language

Ministry of silly journalism

I’ve been reading the New Zealand Herald for years. It was considered one of the local broadsheets of choice for those wanting to keep abreast of local and world events. Oh how times have changed. Flicking through The Herald online recently I thought I was reading a script for Monty Python skit!

At first glance the headlines and opening paragraph looked reasonably familiar – following patterns of acceptable reporting. Details generally describe incident with basic facts such as location, type of event, who ‘might’ be involved and what follow up there could be. The general slant is tentative and neutral. Then it degenerates and morphs into some strange montage of social media bites, spurious ‘expert’ opinions, local knowledge, speculation and enough spin to induce (e)motion sickness. To add to the roller coaster there is ghastly spelling and grammar, accentuated by the inclusion of verbatim bystander accounts, I genuinely think if you asked these reporters what they think a semi-colon is; they would say it was part of the intestinal tract.

I’m generally up for a laugh, but I don’t find much of this amusing as many deeply personal events are played out publicly stripping back the concept of private and sensitive to be replaced with primitive and sensational. So here is my concern, we are rapidly creating a tabloid version of life that we accept as real. If something were to happen to any of my close friends and family my distress would be magnified. Like circling sharks we have ditched our higher faculties to go searching for the small drops of blood and we are fed all sorts of ‘offal’ information to keep the frenzy going.

The other conundrum is I love Monty Python for it’s absurdity. If that starts translating into my view of the world I’d prefer to slap myself in the face with a fish. But just in case none of this makes sense I’d like to create a piece of fiction, mirroring the patterns I have alluded to above. I don’t want to offend anyone currently grieving over a loved one, and also understand the media do a good job at helping people stay connected and does generate support and compassion. I’m not against the human side of journalism but there is a thick line that has been well and truly pushed through:

Man dies in tiger attack

A 42 year old man from Colon near Oscopy on the coast of Sphincter was mauled by Tiger that had escaped from the local Zoo. The as yet unnamed man is local and is survived by his son Anaal. Authorities are hunting the Tiger who goes by the name of Pussy Goremore.

CCTV footage shows he had been shopping earlier that day but friends say he had not intended to be in that part of town however there was a Manbag sale on. Shop assistant Peter Bowel said stock had backed up and had been grateful to see it turdover.

Eye witnesses say he had browsed through a number of shops that day and had coffee. Cafe owner Lisa Flatu-lance said he often had a bagel with his coffee but didn’t that day so had left early. She believed the man would not have died if he had kept to his routine and had a bagel. Bagel suppliers have now put warnings on their products about the risk of tiger attacks.

Family of the Man are yet to be informed but police have posted information on Facebook and invited members of the public to help piece together his last moments, people with a morbid sense of self-importance are urged to come forward. Tributes have been flowing online including his former high school wood work teacher who had this to say.

“He was a natural on the lathe, nice long strokes on the plane and always put safety first. Sad day for us – we will erect a memorial”

Zoo authorities were keeping caged lipped today but say it is the first incident of an animal escaping. However a self appointed spokesperson who was closely linked to a former employee, a tea lady and local domino champion, claimed the Tiger had no intention of mauling the man but the bag he purchased was made out of Leopard Skin and was probably just protesting.

Animal rights groups have rallied online to ensure the fair trial of Pussy Goremore, who some believe is not actually a Tiger. The society for the prevention of cruelty to people who like to dress up as animals urged for restraint and asked for calm and that retaliation against those wearing animal products was not necessary. The Tiger is believed to have connections in Sumatra, not Africa as some have speculated.

And now for something completely different – the world shoe horn crisis has been linked to global warming.

….Yup I’m done.
cue flying circus music.

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Four Seasons – Yeah right

It’s October – mid spring apparently, with snow falling, temperatures plummeting and winds that turn precipitation of any kind into needles according to the pain receptors in my skin, it’s just not…well…springy enough! I think we have been short changed on the naming of the seasons. NZ weather is far from a predictable or comfortable 4 phase cycle and I think many would agree we should really get on with adjusting our language to fit the reality. Our weather is confusing at the best of times and that is why I think in the spirit of Kiwi DIY we ditch the traditional 4 seasons and go for a realistic 6. Here they are:

December-January – ‘Springmer’: Ok this is when it is definitely lighter but not necessarily warmer. Christmas could be shorts and t’shirts or blizzard wear, or both. Try sitting on the beach during this time and you are likely to be sandblasted or need a beanie and jacket close by. It’s definitely not the time to ‘oil up’ unless you like being a sand magnet.

Feb-March ‘summer’: School holidays end and the weather gets hot, humidity rises and finally the sun actually packs a punch beyond searing your skin and rather than being at the beach, cooling off we pack our children off to bake and sweat in our sauna like schools buildings.

April-May ‘Simper’: I like this time of the year, it’s the old ‘autumn but I like Simper because it’s like summer doesn’t want to let go but it’s darker earlier and the humidity disappears.

June-July ‘Winter’: Here it is finally but not necessarily cold – it is dark, chillier, snow arrives.

August-September ‘Wetner’: Winter with lashings of rain with cold. Often colder than June and July.

October-November ‘Windner’: Another winter theme but equinox winds are added to the mix and as I have already mentioned pack a real punch.

I’m not sure if it will catch on but we have far more seasonal diversity than is represented in the limited quarterly divisions suggest by conventional categories. But there is a fundamental flaw in my perspective as any Southerner will know – the South Island has it’s own twist on the above, depending again on which side of the Alps you are. Perhaps the mystery of the weather is matched by our bizarre knack for building houses with reverse insulation. It wouldn’t be a Kiwi home if you didn’t put a jacket on when you got inside. Come to think of it, maybe the expression ‘yeah-na’ is weather related, because if you want to know if it’s going to rain the answer has to be both.

The only real fall out I can foresee could be with the music industry…sorry Crowded House you might have to re-write Four Seasons In One Day.

Courageous conversations and contagious curiosity

I’ve recently found myself listening to two inspiring women about their lives and learnings around identity and how this is worked within social and political constructs. Ash Beckham speaks openly about the need for more honesty and less pedantic policing of needing to get diversity right all the time. Her call is to ‘loosen up’ some of the self-protective mechanisms that hold others to ransom over every utterance they make without holding the possiblitly that perhaps people are not always intentionally biggoted or homophobic. I agree it is important to recognise good will and trying to ‘get it’ needs to be acknowledged, but is often not valued as a legitimate form of connection. Her openess about herself is refreshing as is Lana Wachowski’s private world and in naming the protective power of anonymity. It’s ironic that we seem to have gone from ensuring the world remained black and white with any rainbow descriptions of sexuality, gender identity, pushed into silent void of heteronormative public discourse to one where there is almost an expectation of openness at all times. This might be in part to large shifts in recognition through marriage equality or potentially the polar opposite depending a bit on where you are in the world. But while it would be easy to assume that in general society appears more ‘accepting and inclusive’ and visibility is perhaps preferred to complete invisibility there are some strange and unusual interpretations of how to engage with diversity.

Perhaps my breath holding is more to do with what appears to be a label grab – like some crazy sale once someone is known to have added a sense of ‘colour’ to their identity the protection of invisibilitiy and anonymity is lost. There can be a frenzy of meaning making, a rush to ask personal questions, and lascivious voyeuristic entitlemtent of displaying this label to others. Yet we do need conversations and dialogue if things are to change, but the quality of those conversations needs framing and the misappropriation of curiosity should be challenged. A good example is Anna Paquins recent interview with Larry King where Paquin continually resisted his attempt to grab hold of ‘non-practicing bisexual’ as a label. Her response was eloquent and gives us a great lens to view how the light of private, intimate parts of our identity can be split, redirected and claimed in ways that serve to uneasily represent peoples lives in ways that reinforce harmful alienating assumptions and stereotypes. No she didn’t bite (haha – only funny if you watch True Blood).

The danger is for defensiveness and silence to return to our landscape of knowledge of gender and sexuality to a rearticulation of the binary dualistic matrix. This isn’t necessary or desirable – we need to keep going down the rabbit hole. Where I think is a good place to start is asking about the role of anonymity and privacy and valuing this as much as we value public disclosure. Being critical and sensitive to how language both reveals and constructs us without always needing to censor ourselves can help reflect some of the ways limiting beliefs are constructed. For example the persistent use of prefixes for describing women based on their marital status Miss Mrs Ms – think I might start using ‘M’ on its own, sounds contemplative if you say it out loud.

I am grateful to have the likes of Ash Beckham and Lana Wachowski touch my consciousness. Rainbows both reveal the nature of light but our knowledge has been channelled by the most popular ideas of physics at the time (Newton). Few people know about Goeth who also had a theory about light and challenged Newton. I wonder what he might have to say about the above? Now that would be an interesting conversation.

Waking up to being asleep

I remember when The Matrix hit the big screen in 1999. The ‘splinter in my mind’ embedded deeper infecting my consciousness and grew to a full blown pustule that needed to be squeezed. So I read and read as much as I could on everything that seemed to take me toward alternative ideas about reality. But it was frustrating talking with others who just ‘thought it was cool’ and quickly went out and bought large black boots and coats (guilty as well) with that being the most significant influence on their lives.

That was 15 years ago but The Matrix has grown as an idea to explore systems of social control much like George Orwell did with 1984 and many others – but these are the two that stand out for me. I haven’t tried to remove the splinter – it’s important to stay in a state of irritation and inflammation because without that I think I would potentially fall into accepting the program and falling asleep again.

It’s a bit of a fine line talking about control without someone instantly putting you into the ‘conspiracy theorist’ box and shutting the lid. Perhaps this reflects an awareness at a deeper level that ‘ignorance is bliss.’ I’m not sure but another possibility is the belief that once you start down the rabbit hole it could drive you crazy and would suck the fun out of life. Living outside the Matrix in the movie was far from comfortable, they ate ‘snot’ and lived underground – not the best or most aesthetically enticing representation of freedom. I’d like to suggest it is possible to delve into these areas and still maintain a sense of humour and enjoying life – yes it is possible to live in a contradiction without being a hypocrite, expecting consistency is a brilliant way of keeping people in check. Embracing contradiction is one version of the red pill.

The meaning of ‘control’ and ‘the program’ probably represents the essence of what I am talking about. Others have done this work and you can certainly scan the world wide web for allusions to The Matrix. I’ve referenced David Icke before and he would most likely be one of the more deeper rabbit hole divers – he didn’t just take the red pill I’m sure of it. I’d rather not put my own definition up because the splinter is the key – it is the catalyst that invites questions and a personal journey. It’s not as simple as ‘red or blue’ pill or even ‘awake and asleep.’ The best I could do is to offer some observations and invite anyone who stumbles upon this to keep wondering – I certainly don’t have a sense that I ‘know exactly’ what the Matrix is and would never claim to.

1. Language to me, is a key splinter. Any time something falls into a binary/dualistic paradigm it inevitably closes down the idea it might be neither or both or something else. My favourite example that is popular is ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture.’

2. Perhaps because of our general reliance on putting things in a binary/dualistic relationship there tends to be an over simplification of ideas into facts/opinions or myths. If certain knowledges throw their weight behind an idea it can be moved onto either side. Science does this with great efficiency.

3. Maintaining social division through stereotyping, notions of harm, danger, superiority and self-righteousness is supported by one of the most powerful dualisms ‘right and wrong.’ I think fear is a powerful controller and the use of extreme images and emotive language shuts down processing beyond reactions. This can be done on an individual level, communities, nations, cultures and no doubt if we meet another version of life in the universe, the same would apply – thanks Hollywood for your fine work in this department.

4. Reducing nature the environment and all other living things to either a resource to be used or an obstacle to progress that must be overcome, owned and controlled is shameful yet completely necessary for enabling a constant source of total paralysation and puppet mastery through the use of fear tactics and the manipulation of ‘scarcity and abundance.’

5. Mapped onto this we have a devoted programme based on creating a certainty that without a monetary system civilization would collapse – and ‘go backwards’ or ‘become uncivilized.’ Economics has become ‘naturalised’ and more questions are asked about ‘why mother nature is doing this to us’ than there are to artificial systems of ‘us doing this to ourselves.’

6. Finally we have media saturation of information and images. Why is this important? Because the illusion is more believable when based on an ingrained ‘truth’ that ‘seeing is believing’ and anyone who can control the strings of what is seen with the naked eye has the ability to manipulate at a very deep level.

Not sure if your head is hurting, it could be a splinter or you have been in front of the screen too long. How do you know if you are awake or still dreaming?

…knock knock The Matrix has you.

Press the escape key.

‘Lifestyle’ what does this mean?

There is a growing awareness that whenever people say ‘I’m not racist but’ that we have exactly that, perhaps best captured in this cartoon by Natalie Nourigat. That probably goes for sexism, and other ‘ism’s or ‘ists’ or ‘phobias’ basically any fear of otherness. I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed but there is kind of a double layer of marginalisation in talking about homophobia.

I was reading through a piece on racism by Jeff Yang (where I initially saw the cartoon) and was intrigued by a statement he’d made:

“The common thread here is that we have reached a point in our culture where it is generally (but not universally) acknowledged that making disparaging remarks about people of other races, cultures, heritages or lifestyles is unacceptable.”

I get race, culture, heritage (just), but ‘lifestyle?’ At a guess I would say this refers to sexual orientation or possibly functionality because quite frankly we have yet to genuinely integrate our physical structures with those who’s bodies function in unique ways. So I’m a bit confused why we cant just say sexuality or sexual orientation or functionality. For now I’d like to stick to the assumption that what is referred to is sexual identity in some way. Saying ‘lifestyle’ whilst not directly disparaging is indirectly homophobic. When sexual orientation/sexuality/gender identity are lumped under ‘lifestyle’ it avoids the realities of discrimination and hate people experience for being who they are – not where they shop, what tea they drink or how they get to work – that is lifestyle.

Lets ditch the laziness with language that softens and avoids the uncomfortable truth that we have a people who do not identify themselves as heterosexual or male and female.

Bi for now.

Making use of the closet

Most people will automatically assume a reference to ‘The Closet’ is about sexuality. However there is another group queuing up for the privilege of ‘coming out’ and I think it’s time we started asking whether the closet has served it’s usefulness. A walk/roll in wardrobe might be more appropriate these days at the very least. Anyway – I am referring to spirituality or probably more accurately, people who have a sense that their spirituality is marginalised by religion or other belief structures.

I’m not sure I want to compare but perhaps there are some parallel experiences of power and notions of normativity and identity that fit. I’d like to explore some of the assumptions that are limiting and what these mean for people experiencing a genuine sense of un-ease.

1: Lets start with language, particularly dualistic structures of language that inform thinking and more importantly understanding. Basically things are either ‘this or that’, you are either religious or Not. Most of the time this is framed in creation versus evolution – people have to pick a side. And it’s more than awkward to try and say ‘neither.’

2: Throwing in ‘other options’ outside the well established dualisms like above is seen as ‘too politically correct’ it sometimes sounds like ‘stop including/pandering/indulging all these minorities!’ We’ve worked so hard to make some things invisible and constructed almost an Orwellian Ministry of Truth like certainty that ‘it always has been this way.’

3: Change and fluidity are definite no-no’s. Identity is assumed to be fixed – whether it be via ‘nature or nurture’ we are supposed to have done all that figuring out by the time we are in our 20’s (more or less) and then it’s locked in!

4: When it comes to declaring you are of a different ‘persuasion’ there can be intense scrutiny and general sense of ‘fair game’ for others inquisitive questioning. Some people have a sense of entitlement and see ‘curiosity’ as a form of inclusion or acceptance. However – questions that start with ‘Do all…’ should be met with an equal ‘Do all…’ and wait for the eyebrows to raise.

5: Linking in with 2 is the quintessential ‘it’s a phase!’ You just need ‘convincing’ – or an exorcism. Panic and freaking out with references to cults, mental illness or some level coercion are implied.

6: A sense of ‘betrayal’ from others who think they ‘know the person better than anyone’ often (but not always) family and friends or close associates. The idea of the ‘essential true self’ affords people the right to ‘know someone’ so the change is assumed to be about ‘hiding’ or ‘pretending to be someone’ an ‘imposter’ – “I don’t know who you are anymore” hurts because it supports this unhelpful view of self.

7: Catastrophising the future sometimes follows 6. Fear tactics are employed via creative exaggerations of how bad/hard/unfulfilling etc life will be for you if are going to be ‘this.’ Large doses of guilt and shame are sometimes included by referring to people or connections that might be lost, broken. If that doesn’t work then full scale ‘interventions’ could be next.

For those who have never been on the margins this might seem a little perplexing. So another way to look at it is through the lens of loss and grief. It doesn’t have to be about death. But any radical change in life suddenly exposes a lot of things we might have taken for granted and the vulnerability while working through ‘what it all means’ might require some form refuge or sense of security.

Human beings need to belong or more accurately to feel, experience and believe they are accepted, valued and respected. Ostracism, exclusion, rejection and isolation undermine all of this. I think The Closet is a realm of consciousness that allows for risk assessment or discerning in the moment what will work best for providing for those important needs. So perhaps The Closet is more like a Green Room, where we see through the curtain at the audience and decide who to put out on the stage.

Spirituality is a deeply personal, intimate experience and is as unique to people as sexuality. Our relationship with life is infused with the delights of both aspects but isn’t always simple. Having a ‘place’ that serves as a form of protection is wise, not weakness. It’s nice to be able to step out of the ‘lime light or spot light’ and while in ‘The Green Room’ embrace, integrate and become comfortable with ourselves.

So get out there and ‘break a leg.’

Sign of the times

Schools seem to have been captured by the advertising and marketing bug. The best evidence of this is the proliferation of signs appearing at the gates of schools. They don’t just say welcome, they ‘announce’ things.

Seems in-offensive enough but I saw one today that made me cringe a little – it boldly pronounced that it would be giving ‘survival strategies’ – hardly reassuring for new students. Its one thing to provide support but another to declare to the world that any young person entering your gates might need special skills to navigate such a dangerous environment.

Language constructs experience as well as describing it. Anxiety will take advantage of fear – real or imagined. I understand that this isn’t the intention, but here is the thing – once you have a sign, you have to put things on it! And this is the bit that irks me (love that word ‘irk’).

Schools put some random and tedious things on their flash signs to keep up the appearance of having important stuff going on (isn’t teaching and learning enough???). But I am itching for a school to do something radical and just put one up that says ‘ummmmm just business as usual’ or ‘free education – yeah right’ or ‘practical sex education starts this week … just kidding’ (Monty Python fans might have John Cleese flash into their minds in that cringe making scene from The Meaning Of Life).

I don’t think I’m reading too much into this – its about an awareness of the business model and language infiltrating all aspects of our lives.

But we don’t have to buy it.