Why The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have lost touch with romance

This year, Australia’s iterations of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have resulted in serious controversy . This is not because the franchise has finally been called out for producing a show premised around Stockholm Syndrome. Nor is it because the popular TV drama, UnREAL, which is about the production of a Bachelor/ette-esq show, “Everlasting” has allowed us to peek behind the curtain, dispelling any romantic notions we had about the show’s production.

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You mean Richie doesn’t light all those candles himself?!

And it’s not even because the franchise has such deeply troubling life messages, especially for women: this year’s Bachelorette, Georgia Love, quit her journalism job to find love on the show. Honey, if you work in an industry that is shedding workers like my spring-moulting dog is shedding fur, quitting your job for the possibility of love is not a financially sensible move.

No, what has collectively PISSED OFF Australia’s Bachelor/ette-watching audience has been the fact that the wrong person won. By deliberately orchestrating this shock and rage, the shows’  producers have lost touch with the premise of The Bachelor/ette which is a dangerous thing.

Allow me to elaborate.

When Bachelor Richie had to decide between Nikki and Alex, the audience was sure that Nikki was The One. That Nikki and Richie were both from WA was regularly emphasised in their individual piece-to-cameras. The “connection” that they shared was played up too. Not to mention that they spent a heck of a lot of time pashing.

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To be fair, Richie was serial pasher

Compare that to Alex and Richie. That Alex was from Melbourne, a heck of a long way from Perth, was emphasised in her interviews. (Geographic distance makes the heart grow not fonder?) Moreover, that Alex had a son was also frequently discussed (so much so that Alex being a mum became a meme). This discussion was foregrounded in order to position her son as a probable barrier to her and Richie being together.

Finally, clever editing (also known as cut-aways to disapproving looks from Richie’s mum anytime Alex was mentioned, coupled with contrasting cut-aways to Richie’s mum beaming and fawning over Nikki) set up for the expectation that Nikki was, in Richie’s family’s eyes, the right woman for him.

A similar expectation had been cultivated  in the hive-mind of the audience.

Hence, when Richie chose Alex, a collective feeling of “we were robbed”exploded on Twitter. Buzzfeed did what they are best at and compiled a list of reactions. This tweet pretty much sums it all up:

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But, not content with pulling this ending once, a few weeks later at The Bachelorette finale, Georgia chose Lee over fan-favourite Matty.

Cue Twitter outrage. Again.

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Twitter was exploding while you took this photo, Georgia. Source: Network Ten

Australia’s vitriol occurred because the producers of both shows have fundamentally misread how the shows’ narrative arcs should conclude. That is, they’ve lost touch with the formula that makes romantic stories feel satisfying and rather than giving us the pay-off we expect (and want), they punk us with an unexpected reversal.

The Bachelor/ette as a show draws on the romantic comedy genre. That is, we expect to see two people fall in love, over come some obstacles and live happily ever after. Of course, the franchise is on reality-TV ‘roids, meaning that the dialogue is a lot less snappy than it would have been if a scriptwriter had written it, and rather than the characters being played by actors, they’re being played by everyday people but the point still holds.

One of the main things that makes romantic comedies is enjoyable is the familiarity of the story, and knowing how it plays out. I mean, in a film like When Harry Met Sally, we can be pretty damn sure that Harry is going to end up with Sally. That’s the point. Of course, they have to overcome some struggles, particularly the issue that either one of them could end up with the wrong person first. But the fact that they don’t end up with the “wrong” person makes the audience’s investment in their eventual (inevitable) union all the more rewarding.

When Harry Met Sally
It’s not called “When Harry met Sally and ended up with Alex.”

A similar rom-com logic has previously played out in The Bachelor/ette franchise.

We all waited with baited breath last year, wondering whether Bachelor Sam would be overcome by intruder Lana’s personality (and penchant for making out in pools) and choose her over our heroine, OG Single Mum, Snez.

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Get out of here with your pretty hair and your range of skimpy bikinis, intruder!

When he didn’t (#Snezforthewin!) we rejoiced because Snez had been constructed to be our heroine and rightful owner of Sam’s heart, and we wanted to see her succeed.

But the producers haven’t sticking to the romantic comedy script in 2016. They seem to have forgotten that the audience, raised on a diet of predictable rom-coms want to see the two who are “meant” to be together be together. We want to see Richie overcome the temptations of Olena’s “quiet confidence” and end up with the woman who has been set up by the producers to be his bogany-WA soulmate. The producers could have avoided the shock and vitriol that occurred had they set Alex up from the beginning to be viewed by the audience as Richie’s soulmate, but they didn’t. They wanted to surprise us, to shock us.

Not valuing generic convention means that the endings of both shows were incredibly disappointing. It’s as if at the last minute Mr Darcy decided that Caroline Bingely was the right woman for him, leaving Elizabeth to the side. The Bachelor/ette has broken the genre, and it’s not a good thing.

Next year, the producers of The Bachelor/ette need to think very carefully about how they construct the narratives of their shows. I would argue that rewarding the investment is a good thing; the cheap shocks are just that – cheap. Stick with the tried and true format of:

  1. Person A meets Person B
  2. Person A makes out with a lot of people, including Person B
  3. Person A battles villains (we love you Kiera!) and their own desire to keep harem
  4. Person A chooses Person B (and not left-of-field choice Person C

Basically, adhering to formula and editing the show in such a way that The Bachelor/ette ends up with the person that we’ve been rooting for all along is the main point of the show. Giving us the “love story” that we have invested in makes us believe in “love”. Alternative endings based upon shock and surprise make us believe that love is dead.

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Deadpool: breaking the stale superhero mould

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Source: http://themuse.jezebel.com/deadpool-a-superhero-movie-for-people-who-are-sick-of-1758117642

First up, if you’re not familiar with the Marvel antihero Deadpool, I’d head to the excellent Youtube channel, The Idea Channel and watch the first four minutes of their recent Deadpool video which does an excellent, high-energy job of summarising Deadpool’s origins, powers and attitude.

(Actually, even if you know who Deadpool is the video is worth watching because it’s great.)

Now that we’ve all refreshed our memory of Deadpool, let’s get started at the somewhat tangential beginning of my review.

Choosing when to go to the cinema in Canberra is a meteorologically-dependent exercise; you want to go when sitting in the cinema will be of greatest benefit relative to the temperature outside. Last Sunday was very hot; I went to the movies; it was a most glorious decision. I say glorious for two reasons. One: commercial-strength air-conditiong. Two: Deadpool rebuilt my disintegrating faith in the superhero genre because it was prepared to challenge the increasingly restrictive mould of what a superhero film should be.

I’ll get to discussing the ways I think Deadpool broadened the superhero genre in a moment but first it’s worth contextualising how it’s the latest in a seemingly endless stream of increasingly similar high-grossing films about people in hi-tech spandex saving the day/city/world/galaxy/universe. I say “seemingly endless” not hyperbolically – three out of the three trailers I saw at Deadpool were for superhero films – Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice Captain America: Civil War and Suicide Squad (a.k.a DC’s desperate attempt to cash in on the Guardians of the Galaxy market). (Yes, of course I know it makes sense to promote superhero films to an audience who are clearly not adverse to the genre given that they are, you know, at a superhero film,  but what irritated me about these trailers was that their premises were all so samey.) That is, the three trailers offered us an ensemble cast of (anti-)heroes who need to save something much bigger than themselves – in all three films it looks like a city (although Captain America might be looking a bit larger and be putting an entire nation on the line).

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Source: http://screenrant.com/deadpool-movie-poster-kinberg-radical/

My problem is not with ensemble casts or saving cities/planets/galaxies as a premise per se (I loved Avengers) but with this premise being the go to one superhero films seem to use lately. Let me illustrate what I mean. Before Avengers 2 came out I read that Whedon had said that any sequel would be different “By being smaller. More personal, more painful.” His intentions here are great – he knew that he needed to tell a new story, he knew that he needed to develop the characters, and he knew that rather than simply raising the stakes (“Ok, last time we saved NYC, this time we need to save the world!”) that he needed to do something narratively different.  Now for whatever reason(s) (most likely studio interference as they simply wanted a repeat of the money-making Avengers) he failed in his ambition as Age of Ultron was gigantic in scope – let alone the number of international cities they crashed through, or the additional characters they crammed in, the story was about them saving the whole damn plant via rescuing one soon-to-be-a-meteorite-nation. And this grandness of scale and this raising of stakes is commonplace in superhero films. Somewhere along the line filmmakers seem to have decided that the way to an audience’s hear (or at least their wallets) is through epic do-or-die battles where absolutely everything is on the line. A problem with this kind of storytelling is that audiences can feel disconnected from it – the stakes are so high that they become incomprehensible and impersonal. Moreover, films that do this tend not to do anything that interesting with character – instead they use familiar archetypes – and rely on spectacle alone to keep audiences hooked.

This is where Deadpool is different.

Deadpool is an intimate, small-scale film with a refreshingly inward focus. Deadpool (Wade Wilson) is not out to save the city, or the planet, or the universe – he just wants to force Francis, the bloke who ruined his face to fix him, then he’s going to kill him, and then he’s going to get his maybe-still-fianceé, Vanessa back. Deadpool’s quest doesn’t get interrupted by the need to help save a planet or anything and because of this Deadpool manages to pull off what Age of Ultron doesn’t: it’s small, it’s personal and it’s painful. Deadpool is, of course, conscious of this, joking in voice-over, “This is a romance movie”. But the thing is that he’s serious – ultimately he is (riffing off the classic Notting Hill line) “a  boy, standing in front of a girl.”

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This goes hand in hand with violence, right?

It’s exciting to see romance treated as a primary narrative strand in a superhero film (rather than as a minor subplot). And the romance is handled well: Deadpool and Vanessa’s relationship is fun and original (a relationship initially based upon sex? How great is that to see?!)  and as an audience, we invest in them being together. Moreover, it’s easy for us to empathise with Deadpool’s anxiety about no longer being attractive to Vanessa.  And audiences are clearly responding to this intimate little story because we get his mission – it’s on a scale that is comprehensible and we can relate to the emotions he feels – vanity, revenge, insecurity, rage, love – that are driving him on.

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Vanessa and Wade Source: http://www.comingsoon.net/extras/features/648323-deadpool-character-guide

The next thing that Deadpool does that separates it from the amorphous glut of superhero films is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it is the apotheosis of not taking itself too seriously. Of course, a large part of this lack of seriousness is due to Deadpool’s character – he’s a self-referrential, wise-cracking, hyper-meta smart arse – whose deeply naughty brand of humour translates well onto screen. His postmodern fourth-wall breaking reflexivity gives the film its dynamism and his reasonably vain quest further prevents the film from being serious and earnest. Unlike many superhero films, in Deadpool there are no earnest rallying speeches about justice, heroism, and sacrifice (aside from when Colossus makes one to Deadpool about being a hero and Deadpool does the opposite to what’s being suggested – classic Deadpool). This is not to say that other superhero films don’t have humour – Suicide Squad was trying so hard to be irreverent and  quirky that it hurt to look  and Age of Ultron seemed to have a contractually agreed upon number of witty one-liners. But Deadpool/Deadpool doesn’t have to try to be funny – the film is funny, he is funny – and it’s having fun taking the piss out of a genre that has become overloaded with seriousness.

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The final thing that Deadpool has going for it is that the studio thought it would fail. While this seems to be a strange thing to see as a positive, their low expectations freed Deadpool from the need to be the next big superhero hit – which meant that the filmmakers could get away being the next relatively derivative superhero film, relying on a formula that had previously raked in the cash dollars. Instead, it could be a love story with swearing, sex, nudity, and an incredibly unconventional protagonist who broke the fourth-wall all the time. Also, it was allowed to get an R rating – US studios are normally incredibly hesitate to let their films be graphic enough to get R ratings because the conventional wisdom is that an R rating spells box-office disaster – but if the studio wasn’t counting on success then what did it matter? Low expectations also meant that the film’s budget was severely restricted which also turned out to be no bad thing. Firstly, rather than having a plethora of villains – Garrison Kane, Sluggo and Wire – they were condensed into one – Angel Dust. Having one character in place of three adds to the the film’s sense of intimacy. Likewise, rather than having masses of action sequences, they only had a few – which made those few really count. Thirdly, rather than having an abundance of X-Men as supporting heroes, there are only two – Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Visiting Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters Deadpool is reflexively tongue-in-cheek about the dearth of X-Men saying, “It’s funny, I only ever see the two of you… It’s almost like the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man.” And finally, the low budget means that at 1 hour 48 minutes Deadpool’s running time is significantly shorter than most other superhero films out there (e.g. AoU: 2 hours 22 minutes; The Dark Knight Rises: 2 hours 45 minutes!) I praise the short running time not because I wanted the film to end (I didn’t!) but because unlike many other superhero films it wasn’t padded with extraneous detail or flabby sequences.

While I said just now that I though the film’s 108 minutes running time was a good thing, I do think that one story beat needed to be fleshed out a bit more. When Deadpool finds out he has cancer he moves too quickly into wanting to leave Vanessa in order to spare her the pain of seeing him deteriorate. This also means that he moves too quickly into joining the intensely shady super-solider programme. The thing is, I think we needed to see some of the cancer horror that Deadpool is trying to spare Vanessa from. All we needed was one or two scenes of him undergoing chemo and him being sick and her looking anguished and a doctor saying that the treatment wasn’t working. Then his decision to leave would have had more weight – he was out of options!  – as well as making their parting all the more poignant. As it was it felt too fast (but hey, maybe they originally did have those scenes but thanks to their budget cuts weren’t able to film them).

Deadpool deserves its success. Hopefully it is also a lesson to other superhero filmmakers that doing something different, and being something different is what audiences want. They don’t want a stale rehash of familiar scenarios, tropes and characters. Instead, give us the joie de vivre, self-reflexivity, intimacy and originality of Deadpool (and of course, Wham!’s Careless Whisper.)

*Not quite it – Francis, the bad guy, also tortured Deadpool for weeks, was going to sell him as a super-slave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paintings by Harriet Mitchell: Confident Renderings of Lives

It’s not hyperbolic to say that Canberra artist Harriet Mitchell is both incredibly talented and incredibly young. Last year, at eighteen years old, Mitchell won the Young Archibald prize with a portrait of her six-year-old sister, Romy, sitting for the portrait in what as Mitchell describes as “a rare moment of stillness.” Since winning the young Archies, Mitchell has held two exhibitions which speaks to the breadth and depth of her work and to the level of interest in it. The first was held Canberra Grammar School’s gallery late last year; she currently has a show at Strathnairn, out on the western edge of the A.C.T.

Many of Mitchell’s subjects are domestic and it’s this quiet familiarity which makes her works so appealing: backyard chickens that look ready to scratch up gardens; a sausage dog, twisting as she sleeps in the sun; still lives of fruits that despite their exoticness (lychees, passion fruit, pomegranates) speak of an everyday middle-class Australian supermarket; and my favourite – a moment where the chickens and Daphne the sausage dog wait at the back door steps beside a stack of milk crates.

The oils that Mitchell paints with also draw the viewer in. They demonstrate her remarkable technical command, and the depth and density of her works. The paintings are rich with paint but by no means are they garish or saturated – there’s always control behind their application. Mitchell renders tea towels with rough linen crumples; her red cabbage is laced with a spider-work of firm veins.

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“Daisy” and the “Red Cabbage”. (Source: http://dailycapital.com.au/canberra_events/paintings-by-harriet-mitchell/)

While Mitchell’s technical prowess is deeply impressive, the portraits – another of Romy, one of a child, “Daisy” and a self-portrait of where she holds “Daffodil” (a fierce, beaky chicken who is clearly descended from dinosaurs) –  are where her greatest achievements lie. The subjects engage the viewer, each sitters’ confidence causing pause. That is, the portraits are raw and real; the two blemishes on Mitchell’s skin speak of her mature and confident determination to use art to render life as it is, not as how one would necessarily like it to be.

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The beaky Daffodil and Mitchell (source: http://www.rawartists.org/harrietmitchell)

It’s a small collection of paintings that Mitchell exhibits at Strathnairn, but each has richness – both in execution and in theme. While Mitchell’s chicken Daffodil fixes viewers with her sharp eye, people interested in art should get out to Strathnairn to stare right back.

Paintings by Harriet Mitchell are showing until Feb 21st.

“He Must Like You”

The incident I’m writing about today attracted media attention about a month ago; I jotted down some thoughts at the time and during the weeks that have passed I haven’t forgotten about the story one bit. That’s because in it, I think we see part of the explanation for why there is such a prevalence of domestic violence in the western world.

The event I’m referring to is when a four-year-old girl, after having bing attacked by a four-year-old boy at her pre-school, was told by the doctor at the emergency department as he heard what happened while assessing her injuries that, “He [the little boy] must like you.” The girl’s mother was outraged by the doctor’s comment, went to the media, and the story went viral.

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Actual image of the girl. Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/juliareinstein/a-hospital-worker-told-a-4-year-old-girl-that-the-boy-who-be#.jy2VaGxJr

There are many, many problems with the comment. The old stereotype is that people only hassle and tease people that they’re interested in, and that stereotype probably informed the doctor’s comment. Only in the incident he was dealing with, the hassling had become a violent assault. While there certainly is an element in of truth in the stereotype in that we probably do do more flirty teasing of the people we like, the thing is, we shouldn’t continue accept poor behaviour just because romantic feelings are involved. I’m not advocating no-teasing, but I am advocating not justifying poor behaviour because someone “likes” someone. It excuses people of owning their own behaviour, which is not a good thing.

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I really wish they had included the question mark in their zeitgeist-capturing campaign. Source: http://www.scrippsmedia.com/now-trending/Salvation-Army-uses-The-Dress-in-anti-domestic-violence-campaign-295394941.html

I’ve decided to discuss two of my main issues with the comment: the way it normalises violence in romantic relationships and the way it neatly conflates “love” (or “liking”) with violence. I suspect that the doctor in question didn’t mean to do either of these things; he was probably trying to make the girl feel better, albeit in a way that, upon reflection, looks pretty perverse. The underlying sentiment of his words is that this wasn’t some random, violent attack; this happened only because he likes you! Which, to my ears, is actually even worse – shouldn’t someone who likes (or loves) you do the complete opposite to violently attacking you? And rather than calling out the boy’s behaviour as just plain wrong, the doctor seemingly justified it, and provided a framework for legitimizing it.

Before I discuss the normalisation of violence in romantic relationships, I should also clarify what exactly I mean by the term “romantic relationships”. I don’t mean to suggest that the little girl and the little boy were “dating” or anything like that; I use the phrase more in terms of the doctor’s understanding of the girl’s and boy’s relationship. That is, in his characterisation, he implies that the boy’s aggressive behaviour is something you wouldn’t expect during a “friendship” but could expect from someone who wanted to be more than friends – someone who “likes” you.

Given that domestic violence is a highly prevalent problem in our society, teaching children that violence goes hand in hand with love is a seriously dangerous thing to do. But normalisng violence is exactly what doctor’s statement does. The logic in the doctor’s statement is thus: because he likes you, he hits you. Extrapolating this logic gives us the following situation: when people like each other, and because they like each other, they physically hurt each other. This kind of thinking permeates our understandings of violence in adult intimate relationships; we all know the cliché rolled out by (predominantly female) domestic violence victims, “He only hits me because he loves me.” A way of breaking this cycle would be to not normalise violence in romantic relationships: this kind of thinking makes violent outbursts an expectation of romantic relationships as it simultaneously excuses the perpetrator of blame and/or lessens the problem of the violence. It’s strange, but somehow, as a culture we can more easily rationalise violence if the perpetrator “loves” (or in the four-year-olds’ case “likes”) the victim.

Indeed, the slippery conflation of acts of love with acts of violence is my second problem with the doctor’s statement. There are countless clichés (most of which have been used by pop songs at some time or other) which reinforce this conflation: there’s a fine line between love and hate, between pleasure and pain. While love can certainly make us behaviour contrary to our normal behaviour, we should not, must not accept a casual slippage between love and violence. Nor should we accept violence as regular consequence of love or “liking” someone, even at age four.

I’m really impressed with the girl’s mother, Merritt Smith. Drawing attention to deeply problematic comments like the doctor’s helps to reveal dangerous structures in our patterns of thinking, and hopefully helps to bring about change. We certainly shouldn’t tolerate tired stereotypes which, when used, legitimize violence in romantic relationships. And to close, I’d like to finish on Ms Smith’s Facebook post which does just that:

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Cultural (in)sensitivity: wearing a salwar kameez

One of my friends is marrying a Pakistani-Australian Muslim man in a couple of weeks. I’m not completely clear on all the different events that occur as part of an Islamic wedding (this is the first I’ll attend) but I know that I don’t go to the actual wedding ceremony itself. I do, however, go to the big celebratory Valima dinner after the ceremony as well as to the women-only Mehndi event few days before the ceremony.

Apparently, at the mehndi, my friend will get henna tattoos.  Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/148126275216998213/
At the mehndi, my friend, the bride, will get henna tattoos.
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/148126275216998213/

For both these events we’ve (me and other non-Muslim friends of the bride) been told that while it’d be lovely if we wore traditional dress, it is no means expected; we’re equally welcome to wear “colourful modest/conservative clothing.” Apparently, this is a trickier ask than I realised – all my clothing seems to be grey, short and tight.

Anyway, my friends and I have decided that we’d like to wear the traditional Pakistani women’s dress the salwar (or shalwar) kameez:

Definitely not grey. Source: shalwarkameezdesign2013.blogspot.com
Definitely not grey.
Source: shalwarkameezdesign2013.blogspot.com
Definitely modest. Source: www.radhasboutique.com
Definitely modest (to me, anyway).
Source: http://www.radhasboutique.com

But this decision has made me think about being culturally sensitive as opposed to being part of a Great White Tradition of being culturally insensitive.

On one hand, I feel like wearing the salwar kameez is a way of demonstrating respect, a way of honouring a culture and a religion that I know very little about. On the other hand, precisely because I know so little about this culture and this religion, it’s like I’m taking the easiest and prettiest route of appearing “sensitive” by wearing their clothes.

My feeling that I might be being insensitive is made worse, moreover, when you consider that Western culture—thanks largely to our history of colonialism—is notorious for cultural appropriation. While active British Empire-style colonialism is a thing of the past, the West culturally appropriating aspects of other cultures is still very much a thing of the “now” – just look at the music video of any young, white popstar:

Source: https://umdasianamericanpopculture.wordpress.com/2015/05/02/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion/
The classical kimono is known for its tit-window. Source: https://umdasianamericanpopculture.wordpress.com/2015/05/02/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion/ 

Source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/19/can-t-shake-off-taylor-swift-s-cultural-appropriation-haters-gonna-hate.htmlJust some casual blaxploitation. Source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/19/can-t-shake-off-taylor-swift-s-cultural-appropriation-haters-gonna-hate.html

Source: https://colorblindsociety.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/5-types-of-cultural-appropriation-that-make-us-cringe/
Cultural appropriation isn’t just for popstars! Just look at your local Victoria’s Secret parade. Source: https://colorblindsociety.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/5-types-of-cultural-appropriation-that-make-us-cringe/

While many have tried to justify the taking and using aspects of another culture in terms of cultural “appreciation”, this argument doesn’t hold up. That’s because far more often than not, those aspects that are taken are misused, decontextualised and stripped of traditional meaning (see above: kimono tit-window). The use of another culture’s symbols also typically  reflects a serious power imbalance. As hiukchiu so excellently explains:

It is an unequal exchange where a dominant Western culture presses itself onto cultures and taking away symbols, which are deemed precious to that minority culture.

Moreover, dressing based on the clothing and symbols of another culture is laden with orientalism – a term developed by cultural theorist and postcolonial scholar Edward Said (pronounced “say-eed” not “sed”) to describe how the West views and represents the East (here, the “East” encompasses Asia, North Africa and the Middle East – anything “Other” to the West, essentially). What Said argues is that the West is  guilty of perpetually representing the “Orient” in such a way that “Oriental” culture and peoples are positioned as weak, anarchic, and feminine, while the West is positioned as strong, rational, and masculine. A clear power imbalance is thus used to justify Western cultural imperialism and domination over the East; those orientals! They’re so irrational! What would they know if we just “borrowed” some of their culture?

The Ancient Egyptians were known to have a penchant for grills.
(The Ancient Egyptians were known to have a penchant for grills.)

I know I’ve drifted away from my salwar kameez dilemma a bit, but understanding cultural appropriation and orientalism is useful for understanding my hesitation about wearing the salwar; the last thing I want to do is to be playing “dress ups” in another culture. Indeed, I’m reminded of the “Xanadu” themed ball in Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin where the invites have “a gold-and-cerulean border of Arabic writing. Did anyone understand such writing? No, but it looked just lovely” (409). After the event, Iris, the protagonist writes:

“Last night I dreamt I was wearing my costume from the Xanadu ball. I was supposed to be an Abyssinian maiden – the damsel with the dulcimer. It was green satin, that costume: a little bolero jacket with gold spangle trim, showing a lot of cleavage and midriff; green satin undershorts, translucent pantaloons. Lots of fake gold coins, worn as necklaces and looped over the forehead. A small, jaunty turban with a crescent pin. A nose vail. Some tawdry circus designer’s idea of the East” (404).

Essentially, this: Marilyn Monroe in the 1958 film "Cleopatra" Source: http://theyearofhalloween.com/2013/02/27/orient-express-a-century-of-costume-inspiration/#jp-carousel-4607
Essentially, this: Marilyn Monroe in the 1958 film “Cleopatra” Source: http://theyearofhalloween.com/2013/02/27/orient-express-a-century-of-costume-inspiration/#jp-carousel-4607

I know I’m not (hopefully) being that bad. I’m trying my hardest not to be: I’ve got advice and feedback from the groom about the salwars I wanted to buy (yes, I want two – one for the Mehndi and one for the Valima dinner. Also, an aside, Gumtree is legit for salwar shopping). Also, I’m wearing said salwars to contextualised events – I’m not wearing them to problematic “Cultures of the World” dress up party or similar. And I’m wearing them precisely so I do respect a culture, rather than imposing my Western-style idea of what a dress worn to a wedding should look like.

I guess I’m trying to say that I’m going in with the best of intentions. I just hope that I’m not actually a deeply hypocritical white-girl, decrying cultural appropriation while she wears her salwar kameez backwards or something.

“Taming the Beast”: Aus grunge lit meets “50 Shades of Grey” and the results aren’t pretty

I am a re-reader of books; my favourite titles I’ve read half a dozen times or more. Even novels that don’t make my desert-island books list I still pick up again and thumb through; very rarely do I give a book away. Hence, it is significant to find a book that I know, without a doubt, that I will not read again. Emily Maguire’s first novel, Taming the Beast (2004) is one such rarity.

Heads up: the "Lolita"-esq cover is intentional Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/286276.Taming_the_Beast
Heads up: the “Lolita”-esq cover is intentional
Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/286276.Taming_the_Beast

Thanks to an English paper I took in first year uni, I can assert that during the early-to-mid 1990s a literary genre called “grunge lit” (look! I’m not joking – here’s a Wikipedia hyperlink) that investigated “dirty realism” came to the forefront of Australian publishing. Andrew McGahan’s Praise (which we read) is often credited with beginning the movement; Christos Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded is another popular example. The world is a hard place in grunge lit, full of bleakly disillusioned young people living in decrepit houses, working shitty jobs, having dangerous sex or taking illicit to take their minds off their crappy lives. It’s the literary equivalent of Nirvana’s Nevermind album.

A decade after the grunge lit phenomenon, Emily Maguire’s Taming the Beast was published. And, my gosh, is her protagonist Sarah living the grunge lit dream: she smokes, she takes recreational drugs, she lives in a squalid flat, she works at a greasy steakhouse, she has no relationship with her educated middle-class parents, and boy oh boy does Sarah have a lot of casual sex.

I think the first big problem that Taming the Beast has (other than its seriously naff title) is that very little happens in it narratively.

I mean, come on! It's literally a Mills and Boon title!  Source: https://www.overdrive.com/media/912416/taming-the-beast
I mean, come on! It’s literally a Mills and Boon title!
Source: https://www.overdrive.com/media/912416/taming-the-beast

I get that “nothing happening” can often be the point – just think of Waiting for Godot – but if the point of a novel is that people can be aimless and engaged only by sex and drugs, then I think you have to be very careful not to over do it; by the last third of “Taming the Beast” I was rushing through the pages, not because I was so engaged but because I was sick of the repetition and just wanted the book to end. What I’m saying is that it needed a serious edit; had it been the length of a novella, I might have found the whole thing a lot less samey.

The next flaw of Taming the Beast is that it’s a thinly-disguised polemic, which causes the already slim narrative to suffer further. Maguire is making a feminist point through Sarah’s extravagant sex life – a point about the double standards we apply to sexually experienced women (and women who enjoy sex). That is, unlike sexually experienced men, these women are typically represented as damaged sluts or portrayed as having something “wrong” with them. I fully support the point that Maguire is making – it’s an important one to bring to light. My problem is that making A Statement comes at the detriment of the plot and characterization; Maguire is so busy Making Her Point that she kind of forgets to tell a story (scarily, this interview with Maguire notes that she actually cut a huge amount of the polemical stuff out – stuff which ultimately became her very excellent non-fiction book Princesses and Pornstars: Sex, Power, Identity).

My final problem with Taming the Beast is the central “romantic” (and I use that term loosely and facetiously) relationship between Sarah and Daniel, her former Year Nine English teacher, to whom she lost her virginity at 14. This is where the 50 Shades of Grey comparisons come in (a disclosure: I haven’t actually read 50 Shades but I’ve read snippets and parodies and talked to people who have read it so I think I’ve got the gist of it).

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Sarah is a naïve, bookish virgin who becomes ensnared in the elaborate sexual world of an older, far more powerful and experienced man – sound at all familiar? Together they have – both when Sarah is 14, and when Daniel returns when Sarah is in her early 20s – explicit, violent, self-destructive sex. Maguire is investigating the obsessive and catastrophic power of love through these two reasonably one-note characters as she simultaneously challenges us to expand our definition of “love.” But again I found the whole thing repetitive (and off-putting). Watching Sarah repeatedly be abused in her relationship with Daniel (and, increasingly, turn abusive), all I wanted was for something else to happen, for the cycle to be broken, for the novel to end. Like I mentioned above, nothing happening, and nothing changing could well be Maguire’s whole point – about grungy life and about obsessive love. But if that’s the case, then I think she needed to make that point a whole lot faster; the drawing-out of the very slim narrative only serves to irritate readers.

I’ve read another of Maguire’s novels – Smoke in the Room – and while it is similarly grungy, and the characters similarly self-destructive, a lot more happens in it and hope and change is ultimately offered at the end. Perhaps not being a first novel helped Smoke in the Room; it’s far more nuanced than Taming the Beast; also, perhaps writing her feminist manifesto in between the two novels helped Maguire be a whole lot less polemical. In any case, The Smoke in the Room is a novel I could well read again one day, Taming the Beast not so much.

#TimetogoTone

The whole time Tony Abbott was leader of the opposition I was living in New Zealand. A running (partly serious) joke of mine was that if he were ever elected Prime Minister, I wouldn’t be able to return to Australia. As it turned out, the Labor party was unelectable, Tony did become PM and I came back to Australia anyway.

To say that Tony’s Prime Ministership has been disgraceful is to be guilty of serious understatement. Aside from creating an interesting variety of cringe-worthy gaffes, embarrassing Australia in front of the world, Tony blatantly broke multiple pre-election promises that there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS; demonstrated a callous and venal approach to asylum seekers; sent out, with the help of old mate Joe two hopeless budgets – the first cruel the latter, crawling; knighted frickin’ Prince Philip (this too comes under “embarrassing Australia in front of the world”); displayed his remarkable beholden-ness to the campaign donations of the oil and coal industry in his refusal to support renewable energies; been seriously retrograde towards marriage equality; and has, thanks to his remarkable out-of-touch attitude generally been worthy of the ignominious title: “Australia’s Worst PM, Ever.”

Fortunately, now Tony is gone. I’m referring, of course, to the #libspill of Monday night where Tone was rolled by Malcolm Turnbull. This leadership challenge has been a long time coming; Tone’s downfall very nearly happened this February. Although Malc wasn’t successful then, he managed to keep his hands completely clean (he’s a smooth operator alright) and bided his time, waiting for the opportune moment. When it all happened, I was reminded of The Herd’s song about voting John Howard out in 2007 – The King is Dead.

(Unfortunately, the downfall of Howard left us with KRudd – a perfect example of the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”)

I was also reminded on Monday night of this excellent political cartoon on February’s aborted leadership spill by the wonderful Tone Abet. And actually, given how the chips fell on Monday night, I think Tone Abet managed to predict pretty accurately how Tone’s Cabinet would vote this time round too:

Source: http://theliftedbrow.com/image/110371159423
Source: http://theliftedbrow.com/image/110371159423

Sure, it took six months longer to get rid of Tone than we all expected, but leadership spills are increasingly emblematic of Australian federal politics, as this humorist Wikipedia editor points out:

Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/tony-whats-good#.buAGwvdr6
Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/tony-whats-good#.buAGwvdr6

I’ve pointed out previously that my political commentary generally takes the form of memes and gifs; hence, I’m not going to spend this post dissecting Tone’s downfall, or predicting what will happen to the Liberal party and the government under Malc’s leadership or speculating on whether it is possible for the Labor party to win the next election now. If you want that kind of thoughtful analysis, read this or this or this. Instead, with the help of Buzzfeed, I leave you with a sample of the best political cartoons and tumblr posts about the #libspill, the axing of Tone and our National sport, the leadership spill:

Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/tony-whats-good#.buAGwvdr6
Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/tony-whats-good#.buAGwvdr6
Source: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/picture/2015/sep/15/the-glow-was-coming-from-malcolm-the-age-of-turnbull-had-dawned
First Dog on the Moon may or may not be the actual best. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/picture/2015/sep/15/the-glow-was-coming-from-malcolm-the-age-of-turnbull-had-dawned
Actually me. I reckon I watched four hours straight of rolling political coverage on Monday night Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/tony-whats-good#.buAGwvdr6
Actually me. I reckon I watched four hours straight of rolling political coverage on Monday night
Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/tony-whats-good#.buAGwvdr6