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What I want to say

27 Feb

I was prescient, it’s not a skill peculiar to survivors of childhood sexual abuse but it is one many of us acquire as an aid to survival.

In this instance, I said to my dear person on Monday afternoon, what’s happened with Pell? Shouldn’t we be hearing about it by now and less than twenty-four hours later, we heard that a jury had found him guilty of sexual offences against children.

Almost immediately, the parade of aggrieved, disappointed, distressed, shocked, disbelieving, sad, angry Catholics and other Pell supporters began moving like a sullen, offended beast across the media, in unedifying protest at the guilty verdict. Their contempt for the twelve women and men who arrived at this decision was palpable. Despite the complainant’s evidence and demeanour being inaccessible to the public, despite the jurors having made a decision informed by evidence denied to any other commentators, the parade of righteous outrage clearly considered itself superior in knowledge and judgement to just about anybody else.

Like many other survivors, I am used to though not at ease with the involuntary emotional, psychological and physical reactions provoked in me whenever there is public discussion of the sexual abuse of children. These reactions can vary, according to what is being discussed and how, whether I have been able to prepare myself or am taken unawares, and whether or not I’m in safe surroundings when I have to deal with their intrusion. I’m pretty good most of the time. I recognise what’s happening and can implement my self-soothing rituals until the distress eases. But today, I have been utterly, utterly undone.

It didn’t take me long to understand why today is different. It wasn’t hearing the details of Pell’s crimes, hard as they are to bear. For us survivors, these are not simply upsetting descriptions of vile acts. They are vile acts many of us have lived through, in my case, for five years. It wasn’t listening to the heart-rending statement of the living victim, and it wasn’t grief for the victim who is now dead, though the impact of both enormous sorrows had me sitting on the lid of the toilet with my head in my hands, howling.

No, what has brought me to my knees this morning is the reaction of people such as Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, and Father Frank Brennan who are perhaps the most prominent of those I think of as The Deniers. Both Devine and Bolt strenuously and stridently defend Pell, denying any guilt on his part and expressing their implacable disbelief of the survivor’s narrative. In their story the survivor is a liar and Pell is a noble man wrongly accused, martyr to a witch-hunt perpetrated against his church by non-believers. Their assessment appears to be based on little more than the notion that Pell is, in their terms, a good man whom they respect, and their unshakeable belief in the infallibility of their own judgement.

Brennan is more subtle, and considerably more labrythine as befits a Jesuit, however his unspoken message is equally clear: the allegations are highly improbable, the circumstances unbelievable. This Prince of the Church is the victim of a terrible zeitgeist, the survivor a liar or, sadly for all concerned, a fantasist in need of treatment.

I’ve been unable to read these commentaries without experiencing the return of what I can only describe as the soul ache of being disbelieved. This is the complete powerlessness of being disbelieved. It is the hopelessness and despair of being disbelieved. It is the realisation that nobody is going to help you, because they don’t believe you. It is the understanding that your perpetrator has won everything because they believe him, and not you. These are things you think when you are fifteen years old, and you’ve been thinking them, or variations of them, since you were ten. It gets so you hardly believe yourself. You hardly believe these things are being done to your body because everyone else says they aren’t.

If you are very lucky, and I was, somebody does eventually believe you and you are taken away and it stops. And then you spend the rest of your life, even when you’re the grandmother of babies you would die for, reminding yourself that you didn’t lie, you aren’t a liar, you told the truth and you are, remarkably, living a life.

That life, however, is never entirely free of what was done to you. You learn how to manage the psychological, emotional and physical quirks that sometimes cause you to hide in your bedroom, snarl at people who care for you, drink too much, withdraw into silence, cry, ache, shiver, and, if someone has taught you how, hold with tender love the child inside who is still fearful, uncertain, untrusting, and alone.

While I won’t ever say the disbelief is as bad as the abuse, it is, for me, second on my list of wounds I cannot heal, wounds that I live with, wounds that in the main lie dormant until something or someone picks the scabs off and they start bleeding again.

This time, Bolt, Devine and Brennan have torn the scabs off my wounds.  I know I’m not alone in this. I know there are many, many survivors right now reliving their own dark time of being disbelieved, because of what Bolt, Devine and Brennan have just done to us. I hope that everyone of us can remember that this too will pass. That while Bolt, Devine and Brennan may have caused us an anguish we do not ever deserve to feel, this is a temporary situation. We’ve got this far. They are less than nothing in the scheme of things. We have survived far worse than they can inflict on us and while their disregard and contempt for us mimics what we knew when we were young, it is only a pale, pale shadow, and we will prevail.

If you are reading this and you are suffering today, I send you love and strength and hope, from my bedroom where I’m holed up until this dark time passes.

Jennifer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neeson, Racism, and Rape.

7 Feb

 

Liam Neeson is not an actor in whom I have the slightest interest. So spending the last couple of days discussing his actions has felt a little odd.

Out and about promoting his new film, a revenge saga, Neeson used a story from his own past as an example of the desire for revenge, and how irrational and primitive it can be.

Forty years ago, a close friend of his was raped. Neeson asked her if the perpetrator was a black man. The answer was in the affirmative. He offers no explanation as to why he asked that question.

For about a week Neeson cruised areas frequented by black men, hoping to provoke someone into a fight that would give him the opportunity to inflict serious harm. He wasn’t seeking the perpetrator. He admits that at the time he thought any “black bastard” would do.

Fortunately, he did not fully act out his revenge fantasy, realised his behaviour was irrational and dangerous, and sought help.

Confronted about the perceived racist nature of his fantasy, Neeson stated that he would have gone after any group that resembled the perpetrator: this rapist happened to be black. He expressed shame, disgust and regret for his fantasy and his acting out, however, he did not agree that either were racist.

His disclosure of this fantasy is puzzling. It isn’t hard to foresee the path down which such a confession will inevitably lead and it has, with global calls for a boycott of Neeson and his films, and quite likely the loss of future employment. Neeson has now been marked as an unrepentant racist, lacking the consciousness to recognise what he is, and what he did.

Going after a group as a surrogate for going after an individual perpetrator is a savage act, as Neeson acknowledged. It’s been pointed out that going after black men feeds into the racist belief that they are “all the same,” and had the rapist been white, Neeson wouldn’t have gone out looking for just any white man because white men are not perceived as “all the same,” at least, not by other white men.  People of other ethnicities have been known to observe the white people all look the same. However, it’s not likely that Neeson would have told himself that any “white bastard” will do: he would have needed some identifying characteristics that he didn’t feel he needed in his pursuit of black men.

In his explanation Neeson stated that he would have gone after “Scots, Irish, Lithuanians, Chinese”  implying that he didn’t care about the race of the rapist, his primary driver was revenge, and this rapist happened to be black.

It is the nature of a revenge fantasy that it be peopled by characters who most closely resemble the perpetrator. It makes no psychological and emotional sense that Neeson would construct a fantasy centred around a man who bore no resemblance at all to the description he had of the rapist. This is not to make an argument against Neeson’s alleged racism, about which I know nothing outside of this situation. It is to say there are many factors at work here, and it is wise to consider all of them, whether you believe Neeson to be a racist or not.

Post traumatic triggers and revenge fantasies.

Survivors of sexual assault, as adults or children or both, are familiar with the triggering experience that occurs involuntarily when something or someone triggers traumatic memories of the abuse. A powerful trigger is a reminder of the body of the abuser. You may remember the colour of an abuser’s skin, or hair, his breathing, the sound of his voice, his hands, his shape and size. You may encounter someone whose physical characteristics resemble those of the perpetrator, and you may find yourself immediately in a highly distressed state, a state that overwhelms you before you have consciously registered those similarities.

For example, two women told me yesterday that they had been stalked and abused by men of Asian appearance. Both women disclosed an ongoing fear of men of Asian appearance, and difficulties in managing their distress when encountering them. These women are not racists because they have these feelings. They are experiencing a “normal” post traumatic stress symptom when confronted with a trigger.

While there is obviously a world of difference between Neeson’s situation and the situation of a survivor of sexual abuse, there is one similarity. The revenge fantasy requires characters who most closely resemble a perpetrator. The trigger response requires encounters with situations and/or people who most closely resemble the perpetrator. Men of every ethnicity on earth  rape women. That is an horrific sentence to write.

Therefore, a revenge fantasy, be it created by an enraged male such as Neeson, or a raped woman, is going to feature characters who most closely resemble the perpetrators and that will be white men, black men, men of Asian appearance, men of Middle Eastern appearance, Chinese men, Mongolian men, Vietnamese men, Indian men, Sri Lankan men, need I go on?

Perhaps if the universal propensity of men to rape women is addressed, men such as Neeson will no longer be able to be racist about it.

The uses of fantasy

Next, we come to the uses of fantasy, and the frankly terrifying idea of policing the fantasies of others.

The therapeutic value of fantasy is well known. It offers a safe outlet for powerful feelings that otherwise have no expression. It relieves the suppression of feelings that can have negative physical, mental, emotional and psychological effects on an individual, and people around them. It can be immensely satisfying to fantasise misfortune and worse upon someone who has done you damage. In the ordinary course of events the fantasy runs its course and the fantasist moves on, released from crippling negative emotion. Neeson took his fantasy into the real world when he went looking for black men. It’s not unusual for people to do this, and still stop before they actually commit harm.

Neeson has copped a lot of judgmental criticism for having the fantasy he had, a fantasy deemed to be racist. His mistake was not in having the fantasy, which might well have helped to prevent him actually harming someone, but in admitting to it. Revenge fantasies are seldom pleasant. That’s their nature. The majority of us would not emerge from a scrutiny of our darker impulses particularly well, I am confident of that. Indeed, Neeson showed considerable courage, or some might say utter foolhardiness, in publicly confessing his fantasy of revenge.

I would like to raise here the horror of policing Neeson’s or anyone else’s fantasies, judging them unacceptable and condemning their creator.  I’m casting serious doubt on the mind set of people who have done and continue to do that. You disapprove of somebody’s fantasies? You think they should censor themselves in their own minds? You want to tell other people how they should fantasise and about what? You want control over another human’s fantasies? Really?

You are one scary motherfucker and I hope you never attain political office.

Fantasies are the one medium in which we can be at our very worst, without harming anyone. Writers, artists, filmmakers transpose fantasies into creative product we all consume. That last horror movie that so thrilled you?  Read Aristotle on catharsis.

Whatever Neeson’s intentions, and I have no idea what they were, they seem entirely self-destructive if the consequences are any measure, the outcome of his revelation is a global fire storm of condemnation, contempt, judgement, and nauseating self-righteousness.  Really, he should have kept his mouth shut and made a movie with the material.

We are creatures of the dark as well as the light. Neeson admitted his darkness. Sadly, the consequences of that admission will not encourage anyone else to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian whistleblower denied asylum in Australia

21 Jan

Image result for Department of Home Affairs

 

In 2006, British contractor Nick Stride was hired to work on the refurbishment of a palace under construction for Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov, on his estate outside Moscow. The project included the construction of a luxurious greenhouse known as the “Wintergarden,” and the cost of the refurbishment is thought to be in excess of $140 million.

Shuvalov is widely regarded as one of the more “liberal” of President Putin’s close associates, a “counterpoint” to the hardliners dominant in the Kremlin. He is credited with strengthening business relations between the US and Russia, improving the problematic reputation of Russia’s international commerce, and is thought to enjoy a good relationship with Putin.

Using the pseudonym “Lucas,” Stride blew the whistle on Shuvalov’s complex web of financial manipulations, including dubious transactions and avoidance of customs tax on materials imported to refurbish the estate and construct the greenhouse. “Lucas” provided relevant documents to journalist and author, Michael Weiss, including copies of invoices. The labyrinthine details of Shuvalov’s financial arrangements for the refurbishment of his estate can be seen here in a marvellously complex account written by Weiss for Foreign Policy, an account for which Stride was the source.

In 2010, Nick Stride and his family were threatened with “severe consequences” should they ever attempt to leave Russia, because of his extensive knowledge of Shuvalov’s business dealings. Fearing for their lives, the family escaped Russia and fled to Britain. However, believing they were still far too vulnerable to Russian retribution, Stride brought his family to Australia, where they requested political asylum.

A Refugee Review Tribunal Assessor found the danger they feared to be real, yet despite this assessment, their plea for asylum was rejected in 2012. Successive immigration ministers have refused to intervene to prevent the family’s deportation. Stride and his children will be deported to Britain, while his wife and their mother, Ludmila Kovateva, will be sent by Immigration Minister David Coleman to Russia. Ludmila faces almost certain execution in her home country, as retaliation by Shuvalov for her husband’s exposure of his financial affairs to US media.

On Thursday 17 January, Michael Weiss posted several tweets, appealing for Australian legal assistance for the Stride family, and revealing Nick, with his permission, as his source, “Lucas.”

Also Using Twitter to bring the Stride family’s perilous situation to public global notice is financier and economist Bill Browder, perhaps best known for his successful lobbying of the US government to pass into law the Magnitsky Act, legislation that authorises the US government to sanction human rights offenders, freezing their assets and denying them entry to the country. Browder is also the author of “Red Notice,”an account of Browder’s own experience of falling foul of Putin, his deportation from Russia and his relationship with Magnitsky who was both his lawyer and his friend.

The only coverage of the Stride family’s situation by Australian media this writer has been able to find appears to be this piece  in the West Australian dated March, 2018. That isn’t to say coverage doesn’t exist and any links will be appreciated. This is a story of immense interest, given the current global political situation, and it’s inexplicable why the mainstream media aren’t all over it.

The people going into bat for the Stride family against the intransigent Australian Immigration Minister know of what they speak. Weiss is an authority on Russia, and specifically, its propaganda. Browder conducted a highly successful financial career in Russia before being deported. He has also testified to the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US Presidential election.  Their concern for Nick Stride, Ludmila Kovateva and their children is palpable. And yet, the Australian Immigration Minister, undoubtedly supported by Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, continue to refuse asylum to this family.

Why is this so?

And why are the mainstream media apparently uninterested in the family’s fate?

Since this article was first published this background piece on the Stride family was run by the ABC

This article was first published at Independent Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schooling Senator Hinch

19 Jan

 

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, January 17 2019, the body of 21-year-old Palestinian student Aiia Maasarwe was found next to a Bundoora shopping centre in Melbourne.

Police described her murder as “horrendous as you could get,” and refused to release further details out of respect for Ms Maasarwe, her family and friends.

Later that day, Senator Derryn Hinch posted a tweet that contained a most horrific detail, allegedly leaked to him by a “police contact.”  I will not repost his tweet.

Hinch’s tweet provoked an immediate and furious backlash on social media. He responded to this reaction by doubling down, and insisting that “the stark details were included to warn women in the area what this monster, still on the loose, is capable of.”

He followed this up with:

 To all the do-gooder tweeters attacking me for telling the gruesome truth about the Bundoora rape/murder. This brute is still out there. My tweet was for the memory of Jill Meagher and Eurydice Dixon.

Hinch’s posts are deeply unsettling from a number of angles. There is the legal question of publishing details of a crime, and how that may influence subsequent prosecution. His account is also unsubstantiated: we only know that he’s been told some details of the crime by an anonymous someone else. For reasons that are not immediately apparent to me, Hinch believes himself worthy of our trust on these matters.

 

Most important of all is what it must do to Ms Maasarwe’s family to see that the extreme harms inflicted on their beloved are the subject of a politician’s self-seeking tweet, dashed off in seconds, posted on a global social media platform only hours after her death. One moment spent imagining my own child ‘s suffering and death being co-opted in this way is entirely unbearable. The Maasarwe family, and friends, have to live this. It is monstrous to inflict further anguish on them by detailing the torment Aiia suffered in the form of a tweet. To do this under the pretence of protecting women, and further, to claim it honours the memory of two other brutally murdered women, is beyond belief.

Yet, this is what Hinch did, and he has continued to defend his indefensible actions.

There’s also the effects of his posts on his accidental readers, many of whom, like myself, simply opened our Twitter feed to be confronted by horrific descriptions that I, and many other women I’ve engaged with today, have been unable to erase from our minds.

The details of the attack on Ms Maasarwe will eventually become public, in court transcripts and media coverage. It will be my choice whether to read these or not. Senator Hinch denied women this choice by posting the information on social media and I, and many others, feel violated by his act.

Twitter is not the platform on which to reveal terrifying details police have decided to withhold. This was not an act of noble truth-telling by a courageous man whose only desire was to inform women so that we might better protect ourselves. Indeed, Hinch has demonstrated yet one more way men can provoke terror in women, by detailing the torment another man has inflicted via a platform where such information carries no trigger warning, and cannot be anticipated or avoided.

It is not Senator Hinch’s role to decide for women that we need to be confronted by gratuitous descriptions in order to grasp the danger we are in. We are far from unaware. We understand that if police describe a woman’s murder as “horrendous as you can get” they mean what they say. Many women live on a continuum of fear, from mild apprehension to full-blown terror, pretty much every day of our lives. We can decode “horrendous as you can get.” We do not require men such as Hinch to do this for us, and in so doing, erode what little control we have over how we can best manage our lives in a world where we are at constant risk. Hinch seems to be on a grandiose, messiah-like mission to force women to face the details he decides are necessary for us to know.

In itself, this attitude absolutely violates our right to decide what we can and cannot admit into our lives. It is a dreadful thing to do to women who have already survived male violation, and denial of our autonomy.

What Hinch actually succeeded in doing was to make himself the centre of the story, not the women who were murdered, not their families and not their friends. We have become somewhat inured to politicians’ despicable behaviours over the last years. We don’t expect much decency. However, this action taken by Senator Hinch is up there with some of the worst political behaviours on record.

Women who survive sexual assault as adults, and/or children, and the terrifying powerlessness of being overwhelmed by male violence, are, at the very least, entitled to decide how much we can afford to know about the suffering inflicted on other victims. This is the reason for trigger warnings: to give us the opportunity to decide if we want to take the risk of having our own trauma reignited by the details of the violence wrought on another. We can say no to such information. We are not obliged to absorb the details of horror. We’ve lived horror, and we’ve earned the right to choose not to allow details such as those published by Hinch into our lives. We well know what some men are capable of. We do not forget. We certainly do not need another man to forcibly remind us.

Hinch has been reported to Twitter by numerous tweeps. Many of us have asked him to delete his post. He has steadfastly refused to do this.

It would be appropriate for his political colleagues to school Hinch on his despicable behaviour. However, I doubt any of them will bother. Yet again, it is up to us to express our disgust and contempt for the hideous actions of an elected representative.

Vale, Aiia Maasarwe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Turnbull & Shorten: Don’t wear the White Ribbon next time around.

3 Jul

In December 2017, following sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood and Westminster, a report into the sexual harassment complaints process in the Australian Federal Parliament concluded that procedures for staffers in this workplace are “incomprehensibly and woefully inadequate.”

The parliamentary policy, controlled by the Department of Finance…does not specifically address sexual harassment as defined by the Sex Discrimination Act (which clearly defines sexual harassment as unwelcome contact of a sexual nature), give examples of behaviour that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment, and, perhaps most egregiously, it does not clearly spell out an employee’s options for pursuing a sexual harassment claim and relevant time limits. The appropriate legal avenue is to make an individual complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission, but a six-month time limit applies….

Furthermore:

“Where a complaint is substantiated, Finance has no capacity to take disciplinary action against either a Senator or Member or a MOP (S) Act employee.”

At the time of writing, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have remained woefully and incomprehensibly silent about the sexual slurs against Senator Sarah Hanson-Young made by Senator David Leyonhjelm, both in the Senate and later on the Sky News program Outsiders, a whine-fest of woeful and incomprehensible proportions with entirely comprehensible audience numbers of a mere few thousand, hosted by two of the most sadly inadequate men in media, Rowan Dean and Ross Cameron. Cameron is also a former Liberal politician, given shelter by the Sky News network retirement home for failed conservatives.

Sky News, Dean and Cameron have since apologised to Hanson-Young who has instigated legal action. Leyonhjelm,  libertarian and defender of free speech but only when it suits him, has not.

Turnbull and Shorten are the leaders of the parliamentary workplace. Leyonhjelm’s verbal sexual abuse of Hanson-Young occurred in that workplace, as well as later in the media. The Senator attempted to use Hanson-Young’s assumed sexual life as a weapon against her. In other words he slut-shamed her, in the Senate and later the media, in the time-honoured manner of misogynistic old men who have never resolved their desire for women with their simultaneous hatred of us.

It was one of the more sickening episodes to come out of a parliament that daily emits a multitude of sickening events.

The silence from Turnbull and Shorten is deafening. Indeed, it is a betrayal of every woman in that workplace, as well as those of us outside of it. No woman is required to suffer sexual slurs when she goes to her job.

Sexual slurs are at the beginning of a continuum that ends with our rape and our murder. There is no workplace occasion, absolutely none, in which it is acceptable to comment on a woman’s sexual life and choices.

Turnbull and Shorten, quick to don the White Ribbon, quick to avail themselves of the photo opportunity and publicity surrounding the ghastly murder of Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon, are complicity silent when a female senator’s sexual life is used in the Senate as a weapon.

Lack of respect, Turnbull famously trumpeted, is where violence against women begins. If you respect women, he claims, you will not harass and abuse us. Lack of respect is the beginning of all violence against us, according to the Prime Minister who said on September 25, 2015:

Let me say this to you: disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women,” 

Turnbull’s silence on the sexual harassment of Hanson Young in the Senate indicates utter lack of respect for women, if not contempt. Shorten’s silence indicates the same. The silence of both leaders goes a long way to explaining why the Australian Parliament has some of the most inadequate workplace sexual harassment policies in the western world. Because they don’t give a damn about women. They don’t give a damn.

 

 

 

 

 

Turnbull, the self-made man. Seriously?

26 Jun

I am an ambitious person, but I am not ambitious in the sense that I want jobs only for the sake of them… I am here to do things I think are worthwhile. I am always careful that the political positions I take are consistent with good policy. I would not want to be prime minister of Australia at any price.
Malcolm Turnbull

 

A couple of days ago in The Weekend Australian, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton made an appeal for Australians to “guard against compassion” in the matter of refugees and asylum seekers held in offshore detention. I’ve written about this in some depth here at Independent Australia.

Yesterday, we heard from various members of the LNP that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a shining example of the virtues of coming from tough beginnings, working hard and making a lot of money. This was in response to an advertisement authorised by the ALP, questioning how much the Prime Minister will personally gain from tax cuts his party introduced that benefit the so-called “big end of town.” According to the ABC report:

The ads state the Prime Minister has “millions invested in funds which hold shares in dozens of big businesses which would benefit from the tax cut”.

Labor also released analysis of Mr Turnbull’s financial interests register, showing he indirectly owns shares in 32 companies worth over $50 million.

“Who exactly is he looking after?” the ads asks.

Predictably the LNP, supported by friendly media, have worked as hard as Turnbull to confect outrage at the “personal nature” of the ALP ad. This reaction is enormously funny for several reasons,not least that just last week Turnbull personally attacked Labor’s Tanya Plibersek, and yes, irony is dead, buried and cremated:

Turnbull then appealed for the public compassion Peter Dutton says we must not feel for refugees, claiming that the ALP was opposed to him and Lucy “having a quid.”

“They want to attack me having a quid,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“They want to attack me and Lucy for working hard, investing, having a go, making money, paying plenty of tax, giving back to the community.”

The rags to riches Turnbull fairly tale is just that. Here’s a couple of facts:

By the time Turnbull was in Year 10 and a long-term boarder at Sydney Grammar, his father Bruce was doing well enough to purchase a luxurious three-bedroom apartment in Point Piper, not far from Malcolm’s current dwelling.

Aged 28, with a couple of Sydney property deals already under his belt and his marriage into the wealthy Hughes family, Turnbull was left some $2 million according to reports, by his father.

There were undoubtedly a few tough years when Malcolm was small, but Bruce navigated them past those hardships well before Malcolm finished school. The reality is, Turnbull had the kind of good fortune most of us can only dream of, and he is the beneficiary of inherited wealth.

The ALP ad asks the question, how does a multi-millionaire Prime Minister justify introducing tax cuts that benefit him personally, as well as benefiting his multi-millionaire peers at the expense of ordinary Australians? This is not a “personal” question. It is a question any one of us is perfectly entitled to ask.

Let’s not forget as well, that in the 2016 election campaign Turnbull donated $1.75 million to the struggling LNP, who went on to win government by a margin of one seat in the House of Representatives. That donation could well have made the difference between winning and losing, we will likely never know. However, the question that has never been adequately addressed by the media is, is it good for our democracy that a wealthy Prime Minister can pay for his party to survive, and to retain his job?

A Prime Minister who used his personal wealth to keep his party afloat so that he could keep his job cannot at the same time claim his financial affairs are private. When a man has so much wealth he can buy himself the PM’s job, that is not a personal matter. It is entirely political. When that man, now in government, passes legislation that benefits him personally, that is also not a private matter. It is entirely political.

It is beyond me how any journalist can argue otherwise.

Opponents point out that there are wealthy men and women in the ALP ranks. This entirely misses the point. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having money. As far as I’m aware, the ALP are not promoting tax cuts that benefit themselves and their wealthy peers, while cutting penalty rates for ordinary workers, and defunding vital services to subsides those tax cuts. We don’t know the details yet, but they have to be paid for somehow. The Guardian’s Greg Jericho addresses this fundamental question here.

As far as I am aware, ALP policy is a better deal for all (other than refugees, and that’s another story) not exorbitant privilege for the 1%.

Oh, and it appears that Turnbull did indeed have a price. It was $1.75 million.

 

 

 

Is it possible to separate the work from its creator?

13 Jun

 

by Linus Ekenstam via flickr

 

For as long as I can remember I’ve been completely disinterested in the private lives of notable creatives. I rarely read magazine accounts of the writer in her study, the artist in his studio, of the non-working lives of actors, directors, screenwriters, musicians et al. I’ve long adored the works of Leonard Cohen, for example, but I will not read his biography. I’m in awe of the narrative and imaginative powers of Hilary Mantel and I don’t have one fig of interest in any aspects of her personal life. I’ve never wanted to meet authors or attend writers’ festivals, though I’ve done both.

For me, knowledge of or engagement with a work’s creator interferes with my own imaginative and intellectual process. For me, the author was dead long before I ever encountered Roland Barthes. For me, “a text’s unity lies not in its origins (the author) but in its destination” (the reader).

I don’t know how to explain this lack of interest. I wonder if I ought to be ashamed to confess it. My gratitude, my admiration and my love for artists who enrich my world is inspired entirely by their creations which are complete in themselves, arriving in my life like jewels. Thank you, I think, for giving this to the world in all its complexity. I do not need or want to know anything else about you, other than that you have produced this work.

I think the first time this distance became impossible to maintain was in 1992, when Woody Allen was first of accused of sexually molesting his daughter, Dylan. I’d enjoyed an ambivalent relationship with Allen’s work: smart, funny, irritating, neurotic, mediocre, astonishingly good, boring, enchanting. After I learned of the accusations and became unwillingly aware of the proceedings that resulted, I could not watch an Allen movie without experiencing intrusive and unwelcome thoughts about its director. This knowledge of Allen’s alleged behaviour created in me a caution, a wariness, a holding back from engagement with his work that was extremely uncomfortable, to the degree that I could no longer enjoy his movies. I could no longer behave as if the author was dead: the author’s life had so vividly inserted itself into my world that ignoring it was impossible.

The work hadn’t changed. The talent and the fraught psycho-sexual ambiguities remained. But the text’s unities acquired a different destination: an audience altered by confronting information about its author. I didn’t find myself analysing the movies in the light of this new information, looking for clues in scripts and scenes. I simply experienced a powerful visceral retreat, a retreat I fought tooth and nail to resist because I didn’t want to lose my relationship with Allen’s body of work. I wanted the familiar partition between the private life and the work but try as I might, I could not maintain the distance.

The personal behaviour of the artist does not, in my opinion, affect the quality of his or her work. Great films remain great, great books remain unforgettable, great paintings are not altered for the worse by their creator’s offences. But once those offences are known, the works or the performance can’t be experienced with the same freedom, the freedom from knowledge and consideration of the artist’s private life.

It is not the works that change, it is their audience. The names of the creators have taken on new layers of meaning: where once Woody Allen signified a particular style of film making, now his name signifies that and sexual offences against his daughter. Kevin Spacey’s name signified a talented, mesmerising actor, now it signifies that and the man who raped and sexually molested those over whom he wielded power. As with Allan, I can’t watch Spacey perform anymore without that new knowledge of him intruding, yet his performance is still as superb as it was before I knew. I have changed as an audience, a reader, and it is knowledge of the artist’s life that has changed me.

Perhaps it is the desire of a child, to want to engage with works of art as if they exist independent of all human crimes and misdemeanours. There is a sense of loss of innocence upon realising that one may no longer enjoy freedom from knowledge. On the other hand, the freedom was an illusion all along, easier to maintain when scandals did not rupture the present, but were lodged safely in the distant past, or entirely hidden from public view.

I catch myself hoping, please let there not be anybody else whose work I love. Please, don’t make me have to lose anymore books and poems and plays and films and paintings to the knowledge of the human crimes and failings of their creators.

And last, but far from least, what about the victims? How can I laud Allen, or Spacey, or Dorothy Hewitt, after hearing the heart-wrenching accounts of those who’ve been so misused by them?

For me, the answer to the question that is the title of this piece is that once I would have steadfastly insisted that the work is separate from its creator, and that in its separateness lies its strength and beauty. Now I understand that there are circumstances that make such separation impossible, and this is not because the work is any the less, but because I as audience am changed by the knowledge of those circumstances. The change is not for the better.

At the same time there is an even bigger change underway, signified by the #MeToo movement that has led to the outing of so many notable creators accused of sexual offences against those over whom they have power and control. Beside this upheaval, my complaints are insignificant. Nevertheless, I sense we are going to have to find a way to acknowledge the disgust and anger we feel at those offenders, without discarding the creative work they produce. I have at this point no idea how this can be done.

 

 

 

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