No News is Good News (like seriously, none of the news is good)

I’m driving and I’m cursing. Oh man I’m cursing. I’ve made the mistake of tuning in to 774 on my way out West – breaking my self-imposed news ban. The ban began on Monday, and to be honest, I didn’t think I would make the week. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still been on Twitter and Facebook, the Twitter feed offering enough news headlines to keep me in touch with the world, but in a way that means I can quickly scroll through without become emotionally involved.

I usually have ABC News 24 running all day. Even after I’ve heard the same bloody story word for word for the eighteenth time, I still leave it on, just in the background as I play with baby Kylo, potter about the house, breastfeed, cook, clean – I basically exist with the hum of the news behind me. If it’s not the news, it’s Parliament Question Time or the Press Club Address. (Yeah, I know, thrilling.)

[So I’m in the car and Georgie Downer has just been asked a question – about the government’s inaction on workplaces short-changing workers and using visas to hold them to ransom. She answers by saying that those examples are another reason new citizens should be proficient in English. Urgh. She has no concept of her own privilege and no compassion, nor understanding that migrant workers are likely working in jobs IN ORDER to improve their English, or certainly to support their studies. Pure victim blaming. Grrrrrr SMH.]

Every piece of news has seemed horrific lately – I know I don’t need to tell you. You live in the same world as I do, where a former reality TV host who has admitted to sexual assault and regularly releases policies on Twitter is President of the United States, the leader of the Philippines sends death squads to murder civilians, capital punishment still exists and sometimes goes wrong, children are STILL being bombed in Syria, refugees are being targeted left right and centre and still being locked up in camps that we as a nation seem to have collectively forgotten etc etc so on and so forth.

When the floods hit northern New South Wales and claimed the lives of the mother and her children, I lost my shit. I couldn’t deal. I pictured her holding her children as the car sank. I can’t even deal writing these few short sentences about it. After that, Syrian refugees – buses of them, and dozens of children – were killed whist they were trying to flee. I found myself weeping as the story ran on the TV. Who the fuck bombs buses of fleeing refugees? What sort of a world is this?

Since understanding that I am probably am empath, I’ve realized how deeply I can become involved in things that I watch. Masterchef or My Kitchen Rules will routinely leave me with no fingernails remaining as with every nail biting moment of the show, I actually remove the tips of my nails. Not just cooking shows. Documentaries, movies, anything where there is suspense or really REAL drama that I can transport myself into and experience to the point where it disturbs me. It seems ridiculous, but I have had to learn to ‘turn off’ and watch without feeling and without getting emotionally involved in whatever is happening on the screen. Doesn’t always work though: we were recently watching my current favourite show, Grand Designs, and the house owners were having a wall-sized single window pane positioned on the side of their house using cranes; everything hinged on that moment and a centimetre out would screw up EVERYTHING. My partner looked across at me – “Is this stressing you out?” I glanced down at the perfect crescent of fingernail that I had bitten off and placed next to me on the table and lied, “No.”

Violence is something that stays in my mind’s eye very vividly. I actually have a fantastic visual memory. (I was raised without violent movies when I was young which could have something to do with how they affect me.) When my partner joined me on maternity leave we binged on Vikings. We watched every horrendously intense, but brilliant episode in existence to prepare us for the new series. That’s like, 50 episodes in a week. Being fans of Game of Thrones and House of Cards, A LOT of what we watch is quite violent. However, I’m a full on pacifist. I once joined a Karate club and gave up after one lesson when I realized I would have to hit someone.

So anyway, after all that binging, I became aware of disturbing thoughts and visions that were creeping in to my mind. I would pull the baby through the house in her bouncer, walking backwards, and picture someone stabbing me in my back. Serious. I would mentally remind myself to book a dentist appointment and then have a vision of a drill going through the top of my mouth. I would see murderers in the dark when I went to the toilet in the middle of the night. I would hear noises in the supermarket carpark nearby and imagine a car crashing through our bedroom wall. And so on and so forth. Until one day I said to my partner “I have a problem.” And so I (and we) stopped watching certain movies and series.

[This isn’t the first time this has happened. Whilst staying a week on the idyllic, quiet island of Korcula in Croatia, we watched every season and episode of the Sopranos. I had never watched it before. I found myself outside in the sunshine, doing some hand washing in my bikini, loving life as a traveller – but then began to have feelings that if I walked around the corner of the house someone would jump out and shoot me with an Uzi.]

And so, I banned myself from certain TV, and all the news for a week. It just seemed right, and to be honest, it really helped. It also forced me to do other things – and watch some good History series. (Oh yeah the Crusades – peachy. Ha!) I don’t agree with turning away from the world or putting your head in the sand, but when something is affecting you in a negatively way, maybe you need a break from it?

Surely some of my issues here comes from getting used to being a mum. I don’t like it when people start every sentence with “As a mother” and I wasn’t a fan of people who continuously said to me “You’ll understand when you have kids”, BUT – But…. Yeah my life is different. I can’t JUST think about me. Clementine Ford said that having a child was reckless as a part of your heart is walking around outside of your body. Yes! Maybe it is just my mortality that has hit me, now that I and my partner have not only been charged with the protection and responsibility that naturally comes with having a child, but also the legacy of family. There is something that extends further than our two lives now.

I made it through my no news week. I’m trying to relax. I’m trying to find the Zenness I’ve been really good at, at other times in my life up to this point. I want my daughter to be chilled out. I don’t want her to fear death, or anything in life for that matter. Unfortunately the world is not a great place right now – so it’s easy to find myself fearing stuff for her.

After Georgie Downer suggested that migrant workers should just get better at English to stop them from being exploited, some faith in humanity was restored for me when the last caller of the session rang through and told her how preposterous her answer was.

Maybe there will be good news next week. And if there’s not, perhaps I’ll just turn off again.



Drugs, sex, rock ‘n’ roll (women’s rights will pay the toll)

INXS, Mad Men, Underbelly, Bikie Wars, The Wolf of Wall Street…

With each new show and movie very realistically taking us back in time we are left further and further immune to their nudity, their fixation on sex and violence, and their blatant objectification of women. Who wasn’t disturbed by the woman having her head shaved for the entertainment of the predominantly male floor of stock brokers in The Wolf of Wall Street, and for the ten thousand dollars she could spend on an operation to have her breasts improved to a D cup. The vision of her roughly shaven head with chunks of hair hanging randomly has scarred me forever.

These shows have a common theme of power and money equalling power over women, and these shows have been absolute hits with audiences around Australia. They are racy, sexy, unconventional, and best of all for many viewers, vintage. INXS took us back to a time when rock stars ruled – travelling around the world smashing hearts as well as hotel rooms, doing lines of Coke on the breasts of women, and partying with hoards of strippers who had been called in by an obliging manager to celebrate a benchmark of album copies sold.

I watch these shows and I know that that was the way things were. Life, thank you humanity, is not like that now. Now, women can attain high paying jobs, power and respect (not equally to men, but still, we are better off than we were). We are not expected to show our tits at parties, or be the entertainment for high profile bands, celebrities or figures in society. We don’t just serve drinks, and we can have opinions.

I have enjoyed the shows I have mentioned. But I am watching them as a window into the past. Now think – what if I wasn’t? What if I am a fifteen year old watching these shows without the maturity of someone who has lived through enough years of women having an equality far greater than that of the era depicted in these shows? What if the fact that these shows are set in the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties means nothing to me because I was born in the nineties? What if I am watching as someone who is just beginning to understand women, and my relationships with them? What if I am a man with violent and possessive tendencies – to dominate relationships, to feel anger, to want power? What if I am impressionable, vulnerable, easily influenced, gullible?

The problem with highlighting the absurdity of the objectification of women is that you are perpetuating their objectification by highlighting it. These shows are created in a kind of “look at how ridiculous it was back then” fashion, but what if by portraying a time of rampant drug use, sex, sexual violence and discrimination, we are actually resurrecting all these elements in society?

Unfortunately, putting pop culture aside, the plight of equality for women is not helped by the fact that currently our government is not in any way representative of the ratio of women to men in Australian society (note: Census data tells us there are more women than men). So how are we improving our country when young people are bombarded with entertainment shows sending women’s rights backwards and simultaneously the political climate is offering up a 1950s view of the world?

Young people are not necessarily going to watch these shows and think, “wow, look how sweet things were back then”, but what if we are, incrementally, diminishing their respect for women? What if we are normalising the objectification of women, by depicting it at all – no matter how ‘over the top’ and old-fashioned-like it may be portrayed? We can’t assume any person will watch shows such as INXS or Mad Men or Underbelly with a maturity or state of mind that will allow them to see these shows as they are – a retrospective view of a time when women were unequal tools and abused objects of desire.