things your government has been doing

UGH, AUSPOL. Why must you be the blurst? Anyway, to keep you up to date on reasons to hate our federal government, here’s a summary of some things over the last week. Don’t worry, there’s more.

Proposed Changes to the Dole

I HOPE YOU AREN’T ON THE DOLE, not because you’re lazy (you’re not) or undeserving (your government should support you), but because of the proposed job applying thingy. If you’re on Newstart or Work for the Dole, you might be applying for 40 jobs a month.  “What we want to do is to motivate job seekers to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of a job,” Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker said, because people who are long term unemployed are definitely doing it on purpose.  Excitingly, Eric Abetz, actual Employment Minister, admits that this might mean employers are spammed with fake, insincere, inconvenient job applications. But I am sure he is just being over-cautious.

Excellently, Centrelink won’t help you do selection criteria for jobs because it takes too long! And someone has handily put together this guide for applying for 40 jobs as quickly as possible.

157 Tamil Asylum Seekers Not on a Boat

157 asylum seekers have been stuck on a boat for a month (thanks, Customs, for keeping us safe), but have finally been allowed to get off the bloody boat. Scott Morrison says this is only because India wants to interview them and take them back, not because he is stopping his very important task of turning back the boats. This might not actually be legal? Who knows anymore. Scott Morrison says the Tamil asylum seekers are ‘economic migrants’ from India which suggests he doesn’t really know a lot about Sri Lanka and India and Tamils, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Even the Indian High Commissioner to Australia, Biren Nanda, says Tamil people living in Indian refugee camps usually aren’t actually citizens of Indian, which demonstrates just how much Morrison listens to brown people (never).

Carbon Tax

Fulfilling a grand total of one actual election promise, the Carbon Tax has left us temporarily (give it time). Given Steph is a climate change campaigner, it will not surprise you to learn she disagrees with our PM’s assessment of it as ‘toxic’, and that its abolishment will boost confidence.

Privacy and Spy Stuff

Although it’s pretty traditional to make fun of ASIS and ASIO, there’s some new stuff being proposed about data retention (which nope. Nope. I can barely be trusted to keep my own records, I don’t want others keeping it), ASIS’ ability to spy on Australians overseas without Ministerial approval (which makes me feel super safe), and compelling use of third-party computers (ie, people who aren’t under investigation).

The Great Barrier Reef

I am super pleased to tell you, via information provided by Environment Minister Greg Hunt, that Australia’s largest coal mine, recently approved and between us and the GBR, will not impact the Great Barrier Reef! The extra 450 large ships that will have to sail through the GBR to get there every year are totally negligible, and the high water use of coal mines will absolutely not impact the local marine areas. Handily, if this seems confusing, yesterday saw the triumphant return of Ian the Climate Denialist Potato at FDotM to explain the impacts of the mine and how it’s all totally okay and Greg’s a great guy.


No Award goes to the movies: Snowpiercer

Actually, half of No Award went to the pub, then we met up in a cocktail bar, then we went to the movies.  (Stephanie’s post is coming … soon.)

None of this pre-movie drinking was enough to make Snowpiercer live up to its hype.

The rest of this post contains spoilers, because it’s not so much a review as a reaction, and occasionally I just need to stand back and go, “Okay, really?  SERIOUSLY?”

Sometimes it seems like Tumblr fandom has very low standards.  Like thinking that Pacific Rim, a movie where a whole lot of people of colour die and a white dude has manpain, is a shining beacon of progressivism and representation.  See also: giving Team Welcome to Night Vale cookies for being nice to queer people.  Who hurt you, Tumblr?  Who let you think the bare minimum was good enough?

In this case, we know who taught that lesson: Hollywood.  But by accepting the framing of the original cut of Snowpiercer as original and inclusive and brilliant, we’re just continuing to let them write the narrative.

Snowpiercer is a movie about Chris Evans, white guy, leading a revolution inspired by his mentor, John Hurt, white guy, against Ed Harris, white guy.  Along the way, Octavia Spencer plays a Mother Who Loves Her Son and Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko play Asian Supporting Characters With Useful Arbitrary Skills And A Subplot Of Their Own That Isn’t Really Explored In Depth.  And Tilda Swinton spends a third of the movie chewing the scenery, which is brilliant and delightful and kind of just highlights how by-the-numbers everything else is.  Except that it’s on a train, which is cool because trains are great.

This is a movie that pulls its punches.  The oppressed tail end passengers are fed on protein bars, black gelatinous strips that don’t remotely resemble the western food craved by Chris Evans and Jamie Bell.  When the revolutionaries reach the car where these protein bars are manufactured, we learn the HORRIFIC and TERRIBLE TRUTH about their origin:  they’re made from cockroaches.

Okay, that’s pretty gross, but between you and me, I was expecting to find out they were made from the children abducted from the tail section in the first act.  Given a choice between “starvation” and “cockroach jelly”, I’ll take the jelly any day.  Hell, cockroaches are a delicacy in some parts of the world.  So the montage of ignorant revolutionaries happily gorging themselves on protein bars while Chris Evans looks on in silent judgement is hardly warranted.  We don’t need you to be our food police, Scruffy Chris Evans Revolutionary Dude.

Now, try not to be too shocked when I tell you that the passengers in the forward section of the train aren’t eating cockroach jelly.  They’re eating sushi, fresh fruit and steak.  The train is a metaphor, you see, for class and oppression, which is why there are multiple speeches about people having pre-ordained places that they just have to accept.  If this is the cut that Harvey Weinstein thought too complex for the average American viewer, I’d hate to see the edited version.

As it happens, Chris Evans’s pre-ordained place is Revolutionary Leader and Future Train Leading Dude, as arranged between Ed Harris and John Hurt.  This is probably not intended as a metaphor for white patriarchy, but it works surprisingly well.  I can’t say I really cared, but that’s because Curtis the White Revolutionary Played By Chris Evans just isn’t very interesting.  And I can’t really blame Evans for that — he seems like a delightful human labrador, and very nice and all, but he’s not really a guy who can rise above a mediocre script.  And this script was thin as paper.

Not to mention lazy.  Security specialist/drug addict Namgoong Minsu is awoken from stasis to assist the revolution; a few scenes later, he tells his daughter, Yona, about a landmark he looks for “every year”.  Except the unstated number of years he was sleeping, I guess.  Yona, at 17, is too young to remember life before the train … except she can’t be exactly 17, because she too has been in stasis.  In a couple of scenes, Yona demonstrates clairvoyancy, which doesn’t seem to surprise or amaze anyone.  Later … nothing.  Towards the end, Ed Harris congratulates Curtis on being the first human being to travel from one end of the train to the other.  But earlier we saw his sidekick Claude, memorable for being a beautiful plump woman in a striking yellow coat, visit the tail end.  Now she’s there, in that very scene, at the front.  Are fat women not human beings?  No, it’s just this impossibly careless script.

The most shocking thing the movie does is kill off most of the characters and leave only Yona and Timmy, an adorable black child, alive.  Well done, I guess, but what is the point?  Yona has had no arc of her own; Timmy was barely in the movie.

I’m pretty bummed that I didn’t enjoy Snowpiercer more, because I was really looking forward to seeing it.  I’m tired of properties being hailed as incredibly original or progressive or even simply good, and then finding, no, they’re just mediocre.  I like big, dumb movies, and I enjoy finding the shreds of intelligence that exist within them — the opposite experience is just depressing.  Snowpiercer had some really great scenes, but I almost wish I’d walked out after Tilda Swinton died, so I could imagine a much better final third in place of what we actually got.

Tribe: One Heartbeat

You can be forgiven for not knowing what that means. I’ve read the flyer and looked at the facebook page, and I still don’t know.

What I do know is that this is what the back of the flyer looks like:

tribe ugh

And that the front of the flyer says ‘connect feeling, share expression, awaken life.’ This event is apparently about community, but whose community? At between $55 to $80 for a ticket, with a WHITE AS clientele except for performers (and that one kissy face dude in the corner), I have my suspicions.

From the Trybooking page: WHO COMES: Everyone is invited! From children to grandparents! The main clientele is usually conscious people who want to celebrate their hearts openly in fun and play. And by defacing the heritages and cultures of other peoples, I guess. This event will apparently open with a sacred ceremony (sacred to whom? Cannot wait to see whose culture they indiscriminately mine to contribute to this feeling of transformation).

As always, thank you for including brown people in your event. By paying us to be performers and then abusing our cultures and heritages.

Power, abuse, fandom

Warning: Contains discussion of sexual abuse, including that of children, in a variety of contexts.

Marion Zimmer Bradley enabled her husband to sexually abuse children, and molested her daughter.  Though the business with her husband was apparently common knowledge in some circles, it has only been brought into the open in the last few weeks, and the allegations from her daughter are recent.  Natalie Lurhs at Radish Reviews provides links to discussions, including depositions.

As Natalie — along with others — is saying, fandom needs to take a long look at its history and start addressing these issues.  But it’s not just us:  the fashion industry is still dealing/failing to deal with Terry Richardson; the Australian military has a long history of bastardisation, sexual assault and ongoing abuse in a variety of contexts; the Catholic and Anglican churches, the Orthodox Jewish community of Melbourne, the Salvation Army — secular or religious, celibate or promiscuous, straight or gay, all the identities that don’t fit neat binaries, there’s potential for abuse.  Humans arrange themselves into hierarchies, and then we defend our new status quo, and in doing so, create a space where crimes can be concealed.

In my day job, I’m a court transcriber.  All too often, I deal with child sexual assault.  The other week, I had to listen and type as a defence barrister argued that the sexual penetration of a child under 12 was not rape, because the child might have been “promiscuous”.  (I tend to type this stuff with some nice animal pictures on my second screen, or while doing some mindless internet shopping.)  Sickening stuff.

I can’t do anything about the legal system except produce accurate transcript and hope that it comes to the attention of someone who’s in a position to do more.  And try to vote for candidates who are interested in reform.  What I can do, as a fan and a con runner (people who are chairing Continuum 11: me), is try to make fandom and convention spaces safer.  This isn’t always easy, especially as I’m a relatively young con runner who isn’t part of the whisper network.  I have pretty good instincts about people, and access to fans with longer memories, but I worry that isn’t sufficient.

Continuum has a code of conduct which includes a harassment policy.  It’s revised annually, along with internal procedures for dealing with complaints, and the committee is made aware of it.  This year, we had copies of the code of conduct posted in the foyer and published in the con book.  We also make it clear that children’s programming is not childcare, and children must be accompanied by an adult at all times.  (And, in the kids room, adults must be accompanied by children.)  We welcome having children in our community, and we want them to be safe.

I think it’s good that the convention community is doing some soul searching and working to improve the safety of children.  But cons aren’t the whole of fandom, and the con-going community is by far outnumbered by fandom online.

Is the internet safe for kids?  AHAHAHAHA NO.  And I’m not here to tell people with real, actual children how to supervise them online.  I just have a cat, and I can assure you that he’s not allowed on the internet without an adult human present.

But here’s the thing: fans create fan work, and some of these artefacts are problematic in terms of their sexualised portrayal of children.

Now, drawing [insert underaged characters here] porn is not the same as recording the abuse of an actual flesh and blood child.  But in Australia, and some other jurisdictions, the law doesn’t draw a distinction.  This has been the source of much amusement on the internet, not to mention inconvenience to, say, academics doing studies of manga.  But there’s a reason:  it is not uncommon for abusers to groom their victims by exposing them to illustrations depicting characters from children’s media in sexual situations.  Back in the day, these were pretty crude sketches.  These days, abusers just hit Tumblr.

In 2007, LiveJournal suspended a whole mass of accounts based on keywords in profiles and interests.  This was a heavy-handed and largely pointless exercise — among the deleted were survivor communities and Nabokov reading groups — and it turned out that LJ had been moved to act by a sketchy and homophobic group that claimed to be targeting paedophiles.  LJ failed to communicate with its userbase, and this was basically the beginning of the end of its use as a fandom base of operations.

Aside from LJ’s singularly poor handling of the matter, Strikethrough — so called because suspended accounts had strikes through their names — triggered debate in fandom about the place of fanworks that portrayed underage sex.  A lot of it has been lost to time and friends lock, but among the voices were survivors who found catharsis in fictionalising their experiences.  But there were also red flags, like people saying, “Well, my writing attracts real paedophiles, and I’m nothing like that!” and arguing that it’s a myth that children cannot consent to sex.

The general consensus, in the end, was that the portrayal of underage sexuality was a legitimate fannish expression, and anyone who felt otherwise was a kink-shaming, sex negative prude.  And this has been on my mind in the past few weeks, because I read the Breendoggle documents, and that attitude, couched in the language of the 1960s, is exactly how Walter Breen got away with child abuse.

And no, most people writing or drawing underage sex in fandom aren’t paedophiles.  But if their work is being posted in public, it’s out there to facilitate child abuse.  And it’s easy to find, whether you want to or not.  (There’s a reason I don’t search Avatar character tags on Tumblr.)  It’s a myth that you can wander around the internet and just stumble across photographic child porn by accident, but fan art?  It’s everywhere.

(Spoilers: “But I’m just appreciating the aesthetics of the child porn!” is basically a police interview cliché.  It has its own bingo square.  Or would, if my colleagues and I were tasteless enough to make a child abuse bingo game.  Which we’re not.  Obviously.)

It’s part of the nature of the internet that we can’t control what happens to something after it’s posted — especially with groups that are determined to be as antisocial as possible, and yes, I’m thinking of last week’s Legend of Korra “livestream” that had rape porn in the ad breaks.  But I think it’s worth coming back to this issue again and reconsidering it in light of recent revelations and current knowledge about the way child abusers operate.  We need to consider our current status quo and the opportunities it creates for abuse.  Otherwise, in another twenty years, we’re just going to have more of these terrible revelations.

the bata shoe museum and the centering of the western experience

I’m in North America at the moment, having a grand old time, visiting museums and eating at vegan restaurants and buying more things than I should. Last week I visited the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, which has a lot of shoes, and some interesting curation notes, including the one notation about Australia, which I have in part transcribed for you. Only in part because my photo didn’t really turn out, but you get the gist:

Among the indigenous people of Central Australia a Kurdaicha is a respected elder … the spiritual power to execute a transgressor. With this ability, the Kurdaicha is able to … with a pointing stick and secretly send some of the energy to the transgressor that will kill. The shoes the Kurdaitcha wears are … constructed out of emu feathers and kangaroo hair.

The museum was fun, but it was all like this. A complete disrespect of indigenous people, and non-European histories.

Deerskin slippers made by Wendat women in Canada impressed visitors at the Universal Exhibition in 1855. These deerskin vamps are decorated with very fine moose hair in a floral pattern appealing to the Western market.

Some questions one might ask:

  • Central Australia is pretty big and filled with a number of peoples. Is there any one peoples in particular this tradition belongs to?
  • How did you get these shoes, museum? Did some coloniser steal them?
  • I’m so glad the slippers impressed visitors! WHY ARE WE CENTRING THE WESTERN EXPERIENCE?
  • How did you get these slippers?

I love museums so much. But other problems this museum had: outdated names for indigenous Canadian nations and peoples, and a general lack of specificity around a number of cultures and countries. This is hardly a unique problem; it’s just disappointing. The colonial gaze is prioritised, and the voices of those whose lands we’ve stolen are smushed together and silenced. Great. Good job.


Other things at the museum: the family behind me who looked at the lotus flower shoes and said “Are these for a child? These must be for a child” despite the notes on bound feet right there; learning about crinoline fire death; the chestnut crushing clog; and the smuggler’s clog, that looks like it’s stepping in the reverse direction.