Saturday, May 31, 2003

Big Brother is an infuriating enterprise. And no, this is not a tirade against the evil of 'reality TV' taking up precious scripted content hours on the world's most powerful medium, nor is it a scoff-scoff-snigger at the transparently ridiculous labelling of the genre to suggest that its programs bring us the reality of others' experiences when we all know, don't we darlings, that the events depicted are not naturally occurring, der. No. That is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that this particular show that is on the tele in Australia that I watch and that I find myself getting invested in with its particular people and their particular behaviour under the watchful eyes of particular programmers who play with us...IS BLOODY INFURIATING! The promise this show makes us is that - provided that we closely observe the housemates, and provided that we make judgments about them, and provided that we make our dislikes known - when Sunday rolls around we will be rewarded with the elation of victory when the housemate we dislike most gets his or her comeuppance. This is the show's appeal, but I have come to see that it is a sham. You see, comeuppance is the whole point of the show, and yet, that is precisely what Big Brother fails to deliver. Actually, that's not quite true. A truer statement to make would be that Big Brother does deliver comeuppance, but it is so fleeting a moment that it fails to satisfy. You see, for comeuppance to be satisfying, it needs to have a sustained existence. We need time to savour it. But Big Brother only apportions a three-minute window of time each week, between the announcement of the evictee's name and his/her appearance on stage, in which we are free to bask unhindered and happy, victorious, and certain of remaining so. This short time, which spans a commercial break, is the only opportunity we are given to glimpse the promised land of the show. Once this window is gone, events conspire to make us realise that, if we want to feel satisfied by Big Brother, we should be sure to remember for next time that those three minutes will be our only time to revel in the comeuppance we have administered. It is all the satisfaction we get. And then our dreams get crushed. We should know that by now. And yet, no matter how many times the cycle repeats itself, we never know that. We never remember for next time. So as each week delivers to us this packet of time, we use it in a way that will most likely compound and exacerbate our inevitable disappointment. We use it in a way that banks on there being other time - although experience has given us no proof of its existence - which will later allow us to savour this cherished comeuppance.

So, foolishly, this is what we do in those three minutes. We imagine all the delightfully horrible ways that the evictee will be made to realise the intolerable wrongness of their behaviour. How might it be done? A curly question from Gretel perhaps? Or perhaps a targeted statement would work better. Yes, yes. One that knocks the wind right out of them, revealing to them for the first excruciating time, the very horror of their inner natures. We close our eyes, lean back, and drink in the scene. We try to concoct the perfect package of words, a veritable dram of poison, and then we test out the variety of ways this juicy treat might be delivered, before settling on the perfect tone, whose perfection resides in our evaluation that it is the one best suited to violently wake the evictees up to themselves. And then, we scan our memories, and edit together a video package that will act as corroborating evidence to the character assessment that precedes it. We will jeer at them. We will say, "Now do you see? Huh? Punk?" And then, our mouth will curl menacingly as we deliver our scathing cherry; a hushed, emphatic, decisive and scornful "This is who you are".

The above is what our heads are full of. It is what we have prepared ourselves for. We are ready... trembling... luxuriating in anticipation of the imminent fulfillment of all our desires. However, what we don't know, though at this point we really should - come on people! - is that a transformation has occurred, and the change it has wrought cannot be unmade. And it is this; the instant that housemates leave the Big Brother house, they forget their behaviour in it. It is stunning, simple, and irrevocable. They cannot now, nor ever again, be drawn into any response other than, "It was a great experience. All the housemates are fantastic people. I learned so much about myself. Despite any difficulties we might have had inside the house, I know we'll all get together for a friendly beer and a chat as soon as this is all over. Wow, this is so amazing. Hi mum." Blah blah blah. So fucking jovial now. Even those who do mention the cruelties and bickerings in which they participated, who do allude to the emotional battery they either gave or received, who do fire a parting shot at their nemesis in the house by predicting their presence on the eviction stage a week later, yes, even these ones, these dissidents, nonetheless make the same staggering shift as the super-grateful-and-positive people. All somehow tailor their tone, speech and thinking, to deliver a summation of themselves and their time in the house that plainly misremembers the tone of the place, and their behaviour in it. And, just in case that won't fly, they are at pains to point out that somehow, though they stayed true to themselves, the 'unreality' of the house may have made them do things and have a personality and opinions and a self and core beliefs, that you know, aren't part of their everyday existence, in the 'real' world. Which pretty much means, "Anything that you didn't like was a result of the environment and anything you did like was me being true to myself". This whitewashing has been a characteristic of every single leave-taking that has ever occurred on Big Brother. And it is so empty.

And it doesn't seem to matter whether you're experience in the house has been as 'the bully' or 'the victim' or the many ways in between. No matter what, it all sounds the same in the end. A case in point is that of Belinda, who chose to leave the house. During her stay she was bullied by some and little supported by the rest. Her personality was a bit of a blank, so I think the bullies picked on her not out of rivalry, but just as an exercise for the benefit of others to demonstrate the power they could wield. Thus, she had great reasons to leave. She had been under more pressure than anyone else in the house, she had borne more harm and elicited less kindness from her fellow housemates than any person has in any Big Brother series to date. She was vehemently dismissed. It was unfathomable. So, with powerful feelings driving her to action, she chose to leave. And still, once she was out she exhibited exactly the same behaviour as any who get evicted. "It was a valuable experience". "I hope we can all get together once this is over". Seriously, it was as if, as soon as she was out, the unique factors of her own experience were forgotten, and, as with everyone before her, she misremembered her story to a point where it could be enveloped without much consternation into the more common story of experiences shared, lessons learnt, and friends made. Her leave-taking should have been a departure from the norm, it should have at least contained a remonstration of people other than herself, considering the individual nature and potency of her experience. But, of course, it didn't.

You see. It's all so unsatisfying. Leave-taking baddies should deliver, as part of their final summation, a convincing remonstration of themselves that is borne out by events. Likewise, leave-taking goodies should deliver a final summation of their time in the house that includes a convincing remonstration of others that is also borne out by events. Aaaaaah. It feels good, don’t it? This kind of behaviour is actually satisfying, because it allows us to sense and to feel in our bones that all is right with things... at the end of the day. It packs far more punch than simply being breathlessly told that all is right, in a manner that our bones can feel is a matter of course rather than truth. Oh, why must it be so? Can we really be stuck with this powerful letdown that unfalteringly rallies itself to kick us every week, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel? Well, yes, we can. And here's the rub. The very reason we tune in, week in and week out, is precisely because Big Brother disappoints our comeuppance expectations. And it is probably cannily set up to do so. Picture yourself. It is Sunday night. Your rage and your glee has been cut short, muted, forgotten in the wake of empty pleasantries. It has nothing to show for itself. So you are disappointed. You are frustrated. You were sure that this time, you were going to receive a much anticipated gift, an assurance of some kind that the disgust would be lasting and shared, that there would be judgment, consequences. You were sure that this time it would last. How could it not? But you know that it isn't going to. All the signs are there. So you think to yourself, "Okay. Fine. Today, it's not going to stick. But next week. Yes! Next week. Next week's comeuppance'll be a keeper. Hah! Yes my pretties. Next week, it will be different. It will. I know it. It has to be. There's no way we'll let them wriggle out of it next week." And so, we are all mugs. Tra-la-la.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

I recently happened upon a realisation. I was watching TV evangelist Benny Hinn in the wee hours of the morning, and it dawned on me that he pushes sick people over for a living. I don't know why this fitting job description/scornful remark has taken so long to come to me. I have seen plenty of arena spectacular evangelism footage, so what was it about this bout that awakened me to the practicalities of Hinn's "calling"? I think it must have been that the person he was "healing" was a boy of about 8 or 9 years of age, coupled with the fact that Benny, thinking he was on to a winner because of the child's breathless and overwhelmed thankfulness, just kept pushing him over, again, and again, and again! Now, there's something striking about the image of a robust man pushing a trembling child to the ground, repeatedly, to rapturous applause. I found it quite revealing and it pushed my scorn of the assumptions that support such a livelihood to a new level. It could have been farce, were it not so ghastly. Seriously. What prompts a man to push a sick child over, to praise the Lord, and then to briskly order his henchmen to pick the sick child up, so that he can be pushed down again, all the while expecting and receiving gratitude from the sick child's mother? How is there a market for this? Benny finished his ritual by reuniting the mother and child with a "He'll never be the same again", at which they both beamed, the boy more tremulously than the mother. I have no doubt that to this day they feel blessed by this attention, and I find it baffling. What is pleasing about this spectacle? What is heartening? Darnit. And now I have a perverse inclination to enter that weasely profession just so that I can fill out the Occupation section of arrival/departure cards with "Push sick people over-er". This, of course, will send a powerful message.

One spectacle that I was eagerly anticipating was the Eurovision Song Contest. I taped it so that I would be able to watch it with the power of rewind in order to savour again the dry witticisms of the BBC's Terry Wogan. But I have since discovered that the SBS telecast didn't feature him this year, so I don't know if I'll bother, frankly. The tape is in my VCR, ready to watch at any moment, but I have a feeling that it will be taped over unseen. Seriously, what's the point without Wogan? Gutted.

Friday, May 23, 2003

I have only just been made aware that Dame Edna Everege's name is a play on the word "average", much in the vein of Kath and Kim's "effluent" joke. What a nonce am I? I can't believe I missed that one. So obvious, right? Anyway, much thanks to the ABC promo for Andrew Denton's upcoming interview with Barry Humphries for revealing my heretofore unbeknownst idiocy.

So, to other matters. What I can only assume was the final ever episode of Felicity just aired. It all ended happily ever after once Felicity was able to reverse her time travel spell and thereby undo the havoc she had wrought on the past. Back in the future, all was well. Noel was no longer dead, and so was free to be happily married off and forever renounced by Felicity in favour of the gorgeous and sweet-natured Ben. Sigh. However, here comes the major plot hole that I am completely at a loss to understand. You see, in the future from whence Felicity came back into the past, Elena was DEAD, and had been so for six months. And yet, upon Felicity's triumphant return via a spell that completely removed any effects that her sojourn into that past had had on her social circle, Elena has somehow become every bit the living and breathing wedding guest. How did that happen? I understand that this amnesia by the writers to the situation they had created at the beginning of this final series was probably motivated by a wish to have all cast members in place for a final farewell snapshot showcasing how these now well-adjusted college graduates had all reached an endpoint in their story arcs satisfying enough that we, the audience, would be prepared to let them go, safe in the knowledge that their future imaginary lives would no longer have need of our watching and worrying. That's nice, I guess. Except that Elena is meant to be dead, and nothing Felicity did had any effect on that irrevocable situation. The whole success of the final spell was that it removed any effects Felicity might have had on the future she had left behind, so that she could return to it without having created a blip in the time-space whatchamacallit. Hooray. But Elena being alive is a definite blip. Now, I'm not sorry she's alive or anything. I'm just saying that nothing in the final series, which I have been watching like a hawk, provides any explanation for it. Odd.
I have just discovered that I am not an opera buff. Earlier tonight provided definitive proof. Before this night, I was unready to make a final judgment, as my only previous experience of opera was a piece set in the Scottish highlands, but with all characters singing in Italian. This juxtaposition was enjoyably odd, but the opera as a whole was not really my thing. However, as I suspected that it was also not a piece that could be considered part of the opera canon, I decided to suspend judgment until I had experienced some of the classic shit. So tonight, I took up an invitation to go and see Madama Butterfly, an opera that is widely regarded as some of the toppest and most classic shit the artform can offer. And yet...bleh? Despite its unexpected presentation of the indifferent cruelty of pleasure-seeking American Imperialism, the opera did not strike me in the gut with any of the passion and tragedy for which it is renowned. It seemed rather melodramatic, overwrought, and, though the characters clearly made a show of feeling the tragic import of their actions, I myself did not. Their hand-wrigning at the inevitability of dashed hopes and a crowning tragedy seemed a sham. It seemed to be a piece that made an attempt at pathos, but it was not pathetic. Rather, it was bathetic. At least, I think it was, but I'll just take a moment to look up the meaning of that word... Ah yes. Bathos is defined as "insincere pathos; sentimentality". I think that is precisely the sensiblility of Madama Butterfly. And thus, considering that this opera is one of the darlings of the artform, I would have to say that even opera that is held in high regard is not my bag, baby. Oh, and tonight also prompted the rude discovery that the only joy I ever took from opera, ie. the ludicrousness of Japanese or Scottish characters singing in Italian, isn't even a choice (which I thought it was) made by writers in an effort to be playful. It is simply the modus operandi of the artform. Shucks to that. The set was lovely though, as was the way Butterfly's garments moved. And one scene which revealed her naive hopefulness in the face of cold desertion was endearing. But then the opera swung into overwrought mode again. So, alas.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

I spoke to my sister tonight, who also saw the movie The Crime of Father Amaro the other night. I asked her what she thought of it and she said that she thought it was good and interesting. I then tried to regurgitate my ill-formed thoughts of unease about its quality and she scoffed, and then stated her belief that I was only irritated by it because the total unlikeability of Gael Garcia Bernal's character was unwelcome to me, and that I was probably over-analysisng or merely grasping to find an artistic platform on which to base my distaste. So it was probably a good and enjoyable film, and my previous comments might well be disregarded.

THIS IS AN EDIT I have found a review that perfectly captures my feelings about The Crime Of Father Amaro. In a two-and-a-half star review, Tom Ryan of The Sunday Age writes that the film tells the story of a priest "whose assignment to a small parish in rural Mexico brings him face to face with his moral frailty. The dialogue keeps pointing to him as a divided character - torn between his ambition to rise through the ranks as a priest and his recognition of the corruption he discovers within the Church bureaucracy, and between his vows of celibacy and his carnal yearnings for a pretty catechism teacher - but there's little sense of any turmoil within. And while the scornful depiction of clerical hypocrisies and a couple of steamy sex scenes featuring the randy priest make a subversive political point and have already won considerable notoriety, the film as a whole isn't especially satisfying at the level of character". He also notes that the film is "directed with little subtlety". Exactly, exactly, exactly. Bravo, reviewer man. So, without taking any credit for the review, I would just like to say that the above is also my estimation of the film. And we can only hope that it has provided closure to my ditherings on the subject.

Monday, May 19, 2003

I just endured a stinging disappointment. Tonight, I wrangled five friends into seeing a screening of The Crime of Father Amaro, a Mexican film that I thought held much promise because its star is Gael Garcia Bernal, the compact hottie of Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien. But, alas. He was a heartless, soulless, low character, and even his hotness failed to redeem him. Because he was such a cowardly bastard, and ignored any and all plot opportunities to move in a different direction, the film was infuriating. He seemed so nice at the start, but then, it was easy for him to be nice at the start. When it was easier for him to be a bit of a shit, he was a bit of a shit. And then a big shit. I just glared at the screen, my mind screaming for him to make the right choice, to do what his heart told him. Help the girl! Help the revolutionaries, damnit! You know you want to! It didn't happen. His heart wasn't even involved. Bastard.

Even the character of the young woman of the piece, though you believed that her love and trust was genuine, lacked something. Her decisions seemed less based in her specific personality and more in an idea of how a devout woman in a small town might behave were these the circumstances of her life. This is really what she was, an idea of a person. The film did not really draw her a specific personality. Her particular her-ness wasn't really demonstrated to us. And the same went for the other characters. They seemed like ideas of people. As Leah remarked on the drive home, the film lacked the emotional acuity we had come to expect from recent quality Spanish-language films. Disappointed. But energetically so.

I suppose there must be something to a film that makes you progressively angrier. Maybe it was purposeful, and I have been played somehow. I am still trying to ascertain with some certitude whether it was my high expectations or some technique they deployed that kept me squirming and glaring and trying to find a way out for the characters. Was it all just an intentional scheme to prompt us into analogising about the Catholic Church? Are we to see the Church as we see Father Amaro, as empty, selfish, damaging, cowardly, and with screwy priorities that dismiss the good and entrench the bad? I mean, sure.

Anyway, I left the film seething and repeating "He had no redeeming features! NO REDEEMING FEATURES! Arggh!" But I don't regret seeing it. I'm just not sure that it was good.

Friday, May 16, 2003

The world is missing a word. I was doing an inventory in my head the other night, and I found that we were one short. We need a response to the word slut. Or, more precisely, we need a response to the usage of the word slut. We need an insulting name to call those who are lame enough to use slut to reduce a person in the eyes of other people. Lame itself is too broad, because a variety of activities could warrant its use. No, what's needed is a delicious, sneering, specific, sneering, targeted, and sneering name that calls attention to all that is idiotic about using the word slut, and that tarnishes the slut-caller with the brush of idiocy to boot. Idiot itself is again, too broad.

The reason I am thinking about this is that I have started realising that the world is drowning in arseholes. And I feel under-prepared to take them on. I myself don't know any arseholes, so if I came up against one I might be at a loss. But I have a strong feeling that the high proportion of them in the public arena might be signalling a new trend, or a permanent shift, in the rest of us. So it is highly likely that I am going to meet one, someday. It is then quite certain that I will get irritated, frustrated, abrupt, and then, hopefully, cutting. So I was considering what ammunition they could have, and what ammunition I could have, and then trying to predict the scenarios and outcomes of our future battles. And then I was stopped short by a significant realisation, (and one of which I should perhaps have been aware earlier) ... that is, I am a girl. I am so rooted. Do you understand on what a weak footing that puts me, considering that I will be battling an arsehole? Because, you know that despite all the cutting witticisms I propose to make, there will come a point when the arsehole will delve into his bag of tricks, and, irrespective of anything except my womanhood, pull out the immortal line, "Shut the fuck up you fucking slut". Now, what's a girl to do?

Do you attempt the "That’s not even an insult, as there's no such thing as sluts, you dumb-arse" defense, which, though true, hasn't reduced the sting or sneer of fairy? Or do you take the "Right back at you, scumbag" path? Or do you go with a "What? Are you jealous, creep?". Or do you expel your breath derisively, and follow up with a "How lame are you, lame-arse?". Or do you ignore its usage completely, with a "No I will not shut the fuck up. You shut the fuck up, fucker"? Or, do you tackle its use head on, with a "What did you call me, weasel?", which you follow up with many or all of the aforementioned responses.

All rather clunky, eh? And none of them do much to reduce slut's power. But you can see, can't you, how one perfectly pitched word could shred the whole caboodle. If we could only find it. So I have found a mission. I need to find a word the cuts slut-callers to the quick, and in one crushing moment, reveals all their shortcomings and brings on a wave of unutterable shame. They will rail against themselves, that they could have been so priggish, so easily led, to have used the word slut in battle! As I have said, the opposing word needs to sneer. It needs to drip loathing and distaste. But, alas, I have yet to find it. At the moment, all I can consider using is the name slut-caller, in the hope that its very ridiculousness will reveal the ridiculousness of the word which is its origin. You know, guilt by association. But slut-caller is just a stop-gap, as, while it might reveal the silliness of slut, and, by its immaturity reveal the inanity of name-calling generally, it still doesn’t grind the user of slut into the ground. Which, metaphorically speaking of course, is our aim.

Thursday, May 08, 2003


Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Sydney. Our capital of excess. A city of smiling surfers, cops and celebrities. Its winding roads choked with prestige hatchbacks; a city dominated by its young, real estate hungry elites. I think that coming here, you really notice that it is Sydney, above all other Australian cities, that has been the central focus of Australian cinema. I say this because I can feel this sense of mystery in the air; even those ubiquitous yellow-brick apartments that blot the landscape have a strange kind of allure. This mystery bleeds into a sense of menace. This is a city where the appearance doesn't quite meet the reality: corrupt cops, crime syndicates and highly-placed paedophiles. For every young and beautiful jet-setter, there's a homeless guy sitting on a park bench. It seems like everyone's set on ruthlessly enjoying themselves and capital "L" living, which adds a certain hardness to the environment here. That said, this is a totally seductive city. Everything feels alive: whereas Melbourne will have grey, bloated clouds hanging over the sky for days, Sydney will have a wild electircal storm, followed by brilliant sunshine, and probably a rainbow for good measure. I should disclose that I've just watched Mulholland(?) Drive and I'm into the whole "underlying menace" thing - perhaps skewing my perspective?

Rediscovering The Big Arvo. Still pushing the boundaries of child-oriented afternoon infotainment television (and presenter hotness).

Monday, May 05, 2003

Just a thought. Gretel......Botox? Would she? Could she? I mean, it appears she has...but, really?

Sunday, May 04, 2003

I just heard the funniest news update ever. This is it, regurgitated verbatim: "President Bush declares John Howard a 'man of steel' after an overnight stay at his ranch in Crawford, Texas." Ha ha ha ha ha haaa! HEE HEE HEE! Snort. I am seriously cacking my daks. That is one pearl of a comedy headline. I wonder how unintentional this incredibly delicious treat was? Thank you Channel 7. I am gleeful. Much love.
The other day I enjoyed the somewhat unusual experience of getting involved in a public discussion that wasn't mediated by comforting Blog anonymity. Elanor and I had the good fortune of witnessing the unfortunately titled "Homo and Away", an interactive play modeled on the "Theatre of the Oppressed" that I believe began in South America, but I might just have Y Tu Mama Tambien on the brain (it's almost south!). If I can crudely explain, the audience views two "vignettes" detailing oppression in one form or another, and is then asked how the said oppression could be negated or avoided altogether. In this case we were shown two, quite gruesome, examples of homophobic violence; targeted against two gay youths, one male, one female. The play was excellent (props to Camille), but what was most revealing was the tone of the public discussion that followed: evident to me was a desire to place the blame for victimhood on the victims themselves, rather than their oppressors.

The basic thrust of audience sentiment went something like this: "If these gay teenagers could only be more confident, self-assured and self-posessed, they would be able to stand up to their oppressors and say 'despite being gay I'm a wonderful non-threatening person and one day you will be able to accept me if I give you enough time and space to do so – please don't bash me to a bloody pulp!'". I, as Elanor would say, am uncomfortable with this. Yes, it is nice (for both oppressed and non-oppressed) to think that self-empowerment, self-confidence and rhetorical skills can prevent victimhood (and probably true), but to argue that internal strength is the answer to an oppressive social environment is somewhat missing the point. Firstly, an ability to dodge (violent) homophobia through skills of persuasion and an ability to deploy the language of "mateship" (which the audience tended to use) is hardly a solution to the very real problem of homophobia. Secondly, what people seemed unable to grasp was that for a gay kid growing up in an anti-gay environment, the knowledge that quite a lot of people will hate your guts simply because you are you tends to sap your confidence and people-skills. This is the insidious nature of oppression: excuse my lack of political nuance, but it not only shapes the world around you but it shapes you too.

Now using the word "oppression" does seem kind of pompous; a bit over-blown. Are gays really "oppressed"? They're not usually economically disadvantaged – quite the opposite if all that "pink dollar" theorizing is to be believed. They're not denied socioeconomic mobility (although in some employment sectors I'm sure there's a "glass ceiling" of sorts). They have nice terrace houses and hatchbacks, and cool clothes and long lunches and lattes and smart furniture and copious amounts of education. How could THEY be oppressed? Well firstly, I don't think there should be any hierarchy of oppression, so I'm not going to bother justifying why a focus on anti-gay hatred is important in the face of much more "pressing" forms of bigotry. And secondly, oppression is not simply a socioeconomic force. If you place a kid in an environment that day after day tells him/her that she/he is devious, suspect, abhorrent, devilish, predatory and just plain evil, you are, excuse my French, fucking intimately with their social development. The basic assumption starts to ferment that most forms of interaction with society will be negative interactions, because society does not promise to tolerate who you are. You start to oppress yourself, so as not to "cause a fuss" or "create a scene". You start to censor who you are; monitor the way you act and the facts you disclose. In this overwhelmingly negative pact you form with society, where, dare I ask, does this "confidence and self-assurance" required to "reduce your victimhood" come from? Yes, being fucked over by the world breeds strength, but surely one should isolate an anti-gay society as the root of homophobia rather than its victims? But that was the very vibe I was getting from the crowd the other night. When I did eventually swallow my shyness (and belief in the aforementioned negative pact with society) and decided to "talk straight" with the crowd, I was, ominosly, greeted with a deafening silence...