Monthly Archives: September 2014

Liveability and cars

In Goulburn, NSW they are honest about their priorities on the main street. Photo: Mick, 2014

In Goulburn, NSW they are honest about their priorities on the main street. Photo: Mick, 2014

Friday morning, I was very nearly run over by a car while walking to the train.

I was crossing the road at a T-intersection. A woman in a white ute wanted to turn right into the road I was crossing. She decided she had right of way. She beeped at me and shouted profanities when I kept walking. I was on the road before she even was ready to turn and this was a suburban road with a 40 km per hour speed limit. I had right of way. The adrenalin was rushing through my veins, as she accellerated past behind me.

Australians love their cars. It is an Australian birth right to own and drive a car – preferably fast – irrespective of the cost to the community and the world. Though car ownership in Australia and many western countries peaked in 2004, Australians still have more cars per 1000 people than the OECD countries on average. Seventy one per cent of adult Australians commute by car to work or study every day. On the balance sheet, car drivers take up space on the road, cost  CO2 emissions, incur road construction and maintenance costs and kill over 1300 people in Australia each year.

Car drivers sit in the traffic jam cursing the traffic, curiously, not realising that they themselves are the problem they are cursing, not the solution. Often their solution is wider roads, fewer busses that have to stop and slow traffic down, no cyclists on the road and generally cities that favour cars over people.

Mick. Chill. 2014. Enamel on MDF.

Mick. Chill. 2014. Enamel on MDF.

Yet this is not only selfish – it is also stupid. We know that the most liveable city in the world preferences ‘soft traffic’, the pedestrians, cyclists and public transport options, over ‘hard traffic’. A ‘new world city‘ would do just that.

I could drive to work every day and park under my building – but I choose not to for the sake of my own sanity and for the future of the planet. I cannot stand to sit in the traffic with frustrated drivers all around me, raging and swearing at the delay. Even though it would probably costs me less to drive into work every day than the overpriced GoCard fare, I prefer the walk – keeps me fit – and the train which takes so many cars off the road each morning.

It seems that in Australia every conversation about our role in global warming needs to start from scratch. In spite the overwhelming evidence supported by 97% of peer-reviewed climate scientists, our dominant discourse is still that fossil fuel mining is a crucial pillar of our economy, that we have a right to choose to drive our cars – and once in our cars we rule the road.

A young Danish girl was killed on her bike at Wooloongabba a few weeks ago. She was here as an overseas student, paying handsomely into our economic prosperity (I know, I was once also a full-fee paying student) and her preferred mode of transport was the bike, just as it would have been back home in Denmark. Clean transport, health-and-fitness-inducing transport, small transport. Yet she was clipped by a truck and died instantly. It is life threatening to ride a bike in this city – not because of the fact of riding a bike, but because you truly are soft traffic against raging, hard car and truck drivers. One could hope that this young girl’s sacrifice will make town planners and purse-string holders sit up and change the cityscape, but I am not sure the calls for better and safer bicycle lanes will be successful. Australians just love their cars too much.

The woman in the white ute probably went on to have a really horrible day. I hope the people arround her were not too badly affected. I wrote this post and got her bile out of my system. I wish she was a rare exception in this town, but sadly I know she is not.

Team Australia – and everybody else?

There is no I in team. Draft. Ink on paper. Mick 2013.

There is no I in team. Draft. Ink on paper. Mick 2013.

It is part of the Australian identity that we love sport. We love a good stouch. We support those who have a go – we even applaud those who cheekily bend the rules to win the game.

So it is probably no wonder that Australia’s leader has called for Australians to join Team Australia. That was in the context of abandoning proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 which would have watered down the racial vilification provisions in the name of free speech. “You are entitled to be a bigot” was the policy rationale. While claiming to be a staunch supporter of free speech, our leader abandoned the proposal because of the risk it might cause national disunity.

‘‘I want the communities of the country to be our friend not our critic,” he said.

That is a promising position – after all, ‘the communities of the country’ are the communities who make up Australia. However, who is the in-group – the ‘our’ – that Australia’s Prime Minister was referring to? Clearly it is a group HE belongs to, but one is left wondering what communities in Australia are outside that group. He clarified by continuing:

“I want to work with the communities of our country as Team Australia.” Still not clear? Luckily for the slow Australians, he clarified even more:

“[Y]ou don’t migrate to this country unless you want to join our team,” he said.

Ah, thank you, Mr Abbot, it is about migrants! Oh… but isn’t he a migrant himself, born in the UK, staunch supporter of Queen Elizabeth, to the degree that he has reintroduced the archaic British system of honours to the colony, eh… country? No matter, our Prime Minister is clearly on Team Australia – it is his ‘we-group’ he is talking about here. It turns out Team Australia is about the Australian stance against terrorism. And, sadly, it is about muslims, too, because terrorism too often confused and conflated with Islam. The corollary to this, which our leader might understand, is to conflate paedophilia with christians, in particular catholic christians, is it not?

Team Australia makes us wonder who we are competing against. Rounders on the beach, Bornholm, Denmark. Photo: Lone. 2009

Team Australia makes us wonder who we are competing against. Rounders on the beach, Bornholm, Denmark. Photo: Lone. 2009

The notion of Team Australia is engendering divisive patriotism and nationalism. The Prime Minister’s call for ‘moderate muslims’ to speak out against radicalism is superfluous: they already are – the problem is that ‘moderate muslims’ simply cannot be heard in mainstream media. The response of the twittersphere to Team Australia is #TeamHumanity. That is promising, if embarrassing that Australia is pitted against humanity.

I wonder why none of his advisers told our leader about Team America: World Police, the puppet movie from 2004, which parodied American foreign policy and the war on terror. The best bit is where the officers in combat scream in horror: We have no intelligence!

But maybe the Prime Minister realises the fact that, apart from sport and competition, Australians love the arts and hence deliberately put Australia on the international comedy stage?

Feminism and misandry

Art and domestic. Photo: Mick 2014

Art and domestic. Photo: Mick 2014

As I stacked the dirty dishes left by the ravenous young men in my life, I pondered whether I was a poor mum and feminist. As I pushed the dirty socks and jocks into the washing machine, finally out from their bedrooms – their floordrobes, I sensed that I have failed. How can I save the women of my sons’ future lives from a life of cleaning up after them, if I have not managed to escape the mothering 20 years later?

They have a good role model. Right from the start my darling man was the primary caregiver. Possibly more by accident than design: he was retrenched from his job shortly before the birth of our first child, we had a mortgage to pay and it seemed my prospects of a living wage were much better than his, in spite of his engineering degree and my recent arrival. So he was the one left holding the baby when I went back to work. Holding the baby, cooking, shopping, cleaning, gardening, school volunteering, homework help, sports duties on the weekend, kissing grazed knees better.

But none of this seems to have made one iota of difference. The parental nagging of teenage sons to clean up their room, pay attention to their hygiene, stop eating junk food, avoid sugary caffeinated drinks and clean up after themselves seems a boring reality of life.

My week has been full of feminism. First, I attended a Women of the World Festival workshop in Brisbane. Led by the fabulous Jude Kelly, Southbank London, the WOW Festival is coming to Brisbane in June 2015, thanks to some very wonderful Brisbane women. The Festival celebrates how successful women have been. Some women have it all, but it is a constant struggle, yet many younger women have no idea how far women have come. Yet one in three women around the world will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Jude invented the WOW Festival to create a new space for human rights for girls and women, and now this space will come to Brisbane.

Next, I was treated to the ‘seminal feminist piece’, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at La Boite Theatre Company in a version by Australian playwright Lally Katz. Nora starts as a 1879 pretty wind-up doll, dressed in a pink period costume, singing about her haunting dream about slamming the door and Nora ends as a 21st century feminist, dressed in a little black thing, shouting an angry activist tirade reminiscent of the 1970s, before actually slamming the door.

30 years after Ibsen's play was first staged, women won the right to vote. Suffrage Alliance Congress, London, 1909. Photo: unknown - Creative Commons,_London_1909.jpg

Ibsen’s play created debate about women’s rights – including the right to vote. New Zealand was first to introduce the right to vote in 1893, with Australia following in 1902 and Denmark in 1915. Suffrage Alliance Congress, London, 1909. Photo: unknown,_London_1909.jpg – creative commons.

The five characters literally look and talk past each other, like they exist in different dimensions. They move on the checkered stage like a pieces in a chess game. In each corner is a chair, like a rook, but each with one sawn short leg, so its stability depends on the characters’ ability to balance three legs, until appearances disintegrate and the truth of imbalance can no longer be concealed. Above the stage, a thick messy cobweb hangs like a ceiling. Behind the stage an opaque curtain barely conceals Krogstad (sounds like Crookster in English) writing his letters and Nora desperately dancing the tarantella. The square stage rotates in the round theatre, though the symbolism of the entwining web of four strings and two rotations and the falling ceiling at the end is just a little bit too obvious. Nora’s ultimate transformation to a feminist is completely neutered by her assertion that Torvald is acting like a woman. Do we really aspire to women who act like men despising men who act like women? Not a good ending to otherwise excellent theatre.

Finally, This is not the work, an exhibition by Level, a feminist artist-run initiative, brings together community-engaged creative projects from around the world. Its title emphasises that the artistic manifestation is not the art work; rather the community engagement that resulted in these manifestations is the work. And just as well. As I walked through the exhibition looking at seemingly haphazardly put together textile pieces, I was reminded that skill comes before product. Last year’s Quilts exhibition at Queensland Art Gallery, which displayed – mostly – women’s exquisite craft skills in trying circumstances, including on board a convict ship. The quilts and textile art before me demonstrated none of that skill, but shouted angrily ‘victim’. The community engagement processes may have been excellent and empowering, but I found the manifestitations crude and substandard. Admittedly, I didn’t stay long – I felt repelled by the activist claiming of every type of disadvantage and social issue: as Jude Kelly asserted not everything women are achieving is through activism.

During visual arts lectures and tutorials, my studious man faces feminism of the activist kind. Vaginas are empowerment and penises are evil and oppressive. As a white Anglo-Saxon middle-class male he symbolises the oppression of women; and the domestic is the province of feminist art. Never mind that he probably has more domestic and feminist experience than most of the women there: he has to be cautious not to offend, which silences his perspectives in ways not dissimilar to how women have been silenced.

As I pondered whether we have brought up our boys to be decent, critically thinking young men, I remembered the Griffith Review article, Time to Trade in by Australian journalist George Megalononis. Our economy, media and society are hard-wired to the false certainty of the male brain and calls on women to change the model. However, he also throws in a caution about the growing disadvantage experienced by unqualified, white young men – and any female model will need to be inclusive, not exclusive, of the masculine or we will merely replace the much wanting patriarchy with its female equivalent and be in no better society than today.

Television and narrow casting

Growing up with favourite shows on screen. Photo: Mick 2002

Growing up with favourite shows on screen. Photo: Mick 2002

These days, we spend a lot of time on screen. iphone, ipad, computer, laptop, tv and from time to time the big screen in a cinema. There are screens in the mall, blaring out council messages, screens on King George Square with free-to-air tv, screens in the lift, screens in the office, screens in the Gallery, screens on the QPAC lawn. We use screen for entertainment, staying in touch, learning, working, creating and finding our way. Children today are born digital natives.

In 1969, when I was only two, I had my first cinema experience. Disney’s first animated full-length movie production of Cinderella from 1950 had finally come to the big screen in my home town. (Or perhaps it returned, but distribution was a differently slow game then.) I don’t remember anything: I curled up in the deep soft seat and fell asleep in the dark. I woke up in a puddle. The next screening would be a wet experience for someone.

My father was an early adopter of technology. In 1960 in Denmark, there were 8 television sets for every 100 people with an average of 3.2 hours of programming broadcast each day. As a 19-year-old man, my father bought the first television set in his rural community in Lundfod, so he could watch the Olympic Games in Rome. He still lived at home on the farm and instead of paying board, he would pay installments on the black and white television he bought on credit. Rather than peering through the window at the electrical store in town or at the pub, he could follow the Olympic Games from the couch. The novelty attracted friends who came to watch the test picture for hours, he reckoned.

In 1974, my father bought a colour television so he could see the World Cup in full colour. While football shirts had adapted to black and white television so you could recognise your favorite team without difficulty, actually seeing the game in colour was almost like being in the stadium. Like a reverse Wizard of Oz experience. From then on, long Saturday afternoons in our living room were blue-green with the Premier league games, the air filled with the rise and fall of the roar of fans in the stadium. I was really not that interested and still am not keen on televised sport. Except when Denmark plays international games. But that is a completely different motivation.

From television as novelty to screens everywhere. Photo: Creative Commons

From television as novelty to screens everywhere. Photo: Creative Commons

Despite my father’s enthusiasm for new technology, my childhood was not overwhelmed by television. Up until 1988, there was only one broadcaster with one channel. Danmarks Radio. If you lived in Copenhagen, you might be able to watch television from Sweden or if you lived close enough to the German border you might be able to tune in to three German channels. My grandparents in Jelling were close enough, and we sometimes watched dubbed American Westerns. ‘How awful to watch John Wayne speak German,’ my mum would howl. She was an English teacher and had a particular affinity with the English language. Danmarks Radio did not dub and before I could read, and some time after, she would read the subtitles aloud for me and my big brother. We loved this for more reasons than just understanding the plot of the movie.

Where I grew up in Herning, we were limited to just the one channel. Since 1951, special productions were dedicated to children. Children’s television was from 9.30 to 10.00 in the morning and 19.00 to 19.30 in the evening, except on Friday afternoon, when youth programming ran from 16.00 to 18.00. Between the morning children’s show and the afternoon show was the test picture – in colour.

Today we can turn the television on and be rewarded with a multitude of channels that broadcast 24/7. Even more: the very idea of having to wait for a program to come on is now foreign to us. We can access, buy, download or stream almost everything our heart desires for watching right now on our computer, smart tv, ipad or phone. Waiting for the afternoon show on a Friday is not something young people do these days. Hand them the ipad and they will find their favourite show on YouTube. When I visited Copenhagen in 2013, my two-year-old nephews happily sat still to watch Lucky Luke shows on the ipad (in whatever language my brother would find). They will grow up digital natives.

I don’t remember the last time I turned on the television to watch a show when the broadcaster was screening it. We tried Quickflix for a while, but found it too cumbersome, thanks to the draconian restrictions on parallel importing resulting in movies only available on dvd posted to you. I am a fan of ABC iView and SBS On Demand and apple tv is their perfect match. You might call it impatience, instant gratification and inability to anticipate. You might even call it narrow casting. For my money, it just means I don’t have to wait for the sport programs or commercials to end or watch dubbed movies or monocultural, bland programs.

Instead I can watch programming I find stimulating, informative and entertaining, when I am able. I watch a lot of quality Australian content and non-Hollywood international content, in particular Danish movies are regular in my home and particularly relevant to me culturally. The time I spend on the television screen is quality time that I treasure.

How about you? How has the way you have interacted with screen media changed?