Tag Archives: ABC TV

Pell: nothing to see here, look over there

29 Jul

Pell on sexual abuse

 

Cardinal George Pell has, in the face of fresh allegations of sexual abuse of children aired by ABC TV’s 7.30 Report this week, demanded a “probe” into what he perceives to be a conspiracy between the Victoria Police and the ABC to “pervert the course of justice” using a “trial by media” to establish his guilt before the matters are afforded due process.

I’m calling bollocks. Everything aired thus far by ABC TV has come directly from the complainants, Pell’s alleged victims. We have watched them give excruciating accounts of their experiences, and the effects those experiences have had on their lives. There are no police “leaks” in these first-hand accounts.

Anyone is at liberty to speak about his or her experiences at the hands of another, and we have defamation laws that deal with false claims.

There is no indication that Victoria Police have provided the ABC with information other than that they are pursuing their inquiries into the allegations, and that the matters have been referred to the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions where it will be decided whether or not charges are to be brought against the cardinal.

There is no legal requirement to protect Pell from identification. There are no minors involved in the complaints: they are historical. The ABC has offered Pell every opportunity to respond, and have published his responses on their website.

As long as the law permits the identification of alleged perpetrators, media outlets are at liberty to name them. This may or may not be fair: it is legal.

Pell’s position is no different from that of any other alleged perpetrator of historical sexual crimes against children in this country. Such people are identified in the media, and their alleged victims are frequently interviewed by the media. Police announce that they are pursuing lines of inquiry, and charges may or may not be brought. The Cardinal isn’t being granted, and should not be granted, any special favours or protections, neither is he being unfairly pursued.

The fact is, people continue to make complaints about Pell, and these complaints have to be investigated. Our justice system does not require the complaints be kept secret until they are proven or dismissed.

Like any other alleged perpetrator, Pell has to endure public curiosity and judgement, not because of any conspiracy, but because that is how our society works.

There are no doubt many benefits that go with being a prince of the catholic church. There are also responsibilities and intense scrutiny. The Vatican has deep pockets and should Pell choose to bring a defamation action against his accusers, lack of money will be no barrier to that pursuit. The Cardinal has on more than one occasion threatened legal action of this nature. It is still an option open to him if he feels himself to be a victim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Beautiful Lie. Tolstoy, Anna and Foucault.

24 Nov

Tolstoy Quote

 

Warning: Long read, don’t moan at me, contains Foucault.

In a sense, I am a moralist, insofar as I believe that one of the tasks, one of the meanings of human existence—the source of human freedom—is never to accept anything as definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile. No aspect of reality should be allowed to become a definitive and inhuman law for us. We have to rise up against all forms of power—but not just power in the narrow sense of the word, referring to the power of a government or of one social group over another: these are only a few particular instances of power. Power is anything that tends to render immobile and untouchable those things that are offered to us as real, as true, as good
― Michel Foucault

The Beautiful Lie, ABC TV’s Sunday night serial for the past few weeks, is a reimagining  of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, set in the present day and with the Russian aristocracy transmogrified into Australian sporting elites, wealthy inner-city suburban parents, spendthrift and drunken relatives, and of course, landowners.

It’s an imperfect but nonetheless impressive production: a complex story of infidelity, betrayal, heartlessness and social shunning of yes, you guessed it, Anna the adulteress.

Tolstoy, like all the very best writers, is in the Foucauldian sense a moralist, and doesn’t accept anything as untouchable, definitive or immobile, or beyond his authorial remit. Anna Karenina is a forensic examination of the hegemonic myths of the reality, truth and goodness of family, and of love outside the social confines that are reified as normal, love which is inevitably perceived as transgressive and in the case of Anna, infinitely punishable, primarily by exclusion from her tribe.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, is how Tolstoy opens his narrative, giving some indication of the trajectory of his lengthy imaginings.

Anna’s brother, Kingsley in the ABC production, is also an adulterer yet the consequences of his crimes of the heart are as nothing, compared to those visited upon Anna after she falls recklessly in love with Skeet, who is engaged to Kitty, the younger sister of Kingsley’s wife, Dolly.

Anna initially resists Skeet’s advances, but then leaves her controlling husband and young son to live with him, and bear their daughter. She is heartbroken by the loss of her son, who, with his father’s encouragement, refuses to see her. She becomes increasingly concerned that Skeet is philandering, yet every time she confronts him he denies this. In the last episode we and Anna see that he is indeed betraying her, in his mother’s house and with his mother’s knowledge.

The reimagining remains faithful to Tolstoy’s story and what is striking is the realisation that over time, cultures, and continents societal attitudes to marriage and adultery remain, in the middle class at least, largely unchanged and unexamined. The contemporary characters in this unfolding drama unthinkingly assume married love and lifelong coupling as of inherently moral value, against which Anna’s actions are cast as bankrupt, threatening their concept of themselves and the perceived inherent goodness of their life choices.

Anna’s tribe is, to use Foucault’s analysis, rendered powerless and immobile, their values untouchable as they unquestioningly accept the orthodoxy’s definition of what is real, true and good. Anna is torn between her own conditioning, and the disruptive nature of her desires, a power struggle that together with the unendurable ostracism of her tribe, is ultimately unresolvable for her.

In Foucauldian terms, Anna undergoes what he identifies as a “limit experience,” an unanticipated opportunity to challenge the power of the imposed boundaries of her life. The limit experience is the experience of extremes, which can release powerful creative forces and produce intense joy. The limit experience is the opportunity to liberate oneself, by transgressing  limits so set in stone as to appear “natural.”  The limit experience can take an infinite number of forms and in Anna’s case, it takes the form of sexual desire and the overpowering impulses of passionate love that crash through her values like a wrecking ball, causing all the chaos one would expect in a violent boundary rupture.

This is precisely what I love and have always loved about Anna. Unlike anyone else in her tribe, she has the yearning and the courage to blow her deadly safe life to bits. Inspired by desire, she refuses to accept the restrictive governance of peer constraints, and this impulse is as much of a shock to her as it is to anyone else. Nevertheless, shocked and awed, she remains true to the tumultuous experiencing of disruption, understanding that her life before Skeet was unfulfilled, and that there is no possibility of her resuming it.

What goes horribly wrong for her is that the man she chooses as her partner in the limit experience is not anywhere near her match, but more of that later.

The viewer isn’t called upon to question the authenticity of the protagonists’ behaviours and their consequences: they are as emotionally and psychologically representative of the present day as they were in Tolstoy’s. The woman who transgresses dies, either figuratively or literally, while the male transgressors lose very little, and are only temporarily shunned, if at all. There was no need to costume this drama: its themes and the manner in which their morality is upheld, transcend the passage of time.

Though Anna deeply loves Skeet, he doesn’t appear to have the character or capacity to meet her on the same level, something I think she understands quite early in their relationship but can’t bring herself to acknowledge. This is where her loneliness and sense of isolation begin: the man for whom she’s given up everything doesn’t know her, cannot meet her, and never will. Her isolation is exacerbated by the rejection of everyone around her, all of whom feel she’s stolen Kitty’s fiancée, abandoned a perfectly good husband and fretting child, and pretty much deserves whatever she gets.

When Anna turns up uninvited at Kitty’s wedding to landowner Peter, she’s wearing a scarlet dress. Everyone else is, at Kitty’s request, clothed in white. Everyone other than Anna is represented as pure and belonging, even the men who’ve betrayed their wives, including her brother. It is Anna who bears the brunt of the tribe’s fear and disapproval. It is Anna who is cast out, in order that the tribe might bond, their animosity towards her and fear that she will embarrass herself and them, becoming the bonding agent. She is the scarlet woman, the bright red blood that stains the virginal white. She is, quite literally, the rupture. They get rid of her as quickly as they can.

At first blush, it seems that Tolstoy is warning against illicit passion, his intention being to demonstrate that no good can come of it, and it will end, inevitably, in tears. The love may be real but the circumstances forbid its expression and to attempt to thwart those circumstances will cause only terrible grief and destruction. No more than in Tolstoy’s time do we currently appreciate the necessity of destruction as a pre-requisite for creation: the courage to disrupt, to permit limit experiences is framed in our times, as in Tolstoy’s, as madness and badness, and deserving of infinite punishment, never as much as when that courage is displayed by a woman, and expressed in a woman’s sexual and passionate desires.

But for mine, the core problem is that the lovers are mismatched: Skeet/Vronsky has nothing that comes close to the emotional depths Anna is capable of, and this is the heart of the tragedy. Anna’s desire for the limit experience is her desire for proof of life, however, her choice of lover is tragically misjudged. She has indeed lost everything, and for what?

When Anna kneels down on the train tracks, her expression as she awaits the oncoming locomotive is almost beatific. It is a weakness in the production, for mine, that Anna is portrayed as mentally unstable and under the influence of drugs as she begins her descent into suicide and the drug-fuelled instability is, it is implied, the cause of her almost orgasmic anticipation of death.

This representation feeds into the narrative that one must necessarily be of unsound mind if one wishes to die, implying that the only sane impulse we are permitted is the fight to stay alive. But should we ever accept any notion as definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile, including the notion of how and when we should die?

That the desire to die indicates a pathological unsoundness of mind is as much of an apparently immutable “truth” as is the glorification of life-long coupling as a high moral ideal. It makes perfect sense to me that for Anna release comes in death, suicide, as Foucault would have it, being the ultimate limit experience. It is the ultimate act of agency, the ultimate rejection of external power-over, the breaking of the last possible boundary that holds us in place in this existence we call life.

Anna’s expression, as the train’s lights loom, is one almost of bliss: the end of her suffering is in sight and it is a thing entirely in her control. Everything else is lost to her, against her will and her wishes, but her life’s end is the one thing over which no one else has domination. They have abandoned and ostracised her: but Anna will ultimately be the one who abandons them in the most permanent of ways, and one from which there is no possibility of return and reconciliation.

In death Anna reclaims her autonomy, and for her, this is the only means available. The tribe will never fully re-admit her. She is not of them. She is the scapegoat against whom they measure their commendable morality. She has torn great rents in the fabric in which is wrapped the sanctity of family, and has failed to  redeem herself by repairing it with another, lasting coupling.

Anna remains, for everyone who encounters her, a tormented symbol of the clash of incompatible powers: the deadening powers of the institutions that govern our social arrangements, versus the life-giving powers of desire. Civilisation and its discontents. The sacrifice of desire that is deemed necessary to ensure ongoing orthodox social order. How telling that the symbol of this enduring battle should be a woman, and how telling that the resolution for the upholders of the definitive and inhuman laws  is that the woman must die.

I don’t understand him, complained a baffled Noam Chomsky after an encounter with Michel Foucault. It’s as if he belongs to another species.

Her peers did not understand Anna, either, wishing that she could be of a species other than theirs, and she has been misunderstood for generations since. Heck, I doubt her creator even understood her, but that he loved her there is little doubt. His exquisite and agonising observations of her every momentary mood convey his passion and obsession. As that other author of  the cautionary tale of an infamous adulteress who takes her own life, Gustave Flaubert, remarked of his creation: Madame Bovary c’est moi, so Anna is Tolstoy. The two women are very different, and for mine, Emma Bovary has none of the courage and fascination of Anna, yet the architectonics of both novels chart the traditional course of inevitable female ruination as a consequence of acting on illicit desire.

Were I to reimagine Anna Karenina, I would have her as a warrior. I would have her confront her tribe, and the useless Skeet, with her courage and her insight and her contempt for their comfortable acceptance of the comfortable orthodoxy. I would have her say no, the lie is not mine, it is yours, and there is little beautiful about it. I would have her choose life, and if necessary, dwell alone with her children until such time as she met a lover who would know her, and meet her, and be worthy of her.

Such an ending was likely impossible for Tolstoy to imagine, or at any rate, write, and his objective was not to create a warrior woman, but rather the victim of a cult of love, who would be held responsible for her own victimhood. Had Tolstoy known Foucault, he might well have written a different story, a story that challenged received notions as to the ways things are, always have been and always must be.

Yet in some sense, this is exactly what Tolstoy has achieved, by accident rather than design, and for this, I for one am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Newsroom, politicians, reality and Annabel Crabb

10 Nov

the-newsroom

 

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve spent some time lately holed up binge-watching television series, the latest being a revisiting of the 2012-2014 HBO production, The Newsroom.

Written by Aaron Sorkin, it has many of the characteristics of The West Wing: engagement with complex issues in an at times tortuous, but honourable manner, and ongoing examination of the difficulties and costs involved in taking a particular moral perspective within the context of savage politics, and savage media, both of whose end game is to grab and hold onto power.

Both series can be irritatingly self-righteous and way too heart-warming but hey, Sorkin has a dream.

In his many monologic tirades against the dumbing down of news, and in particular the feeding of baser human instincts through the elevation of celebrity gossip to the status of journalism, anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) grieves the loss of intellectual and moral engagement between media and consumers that the culture of celebrity has inevitably ousted, to everyone’s detriment.

As an extreme example, McAvoy is obliged by his employers to replace a segment of information of national economic significance with the story of former congressman Anthony Weiner sexting various women images of his penis, as told on camera by one of the recipients of his favours.

And this brings me to the point of this post: ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet, hosted by political journalist Annabel Crabb.

Crabb has copped sustained criticism lately for her pleasant little program in which she dines with various politicians. Much of that criticism and an analysis of Crabb’s response can be read here, at the Politcally Homeless blog.

Basically, the show is perceived by some critics as a dumbed-down, albeit classily-styled interaction with politicians, and as offering nothing of significance (contrary to Crabb’s claims) other than providing “humanising” propaganda for individuals on the public broadcaster.

Which, if you think about it, makes it a show of great political significance in the most negative and undesirable way.

Crabb’s justifications for her program are interesting, and for mine, disingenuous, or perhaps I can be more generous and describe them as naive, though naivety doesn’t strike me as a Crabb characteristic.  For example, she claims that:

I don’t think you can possibly separate what people are like from what they do… Observing someone in their own environment offers – in my view – some useful information about how they might behave outside it.

Well. For a start, the dinner times with politicians are absolutely contrived, and definitely not an example of how they behave in their own environment. In much the same way as we can argue that there is no such thing as reality tv because the presence of a camera crew immediately imposes a context that, unless you are completely narcissistic, creates a reality that bears no resemblance to the reality in which one actually lives, we can also argue that Crabb’s interviewees are in as much of their own environment as are monkeys in a zoo.

The participants are under surveillance and like most human beings, pitch their behaviours and their projection of what they are like to their expectations of the outcome of that surveillance. Like most human beings and unlike monkeys, what they’ll reveal of themselves under scrutiny is what they perceive as their best. This is only one aspect of what they are like, and it is a highly sanitised aspect.

Ms Crabb has long experience in media, and must be more aware than most of how people adapt to the presence of cameras. So for her to make the claim that Kitchen Cabinet is politically necessary because it shows us what politicians are like and thus helps us better understand their policies, is, quite frankly, a steaming pile of monkey poo, and insulting to our intelligence.

As for what they are like…I think I could binge-watch Kitchen Cabinet for a decade, and still be no wiser about what any of its subjects are like. Indeed, I learn far more about what they are like from the policies they espouse, than I could ever learn from the personas they present at dinner with Annabel.

To be honest, I have zero interest in what they are like. I’m far more interested in what they do and if I don’t like what they do I’ll vote against them, no matter what they might be like. 

I don’t want to be entirely negative so let me say here that I love the frocks. I’m immensely fond of frocks and Annabel’s are divine. In fact, it’s been a struggle for me, deciding to turn off the show, because I really wanted to look at those frocks.

But for mine, Kitchen Cabinet is an excellent example of what Aaron Sorkin has his characters rail against in The Newsroom. It is presented to its audience as having educative political significance, when in fact it has none.  It will, its presenter assures us, inform us as to the characters and motives of our politicians, thus adding to our understanding of the decisions they make. No it won’t. With very few exceptions we already know what they’re likely to decide: it’s on that basis that we do or do not vote for them.

This is dumbed-down politics, masquerading as important and relevant because it’s on the ABC and presented by one of that organisation’s senior political journalists. Which is, actually, shameful, it really is.

Kitchen Cabinet is as dumbed down in its way as the Daily Telegraph. It’s celebrity journalism, though Sorkin won’t have that called journalism at all. It does not enlighten, it obfuscates. It distracts us from the harm many of these men and women have inflicted upon us, our country and others. It dulls us in ways we ought not to accept being dulled.

The show could have worked as entertainment, if it hadn’t been found necessary to infuse it with faux usefulness and faux meaning. It might have also worked better if Crabb wasn’t seen snuggling up to politicians, and letting them get away with not answering important questions.

Maybe not a journalist at all. Maybe a chef. That guy who says SBS won’t have him because he’s too white. He’d be good.

We’re funding our own demise as an engaged and critical polity. Kitchen Cabinet is bread and circuses. Do yourself a favour. Revisit The Newsroom, re-imagine the ideals and potential of  journalism, then tell me I’m wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABC TV Qanda excludes Indigenous women yet again

4 Mar

 

Adventures in Democracy

 

ABC TV panel show Qanda will mark International Women’s Day in its March 6 program with a panel consisting entirely of women, and hosted not by the urbane Tony Jones, but by Kitchen Cabinet’s Annabel Crabb.

The panel consists of Julie Bishop, American Roxanne Gay, Professor of English at Purdue University; Holly Kramer, CEO of Best and Less; Germaine Greer, “feminist icon” etc. and Yassmin Abdel-Magied, founder of Youth Without Borders, an organisation focused on enabling young people to work together for the implementation of positive change within their communities. 

Indigenous women are not represented on this panel.

As was noted in the recent Qanda panel on domestic violence, no Indigenous women were invited to participate in that either, although Antoinette Braybrook, CEO of the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria, was allegedly asked by producers if she could recommend an Indigenous man to appear on the show.

The exclusion of Indigenous women from the national broadcaster’s celebration of International Women’s Day reveals again the depth of racism and apartheid  in which this country is so thoroughly steeped it is normalised, and unremarked.

There is no possible excuse for this exclusion. It is absolutely shameful.

If you are moved to ask Qanda why Indigenous women have been excluded from their IWD panel you can do that here. You could also invite the producers to get really adventurous in democracy, and adopt the practice of  inclusion.

You could also remind the ABC that Indigenous women and men pay taxes, and it is their ABC as much as it is any other citizen’s of this country.

I also wish they would stop wheeling out Germaine Greer as our “feminist icon.” I don’t know what a feminist icon is, but I do know Greer hasn’t said anything interesting for a long time though other women have, including Indigenous women.

This woman won’t be watching.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Xenophon was wrong, and at home with Tim

15 Sep

There are several arguments to be made against Nick Xenophon‘s decision to name a priest accused of rape in the Senate last night. Some of them can be found here in the Punch.

But for me the stand-out objection is that the alleged victim, Archbishop John Hepworth, didn’t want him to, and asked him not to.

The aftermath of rape is complex for a victim. Many are left with a frightening and unsettling sense of having lost all control over their bodies and their being, and of being rendered utterly powerless in the face of another’s will.

One of the ways a victim can become a survivor and reclaim his or her sovereignty is to have control over if and when they speak about their experiences, the manner in which they choose to do that, to whom they wish to do that, and what exactly they wish to say. Xenophon took all this away from John Hepworth when he over-rode the Archbishop’s wishes, solely to satisfy his own sense of outrage.  In this, he further abused a man we know has great credibility as a rape victim of two other priests.

This is not Senator Xenophon’s tragedy. He has no right at all to attempt to determine the course of its unfolding. His first duty was to John Hepworth. What he did was disregarding of Hepworth’s express wishes, it was disempowering to a man already struggling with great pain, and it was abusive.

Xenophon claims he faced a great moral dilemma in deciding whether or not to name the alleged rapist. No, he didn’t. It was dead easy. He just had to listen to the alleged victim, and nothing and nobody else.

In respect for John Hepworth’s wishes I will not name the priest, and ask that any commenters also refrain from naming him.

At home with Julia seems to be shaping up as a cri de couer on behalf of househusbands, oops sorry, house de factos. Maybe it should be called Home Alone – one man’s story because it’s all about Tim, with the PM cast as the neglectful if well-meaning career driven partner.

The storyline last night was unspeakable. The device of the three young boys appearing intermittently to comment on proceedings like a Greek chorus is lifted straight from ABC TV’s Doc Martin series in which the neurotic doctor is stalked and hounded by a bunch of gloriously cheeky giggling adolescent girls. It worked beautifully in Doc Martin, it’s appallingly bad in At Home.

Why, I ask. Why did they do this? What is the point, what does it mean, when will it end?

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