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Speaking freely of the dead

11 Mar

 

The death of The Australian’s controversial  cartoonist Bill Leak yesterday provoked a storm of polarised emotion on Twitter, as colleagues expressed their shock and sorrow, and representatives of groups Leak humiliated and ridiculed in his work refused to abide by the rules of what was referred to as “common decency and good manners.”

These rules apparently require one to be silent if there’s nothing nice one can say, especially at a time of death and bereavement. The irony was lost on no one in the latter groups, and practically everyone in the former: Leak himself blatantly despised common decency and good manners, and earned his living giving those niceties the finger in the name of free speech.

In his later work, the cartoonist lampooned LGBTQI people, Muslims, the Safe Schools program, Indigenous people,the Human Rights Commission and its head Gillian Triggs. Because of these cartoons, he is lauded by admirers as an outstanding proponent of free speech.

Action was brought against him under the now infamous Section 18C, on the grounds of offence he caused to Aboriginals with a particularly patronising and sneeringly vitriolic cartoon. The case was eventually dropped.

A life has many stages, and those who knew Leak in earlier days, as well as those whose political ideologies he supported, are naturally grieving his unexpected death. Yet as so often happens in death, little acknowledgement is made of the dark side of the deceased, provoking outrage in those who’ve suffered the racism and marginalisation so evident in his later work, and who, equally naturally, feel no loss at his passing.

The efforts by the former to silence the latter were something to behold. Here’s one example, from former PM Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine:

I’ll leave you to deconstruct that example of conservative hyperbole in which criticism is conflated with assassination and beheadings. Clearly Ms Foster does not advocate unfettered free speech by Mr Leak’s critics, while staunchly defending her right and his to express whatever opinions they like in whatever manner they choose.

Of course the accusation that you are not observing “common decency and good manners” is an accusation intended to shame, as is the call for you to “respect” the dead, implying that you don’t have the class to know how to behave in such a situation and someone who does has to tell you.

This latter is a demand I’ve never entirely understood: why am I required to “respect” someone simply because they’ve died?

The reactions to Leak’s death on Twitter yesterday were a microcosmic example of class and privilege setting its sights against anyone who refutes the worship of its idols, using the same tools of contempt, ridicule, shaming and humiliation to achieve silencing as were employed by the idol in his later years.

It seems obvious to me that anyone has the right to speak freely of their relationship with and opinion of a dead man or woman. I can see no reason why those who admired Leak should castigate those who did not for failing to engage in hypocrisy. The idea that death eradicates the hurt and damage any individual might have inflicted on others in their lifetime is ludicrous, as is the demand that we feel sympathy purely on the basis of death. The evil that men [sic] do lives after them.

Common decency is a fluid concept, determined by what suits the ruling classes rather than the commons at any particular moment. Good manners are things I tried to teach my dog.

Respect, I would argue, is sharing space with views different from our own, and not shaming or silencing others because of that difference. It is, in my opinion, perfectly fine for those who do not view Bill Leak with fondness to say so. It is domineering and deceitful for his supporters to fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of those opposing views.

Free speech is for everyone, not just the privileged establishment, and it is everyone’s right to point out when (and which) emperor has no clothes.

Funny how so many simply do not get that.

 

 

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How to deal with being raped: two incompatible points of view.

7 Mar

 

On ABC Qanda last night, Icelandic writer Thordis Elva spoke about how she had, over a seventeen year period, communicated with and finally forgiven Australian Tom Stranger, who raped her when she was sixteen and he was eighteen.

Stranger raped Elva as she lay literally paralytic from the effects of alcohol, in her own bed. He’d taken her home from a party, where friends were so concerned they’d wanted to call for medical assistance. Stranger undertook to protect and watch over her until she recovered. The rape took place over two hours, and so damaged Elva she was unable to walk properly for some time.

The two have since given a TED talk on their many email encounters, which were initiated by Elva and culminated in a physical meeting in Cape Town. Stranger remarks on the suitability of this country for their purpose, given the truth and reconciliation project of the Mandela government that sought to address crimes against humanity during decades of apartheid in South Africa, employing a process that involved admissions of guilt, and subsequent forgiveness by victims.

Stranger and Elva have written a book about their long experience of seeking a resolution to their victim/perpetrator relationship. They finally reached a point where Stranger was able to take responsibility for his actions, and name himself as a rapist. This ownership of his behaviour has allowed Elva to find relief from her feelings of hatred, rage and desire for revenge.

While I don’t find it at all difficult to imagine the relief and liberation I’d feel if a perpetrator admitted his crimes against me, I do find it difficult to imagine wanting a relationship with him that would see us co-authoring a book, and travelling the world together, sharing a stage.

As Elva notes, and I agree, forgiveness is something victims do for ourselves, not for the perpetrator. However, what I couldn’t extrapolate from the TED talk or Qanda, or interviews I’ve read, is how she moved emotionally and intellectually from regarding Stranger as an assailant, to interacting with him as a colleague.

Or perhaps not so much how, as why? Releasing myself from dark feelings and desires so as to get on with my life is both sensible and healthy. But keeping the rapist in my life?

I can forgive the perpetrator for my own sake, but that doesn’t mean I ever want to see him again.

Also on the panel last night was Josephine Cashman, Indigenous lawyer and business woman. Ms Cashman’s take on rape is situated at the opposite end of the continuum, and she was rather dismissive of Elva’s story. Ms Cashman stated unequivocally that sexual assault should be dealt with by the legal system, women must go to the police, the perpetrator must be charged, tried, convicted and incarcerated.

Which in theory sounds quite logical, however, as this must-read article by Jane Gilmour points out, that apparently logical process is rarely the outcome of sexual assault allegations. The legal system can be brutal to victims of sexual assault, and conviction rates are notoriously low.

I admit to feeling not a little creeped out by Mr Stranger when I watched the TED talk. I was unable to get past my knowledge of him as a man who had cruelly  and opportunistically raped an entirely helpless woman, over a two-hour period. I didn’t really care what he had to say about his later realisation, self-evident to me, that at the time he’d been more concerned about his wants than Ms Elva’s needs and safety.

In the spirit of truth and reconciliation I tried quite hard to find a point of contact with Stranger. All I felt was dizzy and sick. Yes, I can imagine the miserable, criminal psychopathy of a man who rapes a very ill and barely conscious woman he’s promised to care for. Yes, I can pity it. I just don’t want it or him anywhere near my life.

It seems to me on reflection, that both Ms Cashman and Ms Elva are unrealistic. For very many victims of sexual violence and other violence against women, engaging with the perpetrator is the very last thing we want to do. Taking the legal option is often described as being raped all over again, and it is disingenuous of Ms Cashman to pose that option as a logical process that results in justice. It isn’t, and more often than not, there’s no justice to be had.

It is possible to achieve a state of comparative peace or forgiveness without any involvement with the perpetrator, and preferably with help and support from others.

A woman is forever changed by the experience of sexual assault, and it’s impossible to recover the self who existed before the attack. This is just one of the many losses caused by rape: the loss of who I was before.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as “closure” or “resolution.” There is only finding a way to live your life as fully as you can, in spite of what has happened to you. There’s no formula for this. There’s no prescription.

It’s the victim’s task, and how unfair it seems, to find her way through the hell of rape. It can take a lifetime. And nobody can or should tell a woman how she must do it. If you don’t do it Ms Cashman or Ms Elva’s way, you haven’t failed. You’ve succeeded in searching for and finding your own way to take back your life. And you might have to do it more than once.

 

 

 

 

There’s honour even amongst morality’s dregs? Milo & the alt-right

22 Feb

milo_yiannopoulos_c0-40-640-413_s885x516

 

Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart editor, intellectual featherweight and fascist star turn adored by the alternate right who till yesterday saw him as a warrior king in their battle against “political correctness” and perceived left-wing censorship, has finally come spectacularly undone.

To the point where his followers (amongst them the likes of Rita Pahini, Chris Kenny and Andrew Bolt in this country) who have thus far endorsed his foul outbursts against Muslims, Jews, women and transgender people as an exercise of the right to free speech, have found themselves in unlikely and uncomfortable moral confusion over Milo’s positive attitude towards pedophilia, and overt sympathy for perpetrating catholic priests.

Yiannopoulos was to have given the keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference later this month, and yesterday (a bad day for Milo) organisers felt compelled to withdraw their invitation.

Breitbart News, whose former editor-in-chief Steve Bannon is now President Donald Trump’s lead strategist, is reportedly considering dumping Milo. At least we now know the alt-right’s bottom line: slander anyone on grounds of race, ethnicity, sexual preference and gender, but don’t publicly advocate pedophilia. There’s honour even amongst morality’s dregs, apparently.

Publishing house Simon and Schuster yesterday dropped Milo, terminating their contract to publish his forthcoming book. They stood by him while he slandered Jews, Muslims, women and transgender people for money and spectacle, but apparently a line was crossed with his sympathetic stance towards pedophilia.

It’s gratifying to witness the extreme right writhe in unaccustomed moral anguish when confronted with speech even they cannot accept. Who knew there was such a thing?

Yiannopoulos attempted to defend himself: “My book has been canceled”  he wailed on Facebook (Twitter having banned him some time ago) in baffled outrage, getting the spelling wrong in his time of extremity as anyone might.

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange then rushed to Milo’s defence from his lounge room in the Ecuadorean Embassy, tweeting that poor Milo is the victim of “politics disguised as morality” and, god help us, he’s been censored!

Well, Assange is wrong: Milo hasn’t been censored. Any publisher can publish him, he can self-publish, and any organisation is free to extend him an invitation to keynote. If they choose to ignore him that is not censorship, you’d think Assange, of all people, would understand that.

What Milo is experiencing are the consequences of free speech. He remains free to say whatever he wants, in the US at least.  Others have equal freedom to decline to listen and disseminate his speech. Refusing to listen and disseminate is not censorship, it’s exercising the agency and the right to decline to listen and disseminate.

Many among us have experienced the refusal to listen, and to disseminate our points of view, not a few of us from the very groups Milo has singled out for discrimination and contempt. He’s had a good run. Now his masters are done with him. You can’t go round advocating the rape and molestation of young boys, even amongst the alt-right, it seems. Who knew they had standards?

Update: Milo resigns from Breitbart:

And this is just for fun: 

My tiny hands are bleeding: Vanstone on protest

6 Dec
The Exceptional Amanda Vanstone

The Exceptional Amanda Vanstone

 

In yet another piece of bellicose dross on the thoughtlessness of protesters, former Howard immigration minister turned ABC broadcaster and Fairfax columnist (via ambassador to Rome) Amanda Vanstone, yesterday unleashed her inner curmudgeon in this indignant rant titled “The ‘look at me’ narcissistic politics of the left.”

On reflection, her curmudgeon aspect is not that inner, but let’s not digress into personalities.

Briefly, Vanstone suffered trauma when as a young woman, indentured to the Myer group, she was forced to walk the streets of Melbourne bearing a load of something or other tied up with string that cut into her hands so badly she was obliged to make occasional stops in order to lay down her burden on the pavements and give her tiny hands a break.

One day, she was prevented from enjoying even this small relief by a crowd of “well-fed” protesters, upset about Australia’s involvement in the US war on Vietnam in general, and in particular, the napalming of Vietnamese children.

The utter selfishness of them, whines Amanda, in anarchically denying her respite from pain, and quite possibly preventing other people from going to the doctor or shopping in Myers. Yes, there’s no question. Napalm Vietnam to kingdom come, but what is really wrong here is that some Australians are inconvenienced.

This has been the aggrieved tone of almost every comment I’ve read and heard since some WACA activists glued themselves to the gallery in the House of Representatives last week in protest against our torture of and other criminal actions against those who legally sought asylum in our country.

Of course, those asylum seekers, now refugees, also inconvenienced Australians didn’t they, in the manner of their arrival and then sewing up their lips and dying and suffering the worst mental health outcomes per capita of any group in the western world. Now we have to bear global chastisement, and we still haven’t managed to get rid of them to a third country.

We speak often on the topic of American exceptionalism, but rarely do we mention Australian exceptionalism. It’s time to start.

Australian exceptionalism believes we ought not to be put upon by any of the world’s estimated 60 million refugees fleeing conflict and violence, for our sovereignty is of far more consequence than any human life, even those lives we have ourselves contributed towards endangering.  This is the meta level of Australian exceptionalism.

Australians who don’t care about refugees must not, under any circumstances, be inconvenienced by those who do and take to the street or parliament house to express their concerns at the actions of our recalcitrant governments.

This actually applies to public protest in general: there is a class amongst us who abhor protest, it makes their tummies tingle and all they want is to make it stop because they can’t stand a discomfort worse even than having parcel string leave weals on your palms.

This class puts their comfort ahead of every other human concern, and so we have Vanstone and her ilk believing they are deserving of greater consideration than napalmed Vietnamese children and tortured refugees.

It isn’t “lefty” concern and protest that’s the problem here. It’s entitlement, and an unfounded belief in exceptionalism, both national and individual, that is corroding public discourse and daily life. Nobody is entitled to a life free of all obstacles, be they large or small.

Being delayed or otherwise temporarily inconvenienced by protesters who are legitimately expressing their freedom to speak  on behalf of those who are silenced is a very small obstacle and for mine, those who cannot tolerate even this much without complaint are psychologically and emotionally dysfunctional, and they urgently need to get themselves seen to.

 

 

 

 

 

How to “dissolve the fog of lies” Try truth?

4 Dec

 

 

 

Fog

Low-lying fog

 

There’s a piece by ABC journalist Julia Baird in The Age yesterday lamenting the demise of “objective facts” in public discourse.

While politicians, lobbyists and supporters initiate fact-less commentary, the media is largely responsible for propagating a narrative based unquestioningly on emotion and personal belief, rather than fact.

Baird cites the ABC’s managing director Michelle Guthrie as an aficionada of “true diversity.” Diversity in newsrooms is one method of dispersing the fog of lies, Baird argues, on the grounds that most are staffed by middle class white men and a few middle class white women. There is apparently a correlation between middle class white men and women, and fact-less reporting.

It seems to me that one must be middle class in order to score a gig in mainstream media: perhaps it is the class, rather than the colour that is the dominant factor here. Perhaps we need to get rid of the middle class if we want to disperse the fog of lies.

This would be an interesting piece of research.

While I heartily agree with the need for diverse voices, calling up Guthrie as a proponent of objective fact and diversity is astounding, given that one of her first acts was to terminate the ABC’s fact checking unit, closely followed by the axing of the world-renowned Catalyst science program, resulting in the loss of a rare team of scientists talented enough to master the delicate art of conveying complex information in a half hour segment. Science broadcaster Robin Williams described this carnage as “morally and spiritually bankrupt.”

Baird concludes that: There is no simple solution for how to dissolve the fog of lies and fake news that has blurred our political landscape.

Well, actually, it’s not that difficult.  Try telling the truth. Try prefacing reports such as the ludicrous segment on Pauline Hanson’s big day out on the Great Barrier Reef with a caution that “what follows has no factual content.” This simple statement shouldn’t get anyone into trouble. It’s the truth.

The fog of lies and fake news that has blurred our political landscape hasn’t done it all by itself. Note the passive voice. Media hasn’t had a hand in this. The fog has done all the blurring. Damn that low-lying fog. Let’s make people of colour responsible for lifting it.

Baird and the rest of the media can angst about this post fact reality all they like, but it’s a circle jerk. The answer is in their hands, so to speak. In the US, trust in media is at its lowest since 1972, and I’m betting there’s a similar lack of trust in Australia. The longest journey begins with the first step. Try truth. We might eventually get to like you again.

Dear politicians. Parliament is not your safe space

2 Dec

peaceful_protest

 

The reaction of the political class and some journalists to the protest in parliament house on Tuesday is an example of the kind of arrogance and entitlement that has alienated many in the US from their major political parties, and voting patterns would indicate a similar disaffection is well under way here.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek advised citizens that if we wish to engage in the democratic process, we need to get ourselves elected. This remark seems to indicate that the democratic process belongs to politicians: citizens, once we’ve elected them, are excluded.

On reflection, this is pretty much what democracy has become in Australia. We elect a government based on many factors, among them promises made by candidates. Government then disregards the very undertakings that enabled their ascendance, and voters are thus excised from the “democratic” process. Plibersek isn’t that far off the mark. Citizens participate only insofar as we vote. After that, we do as we’re told.

Protesters are invariably described in pejorative terms, as if protest in itself is regarded as contemptible by politicians. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, for example, claimed that she and her staff could “smell the protesters, they hadn’t even bothered to shower.” This is in keeping with the long association of legal protest with “the great unwashed.” During an Occupy Melbourne demonstration, former Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom turned Liberal politician Tim Wilson, tweeted that peaceful protesters should have the water cannons turned on them. Insults such as grubs, vermin, losers are hurled at peaceful protesters: a metaphorical association with “dirtiness” the political class assumes it is entitled to protection from.

The arrogance of the political class, their belief that they are superior to the citizens who elect them and pay their wages, nowhere reveals itself as starkly as in their attitudes to legal protest.When protest occurs in the House at Question Time they are confronted on their own turf, turf they believe to be sacred and protected from the citizens who put them there, citizens who are now irrelevant until the next election.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed Tuesday’s protest was “the exact opposite of democracy.” Really? I thought protest was democracy in action, and  protest in the House of the people the fulfilment of democracy’s promise.

Journalist Malcolm Farr also stated on Twitter that if we want to speak in parliament we should get elected. Or perhaps we should all become journalists with press gallery credentials.

The “us and them” narrative has shown itself in all its ugliness, in these reactions. Perhaps parliament ought to be sacred ground, perhaps the HoR ought to be regarded with the reverence ideally due to democracy’s engine. But a House and a parliament is only as good as the people in it, and it’s been a long, long time since we’ve had good people driving our democracy train.

The only power we have, in between elections, is the power of peaceful protest. Take it right up to them. Protest in the House politicians have so thoroughly defiled.

Peaceful protest is not terrorism, nor is it the threat of terrorism, though they will attempt to frame it as such in an effort to suppress. Politicians want to be protected from the sight and sound of dissent. They want Parliament House to be their safe space. It isn’t. It belongs to everyone. This is still a democracy, Ms Plibersek, Mr Shorten. Shame on you.

Elites, the ABC, & hyena vomit.

30 Nov

 

hyena

 

It was with some disbelief that I watched ABC TV coverage of One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s quick trip to the Great Barrier Reef last week.

Accompanied by that renowned and reasoning mind, Malcolm Roberts, Hanson’s trip was designed to *prove* that claims of coral bleaching are highly exaggerated, stupid. Look: it’s perfectly fine.

The two senators’ (yes, they are senators in our government and we laugh at the US for Trump) claims are based on Hanson ripping out a few stems of healthy coral and waving them triumphantly at the slavering cameras. That she was diving some thousand kilometres south of where the most serious bleaching occurs hardly seemed to matter.

However, the point of this post is not to argue against gross stupidity, always a thankless task. Gross stupidity should be ignored, in my opinion, as it will not respond to anything that does not wholly support its position. You cannot change grossly stupid people. You may well interpret this as an elitist comment, and I don’t fucking care. By my definition intelligence requires a capacity to listen, weigh evidence, and if necessary be capable of change. It is enabled and enhanced by education, but has nothing at all to do with higher degrees. One of the most grossly stupid people I’ve ever met sailed through university at the age of sixteen.

In our current zeitgeist anyone possessed of a modicum of smarts is verbally abused, even by our millionaire Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (see, money doesn’t make you elite either, apparently) as being elite. Unless of course you’re a sportsperson, when being elite is a good thing. For the rest of us, the PM, following Donald Trump, has redefined the meaning of *elite* to describe anyone who doesn’t agree with him.

Be that as it may, what I want to know is, what were the ABC’s motives in giving this pathetic piece of theatrical trash a whole swag of time on the 7.30 Report? Reason tells me the show is watched largely by *elites* who will become enraged and complain, turn off the telly, bang their heads on the coffee table in frustrated despair before turning off the telly, or, if they have a gun, shoot out their screens which would have been my preferred method of dealing with yet another inundation of grossly stupid, unchallenged, bereft of facts and reason hyena vomit. Except I don’t have a gun.

I think I have a partial answer to my own question. The master plan is to make the ABC intolerable for anyone who does not agree with the government and other lunatics. Then it will be entirely co-opted as an arm of government propaganda, which it very nearly is. I am convinced of this after the recent removal of absolutely ace broadcaster Jonathan Green from Sunday mornings, along with the most original voice in media, First Dog on the Moon. To be replaced by the utterly colourless, utterly boring, utterly talentless but CONSERVATIVE, Tom Switzer.

How is it that conservatives, neo liberals and fascists are so astoundingly humourless and bereft of creativity? Rhetorical question.

Obviously, what is required here is a moneyed elite or elites who are prepared to fund alternative media that will contest the mind destroying drivel now served up nightly by the ABC. A home for the talent the LNP government is, like all good fascists, doing its best to silence. I do not believe in gods, but I am praying for this outcome.

In the meantime, we should all unceasingly point out to whoever will listen  that fact-less hyena vomit is not *balance*, or anything like *balance.* It is fact-less hyena vomit. It is making this country exceedingly dumb. And there is nothing fascists like more than a dumbed down population over whom they have absolute control.

By the way, here’s the latest on the coral bleaching. Not from hyenas.

 

 

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