Watching The Avengers
A group of us went to see The Avengers last night. The movie was fantastic, the night was fabulous, and hey, even if the plot was a little light on, I can happily sit and watch Robert Downey Jnr as Iron Man for hours. I thoroughly enjoyed each of the movies focusing on individual characters that led up to this one, even Captain America, which surprised me somewhat. If you’re after a good night out, I’d certainly recommend going to see it.
In spite of all this, I find it hard to put the media scholar in me to bed long enough to avoid analysing it.
Tree Trunks are Brown
Tree trunks are brown. Right? That’s what we teach little kids, and that is what they faithfully reproduce in their drawings.
Yes, tree trunks are brown. Except sometimes they are not . . .
Created Communities: Caboolture Historical Village
[Department of blatant self-promotion]
My latest paper has just been published in Altitude. Please cite repeatedly in prestigious journals…
Abstract: Following Zygmunt Bauman’s provocation that times of physical and ideological insecurity lead to an appeal to the ideals of community, this paper considers the way in which history and community are reconstructed at the Caboolture Historical Village, an open-air museum north of Brisbane. The village privileges the region’s pioneer past and the period evoked is rural, late nineteenth century, largely excluding any references to Caboolture’s modern, urban history. An analysis of the site reveals that the version of community on display is narrowly constructed around the ideals of hard work, individualism, and piety, and reveals an emphasis on technological progress and innovation to the exclusion of the lives of the people whose lives are ostensibly commemorated. This paper contends that this idealised construction of an homogeneous, unified past that excludes problematic figures such as aborigines and migrants serves a conservative fantasy of the “good old days” where issues were black and white, community consensus was assumed, and external threats were easily identified and repelled. It argues that in a postmodern world of cosmopolitanism, international migration, and global terror, places like the Caboolture Historical Village increase their appeal in an uncertain world.
Gunders, John. “Created Communities: Caboolture Historical Village.” Altitude 10 (2012).
Available here [pdf 184kb]
Steve Jobs died yesterday. I cried.
Of course, I also cried over this story too. But I did not know Steve Jobs, any more than I knew this couple. I knew little about him beyond the fact that he was CEO of Apple and stepped down recently due to cancer. I certainly was no fan boy; I have a Mac simply because Dell pissed me off and Windows was threatening to unleash Vista on me.
So, why did I cry? Why were so many of the people in the news and in my feeds visibly upset, most of them with little or no more connection to Jobs and Apple products than I have?
Mark Cohen, in The Drum, puts it down to a ‘cult of personality’. Possibly, to a degree, for some people. No doubt there is a degree of parasocial attachment for some people as well, a phenomenon whereby perfectly ordinary, rational people form intense one-sided relationships with others (usually celebrities, actors, or other high profile identities) whom they don’t know at all, or barely know, in person. This was an explanation given for the outpouring of emotion at the death of Princess Diana.
I have a theory, though, that there is something else going on that requires no particular knowledge of, or attachment to, the person who dies. Here’s my theory. Hear me out as I try to figure out what this cultural phenomenon is that I can see playing out around me and where the theory of parasocial relationships doesn’t seem to cut it as an explanation.
On Head Scarves and Culture
Last night I went to a public lecture by Christina Slade, who talked about the media use of Arabic-speaking migrants in the European Union. She introduced and contextualised the issues that her research has been investigating with reference to a statement by Nicolas Sarkozy in which he stated that Muslim women who wear the veil are “cut off from all social life, deprived of identity”. It does not matter greatly in context whether Sarkozy was referring only to the full covering as there has been legislation to ban head scarves as well in various countries. Even in Australia, we occasionally get politicians calling for a ban. Slade then proceeded to demonstrate how, in terms of their cultural citizenship, these migrants were certainly not socially or politically disconnected, in fact quite the opposite was the case. I think that she used the term ‘cultural citizenship’ but whether or not she actually used it, that’s what I thought I heard and it got me thinking.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
So, Saturday or Sunday, depending on how you reckon the time zones, was supposed to be the Rapture . . . at least according to Harold Camping.
I’ve read or heard about the Rapture since I was first able to read. What has been equally clear to me since that time is that the belief that it will happen—if it happens—in the way that Camping suggests is not widespread or given much credence in the mainstream Churches. The one thing that they do agree on is that God will come again to judge the living and the dead. Now that may be some big day of judgement or, as many believe, it applies to each of us as we die. Sooner or later, each of us faces our maker and has to give an account. Which brings us to the heart of the matter – what will that account be?
One Christian challenge that is given wide credence is that we should live each day as if it were our last. And lets face it, every time we step out of our door and into the traffic that is a distinct possibility. But this is not simply a Christian thing; our culture has a strong tradition, particularly in women’s magazines, of telling stories about individuals who face serious illness or death and reassess their priorities. They decide that the really important things in life are family and friends and health and taking time to smell the roses. It’s one of those stories by which we perpetuate our cultural values, the ones we kid ourselves that we still hold in spite of the reality of our pace of life, the ones we think are really important.
End of the World?
So apparently the world didn’t end on Sunday. Harold Camping admits to being a little mystified as to why his prediction didn’t come to pass.
It’s easy to scoff at people like Camping and his followers, but we live in a society where rapid changes in cultural, social, and economic conditions have left many people lost and bewildered. Deregulation of the financial system in the 1980s, coupled with globalisation, has meant the moving offshore of many low-skilled jobs and that has had a significant effect on employment conditions. Ongoing wars in many places has seen an increase in global migration, including asylum-seeking, and there is an apparent increase in terrorism and other overt acts of religious and political intolerance. On top of this, the tension between tradition and liberal values has widened, including the global gay-pride movement, which Camping singles out as a sign of the impending apocalypse.
Cultural Value and Economics
Last night I went to a lecture by Kim Dalton, director of television for the ABC and Chair of Freeview. The lecture was recorded and hopefully the audio will appear on the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies website in the next days.
The lecture might not have been as “provocative” as some members of the audience suggested, but it was a carefully considered and well argued piece about the role of public service television in the age of convergence, and finished with the familiar and well-rehearsed statement that both of Australia’s public broadcasters are underfunded. Well, no argument about that from me.
But one thing in particular struck me. Dalton spoke briefly about his time in Adelaide in the mid-1970s. He had just finished a degree in drama in the context of a nascent film industry and a growing television industry. The only topic of conversation was Australian culture: what it was, how to develop it, what the role of the media was. He managed to convey the sense of enthusiasm and possibility that he remembered from that time. The enthusiasm of a young country finding its feet and its identity.
Later, in questions, he was asked to justify his position on cultural value versus economic value, and he seemed to me to (perhaps deliberately) misunderstand the question. To Dalton, if I am not mistaken, there is no need to justify cultural value: it is a given, as much as any financial bottom line, and it is important to pursue and to fund it.
And I started wondering, when was it that as a nation we stopped talking about cultural value? When did we abandon conversations about identity for sterile debates about economics and politics? Why is it that discussions of Australian-ness now inevitably lead to claims about cost and benefit? Sure, politicians talk about nothing else, because political discourse has been reduced over the last 20 or 30 years to claims about who are the better economic managers. (I wonder whether this is why Australian politics has not been about to produce a statesman of the calibre of a Mensies or a Whitlam.)
But if economics is all politicians want to talk about, why do we follow suit? I have read very few cultural studies investigations recently that don’t—at least in part—draw of economic considerations as a way of demonstrating value (yes I know, I’ve done it myself).
Wouldn’t it be fun if we all started talking about cultural value, Australian identity, and artistic development as valuable enterprises of their own, and let the accountants worry about the funding?
Earlier this year, a father lost his child. The child, together with his mother, was swept away by the water. At his funeral, attended by many and reported by the media, his father, said “I don’t think I can put into words just how much I’ll miss them”. The child has been hailed as a hero by Australians, who mourn alongside his family.
Late last year, a father lost his child. The child, together with his mother and sister, was swept away by the water. His body has never been found, but his sister’s funeral, attended by few and with attempts by the government to prevent media coverage, was today. Some reports have it that the father has not been allowed to speak at the funeral. Australians have been bickering over whether the government should have wasted taxpayers’ money on flying the remaining members of the family to Sydney for the funeral.
Does the second father’s different language and silenced voice make his suffering any less? What have we come to?
This morning I have seen a report indicating that media did get to cover Nzar’s funeral, and his father did speak to them, despite security seeming to attempt to stop him doing so.
Nevertheless, the political bickering and fallout continues. Constant opposition attacks on the government over spending is bad enough at the best of times, but in this instance it has grubbied the aftermath of a tragic and shameful event in Australia’s immigration history and lowered the dignity of those involved. It is rare that I say this, but for once I appreciate Joe Hockey, who has had the courage and strength to stand against members of his own party in the name of compassion. Good on you Joe.
Merry Christmas Mr Harvey
Nearly Christmas, and that means one thing: being blitzed by desperate retailers trying to maximise profits. Shopping centres have been full of “Christmas Spirit” (that is tacky tinsel decorations and irrelevant carols) for weeks, and forests-worth of paper in the form of catalogues of useless junk are flooding my mailbox on a daily basis.
OK, maybe a bit of “bah humbug” on my part, but every year thousands of families get into financial difficulty because they cannot resist the avalanche of guilt-inducing advertising that implies that they are bad parents if they don’t buy little Johnny the latest electronic gadget that will be broken by New Year.
Organisations like Lifeline have to deal with the fallout of these sorts of issues, and regularly issue press-releases urging caution:
Lifeline Community Care Financial Counsellor Robyn Underwood said the spending frenzy over the holiday season may put some people, without realising it, into a precarious financial position.
“Overspending during the festive season may lead to financial pressures that can have an overflow affect on relationships and may create family conflict – all the things individuals and families want to actually avoid during what’s meant to be a joyful and relaxing period,” said Ms Underwood.
Lifeline urges Queenslanders to spend wisely over the holiday season (Lifeline Queensland)
Did you see that on the evening news? No, neither did I.