Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A 'balanced' ABC, or a better ABC?

ABC logoNot many people are happy with our ABC at the moment. ALP supporters think Aunty is leaning to the right and giving Tony Abbott an easy ride. Conservative commentators continue to, as they always will, bang on about the national broadcaster being a mouthpiece of the left.

Mark Scott probably feels comfortable that the criticism from both sides places them nicely in the middle; that it's an indicator of a job well done. Well it's not.

Some of the concerns are valid but many of the party-political calling for a "fairer", "more balanced" ABC seem more interested in seeing their political team get a better run than promoting quality independent journalism.

I'm not sure why this feels like a radical notion, but I'd rather see the ABC forget the left-right divide altogether if they're going to be properly able to report without fear or favour.

Doesn't forcing the national broadcaster to operate in the middle of that one-dimensional spectrum - rather than above it - just restrict independence and the ability to pursue the public interest? Is measuring the coverage of left and right, Coalition vs ALP (and partners) really a meaningful indicator of quality journalism? It's important to be unbiased, but that's not necessarily the same as balanced.

It's like judging the performance of AFL umpires based on the free kick count at the end of a match - it completely ignores the quality and discipline of the competing teams, and (most importantly) the umpires themselves. Unbiased isn't necessarily the same as balanced.

The ABC is meant to provide balance to the media landscape as an alternative to the commercial media, not by walking a careful, inoffensive and tedious line down the middle of politics. Ok, the Charter may disagree with me there, and "the public interest" is probably a little too subjective to measure and report on. *Sigh*.

The role of a public broadcaster is to present a diverse and thoughtful voice that speaks to the public interest rather than the ratings figures. That's why they shouldn’t be afraid to broadcast a documentary like shouldn't be afraid to broadcast an important, insightful documentary like Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, for fear of the appearance of bias. Especially given the current discourse on asylum seekers, which is why a commercial station wouldn't touch it.

In politics, they should be asking policy questions and applying pressure where others will not and fleshing out the issues, informing and challenging us - those of us who wish to be informed and challenged anyway. Not everybody wants to engage politically, and that is totally fine. But they have to vote, so some independent analysis is pretty vital, and the ABC goes to extremes to ensure fair coverage during an election - the one time I'd probably agree with the onerous task.

Perhaps being driven by public interest rather than profit is inherently "progressive". So be it (yes, it suits me - maybe I'm biased too, only human). That doesn't preclude critical analysis of all sides of politics and presentation of a diverse range of views, most importantly views that contribute substance and/or don't get their voice heard in the mainstream media.

Even if that's the case, the cranky conservatives have enough profit-driven media outlets, with a lot more influence, to play with. We need Aunty. We all need her. As much as they may be loathe to admit it, their taxes provide vital diversity and accountability - you need only spend 15 minutes a week watching the ABC's MediaWatch to see how pathetic profit-driven media can be and why a strong ABC is so important. How often does a story on a program like Four Corners end up sparking discussion across the media the following day? (Rhetorical - quite often)

Should they report both sides of the climate change debate equally? Of course not, no one expects tobacco companies to get a right of reply every time cigarettes are discussed. But it should be reported and questioned objectively, with the facts.

But yes, I agree the Aunty's political coverage hasn't been the best of late.

Mr Abbott's gotten away with a lot of BS for much of the last two years, while Prime Minister Gillard has copped excessive criticism - from the ABC and mainstream media. But it's not bias, it's lazy, pack journalism combined with an undisciplined government who don't communicate well. Abbott's deficiencies are mostly policy (or lack of) based, whereas Gillard has faced a stream of scandals and chaos, too often caused by mischievous colleagues. Going after Gillard has offered a better story for attracting and entertaining the audience.

The criticism of the ABC shouldn't be "Hey, attack their guy!", it should be "You're meant to be better than this!"

The tide actually seems to be starting to turn on Abbott now, with the introduction of the Carbon Tax providing a background of reality to scrutinise him against, and allowing for broader critique of a few dodgy (sometimes harmful) lines. With the polls turning slowly on him too, it will probably continue. But a government will - and should - always receive a little more scrutiny than the opposition throughout it's term.

However, it's not about left and right. It doesn't matter how many ABC journalists have joined either major political party. Why should Insiders feel the need to give up a seat to rambling and stubborn people like Piers Ackerman and Gerard Henderson to balance the thoughtfulness of George Megalogenis and Annabelle Crabb? I know there's a lot of complain about the extent of Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) presence, but at least some of the IPA representatives listen and engage in productive discussion.
We (I'm talking on your behalf, you're welcome) just want some real policy discussion, without so many polls and unfounded leadership speculation!

I still love you Aunty - we're very lucky to have you - but you aren't without fault. Just don't listen to the shouters.

Declaration: I begrudgingly accept the label "progressive", provided it is preceded by "open-minded". I do not pledge support to any party and think the left-right spectrum is dumb.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Haters gonna hate ... because they care

I tried to keep my footing on the high ground.

I've never been publicly vilified before. I'm not thin-skinned, I just want everyone to like me. And it's also a little unpleasant reading inaccurate personal smears about yourself on a "news" website.  Not one many people read or take very seriously though, so it's okay.

Long story short, a young journalism student - one with good intentions, from up here on the moral path - wrote a scathing article for a student paper criticising the culture at one of Australia's most influential newsrooms. She raised some important issues but probably undermined them a little by being too passionate and making a couple of silly comments - oh well, she's a student, she's learning.

And what a lesson. The angry mob of haters down on the low road saw her slip and went after her without pause. She got on the wrong side of some of the loudest, haters. (I'm not linking to any of it because I don't think it deserves any more attention, but it's easy enough found)

One group in particular, a small wagon of trolls who go by the name Vexnews, accused her of bullying and backed it up by launched a shameful character assassination in the most irrelevant, personal manner. I thought it was pretty disgusting, and ventured over to Twitter, where the higher road is so narrow its almost impossible to keep your balance, to make a point to the group's leader:
"Andrew Landeryou pretty much declared fair game for personalised hate & humiliation on himself. But I’d rather forget he exists #huntern"
I was trying to encourage some reflection without sinking to his level. It was condemnation of that bullying, not a rallying cry for revenge. Hence the comment was made and I moved on.

Until the next day when I heard I'd been quoted on the website, and was initially somewhat pleased that one small comment from a nobody like me had drawn a reaction. I'd gotten under their skin.

Being presented as the face of a group of  "winged monkeys" displaying "strident inner-urban leftist intolerance and viciousness", many of whom did actually make quite abusive, counter-productive comments, was unsettling. Seeing a photo and information they'd obtained by trawling through my Twitter feed and blog gave me the creeps. Being a diligent investigative journalist reporting in the public interest, I had been "closely examined".

Of course, expressing my displeasure only made it worse. His eyes lit up like Gollum's and he pounced at me. I was now accused of violent tweets and being a "yoga practitioner". Good grief!

Fortunately, I have a common name. It's highly unlikely that a potential employer, partner or stalker will come across this slander through a simple Google search. And I didn't cop anything like what the student did, and many many others have across all forms of media. Still, it's true, I'm not comfortable with the existence of this inaccurate portrayal of me out there on the internet. 

To the editor's credit, I do appreciate that he didn't publish my Twitter handle or blog address. Not that I think the site's horde of haters have any interest in me, which is exactly why I don't understand the whole response.

What do you do though. Until this post, nothing. And this is less a vengeful spiel as a consideration of how to handle these situations without stumbling down from the high ground.

No one ever convinced anyone of anything through aggression, anger, shouting, bullying or swearing. Which is a shame because it's so much fucking easier.

It's just likely to encourage a person to bunker down in their beliefs and more vigorously defend them; they become more concerned with defending themselves than listening to you. Unless they are a supremely calm, awesome person. I'm not, I regularly find myself frustrated and angrily stumbling down the rocky path down to the low road, usually on a Monday night, around 9.30pm. I like to think I avoid anything personal or vicious, but you have to keep your passion in check when it gets counter-productive. Slip ups and falls are inevitable, especially when you feel strongly about something, as the student did.

Are always going to yell and throw shit at you. It can be pretty hard to ignore once you start paying attention so it's best not to look down at them for too long, and the best response is a polite one. It's hard not to hate what Andrew Bolt writes most of the time, because so many people are misinformed by it, but there's no point taking him on or even engaging with someone so self-confident who thrives in confrontation. It makes them stronger. Sometimes you just can't defend yourself against a rampaging snowball of hate - getting caught up in it just makes it bigger. I don't understand what drives Bolt's personal attacks though, he doesn't seem to really care about much at all. Maybe he's just a professional shit-stirrer, and he is damn good at it.

On the other side of the debate, Catherine Deveny is someone with whom I share many views, but I can't bear her attitude and tone. It doesn't get us anywhere, just gives people a simple, flawed justification of their dislike for "lefties". Frankly, I think the whole 'left vs right' way of framing political and social 'battles' is lazy and distracting.

There's always a reason someone invests their time and energy into hateful attacks. For whatever reason, they care. Every spitball of spite they shoot up at you just shows they care, sometimes to the point of obsession. If they didn't care they'd be indifferent - indifference is the real opposite of hate.

They're loud because they need to be. Its easier than actually coming up here and talking to us. And this road is difficult enough to hold without looking down. Actions are more potent than words. It's better,  if much more difficult, to let it go and keep the high ground. If they want to engage, they can put their energy into climbing up a little and seeing how much better the view is up here.

And I ought carry on trying to make my way up a little further, so I can do something good with my time and energy.

I'm sure you lose points for assuming to have the high ground in the first place!

Comrade Ryan out, with a song that always gives me a boost above the shit flying everywhere, and a better outlook on life.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Short story - 'The Other Woman'

Below is a story written for the Stringybark Short Story Award, themed 'Seven Deadly Sins'. It appears, slightly edited (more on that later) in their eBook compilation of Highly Commended entries.

The Other Woman

A heart stimulated by restless yearning can send delusion coursing through the bloodstream. It usually subsided after climax, but recently it seemed to have increasingly infected his mind.

We’d become so familiar, I knew his signals. His chest expanded and deflated rapidly and the ecstatic contortions of his face read like a map. One push, then another, and a long, drawn-out sigh, during which he would seek to lock eyes. I arched my back and dropped my head, letting long, chestnut strands of hair brush over his face. And with closed eyes, I lowered my naked body onto his.

My heart-rate slowed. Feelings passed and thoughts closed in. Everything mattered again as I plummeted from the heights of an all-encompassing climactic moment towards concrete reality. Actually, I rolled off an admirable male specimen and landed gently on what could just be the most comfortable bed ever made. I gave him my back and curled up into a semi-fetal position. The softness of the mattress was conducive to dreams. For a moment I pretended this was my bed, my ‘McMansion,’ my husband lying behind me breathing soft warm breaths on the back of my neck and sending chills down to my toes. Childish dreams of an innocence long since abandoned.

Then I noticed her staring down at me. She had the saddest eyes I had seen in a long time. Her mouth smiled but the eyes, heavy with burden, couldn’t lift. Her hands clutched one shoulder of each of the young boys standing in front of her and there he was, just behind to her right, arm around her waist, smiling with subtly clenched lips.

Family in frame only, I thought, congratulating myself on my wit.

“Do you like it here?” he asked, flashing his confident, whitened teeth and breaking the unprofessional silence.

“I prefer the hotels,” was my retort. It was a rude abuse of his patience but put him on the back foot and gave me moment longer to compose myself.

Withdrawal moved through my veins now, accelerated by the physical activity. The dull throbbing of confusion arrived in party with a light nausea, as my brain buzzed like electricity without the shock; like a shiver without the chill. It felt like I was being dragged out of my body, a strange combination of déjà vu and some kind of profound revelation I could feel but not articulate. The sensation crashed over me like a six-foot wave, overwhelming me for several seconds before gently washing away as expected. I needed my pills and couldn’t believe I’d forgotten the morning dose again.

This was definitely her side of the bed — the bedside table held a trashy romance novel and a copy of Women’s Weekly; his side possessed an iPad and a drawer full of condoms. I could sense the imprint of her body. His hand was crept over my waist. I met it there and sighed approvingly, interlocking with his fingers but ensuring they moved no further.

“You are something else.” He kissed me on the neck and squeezed my hand while I resisted the urge to pull away, even sociably shifting onto my back.

“I earn my money,” I smiled, placing our relationship firmly back into proper context.

More photos straight ahead. Was he getting off on her watching us?

As if reading my thoughts, he tried reassurance. “It’s okay, she’s not here.”

“Wouldn’t know it,” I replied with a surprisingly jealous tone.

His hand now stroked hair over my ear. “It’s not like you didn’t know about her.”

“I know. It’s just strange.” Her eyes were full of beaten life, except in an old wedding photo — perhaps twenty years old — which showed a glorious, faultless bride; a loving, happy couple.

He looked up, briefly forlorn. “We barely talk. If it wasn’t for the kids…” he trailed off as I squeezed my insides.

“I have to pay for good company!” He smiled. I didn’t reciprocate.

“What?” he asked.


Something. I just couldn’t quite figure out what. Of course I knew some of my clients had partners — it wasn’t my business and treating it as such would be bad for business. That’s what I liked hotels: each party stepped out of the real world for an hour (or more). I wasn’t a counsellor.

He nuzzled in close. “Between a train-wreck marriage and a life-consuming job, I look forward to seeing you so much.”

I smiled awkwardly, missing the days when we’d enjoy meaningless post-sex chatter rather than fully loaded sweet nothings. Nothing scared me more than sweet nothings.

Leaning over his charming face, I kissed him on the forehead. “I need to use the bathroom.”

“That’s hardly earning your money, babe,” he chuckled.

With a batted eyelids and a nonchalant smile I turned to grab my bag and headed for the ensuite thinking about the money. It was funny that thinking about the money eased my anxiety somewhat, even if it was only a distraction. Half the reason I’d started this work four years earlier was to fund the psychologist consultations, medication and study — all necessary for a happier life. Now the money was far too good to give up.

But, even though I still couldn’t bare the idea of dating again, I also needed intimacy; in a form that was non-threatening and disconnected.

I pushed the door behind me and considered vomiting. The little bottle of pills was buried deep in my bag.

With a slight tremor I clasped the bottle. The door swung open. Startled, I fumbled the half opened bottled, which fell onto the tiles scattering little pale-blue pills across the floor.

“Fuck! Don’t you knock?!”

“Sorry babe, the door was open, I thought…”

I gathered myself. “Sorry, it’s okay, don’t worry.” I was too embarrassed to be angry. I hit the floor to recover the pills.

“She always leaves them lying around,’ he said picking up the bottle before I could get to it.

It had my name on it – my real name, and address – but he didn’t look, just placed it down next to another, almost identical bottle beneath the cabinet. He looked at me staring dumbfounded at the twin bottles.

“Is she okay?” I asked, forgetting myself.

“She’s fine.” His eyes rolled at the thought. “I don’t know what those are but the bottle’s pop up everywhere.”

“Maybe you should ask?”

“Don’t you listen to anything I say either? She won’t talk to me! Whose side are you on anyway!”

I don’t need this. “Sorry, no, I didn’t mean it like that. I just …” That’s all I had.

“You what? You a marriage counsellor as well as an escort now? Well there’s a fucking interesting mix!”

Stunned, I could only look at him.

“Sorry,” he said with the immediate regret of a man pulled in all directions by misplaced desires.

“I’m going to shower,” I said, making it clear I would do so alone. As he stepped out I swallowed the pill in my hand.

When I returned to the bedroom he sat on the bed in a towel, pouting like a needy pup. For a moment it felt nice to effortlessly wield such emotional power. And then it didn’t.

“It’s okay,” I said to clear the air, and looked towards the two large walk-in wardrobes either side of the ensuite. “Which is yours?”

He showered while I replaced all my clothes except the G-string. Stepping out of his wardrobe, I looked again at her image. Whose side was I on? How did this even happen?

I felt like I’d been asleep at the wheel and woken up on the wrong side of the road just before hitting an oncoming car — too late to avoid it, but with horns and lights and screaming that stimulated every nerve in my body, urging me to do something. She was urging me.

I wandered across the room, slid open the door to the other wardrobe and threw the g-string onto the floor. It was a self-indulgent act of sheer and helpless bloody-mindedness. I hoped to spark her voice, so she might confront him and help herself.

Ten minutes later he was in his business suit, ready to return to work from his ‘important meeting’. We walked out together and I let him put his arm around me.

“Got everything?” he asked at the front door.


He kissed me on the cheek and I walked to my car.

At the bottom of the long driveway, I pulled away from the house for the first and last time. Doubt started to overwhelm the short-lived sense of victory.

You just killed your career, I thought. He would be understandably furious. I had retrieved the bottle, but he could find me professionally even if I changed my number. If he pursued me, my alias would have to cease existence.

But worse, what if all I sparked was the full blown explosion of that train-wreck marriage. What if I’d killed it once and for all?

What if she was surviving on the delusion?

I wept.


Postscript: For the published version the editors removed the second last line (which I, admittedly have amended now myself). I can understand why, but reckon it's removal significantly altered (and softened) the story's ending, so was a little disappointed. Ah well, published at least! 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why so serious about Batman?

Indulge me, while I ponder my obsession with a character that dresses up like a bat.
It seems a little childish, but I actively embrace my inner child - keep it locked up so it doesn't escape. And I love Batman.

Have done for 20 years, inheriting my eldest brother's fanatacism around the time of the Tim Burton movie - which finally returned the character to his natural habitat of darkness - and the return to TV of the campy, colourful Adam West series, which was more age-appropriate for me at the time. But everyone was jumping on the Bat-wagon in the early '90s until Burton and Joel Schumacher produced increasingly silly films. But my fascination with the character himself endured.

It seems ridiculous to be drawn to a a comic character. I'm not even a comic geek. I don't like many non-Batman superhero films.

But Batman's not really a 'super' hero, is he? I always liked him best of the lot because he's an ordinary guy. He didn't come from another planet with super-powers, wasn't a nerdy kid bitten by a radioactive spider, or a nerdy scientist who somehow survived a radioactive blast or some other ordinary/arbitary person-turned-instant-superhero/villain by some kind of freak event. In Batman's world radiation is bad for you.

Then Christopher Nolan came along. Batman Begins smashed my previous imaginings of what the character could be.

He did something with the characters, and their world, no one had ever dared with a comic adaption on-screen. He took them seriously and grounded it in reality. I think 'gritty' is the word commonly used.

Finally I could legitimately appreciate the character as a relatively mature adult. Relative, of course, to my maturity as a child.

Unlike many other comic heroes and villains, Batman is an organic persona, born of tortured but determined mind, trying to reconcile his demons and fix things in a corrupt, crumbling world (well, city). He's a deeply flawed hero and not always one to be admired. Indeed, he has many shades of grey. He is more.

Nolan explored the psychology of Bruce Wayne. I'm surprised no one had really done it before. There's plenty to work with - the guy has issues. He's not a clean hero (or 'white knight'), he's conflicted and complicated. But that makes him one that's easier to relate to (aside from the whole vigilante thing), right?

Nolan even took the time to necessarily explain the some of the generally sillier elements - like the cape, the ears, where he gets his wonderful toys and why someone might dress up like a bat and become a vigilante in the first place.

Threats and adversaries in Nolan's trilogy don't coincidentally pop up in the same town and the same time - due to exposure with radiation or falling into a vat of chemicals - they are closely tied to Batman's own story, feeding off each other with a complex and fascinating mutual causality.

All of this allowed the movies to explore real-world questions of justice (vs revenge), morality, violence, corruption, and the ripple effect of Batman's very presence. Nolan delved into broader themes like fear, duality, chaos, socioeconomics, social order and politics. He posed questions like what it takes for people to abandon civility, how easily that might fall apart in an age where fear is everywhere, and whether the not being afraid of death is a strength or a weakness, just to name a few.

The discussion of escalation at the end of Batman Begins was beautifully pertinent to the politics of our world, as well as an example of how Nolan wanted to explore the grey areas of the character. He's the hero, no doubt, but not without complication.

The world's just not that simple, even if the a lot of people want it to be, but maybe that's why we get so many dumb films from Hollywood and an intelligent blockbuster is so rare. 'Ambiguity' is a dirty word in Hollywood these days.

Lots of the criticism, particularly of The Dark Knight Rises is of the various characters 'speechifying', but the dialogue in the film - while not always perfectly written - was critical to the exploration of those themes and character development.

The proof of how strong Nolan's story is, how rich the films are with layers and thought-provoking questions, is in how much has been written about them.

Even serious conservative commentators got on board, although I think they completely missed the point. Andrew Bolt claimed the interrogation scene (one of the trilogy's best) from The Dark Knight, and the film as a whole was a supportive nod to George. W. Bush's 'War on Terror'. I read the scene in the opposite way - torture is futile, Batman has "nothing to do with all your strength", and he loses this one depsite his aggression. It's actually my favourite scene of all three movies and has so much going on and is so well written, that it's sad seeing it cherry-picked, and so badly.

Again recently, upon viewing TDKR, Bolt was one of many conservatives - and even some concerned progressives - to taint Batman with the dirty brush of hasty misunderstanding, claiming TDKR was an anti-'Occupy', among other things (some on the left called it pro-facist!). Aside from the fact the script was written long before the Occupy movement, you only need to listen to realise that the leader of Gotham's 'revolution', Bane, actually has no interest in revolution. He's using it as a ruse to rally people and cause chaos before destroying the city. It's the social inequities and political injustices that allow him to do so, by plying the gaps in society. What does that say about conservative values, Mr Bolt?

I don't know Nolan's politics, but, if anything, I read the movies as being critical of Republican-style conservatism in many ways.

After all, the hero of the film has a blatant 'no guns' policy (other than on his vehicles) and his main virtue is his explicit refusal to kill. He may be part of the '1%', but he seems pretty ambivalent towards his wealth, other that using it to help others. Brooding as he is, Batman is an idealist with an unshakable belief in the people; he's a lone rebel trying to take down the corrupt elements of the city. That's something to identify with, right? A brooding, rebellious idealist - what more do you want?!

I could go on about for ages about the themes and interpretations, so I won't - there are plenty of articles arguing all sorts of angles online already and I don't need to say more about that. But, in the end, I don't think Nolan was making any specific statements (especially political). Rather, like most good art, the films merely pose some deep and pertinent questions.

And any film that affects you so much they leaves you reading, talking and contemplating their world, characters and meanings for a few days - like all three did me, and I'm writing this almost two weeks after seeing TDKR, so... - is likely to endure regardless of box office takings.

That is, basically, why I love these films so so much. That and I think Batman is pretty cool, and I'll always appreciate a dark, brooding hero fighting for the everyman/woman. I also kinda like Catwoman.

So, just as Joel Schumacher killed off the initial Batman movie franchise with the horrendous Batman & Robin, Nolan has pretty much ruined the two I did still like - Burton's Batman and Schumacher's Batman Forever. They are still good films for what they are (simple fun) - Batman in particular - but, to the disgust of a few Bat-friends, I am going to struggle to appreciate this character now without the depth and story Nolan gave us. Batman is more, and I just can't watch them without wanting that now.

Nolan also - to my knowledge - has provided the first comic book adaption with an actual ending, which must have irked the studio, but it's just another thing about the man to admire. It's all about the story.

It still feels a bit silly talking about Batman like this, but I don't care. These three films are visually stunning, thought-provoking, thrilling, and explore intriguing characters and themes through a fantastic story from start to finish. And I'm going to come back to them many times over the years.

Yes, I am a Bat-geek.

But maybe I'm taking this all too seriously...