Reality bites as winner takes all on The Block

The much anticipated Block finale fell flat on Sunday night when three of the luxury properties struggled to attract bids above the reserve at auction. While two couples celebrated big wins in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, others wept as months of work came to almost nought.

The finale might have had a funereal vibe but the Nine Network certainly had cause for celebration as it smashed ratings records. The shock outcome has sparked calls for Nine to tweak the format of the show and even offer the failed contestants compensation.

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Forgetting others in the quest for self-improvement

‘Work hard and you will achieve. The only barrier to success is your own imagination. You can be whatever you want to be, you just have to want it badly enough.’

These kinds of feel-good clichés have become mantras for the modern era.

From The Secret and Angela’s Ashes to the Biggest Loser, popular culture celebrates the idea that with hard work and determination there is nothing we can’t overcome. Today it seems we are all masters of our own destinies. Give us lemons and we’ll give you lemonade (and make a killing from the lemonade stand in the process!).

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Confessions of a Facebook Addict

The New Year is a time for reflection and goal-setting, and so like any good Gen-Y’er, I shared my New Year’s resolutions on Facebook. As I basked in the approving likes and comments that followed, I was hit by a shocking realisation: I am a Facebook addict!

I take some comfort in the knowledge that I am not alone here. Indeed, millions of people around the world are devoted to Facebook and a host of other social networking sites. But my grim realisation gave me pause for thought: why this obsession with social media, what does it say about me, what does it say about our society and what are its consequences?

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Coming-out myths and why we fear fluid sexuality

Olympic diver Tom Daley created a media splash on Tuesday when he announced that he was having a relationship with a man. The response provides an interesting insight into community attitudes towards sexuality and suggests that while there is growing acceptance of difference, most people still have a pretty narrow view of what it means to be “not straight”.

Some media outlets greeted the news with rapture, enthusiastically proclaiming that Tom Daley had “come out as gay” while others on Facebook and Twitter burst into spontaneous applause as Daley finally confirmed what “everybody already knew”.

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Playing The Man?

Julia Gillard came under fire for playing the so called ‘gender card’, but a closer examination of the Rudd v Abbott contest reveals that it is her male adversaries who have been using gender as a political weapon.

The relationship between masculinity and ‘strong leadership’ is a persistent theme in Australian politics. Hawke positioned himself as an Aussie larrikin, while Keating used his aggressive style to establish his authority. Howard channelled masculine concepts of power when the War on Terror saw him emerge as a ‘Man of Steel.’ Both Rudd and Abbott have sought to draw on these themes, projecting their own versions of masculinity and using this to define their opponents.

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Be Afraid, Very Afraid: Vigilantism and the Culture of Fear

Vigilantism is in vogue. Whether it’s TV hits like Dexter and Arrow, box-office heroes like Batman and Superman or even the outing of alleged criminals on social media, popular culture is saturated with stories of people taking the law into their own hands; righting wrongs when an impotent justice system fails them.

The concept of the vigilante isn’t new. From Robin Hood to Rambo, it spans the centuries. It is curious however that it is still largely romanticized at a time when crime rates continue to fall.

Why the celebration of those who subvert the law of the land? The explanation for this enduring disenchantment with our justice system lies in established narratives around crime.

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007: License to Stereotype?

The latest instalment of the Bond franchise not only marks the 50th birthday of the world’s most famous spy, it’s also the first time 007 has faced-off against a gay villain.

It might be a first for Bond, but cinema is no stranger to the ‘gay psycho’ theme.

While community attitudes have changed considerably since Sean Connery first ordered a martini in 1962, shaken not stirred, Hollywood still has a long way to go in terms of providing more diverse representations of homosexuality on screen. In fact, negative stereotyping of same-sex attracted people through film is older than James Bond himself.

Hitchcock’s 1951 film Strangers On A Train typifies Hollywood’s traditional take on gay characters. Two men meet randomly. One develops an unhealthy obsession with the other and both their lives are turned upside down.

It’s a theme revisited in 90s’ hits Single White Female and The Talented Mr Ripley. Even Judi Dench gave it a go in the noughties with Notes on a Scandal – cast as an ageing lesbian obsessed with her much younger, straight female colleague.

Thrillers and horror films are best understood as modern allegories and the message is always the same; play with fire and you’re going to get burnt. Badly.

In this context, gay relationships are presented as being fraught with danger – synonymous with obsession, unrequited love and misery. Such representations reflect the traditional belief that homosexuality (especially among men) is somehow threatening to heterosexuality.

In recent years these representations have changed. The dangerous psycho has evolved into the insipid handmaiden to a usually female protagonist. In fact, the perennially single gay character with acerbic wit has been a mainstay of virtually every romantic comedy since My Best Friend’s Wedding.

While the harmless gay friend may be a step up from the ‘gay psycho’, there is hardly cause for celebration here. Such characters add a dash of colour (and gratuitous fashion advice!), but they never pose any serious threat to the dominance of their heterosexual peers. Their own life-stories and romantic desires are usually airbrushed over as they live vicariously through their female friends.

The gay character of the rom-com may win social acceptance, but he only achieves this by being captive to the agendas of heterosexuals.

There have however been some notable exceptions in recent years. For instance, Milk and Brokeback Mountain were both commercially successful films that offered different depictions of gay characters.

There are also some notable examples on television. Since Ellen came out (both on screen and off) in 1997, gay characters have been central to a range of sitcoms, including Will & Grace,Modern Family and Glee.

A step-up from their two-dimensional peers on the big screen, these characters generally enjoy positive relationships that are respected by their families and communities. In so doing, they potentially build acceptance for same-sex attracted people and their relationships.

Despite these advances in television, film continues to lag behind. The silver screen generally presents just two, equally unflattering representations of homosexuality: ‘predatory sociopath’ or ‘harmless half-wit.’ Gay men are either to be feared or ridiculed. They can’t be strong and intelligent without being crazy, while lesbians are practically invisible.

So why are these depictions important? Indeed, gay and lesbian people are not the only population group to face unflattering characterisations on screen. The difference is that in the instance of same-sex attracted people, these characterisations are rarely balanced by more positive and realistic representations.

When a group is largely absent from popular culture, negative characterisations are all the more powerful. Here film has the potential to not only reflect existing social anxieties and attitudes but magnify and even legitimise them. Cinema is a remarkable medium, one that can both mirror society and project a version of society. In doing so, it shapes social values and attitudes.

This social and cultural power is evidenced in the depiction of women on screen. While the 70s may have been a period of women’s liberation, the 80s and 90s saw a backlash through cinema as ‘career women’ were all too often presented as emotionally unstable and dangerous. Fatal Attraction is perhaps the most famous film of the genre. While cinema has certainly diversified its female characters in recent years, many of these stereotypes still endure in contemporary culture and have the potential to influence social attitudes today.

While gay and lesbian people have achieved some positive human rights advances in recent years, if cinema is anything to go by, the battle is far from over.

It’s time for Hollywood to move beyond the straight and narrow and better reflect the diversity of the community. Finally creating gay characters with the popular appeal of James Bond (rather than his nemesis) would be a good place to start!

* This piece was first published on the the Drum Online on the 7th of December 2012. 

 

 

Extreme Makeover?

To say “watching Being Lara Bingle is about as much fun as colonic irrigation” might sound like a sarcastic throw-away line, but I mean it quite literally.

Last week I was shocked to see Bingle actually undergoing the procedure on national television. My horror was compounded when I tuned into The Shire and learnt that finding a grey hair was the most traumatic experience of Vernesa’s life. High drama, indeed!

Whether it’s The Biggest Loser, The Voice, Australia’s Got Talent, Amazing Race, Survivor, The Apprentice, The Block, Big Brother or MasterChef, Australian television is dominated by programs about ordinary people, doing ordinary things.

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The Monarchist’s Trump Card

The remarkable 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II is being celebrated in Britain this week. But behind the pomp and ceremony lie some big questions: is this the high watermark for the House of Windsor, and what does the future hold when the Queen finally departs the stage?

For Australians, it’s time to ask ourselves whether it is still appropriate to have a foreign monarch as our head of state.

The enduring support for the monarchy in Britain is understandable in many ways. After all, the Queen is a cultural icon – a link to centuries’ old tradition and a boon for tourism. However, the acceptance of the monarchy in Australia is not so easy to comprehend. It’s ironic that a nation like as ours, with such a healthy cynicism of authority, continues to embrace unelected royalty.

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