Revisiting the Streisand Effect

22 Jan

Silencing

 

During the Melinda Tankard Reist defamation threats against this blog (see category Defamation Threats if you’re interested) Legal Eagle wrote this excellent piece on what is known as The Streisand Effect, which she defines thus: The Streisand effect covers those situations where the threat of legal action has brought publicity to the information sought to be suppressed.

It’s arguable that much legal action intended to silence and suppress has the potential to blossom into the Streisand Effect, depending on the defendant’s attitude towards legal threats, and how much risk she or he is willing to take to protect their freedom of speech. Exactly this situation is currently unfolding once again on No Place for Sheep, where a complaint of harassment has been lodged against me, citing as an example the posts I’ve written on Infidelity and Adultery. I have, I’m informed, “Written intimate things all across the Internet” and this is harassment.

Well, I have written intimate things all over the Internet, erotic writing is a long-established genre and if it offends your sensibilities, don’t read it, has always been my position.

I use no names or any identifiers in any of these posts, neither are the people involved in the stories compelled in any way to read them, so it’s an interesting allegation. What is most interesting, however, is that in defending myself I’ve been obliged to supply my statement of events accompanied by umpteen extremely personal and intimate emails and messages sent to me, that obviously have to identify everyone involved, and will soon be on the public record. At the very least, they’re doing the rounds of various legal agencies, so already a whole swag of people know names they would never otherwise have known or probably even cared about.

On the blog, I tell the stories and it isn’t necessary to identify the actors in order to tell the stories. I actually can’t imagine me ever identifying the actors other than myself, because that would be done only out of malice. Identifying the actors in no way enriches the stories, and enrichment of the story would be the only reason to take that course.

In attempting to shut me up they’ve outed themselves, and didn’t this ever occur to anyone?

It’s also interesting from the point of view of the writer, and who owns story, and what we may and may not write about and how.

It’s also interesting from the perspective of what is defined as harassment. If it is indeed writing about events in one’s own life without naming any other participants, that’s going to silence a veritable multitude of voices.

As I did with Tankard Reist, I’ve made multiple offers to negotiate this situation with the complainants, to no avail. It has been and continues to be an emotionally charged situation for all involved, but one that could be resolved with some good will on everybody’s part, and a couple of admittedly difficult, but private conversations. What has been done cannot be undone, and the best must be made of the consequences of actions.

It seems the complainants want their very own Streisand moment. But you really do have to question the integrity of people who claim they are being harassed by being exposed, and attempt to redress this alleged offence by naming and outing themselves as a default position.

There is no way I could possibly bring them as much public attention as they will bring to themselves by this action, so one can only conclude it’s what they must want in some dark, and to my mind, twisted way.

 

herself.com, the image and the battle to contain desire

21 Jan

Herself.com

 

Female nudity continues to exercise the minds of media feminists, with the latest source of controversy being actor Caitlin Stasey’s new website herself.com The site features nude portraits of women of diverse shape, colour and size, along with interviews with the subjects. Caitlin’s aim is to reclaim the female body from the objectification of the male gaze, and the demands of the film and beauty industries for a particular female look that is unrealistic, and excludes the majority of us.

Reaction has been swift, analytical, condemnatory, celebratory.

What is most interesting in these responses is the ongoing battle to define, own, and control human desire through the analysis, condemnation and celebration of images of the female body.

There are feminists who experience female nudity as unnecessary and distracting, it’s our brains we should be flaunting, not our breasts, they maintain. There are feminists who defiantly expose their bodies with a big “fuck you” to the patriarchy. There are feminists who rightly point out that the problem is perhaps not the exposure of the female form, but the industries that exploit and commodify us. There is ample food for thought in all these perspectives, however, nobody seems to be tackling the tricky question of desire.

There is arguably no stronger force than desire, be it for sex, intimacy, power, money, control, freedom, equality.  There is no human activity that is not driven by desire. As feminists have argued since the seventies our desires are constructed, that is, we are taught what we should desire and how we should desire it. While the energy we know as desire is inherent in us, how we experience and express it, or indeed deny it, is learned from birth, and the learning is gendered.

So much of the public turmoil centred on images of the female body is driven by an unexamined  need to contain desire that simply will not be contained. Whether this need to control takes the form of a puritanism that is based on notions of immodesty and the ‘wrongness’ of nudity, or whether it takes the form of pole dancers paying their way through their PhD (look! I have brains as well as tits and a shapely arse!) the basic struggle is to own and control desire, and its expression.

Whether herself.com will do anything to reclaim our bodies from the desiring and objectifying gaze of males who want us, females who want us, and industries who want us, I can’t predict. It is fairly obvious that the one-dimensional photographic image of a desirable body is hardly going to encourage anyone to focus attention on any other aspect of that human being, and why should it? “I can’t stop looking at her tits,” moaned one woman when asked if she was interested in the narrative accompanying the image.

Perhaps the struggle to make an image of a human body anything more than an image is a waste of time. The whole project of making women “real” through images of us seems contradictory. An image might not make me a sexual object, but it will inevitably objectify me, because that is what images do, and it is all images can do. Perhaps what is needed is a more realistic understanding of the limitations of the image, rather than the likely pointless attempt to make the image “real.”

Apart from those quibbles, I quite like Caitlin’s herself.com I like the challenge it presents to repressed bourgeois prudes. If I met any of those women, I’d be very interested to talk to them about their participation in the project. I like the “fuck you” attitude to patriarchal objectification, though I concede there will still be patriarchal objectifiers who get on the website and ogle and wank. They will always be among us, no matter what we do.

Desire takes a billion forms. The battle to own and control desire will likely be unending, because it is the battle to control human beings. In the meantime, herself.com and like-minded women continue to give the finger to those who would own and control desire, and for taking this small step, they are to be commended.

Cruelty is the worst policy

20 Jan

 

Amnesty Poster

 

In general, it’s always seemed to me that when governments or individuals take an increasingly hard, harsh and inhumane stand on an issue it’s a clear signal that they’ve actually lost the battle, and are on their way to losing the war.

In a political sense, I’m thinking of the current situation in detention facilities on Manus Island. New Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is promising to maintain Scott Morrison’s “hard-line” against asylum seekers who have resorted to self-harm and protest, methods which are, in reality, their only means of expression, as the Australian government has virtually denied them access to legal process and natural justice.

This hard-line against asylum seekers protesting their fate began in Woomera and Baxter detention centres in 1999, at the instigation of the Howard LNP government. It was maintained by the ALP governments led by Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Sixteen years of both major parties taking a hard-line against waterborne asylum seekers has achieved absolutely nothing any of us can be proud of, and it won’t.

Similarly, the hard-line threatened by the Abbott government against the young unemployed that will see them starving and homeless as they are denied benefits for six months will achieve nothing any of us can be proud of, and will ruin lives for a very long time and likely permanently.

Taking a hard-line is very rarely necessary, and very rarely useful. A hard-line shouldn’t be the default position. Instead negotiation, mediation, conversation, and communication are civilised and humane methods of approaching difficulties. When all else fails, by all means try the hard-line, but to do this first is cruel and inhumane, and shows a lack of intelligence, imagination and skill.

Human beings have a tremendous capacity for good will and understanding. It’s a great shame our leaders don’t value this capacity, and instead believe our strength lies in brutality. It doesn’t. It never has and it never will. All cruelty springs from weakness, as the philosopher Seneca noted.

If governments and individuals are too weak and cowardly to sit across a table from other human beings in an effort to resolve difference and difficulty, they will inevitably resort to cruelty of one kind or another. Ignoring another human being in need is just as cruel as taking direct and punitive action against him or her. There are countless stories of asylum seekers achieving success and making considerable contributions to Australian society when they are given the opportunity. Instead we destroy them because our governments believe the destruction of human lives and human potential demonstrates political strength and determination.

Peter Dutton may well congratulate himself for emulating Scott Morrison’s abhorrent tactics against those legally seeking asylum in Australia. But emulating a bully is no great achievement. Australian governments have for sixteen years now proved themselves to be capable only of bullying behaviour towards human beings in the greatest distress and need, be they asylum seekers or their own citizens. Cruelty is not a strength. It is the most appalling, base and destructive weakness.

OMFG, here we go again

15 Jan

This post is about my personal life, not politics, just warning you so you can skip it.

 

lying-husbandDear you,

I am a centimetre, a centimetre off naming you and your miserable, sorry-arsed husband, lady.

I learned this morning that it now appears you intend to attempt to prevent me writing about my own life on my own blog.

It is regrettable that your life partner started cheating on you in the seventies, which couldn’t have been that long after you married him, and has continued cheating on you in the decades since up until the last two years with me. That I am, as you told me, “the only one you thought he’d ever leave you for” is no justification for you to take your decades of misery out on me, and threaten me with legal action for writing about my own bloody life.  Your problem is with your husband, not me. Nothing you try to do to me will change your sad history with your faithless mate.

There is nothing in my writing (yet) that gives any indication of your identities. And even if there was I’m speaking the truth, with a shitload of evidence to back me up, so bite me.

Here’s a little story for you. My late husband was unfaithful. When he ended it his lover rang up at every hour of the day and night for months, she wrote, she sent texts, she emailed, she was in such awful distress about how he’d treated her she really wasn’t of sound mind. It never occurred to me to take out my distress on her, or on anyone other than my husband.

It was also one of those ghastly situations where everyone knew about it but me, and I had to learn to cope with that public humiliation.

Men like our husbands who form relationships outside of our marriages are using the women they take as their lovers. Wives like us have to realise that and not blame those women for what our husbands have done to us. Our problem is with our husbands, especially when he’s like yours, and chronically adulterous. You chose to live with him for all those years knowing all the time what he was doing. So suck it up, and don’t threaten me. Threaten him.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s being threatened with legal action to make me shut up. I have every right to reflect on my life and my experiences on my blog, and so far I’ve been extremely careful to keep his identity well-hidden, entirely for your sake, by the way, not his.

I’m not proud of having an affair but I’m not so ashamed of it I’ll buckle to your demands. The circumstances in which I agreed to do it were complex, and you know damn well I can’t talk about them without revealing who he is.

Shit happens, for all kinds of reasons, and we all have to find a way to live with it. Grown ups sort things out. Immature, incompetent people run whining to the state to do their sorting out for them. When you have to ask the state to intervene in a personal situation such as this one, you’ve lost all control over your life.

You want to shut me up? So sue me.

 

 

 

The arbiters of taste: who will control society?

14 Jan

security-vs-liberty

 

In his blog for The Monthly on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Mungo McCallum concludes his Readers’ Digest argument that laughter is the best medicine by observing that even those wielding automatic weapons can’t fire them if they’re doubled over with mirth.  “After all,” he writes, “even the most rabid fanatic would find it hard to aim a Kalashnikov while guffawing.”

McCallum’s piece is about the lines that are or should be drawn between satire, humour, and offence, but what he fails to address is who exactly is to determine those limits, and what criteria they are to employ in order to arrive at their judgement.

This is another aspect of the battle for societal control so relentlessly fought by groups such as Collective Shout and individuals such as Melinda Tankard Reist, with whom I have locked horns on more than one occasion. See the Category Defamation Threats on this blog if you want to know just how hard these people will go after you in an effort to shut you up and impose their views.

I know people who find Seinfeld cruel and unfunny. I know others who find The Simpsons offensive to their sacred notions of family. I’ve heard arguments that the HBO series Breaking Bad, in which a regular high school chemistry teacher morphs into a drug lord after learning he has terminal cancer, has led to an epidemic in the manufacturing of methamphetamines. I find McCallum’s line quoted above offensive in its casual dismissal of the profound seriousness of rabid fanaticism. I don’t find it satirical or humorous, and I suspect it could only have been written by someone who has little first-hand knowledge of any kind of terror.

The point is, something will always offend someone. There are those who are outraged because every cliff top in the country is not fenced off to protect us from falling over it and sustaining injury, or death. There are those who want to kill every shark in the ocean because now and then one of them eats someone. There are those who believe being hurt and offended is so great an injury laws can and should be passed to prevent their emotional distress.

There are those who take out their Kalashnikovs because they believe being insulted and offended are justifications for murder. There’s very little that can be done about someone with that particular mindset, and if all other provocations are denied them through censorship of potentially provocative commentary they will still kill, on the spurious grounds that an entire mode of existence is offensive to them and it’s their right to eradicate it.

The fight for the power to wield societal control is constant, and it takes a myriad of forms. In general, our liberal democracy is controlled by the values of the bourgeoisie who are, also in general, obsessed with issues of law and order, affronted by graffiti, entirely precious about their right not to be offended, insulted or otherwise emotionally ruffled, and consumed by notions of decency and what they determine to be appropriate. Look at our politicians if you don’t believe me.

There is no doubt that words can damage. Vilification of any kind causes hurt and damage and destruction. Rather than impose legislation that seeks to prevent and punish the utterance of damaging and destructive words, satirical commentary, unfair criticism, racial and religious abuse, I would prefer that we instead focus our attention and resources on education and remediation. I think this because largely legislation has no effect at all in everyday situations, and in many instances can make resentment against the other, whoever the other happens to be at any particular time, even worse.

In my opinion, legalisation that seeks to control who can say what, when and where is driven by bourgeois desires to exercise social control and create a perceived utopian culture in which proponents of bourgeois ideology feel most “comfortable.” While the bourgeoisie have not yet resorted to firearms with which to impose their vision of the world, they have instead demanded a level of surveillance and state control over language and how it may and may not be used that is astounding.

While I do not agree with Attorney-General George Brandis that everyone has the “right” (whatever “right” means in his context) to be a bigot, it seems to me that legislation attempting to prevent the expression of bigotry is doomed to fail, except in very rare high-profile situations.

The battle for societal control will not be won by silencing. It is a wrong-headed and prejudicial battle in the first place. We cannot, for example, silence the Murdoch press and even if Andrew Bolt came a cropper with his racist views what was gained in the larger sense by his stumble? He hasn’t shut up, he’s just as offensive, if not more so, and he gained an inordinate amount of support and sympathy. In general, his name is remembered as a consequence of those events, and not the names of those vilified and insulted, or the nature of the vilification and insult.

I know from my own experience of being threatened with legal action if I didn’t retract and shut up that it only made me more determined to express views I believed to be worthy of expression and that I had the right to express, because why shouldn’t I? My views were extremely offensive and insulting to some. So what? Theirs were equally offensive and insulting to me. Neither of us should have been silenced, and only one party (not me) had the financial wherewithal to threaten the other with silence or ruin.

What we need to do is think about is what can be done that will actually achieve fundamental change, instead of focusing on window dressing and  band aids that at best do nothing and at worst incite those who are silenced by legislation to even more devious expressions and behaviours.

McCallum is wrong, laughter is certainly not the best medicine when faced with a Kalashnikov, or being otherwise silenced by punitive measures employed by the state at the behest of the hegemonic bourgeoisie.

The best medicine is to resist and refuse efforts to silence, to be subversive, to transgress, to contest, to challenge, to protest, to be civilly disobedient, to refuse to be shut up by those who are “uncomfortable” with certain forms of expression. Your discomfort is not my problem, tell them. It’s yours. I’m sorry you feel it, but there are ways you can deal with it if you have the courage, and silencing me is not one of them.

I laughed my head off, said someone taken hostage by murderous ideologues never.

 

 

The point of love…

13 Jan

 

solitude

 

“The point of marriage  is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good  marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his [sic] solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

My husband often used to tell me that as well as looking into each other’s eyes, he liked us to stand side by side and look out together at the world, while experiencing it individually.

Where Rilke uses the term “marriage,” I would use the term love.

 

Freedom to speak. Section 18C and terrorism

13 Jan

 

voltaire-quote1

 

I find myself in a familiar turmoil over the issue of free speech, raised again most recently by the Charlie Hebdo massacres. Those lives were not lost because of the exercise of freedom of speech. They were lost because violent, brutal ideologues murdered them. The lives lost in the 9/11 attacks had nothing to do with the exercise of free speech. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands  of civilian lives lost in wars waged by western powers were not lost because the victims were exercising freedom of speech.

While I abhor the dehumanising stereotyping that is at the heart of hate speech and racial vilification, murderers are responsible for murdering and those ideologues determined to murder will do so, and they will find any reason to justify their thirst for destruction. It is ludicrous to claim that offence and insult are provocation enough to incite them, and that attempting to restrict offence and insult will do anything at all to restrain their murderous impulses.

Race is a construct, used to justify ill-treatment and dehumanisation of those not in the dominant tribe. Religion is a construct, also used to justify ill-treatment and dehumanisation of those not of the dominant belief system. Race and religion are equally illusionary, that is, they are human constructs that have come to be reified as monolithic truths for which people are willing to kill and to die. Section 18c of The Racial Discrimination Act will not affect these monolithic truths, and the willingness of their adherents to murder and die for them.

The human species has not yet evolved out of its need to gather in tribes of one kind or another, and take arms against those they define as not of them. Restricting free speech does nothing to address these fundamental problems.  In many situations it serves to exacerbate division, for example in defamation legislation that inevitably favours those with wealth and power over those with none.

There have always been and will always be extremists and radicals. We can no more expect to live free of the threat of terrorism than we can expect to live without the air that we breathe.

In the end, nothing will be as effective against terrorism as the freedom to speak, even if that speech is offensive and insulting. Those of us who aren’t murderous extremists must learn to deal with speech that insults and offends us because the option, a mass silencing,a mass surveillance of thought, word and deed is far too horrific to contemplate. There is no human right not to be offended. A life without insult is a sheltered life indeed. It is a serious loss to Australian society that a magazine such as Charlie Hebdo could not be published in this country. If you don’t like it, don’t read it, but to make it illegal is unacceptable.

What is wrong with us is that we do not regularly mobilise as did the French in Paris yesterday, visibly united against terrorist attacks. What is wrong with us is that we have become too precious, too willing to allow governments to take responsibility for us in legislation that is and can be little more than a band-aid. Over-protection weakens and infantilises us, and causes us to give up our power to those who would control us, whether they are elected governments or murderous extremists.

Terrorism, and political and governmental reaction to it is spectacle, and it is the same, shared spectacle. It is bad theatre. It is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing and it will not save us from death and destruction, metaphorical and literal, by those who would silence us.

 

Update: This is the piece on Charlie Hebdo being published in Australia, to which I attempted to link in The Australian and was initially foiled. Suck it up, Rupert.

 

Being Charlie — with 18c in place, Australia says ‘non’

 

Charlie Hebdo from October 2014.

SATIRICAL French publication Charlie Hebdo could not be printed in Australia under existing restrictions on free speech, despite its cartoons being embraced across the world as a symbol of Western liberties after the massacre at its offices.

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson told The Australian the restrictions contained in section 18c of the Racial Discrimin­ation Act would “ensure it would be shut down”; he was supported in this position by media law ­experts.

The carnage in Paris has also encouraged two Liberal MPs to publicly call for the debate about changes to section 18c to be re-opened after the government last year unceremoniously dropped its planned reforms following a fierce public backlash.

Mr Wilson, dubbed the “freedom commissioner”, has taken aim at opponents of the 18c changes who are now rhetorically embracing free speech, warning that words needed to be backed up with concrete action.

Failure to do so would be seen as hypocritical, he said.

“The Charlie Hebdo attack is a wake-up call for a lot of people who rhetorically support free speech but when it comes to the nub would choose political ­advantage over sensible reform,” he said.

“This is where they have an opportunity to rise to the challenge, like the leaders of Europe are now doing, rather than being held out as hypocrites.”

In The Australian today, the chairman of the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, West Australian senator Dean Smith, challenges Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten to support a private senator’s bill proposing a middle pathway forward on an 18c overhaul.

The Opposition Leader yesterday indicated he remained unmoved on 18c.

“You don’t give the green light to hate speech when in fact it’s hate which is what we’re all ­united against,” he said.

Mr Shorten said it was distasteful to turn the events in Paris into a domestic political issue. “It is an inappropriate stretch … to see government MPs trying to use what happened in Paris to justify divisive debates.”

The government has formally ruled out any changes to 18c, saying they are “off the table”.

While Mr Wilson argued that many of the religiously themed cartoons in Charlie Hebdo would not fall foul of the discrimination act, he said that racial stereo­typing of Jews and other ethnic groups would create too many legal issues for such a publication to continue in an Australian context.

“18c only covers issues of race and ethnic origin, which would cover some of the material but not all of it,” he said. “It would cover Jews and ethnic representations, but it wouldn’t cover Muslims and other bits. In the end, the legal problems would essentially ensure it would be shut down.

“I think there are lots of different avenues for reform, but I think there are more issues than just 18c that need to be considered.”

Senator Smith threw his support behind Mr Wilson, but urged for a renewed focus on 18c. He is urging both sides of politics to back a private senator’s bill he has co-sponsored with Family First senator Bob Day, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Liberal colleague Cory Bernardi.

Senator Smith says the bill could form a “legislative monument to the human price paid by France” and would simply remove the words “offend” and “insult” in a finetuning of 18c.

“By agreeing (to the bill) … Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten will have kept the protections against ­‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’,” he writes. “Our leaders have read the mood with precision and Tony Abbott is right to remind us to be prepared to ‘speak up for our ­beliefs’ and ‘call things as we see them’. It is now time to crown our words of vigilance with a deed.”

Senator Bernardi said he absolutely supported the passage of the bill.

Simon Breheny, the director of the legal rights project at the Institute of Public Affairs, told The Australian that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons certainly “would have been caught in Australia by section 18c of the Racial Discrimin­ation Act”.

“Even if it wasn’t caught by section 18c, there is no doubt they would have fallen foul of restrictive state racial and religious vilification laws. This is one of the possible explanations as to why we don’t have any kind of publi­cations in Australia quite like it, because our laws restricting freedom of speech are so severe.”

Legal experts also united to suggest that Charlie Hebdo would be unlikely to meet the existing tests enshrined in current Australian law, pointing out that satirical cartoons do not occupy the same status in Australian culture.

“You would have a complaint if those sorts of cartoons were to run here,” said Minter Ellison Partner and Fairfax media lawyer in Victoria Peter Bartlett.

“I think they would certainly, run up against 18c and we would receive complaints and we would then need to deal with those ­complaints.”

Mr Bartlett also warned that there was already “some evidence of self-censoring”, given the ­caution around the existing racial discrimination laws.

Justin Quill, a media lawyer used by The Australian, said the publication would have “serious difficulties” and would constantly need to justify its actions. “If someone took action against them — probably more than once — it ultimately would mean that it would be difficult to survive and it could mean it had to be shut down,” he said.

“I can easily say I think there would be occasions where it would lose an 18c argument.

“It’s easy for those who support 18c to say ‘I think they wouldn’t’. What is clear is that the publication would have to successfully bear the onus of proof in proving their defence.”

Charlie Hebdo cover depicting Jesus on the cross.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,834 other followers

%d bloggers like this: