Saturday, May 28, 2011

My SlutWalk, Melbourne 2011

Yesterday I was one a few thousand people (according to The Age and my own eyes, or a few hundred if you believe the Herald Sun) that attended the Melbourne SlutWalk.

I am not a feminist. I am not a mysoginist. I am not a pervert. I am not a (hardcore/regular) activist (yet).

I am a male. I am in my 20s. I am easily aroused.

I have a number of close female friends, and that doesn't mean I want to have sex with them.

It would actually make my life easier if women did wear something that indicated straight up they're 'up for it' with me, because I sure as hell can't figure them out much of the time. But they don't. And that would probably really be quite a boring world. Nervous, uncertain flirting is all part of this sometimes tense, but mostly fun, social engagement between men and women.

Women have the right to express their sexuality. Currently that right is somewhat suppressed or demonised in a number of ways. Just because some men are more overt in their 'appreciation' of such displays does not mean the onus is on women to alter their behaviour in order to receive the respect they deserve.

Sexualisation in the media is an issue, yes. Using sex to sell, even buying into the sell, is very different to genuine expression of sexuality in a way in which you are comfortable.

I have friends who have been raped and have lingering emotional issues that may stay with them and colour their sexual experiences for the rest of their lives.

And, unfortunately, yes if you walk around the streets of any public space dressed in a way that emphasises your sexuality you are more likely to recieve attention, much of it unwanted.

But as much of the commercial media has failed to recognise this week (not least the Bolt/Morell media family), that is not the essential issue being debated here.

SlutWalk is about shifting harmful attitudes that shouldn't be accepted as just how it is. If some of the critics could have just engaged in the real issue - rather than focusing on the use of the word 'slut' or the potential consequences of what a women chooses to wear (as if they are a just 'the way it is and must always be') - then the discussion would be a truly construcutive one, with plenty of room for debate and varying opinion.

That said, other than the predictable suspects, the walk has received a suprising amount of positive - or at least, neutral - coverage, including in today's Age.

It wasn't as powerful an atmosphere as the SLAM rally - which took over the streets of Melbourne in February last year and was hands-down the most energising and inspiring rally I've attended - but it didn't need to be. Overall SlutWalk pushed a positive message against a largely cynical media, and the event had a really good, fun community vibe. It's harder to ignore or criticise people when they're smiling at you.

Having been initially concerned about the perceptions of a young, virile man attending on his own, I was actually surprised by the number of men. I saw a tweet lamenting a persistent reporting of how many men attended as if this was a pre-requisite for legitimacy. I think the attendance of men yesterday was important. It may be somewhat shallow reasoning, playing a media game, but the fact it was such a diverse crowd with people of all ages, sexualities, genders showed proved in imagery that this was not some stereotypically 'angry feminist' rally, but a community coming together to push for positive attitude change.

And some wonderful images there are. How could you dismiss such a delightful bunch of people as just the 'angry mob'?

I'm not a supporter of the feminists involved in SlutWalk, I'm part of the group calling for a change in attitude. So perhaps I am a feminist. The label is not important, the message is.

If people just stopped acting like dickheads then we'd all be able to have a little more fun in the ways we feel comfortable.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Movie - And the River Flows On

Last week I was one of 12 people who made the trip to ACMI for the 10.30am screening of Mexican film And the River Flows On, featured as part of the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival.

And the River Flows On documents the struggle of indigenous Campesino (peasant farmers) against a dam and hydro-electric complex that would flood more than 17,000 hectares of land and displace 25,000 people.

It is a powerful insight into the what can happen to a community when their way-of-life is threatened, or bought off.

I wrote the review for Right Now, so if you're interested, best you read it there.

Language warning


Still here? Well obviously you are, so thanks - bear with me.

Did that offend you (you know, that word up top - go on, have another look)? People who were really disgusted are probably gone, but good riddance to them and their claustrophobic minds. If it did offend you in some way, why?

You see, it wasn't directed at you. It wasn't directed at anyone, or anything, for any purpose, with any meaning. It's just a word, sitting up there all alone, with absolutely no context whatsoever; so let's give it some.

Why would anyone start a blog like that? Simply, to demonstrate the power of words - of a single word. Is there any other word that can provoke such reaction without any context? I even tried to soften it up by refusing it its right to a capital 'C'. Because, to tell the truth, I'm even a little uncomfortable with it sitting up there as the opening word of this post.

Its origin is in vulgarity, and that's no doubt where it's impact comes from as a taboo word. However, like many words, its meaning and use has branched out and shifted over (many) years.

'Gay', 'queer', 'terrific' - these are all words that are now used in ways that bear little resemblance to their origins.

According to the undisputable Wikipedia (I do my research!):

Cunt is also used informally as a derogatory epithet in referring to a person of either sex, but this usage is relatively recent, dating back only as far as the late nineteenth century.[3] Reflecting different national usages, the Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines cunt as "an unpleasant or stupid person", whereas Merriam-Webster has a usage of the term as "usually disparaging & obscene: woman",[4] noting that it is used in the US as "an offensive way to refer to a woman";[5] the Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English defines it as "a despicable man", however when used with a positive qualifier (good, funny, clever, etc.) in countries such as Britain, New Zealand and Australia, it conveys a positive sense of the object or person referred to.[6]

Yet it's impact remains. I, for one, think that's great! It gives us a unique, vague but powerful word. Even if a few people are needlessly pissed off by it - if they weren't it would probably lose its impact. So surely context, intent and tone are what provide it with its ability to offend.

I despise leaf-blowers and if I say ‘Any man holding a leaf-blower shows himself to be a lazy cunt’, the word gives the sentiment an absurd hyperbolic impact that is otherwise unachievable.

Same with 'fuck'. It the most flexible word, with almost endless uses - as hilariously illustrated in this famous recording. Its etymology seems to be largely tied to sexual intercourse. It's still used in that way, but less often than in the many other ways it can be employed. Today a friend emailed me a copy of a new 'bedtime story for parents' - in children's book style - called Go the Fuck to Sleep. It obviously deals with putting a child to sleep, but no right-minded person would for a second think the word 'fuck' was used with any relation to its original meaning, whatever that may be.

I rarely hear the 'cunt' used as a reference to female genitalia. Strangely, 'Vagina' is generally seen as the acceptable term for this part of female anatomy; its literal Latin translation is 'sheath or 'scabbard' - as in for a sword. To me, that seems pretty degrading. But words change, and few people are aware of Vagina's origin, using it with purity and innocence. It's been successfully reclaimed!

There is one word that seems to be less flexible, even though it has been largely reclaimed by those its been used against, that I can't bring myself to write or utter without feeling like I shouldn't. It starts with 'N'.

Maybe its because of the way I've heard it used - as a specific, targeted attack filled with toxic, baseless hate. Maybe because, even though it has been reclaimed by the African-American community, it hasn't yet established a meaning for general use. If I saw it used appropriately though, I wouldn't be offended regardless of who said it.

I think there are words that are far more insensitive than 'cunt' when used flippantly. 'Rape' for one.

If you were offended by my use of it, it's probably due to connotations you brought with you. Valid they may be, but wherever they come from, it's not me that's offended you.

My only intent was to test reaction. I'm even a little uncomfortable with it sitting up there – but I've used it four times now.

Cunt. Five!

Swear words are important. Fucking important. Sure, they're sometimes used tastelessly, for offence, to hide lack of imagination, or just to excess; but they can effectively communicate strong feeling and add shock or emphasis that makes a joke funny in a way 'acceptable' language can't always achieve. Sorry dad, but yes, some jokes are funny because of the inclusion of ‘fuck’. Not that the word is funny in itself (usually), but it can be a key ingredient to a good joke.

I do say 'cunt' sometimes, in the appropriate context and only among friends I know well who are comfortable with it (ok, I've used it while drunk to be a stirrer and I genuinely regret it).Oh, and now when talking to a bunch of blog readers I may or may not know.

Cunt, fuck, shit, bitch are all great words when used properly, even having artistic value – and we should claim them as legitimate for those uses.

So, what about ‘slut’? I wholeheartedly support the Slutwalk movement, yet had some doubts about the attempt to reclaim the word or empty it of its offensive content. I agree with the general aims of the event. The current common connotations associated with 'slut' should not be applied to a woman just because she expresses her sexuality through dress, behaviour or work, or because they enjoy sex. No woman is ever implicitly asking to be sexually assaulted, abused or harrassed by expressing themselves in this way.

But the word… it seems different to the reclamation and redefinition of 'queer', for example. I mean, that was such an absurd insult in the first place, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with homosexuality. Whereas there are people - male and female, straight and gay - who are irresponsibly promiscuous, risking social and medical harm to themselves and others. If 'slut' has any legitimacy in its current form, perhaps this is where it lies. Can we reclaim it? Should we reclaim it? Would it really empower women to reclaim it, while some people continued to use it in a derogatory way?

Then I read this great article by Clem Bastow, one of the organisers of the Melbourne Slutwalk, and found it kind of enlightening.

I guess I felt differently about 'slut' because it has yet to be reclaimed. It's easier to appreciate the shift in a word, like 'queer', from this side - after the fact. I now think the reclaiming of ‘slut’ could be a part of a celebration and liberation of the positive aspects of sexuality – especially for women, whose sexuality is still socially suppressed in many ways. As Clem Bastow pointed out, it’s a process of change not an act of change.

Anyway, the word is just a minor aspect of Slutwalk, and should not get in the way of the bigger issue (it just tied in nicely to this post). What is important in the change Slutwalk seeks is education - so that we all learn to respect each other a little more through our attitudes, which shape how we use these words.

Society changes. So do words. Keep up or fuck off  :o)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Songs that live in moments

Ever find a song encapsulates a moment or period so perfectly that it becomes permanently attached to, and defined by, that experience?

So much so that any time the tune reverberates around your head your internal sensory wiring transcends the present moment and connects to thoughts and feelings familiar and intense, yet distant.

In some ways it’s unfortunate for a song's meaning and enjoyment to be narrowed to a particular connection, but it is a magical way to experience music.

There are a few songs that seem to perpetually reside in certain moments of my past, continually inviting me back when I hear them. They are not necessarily my favourite songs - some I never play - but they all have their place for better or worse, and most of them involve women in my life. That's probably no great surprise.

Self-indulgent as this is, these are a few such songs that have that affect for yours truly:

Reckoner (Radiohead)
In Rainbows came out just before I jetted off overseas by myself for the first time. Sure, I was meeting a range of friends in different places, but I was getting around by myself and, for the first time in a long time, had no-one but myself to worry about.

New albums rarely grab me and establish their own place in my psyche so quickly. I listened to In Rainbows every day for five weeks, in small Canadian towns, large American cities, airport departure lounges and everywhere in between.

It may have just been the right time for something to tap in to my mood at the time – newly single for the first time in six years (and the first time in my adult life), and travelling alone outside of my home country. Compounded with variations of unfamiliarity, new-found freedoms and exploring a new world, this created a unique atmosphere. It wasn’t all good times, but I was experiencing life and beating out a new path. In Rainbows was my soundtrack.

'Reckoner’ was the track that stood up and floored me every time.

Four years on, listening to this song still gives me an abstract sense of the mental and geographical space I was in at the time, a wandering lamb, uncertain but unafraid, exploring with new eyes.

Heavy Heart (You Am I)
So let’s step back six months - the night the girlfriend and I called it quits on what had been a pretty solid relationship of more than six years.

It was as mutual and amicable a break-up as you're likely to find. I walked out of her apartment relieved that we’d finally done what had been coming for a while, but still it was the end of something comfortable, familiar and, overall, fairly positive.

Suddenly I was alone

I got in my car, put on The Cream and the Crock - The Best of You Am I - an album I'd been thrilled to find a few months earlier as I searched hopelessly for something worth using a Sanity gift card on - and skipped straight to 'Heavy Heart'. I cried. And I then I set off, skipped back to the start of the song and cried again.

A classic case of dangerous driving.

Jezebel (The Drones)
… And then a few months later I was a bitter, bitter man. This girl who’d been my emotional support for six years – and had asked me to stay friends – was gone when I most needed someone close.

I was - largely unfairly - angry. This newly acquired album, in particular 'Jezebel’ which got lots of play-time, tapped into my dark mood and helped me explore what was going on in my head.

We never resumed a friendship in any form, I’ve left behind the bitterness and I still quite like the song. But I don’t listen to it very often.

Just Try (The Dandy Warhols)
September 2008: travelling alone with a broken heart and no music. Is there a worse predicament?!

I should have known better than to a) let myself fall for a friend from another country and b) entrust m music-reliant sanity to a cheap iRiver. Seriously, I spent four days at work filling the fucking thing with music and it freezes on the way to the airport! I couldn’t even turn it off. Eighteen months later I realised the battery must have eventually died and I could charge it and turn it back on (it’s worked fine ever since, not that I give it much attention), but I was so pissed off at the time I left it in Australia.

As for the girl - a Canadian friend who had joined me in visiting a mutual friend from England - a week or so of outrageous fun in London and Southampton was just enough to (again) reignite feelings for her I thought had passed, just as she headed back to Canada.

The prospect of another 20 days tripping around Britain, but now on my own, had lost its lustre. I told her of my feelings and for better or worse, they were unrequited.

I was lonely and miserable. And if I had no-one to talk to or drink with, I damn well needed music

‘Just Try’ must have been floating around my head; in London, in York, in Edinburgh I sought out internet access just to jump on YouTube and listen to it, slumped forward with my elbows on the desks, an expressionless face fallen into my hands so that my limp cheeks pushed up into my eyes while I stared forlornly at the computer screen. And then I'd hit play again.

It was utterly self-pitying and self-indulgent. She was unbelievably cool about the whole thing. In fact it was nowhere near as awkward as it should have been, we're still friends and met up in Canada a year later. I just wanted some answers from someone about all the shit going on in my life.

Still love the song, and it does remind me of her and how I used to feel, but it offers some reflection rather than a sense of sadness.

More Than You Wanted To Know (The Panics)

Moving on.

My job at Dan Murphy’s was the most fun I’ve ever been paid to have by a long way. I left to embark on a professional career at the end of 2005, with unexpected feelings of sadness about a moment I’d been anticipating for 18 months!

I have no idea what this song is really about, but the lyrics just seemed to resonate with my sentimental melancholy of the time: ‘We’re all in line to go sometime / Only lives to tell it like it is / Always more than you wanted to know’, ‘Let go of some you’ve saved / Leave but don’t be no stranger / If you look in the eye of the one you’re beside / Ain’t gonna stop us aging / Are you lonelier?’

I seem to struggle with change, but have learnt it’s never as big or bad as you fear. Five years on I’ve remained friends with a few people I worked with there, and have some sensational, hilarious memories to keep in my bag as I walk on.

The three-parter
So a girl I went out with for six years gets two songs, but one I was friends with for just a few months gets three. That’s life, love and music.

Part One – Read My Mind (The Killers)
I don’t even own Sam’s Town and never really liked any of the songs from it… until one had meaning for me.

Sitting in the Carlton Club with sorting out a messed up situation of mixed messages, mutual feelings and incompatibility she offered me an earphone, explaining ‘This song sums up how I feel’. I still don’t know entirely what she meant by that.

She has exceptional taste in music, so I was a little surprised / disappointed to hear this initially. Lyrically there are a couple of absurdly relevant references, yet the song overall assumed a new character and sound for me. I listened to it a lot in the following days and weeks while spending far too much time contemplating this star-crossed infatuation.

Hearing it now (very rare), depending on my mood it either reminds me of the beauty of those unique connections between two people, or the pain of losing someone for reasons beyond either person’s control.

Part Two – Love Letter (Lisa Mitchell)
‘Take it from me, I’m a disorderly and you’d be off better writing someone else your love letter.’

The sound of the final nail in the heart. So beautifully sad. The reality that, sometimes, life trumps love.

I’d had a burnt copy of Lisa Mitchell’s Wonder for a few months, in preparation for seeing her at Splendour in the Grass, and enjoyed it well enough; but again, it took a real-life situation that aligned closely with this song for me to fully appreciate it. After a few months of back-and-forth, being pushed away and pulled closer, it was determined for the second or third time that it wasn't working.

'Love Letter' has been one of my most-listened-to songs of the last six months. On the morning after she told me she had to walk away because I was her 'weakness' (another message I never fully comprehended) I sat at the kitchen table before work, listened to it twice, and cried. I cried for what could have been, what was lost, with someone who’d inspired me like no-one else, cemented in me the self-confidence to take steps like starting this blog, and reaffirmed my place in the world.

Deride my manhood, but this is a tragically beautiful piece of music and lyricism.

It also now represents for me a time in my life that hurt like hell, but I never wish to forget, so I think I’ll always be fond of it.

Although, someone later informed me that Lisa Mitchell had been a contestant on Australian Idol. This almost ruined her music for me.

Part Three - Home (Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros)
This is a band she got me into. ‘Moats and boats and waterfalls’ was a favourite phrase of hers when referring to her small circle of close friends (her ‘family’).

Love the song, but can’t shake the connection to the girl. Not such a bad thing. At a broader level it stirs up some of those wonderful, promising feelings of security and comfort you find in a person every once in a while, and I had for a fleeting moment with her.

In recent weeks my reaction to this song has been ‘Get it off that damned ad for that stupid TV show!

Beautiful Day (U2)
All That You Can’t Leave Behind must have been released towards the end of my final year at school. I loved the album for a while and it got a lot of spin-time in my CD player while I studied for exams, as well as being all over commercial FM radio. ‘Beautiful Day’ was my anthem for the time, as I looked forward to a new, exciting, terrifying, beautiful life ahead.

I’ve hardly listened to the album in ten years. I recently rediscovered a couple of gems on it that I adore (‘When I Look At The World’ and ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’), but the rest of the album can stay in my past – we shared some good (and stressful!) times, but we no longer talk. And that’s okay.

Still, you can’t avoid hearing ‘Beautiful Day’ every now and then, and I guess that’s cool too.

Cotton Eye Joe (Rednex)
Let's finish with something upbeat then, shall we?

Definitely not one of my favourite songs, and I’m quite happy not to hear this one too often but we sure did play it loud and proud and incessantly for five days in Rye while celebrating the end of school back in 2000.

It was a bit of a party anthem for a bunch of 18 year olds for a while, but the novelty wore off pretty quick. It still gets a spin at a house party once every couple of years, and if a cover band play it in some shitty pub we’ll get into it jumping around singing along loudly like we did in November 2000, but that’s plenty enough.

One song I’m quite happy to enjoy purely for the memories I associate with it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

smiles and dancing in the delighful darkness

music videos dont do much for me, but i fucking love this one

is it dark? you bet your hellbound arse it is.

is it depressing? not to me. i guarantee many people would think so though.

a grim-looking 'country-horror' band singing of death and hell to a miserable, all-but-lifeless congregation of 'zombies' in a beautifully sunlit, adorable little chapel. its already a fucking bundle of visual contradictions, and then enter an innocent young girl, blonde and sweet, in a white dress dancing and smiling the way through, despite some fruitless attempts to 'wake the dead'.

(i'll say here, i've recently fallen in love with this local - Melbourne-based - band, who's song 'all will be gone' - with its delightfully persistent reminder of everyones mortality is a personal favourite just cos its so damn fun!)

darkness isnt hard to find in life - some of us are more familiar than others - and avoidance of seemingly unsettling facts is futile. you are going to die. shit things will happen to you. its all basic nessecity of life - indeed a good life. it imposes perspective and value.

this clip - truth and beauty and love and life. all light and dark. smiles of an innocent girl in a white dress, dancing joyously to a country horror band in a warmly sunlit white church amongst a zombie-like congregation. it sums up for me the argument about whether dark music is depressing.

fight fear off and itll hold you tighter. accept it and understand it, and you'll feel like dancing. allow yourself to explore darkness, confront fears, open your mind, accept truth and the shadows have nothing on you. happiness penetrates.

or dodge it, narrow your mind to the light and fluffy, listen to Justin Bieber and enjoy a superficial existance (over the top, sure). so much beauty comes from those shadows though.

dark music isn't necessarily depressing. if i relate to it, it helps me accept, express and manage my emotions rather than suppressing them or dwelling on whats going on. it soothes and/or energises my soul. if i dont relate to it, thats cool, someone else no doubt does.

for those of us who enjoy music as art, not just entertainment, some of the best, most timeless, has a dark edge to it, and has something to say about true life.

life is often fucked up. just accept it. experience it. explore it and learn from it. get perspective on it. you know what - greater happiness and enlightenment will probably be the result. i dont know if music taught me this, but it helped me realise.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Welcome to the world, my second nephew.

On a day when I was a little bewildered by proud, energetic celebrations by Americans of the death of one of the world’s bad men, my thoughts were this afternoon captured by an event that is truly worth cheering; a new life.

He enters a strange world, but a loving family.

Our hearts expand to welcome him in, and I’m a proud, happy uncle.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What does ANZAC Day mean to me ... other than a great game of footy?

25 April 2011

5.15am, walking briskly along a ghostly Swan Street. I’ve stumbled home through the Richmond Streets at all times of the night, never noticed such emptiness.

In the pre-dawn chill, Rick and I headed to Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, via the Tan track, gradually joining more fatigued strangers along the way. No words are spoken, barely a nodded greeting that might be normal during the day; which, paradoxically, emphasis the beginning of a shared social, even spiritual experience. I also note there are no earphones to be seen.

I’m familiar with the Tan track, and what I call ‘ANZaharakis Bend’ (a tribute to the great Essendon player and that match in 2009), where you pass the Shrine on the left. It stands bold and proud, yet sits comfortably within its scenic, active surrounds.

What does ANZAC Day mean to me? A grandfather and an uncle served, but its just a fact to me; its never been discussed in any detail, I don’t have any stories of their experience or knowledge handed down. I’m just an educated, progressive, sheltered pacifist, prone to cynicism at the first sign of nationalism. War is always a sad, horrible, blight on humanity, even when necessary.

For better and worse the recognition of ANZAC day has exploded in the last 15 years, in Melbourne partly due to a football match with overdramatised and awkwardly inappropriate clichés. It’s my favourite match of the year (until Essendon start winning finals again) – the connection to war is loose, but feeds the hype, which feeds the rivalry, which feeds the enjoyment of the game. Long live Zaharakis.

As we arrived a sombre voice echoed over a loudspeaker, recounting stories of war, and silhouettes could be seen on the hill leading down from the Shrine, itself shrouded in an ethereal fog that gave it an imposing presence in the breaking light. This could have been a foreign land; modern buildings just a few hundred metres away were lost in the fog and the Shrine appearing to be the last standing building in a ruined city.

I will never be able to comprehend what it was like to sit in the trenches awaiting certain death, or to shoot at another man who is merely a representative of your national enemy, or the many other horrors faced by far too many. Or to be in fighting/working in terrifyingly unstable parts of Iraq or Afghanistan, engaged in a war you may or may not believe in, but your commitment to serve and protect your country overrides your personal views.

The crowd, estimated at up to 40,000, was deathly silent, as if itself awaiting terrible instructions to proceed from the trenches. The eeriness was clearly nothing like war, but gave an appropriate sense of the occasion far better than any bastardised tribute used in commercial promotion of sport or other entertainment.

At the Dawn Service – my first – I felt a connection to the day I’ve never experienced. I saw few signs of outward nationalism; no flag-caped bogans, no southern cross face paintings, just a flag here and there and the fact the men and women being honoured specifically were indeed Australian.

As a speaker noted, this was a day not for celebration, but for remembrance. And we should remember that war divides humanity, so nationalistic celebration seems paradoxical to me. We should make particular acknowledgement of our own service men and women, but reflect on our shared humanity and how we can progress with the lessons learnt.

Gallipoli itself is an important and sacred place for Australians. I intend to visit some day. A quiet day, preferably, where I can try and connect to the spiritual legacy and appreciate, in my own way, the horrors that took place there. You won’t find me there on ANZAC Day. Not among the sea of Aussie flags – worn around necks and painted on faces – the left-behind trash and tinnies, the disrespect of naïve backpackers to the day, the place, the memory and the country who share it with us, dressed up inconspicuously as national pride, Cronulla-style.

I went to the football a few hours later. I missed the pre-match entertainment, on TV and at the ground.

I was in my seat (well, standing in front of it) for the Last Post – which was almost as haunting in the daylight at an 80,000 packed MCG – and those famous words “Lest we forget.”

For me, and I’d confidently predict just about everyone at the ground, it all returned to the back of our minds. Lest we be dishonest – we were there for a football match, and a massive one at that.