Terrible ≠ Terrorism


newspaper-with-terrorism-headlineIt could never be said that the recently unalive boxing legend Muhammad Ali ever shied away from hyperbole. Anyone who made Ali-esque claims about themselves today would likely be dismissed out of hand as a massive wanker. But Ali’s oft-quoted 1963 proclamation “I am the greatest” was, at least, contextually correct, given he’d just become the youngest boxer in the history of the so-called sport to steal the heavyweight crown from the reigning champion.

(At the time Ali also claimed he was “the prettiest thing that ever lived”—the accuracy of this claim, contextually or otherwise, remains open to debate).

These days, virtually everything is exaggerated as being the greatest to one extent or another. From the obvious sensationalist and leading questions of journalists, to TV advertising and the typically over-the-top expressiveness of social media, it’s no exaggeration to say that hyperbole has hijacked so many aspects of language in the 21st century.

If it’s not the most exciting or the most exclusive, then it’s the largest, the first, the earliest, the biggest or best, the loudest or quietest, the least or the most—whatever the claim to fame, today’s language invariably takes it to an extreme.

It might be argued that this is the best way (or maybe the only way) to capture attention amid the ceaseless din of the 24 hour news cycle and the ever-decreasing attention span of the social media generation. But all it ultimately does is dilute the message—or, specifically, dilute the power of the pronouns and superlatives that are so constantly over-used.

Example #1: the popular turn of phrase “best. <insert subject here>. EVER”. Young folk and the social media set flock to this one like lambs to the slaughter. They apply it to just about any random situation they can think of, however run-of-the-mill it may be and however likely it is to be imminently bettered. The result is that any punch such statements might pack is lost. From over-use, as so often the case, “best. <subject>. EVER>” has become as nuanced as the ubiquitous “lol”—and we all know how often “lol” is the result of an actual laugh-out-loud.

Example #2: Mazda’s obsession with the “First-Ever” concept. It extends beyond the headlines into the copy: “First-Ever Mazda CX-3 comes in front or all-wheel drive”, it announces, as if the name of the car is actually “First-Ever Mazda CX-3”. I have an equal love of language and all things automotive, so the Mazda CX-3 marketing always annoys me. Yes, it was a brand new model in the range and had never existed before, but a decade ago the occasional “all-new” reference would’ve cut it, so what’s changed? The ongoing use of the “First-Ever” moniker is all the more inexplicable, given the audience to whom such hyperbole is clearly aimed—arguably CX-3’s target demographic—is probably the least likely to give a toss about the CX-3’s “First-Ever” status.

Example #3: our TV networks claim their programs are “must-see” when promoting finales or outcomes that “everyone’s been waiting for”. Then they use “Australia” as a collective noun to address the audience, as if all 24,151,300 of us are on the edge of our seats, in breathless anticipation of the much-hyped televisual feast. This despite the fact that even our highest-rated programs in any given year amass probable audience sizes of less than 10% of the total population.

hyperbole_buttonBasically, hyperbole is everywhere and nowhere is this more obvious than the way it’s extended to the concepts of “terror” and “terrorism”.

Sadly for those of us who form the majority of the world’s population that doesn’t harbour extremist views on any topic, there’s been an increasing incidence of freaks and nutjobs having major psychological meltdowns, then heading out into the streets to perpetrate truly horribly crimes. Thanks almost entirely to September 11 and everything that came after, there’s now a tendency to respond and react to everything as if it’s “terrorism” or an act of “terror”.

But in this age of bigging everything up, we seem to have forgotten that the proportion of the general populace made up by those freaks and nutjobs—many of whom are nothing more than unoriginal copycats, or just waiting for some twisted inspiration—is actually pretty tiny.

When a Sydney man recently set his car alight while he was still inside it, before it rolled—no, it wasn’t driven, much less rammed—down a driveway and into the door of a suburban police station car park, the immediate response was to address it as a possible act of terrorism. Turns out it was just some guy having a fairly substantial meltdown in response to a family situation.

The recent mass-shooting in Munich was immediately announced as a “terrorist attack”, but it really wasn’t one. And when news of the stabbing deaths of 19 people in Japan first started to filter out, there were initial suggestions that it too could’ve been a terror incident.

Terrible? Yes. Terror, in the tradition sense of the word? There’s no doubt that if any of those poor devils actually registered what was happening, terror is very possibly what they felt.

But terrible and terrorism are two very different things.

Were all these incidents terrible? Absolutely they were. Were all these incidents terrifying for those directly involved? No doubt. Are they always acts of terror, terrorism or terrorism-related, perpetrated by terrorists? In a word, no.

GunsInUSAHere’s something to consider: in the United States, between 1970-2014, more than 3,500 people were killed as a result of terrorist activity (with nearly 3,000 of those lost on September 11 alone). But in 2015, 13,000 people were killed in the United States by a gun, in either a homicide, an unintentional shooting, or a murder/suicide. That’s terrible vs terrorism right there! They’re so not the same things.

Every day in Australia, someone’s attacked, physically assaulted, stabbed or shot—in their homes, at their workplaces, in schools, or in the street. ‘Anger-management’ and ‘road rage’ are terms we toss about as if they’ve always existed but, in reality, it seems to be getting worse. Domestic violence has more focus now than ever before. Radical steps have been taken to curb alcohol and drug-related violence. Violence is all around us—now more so than ever. But a terrorist attack is more than just a loud noise and some violence. And that’s not just semantics.

Indeed, in direct response to the burning car incident, but broadly addressing all such incidents, our Attorney-General encouraged Australians—and chiefly, it must to be assumed, the media—not to think of or describe every single violent act that occurs in our communities as possible terrorist attacks. Said the A-G, “Not every act of violence, even a pre-meditated or carefully planned act of violence, is an act of terrorism”.

And herein lies the biggest issue: all at once, we’ve become both desensitized and overly sensitive to the notion of terrorism, to the point where virtually every time there’s an unexpected loud noise, wildly varying and largely unverified “eyewitness accounts” and social media coverage lead to almost immediate announcements of a terrorist attack.

The lines between the acts of bona-fide terrorists and those of your average certifiable nutter have certainly blurred in recent years. But let’s ask ourselves why everyone’s so hung-up about privacy and metadata and which aspects of their lives are being tracked when our law enforcement, with all that tracking ability allegedly at its fingertips, seems no more able today than it would’ve been a decade ago to intercept, or even predict, the current tide of increasing violence.

“Be alert, not alarmed”, the TV ads used to tell us. At the same time they were playing, which was about a year after 9/11, people I worked with were looking out the tenth-floor windows of our office building, convinced that they’d see a plane flying straight at us at any moment—just because it was the first anniversary. The alert-not-alarmed message clearly failed from the outset.

The world has seemingly become over-populated by screwballs with some very scary tendencies. At the same time, the behaviour of the rest of the population indicated a far greater demand for news and information than could adequately be supplied. But now that it can be, the media can’t get enough of click-bait catchphrases like “one punch” and “lone wolf” and has an obsessive reliance on reporting exaggerated versions of every single thing that happens, just to keep people interested, because—and here’s the greatest irony—the population who indicated that ever-increasing demand for an unceasing supply of news and information has proven itself incapable of concentrating for long enough to actually take most of it in.

The hyperbole shouts the loudest and who wants to read dull, factually correct news anyway?

Just as the question remains of whether a tree that falls in the forest, unheard and unseen, makes any sound or even fell at all, so, too, does the question of whether a news item about something terrible, which isn’t embellished or exaggerated by a journalist in any way, is any more or less newsworthy. The answer, of course, is a categorical ‘no’. News is news. If it happens and it was terrible, then it’s terrible enough. It doesn’t need to be made to sound any more terrible.

We—the population at large—certainly don’t need any more terrorist attacks in the world than there already are. Nor should we have allowed ourselves to get to a place where we automatically assume that every terrible thing that happens is one.

It must surely be obvious that, more often than not, terrible ≠ terrorism.

After The Love Has Gone…


Acknowledging that the time has come to pull the pin on a very long relationship can be remarkably difficult. If even people in abusive relationships find it hard to do, when every fibre of their being tells them that getting out is the only positive option, it’s little wonder that this torturous decision can seem overwhelming when love’s just run its course. But no matter how often we put ourselves through it, we somehow always manage to forget that facing the inevitable actually has its upsides.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a new relationship. And then later, when you realised it’s love—wow! It’s like sunflowers and ducklings and a warm, fluffy towel fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter’s night, all rolled into one.

New love is so good that it makes you forgive—if not forget—every bad thing you ever experienced in your last relationship. The poor treatment, the abuse, the being taken for granted, the ever-diminishing trust, that it became a chore… then a struggle… then something you just couldn’t wait to be away from.

Then you realise that this thing is so much better than anything you’ve ever experienced before. You wonder why you ever spent any time at all thinking that you had what you deserved and that what you deserved was no more than what you already had.

When your new love feels that good, you begin to realise that the reason you became so unhappy before, so unsettled, so troubled and so very rebellious was that, in fact, what you were capable of finding was so much more than what you’d settled for.

With each year that comes and goes, you continue to marvel at the strength and resilience of this wonderful relationship, that just keeps getting better and better. With each anniversary, you recall that you’ve still not spent a scheduled day apart in two years, then three, then four.

It’s seemingly forever onwards and upwards. Learning and growing together. So many experiences—together. You even go off and explore the world together. You start to wonder if the fact that you’ve never had a single bad word to say about any aspect of this relationship might actually be slightly unhealthy.

As the years continue to roll by, without even realising it you begin to wear your relationship like a comfy old pair of slippers. You’re now so interwoven that it’s a case of ‘two become one’. You’re intrinsically linked. Other people almost treat you as a single entity. You, yourself, even find it hard, sometimes, to separate one from the other.

Then one day, more than a decade into the world’s greatest love affair, a comment is made. You don’t even notice it at first, but something keeps niggling at you, in the back of your mind. Then you start replaying the comment, over and over, wondering where it came from and what it meant. It’s not a good feeling. You haven’t heard that kind of comment before… well, at least, not since that last horrible relationship. But you brush it off. Misunderstanding. Misheard. Misinterpreted. Must have been one of those.

As time goes on, things keep changing. Slowly but surely the realisation dawns that not only are you being less involved in those changes, but also you don’t even always agree with them. Then it occurs to you that you’re not even being consulted about them any more. Then you realise that you don’t actually feel heard at all any more.

That wonderful, reassuring sense of mutual understanding and support and security that was once almost omnipresent—where did it go? When did this happen? Why is it so?

Like false repressed memory syndrome, you do your level best to force those feelings back. You must be wrong. You must be imagining things. You’re just confused. Or stressed. Or tired. Or something.

Then you realise you’re spending more and more unscheduled time apart. Not because you have to, but because you want to. At first, it’s just because other things take priority every now and then—that’s what you tell yourself. But then other things keep taking priority over and over again. Before long, those other things become less priorities and more the things you’d actually rather be doing.

One day, you’re horrified to discover yourself wondering what it would be like to be in a different relationship. But you quickly put it out of your mind, because it’s just not something you want to think about. And besides, after all these years, you couldn’t even begin to imagine finding anything like what you have now. Coz, after all, you remind yourself, you probably have what you deserve and what you deserve is probably no more than what you already have.

Then you have one of those mirror moments from the movies—you know, where the camera lense zooms in while the actual camera pulls back, so your own reflection gets closer while the room surrounding you looks like it’s moving in the opposite direction? That kind of effect is what you experience. Because what you just heard yourself think was truly shocking.

That’s when you realise that the time’s come. You have no choice but to acknowledge what you’ve known, but have been avoiding, for so long. It’s hard. It’s going to hurt, you know that. But you realise you’re trapped. It’s a no win situation. There’s nowhere left for you to go. You realise it’s time to admit defeat. You’ve failed. The whole thing’s turned toxic. There’s nothing good can come of it now. You have no option but to get out.

Your beautiful affair is over. The love is gone. You no longer want to be there. However much—and whoever—it might hurt, you just have to do it because there’s no going back. That ongoing self-imposed state of inertia is no longer an option.

And then, just like that, as if by magic, suddenly you feel better. Heartbreak and relief in equal measure. Acknowledging to yourself what needed to be acknowledged was enormously cathartic and it’s allowed you to think more clearly about what to do next, and all the other things you need to do from here.

Australian Air Hostess Tegan Jovanka was always my favourite Doctor Who companion as a kid. I’ve actually taken something she said in her very last episode with me throughout my life: “My Aunt Vanessa said, when I became an air stewardess, if you stop enjoying it, give it up”.

I didn’t have an Aunt Vanessa, nor did I ever become an Air Stewardess (despite probably harbouring a secret childhood longing to be one), but I’ve kept the rest of Tegan’s parting words tucked away in the back of my mind, ever since the very first time I heard her say them more than thirty years ago.

Because, as good as this glorious new love I’d found seemed at the time, I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn’t blindly expect it to carry on forever. As wonderful as it would’ve been if it had—and believe me, after this many years, sometimes it actually does feel like it’s lasted forever—I had to face facts. I had to make sure I went into this thing pragmatically, with eyes wide open and with one very important statement as my mantra: if you stop enjoying it, give it up.

It’s stopped being fun, Doctor.

Pokémon-Go To Hell



Why is this internet meme the wrongest thing anyone ever misguidedly put together?

Because, as memes go, when the premise is so completely flawed it can only go downhill from there.

If this is meant to be the meme’s creator clarifying the situation, they’re clearly more out of touch than they realise.

So nobody bat an eye about people sitting on their asses for the past five years, obsessively crushing row after row of garishly bright computer-generated confectionary? Is that what you’re claiming? No, sir (or madam)! You are utterly WRONG! The Candy Crush Saga obsession was, in fact, universally lampooned by anyone with even half a brain.

Perhaps you didn’t notice because you were too busy SITTING ON YOUR ASS PLAYING CANDY CRUSH at the time!?

Explore their neighbourhoods“? “Meet new people“? Don’t make me laugh!

If, by “explore their neighbourhoods”, you mean hundreds of people obsessively descending, cult-like, on public parks and city streets, viewing the world that’s all around them via an image on their phone screen, in an effort to spot fictional cartoon characters that they can throw magic animated balls at—with scant regard for anything that’s actually happening in the real world, let’s be honest—then yeah, maybe you could say people are “exploring their neighbourhoods”.

And if, by “maybe even meet new people in the process”, you mean adopting pack-mentality, racing about while not watching where they’re going, walking into people, colliding with telegraph poles, light poles, traffic signs & buildings and stepping blindly into the path of bicycles, motorbikes, cars, buses and trams, whereby risking their own lives and the lives of others, then yeah, I guess you could say these ignorant fucking idiots do “meet new people” while playing this stupid fucking game.

Go ahead and tell yourself it’s all about getting outside and meeting people if it makes you feel better. Arguably, you’d be just as happy doing exactly the same thing while not having to go anywhere at all. Just like you did with Candy Crush!

Honestly—why oh why oh why is this happening? As if there aren’t enough phone-obsessed fucktards in the world already. Who the hell thought anything like this was even remotely necessary?

Ultimately it’s just another example of how the gap between child and adult gets ever-smaller with each passing technology fad. It’s tragic to see the number of grown adults that keep falling for this garbage. But I guess that’s just how it is these days.

Today’s parents increasingly listen to the same music as their kids, frequent the same social media platforms and, as a direct result, also end up using the same pop-culture buzzwords and phrases as their kids (“I was, like”… “I know, right”… “Whaaaaa?”… “Really?”). Hell, some parents today even dress like their kids, so is it really any wonder that they also develop the same obsessions as their kids for this phone-based time-wasting brain-rotting shit?

Has the notion of the generation gap entirely ceased to exist?

I’ll tell you this much: you know the world’s gone to hell in a hand basket when you find yourself longing for the return of a decent generation gap.

Holding Onto The Man…


[THIS POST DISCUSSES A BOOK AND CONTAINS SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS]

Over the course of a lifetime, we forget infinitely more than we remember. But some things stay with us forever and have an impact on us that we can never really explain. This is the story of one such thing: a book that’s been so dear to my heart for so long that it’s hard to know where the reverence ends and the obsession begins.

It was 1995 and the world was still a reasonably nice place. I was 21 and, ever the late adopter, I’d found myself in the throes of first love. My collection of comedy waistcoats was burgeoning, my passion for piano house music showed no signs of abating, I had a George Michael haircut and I’d just been overseas for the first time—life was good.

The previous year, I’d started a retail management traineeship and bought my first car, so I’d been feeling pretty lucky for a while. But 1994 was also the year that ended with my parents dragging me out of the closet that, until then, I’d never intended coming out of, so it’s fair to say that I needed the following year to be a bit special.

1994 was also the the year of the greatest number of AIDS diagnoses in Australia. These days people tend to think of the AIDS epidemic as a very 80s thing. But the number of AIDS diagnoses didn’t start to fall until the introduction of the first truly effective antiretroviral HIV therapy, which wasn’t available until 1995—thirteen years after the first local AIDS diagnosis and after a horrendous decade of misunderstanding, misinformation, fear, panic, no treatment, severe illness, so many deaths and a general sense of hysteria surrounding AIDS.

But I didn’t know much about any of that. At the time I didn’t have many gay friends, I didn’t spend much time in Sydney and I wasn’t into ‘the scene’ or a part of ‘the community’, so I was very much removed from the harsh reality of it all. I eked out a fairly narrow existence in Newcastle, where life seemed peachy-keen so long as I had my friends, the odd bottle of bubbly and a spot of clubbing every other weekend. Mine was the definition of the simple life.

Then, in July 1995, I snagged myself my first boyfriend. I’m certain my mother, who didn’t speak to me for several months after she’d evicted me from my closet, thought I’d conjured him up purely to spite her.

I’ve always been a writer, but rarely a reader. The BF was a reader. We’d only been together a few months when he introduced me to a recently published book he’d just read and suggested I should read it too. I don’t know how effective my poker face was, but I’m almost certain my inner monologue groaned and rolled its eyes at the prospect of me having to read an entire book. And at 300-odd pages, I’m sure I was daunted by what I would’ve considered at the time to be its War & Peace proportions.

I don’t recall exactly what his sales pitch was, but I remember the BF seemed genuinely moved by the story, which might’ve been all I needed to see. Whatever he said about Timothy Conigrave’s Holding The Man obviously convinced me to read it. And once I started, I couldn’t stop.

Saying that, I think I took the book home and did precisely nothing with it for a few days, a week, a month, or however long it was. Actually I think it was only about a week, but as far as I could tell it was just another memoir and far from the kind of thing I typically (if infrequently) read, so I was hardly champing at the bit to get started.

But thanks to the peculiar luxury of time afforded by an evenings and weekend work roster, once I finally did pick it up and start reading I almost literally didn’t put it down. In fact, I finished reading it the very next day. All 300-odd pages of it, done and dusted in two sittings.

“I guess the hardest thing is having so much love for you and it somehow not being returned. I develop crushes all the time, but that is just misdirected need for you. You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly.

Ci vedremo lassu, angelo.”

To say that I was a blubbering mess by the end of that last paragraph of the book after the first read would be one of the great understatements of the decade that was the 1990s. (By way of comparison, even when I discovered that I’d been booked for surgery on the day I had tickets to Kylie Minogue’s Intimate & Live concert three years later, I wasn’t left as emotionally destroyed as the ending of Holding The Man left me!).

Even now, every single time I read that block of words, I get that weird “I’m about to burst into tears” throat-lump / voice-strain / lip-quiver thing. Every single time. Without fail. I first read that sodding book four times, cover-to-cover, within the space of less than a month, 21 years ago! You’d think I would’ve acclimatised after so many readings and been kind of over it by now, right? But that’s not how Holding The Man works.

After that first read, I ended up sobbing in the foetal position, my head in the BF’s lap, while telling him how much I loved him and how much it would kill me if that ever happened to us, and how I couldn’t imagine how painful it would be to lose him in any way, but worse still if it was that way and how, if it was ever legal anywhere, I thought we should get married so that we could stay together forever and… oh dear. Love’s young dream—it does go on a bit, doesn’t it?

Of course, there was diminishing emotional turmoil with each subsequent read. The first time, I cried so hard for so long that I started kinda hiccuping—you know that thing that little kids do? I don’t know what it’s called. It probably has a name, but I’m sure you know the thing I mean.

On the second read, I only unravelled to the point of an uncontrolled-but-gradually-dissipating sob. It still got to me the third and fourth times, particularly those closing paragraphs, which are effectively the retelling of a letter the author wrote to his dead lover a year after his death.

The sense of loss was even more palpable by the fourth read because, by then, I was so familiar with the story and its characters that those last lines were far more poignant than they’d seemed the first three times I’d read them. But at least I only ended up going foetal once.

In short, Holding The Man had a profound effect on me. As silly as it probably sounds, it felt like I knew Tim Conigrave and John Caleo, the story’s resident star-cross’d lovers. It certainly gave me a clearer understanding of AIDS and how it had ravaged ‘my’ community over the previous decade, which was quite terrifying because as far as I knew at the time there was still no end to it on anyone’s radar.

Holding The Man is an emotional wrench and after each read, I felt utterly gutted. It was as if Tim & John had been personal friends of mine. I became… I don’t want to say “obsessed”, but it could well sound like something of an obsession. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the boys and their story.

By the time I first read Holding The Man, it was about a year since Tim’s death and just under four years since John’s. It was all so recent. It was all so real and so raw and so very, very sad. I had to do something. Something meaningful. I had to contact the families. I had to thank Mr & Mrs Conigrave and Mr & Mrs Caleo for their sons. I had to let them know that there were others in similar situations, people they didn’t know and who they’d most likely never meet, but for whom the love story of Tim and John meant more than words could adequately express.

But, of course, me being me, I certainly tried. I tried to use words to adequately express, as best I could, how thankful I was to them for both of their sons. And I posted both letters. I never heard anything back (not that I expected to). I don’t know if they were ever read, or even received. But I had to write them and I had to send them. It was almost a necessary post-book catharsis.

And the weirdest thing about all these weird things I’m saying is that it’s not just me. This book, Holding The Man, has had just as profound an effect on thousands of people since its 1995 publication, in largely similar ways. These are responses that people from all walks of life, all over the world, have reported experiencing.

According to Tim’s and John’s families, both of their graves are still being visited by far more people than they ever could’ve known in life. In a 2015 radio interview, Tim’s sister Anna and John’s mother Lois reported that they almost always discovered flowers, cards or letters whenever they visited the gravesites. Incidentally, I’ve never visited either of their graves (although, I acknowledge, I have thought about it) so, knowing that, I kinda feel a little less of a freak.

Since the first time I read the book, I’ve recalled the entire story, or portions of it, so vividly, so often. I didn’t need to wait for last year’s movie—I’ve had that screenplay in my head for 21 years. As someone who often struggles to remember what he did yesterday, it’s odd that this story still always seems so recent to me. Sometimes, I have to put the events of Holding The Man into the context of the day, just to jolt myself into re-acknowledging how long ago it really all was.

On the day that John died, for example—Australia Day 1992—I was just 17 years old. The first Big Day Out music festival was held at the Sydney Showground and it was only four years since the beginning of the nation’s year-long Bicentennary party. Bill Hayden was Governor-General, Paul Keating was a month into his Prime Ministership and the median house price in Sydney was $183,000. That week, the biggest news in TV was that Bert Newton had defected to Network Ten to host a new morning program, while on the charts Michael Jackson’s Black Or White had been replaced at #1 by Salt-N-Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex. “That’s what got us into this mess in the first place”, John had told Tim, shortly after their HIV+ diagnoses in 1985. Let’s talk about sex, indeed.

By comparison, the week that Tim died, in October 1994, was otherwise relatively uneventful. Hayden was still G-G, Keating was still PM and a house in Sydney still only cost $192,000. On TV, the pin was finally pulled on Network Ten’s short-lived revival of A Country Practice, while in music Kylie Minogue’s Confide In Me was dislodged from the #1 spot by Boyz II Men’s I’ll Make Love To You and the Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert soundtrack enjoyed its fourth week as our best-selling album. More parallels then, even if only tenuous and superficial.

It might seem flippant to bring the deaths of these two beautiful men down to the level of pop-culture events, but I have a very clear sense of all of those things having happened a very long time ago. I didn’t know Tim and John, however much it might sometimes feel as though I did, or I do. Sometimes, the connection with the characters and the story feels more real, more present, more current than it probably should. So sometimes, a pop-culture comparison is just something I need to do to maintain—or reinstate—a sense of distance and perspective where Holding The Man is concerned. Because it’s so easy to get tied up in knots about it. I need to maintain that distance and that perspective, in whatever silly ways I can, to make sure I’m reminded that, just as with Let’s Talk About Sex and Paul Keating and Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert, the whole thing really did happen a very long time ago.

Somewhere down the years, I’ve managed to mislay my copy of Holding The Man. I clearly recall what it looks like and I clearly remember seeing it in my bookshelf. I’m so intimately familiar with so many parts of the story, it’s as if I’d only read the book yesterday, yet I haven’t picked it up for years and, right now, I’ve absolutely no idea where it is. It certainly isn’t nestled neatly in my bookshelf with the many other far less-loved tomes that still reside there. If I said I didn’t find its apparent disappearance somewhat upsetting, I’d totally be lying.

Since 1995 it’s sometimes felt as if I lost close friends of my own when Tim and John died. Never mind the fact that I knew nothing of either of them until after they were both dead. But by all accounts, life after Holding The Man is rarely the same for anyone. It’s like experiencing a stand-alone, self-contained grieving process that exists parallel to, but completely separate from, your actual life. It’s just as real as any other grieving process, except it involves two people you never knew. And, like any other grieving process, it never goes away, it just changes shape.

Which sounds ridiculous, of course. And it is… isn’t it? I didn’t know these two guys. I didn’t know anyone associated with them. At heart, I’ve never been much into ‘the gay community’ or, for that matter, long-term relationships. Aside from the fact that they were gay and so am I—and possibly also the fact that Tim was apparently a bit loud and opinionated and could, at times, be pretty hard work for his nearest and dearest, not unlike myself—I don’t have anything at all in common with them.

So, as well as having utterly adored this beautiful story for more than twenty years, along with experiencing this weird-ass grief thing just from having read it, I’ve also spent two decades singularly failing to understand why this one story should’ve struck such a chord with me. And if whatever I’m left with as an after-effect is a version of grief, then what, exactly, am I grieving for? Them? Their loss? Their loved ones’ loss?

Or am I actually grieving for myself?

Am I really just stuck in a rut with this story, because it keeps showing me something I’d so dearly love to have, but which I’ve never managed to achieve with anyone—is that it? Am I actually looking inwards, grieving my own inadequacies and regrets and lost opportunities? I sincerely hope that’s not it. After so many years, having to acknowledge such an appalling degree of self-centredness, over and above a simple unadulterated love for a wonderful piece of literature, would be beyond disappointing!

I watched the film adaptation of Holding The Man for the first time last weekend. Not a smart move. I was nursing one of the greatest man-flus I’ve ever suffered through at the time. I could barely breathe and I was hacking up a lung at every unwanted opportunity. It’s never a good idea to watch the film version of the first book that ever made you cry under such conditions. Plus, I’ve watched virtually every scene of that movie in my head for 21 years, so this thing had a hell of a lot to live up to.

I approached my first viewing of the film with much the same trepidation I felt about seeing the stage play ten years ago. Back then, I decided it just wasn’t worth the public humiliation. However much a live production would inevitably strip from the book, if it was worth its salt—and I knew it would be—then it was always going to set me off. There was a very real risk of me ending up a blubbing mess in the middle of a theatre. More than once, just considering what the live performance might be like was enough to set me off, so it was a fate I wasn’t prepared to tempt.

I felt just as apprehensive about attending the premiere of the film last year. Once again I felt like some kind of traitor for staying away, as if I’d been unfaithful or something. It was like rubbing salt into the wound that I’d first created by not going to see the stage play. But whose wound? Was it the story’s wound? Or was I rubbing salt into my own wound, by showing such shocking disloyalty to a story I’d adored with such fervour for so long?

Thankfully, watching anything from the privacy of our own home allows a certain freedom to react and respond in ways we otherwise mightn’t when in public. In my case, those reactions and responses ranged from beaming smiles to the occasional knowing nod, from finishing some of the lines to an almost frenzied sobbing during the movie’s final minutes. Throughout, I also critiqued the production in terms of the many ways it varied from how it’s always looked in my head. John’s bed was on the other side of the ward, not that side; and the walls were pale blue; and the lighting was much lower; and Mary-Gert’s kitchen looked far more 70s than that… and so it went on.

I watched the movie three times in 24 hours. Then I bought the soundtrack album. The music makes me cry. I want to watch the movie again right now. Thinking about watching the movie again has me welling up. There’s too much cut out, but it’s perfect. It’s not sufficiently like the version in my head, but it’s every kind of magnificent. I’m obsessing about Holding The Man, all over again. And now, as if to prove it, I’m writing this!

When I was 21, I used to say that I wished I’d been born 15 or 20 years earlier, if only to’ve been around during the 70s and lived through the disco era. If I take nothing else from it, ever since I first read Holding The Man it’s always presented me with two stark truths: the first is that if I had been born 15 or 20 years earlier then, all other things being equal, I’d almost certainly have died of AIDS sometime during the 1980s; the second is that my generation was so lucky that it wasn’t born 15 or 20 years earlier, because it meant most of us were old enough to be acutely aware of what was going on, but young enough to avoid the same awful outcomes.

There’s a whole generation of gay Gen Ys and millennials who know virtually nothing of any of this. Medical advances are such that AIDS diagnoses haven’t been reportable since 2012 and, just last week, it was announced that the volume of them is now so small that AIDS is no longer considered a public health issue in this country. And HIV isn’t considered the death sentence it once was either, though who knows whether the younger generation actually understands why, or even what the difference is. They should all read or see Holding The Man.

I’m 42 now. My relationship with Holding The Man has lasted far longer than any relationship I’ve had with any actual man. It’s even lasted longer than the very love affair that spawned it. It’s such an important and real Australian story. In the end, I don’t really care if I get embroiled in it a little more deeply than might be considered healthy. It keeps me grounded. It reminds me that I’ve loved and been loved. It reminds me that I have far deeper emotions than I ever like to let on. And it keeps me reminded of what has been, what could’ve been and what could well be again.

I’m gonna keep holding onto this man for as long as I can.

Why does Australian politics suck so much?


Source: smh.com.au

Source: smh.com.au

Politics is a divisive topic—so much so that, along with religion and sex, it’s a member of the holy trinity of topics that ought not to be broached in polite conversation under any circumstances.

Political matters inspire passionate viewpoints and lots of black & white. It’s one way or the other, it’s our way or the highway, you’re with us or you’re against us. There’s no middle way with politics.

Those who are really into it (arguably not the majority of people) will defend the political process until they’re blue in the face. Bring it down to the level of party allegiances and you’ll trigger some of the most boring conversations you’ll ever have the misfortune of hearing. Introduce alcohol to the equation and there’s a very real risk of violence.

Forget the prospect of that orange twat with his spray-on hair becoming leader of the free world next January. Ignore all the Brexit bollocks. Today, Australian politics is on the lips and tips of everyone’s tongues and, right now, it quite possibly sucks more than it’s ever sucked before.

But why does Australian politics suck so very, very much when, to be fair, it’s probably not that different to politics anywhere else in the world? For all I know, politics may well suck massively everywhere. But our political landscape is the one I have an immediate view of and I think it sucks in pretty much every possible way.

And why?…

Self-serving arseholes: politicians say what they have to say to feather their nest and get the outcome they want for themselves. “Putting the people first”? They say stuff like that often enough during election campaigns, but how often ‘the people’ are ever actually put first is questionable.

For example, in what way were ‘the people’ ‘put first’ when their Prime Minister called an early election, gave it a name—”double dissolution”—that hardly anyone understands and followed the announcement with an interminably long campaign, all on the basis of an issue about which nobody gave a rat’s arse? Just another way our self-serving politicians can achieve outcomes they want (although it’s already looking unlikely that the outcome they wanted will be the outcome they get—how’s that for democracy?)

And in what way will ‘the people’ be ‘put first’ by the Government spending millions of dollars mounting a mandatory but non-binding plebiscite vote, to allow millions of Australians—most of whom aren’t interested in the topic, much less directly impacted by it—to decide whether certain people should be allowed to marry, solely on the basis of gender? Coz it’s not actually about sexuality, it’s about gender. The result of the marriage equality plebiscite will potentially exclude certain Australians from a right they would otherwise have, solely on the basis of the gender of the person they want to marry.

If anyone proposed a referendum or plebiscite today to exclude women—or indigenous people, or, for that matter, the elderly, redheads, the left-handed, tall people or people with different-coloured eyes—from the right to marry, they’d be universally howled down and rightly hounded to oblivion. But that’s the kind of outcome that the result of the “marriage equality” plebiscite will allow for. All it will do is allow our self-serving politicians to absolve themselves of all responsibility and claim ‘the people’ made the decision. And there’s nothing more reliable than allowing ‘the people’ to vote on divisive issues about which they know little and care even less, and without having considered the potential repercussions. Goodness knows, it’s an approach that’s working so well for the UK right now.

Source: the age.com.au

Source: the age.com.au

Obfuscation and lies: Obfuscate—a great word that’s sadly underutilised, meaning to obscure an issue so that it becomes unclear, or unintelligible.

History tells us that, during election campaigns—the only time they actually need us to believe what they say—our politicians lie. Or, at very least, they obfuscate to the point where ‘the people’ extract a categorical ‘promise’ from long, complex statements in which no such categorical ‘promise’ was actually made, but from which the ‘promise’, as interpreted by ‘the people’, was clearly the intended message. Of course, this assumes ‘the people’ could understand what they were being told in the first place.

Our politicians do this on all sorts of topics, giving all manner of hand-on-heart guarantees on which they later backflip. There’s nothing wrong with changing positions on something, per se. But our politicians have a tendency to change their position on issues about which they’ve previously made (what sounded like) rock-solid promises with grating regularity. If you found yourself thinking ‘the Prime Minister doth protesteth too much’, after his recent categorical assurances that “every aspect of Medicare that is delivered by Government today will continue to be delivered by Government in the future, full stop”, it’s because we’ve heard it all before.

In July 2010, two weeks after carjacking the Prime Ministership and only days before the federal election, Julia Gillard repeated her categorical statement that “there will be no Carbon Tax under the Government I lead. What we will do is we will tackle the challenge of climate change”. Seven months later, under the Government she led, Prime Minister Gillard unveiled her Carbon Tax plan. Challenge well-and-truly tackled, then.

And who can forget John Howard’s pledge, ten months before the 1996 federal election, to “never ever” introduce a Goods & Services Tax? As far as ‘the people’ were concerned, there was no question of what he was saying, although he was actually candid about why he said it—in short, the GST had lost the Liberal party the 1993 election, so there was no way it could possibly be an element of the ’96 campaign… but who knew what might happen in future years? He actually posed that question himself. Despite the eternal certainty implied by “never ever”, he was really only talking about “never ever” discussing it as Coalition policy during the 1996 campaign and it only applied for as long as Howard required Australians to remember it, before they voted Liberal on 2 March 1996; his victory at that election has long been described as a “landslide”. Less than 18 months later, in August 1997, Prime Minister Howard unveiled the plan to introduce a GST on 1 July 2000. 16 months later, Howard was re-elected at the November 2001 federal election, as if the lie that nobody has forgotten, didn’t matter matter to anyone even that soon afterwards.

It doesn’t matter if a politician uses other words, later in any given statement, that negate the ‘promise’ that ‘the people’ clearly heard. The ‘promise’ will have been the key message and its interpretation by ‘the people’ as such will have been the only reason for making the statement in the first place. Semantics can be argued back and forth until the proverbial cows come home, but ultimately its the whole looks/sounds/walks=duck thing: a statement, purposely made, in the knowledge that it will mislead the majority of people who hear it, in order to appeal to their fears, beliefs or core values and to thusly attract their vote on election day, is a lie.

Even if they don’t lie, our politicians obfuscate with tedious regularity. They answer questions with questions. They dodge some questions altogether and provide no answers at all. They respond to other questions, particularly those about their own party and its policies and performance, by talking about the opposition party’s policies and performance. And they generally obscure issues to the point where they become so unclear, or unintelligible that it’s impossible for ‘the people’ to understand a word they’re saying.

How have so many ostensibly intelligent politicians not realised that, without clarity, ‘the people’ resort to protest votes? The more protest votes that are received, the less truly valid the results of any election. While a ‘hung parliament’ probably sounds like a dream-come-true for some, it’s not the outcome ‘the people’ need from a federal election, because all it means is that everyone will block everything at every step and nothing will ever happen. A bit of clarity and a dash of differentiation is potentially all it would’ve taken to avoid the outcome we’re currently staring down the barrel of.

Our illustrious federal treasurer clarified matters perfectly in May, when he said, “We say what we mean, we mean what we say, we do what we say we’d do in the way we say we’d do it”…. Even if you could decipher that statement, it’s still a garbled mess that represents, so very well, the way many of our politicians choose to obfuscate—even, ironically, when trying to say that they don’t.

Source: au.news.yahoo.com

Source: au.news.yahoo.com

Leadership merry-go-round: had the Australian Labor Party won yesterday’s federal election (the real outcome of which remains to be seen, although a Labor win doesn’t seem likely at this stage), it would’ve seen Bill Shorten—a man who can’t even pronounce the name of his own country correctly—installed as Australia’s sixth Prime Minister in six years.

No first world nation should tolerate a political system that allows parties to install and remove leaders at will.

Fact 1: it’s a legal requirement of our democracy for me to vote for a party, ostensibly for the talking head representing that party.

Fact 2: I can be fined for not voting.

Proposition: political parties should be subject to fines, if they replace the party leader without giving ‘the people’ the opportunity to vote for that change.

I don’t care if a political party feels its fortunes are sinking with the current leader at the helm—that’s my call. I’m ‘the people’ who are always ‘put first’, remember? That colleague who they’re about to knife in the back is potentially the name that my vote for their party was entirely hinged on at the last election. If the party’s worried about its leader causing the party to become less popular with ‘the people’, how can the party possibly decide who the replacement leader should be without again consulting ‘the people’? If it’s the opinion of ‘the people’ that allegedly triggered the party’s concern, it doesn’t make sense that any new leader should be installed without first asking ‘the people’ which politician that should be.

Australians’ broad understanding—rightly or wrongly—is that we vote for a political party that will be led, for the duration of the term, by the person named throughout the campaign as Leader of that party, not for a political party that will be led by the person named throughout the campaign as Leader of that party, either for the duration of the next term, or until such time as the party installs any other Leader of their choosing, at any time after coming to power. That’s just not how it’s meant to go—not in the minds of ‘the people’, anyway.

The past six years have been among the most unstable in Australian political history. There’s enough instability in the world as it is, without our politicians chaotically tossing local instability into the mix as well.

Source: smh.com.au

Source: smh.com.au

He said/she said carbon copies: Can anyone really tell the difference between the Labor party and the Liberal National coalition any more? What does one stand for that the other one doesn’t? Does either party have a position on anything that’s substantially different to the other? And why can’t any of them ever tell ‘the people’ anything about their own party’s position on any given issue without sledging the opposition?

Why can’t they come up with something that isn’t just a response to something the opposition said? Something original. Something unique.

I don’t care what any of them think of the opposition’s policy on anything. That’s why they’re opposing parties and, presumably, why the one I’m listening to is with this party and not that party. I don’t expect them to have the same policies and I don’t expect them to agree with each other. I expect them to tell me—in plain language that’s free from buzzwords, catchphrases and slogans and which makes sense to me as one of ‘the people’ who they always ‘put first’—exactly why voting for them will mean a better outcome for me.

If they weren’t such carbon copies of each other, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time clarifying the very fine lines that separate their policies.

Scripts are for actors: there’s so much political spin doctoring these days that our politicians rarely utter an unscripted word. And when they do, it’s often so embarrassing that a career-damaging crisis seems almost inevitable.

Is it really a surprise that our politicians are so often accused of being ‘out of touch’, when every single thing we ever hear them say sounds, at best, like a scripted speech and, at worst, like a spin doctor’s wankfest?

Even when they’re apologising for being a brain-dead idiot who should’ve either a) known more about the topic they chose to comment on, or b) declined to respond to a question on a topic they patently know nothing about, they still sound like they’re reading from a cue card.

‘The people’ have become so accustomed to this behaviour that whenever a politician says what they actually believe, in their own words and using their own voice, they’re often accused of being bigoted, simple, uncultured, or too ‘ocker’ to take seriously. ‘The people’ can’t get it right. But, then, I supposed we’ve learned from the best.

Source: anarchei.me

Source: anarchei.me

There’s really only one element of the political process in this country that I’m a fan of: that voting is compulsory. If nothing else, it at least means that Google searches of “where can I vote?” were far more likely to be trending across Australia yesterday than Google searches for “what happens if the prime minister doesn’t win?” and demands for a second election from those who don’t like the outcome.

Compulsory voting removes the validity of protests about the result from those who didn’t vote. Frankly, if you didn’t bother to vote because you were too bored, too hungover, too apathetic or too busy checking Facebook, I couldn’t care less what you think. You don’t deserve a voice and your viewpoint is irrelevant, because you knowingly gave up a democratic right that so many people in so many other countries don’t even have the option of exercising.

Even given everything else I’ve said here, regardless of whether or not I can put my hand on my heart and say that my vote definitely makes a difference, I’d rather live in a democracy where I’m required to vote, whether I care to or not, than in one in which I can choose not to.

In the end, though, just as a lie is a lie is a lie, politics is politics is politics – and it still sucks.

‘Brexit’? You gotta be fkidding!?


With Scexit still an event from the recent past (and, perhaps, now also one in the near future), it seems the great and the good of 21st century made-up language thought it was time for another silly new combo-word.

But this post is far more than just another story about the earth-shattering, Union-changing events of last week. This is far more important than counting the number of self-serving politicians who convinced more than half the population of Britain—mostly, it must be said, the half who have the least number of years left to survive the outcome—to believe their lies and their scare-mongering. This is more important than all of that—this is all about language.

Specifically, this is about the word ‘portmanteau’. Assuming you’ve even heard it before, there’s a good chance you don’t know what it means. So here’s a brief tutorial:

Firstly and importantly, two things a portmanteau isn’t: a contraction or a compound word. With portmanteaus, we’re talking about something else altogether, so if either a contraction or a compound word sprang to mind, forget them now.

It’s all a tad complex but, in a nutshell, a portmanteau is a new word formed from elements of two otherwise unrelated words. Typically, new portmanteaus begin life as tongue-in-cheek colloquialisms. Some of them fall into common-enough use to be formally sanctioned as new words.

It’s thanks to Lewis Carol’s 1871 sequel to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland that we have the current (and second) Anglicized meaning of the French word ‘portmanteau’.

In Through The Looking-Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice that words like slithy and mimsy, which she’d seen in a poem, are “like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word”.

If you’re wondering “WTF does that even mean?” right now, that’s because Mr. Dumpty’s explanation only makes sense in the context of the day, when the first Anglicized use of portmanteau was to describe a suitcase that opened into two halves.

Despite being armed with all those fascinating facts, it’s still odds-on that you couldn’t even begin to guesstimate the ginormous number of portmanteaus you almost certainly hear and use every day without knowing.

For example, some of today’s most commonly used portmanteaus include because, smoggoodbye, fortnight and brunch. And there are countless others.

While some clearly look like two blended words—e.g., dumbfound, outpatient, paratroop or simulcast—there are plenty of others that aren’t so obvious—smash, squiggle, cellophane, hassle.

Chortle, from the same Lewis Carol novel as slithy and mimsy, is the lovechild of chuckle and snort. And the nation of Tanzania was born when Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged in the 1960s.

The UK’s Oxford and Cambridge universities have long been collectively referenced as Oxbridge; spoon-like forks (or fork-like spoons) called sporks have been around for a hundred years or more ; and blended dog breeds are almost always known by chortle-inducing portmanteaus, including gems like labradoodle, cockapoo and puggle.

Portmanteaus have always been popular in entertainment, too—they’ve given us sitcoms and Britcoms, mockumentaries and rockumentaries, romcomsdramedies and biopics (the latter of which, oft-mispronounced, is actually pronounced as bio + pic, not bi + opic – WTF is an “opic” anyway and why would anyone ever think that was the right way to say it?!).

The term Califiornication was first used thirty years before the Red Hot Chili Peppers decided it was a good name for their 1999 album; and SciFi geeks the world over are well-acquainted with cosplay and fanzines.

The 1960s was the decade of The Beatles; in the 70s, Jim Henson made his mark with The Muppets; throughout the 1980s we signed on to Medicare and used Telecom to communicate, sometimes via telex or intercom, while Telethons were an effective combination of TV and charity fundraising. And by the mid-90s, half the world was obsessed with Britpop.

Disabled athletes take part in the Paralympics; whilst there, they likely hear some Spanglish, Chinglish and Franglais and use their camcorders to capture video footage of the goings-on around them.

Today we eat broccoflowers and cronuts and drink alcopops, mocktails and frappuccinos; and anyone with a penchant for retail therapy is generally known as a shopaholic.

Our Highway Patrol officers ask us to blow into a breathalyzer and, when we’re on holiday, we might take a train from the UK to France through the Chunnel or stay in a motel.

In short, all those words are portmanteaus.

The English language is both comparatively complex and sloppily bastardised. It’s the first, second or foreign tongue of more than a billion people, many of whom either don’t understand how to use it correctly, or couldn’t care less one way or the other. At the same time, we’ve reached a curious juxtaposition in our social and cultural development.

On one hand, people spend endless hours every week inanely swiping through photos of other people’s food, drink and travels and reading statements from ‘friends’, some of whom they barely know, about what they’re doing or where they are.

On the other hand, everyone’s allegedly so hyper-busy, with decreasing attention spans pitted against a compulsion to constantly broadcast where they are, where they’re going or where they’ve been, that they not only eschew the use of complete words, they now avoid using two words (or even two syllables) if there’s a chance to combine them into one—however nonsensical the outcome may be.

Over the past decade or so, society has become obsessed with finding ways to type, read and speak with ever-increasing brevity. Result: portmanteaus are more plentiful and far sillier than ever before.

Instead of creating words that add actual value to the language or bring real benefit to those who use them, nowadays we have a humongous list of portmanteaus that revolve around superficial topics with little meaning or substance, or that were created for ‘one-time use’, or intended primarily for text messaging and social media.

In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, where everything needs to be broken down to an attention-grabbing sensationalized headline, nothing is sacred where tacky portmanteaus are concerned and they’re applied to virtually everything.

Celebrity couples have been reduced to portmanteaus: Bennifer, Brangelina and TomKat; the entertainment industry also generated the now ubiquitous infomercialadvertorial and infotainment.

 

The original explanation | Image source: https://en.wikisource.org

The original explanation | Image source: https://en.wikisource.org

Technology is no doubt the source of many of the 21st century’s most commonly used portmanteaus – email, internet, modem, emoticon, webinar, bit, blog, vlog, cybrarian, freeware, malware, pixel, netiquette and podcast—I wonder if anyone today even remembers that podcast was derived from iPod + broadcast? A screenager is apparently a teenager who is inordinately attached to screen-based activities (a modern portmanteau which surely could be applied to teenagers going back countless decades). A netocracy describes some kind of elite demographic within the online world—and goodness knows there have always been enough of those within virtually every online community. Meanwhile, pharming and phishing have their etymology in a term coined during the 1970s which referred to much the same thing, involving telecom technologies of the day.

Some portmanteaus serve to simplify a concept, like many of the technology-sourced word blends. Others seem to exist solely to remove additional syllables and save a matter of seconds when speaking or writing. Still others are just nonsense words that are born of laziness and serving little purpose.

For example, any kid of an age between childhood and adolescence is a tween—although where exactly the line is drawn between child, tween and teenager has never been clearly defined, meaning that tween can never provide absolute clarity in any context.

Chillax is a favourite way for the cool kids of all ages to describe the act of chilling out or relaxing—it’s not clear in what way ‘chill out’ or ‘relax’ were felt to be lacking as they were but, some time in the not-too-distant past, someone obviously felt our language would benefit from morphing the two words into one word of identical syllabic construct.

And as heterosexual city-dwelling men became narcissistically concerned with their appearance in increasing numbers, so we were blessed with the metrosexual—while it’s meaning is broadly understood, it’s hardly a concept that needed a definition, much less a nonsense tag attached to it.

Brexit is just the latest in a long line of nonsense tags. Despite its limited application, in that it applies only to last week’s UK referendum and related activities, every time it’s used it’s almost invariably accompanied by the broader description of the British exit from the European Union. Like a pointless acronym that always needs to be followed by the words from which it derives just to ensure that it’s understood, so any portmanteau that requires the broader context of the word to be discussed every time the word itself is used effectively serves no purpose.

“But hang on!”, I hear you cry, harking back to the first line of this post. “I never heard anyone refer to the September 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum as Scexit!”. Well, maybe you didn’t. And maybe they didn’t. But why not, I wonder? How come the brains behind Brexit never thought of Scexit first? Maybe they should’ve called it Scinderendum? That’s a portmanteau too, and it would’ve worked just as well (and is certainly just as silly) as Brexit.

The English language is littered with portmanteaus. I have nothing against them—good, strong portmanteaus that serves a purpose and bring some efficiency to the written or spoken word can be a wonderful thing.

But Brexit? You gotta be fkidding!

Drunk People Are Really Annoying


There – I’ve said it! Anyone surprised? I’m guessing not. Of all the things I might’ve been expected to say since reuniting with sobriety 133 days ago, I imagine the only surprising thing about “drunk people are really annoying” is that it’s taken me this long to make the claim.

After all, there’s nothing like a reformed borderline-functioning alcoholic getting all sanctimonious and preachy.

Last night, I headed out to the Hordern Pavilion with about 5,000 other tragics, breathless with anticipation for Boy George & Culture Club’s first Sydney show in 16 years.

As nights out go, it was a match made in heaven: I’ve loved Culture Club since I was 11 and the Hordern Pavilion is among my favourite live performance venues… or is it? It only just occurred to me that every other time I’ve been there either I’ve already been well on my way to being stonkingly drunk, or I’ve been buzzing from the high of just having played the Hordern stage myself. Last night was the first time I’ve ever been there while in full command of my faculties (such that they are). What could this mean for the old hall’s place in my affections, I wonder?

So, that’s now three sober gigs down and I’m still noticing – and loving – that this whole ‘being present’ thing makes for a completely different experience.

I’m actually watching the shows. I’m taking in every aspect of the stage with clearer eyes. My appreciation of every single element of the performance and the musicality is off the scale compared to before. I’m listening to the artists speak and hearing what they have to say with different ears. And better still, I have a clarity of recollection that I’ve never consciously experienced before. The differences are, truly, quite breathtaking when I think about it.

I also woke up this morning curiously free of the former staples of my morning-after-gig experience: no headache, no mystery injuries, no nausea, only my existing vision impairment and in full voice.

concert-smartphoneAlso, my phone wasn’t full to its storage capacity with thousands of poor quality photos and hours of grainy video footage that I’ll never look at again. Wonders will never cease.

But what of my fellow punters? The good and the great (and the rest) of Culture Club fandom? What can I say about them without being utterly insulting? Not much, probably. I may have been 19 weeks without the influence of the devil’s brew, but I’ve never claimed that I’m becoming a nicer person for it*.

For starters, never in my life have I seen so many appallingly drunk 40- and 50-something-year-old women in one place. Falling down stairs, streamers of toilet paper trailing from shoes and tucked into slacks and frocks, trails of vomit leading to the ladies bathroom, black eyes, cat fights and fisticuffs – and I thought today’s young folk were as bad as it got! Not even close, apparently – and it’s now clear who they learned it from.

Some further observations from my evening of culture, starting with the original:

  • drunk people are really annoying;
  • drunk people shout a lot;
  • drunk queens scream a lot and become increasingly camp and catty, bitchy and offensive towards everyone and everything every time they open their mouths;
  • drunk people are really unrhythmic – particularly when they’re trying to be rhythmic. Is it because standing still is so difficult that they think bouncing from side to side is a better option? And then they try to coördinate it with clapping, or singing, or drinking beer out of the plastic cup that’s somewhere in front of them (or down the back of the other drunk person who just fell into them)… oh dear;
  • funny-drunk-people-dance-picturesdrunk 40-something-year-old ladies who go to gigs with their equally drunk girlfriends of a similar age:
    • a) spend more time mouthing – or, worse, badly singing – the words to each other than they do watching the artist who’s actually performing the songs right there on the stage in front of them;
      and
    • b) all have exactly the same moves: 1) the hand (generally the right) in the air with index finger extended; 2) the fingers-across-the-eyes thing every time the words “see”, “look”, “watch” or “eyes” crop up; 3) the “no no no” naughty fingers (typically one hand, but occasionally both for emphasis) whenever words like “no”, “not” or “never” are used in a vaguely defiant way; 4) pointing at themselves and each other (or anyone else in the vicinity) each time they mouth the words “I”, “you”, “me”, “yours” or “mine”;
  • drunk people – especially short ones – have no qualms about blocking the view of others by shoving their phones up in the air to film what they presumably can’t see properly from their own vertically challenged vantage point. And quite right too. I’ve had a largely unobstructed view all night, why should I complain? Pfft!;
  • drunk people are obsessed with photographing and filming at concerts. They spend more time turning their cameras on and off and monitoring to ensure they’re actually capturing something than they do just watching the Ultra-HD 3D display that’s happening right there in front of them. At one point last night, there were so many phones obstructing my view that, for a few minutes at least, the only way I could see the on-stage proceedings was through their screens. What’s not to love about that?;
  • after the initial excitement-laden surge forward, as the set progressed I was shocked to realise that drunk people actually move away from the stage. They’re no doubt unaware of their rearwards migration, but I can certainly attest to a south-easterly shift away from our on-stage idol last night. No one else seemed to notice or care. I’d love to see time-lapse footage from above: hoards of drunken concertgoers shuffling around like landmasses pulling away from an ancient super-continent;
  • young folk today have more money than they know what to do with. Example: the 20-something couple standing next to me who literally jumped for joy when Boy George introduced Culture Club’s two Australian #1 hits, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me and Karma Chameleon, filming each song from start to finish and then working some unfathomable jiggery-pokery to send each video hurtling off into the ether somewhere. “They’re posted!”, said he, beaming as if he could just about pop with excitement. “oh em gee, yay!”, said she, doing a little clapping happy dance on the spot. Yet both of them seemed utterly oblivious to every single other song in the set. If they won the tickets, I could maybe understand it, but even I questioned whether the price of a VIP stagefront ticket was excessive – and I knew all the songs and remembered them from when they were new! Or is that just how young folk roll these days – have money, will spend?

But I think the greatest revelation for me last night was that drunk people just don’t know (or remember) how good they’ve got it. For four hours, I variously stood, paced or cycled my too-cool-for-school restrained sober bouncing from left knee, to right knee, to both knees. Four hours on a cement slab. By the end, I’d just about hit the wall as pain thresholds go and I knew that, if I didn’t sit down soon, either my aching feet, my aching knees or my aching back would very shortly give up the ghost. Happily, it was at that point that I also recalled the ‘slippery slope’ comment a friend made in the lead-up to my fortieth birthday two years ago and I suddenly felt quite old. Oddly enough, I was never troubled by these discomforts – or that thought – while drunk. Funny, that.

I want to believe I was never like any of what I’ve just observed. To my shame, I know with almost 100% certainty that I must’ve been – frequently. For example, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get picked up off the floor by the scruff of the neck and chucked out of Kinsela’s by a lesbian bouncer in 1997 for no reason. Maybe I should just drop the pretence and get back on it – what’s the worst that can happen? On the other hand, there’s still so much fun to be had with equal measures of sobriety, faux-piousness and sarcasm.

The-Hordern-Pavilion-970x260As for the Hordern being a favourite live venue – upon further consideration, not so much. I think I love the history of the place, more than anything else. As a performance space with a capacity of five thousand people, it doesn’t have enough points of entry and egress, its bar area isn’t nearly large enough for the hoards of punters lined up there between sets, the around-the-block queue to get in was just absurd and it took nearly 40 minutes to escape from the multi-story car park. Combine all of this with the fact that, as with many Sydney venues, options for getting there via public transport are woeful at best and it’s fair to say that the sober experience of the Hordern Pavilion was an eye-opening one on multiple levels.

There’s really only one outcome of the evening that didn’t entirely surprise me: drunk people are really annoying.

 

* OK, yes Fiona, I know I did actually make that claim last night, but if you don’t recall the conversation there’s no proof.

Losing The Euro From The Vision


Australia’s Dami Im: 2016 Eurovision Song Contest runner-up | Source: Getty Images

Dami Im represented Australia magnificently in the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Sound Of Silence led the pack right up until it was pipped at the post in the final seconds of the nail-biting vote tally. But Dami Im and her ‘Dami Army’ should be nothing less than proud of how well she represented her country. Achieving a podium position on only our second attempt at the competition was an incredible outcome and a fitting reward for such an impressive performance.

But now, can it all just go back to normal, please?

Eurovision is an institution with more than 60 years’ history behind it. For at least thirty of those years, it’s delivered some of SBS’s largest annual viewing figures. They may not be anywhere near as large as the audiences for key cultural events such as the grand finals of the NRL, AFL or MasterChef, but Eurovision’s always had an extremely loyal band of Australian fans.

In recent years there’s been a slew of local Eurovision converts, due chiefly to Australia’s participation in the contest with artists who were already locally successful in their own rights. Exhibit A: ratings for last Sunday’s live telecast from 5am averaged 302,000 viewers across the four hour broadcast. By the time the final votes were being revealed around 9am, that number had risen to 527,000. Arguably, most of the 220,000 additional viewers had only tuned in to see Dami Im’s result.

It’s also been amusing to note the reaction to 2016’s winning song 1944, by Ukrainian songstress Jamala – mostly, it must be said, from more recent recruits to the Eurovision cause, who probably aren’t interested in the broader concept and know little (if anything) of its history. But why shouldn’t a distinctly European song with a distinctly European back story win a distinctly European song contest, anyway? It’s hard to fathom how such an outcome could’ve been surprising to anyone, particularly those with limited, if any, knowledge of the contest’s recent history.

Ukraine's Jamala: 2016 Eurovision Song Contest winner Image source: www.telegraph.co.uk

Ukraine’s Jamala: 2016 Eurovision Song Contest winner | Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

In contrast, Dami Im’s ode to lost (or, at least, absent) love sounds not dissimilar to anything else you’d hear in today’s Top 40. While Sound Of Silence will probably début at #1 in Australia this week, I’m not likely to hear 1944 on local radio any time soon, much less meet anyone who knows that Crimean Tatar (the language in which part of 1944 is sung) isn’t some kind of olden-days military dental condition.

But Eurovision virgins who weren’t exactly taken with this year’s winner may be surprised to learn that, as recently as 2007, Eurovision’s winning song was by a Serbian lesbian called Marija Šerifović — apparently she didn’t come out until 2013, but the clues were there — whose song, Molitva, had a distinctly uncommercial sound and an entirely Serbian lyric. Imagine that! A”song for Europe” that a statistically significant number of Europeans presumably didn’t understand a single word of, performed by someone who a statistically significant number of Europeans likely couldn’t entirely identify with either. Who woulda thunk it?

Eurovision2007_Marija

Marija Šerifović of Serbia: 2007 Eurovision Song Contest winner | Source: YouTube

Many of the newer members of Eurovision’s local audience will have endured – or, more likely, willingly consumed – a 15 year diet of PopStars, Australian Idol, The X-Factor, Australia’s Got Talent and The Voice. How silly the Eurovision concept must seem to them – two two(ish)-hour semi-finals and one four(ish)-hour finale, with a combination of jury voting from more than forty countries and a comparatively tiny window of opportunity for a public “televote”, followed by what often feels like hours dedicated to the verbal and visual tallying of said votes, accompanied by some eye-wateringly awkward satellite delays. And all of this over just three days, once a year.

But Eurovision is changing. This year saw the introduction of a new vote-tallying format, which certainly worked well in building tension and anticipation in the lead-up to announcing the winner. It wasn’t all that far removed from similar contrived tension-building exercises that, today, are the mainstay of all reality television, not least of which the likes of X-Factor and The Voice. But that’s not the end of it.

In recent years, not only has there been a steadily declining cheese-factor as a general rule but, arguably, the first steps in what must be seen as the inevitable globalization of Eurovision are afoot. Certainly, performances are more polished these days than ever before. Once upon a time, there was no guarantee that Eurovision participants could even sing; today, it’s almost inconceivable that anyone lacking vocal competence would get anywhere near a semi-final, let alone the main event. Without doubt, the injection of local culture into each entry – particularly songs from transcontinental and eastern European countries – has also been watered down.

In fact the overall sound of a Eurovision song has changed immeasurably—not so long ago, it was impossible to imagine most songs from any given Eurovision final ever being played on Australian radio; this year, I could count on one hand the number of songs that likely wouldn’t be. The hilariously awkward broken English of most countries’ jury spokespersons has been replaced, in most cases, by a near perfect ability to conduct a completely fluent and (mostly) grammatically correct conversation with the host. Hell, even the French now deign to include English in their lyrics, something that would’ve been unthinkable until very recently.

Two years ago Australia made a “special guest appearance” at Eurovision, as the half-time entertainment for the 2014 final. We can thank our “special relationship” with Europe and the European Broadcasting Union (Eurovision’s producers) for that one-off guest appearance becoming a one-off participation in 2015, thence a permanent fixture from 2016 onwards. This year it was the turn of that other bastion of European settlement, the United States, to front up for the only remaining active service it had yet to engage in. How long, I wonder, until the announcement that they too will be sending an entry along to Ukraine next year? Much was also made of this year’s first ever live broadcast into China – perhaps they’ll be joining us at Europe’s biggest annual party sooner, rather than later, as well?

Let’s not debate the current and former competing countries who’ve already given the definition of “Europe” a gentle prod, if not an outright challenge. Fact is, Australia is so far from Europe that what we believe to be reasonable travel time to get there would be considered by most Europeans to be an unacceptably long journey to get anywhere. Keep in mind that it takes the same time to fly from Brisbane to Perth as it takes to fly from London, over the English Channel, across a handful of countries, out the other side of the European continent and halfway across the Middle East. In short, it’s hard to fault their viewpoint.

Voting during the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest | Source: YouTube

It’s just as hard to challenge the viewpoint that Australia’s involved as a permanent participant in Eurovision is a bit silly. Just as it would be for the USA, or China, or anywhere else that’s nowhere near Europe. Sure, the EBU’s participation rules are suitably vague when it comes to clearly defining who can and can’t be involved. Basically, if you’re in Europe, transcontinental or somewhere reasonably close, or just a friend (read “financial member”) of the EBU and you’re willing to stump up for the (presumably) not insignificant cost of mounting an entry, you’re in!

Over the years there’ve been many countries who either don’t take part in Eurovision at all or who do take part but eventually pull out, countries who don’t want to win, or winning countries who pull out of hosting Eurovision, because they simply can’t afford to mount an entry or fund the glittering ceremony. God knows how Greece still manages to take part, let alone what they’d do if they actually won any time soon. Then again, both Spain and Italy are among the “big five” in terms of financial support of the EBU, despite both having been in the grip of severe austerity measures for some years after the GFC. So apparently Eurovision trumps all else—financial crises included.

With TV singing competitions now ubiquitous, and some actual European nations unable to afford to take part in Eurovision, it seems an awful shame to me that the wheels of progress are whittling away at the very European-ness of this grand old dame of continent-wide song contests. The world as we know it has already been homogenised to within an inch of its life. Whether we know it or not, globalisation has touched every aspect of our lives and now, before our very eyes, my fear is that we’re seeing everything that was unique about Eurovision being stripped away.

That’s really quite sad.

Taking Southern Liberties


hb1523Imagine this: you’re in the southern US states of North Carolina or Mississippi. You’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or inter-sex. And, for whatever reason, this is known or otherwise apparent to a business person or service provider, who can now legally decline to provide certain services to you solely on the grounds of your sexuality.

You can just imagine how that went down in today’s overtly left-wing world but, for a change, the furore has been entirely warranted.

The bills just passed into law (House Bill 2 in North Carolina and House Bill 1523 in Mississippi) seek to protect the so-called “religious liberty” of those who cannot, in all good conscience, bring themselves to provide certain services to you, due to their “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

The somewhat tit-for-tat argument of some conservatives is, broadly, that forcing the God-fearing folk of the American south to recognize, interact with or otherwise tolerate gay and lesbian people as equals in every respect is just as discriminatory as the rights and protections that the bills seek to prevent LGBTI people from accessing.

Let’s not even waste time on the semantics of what these bills do and don’t provide for. Let’s simply ask the only pertinent question here: in 2016, in a democratic western society – and not just any old democratic western society, mind you! – how on earth is this even happening?

Coz here’s what it boils down to: they believe that it’s not OK for me to be myself and to live a good, healthy, happy life, with all the same rights and protections as them. So far, I’m not entirely sure how I’m supposed to have discriminated against them.

Additionally, they believe that it is OK for them to decide not to provide goods and services to me due entirely to an element of my being that I neither chose nor learned, but which also doesn’t hurt anyone and which is absolutely nothing to do with them in any way, but which they choose to disagree with thanks to religious teachings from a book written two thousand years ago. Again, I’m not clear exactly where I discriminate against them in that equation.

I do understand that they don’t subscribe to aspects of my lifestyle or the things I find important. Snap! I don’t especially care for some of the things they believe either, particularly the thing about me somehow being a lesser person who needs to change the way I naturally am to become something they’re more ready to accept.

But more than that, I don’t actually care what they believe. I don’t care who they marry. I don’t care what way they swing. I sure as hell don’t care who they have sex with. And besides all that, I’d never allow knowledge of any of those things to change what I thought of them or how I interacted with them.

But them – they just can’t get enough! They just can’t stop thinking about stuff that should never concern them.

Coz I think of them as people who are free to live their own lives and believe whatever they wanna believe. I don’t care about their private lives. Whatever they get up to, they just need to make sure that their beliefs don’t lead them to behave in a way which is 100% discriminatory towards me or anyone else. Why can’t they do that? Why can’t they just think of me as a fellow human being? It’s not asking that much, is it?

And they might also want to ensure they have all their ducks in a row when it comes to their own adherence (or not) to the teachings of the ‘good book’. For example, I’m pretty sure it says something about treating others the way they’d like to be treated themselves. Since they’re clearly so steadfastly adhering to that book’s teachings, I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be discriminated against in the way that they’re presently discriminating against us.

I can hear their protests even now. “But the bible tells me this is the right thing to do”. Well, that bible also tells you to put your neighbour’s eye out if he puts out yours (Exodus 21:24) and not to wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19), but I’m pretty sure – or, at least, very hopeful – that you don’t subscribe to either of those instructions.

Just as you clearly don’t seem to observe the words of Matthew 6:1 – “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven”. Whoops! Looks like your God also forbade you from doing precisely what you’re doing. Seems wearing your piousness on your sleeves actually isn’t what your supposed to do at all – which, of course, anyone who so slavishly adheres to the bible’s teachings would already know.

But wait, there’s more! The said Father in heaven also instructed you not to fight being sued, to turn the other cheek, to give to those who ask of you, to not judge and to love your enemy.

You can’t have it both ways.

So here’s an idea: how about you turn your minds away from our bedrooms and our private lives and stop thinking about us in terms of sex acts and, instead, try just thinking of us as people.

You know – the same way I think of you.

…Who’s Anyone Else To Critique Your Facebook Life, Anyway?


Facebook_F_White-on-BlueSeriously – who is anyone else to go making any kind of comment or assessment regarding the relative value, quality or relevance of your Facebook existence?

Coz let’s face it, many people have a relationship with Facebook that’s right up there with the relationships most of us share with breathing, water and/or wine. In short, there’s a lot of material for the discerning social media critic to work with.

But who’d do that? Why would anyone deem it necessary, or even appropriate, to cast judgement on your Facebook life?

Facebook-triangle

For instance, who’s anyone else to dismiss all your pics of food, coffee and alcohol as inane trivia that only those in your immediate vicinity should ever be aware of? Why would anyone question why you don’t also post a photo every time you consume a slice of bread, a piece of fruit, a bottle of soft drink, or a glass of water? Indeed, who’s anyone to question why anyone else needs to see what you’re eating or drinking in the first place, to say nothing of your own utterly narcissistic belief that anyone else needs to see what you’re eating and drinking in the first place?

Who’s anyone to dismiss all the photos you post of your baby (and very little else) as a sign that – somehow – your time still isn’t fully occupied? Who’s anyone to decide that your baby, cute as it may or may not be, is suffering from a major case of overexposure thanks to your obsession with both it and social media? Seriously – who’s anyone else to level such an accusation against you?

Facebook_obsessionWhose place is it to diagnose you with a “Facebook addiction”, even if your every move from one day to the next can be accurately tracked, in all their mind-numbing glory, via your multiple daily posts? Who’s anyone to declare that the thousands of ‘Likes’ you award each day – many within minutes, if not seconds, of the original post – are further evidence of your apparent “Facebook addiction”? Who’s anyone to make such ill-informed diagnoses?

Facebook_notificationsAnd who says it’s not normal to have 4,679 friends, anyway? Who’s anyone else to question how well you could possibly know such a vast array of people? And whose place is it to suggest that you probably don’t have anything to do with 99% of them from one decade to the next? That’s a massive supposition and who’s anyone else to make one of those about the relationship shared between you and your thousands of Facebook friends?

Facebook_middle-fingerWho’s anyone to decide that all those ‘happy couple’ and ‘happy families’ posts are either you massively over-compensating for something far less bright and cheery, or else they’re an obvious grab for attention from the “is your family better / happier / prettier than mine?” crew? For that matter, who’s anyone to insinuate that said crew even exists?

Facebook-pillsAnd who the hell is anyone else to imply that all those travel pics are just so much window dressing, disguising a deeply unsatisfying existence? That they’re more of an attempt to convince yourself, rather than the world at large, how fabulously interesting and exotic your life really is? Who’s anyone to theorize that people who do a lot of travelling are more likely to be running away from something than merely possessed of an adventurous spirit? Whose place is it to make such conjecture, anyway?

Is Now the Time To Try Facebook Advertising?

And who’s anyone to tell you that all of your pointless posts that vaguely hint at something but actually say nothing at all are an obvious attention-seeking grab at a reaction from anyone who reads them and, as such, are highly irritating?

facebook-obsessedAt the same time, who’s anyone else to suggest that responses to said posts – along the lines of “awwww babe”, “omg!” and “r u ok?” – are, at best, empty platitudes and, at worst, puerile, disingenuous or even fake? Who’s anyone to question how concerned your so-called friends actually are if all they can muster is one poorly-constructed comment in response to your apparent cry for help? Who’s anyone to question the depth of such obvious care and concern (even if they never did bother to call or even text you, nor ever followed-up in any way on their one-line comment or your post ever again)?

Facebook_UniverseWho’s anyone to criticise those posts of yours that are so clearly inspired by Academy Awards acceptance speeches, in which you thank the entire world, its dog and everyone in its family line back to the beginning of time for everything that ever happened to you? Who’s anyone to suggest that being that “high on life” is just a little bit vomit-inducing? That you’re smiling just a little bit too much right now? Or that your “thank you” messages might be better directed at the actual people you’re actually thanking – you know, as a group message maybe, or even as individual messages or by phone or text or – God forbid – face to face, rather than sharing with the entire population of your Facebook universe?

Facebook-LikesAnd just whose place is it to belittle anyone else for posting “Happy Birthday” messages to someone who can’t even read yet? Or to someone who shouldn’t even have their own Facebook account (assuming adherence to Facebook Inc. Terms, Section 4, Point 5 “You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.”) for the best part of a decade? Who’s anyone to rebuke you for such things? (Which reminds me – how did you end up tagging your 2½-year-old in that post?)

Facebook-addiction-2Who’s anyone else to deride your use of Facebook as the new family photo album, anyway? Who’s anyone to say you shouldn’t ditch photos altogether, and just create a PowerPoint presentation of old Facebook birthday posts for your kid’s 21st? Who’s anyone to suggest there’s something detached, impersonal and slightly crap about that?

Facebook_figuresAnd last but by no means least – who the fuck is anyone else to hang shit on all those status updates and pictures you post of exercise, fitness and associated minutiae? Who are they to even imagine that exercise is taking the place of something missing from your sad, empty existence and that your step count or heart rate or the number of kilometres you spent setting yourself up for lower-limb arthritis and a double knee replacement in later years hardly warrants posting with such obvious glee on social media… who on God’s green earth has any right to subconsciously ask such questions?

Facebook_DislikeSeriously, who’s place is it for anyone to say, or to even think, any of these things about anyone else’s Facebook life?

How sad, bitter, angry and/or jaded they must be.