerry instructs George on how to behave when two breasts loom.

Enjoy your day.

The Good Feminist: Anarchic and slightly deranged

21 May

feminist

 

 

Helen Razer wrote this about feminism today.

In response, Clementine Ford wrote this about what Helen Razer wrote about feminism today.

Make of these differing view points what you will, that’s not my goal. What did catch my attention was Ford’s use of the words “anarchic and slightly deranged” to describe what she calls Razer’s “moments of incisive clarity” [on feminism today]

It seems Ford is using the term “anarchic” in a pejorative sense, which is interesting, as I’ve never thought of anarchic as a bad look for a woman, especially a feminist, to adopt.  It is a surely part of our job to do our best to transgress the hierarchical, patriarchal systems that repress and oppress us. Quite how one does that without a bit of anarchy, I don’t know.

“Deranged,” even slightly, is another kettle of fish. This is to do with insanity, psychosis, loss of contact with reality, a disturbed “normality.” It’s no different from calling a woman crazy, and we all know the power of that descriptor to hurt, intimidate, and silence when applied by the orthodoxy to the words of women it does not want to hear, or wishes to discredit.

Personally, I have no time for words such as “deranged” in a feminist vocabulary. They belong to the Law of the Father, as Cixous would have it. They are the consequence of a social process whose product is, among other things, concepts such as “sanity” and “madness.”  Part of our feminist task is, as Foucault would have it though he was not speaking specifically to feminism,  that we must disrupt discursive practices which establish meaning. Perhaps there is little more important than disrupting those established practices that create a narrative of derangement that has long been used to contain and oppress mouthy, disruptive, revolutionary women.

Has feminism now become so tamed that words such as “deranged” are required to invalidate commentary because its content may not be immediately accessible and its form extraordinary?  Strategies of excess can be used most effectively to challenge the binaries of patriarchal thought, but has feminism become so tamed it must now regard such strategies as “deranged?”

Women today would not have a fraction of the privileges we have were it not for radical, anarchic women who were frequently described as “crazy.” No successful political movement ever existed without radicals to initially break through the barriers.

There is practically no one influential in Western feminism today who can be described as radical. I wonder how much this is due to so many feminists becoming so much a part of the bourgeoisie with its safe, bourgeois values that radical voices are now inevitably named as “deranged,” and thus ridiculed, or silenced.

Naming is a political activity.  “…all expression is always indirectly political.” Cixous.

Dear Clementine Ford. How I feel when you talk about me.

15 May

The following are extracts from Clementine Ford‘s recent article “What Cleveland tells us about the cycle of abuse,” on the kidnapping and imprisonment of three women and a child in Cleveland, Ohio.

There’s no doubt that the facts of the case are horrific, both those known and those yet to be revealed to the authorities required to know them. (Despite our general fascination with salacious details, even those we find emotionally difficult to bear, this is not our story; the women involved are at last able to shield themselves from invasion, and that includes protecting themselves if they so choose from the world knowing to what depths the humiliation was that they suffered.)

What happened in Cleveland is horrifying, yes. It’s incomprehensible. To imagine the reality of those 10 years would cause too much distress, so we hover around its dark edges, not quite daring to look beyond the borders with anything other than quick glimpses in case our eyes lock on something we can’t unsee. But we should resist the temptation to consider it different somehow to the violence expressed on a daily basis in homes on similar suburban streets occupied by similarly “normal” people, domestic matters in which we imagine we have no obligation to get involved. 

What I am questioning in this piece is Ford’s use of the words “our” and “we.” For whom does she speak? Who is the “we” on behalf of whom, and to whom Ford enunciates? When Ford writes “our,” with what audience does she imagine she is engaging?

As a woman who survived childhood sexual and physical abuse on a scale that I still, and always will find “emotionally difficult” to bear, I do not feel included in Ford’s “we” and “ours.”

For example. I do not share our “general fascination with salacious details.”  Such details would plunge me into places I do not wish to go, because I have lived many of them. Having lived them, I am immediately framed as “not our,” and “not we” in Ford’s narrative, whose point of view, it seems to me, is entirely that of a “we” and “ours” who have not endured monstrous events.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this perspective. Not everybody has to suffer torment. But there is something terribly wrong when it is presented as the perspective, excluding those of us who have a very different experience of life, while simultaneously  making us the centre of the discussion. This inevitably creates a binary of us and them. It positions women like me outside of the centre, as represented by mainstream writing and reporting.

Women such as myself are absent in this piece of writing that is also absolutely about us. Without us, this text would not exist, yet our voices are silenced by Ford’s appropriation of our lived experience , an appropriation in which there is no place for our presence. We can be talked about. We cannot speak.

We are made the object of Ford’s, and her readers’ gaze, no matter how sympathetic and empathic that gaze may be. We are positioned outside the social order, as represented by Ford’s use of “we” and “ours.” Women such as myself cannot possibly envisage ourselves as belonging in, and to this “we” and “ours.” It is against this “we” and “ours” that women such as myself must struggle to find a place for ourselves in a culture that through no fault of our own, casts us as outside its linguistic parameters of belonging.

There is a barrier between those who’ve known violence and those who haven’t. Because of this barrier, we are forever outsiders. Our secrets set us apart. Dark knowledge taints us. We’re sullied, dirtied, spoiled by our knowledge and we struggle to rid ourselves of this legacy. We are not the “we” and “ours” who fear seeing what we can’t unsee. We have seen the unseeable. We have lived the unlivable. We are the aporia, we are that which cannot be contained within the structures and logics of texts such as Ford’s. We are, by our experiences, made other, and we are further othered by hegemonic writings that exclude us, except as objects of the sympathetic gaze.

Feminist thinker  and writer Hélène Cixous suggests that we should not think of women such as myself as “victims,” but rather as “subjects of suffering.” …human beings, she continues, try to live through the worst sufferings. To make humanity of them. To distil them, to understand their lesson. We do this, those of us who can. Many of us can’t. Many of us die. Many of us live lives of unimaginable difficulty. Most of us never have a voice. We must put up with hearing about ourselves and our experiences from others, who shudder at the horror we’ve endured. This serves only to further marginalise us. This makes us spectacle.

What happened in Cleveland is not “incomprehensible” to me, as it is to the “we” Ford addresses. It is all too comprehensible.

Unlike the “we” Ford addresses, there is no temptation for me to consider what happened in Cleveland as “different” from what happened for years in my outwardly “normal” home on an ordinary street, except in some of the specifics.

The call for the “community” to take action to prevent such ruptures as the Cleveland events, or indeed my own sufferings, seems extraordinarily naive to me. How are we to depend on a “community” whose prominent feminist spokespeople see us as other, however empathetically, and exclude us from their discourse?

To imagine the reality of those 10 years would cause too much distress, so we hover around its dark edges, not quite daring to look beyond the borders with anything other than quick glimpses in case our eyes lock on something we can’t unsee.

These are the words of the privileged, who can choose to avoid the distress, who can hover, salaciously, around the dark edges, lacking the courage to cross the borders and walk with those of us who’ve had no choice in the matter, and who can never fully return from that dark country to the land of “we” and “ours.”

Those of us “subjects of suffering” who have survived enough to speak have much to offer, weighted with the authority given to us by our lived experience. We could tell you, for example, that there is a universe of difference between sexual harassment, and the violence we have endured. You may not care to hear that, but we can tell you that is so.

Given the horrific statistics for violence and sexual violence against women in this country, there must be many of our number among Ford’s readers. Yet writing such as this excludes us all. There must be many others who, like me, read this piece and think, I am not of this ‘we.” I am not of this “ours.”  This is not written for and to a woman with a life such as mine has been. It is written about women like me, but it is not written with me. It does not walk with me. It does not take my hand. It does not acknowledge me as an equal. It is writing that distances itself from me, and me from it.

If we are to intervene in the cycles of violence that bring abject horror to the lives of so many of us, we are first going to need a new discourse with which to do it. That discourse will  not create a barrier between those of us who have suffered and those of us who have not. There will be no excluding “we” and “ours.”  We do not need sympathy. We do not need to be isolated in our suffering. We need those who will walk beside us, equals in our shared humanity, no matter how varied our experiences.

If feminism cannot do this for women, it is a failed project.

This is how I feel when you talk about me.

 

Reist, Devine &sexually suggestive tweets.

12 May

There’s been something of a small online kerfuffle these last couple of days, with first Melinda Tankard Reist going public over a sexually suggestive tweet she received, and then Andrew Bolt publishing on his blog an impassioned defence of Miranda Devine, also the recipient of a sexually suggestive tweet from Mike Carlton, whom Bolt describes as a “boor.”

Bolt’s blog drew an online mea culpa from Catherine Lumby, who inadvertently retweeted Carlton’s comments before she realised they contained sexual suggestiveness.

Reist ‘s offensive tweet dates from the period when she initiated legal action against me, and Twitter took up my cause in a manner for which I will always be grateful. Reist claims in Chris Kenny’s piece in The Australian (linked above) that she has received appalling sexist and misogynist communications, including rape threats. This is the tweet she chose to take action against:

“So, has anyone found naked pictures of #mtr (Tankard Reist)? She is rootable in that religious feminist way.”

The author of the tweet, Darryl Adams, outed himself a couple of weeks later in the comments section of a Drum piece on the treatment Reist has received during her career as an anti- pornography campaigner. Adams used the persona “Fake Paul Keating” for his Twitter account. He is a public servant, and his tweeting had nothing to do with his working life.

Nevertheless, Reist did not approach Adams to complain that she was offended by his comments. She went straight to his employer, the Australian Tax Office.

Adams was duly spoken to. We do not know what form his punishment took, but his “Fake Paul Keating” account no longer exists. The ATO, for reasons known only to itself, failed to notify Reist that any action had been taken for several months.

This further enraged Reist, who felt the whole system had failed her as a victim of sexual harassment and intimidation. I encourage you to read the article in full.

Miranda Devine posted on Twitter that she was “embedded with NSW Police Public Order & Riot Squad,” with an accompanying photo. Mike Carlton then tweeted: 

“@mirandadevine is ‘embedded’ with the Police Riot Squad, as she puts it. What, all of them at once? Must be exhausting.”

Devine contacted him to request that he remove the tweet immediately. Carlton has since apologised and deleted the tweet.

Read the Bolt blog in full if you can bear it.

I’m not expressing any opinions on these situations. I’m leaving it to you. Please don’t make any sexually suggestive comments, and remember the Sheep rules, which you have so beautifully honoured recently. :-)

 

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