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#pray for the bigots?

22 Jul

free-speech-conditions-apply-graffiti

 

Psychologically speaking, it’s self-evident that bigots are frightened of the group or groups they single out for attention. 

This is one of the characteristics of bigots: they fear a challenge is being mounted to their way of life, their  ideology, their religion, their freedom to be who they feel entitled to be. The bigot’s reaction is to annihilate (metaphorically, but increasingly literally) that challenge, banish it from their landscapes, imprison it if it is already present, and in so doing, make themselves and their identities safe.

Waleed Aly, a thinker, writer and broadcaster for whom I have a great deal of time, argued on The Project that Sonia Kruger, a “celebrity” mother for whom I have no time at all, should not be pilloried for her opinion that Muslim immigration should be entirely banned in this country, a conclusion she arrived at on the basis that she’d seen a child’s body bag with a doll beside it after the Nice massacre and very little else, from what I can glean, other than because Muslims. Aly claimed that Ms Kruger is “afraid.”

Ms Kruger has also fallen foul of several employers such as Swisse, Porsche and Target, for whom she performs as “the face” of their companies. None of them wish to be associated with her anti Muslim comments and are reviewing her contracts. Capitalists have never liked mouthy women and Ms Kruger has apparently gone “off brand,” having been hired for her non-controversial personality as well as the stereotypical  appearance that I think of as the White Barbie look. Honestly, so many of those women all look the same you’re flat-out distinguishing one from the other.

(That companies seek out “non controversial women” is a story in itself, is it not?)

Aly made an impassioned argument for “forgiveness” of such bigotry, rather than the outrage that greeted Ms Kruger’s observations. I confess Waleed has me baffled. Kruger’s comments were outrageously ignorant, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable that those offended by them express that outrage. What better way is there to inform bigots about the unacceptable nature of their bigotry? Forgive them if you want, but tell them what they’ve done first, though I doubt the true bigot will give a damn about either forgiveness or being called, outside of how it affects their income and status.

I’d also like to know what Waleed means by “forgiveness.” It’s unlike him to use such a loaded word without first defining his terms. When does “forgiveness” become enabling? If the offence is serial and without consequence or accountability, why should the offender change his or her behaviour?

I don’t think we can afford to be silent in the face of bigotry. Silence is all too easily interpreted as acquiescence. Forgive the bigots if you want. Pray for them if it’s your thing. Recognise that their bigotry springs from fear. But never cease to loudly challenge it, confront it and contest it. Contestation is not incompatible with “forgiveness.” Forgiveness doesn’t mean being silent about the offences.

Confronting bigots isn’t silencing them, as they’d have us believe. It isn’t taking away their right to free speech. Ms Kruger can continue to espouse her bigoted views from whatever platform will host her: if none are offered she may have to contemplate why that might be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why rights and bigots do not belong in the same sentence.

20 Jul

 

talking arse

 

When Attorney-General George Brandis declared that everyone has the right to be a bigot, he was, strangely for him, speaking out of his arse.

A bigot is irrationally prejudiced against and intolerant towards individuals and/or groups, without requiring any factual evidence to support her or his bigotry. This excellent Guardian piece by Susan Carland spells out the proposition. My only quibble with Dr Carland is that she writes “facts no longer matter” whereas I would argue that for bigots, facts have never mattered, and never will.

Brandis’s declaration conflates human rights with ignorance, intolerance and irrational prejudice, surely the very characteristics those rights are designed to contest, how odd he doesn’t know that.

When the country’s Attorney-General invites the indulgence and expression of bigotry it’s hardly surprising that we find ourselves entering a period of deep prejudice, expressed by the likes of convicted racist Andrew Bolt, echoed by the likes of television celebrity mother Sonia Kruger (#all mothers are celebrities, I can see that hash tag coming) and Pauline Hanson is enabled to replatform herself in government.

This time around, the bigots are singling out Muslims. It has in the past been the turn of Aborigines, Jews, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, single mothers of all nationalities, dole bludgers, those of Middle Eastern appearance, boat people, women… must I go on? Bigots aren’t choosy: they need to hate somebody, it doesn’t much matter who. You have the “right” to do this, says the most senior legal figure in the land. It’s freedom of speech. So knock yourselves out.

Unfortunately, the exercise of free speech does not have as a prerequisite informed and intelligent utterance. If it did there would be a strangled silence from the government benches and all early morning television shows would cease to be.

As this happy fantasy is not likely to eventuate, what are we to do in the face of the ignorant, prejudiced drivel increasingly issuing forth from public microphones? Fight back?  March in protest? Invite consultation? Sit down with the haters over  tea and scones? Ignore them?

I’d argue that there’s no single solution to contesting bigotry, and that all of the above suggestions might be useful in specific situations. When the citizens of a democracy vote bigots into government it’s a tough challenge fighting them from the top down, and we have to get creative. Psychologically speaking, bigots are generally insecure personalities with low self-esteem: they make themselves feel better by denigrating somebody else: I am not that, therefore I am OK. Those of us opposing bigotry may risk falling into the same trap…it’s complicated.

Ignorance is in ascendence, globally. It’s going to be turbulent. As I think the Dalai Llama [sic] once said, you don’t get peace by hating war. Fasten your seat belts.

 

 

 

 

The Senator, the camper vans & The Chaser

30 Jun

fiat car ad

 

Some of you may remember back in May this year there was a swell of outrage against Wicked Campers, the organisation that spray paints its vehicles with slogans such as: A wife: an attachment you screw on the bed to get the housework done; Inside every princess there’s a slut waiting to get out; The best thing about a blow job is five minutes of silence, and so on.

The slogans are usually accompanied by cartoonish illustrations of disembodied breasts, Snow White sucking a penis… you get the picture.

Free speech advocate and libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm was scathing in his criticism of those who protested the vans:

“If you want to take offense that’s your choice and you’ve got to remember it’s a choice and other people make different choices. 

Most of the statements I’ve read from the vans are able to be interpreted in a couple of ways and they require a degree of sophistication to know what they’re getting at.”

Leyonhjelm told the ABC Wicked made funny statements, “which obviously have sexual connotations.”

“But surprise, surprise sexual connotations are part of life. You need to be a particularly wowserish type of person to not find them funny,” he said.

But surprise, surprise ABC TV’s The Chaser recently parked a van outside Leyonhjelm’s residence that bore the slogan The best thing about oral sex from David Leyonhjelm – 5 mins of silence, and the Senator has gone ballistic.

When called on his perceived hypocrisy by Melinda Tankard Reist, an anti-Wicked advocate, Leyonhjelm tweeted to her: If you don’t understand free speech STFU. This a problematic prescriptive if ever there was one: the right to free speech isn’t supposed to be contingent on whether or not you fully understand what you are saying about free speech, or anything else, for that matter.

It is true that the Senator didn’t call for the Chaser to be silenced, he merely complained vociferously about their intrusion into his street. He also claimed the slogan was “homophobic,” a complaint I find quite baffling unless of course he doesn’t know about men orally pleasuring women.

My Twitter friend Kate Galloway recently wrote this post on sexist language in public discourse in response to Eddie McGuire’s expressed desire to drown journalist Caroline Wilson. What is it with some men and their desire to drown us? Alan Jones wanting to send Julia Gillard in a chaff bag out to sea, and of course that legendary test to see if we’re witches, perhaps from which this obsession with drowning us stems: tie us to a stool and drop us in the river and if we drown we’re witches and if we survive we’re witches, so burn us. Yeah.

I think I’m a woman with a sophisticated sense of humour. I can also laugh myself silly with a four-year-old. But I find absolutely nothing humorous in the Wicked van slogans, or in Eddie McGuire and his mates cackling hideously over the possibility of drowning Caroline Wilson. Nor  do I accept the apparently unassailable belief amongst some men and women that it is fine to say things about women that if said about any other human group would be thought crass, unacceptable, and even illegal.

There’s no right not to be offended, but there is the right to speak about what offends. A frequent response to expressed offence is an accusation of political correctness (gone mad, for added emphasis), or a judgement that one has “over-reacted.” These are  attempts to derail any discussion of the offensive nature of the commentary, and focus instead on the offended person’s alleged weakness and lack of humour. Such attempts at derailing should be treated with the contempt they deserve. As a general rule, people who make sexist comments don’t take kindly to being challenged and their first line of defence is attack.

Leyonhjelm is outraged that The Chaser’s stunt upset his wife, yet he was seemingly oblivious to the upset caused to women, girls, and men who had to attempt to explain to their children the slogans on the van next to their tent. One grandfather round these parts took to every van he saw with a can of black spray paint, so fed up was he with having to see the denigrating and misogynist garbage every time he went on the highway with his grandchildren. But according to the Senator, this man is an unsophisticated wowser with no sense of humour who has chosen to be offended.

Well, Senator, if the tiara fits…

 

 

 

The memoir police

2 Jun

Derrida Quote

 

A couple of years ago, British concert pianist James Rhodes succeeded in his efforts to have the English Supreme Court overturn an injunction granted to his ex-wife that prevented him publishing his memoir of a childhood in which he was sexually abused.

Hs ex-wife was granted the injunction on the grounds that the book would upset their son, should he ever read it.

Rhodes’ memoir has since been published.

Spectator journalist Brendan O’Neill thought this was a just outcome, however, as he argues in this piece titled Another child-abuse memoir: why can’t the past be private, the injunction should have been a personal one, applied by Rhodes against himself, because people should simply not write “misery memoirs” whose “take-home message is that humanity is ultimately wicked.”

A few days ago, SMH journalist Kath Kenny published this piece titled Our insatiable appetite for women’s tragic stories, in which she expresses her frustration with what she calls a “first-person traumatic complex” or as O’Neill would have it, the misery memoir industry. Apparently it’s virtually de rigueur to disclose traumatic events if you want to get ahead in reality TV or the published world, and people who don’t have anything traumatic enough to relate are being discriminated against.

Then Helen Razer published this piece titled Writers and artists your personal pain is not a blow for justice, in which she argues that the personal is no longer political and, puzzlingly, that we don’t need any more personal stories, we need more bulk-billing, as if one has any effect at all on the other.

Like O’Neill, Razer states her belief that some traumatic tales are too horrifying to be publicly told, and it would be better for everyone if they were kept private. There is, she argues, no longer a possible political outcome from  the writing of the self: that ship has sailed. Whether or not you agree with this statement depends entirely on your definition of the political.

Razer’s piece is more interesting than either of the others, and I believe that out of the three, she is the only one to have written her own memoir of surviving suicidal depression. I learned this from someone who took her on in the comments with barely disguised accusations of hypocrisy.

While none of these journalists have the ability to silence those who choose to write or speak about traumatic events they’ve survived, it is interesting that all three are making a bid to prescribe what our public narratives should and should not accommodate, and to determine what is suitable for public consumption and what ought to remain private. None of the journalists offer any evidence to substantiate their views: apparently they just feel it’s all gone too far, or to be specific, it’s gone too far for their comfort.

I’m not entirely sure how to respond to these complaints from the privileged about there being too many published accounts of private trauma. I think, certainly for women, it has only been possible to write the self at all for the last three decades or so, which in the scheme of things is barely a nano second so it seems a little premature for cultural critics to be telling us we ought to shut up about it.

There is also an enormous amount of scholarly literature on autobiography and memoir, that reveals the genres to be rich and complex. Indeed I wrote my Honour’s thesis on that very topic. For example, who is the “I” who writes? “I am spacious, singing Flesh, onto which is grafted no one knows which I…” exalts Hélène Cixous.

“Writing so as not to die,” observed Foucault “is a task as old as the world.” There are trauma survivors who write so as not to die, either metaphorically or literally. I find it extremely difficult to speak about my childhood trauma. Writing is my liberation, my mastery of what once governed me.

Nobody is forcing anyone to read our work.

To claim that work isn’t political is ridiculous.

To be sure, there’s some bad writing in the memoir genre, as there is in every other genre but that’s a matter of aesthetics and taste. I’m about to read Nick Cave’s The Song of the Sick Bag and after that there’s Patti Smith’s The M Train waiting on my bookshelf. There’s some memoir I wouldn’t go near, which doesn’t mean it ought not to have been written, but that this is a question of interest and personal taste.

It is, I think, mean-spirited and not a little ignorant to complain about others writing memoirs of trauma.

The division between public and private has always worked in favour of the powerful and the abusive. It’s not a little chilling to find our cultural critics calling for a withdrawal of traumatic stories back into the private from which they have so recently been liberated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s only one leader in the debate & it isn’t Turnbull.

30 May

Bad Leaders

 

If there is one piece of knowledge we’ve painfully acquired during the last few years in Australian politics, it’s that a leader of both major parties can be brought down by colleagues at any moment.

Voters may be witness to the stormy trajectory of a leader’s demise, as we were with Tony Abbott. Then again, it might come entirely out of nowhere as happened with Kevin Rudd, when we woke one sunny morning to find him slaughtered, and Julia Gillard dancing on his grave.

In a paradoxical correlation, the more insecure leadership in the ALP and LNP becomes, the more our elections assume a presidential quality in which public focus is steered towards leaders rather than policies. Logic would argue against this focus, given the proven temporary nature of leadership, together with the factions within both parties struggling for control. The leader and faction you voted for today may not be the leader and faction you end up with for three years, because unlike in a presidential system, the parties have been at liberty to oust a leader at any time.

Since the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd debacle, the ALP has put in place certain measures that make it more difficult for their leaders to be chucked out, and it’s astonishing to me that they aren’t making more of this thrust for stability in their election campaign. If you aren’t united how can you govern a nation, asked Mr Shorten before Abbott’s demise, a question all of us ought to ask before we vote.

If you vote ALP, you have the reassurance that their time and energy is less likely to be squandered on internal leadership battles. They are freed from those concerns to concentrate on actually governing, which is far more than can be said for the LNP.

As opposition leader Bill Shorten pointed out in the Leaders’ Debate last night, Turnbull is controlled by his party while Shorten is in control of his.  This may well be the best zinger we ever hear from Shorten, and it zings with truth.

You are a leader in nothing but name if your every move is orchestrated by those you ostensibly lead, and there is no doubt that Turnbull has compromised himself almost beyond recognition in order to soothe the slavering right-wing in his party and retain their support.

Turnbull demonstrates few, if any, political leadership qualities. He’s a man who wanted to be Prime Minister at any cost not because he wanted to steer a country wisely into its future, but because he wanted to be Prime Minister. In this, he is no different from the man he ousted.

Shorten is the leader of his party in every sense. He won’t be thrown out. He doesn’t have to submit to factional demands in order to maintain his leadership. He is at liberty to focus on good governance in ways that Turnbull is not.

If you’re voting for the man and not the policies, it makes no sense at all to vote for Turnbull. He could be gone, even if he wins, and your vote is down the dunny.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m over the leadership dramatics. We’ve been badly served by the major parties’ internal strife for long enough.

There is only one leader in the debate, and it isn’t Turnbull. There’s only one major party in the debate that comes anywhere near allowing real leadership, and it isn’t the LNP.

That being said, we should still weep for our lack of decent choice.

 

This is not a rape.

25 May

 

Monsters under the bed

Monsters under the bed

The representation and simulation of rape has existed in many cultures, from the time humans first learned to make art. Sadly, none of these thousands of years of representation and simulation have done anything at all to prevent sexual assault.

So it is with some cynicism that I read artist Sophia Hewson’s explanation of her latest work as an attempt to bring the rape of women to our attention in the hope of subverting patriarchal notions of female victimisation and self-sacrifice, thus turning the trauma of rape into the liberation of empowerment.

While it is true that a raped woman need not remain forever a victim, and that the recovery of empowerment post trauma is indeed a real possibility, I’m at a loss as to how a video of a simulated “rape” scene will in any way assist the difficult progression from victim to empowered survivor.

Titled Untitled (“are you ok bob?”), the work is a video Hewson “arranged and choreographed” featuring herself and a male stranger she invited to her home to “rape” her on camera.

Immediately we note the absence of rape criteria: this is a pre-arranged consensual act, not a sexual assault.

All that is seen of the “perpetrator” are his hands and arms: the camera remains focused on Hewson’s face throughout the act. In itself this focus is, according to Hewson, a transgressive act: raped women are frequently depicted with eyes downcast, in what is presumed to be avoidance, and learned shame. (It is also an effort to protect oneself from being further violated by the gaze of others at a time of great vulnerability, among other things). Hewson claims she is instead “looking back at us from the experience” and indeed she is. However, the experience from which she is looking back is one of consensual sex, not rape.

Hewson did not enjoy making the video, she states. Not enjoying consensual sex with a stranger you’ve choreographed to “rape” you differs considerably from experiencing an act of sexual assault.

I confess myself entirely dumbfounded by this latest feminist effort to expose the damage done to raped women through a depiction of not-rape that effaces reality. I think I ought to be angry, but I’m too baffled for anger. Who is the consumer for whom this work is created? Is it intended for the titillation of the safe? Is it rape porn? Is it as ethically bereft as poverty porn or disaster porn?

Is it co-opting suffering for personal gain? For the delicious thrill of not being one of the violated, for the guilty pleasure of being privileged enough to only pretend it’s happening, like children frighten themselves by imagining monsters under the bed, just for the euphoric sensation of discovering there are none?

For mine, this work marks an alarming low in the discourse of sexual assault. It is bereft of context. Its raison d’être is as a simulation of rape, entirely gratuitous. It will be viewed with appalled fascination, no doubt by many, but what it will do for women and our unenviable position in the patriarchy is not apparent to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barcelona tonight

15 Apr

60 Minutes

 

Guest post by Paul Walter, a longtime friend of No Place for Sheep

Fans of Media Watch will recall from twenty years ago an episode where Channel 7’s TDT got caught out on a profound fraud involving the pursuit of Christopher Skase in Spain.

Now, why am I bought to mind of this?

At the moment a big story has broken involving the arrest of a 60 minutes team in Beirut during an episode about a “recovery” of children held by their father who had failed to return them to their mother after a holiday.

Now, my sympathies are deeply for this woman, but my real interest in the event is a growing unease in my own mind about what on earth possessed Channel Nine to pursue a risky and violent stratagem in pursuit of a story. In fact I am inclined to wonder to what extent the woman was exploited and now risks jail for such a venture, let alone the crew and highly paid rescue team

Did Nine choose the story in the hope of hope impressing their public or was this a genuine interest and concern in the issue of custody battles involving kids in different countries?

I believe what changes the issue is the use of Muslims as a subject at a time when an election is due and emotions have been high concerning what some term “Islamophobia”, as well as a crass faux conservative feminist aspect (I did say earlier my sympathies are with the woman and I bear no grudge against feminism itself, the point is the pretence of feminism as a means for reinforcing political and ethnic tendencies in an audience, as well as providing a cognitive pay-off for the continued watching of such reports; no nuances, just heroes and villains brought to book by 60 Minutes heroes.)

Now, what further arouses my reawakening of scepticism about what happens behind the scene with this sort of television comes from the old issue of chequebook journalism and the lack of much information about how these events are constructed.

What local msm seem not to have reported is the huge sum paid a mercenary rescue crew to do the snatch whist conveniently watched by cameras for a bit of drama. But the violence of the snatch caused a nasty incident, not a heroic moment for 60 Minutes and jeopardised this woman’s chance of getting her kids back.

No doubt a huge campaign will be launched further valorising 60 Minutes and worsening our relationship with mid-easteners, perhaps also ramping up emotion with local Muslim youth as well…cultural sensibilities.

My opinion is that this sort of thing is reckless and dangerous and done for a whole bundle of poor reasons, yet the truth must “out” as to the reliability of media and press as sources of information, these days.

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