30 July 2010

A Very Fat Death

This morning on the Sunrise news, not the hardest hitting news on the box granted, it was reported that the world's fattest woman had lost her battle with overeating and died.

By way of a visual this woman looked like a waterbed with a head. You've seen these people before. The usual news, to the extent that it can be called that, is that they can only be lifted with a forklift (so how do they source more food, I hear you ask (and wonder myself)).

Now while I don't wish to make light of fat people or the recently deceased, or the long-deceased for that matter, surely death in these circumstances is an indication, proof even, that, if anything, a person has "won" their battle with overeating rather than lost it.

23 July 2010

We're Going to Need a Bigger Island

Possibly the most vexing "issue" in Australian politics is one that has become so convoluted and distorted that I'm struggling to even know what to call it. I could say that I'm referring to the issue of illegal immigrants, but that wouldn't quite be right; as there seems to be no issue with those who manage to illegally enter Australia by aeroplane. It only seems to apply to those who come by the least seaworthy of all possible crafts. That's right; those who, on engineering principles alone, are least likely to come here at all.

Asylum seekers. Boat people. Boat people. Do they have rudders? When born - below decks, presumably - rather than receive a gentle slap from a midwife to get them breathing, did someone break a bottle of champagne over their heads? It's funny how I'm never heard of people crying foul about those blasted plane people. And where they bring in more than 100,000 people per year, even a hundred rickety crafts are yet to bring in a twentieth of that.

I also find it incredible when the more insular and xenophobic members of our society try to frame their arguments in terms of "border protection". Perhaps they've not noticed, but Australia is surrounded by quite a lot of water. Our borders are really quite well guarded, and by sharks, no less.

So the argument regarding queue-jumpers gets bandied about. I can picture it now; a line, rather like the one that builds in the post-office on a Saturday morning, stretching interminably and miraculously through Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and about half a dozen war-torn countries. There is no queue. There is only pain and desperation. The ability to wait may, in our increasingly selfish mindset may be inextricably linked to impatience and greed for many, but there are still places in the world where need is the driving force.

But if they were real refugees, they'd just go to the closest country that would have them; they wouldn't come all the way to Australia; so claim those whose hearts are filled so very sparsely with human compassion. I wish to God that this were an applicable caveat, because then I could kick out every bloody English person I come across hence forth. I mean, they are aware that there are countries between here and Blighty, aren't they? I mean, if your issue is with population control, then it is folk from places like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, Canada and the United States who really should be denied entry. After all, they, least of all actually need to come here.

The very notion that people should be stigmatised for wanting to come to our country over all other countries is mean-spiritedness of an extent that defies belief. I am sick of people adopting a soullessly quasi-bureaucratic argument that tries to invalidate the exercise; namely, the queue-jumper line. It is bollocks. I simply can't fathom becoming so fearful for my life that I would abandon my home and home country, my friends and everything I own, and risk my life - and my family's life in a journey across an ocean unless I absolutely felt that I had to, if I wanted to survive. The argument that suggests otherwise arbitrarily dehumanises those who seek asylum to a level where they are little more than clinical, calculating thieves who care nothing for their safety, for their own country and culture, or ours. It is an argument of reductive cowardice on the part of those who espouse it that is thoroughly, thoroughly shameful.

The argument that infuriates me more than any other is the one that suggests that those coming in by boat actually have loads of money, and that they are denying the real poor. This is an insane argument no matter how you look at it. For a start, you'd think that if money was a problem, the folk who complain might have a bit more of an issue with those who come here by 747. I mean, last time I checked, QANTAS isn't a free, late-night aero-service.

And I could stomach the idea that those in extreme poverty are more deserving if our help if those who think we ought to turn away boats were prepared to advocate the position that it is our moral duty to go into regions of the earth riddled with poverty and strife, and actually bring those people to Australia without them having to risk their lives on a perilous journey across an ocean. But somehow, they never do.

Listening to those who claim they'd turn the boats away, you'd think that the trip to Australia for an asylum-seeker was some kind of pleasure cruise. I'm sorry, but if I could afford to fly here, I would. I wouldn't risk drowning my family.

It seems that those who actually need to come here and dare to do so are to be feared. I just don't understand that. But, if there needs to be, equity and integrity with regards to those who seek to come to Australia, then I have a solution. It does not involve turning away the boats. Far from it. It it hereby decreed that everyone who comes here must come by boat.

When I say boat, I mean a piece of shit that is as likely to sink as not. And you get one suitcase per family. That's it. And the price is however much you happen to own. Yes, that's right; the sum total worth of your assets. That seems fair. What's that, you own two houses in Dorset? Excellent. Your ticket will be seven-hundred and fifty-thousand pounds, please.

But you won't actually come here. Not for a few years, anyway. I mean, you've just decided to come, you've spent everything you've owned, and abandoned your culture and home. Oh, and you've risked your life. There's obviously something wrong with you. You must be dangerous. So, we're going to store you off-shore for a bit. It's not a prison, it's just a place with high fences on a small island. Not a prison.

Given that immigration to Australia is about 100,000 a year, I don't think Nehru is going to be big enough. We're going to need a bigger Island. To that end, I hope Tasmania doesn't mind, but it's now a Detention Centre.

It's nice when to conclude, all you really need to do is quote from the National Anthem. I think it's high time that the second verse get a more regular airing, and certainly high time that any bastard in favour of turning back the boats or any other draconian sentiment be banned from singing the anthem or waving the flag altogether. Because as the words below unequivocally state, to espouse them is to be thoroughly un-Australian.

"For those who've come across the Seas,
We've boundless plains to share.
With courage, let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair."

The day this issue is put to bed once and for all is the day we have finally, truly become a nation of world, and a mature one at that. But sadly, I think it's a long ways off. And all of us are poorer, lesser human beings because of it.

14 July 2010

The Lateralist Career

My wife and I ate dinner last night in a little village called Ao Nang, which is about half an hour's taxi ride from our resort in Krabi, Thailand. It's a nice seaside town, with a population of about 5,000. Although small, it's a rather sprawling place, with three streets of tourist-targeted shops and restaurants. Like so many town is Asia, it's a bubbling, bustling, occasionally pungeant blend of greens and browns.

Before dinner, we happened to pop into a bar for a beer. As we drank, my wife noticed a particular man - who must've been in his 40's - in the same spot that we'd seen him previously. And as before, he was selling (or attempting to sell) various little electronic gadgets to passers-by. Kids toys and novelties, basically; all lasers and noise.

She (my wife) mentioned that she felt sorry him, and expressed the belief that no adult should have to make a living that way. I think what she meant is that she thought it demeaning and unjust that a man to have to try an eke out a living by flogging novelty crap to tourists who have - and will likely always have - far more money than he does.

I agreed immediately. But as the conversation progressed, we both began to have our doubts.

I like my job, but there are times I find it depressing and overwhelming. My wife is in a similar boat. We both make good (enough) money from our work. Good enough to have a holiday in Thailand, anyway. But we both work bloody hard for our money, and in doing so, endure considerable stress from time to time. So much so, in fact, that we felt compelled to go to a resort in Thailand to wind down. There may be something in this...

Our man, who had no office other than the street, and no office chair other than a stone bench, simply plied his wares to those who walked by. Most nibbled, but few swallowed the hook. In the time we watched him, he made one sale.

But in that time, he looked content. He looked healthy and fit. He chatted on his mobile. He chatted to people whom he knew when they walked by. He ate. He joked with customers with whom he made a sale, and with those whom he did not. And he played with lasers, for goodness' sake. Compared to my job, especially how it was before this holiday (i.e. insanely busy), I felt a twang of envy.

Now for all I know, this man might have a hard life that I'm currently romanticising. Or perhaps not. But there rests in all assumptions about the lives and jobs of others an inherent imposing of values. I'd be reluctant to call selling toys on the side of the road a career, because I've been conditioned to define a career as something elevated, essential, professional, skills-based, worthy and requisite of education and intelligence. All quite pompous crap really, that enables a society to perpetuate itself, so folk like me will keep working. A little contempt (or pity) for the lives of others can go a long way to stoking the fires of industry, that's for sure.

In a place like Perth, the need to find a satisfying career has become a powerful force. Fifty years ago, people seemed more content just to attain any position that enabled them to provide for their family. When did we start to demand more than remuneration for our efforts? I mean, we get paid, don't we?

Perhaps as we've become more consumerist and more secular, the values that the market place assigns to us have become more entrenched in our actions and thinking that we realise. I mean, I was pretty quick to feel sorry for a man I didn't know, because of the lack of value I ascribed to his work.

I really ought not do that.

The Lateralist Consumer

Haggling over price is generally a strange experience for an Australian. We don't tend to haggle. True, if one happened to be buying a big television, one might enquire about a possible difference in price if cash or credit were used, and there's usually room for movement on the sticker price of car, but as a general rule, we accept what the price tag says.

In fact, trying to haggle in, say, a supermarket would likely produce little more than a look of bewildered contempt from the poor checkout attendant you encountered. Odds are, the $2.99 price for the laundry detergent you desire will not move down to $2.50, no matter how artfully or insistently you attempt to bargain.

This is a bit of a shame, really, as there is something quite sociable in a debate over price. An opening gambit. A smirk, and a counter offer. A look of woundedf protest, and another bid. A look of mock-worry, a gesture to family members nearby, a shake of the head an another offer. At so it goes, until a price is reached, and money, goods and smiles exchanged.

I'd like to see it become mandatory, and I think that such compulsory negotiations will kill off the consumer attrocity that is the supermarket as we now know it. I mean, can you imagine the queues if you had to go toe-to-toe with the staff at Woolies for the thirty or so items in your trolley? Having to stand there whilst the bloke in front of you tried to negotiate his six pack of bog rolls down a few dollars. And then his bag of apples. And his half-kilo of mince. You'd give up. Hopefully the local store would make a most welcome comeback.

But truth be told, that's not really why I favour haggling. In fact, haggling isn't precisely what I want. I want price-tags to be outlawed entirely.

I like beer. I drink it often. I'm not particularly fussy, but you've got a better chance of getting me to inhale a can of Brut than drink a can of Victoria Bitter. Why? Because in my opinion, Victoria Bitter is shite. There is no price for it could be offered for which I'd buy it.

Why am I telling you this? Well, you can learn a lot about how the free market works in Australia from looking at beer. It is an absolute truth that in Australia, you can over-price your product out of the beer market, but it is equally true that you can under-price yourself out of the market, too. We seem to equate price with quality all too readily, and as such, snobbery prevents us from accessing that we might otherwise really enjoy. There are some great beers on the market for about $32 a carton, which many will never try, due to their belief that quality beer needs must cost at least $40 even when on special. Given that all beer costs about the same to make, the price difference ought surely come down to more tangible than brand recognition.

But it doesn't. I'd love it if people were able to determine for themselves a sense of quality, and determine a price in conjunction with the retailer. That the price would then vary from store to store is as it should be. If one man's ideal price for quality is $60 whilst another's is $30, what on earth is wrong with that?

Quality surely ought to be perceived by the purchaser before the product is purchased, rather than simpy purchased (in the form of assumed quality) along with the product itself. But we have become terribly lazy in this regard, and our ignorance ought not reside within us quite so blissfully. I'd have to possess a great deal more skill than I do presently to go into a jewellery store and assess by sight the actual quality of a diamond or a gold ring. I can't tell silver from stainless steel, much less 9 carat gold from eighteen. But likely as not, if I were making a purchase, I'd buy what I thought was quality. I'd probably argue that I don't have time to work out the difference for myself. But if I don't, then why am I paying for a difference in quality I cannot appreciate nor understand? It is, quite simply, illogical. But it is what we do.

Shirts are another good example. A Ralph Lauren polo shirt costs about $80, I think. I can pick them up in Thailand for about $15. $10 if I haggle. Ok, they're not authentic, but when it comes to a shirt, what does that really mean? Can I really tell the difference? Will one last so very much longer? Does the horse and rider logo seem more authentic on one than the other? The real question is; what will that extra $70 buy me, other than the chance to say (or simply know) that I paid eighty bloody dollars for a shirt? It is a strange world in which we live. And when you consider that people (including myself, it must be said) are more likely to buy something when it's marked as thirty or forty percent off - when the original price is so utterly arbitrary - it becomes even stranger still.

To that end, price tags are out, and a genuine, personal apprecation of quality is in. This will surely make the market place a great deal more "free" than it is right now, and it will oblige people to learn a bit about what they're buying. We live in a fast-paced world than emphasises the need to consume, but it leaves precious little time to appreciate that which we consume. The days of saying "this must be good because it cost x-hundred dollars" really ought to become a thing of the past as soon as possible.

Everything has a price. It's just that price should equate to value. Given that value is a very subjective thing, perhaps we ought to work that out for ourselves.

12 July 2010

A Lateralist Sense of Place

When I was a boy, I used to love to go fishing. Most of the time, I went fishing with my late Grandfather, when, after spending the night at my Grandparent's home, we'd rise at about half past four, and make our way to one of Geraldton's beaches to try and catch whatever we could. Usually this meant whiting, but sometimes it meant herring or tailor. Truth be told, we didn't really care. It was just about fishing and spending time together. These memories remain some of my most precious.

The other day, though, I re-read the wonderfully evocative novel, The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea, by the late author, Randolph Stow. I'd not read it since high school, and I found it thoroughly captivating. I remember liking it at the time, too, but I like to think I got a bit more out of it this time. I won't go into great detail about the book, other than to recommend it unreservedly, and to say that its meditations on friendship, childhood, the nature of place and purpose, the impact of war, and the struggle to find meaning are as good as you'll find.

But if you can, please read it when you're overseas.

There is something extraordinarily powerful about reading a novel about home, when home is where you are not. I grew up in Geraldton, which is where the novel is primarily set, although my experiences of it come somewhat later than the novel's 1940's setting. But a good deal of the town - its bones, the blood of it - has not changed greatly. The Geraldton I hear Stow describing - with his poignant mixture of nostalgia and a burning need to transcend its small-town limitations - are as relevant today as ever they were.

Sometimes, all it takes is one word; one word to transport you from wherever you happen to be, back into a childhood memory long neglected. The word for me, was trumpeter.

A trumpeter is a kind of fish; a small fish about the length of a man's hand, with a simple stripe of yellow and brown along its length. At least, that's what I recall.

But what I recalled with astonishing power was that the trumpeter - as in the novel - was usually to be caught from the Geraldton Wharf. The Wharf will always be a place in importance in my mind, primarily due to its familial associations. But the notion of fishing there, and thinking of a fish that I've probably not caught - or even seen - for at least twenty-five years up-ended my psyche, as though someone had swum under me, and unexpectedly hoisted me upwards by the ankles.

I used to clamour under the wharf berth along jetties now inaccessible, and traverse the steel walkways with glee, and marvel at water that was a green and glowing as Vulcan blood. Usually, we (my sister, other friends, cousins) caught blowies. But sometimes, if lucky, we might catch a trumpeter. It wasn't much of a fish to eat, but at least it was a fish. And it reminded me just how evocative a story of home can be.

It need not be so personal. When my wife and I travelled through South-East Asia, I didn't listen to anything on my iPod for the first five weeks other than the albums of Midnight Oil. I recall crossing into China from Vietnam listening to Red Sails in the Sunset, and don't think I've ever felt more consciously and proudly Australian.

There is a sentiment in the lyrics of one of the songs on that Album (ironically enough called "Shipyards of New Zealand") that reads as follows:

"I can't get lost,
I can't get confused.
Something's misplaced;
Maybe for good."

With its soaring strings and dry-bone-crunching guitars that slowly grind over drums that thump and smack, it's a wonderful piece of music. It speaks of the constant evolution of things, and laments the disillusioning - if vital and necessary - experience of a reality that eventually comes to the surface of us all. And when it does, it can move us greatly.

There is, in one's sense of time, place and space, longing to stand still, a longing to move forwards, and a longing to go back. In truth, I think, the past transforms into memory, and infuses us, changing us slowly and surely, with an insistence than cannot be denied.

So, don't deny it. Travel, but listen to (or read) the voices of home. Noted historian, Simon Schama once expressed his belief that "history is our cultural bloodstream." How right he is. John Fowles - a true lateralist, denied the lineality of history, in favour of the belief that experiences - as memory, as story - reside in the present tense. Again, I think he's spot on. And to once more borrow from the Oils, the blood of country, of history of which both men speak must surely be "written in the heart".

By the way, not everything need be about home. Read the novels of Haruki Murakami next time you're on a break. And listen to On An Island by David Gilmour. I don't think anyone will ever make an album more suited to wistful reflection.

It's funny how much travel is really about standing still. And through the strange and exciting noises of places new and foreign, we can often hear most clearly, the voices of home.

Climbing a Mountain

Earlier today, my wife and I climbed a mountain.

We'd been told that there was a mountain-top temple about 45 minutes drive from our resort, and that making the ascent was worth the effort. So, we thought we'd give it a go.

There's a scene in an episode of The Simpsons where Homer finally catches a glimpse of the "Murderhorn"; the mountain he is to climb. When the temple finally came into view, I felt a lot like Homer. It was a damned big mountain.

We'd been told that to reach the top, you had to climb about a thousand steps. In truth, it was 1,274 steps, as clearly stated by the sign at the mountain's base. I think it had been rounded down by those who'd misinformed us so we'd feel less daunted. Those who built the steps seemed to share this philosophy, we noted, as we began our climb. At first, the steps were small; only about three inches or so. But after about 200 or so, they changed to being more than a foot in height. This was going to take some doing.

The scenery was undeniably beautiful, and there was wildlife to admire. A lizard almost the size of a bungarra stuck its tongue out at me when I greeted it. Which was far nicer than biting me, I thought.

As we climbed, the need to take breaks became more and more necessary. It's certainly warm in Krabi right now - about thirty degrees - but the real killer is the humidity. It honestly felt like some inconsiderate bastard was trying to make me down a pint of honey whilst not only trying to breathe, but also whilst trying to climb a mountain. It was a gluggy, gasping experience.

After a while - about 800 steps - my body started to protest quite forcibly about what I was making it do. It reduced my step/rest count (the span of steps I could walk before needing to take a break) from at least 150 to about 50. It made my legs wobble. It made me feel dizzy. It made me sweat like the Wicked Witch of the West. It made me doubt my strength, and, honestly (but on a physical rather than emotional level, which is hard to explain), it made me want to cry. I began to doubt whether or not I had the strength - or more importantly, the willpower - to keep going.

But I got there. And it was worth it. Truth be told, I got there about five minutes after my wife. She's always been - and will always be - far stronger than I. She's also thirty-odd kilos lighter, I should point out.

The view was incredible. I'm fairly sure I could see Thailand in its entirety. I also think I could see Geraldton, so high up were we. I mean, when you pass what I'm pretty sure was an eagle's nest, you'd best keep an eye out, lest you get struck on the side of the head by some orbiting satellite.

The temple itself was lovely. I won't describe it. You can either look for pictures of it on the cheater-web, or climb it and see for yourself.

But the climb wasn't about the view or the temple; it was about the effort. I can't recall the last time I've needed to push my body so hard. To push one's body is ultimately to push one's mind. And the mind will doubt itself. But the mind, if you make it, will push back.

Without exertion, there can be no growth. It is essential to find ways in which you can push yourself to excel. It's always worth it.

And spare a thought for those who built the temple. And the monks who trek up it daily. I don't know if I could do that, but I know I'd be a stronger, wiser person for doing so.

For now, though, once is enough. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go and have my legs amputated.

09 July 2010


The lovliest thing happened to me this morning.

I should preface this story by saying that between the Labor party doing its best impersonation of a blind man in a maze at night, a friend wrecking my car and being sued, I haven't had a great week. I have, however, been re-reading some JD Salinger stories. I read his stuff regularly and have something of a thing for the Glass family and a genuine crush on Franny although I'm getting too old for her. Strictly speaking, I've probably been too old for her for some time but I have a pretty high tolerance when it comes to that sort of thing. Other than my love for Franny, the reader should probably also know that when reading the Glass stories I inevitable develop, contract really, Buddy's narative voice and a far more sentimental view of things than I otherwise would. I am rather sentimental about things generally but the various Glass stories take me up a notch; RH Blyth says "we are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it" and that's the effect Les, Bessie, Seymour, Buddy, Zooey and Franny have on me. And I have undoubtedly given to the episode described below more tenderness than God has or will. I should also add that I read that definition in a JD Salinger story. I am not that widely read.

At any rate, when I arrived at the bus stop this morning (for booze reasons, I get the bus on Fridays), there was a Chinese kid there reading and listening to music. I paid next to no attention, sat down and opened Seymour; An Introduction. At some point he sat next to me, gestured that he needed to ask me something, took the headphone out of his left ear and pointed to a word in what turned out to be an English-Chinese phrasebook that he was reading. "Valuable" I said. "Val-u-a-ble" he repeated. "Yep" I said and nodded in agreement. He smiled by way of thanks then continued sitting beside me. Had I not been reading a Salinger story at the time I may have thought nothing of it but in the words of Buddy in Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, which I had read just two days previously, "I looked over at the great man and tried to show by my expression that I knew a poem when I saw one."

I honestly haven't stopped smiling since although there may be other reasons for that; it being Friday just one of them.

08 July 2010

Lateralist Transportation

This posting comes directly to you from Thailand. Why? Because I'm in Thailand.

My wife and I have been here for six days now, but it only took me about forty-five minutes to start to feel like George Negus, and about an hour and a half to surpass him. I don't wish to overstate things, but I'm fairly confident in my assertion that I know everything their is to know about Thailand and its people. I'm able to feel this confident due to to the relaxed pace of life - and subsequent time available to think - that is afforded to one firmly ensconced beside a resort pool.

One of the things that is surely readily apparent to any who visit Thailand (or numerous other Asian nations) is that they have a system and culture of transportation that is - or should be - the envy of all Australians. Let me explain.

In Thailand, it is not uncommon to see a young child behind the wheel of a scooter. In Australia, it is more common to see grown men behind the wheel of a car, operating it for all the world as if they've never operated one before, and have been reared to believe that the world is one giant computer game created solely for their pleasure, in which their actions have no consequences at all. In Thailand, their drivers are better than ours before they turn seven. This is shameful. Not quite as shameful as a grown man being unable to legally ride a scooter, but shameful nevertheless.

Additionally, the Thai people are more than happy to transport pretty much anything on a scooter. Livestock? Fine. A Fridge? Sure! A family of six? Why not! A sheet of glass, between driver and passenger? Sounds fine! Another scooter? Now there's a thought! The simple fact is, anything goes. In Thailand, the a can of red paint and a couple of benches can turn a mini-van into a mini-bus in no time at all.

The Thais have all manner of vehicles moving in and out of each other and considerable variant speeds. As things stand, this would not work in Perth. Why? Because we are discourteous, and actively seem to believe that we ought not need to pay attention when we drive. We are, in short, extremely stupid. And if you want evidence for this, one need look no further than how two respective cultures view the role of the horn.

The horn in Australia is confined to addressing matters in the past tense. It is for complaining about things which have already occurred. Important things, such as; you drongo, you're travelling about four kilometers per hour slower than I'd ideally like to travel; or, you've changed lanes, you donkey; and even, you nit, you're now in front of me, you cad, and I've subsequently needed to activate my vehicle's breaking mechanism . See? Important things.

But in Thailand, the horn is used in a completely different way; it is an instrument of future-tense. Rather than a sound of complaint, it is actually a sound of courtesy. Put simply, if you're in a car, and you're coming up on a scooter - which happens constantly, due to the number of scooters on the road and the fact that cars invariably travel at greater velocity - the polite thing to do is let them know you're about to go round them. And do you know what scooters do? They move farther to the left of the road. They don't slow down and block traffic. They don't make any rude hand gestures. They just move over. Wonderful.

The reason the Thai network of people-moving ought to humble us Aussies is because it is grounded on a foundation of genuine courtesy, as opposed to the impatiently adversarial approach that seems to have consumed us in comparison.

And just when you think they can impress you no more, they display even greater degrees of ingenuity.

We happened to take a speed-boat cruise (well, a fast cruise, if you'll forgive the oxymoron) to a number of surrounding Islands. It was great. There were monkeys and snorkeling. (The monkeys did not snorkel. They did swim though, which was a surprise.) The boat was pretty full, and amongst the passengers was an American bloke who hailed from Hawaii. I thought he looked like a young Marlon Brando, but unfortunately he was built like the elder Marlon Brando. (Or possibly his private island.)

What I found incredible, was that rather than steer the boat using its inbuilt mechanisms, they just got poor Marlon to switch periodically from one side of the boat to the other. I thought this a masterstroke. I mean, he certainly needed the exercise, and a boat's steering column is surely as susceptible to wear and tear as any other machine. Put simply, they did right by two machines; one of steel and fibre glass, and one of bone and pies.

The Thais. They are taking civilization onwards.

03 July 2010

Laterally Brutal #2 - Still on the Nose

I'm pleased to report that Brut still stinks.

As a product, it seems to possess no redeeming features of any kind, and the puerile promotions that continue to be concocted in a pathetic attempt to sell it are actually worse than the product itself. Ponder that, if you will. I mean, the fact that it's flammable is the best thing about it.

I posted my contempt for a Brut advertisement some months ago. More recently, they've come up with another advertisement that surprisingly suggests to me that some attempt have been made to redress the overt and offensively sexist stylings of the older advertisement. I mean, they no longer manufacture a woman from a child's doll. How progressive!

That they have a lousy product is not the issue. Emu Export is a lousy product, despite its iconic status. The difference between Emu Export and Brut however, is that the former is not endlessly promoted in questionable ways. I'd have no problem with Brut continuing to exist if its makers would just stop creating and broadcasting such inane advertisements. I wouldn't buy it, but I could happily ignore it.

The gist of the advertisement is quite simple; a scantily-clad young woman, suddenly appears. She's not actually manufactured, but she just appears. She seems delighted. Whilst she walks through a beach car park, she is noticed - and subsequently oggled by one of three male friends. (Not her friends.) He points her out to his mates, who then enjoy the bonding experience of oggling her together. It's nice they can share in their gawking, as it makes them all feel good about it. Not that they question it; I mean, why would they?

To further validate their actions, a strange young man suddenly appears, and sings a song about the joys of oggling, and the moral imperative amongst men to share any oggling opportunities. He accompanies himself on a ukelele, which gives the whole scene a playful, cheeky, but ultimately harmless feel. To give the sound some heft, another (rather dodgy-looking) man climbs out of a car boot to walk alongside our voyeurism-sanctioning minstrel, sounding percussive bursts with burst of Brut. I reckon it'd have sounded - and smelled - considerably better it he'd just farted repeatedly.

That the creators of this advertisement either cannot see or do not care that they are overtly sanctioning the sexual objectification of women is quite troubling. The trouble they've gone to in their quest to make an advertisement so similar to the previous one, but which such a different style is incredible. Harsh music - the embodiment of testosterone-fuelled machismo has been replaced with warm acoustics. A CGI fanstasy-of-one has become a pastoral, natural fantasy-of-three, designed to legitimise the notion that women there to be viewed as sex objects, and that the women are happy about it.

Within the context of the advertisement itself, their logic is faultless. A women wearing insufficient material from which to make a handkerchief, with a attractive body, walks by a group of groaning men with a smile on her face. Obviously, she is flattered. I'm tempted to say, if only reality was this simple, but it would do my argument a disservice. I'm glad reality isn't this simple, I'm just disappointed that those who make advertisements are content to trawl along the bottom of culture in their attempts to ensnare a few luddites into purchasing their crappy product.

There is nothing wrong with beauty. I like beauty. But I resent having a camera pan across the body of a near-naked women in a manner Michael Bay would consider crass whilst I'm trying to watch telly. Why? Because it treats her like an object, and me like an idiot.

To those men who are reading this and who think I've lost my mind, I can assure you I haven't, and I offer this; if you like advertisements that physically or stereotypically reduce men to the level of salivating simpletons, then you're a more forgiving man than I. Personally, I don't like the idea that one of the fundamental tenets of mateship is the need for collective perving. And I don't like the idea that some blond-haired git's strumming of a tiny guitar might render such objectification harmless, or mellow, in a way that anyone - especially young males and young females might consider acceptable.

It irks me no end, because it'll cause many individuals (from both genders) no end of harm. If I had a teenage daughter, I'd hate her to aspire to being little more than a masturbatory fantasy, or even worse, despising herself for not being one. And if I had a teenage son, I'd want him to think long and hard about the behaviours he allows himself to consider acceptable. It's a shame that parents, in their quest to teach their children right from wrong, have to teach them to disregard so many prevailing and entrenched attitudes in our society.

I think, honestly, such simplistic sexualisation of people should dissipate once a male passes through puberty. I'm aware it doesn't, but I wish to God men - and the men and women who make advertisements - would take a bit of responsibility for the basal sexualisation of our species that they so readily exploit in the name of making a few bucks from flogging a shite product. To be honest, I sincerely doubt there is enough sex in the world to make Brut a product worth buying, or for that matter, a product worth selling.

Brut - it stinks. But not quite as much as the advertisements that promote it.

Stop and share? Try stop and think instead.