Thursday, March 23, 2006

Fear and loathing in Victoria

The censorship issue continues. Is last week's pre-trial Victorian Supreme Court ruling that newspapers cannot reveal the names of three AFL players who tested positive to illegal drugs a blow to free speech?

Not if there's still some semblance of difference between what we consider private and public.

There's no doubt that opinions pertaining to what newspapers can and cannot publish often vary wildly, and in ninety-nine percent of cases I'll fall on the "go right ahead" side of things, but a certain line must be drawn.

When the decision is based around a situation in which private results of a medical test are revealed to the public, I think the line is clear.

Yes, drugs are illegal (at least, the ones in this instance are).

This should have little bearing, however; if the players were before a court of law then there would be no question to the public's right to knowledge. But this is not the case. Instead, an in-house procedure by the AFL has been leaked to the media, and publication of the results violates the players' rights for no reason other than tabloid gossip.

If the AFL - or the clubs themselves - had chosen to release the information, it would be a different matter. The players are contracted employees who are aware of their obligations to their clubs and the AFL, and one of those obligations is to abide by the drug code. Yet with obligations come rights, and those rights, here, are the players' rights to privacy until they, or their contracted employers, choose otherwise.

The newspapers, nor anybody else, have no more right to publish that information than to publish your personal medical records.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nobody likes George

"Nobody likes war," Bush said. "It creates a sense of uncertainty in the country."

Yep, that's why everyone hates war so much. All that damn uncertainty.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The art of banning a film

You should all go and buy the latest issue of Metro magazine, and read my censorship article in it (even though they didn't put me on the cover dammit).

Here's a portion (totally out of context, but you get the idea):

It isn’t just the OFLC who can exercise control over what adult Australians can see or do in the privacy of their own homes though; state boards have these powers too. Earlier this year the film 9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004) to mild acclaim for its honest appraisal of a romance between two twenty-somethings. The film featured graphic, non-simulated sex, yet it sought not to be pornography but a romance. It met with controversy and complaints during its cinema run, and didn’t last long, although it retained its R18+ rating. On 11 August however, the South Australian Classification Council deemed the film worthy of an X18+ rating. Of course, this doesn’t sound too bad until you realize – sneakily – that it is illegal to show or sell X-rated films in South Australia. What is more disturbing than any of the pointless bureaucratic wrangling surrounding the film’s rating though, is how it actually came about. There were no protests against the film, no outraged advocacy groups, no arguments against excessive, violent, or prejudiced content. No, just two complaints. According to the press release, the complaints came from – one, an individual, and two, the ‘Festival of Light’ . This is not a decision based on community outrage or democratic wisdom; rather, pointless pandering to the baseless complaints of an individual and a zealous group of fundamentalists.

Also in August, film director Gregg Araki found himself dealing with seemingly the never-ceasing wrath of Australia’s pro-censorship lobbies, when his film Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004) met heavy criticism from the Australian Family Association’s spokesman Richard Egan, and calls from Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock to have the film banned. The film’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, couldn’t understand the furore. ‘My impression of Australia, from the Australians I’ve met,’ he said, ‘is that people are open-minded and cool. I was surprised that Australia, of all places, was the country that tried to ban Mysterious Skin’ .

Mysterious Skin is anything but gratuitous. Margaret Pomeranz described it as a ‘film [with] the potential to inform, heal and possibly transform’ , and L.A. Times critic Kevin Thomas wrote that ‘it’s hard to imagine a more serious or persuasive indictment of the horrors inflicted on children by sexual abuse’ . Araki argues that the film helps ‘break the silence on child abuse’ , but disgracefully it is the very people who purport to act as advocates of such causes – like the Australian Family Association – who are seeking to have the film silenced.

Surely the longest-running and most infamous of all Australian cases of cinematic censorship is that of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final – and most divisive – film, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1976). Based on the Marquis de Sade’s disturbing book The 120 Days of Sodom, Salò was completed just prior to Pasolini’s murder in 1976. Posthumously, the controversy was to continue.

That year, Salò was banned in Australia, and despite several requests for classification being made over the following years, the ban remained. Until, that is, 1993, when the old debates raging around it had apparently been forgotten, and it was unbanned. This was short-lived, however, and in 1996 – following an amendment to Australia’s laws – it came under review. In 1998 its classification was again withdrawn . Though the OFLC seemed to come half way – admitting that the film was intended to be a serious work of art, and a damning metaphorical critique of fascism, ultimately ‘the majority of the Review Board considered that this metaphor was not clearly established’ . Like so many that would come after it, Salò seems to have been banned without once considering the members of a democratic society’s right to exercise their own free will, discretion, and liberty. Metaphorical fascism? Well, who needed metaphor?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Tinsel town

Could this be the worst analogy ever? - "Like tinsel at a family Christmas party, it looks pretty but it does not alter underlying social dynamics."

Which is nice, 'cause last year I set up the Christmas tree and was totally pissed off when the tinsel stubbornly refused to alter my lounge room's underlying social dynamics even one bit.

Turns out I'd set my expectations a touch high though, as Christian Reus-Smit (page 350, The Globalization of World Politics) has now explained.

Tinsel just ain't as tough as it used to be I guess.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Guantanamo gulags?

Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja is normally right on the ball, but today's press release was just a touch on the dramatic side.

David Hicks' incarceration in Guantanamo Bay is a shameful display of the hegemonic power and arrogance that the United States wields over the rest of the world, and our own government's lack of action on the matter is just as disgusting. But to compare the prison - admittedly second rate and probably even a haven for torture - to the Soviet gulags is not only inaccurate, but insulting to anybody who had to endure their horror.

In Stalin's gulags it is estimated that a quarter of the approximately twenty-five million prisoners (some estimates put the figure as high as fifty million - most of them innocent, jailed only due to the fact that Stalin, with his feeble understanding of how to run a country properly, needed their labour, or persecuted for their religious beliefs) died, and the conditions were almost impossibly grim.

I'm the first to criticise America and their policies, but hyperbole and exaggeration won't get the cause anywhere - Stott Despoja normally knows this better than anyone.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The New York Time's?

At first I just thought I was going insane. (And it's always important, at such moments, to take stock and really have a good long think before proceeding.) Turns out I wasn't though - rather, The New York Times, that great bastion of Western journalism, just can't punctuate their own articles.

For perhaps the third time in the last couple of weeks or so, I've come across an article with a reference to a decade (like this example - "First came an economic opening in the 1980's under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet") which has an apostrophe incorrectly added to the unfortunate word, as if somehow "the 1980" was in ownership of something called the "under the dictatorship...". Which, clearly, doesn't make sense.

It's not like the world's going to fall apart at the seams at this news, and I'm sure I make plenty of errors here, but come on, it's the New York-bloody-Times!

Strunk & White must be turning in their respective graves, and I can only imagine what Lynn Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves and all round punctuation Nazi, would make of it all. And if you're struggling yourself, there's a good rundown of some of the hard and fast rules here, incidentally entitled "The apostrophe is the modern day Shibboleth" (cute).

This New York Times thing is no isolated incident. Are the proofreaders purposefully passing this over, under some misguided assumption that they can re(n)educate the world to the wicked ways of the extra apostrophe?

Or do they simply just not realise that they've totally buggered it up? Maybe this is a question I should be asking of the Times themselves... Watch this space.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

These boots are made for hookers

Have you seen Jessica Simpson's latest video clip? For those unfamiliar with the ways and wonders of the leggy young blonde (and multi-talented too! – she’s a singer and dancer and actress), it's as follows: a cover of These Boots Are Made For Walkin', with mostly puzzling demonstrations of how to dance like a country girl (yee-haw) from a scantily clad Simpson, who spends most of the time attempting to service the men she finds scattered around an oddly furnished barn.

Today is International Women's Day. Somebody should probably tell ol' Jess, before she starts into another of her booty shaking frenzies - normally, go right ahead, but today it's perhaps a touch inappropriate. Do we think that'll stop Simpson and her army of gyrating minions though? Unlikely.

Undoubtedly, the women's movement as a whole has come a long way: suffrage, enough waves of feminism to almost sink the boat of male-dominated prejudices, and actual recognisable rights advances.

But lately a variety of academics and cultural critics have been focusing on the worrying trend that is known as "raunch culture". What is it exactly? Well, the "empowered" Jessica Simpson prancing around in a bikini and giving virtual blowjobs to men young and old (er, Willie Nelson, what are you doing?) is as good a place as any to start looking.

The two main advocates of this critique have been author Ariel Levy (who actually authored a book entitled Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture) and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, whose book Are Men Necessary? covers occasionally similar ground.

Says Levy, “it is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we've come, or how far we have left to go."

The video clip itself, all soaped-up dancing and nubile bosoms, is quite distracting for any hot-blooded heterosexual male. But it's much worse for anyone who considers themselves an even vague proponent of equality - and for an almost endless array of reasons. The clip, originally written by Lee Hazlewood and sung by the inimitable Nancy Sinatra, was initially an ode to the ability of the young female to reject a man's advances.

"These boots are made for walkin'", sang Nancy, "[and] one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you". There's little doubt as to who that "you" is, and with the final pitch of the song, men everywhere had began to have second thoughts on their next drunken and probably misogynistic thrusts towards the women around them.

Simpson however, has taken a slightly different slant on it. Despite claims that the song works just fine when taken in the context of the movie it provides the soundtrack to (the Dukes of Hazzard remake), the video itself puts to rest any serious claims to credibility.

Simpson drapes herself provocatively over cars, and kneels down subserviently (yeah, take charge Jess! You go girl!) to, well, every man in sight. Since it's all a bit worrying to me, a guy with only moderate feminist leanings, I can't imagine the effect this is having on women who see their sex as having progressed in the last 50 years. Worse still, Jessica Simpson is an actual role model (just ask my nine year-old sister, it's true), and that's the truly disturbing thing to consider.

I hate to get on my popular-culture-is-evil-and-it'll-be-the-death-of-our-kids soapbox again (hey, I'm not far off being one of those kids myself), but for the moment it's true. It hasn't always been though. Back in the 1980s and '90s Madonna, pop star extraordinaire, was known as much for her sexual provocations as her music - but at least she had some artistic pretences when she was taking her clothes off. Simpson, when all's said and done, is just a hooker, selling her body for cash and (hollow) admiration.

Perhaps it's not my place to judge – and if that's what she wants, that's all fine. Well, it would be, of course, if her fan base wasn't almost exclusively prepubescent girls looking for people to model themselves on. Hope you're sitting pretty on International Women's Day, Jessica. Actually, no, I hope you get hit by a car.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I know when Bush is lying - his lips move

Recently, I was able to secure an interview with the world-renowned human rights activist, filmmaker and journalist John Pilger. (Choice Pilger quote: “I know when [George W.] Bush is lying. His lips move.”)

Originally, the interview was to appear in the magazine that I spent 2005 editing, La Trobe University's Rabelais, but for a variety of reasons, the final issue never eventuated.

The interview was timed to coincide with the release of Stealing A Nation, his latest film, but that's now passed us by. Nonetheless, it's probably available from your latest video store, and is well worth checking out.

Instead of letting what is a fairly interesting interview go to waste though, I thought I'd put this, the unedited interview, up here. So enjoy.

Panda Obscura: How did you originally get involved in this project (Stealing a Nation)?

John Pilger: The extraordinary story of the expulsion of the Chagos Islanders has been at the back of my mind for some years. In 2002, I had an opportunity to see the declassified official documents, and making Stealing a Nation became a priority. The film is about a single epic injustice, but it's also a metaphor for the way great power imposes itself on small countries: indeed, on the world today. Not only were the people of the Chagos expelled by the British, but their main island, Diego Garcia, was handed over to the Americans, who have turned it into a vast base -- from which they have attacked Afghanistan and Iraq.

PO: What do you think an 'independent' journalist actually is, do you consider yourself one, and if so how do you remain independent?

JP: Yes, I consider myself an independent journalist. 'Independence' is a noble term; it says you can have your own views, but the journalism you pursue is not beholden to any vested interest: that you are not a member of anyone's entourage.

PO: Is the recent Federal Court ruling against Freedom of Information for journalists - and in favour of the rather murky concept of 'National Interest' - a blow to the democratic integrity of Australia (and the world), especially considering the role that uncovering official documentation (albeit from London's Public Record Office Washington's National Archives) played in your expose of the crimes against Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands?

JP: Yes, it is a blow. But you know, the most worrying threat to press freedom -- or media freedom – in Australia is not so much the government's draconian restrictions, it is the will of journalists to circumvent them. And the strength or weakness of this will is directly related to the restrictions that already apply in Australia and about which journalists rarely protest. I refer to the corporatism that dominates the Australian media, infamously the ownership of 70 per cent of the capital city press by Rupert Murdoch, an ideologue with extreme views. Only
when journalists stand up to this corporatism – and this is true of Fairfax and the ABC -- will there be an end to the widespread censorship by omission in

PO: How worrying are England and Australia's 'little America' roles in the world today, particularly when one considers the parallels between the American and English Governments' apparent belief that any lie can be solved by denial and/or spin-doctoring (Diego Garcia, WMDs etc.) and our own Government's proclivities (the denial of oil to East Timor; recent refugee crises; SIEV-X) toward such trends?

JP: Well, we ought not be surprised. The same ideology that dominates and distorts political life in the United States is in Britain and Australia. In Australia, the erosion of real democracy is especially worrying -- there is no effective opposition and real dissent is kept out of the media. It's more worrying because our democratic traditions are more fragile than elsewhere. Freedom of speech, for example, only really puts down roots when the autocratic Governor
Darling was recalled from New South Wales in the 19th century after he had failed to silence criticism of him in the press. We no longer have a critical press like, say, the fearless Sydney Monitor of that period. We have a supine, trivial and deeply politicised press, and, with honourable exceptions, academics who remain silent. If this is to be changed, voices must be
raised; and I would suggest the voices of students are urgently needed.

PO: How can today's public play a role in preventing the subjugation of minorities such as the people of Diego Garcia, Australians in captivity like David Hicks, and refugees held in custody?

JP: They can play a part by taking direct action on behalf of the minorities, on behalf of David Hicks. Direct action resulted in the closure of Woomera detention camps, with all its horrors. It's very simple. Make yourself aware: don't be "surprised" by what rapacious governments do, then act, as true democrats and true radicals have acted for a very long time.