Monday, January 30, 2012

On the "riot" that never was and will not die.

Call me a spoilsport, but I don't think the question of whether Tony Hodges, or Kim Sattler, or both, reportedly leaked the location of the PM and Abbott at the Lobby, a scant 50m from the Tent Embassy's 40th Anniversary celebrations, is actually that important.

In fact, I'd go as far as saying that no one outside of the Canberra Press Gallery actually does. As the first week of Parliament gets closer and closer to sitting, the children, having clocked all the x-box games, watched all the movies and annoyed the family dog into a state of perpetual anxiety, are desperately clamouring to see their friends back at school. This media-adviser intrigue is the red cordial that could fill their week until next Monday, and they are NOT. LETTING. GO. OF. THE. FUCKING. CUP.

Whether it's a story on Sattler's "long history of activism"a potential AFP investigation, the lack of charges for an AFP investigation, the potential for a no confidence vote, Wilkie's backing of the no confidence vote (I think this may actually have more to do with a certain other issue, y'know, but that's just me)... we will hear about this issue until we care about it as much as we're being told we should.

So here's the trajectory of a single day (today) - we get multiple versions from yesterday about Kim Sattler's involvement with Tony Hodges (who has already been stood down), the Opposition moots that the AFP could charge Hodges with a criminal act, the AFP says "sorry guys, no dice," the Opposition suggests the AFP is toothless and potentially incompetent and calls for an enquiry (and potential for charges of incitement), the AFP reminds everyone that they will still investigate crowd involvement and potential criminal acts, the Opposition suggests they will call for a no-confidence vote in the first sitting week of parliament, Wilkie says, "aye, fucking right", and... SCENE.

This story is everything that is wrong about the interplay between politicians and the media. Throughout the day the Opposition have, I'm sure with the absolute knowledge that nothing would come of it, kept the media fire consistently fed with a talking point every one to two hours. And the press have eagerly turned the crank on the media release machine, because it's copy. Easy copy. Copy that reads like it has real spice - and requires no background investigation at all.

Even the editorial copy is a long slow yawn - Michelle Grattan must be glad when she can bang out an opinion piece that seems different and new but wraps so easily around the same lack of credibility trope she's been following since late 2010, and I'm sure that the Australian has a pro-forma for the "sorry day for our nation" editorial.

Where are the stories actually investigating the claims of "violent riot" used to justify the reaction?
Was there any actual violence? Why aren't we hearing about specific events, if this is the justification used? I'm sure if any were known by the journalists reporting the events, we would be hearing about it.

Instead we have this:

This video was linked to by Leigh Sales on twitter, with commentary:

Sadly, while the footage is possibly the best we have of the events, and has great insight into what went on inside the Lobby, it's not sparse, clear scripting. It's loaded with hyperbole, and smacks of what Lindsay Tanner calls "linguistic inflation" in Sideshow. We can't just take in the events, we have to be reminded that they were "trapped" and "rescued" from an "angry, raging mob".

There is the potential for good investigative journalism in following the actual events that are driving these stories, beyond what happened inside the Lobby, beyond the discussions of the PM's staffers; about the people who are being described as an "angry mob", without question. Where is the story about Menzies House's campaign to close down the tent embassy - an organisation with clear ties to sitting Coalition MPs? While Abbott's initial remarks were distorted and taken out of context to drive this event (by the very media organisations now happily picking over the carcass), this campaign is exactly what the remarks were interpreted to mean on the day.

Protests often involve shouting, chanting, and if a politician flees rather than addressing the crowd, a negative response. I don't think we're seeing much more than that in the footage we have to go off of currently. A little bit of shouting in a democracy on a contentious issue should not a scary thing be.  I see a group of people holding the line, and a policy force trying to break it. This is pretty standard protest footage.

Perhaps aptly,  the angry mob we see most actively held back from the PM's car in the channel 9 footage is the press.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On self-aware awareness

Awareness, like engagement, has become quite devoid of meaning in this golden age of marketing spin and social media experts. Rather than being about education, consciousness and action, more often than not is now more about who is signifying their "awareness" than actually helping to spread a message.

Perhaps the most common subject we are reminded to increase our awareness of is breast cancer. Not cancer in general, but specifically breast cancer.

Pink bottles, pink chocolate, pink washing powder, pink eggs - are all there to contribute to the awareness of breast cancer and involve consumers. And all of which, in reality contribute an incredibly small amount of the purchaser's money toward breast cancer research, but remind us that our brands care enough to contribute an infinitesimal, tax deductable amount of their profits to our wellbeing.

Now, breast cancer (along with lung cancer) is the most common cause of cancer-related death in Australia, and one in nine women under the age of 85 will be diagnosed with it at some stage in their lives, but pink-washing is shameless; like green-washing it allows a company to make a token donation or gesture and then posture disproportionately about its contribution. Holly Hutchinson actually covered the discrepancies between profit and donation in a Drum piece on "think pink profiteers" in October.

But I am being unfair on our corporate friends (corporations are, of course, people now), because individuals are just as guilty of pink-washing; consciously or unconsciously.

In October 2011, a sea of pink washed into my Facebook News Stream as people changed their profile photos pink to support awareness of breast cancer, an initiative by CUA Bank, which had pledged to donate $1 for each changed picture. The total donation was capped at $15,000, which is completely fair and sensible, as an open ended promotion such as this could potentially bankrupt a company if a cap isn't set.

The donation itself was an admirable thing - and the pink tactic a clever one to engage people in the donation (and also, of course, let them know who was behind the chivalry) -
but the sea of pink didn’t stop; long after the cap had been reached, people were still turning their profile pictures pink, most not grasping the fact (or bothering to check) CUA that had actually met their quota. You can, in fact, still click through to the Pink my Profile link on the CUA Facebook page and join in on the fun.
Which is not a problem in and of itself. But what does it really do? The first 15 000 people held the bank to their donation, the others? Well realistically they were only increasing their social capital.

Sound petty? On face value, sure.

Who am I to tell you you’re being mercenary for showing your support?

But take away supporting the donation and what does the pink profile actually signify? Nothing but “I’m a good person, look at me being good.” It’s a back-slapping extravaganza with no actual benefit to cancer research, survivors or families.

Perhaps a further step along this path are the semi-regular “women’s only” Facebook status updates. The standard format is a message sent amongst women on facebook (women only, this is apparently important), with some instructions about posting an obtuse status update that follows a specific format. In the past this has been about bra colours, shoe sizes, where women keep their purses at home, and most recently, birth dates translated into fake plans for international trips (strangely not in-keeping with the gendered, vaguely sexual themes of previous years). The exact origin of this trend is unknown, but the idea is that it sparks interest among the clueless male friends of the status poster, involves women in the game and supposedly, under the guise of an in-joke, spreads awareness of breast cancer.

It’s all very clever (at least to the extent that any particularly successful chain-letter is), but at what stage does it actually make people more aware of breast cancer? How does an in-joke efficiently and persuasively disseminate information about self-examination to the women who spread the joke with a knowing wink, or encourage donation? Even if this information is included in the initial chain-status instructions, the setup and the play around the in-joke actually takes away from the seriousness of the issue.

Awareness is about more than being reminded that something exists. A sea of pink statuses, or in-joke statuses for women only, don’t do anything to increase people’s awareness of the issue or about general prevention - in fact they actually actively promote disengagement and apathy with the key issue they are meant to be promoting awareness of.

It also plays into the stereotype of social media as a tool for time wasting and narcissism. Social media can be a powerful platform when it engages people in real world change, but if the "awareness" remains in the domain of the virtual it has no real benefit.

The best way to spread awareness on the issue of cancer is to give people information about actual prevention, and avenues to donate. There are many good resources on how to self-examine for both testicular and breast cancer (two of the most common, virulent and easily discoverable cancers that affect young people) online, so do the right thing - tweet them, post them on your facebook, and check yourself.
And once you’ve done that, take a few dollars, maybe just two, and put it in a Cancer Council collection tin at your local supermarket. Hell, buy a few raffle tickets from Kids with Cancer (they have great prizes, you might even win).

And after you’ve done it, congratulate yourself. You’ve just done a lot more than change your status pink, or tell us where you keep your purse.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My prediction for 2012

Oh, and the bloggers will be commenting on the commentary. Myself included. Turtles all the way down.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Nod politely at the moon.

This wasn't meant to be a Friday 13th cartoon, I actually drew most of it yesterday. But here it is! Topical and shit.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Book of Awkward


I like to think of Jesus appearing to people throughout history, overwhelming them with piety, all the while just looking for a hug.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Importance of Good Grammar

Good grammar
Another little non-topical apolitical cartoon for the political off-season.