Where the fault lies, from the top down

This whole Princess Kate topless photo kerfuffle has got the better of me. I actively searched last night on Google and easily found an eyeful. I didn’t feel a better person for having done so. But it wasn’t about titillation, even though I have now actively participated in a vicarious act of voyeurism on a female body, or just about being swept up in postmodern tabloid culture. I wanted to see how easy it was. It was easy.

So it’s obvious that today’s news about a French court blocking further publication of the topless photos is too late. The cat’s out of the bag, the puppies are out of the bikini top, and the online horse has bolted.

The Palace, I’m sure, knows this, but had to take some visible action. What’s caught my attention is the fall-out from the fall-out, which seems to be a lot about apportioning blame for this ‘incident.’ So who’s at fault? Let’s start at the top:

  • Princess Kate! What was she doing! A woman in her position! No matter where she was, she should have known better. Tsk tsk.
  • The alleged photographer, Ms Suau!* What a betrayal of the sisterhood! And what a demonstration of the callousness of the paparazzi who still haven’t learned how to be decent following the death of Princess Diana. And being her daughter-in-law and all. Shame on her/them.
  • The editor! Sorry, editors, because there’s three now: French Closer and Italian Chi magazines (owned by the Berlusconi media empire, which apparently explains everything), and the Irish Daily Star. How could they? These people have no conscience.
  • The media! Just leave it alone. Move along, nothing to see here (well, not a lot). You’re giving it legs as well. C’mon, there’s more important stuff in the world, no matter how ‘respectfully’ you’re dealing with it.
  • The public! Us. You. Me. Consumers of tabloid, popular culture, against our better judgement. Don’t buy into it, and don’t buy it!

* Interestingly, in earlier reports, reference to Ms Suau was accompanied with “rhymes with sewer.” I can’t find any references to those comments now.

So what a sorry mess this is. How can there be one person, agent or thing at fault?

And throughout it all, in public at least, under the knowing and known gaze of the lens, Kate has smiled and dutifully fulfilled her role accompanying William on their nine-day Asia-Pacific tour. Which is why, to end it all, I love the delicious irony of the photos accompanying her arrival at the Solomon Islands, where she was greeted by topless women.

In perhaps a depressingly-backfired attempt to give support to the Princess, some of the headlines for this picture were, “‘How are you baring up, your highness?’ Topless tribeswomen give Kate attack of the giggles:”

(Courtesy Herald Sun)

Problem is, she wasn’t giggling.  If you look at the opening second or two of the Reuters video from the arrival (as I’ve done a few times now, not just because I’m a pop culture consumer but I also want to make sure I’m right on this), you can see she’s actually lifting her hands to check her hair’s okay after having had the necklace draped over her. And is in complete control of her laughing gear. This is an opportunistic snap, used inappropriately, however with a sympathetic context its accuracy is overlooked.

Terrible, isn’t it.

Almost as bad as the last category of people to blame for all this: those pesky bloggers who can’t help themselves from wading into the stream of information that flows past us all, some of it murkier than the rest.

Hegemony Heights is a metaphor

In honour of reaching 3000 views on HH, it seems like a good time to answer the question that I’ve often been asked over the past few years: why the name Hegemony Heights?

If you’ve ever driven past housing developments, you’d have seen the billboards advertising the wonderful attractions of their estates, with names like ‘Meadow Vale Waters’, and ‘Forest View Glades’, and ‘Blue Horizon Estate’, and they all offer your perfect lifestyle. How could you not be happy to live there?

Thinking about the definition of hegemony provided at right, a little bit down the page, it occurred to me that here in our complacent, fortunate, Western democratic culture we are constantly seeing the world as projected by the dominant players (I’ll resist class just for now). And the media and communication technologies play such a large part in that and many people really do accept it all as ‘common sense’ and ‘natural’. A bit like being sold your perfect lifestyle.

So is Hegemony Heights a great place to live? Absolutely.

Should we be complacent about that? Absolutely not.

And that should answer the other question:  is Hegemony Heights the name of my house? No, but it is ‘the estate’ in which I live.

If you want to know the name of my house, here it is:

And that’s not a metaphor – that’s irony.

Desperately seeking SlutWalk sensibility

I really want to have an opinion about SlutWalk, I really do. I want to be firm in my resolve, and to be able to argue my points convincingly to anyone who’s interested in hearing them. “Yes! Go along and march, it’s great for women” or “No! It’s wrong, the messages are wrong.”

But I’ve been reading opinion pieces for just over a week now, and each time I think, “Yes, that’s it, that’s what I really think” and then I read the next one and think, “Hang on, maybe I think this after all.” More tellingly, I’ve now got to the point of , “I like that bit, but not that bit; this bit makes sense to my flickering inner feminist, and that bit’s just hypercultural postmodern bullshit.”

And that’s the problem for me -there are too many complexities to neatly encapsulate the event, let alone the arguments for and against it. And that’s because, in my case at least, being a 40-something woman in 2011 is a complex thing. All the experience of a wasted youth, a bit of travel, some great education, interesting career choices and now the constant puzzle of parenting two boys is there to remind me that a woman’s place in the world is usually where she’s standing, catching her breath, right at that moment.

And let me say that within that great education was a fair amount of cultural theory including feminist studies, and my mum was one of the career trailblazers in the 60s and 70s yada yada, so this whole feminism concept is not entirely new to me. So the fact I feel unable to find my place in this argument worries me.

One of the niggling aspects for me is the location of the conversation. When I think of how I’ve accessed SlutWalk, it’s been through ABC online News (only yesterday!), The Drum, Q&A and Radio National; crikey.com and New Matilda. I’m not saying it hasn’t been covered anywhere else, but they’re the only places I’ve had time to listen, to read – to engage, dahling, with the arguments being put by the writers.

And let me be clear on the contributors I’m referring to. It started with a porn discussion from the Sydney Writer’s Festival I heard on RN driving home on Sunday evening, then my online onslaught began with Drag0nista, Guy Rundle (why Guy, why?), Mel Campbell, Clem Bastow in The Age, SlutWalk organiser Karen Pickering, self-proclaimed radical feminist Sarah Langford, Kimberley Ramplin, then the blokes-for-a-laff got in with Ben Pobjie taking no prisoners as usual, and cartoonist (Mr Lovely) First Dog On The Moon, who was just lovely as usual.  And I can’t forget the viewing pleasure that was this week’s Q&A. Finally, this evening I read Catherine Deveny’s contribution, which I agreed with more than I expected to.

And that’s because one thing I agree with, as an underlying theme of SlutWalk, is that rape is rape, and I couldn’t help but smile at Deveny’s t-shirt, “You’re not allowed to rape sluts either.”  Now that to me is a direct message to the target audience, which comes back to the location of the arguments, raising the bigger issue at play.

To explain, let’s jump for a minute to Lindsay Tanner, talking to political journalist George Megalogenis about his new book Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy on Radio National’s Big Ideas on Thursday 26 May:

Out on the Internet, out in digital land, there are all kinds of fantastic new products with high quality commentary, blogs, even some stuff on pay TV – the trouble is: that is talking to the engaged, educated minority … and until you’ve actually got a mechanicam for engaging the bulk of the population in a political conversation about the major issues of the day, which we used to have and which I think is slowly diminishing, then you’ve got a problem.”

I have no immediate answer (other than a long essay about the challenges of content and communication in contemporary Australian culture and politics) but I also have no doubt that Tanner’s point will be made hard and fast, as Kimberley Ramplin points out, this weekend:  on the commercial television news we will see images of scantlily-clad frozen young things having a bit of a lark in the name of the new sisterhood, not really sure how much of it is supposed to be fun, while alongside them the sensibly dressed women (shoes or otherwise), making a point with their placards, a genuinely heartfelt and passionate point about sexual freedom, won’t get any screen time, and the female journalist sent to cover the story will be squirming in her Jimmy Choos later in the evening watching the playback on the little screen; something won’t sit quite right with her and yet she won’t be able to put her finger on what it is. But if Deveny’s t-shirt gets a few seconds onscreen, maybe that’s an achievement.

So in the end I guess it comes down to: if you walk, good for you. If you don’t, I understand. And that, unfortunately, is the best I can do. And I mean it.

[Thanks Hollaback for the image].

Words and meaning, form and content

I’ve been sorting through the office, a much overdue task since the renovation / carpet / painting / new desks / renewed study habit, and found a copy of the June 2010 Monthly which I’d been keeping aside.  Why?  Because I remember being quite taken by this opening line from Juliana Engberg’s Artful Excess review:

The marketing material for the seventeenth Biennale of Sydney displays a lusty engagement with the semiotics of font.

When I first read that I remember thinking, “I wish I could write an opening line like that one day.” It sounds good when you read it out loud, it flows and is so damned descriptive!  Words and meaning.

And it’s not as if I’m a huge participant or observer of the art world. Because of where and how I live these days, I don’t get a chance to do Biennale stuff and discover people’s eclecticism and all that other arty stuff – I’m lucky if I make it into the WA Art Gallery for the school holiday Lego activities. But upon engaging with Engberg’s words, I just wanted to dive head first into the brochure and wallow; first, to explore the form, and then maybe even float about the content and dream a little.

Form and content. Words and meaning.  Learning these two bits of cultural theory were a great revelation for me. And that’s why I wish I could write an opening line like that one day.

[And now that I’ve been to the Biennale site, I see what she was getting at!]

In praise of Ethan McCord

* Update 9 May *
Note to self: don’t publish blog posts late at night while still processing confronting information just consumed in front of large screen. It may give incorrect impression on ticker, resolve etc, and things will be different in the morning. Same goes for sending emails to careless tradesmen, irresponsible colleagues etc. Yes, the feelings will be the same (you will not turn into an automaton) but your response may be more appropriately communicated. Carry on.
= = = = =

I’m beginning to  think I don’t have the stomach, the ticker, the resolve to continue studying International Relations. I’ve just watched John Pilger’s documentary The War You Don’t See, and I wish I hadn’t seen part of it; the children, dead and dismembered, strewn across the rubble of destruction wreaked by distant, emotionally removed soldiers – the good guys of our Western narrative.

Remember the Wikileaks footage of the US Apache helicopter shooting at the group of civilians, including the Reuters cameraman (and, now I discover, two children)? This footage is discussed in the documentary, and this post is as a result of that footage.

In particular, I want to congratulate Ethan McCord.

He was one of the first US foot soldiers to arrive on the scene after the shooting, and I won’t go into detail here on what he saw, or what he did, other than he acted humanely – more humanely than his superiors wanted him to.

He has since left the army, and has spoken in various public arenas about the experience on the day of the shooting. Here he is addressing the United National Peace Conference in New York in July 2010.  The full 17-minute Wikileaks video of the Apache footage, shown to this crowd just before McCord made these remarks, can be found here – but a warning, it’s confronting, and you’ll have to sign in.

This link on The China Rose site has an interview which brings us more up to date with McCord’s activities. Here is the apology letter he refers to in this interview, which I think is magnificent.

So congratulations to Ethan McCord for not letting his military training get in the way of being a compassionate human being, first and foremost. I know the purists will argue, “he should have done his job, he could have let his team down, that’s what he signed up for, that’s what he’s paid for,” etc. But I don’t think too many purists are ever put in his position.

And this post – having taken an hour or so to write – has now re-inspired me, again, to keep watching and reading and learning about the geopolitical horrors occurring around the world. But what can I do with this knowledge?

Watching a doco like Pilger’s makes you feel so helpless, so completely impotent (such a good word to use in this world of men at war); that, as one person in li’l ol’ Western Australia, what difference can I make? And yet McCord is just one man; a man who, at one stage, was part of what Assange and others call the military-industrial complex and yet he has made a big difference in his individual way.

I’m just going to check the boys are asleep now.

In WWI, civilians accounted for 10% of deaths.
In WWII, civilian deaths had risen to 50% of all casualties.
During the Vietnam War, 70% of deaths were civilians.
Poor Iraq.  Nearly 90% of the deaths have been civilian men, woman and children – one million people. And that’s just Iraq.

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