Some questions of direction post Brexit

In The Culture Wars, James Davison Hunter talks about how the liberal left lost control of large swathes of the working class vote in the US during the early 1980s. At that time, when African-Americans started to move into their jobs and suburbs and economic conditions left them fearing for themselves, growing working-class racism was met by tut-tutting from liberals, who told them off for it. While the liberals were right and the incursion of African-Americans into this traditional white space was not a bad thing, while racism is bad and should be condemned, there was also no attempt to try to understand the fears of the people and the causes of the racism. Powerless working class people saw their economic conditions being eroded and blamed the most visible, obvious culprit – even if that culprit was completely wrong. In turn, being called a racist and told off by those who are economically and educationally better off than you is a sure-fire way to make you turn away from, and in turn, condemn those “elites” as not understanding you, as looking down at you. And thus, the voters who had once been the mainstay of the Democrat Party drifted away to the right, to populism, to politicians who, while part of the elite who made their social conditions worse, didn’t tell them off but instead embraced their attitudes covertly or overtly, encouraging them and strengthening them.

In Paradise Postponed, John Mortimer writes of the essentially conservatism of the working classes of industrial Britain, the hiding behind “net curtains”, the fear of change. Leading into the Thatcher years, there is a demonstration of the way that, even when it is not in their best interests, the working classes can end up voting for that which protects them from what they fear, rather than what they should be afraid of. The odious Titmuss, conservative MP, is a product of these working classes, of their aspiration and their fear.

As we think about the Brexit vote from the perspective of the left, and as we look at the hate around the world of immigrants and the rise of the radical right, perhaps we need to think again about how we talk about these issues. As anyone who has ever had a fight on Twitter knows, you don’t convince anyone by telling them that they are racist/sexist/homophobic – in fact these responses are sometimes counter-productive. While I don’t think the answer is to tolerate or accept these attitudes or beliefs, perhaps there is a way through. The voting patterns for Brexit tell a story – younger people who are the products of an education system which educates people about acceptance and diversity, younger people whose perspective has become global, are clearly less likely think about politics reactively. It is difficult to know how to connect with those who are older and those who are fearful, particularly when disinformation has become truth in political campaigns. Do we abandon the struggle and focus instead of the young, hoping that reactionary conservatism will wither away as the fearful die. Or do we seek to find new ways to connect. How do we oppose racism and other hatreds without engaging in scolding which further alienates those with whom we should be connecting? There are practical, thoughtful questions we need to ask ourselves if we want to continue the project of making the world a better place for everyone.

This should be Eddie’s apology…

In a week when a woman was murdered while doing her job for doing her job; in a week the AFL has chosen to highlight the scourge of domestic violence against women, violence which has seen at least 30 women murdered in Australia this year; in a week where the AFL has finally announced the beginning of a women’s league; I really should have known better.

I should have realised that joking about killing a woman I dislike for the way she does her job is wrong. Not only wrong but deeply offensive. Not only offensive but a form of violence itself. A form of violence calculated to keep women from speaking out, from joining in, from doing their jobs without fear of retribution. I should have understood that these words help to entrench and reinforce the barriers to women who are knowledgable and interested in participating in the wider AFL community. 

I should have understood that all the women who so passionately celebrated the beginning of formal women’s participation in the sport now feel hurt and betrayed. That hearing this kind of thing makes them again understand that they aren’t part of the boy’s club which dominates AFL.

I should have realised that casually joking about violence against women is part of the pattern which makes men who see me and my mates as idols believe that there is nothing wrong with it. That it is acceptable to hurt women when they displease us. That this is exactly the culture that leads to the proliferation of violence and hate towards women.

I should have known that as a prominent man, what I say will be vigorously and even threateningly defended by other men when women say how it hurts, upsets and scares them, and I should have known to stop.

As a grown adult man, I should know that “joking” about violence against anyone is unacceptable and that “joking” about violence against a specific women is completely appalling.

I am profoundly sorry. I have thought about what I have said and I understand how it is upsetting to women. I understand how it encourages a culture of violence. I know that it is not an acceptable way to speak or behave. 

I deeply regret that I said it. Violence against women is not acceptable, joking about it isn’t funny. 


I regret it if what I said offended anyone and I am sorry they took offence.

100 sci fi women #87: Louise Kavanagh

Louise Kavanagh The Night’s Dawn Trilogy Peter Hamilton

Louise grows up a privileged, protected daughter of an estate owner, expected to marry to further the family’s ambitions on a planet which has enshrined a pastoral, class-based society. But Louise, a smart and beautiful young woman, has already felt the first chafing against these restrictions. As events over take her and her lifestyle, she shows that she is resourceful, tough and willing to risk herself to protect her sister. Louise discovers that she needs to make her own choices – about love and morality, about risks and dangers – and that she is not defined by her parents’ expectations. She is incredibly loyal to those who support her, and puts herself in danger to protect them – or makes sure that she does not hurt their feelings. Louise was full of intelligence and bravery and loyalty before her world fell into crisis, but she was not allowed to show it. So when the chance came, she went on to help save humanity.

Louise, I’m begging you. they’ll catch you. You’ll be tortured.

Not for long. After all,  we’re all going to be slaughtered.

100 sci fi women #86: Casey Newton

Disney's TOMORROWLAND Casey (Britt Robertson) Ph: Kimberley French ©Disney 2015

Casey Newton is resourceful, smart, determined and idealistic. She is willing to break the rules for a good purpose, especially if it involves keeping her dad in a job. She is a nascent scientist and inventor: she devises ingenious approaches to trying to stop NASA decommissioning a launch site – both to protect her father but also because she believes in a future of discovery and invention which is embodied by space travel.  She is willing to take a journey on the basis of a glimpse of an exciting future full of scientific discovery and human endeavour. But Casey isn’t just a dreamer; she can protect herself in a fight and is brave in the face of killer robots and other unexpected dangers. But most of all her idealism, and her intelligence, are enough to ensure that the world is saved, and that a better future is built, which supports dreamers and inventors like her to blossom and continue to save the world.

Dad: Why do you love the stars so much, Casey?
Casey Newton: Because I wanna go there.
Dad: But it’s so far away.
Jenny Newton: It’ll take a long time. A real long time. What if you get all the way up there and there’s nothing?
Young Casey Newton: What if there’s *everything*?

7 Songs in 7 (ish) days: Come As You Are Nirvana

4 of 7

The other part of musical life at university was the discovery and growing love of seeing bands and wearing flannel and Docs and being grunge. Possibly the culmination of this was spending a summer floating around in the pool at Allen Grove reading a book and listening to Nevermind on repeat (meant I didn’t need to get out of the pool). Of course, I late had a moment of great shame when i didn’t realise I was on the same plane with the band when they toured sometime later until it was nearly too late.


7 Songs in 7 (ish) days: Bass (How low can you go)

Song 3 of 7

There were two major parts to music during university: one was dancing and the other was bands. Today, dancing. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s going dancing was a big part of life, There were different clubs for different nights of the week. And they changed from time to time.. Those were the days when a phone call at 10ppm could get me out of bed and into town because we didn’t really start dancing til 11pm. The music ranged across the years from Salt ‘n’ Peppa amd Push It, through New Order and into house music, Here is an example of the kind of thing that would get one onto the dancefloor, even if you never knew its name.


7 Songs in 7 Days: Duran Duran Careless Memories

As a teenager music was very important to me and Duran Duran was everything. I slept under the giant poster, I cut up magazines and stuck them to my school books and folders, we debated who was our favourite (mine was Simon) and I saved up to buy their cassettes and singles and albums and everything. Duran Duran was the first concert I went to. I was entranced by the glamour of the videos for Rio, I loved the weirdness of the lyrics from Seven and the Ragged Tiger and while there were many bands I loved during the 1980s, none came close to Duran Duran. The best thing though is to find how much I still enjoy listening to their music, how much I shouted lyrics like a teenager when I saw them play again a couple of years ago, and that Simon still looks hot with a microphone in his hand.

7 Songs in & Days: Racey “Some Girls”

Here is Some Girls by Racey from the album Smash and Grab – the first album I ever purchased. Seventies pop at its finest, demonstrating some of the movement into synth that would dominate the 1980s. Nowadays there is a lot of other 1970s music I would listen to well before Racey, but to a ten year old with dollars to burn, Smash and Grab was the best. They were really my One Direction.


scorch trials(Image from Box Office Democracy)

Of the three dystopian franchises aimed at teenagers that are about at the moment, The Maze Runner is my least favourite. I think it is largely because its world is much less well developed and less coherent than either The Hunger Games or Divergent but also it is, in part, because it is so much less progressive or interesting in its depiction of female characters. In the original film there are essentially only two in the whole film, Teresa, who turns up half way through, and the evil character Ava Paige, and neither is more than two dimensional. The Scorch Trials has more women on screen, but it still barely scrapes past the Bechdel test (I think there is about two sentences exchanged between Ava and Teresa). It is interesting that a film which so studiously ensures it has a beautifully multiracial cast (even if it is the South Asian who is the first to die), still can’t manage women and girls in a particularly effective way. Yes, Brenda is an interesting addition who is smart and capable, but, like Teresa, she really only is defined in terms of her relationship to Thomas. And it is great to put two girls with guns and the ones who find the gang, but it might be nice to give them some sort of personality or role in addition to the guns. While it is true of pretty much all the characters that there is little to them and less reason to care, it feels particularly acute with the women – they are all acting out some archetype or another. To be honest, I liked this more than the original film which was terribly predictable, and at least we got a bit more insight to what is actually going on, but it might be nice to develop some characters who actually have depth.

Evil blondes from the future

Since the inception of film as a visual medium, blonde women have played important signifying roles. Femme fatales of film noir, the victim in horror films, the highly sexualised dangerous  woman – it has often been easy to chart the path of the character by one of her key signifiers, her hair colour. There are notable differences – Hitchcock made Grace Kelly a very different blonde in his films and she was never a victim while Joss Whedon chose to deliberately subvert horror tropes by making Buffy small and blonde. Nonetheless, there is generally a consistent archetype to the televisual blonde.

An interesting new archetype I have noticed in a number of science fiction films recently is the powerful, older,  evil blonde. Dr Ava Paige in The Maze Runner, Secretary Delacourt in Elysium and Jeanine in Divergent all exemplify this archetype. Powerful, manipulative and indifferent to the fate of others not of their caste. Willing to sacrifice anyone, Delacourt and Jeanine, in particular, aim to support and improve their own hegemonic privilege while Paige tortures children for apparently scientific purposes. Both Jeanine and Paige are closely aligned with science, while Delacourt is enmeshed in the use of technology. These women are technocrats, using science and technology for evil purposes and using need to be overcome by “good hearted” people with access to lower or no tech approaches.

These depictions are ideological from a number of viewpoints. Firstly, they posit the political and hegemonic power in the hands of women, concealing the general reality that these levers tend to be held by men. The societies in which they operate do not seem to have radically overturned gender norms to achieve this position where women are placed with power, in fact most of the gender relations within the films seem to indicate the reverse, that in general relations are not much further advance. All three of the women (and noticeably two seem to dress primarily in white), wear the feminised clothing, and, if anything, their privilege and separation from those required to do actual work is symbolised by their impractical shoes and tight skirts. In the world of Insurgent Jeanine’s main political rivals are men, and the leaders of the Factions she has assist her are also men – she is unusual in being a woman.  Similarly Delacourt is chastised by a male President and deals with a male CEO. These women are still exceptions, but they are the powerful evil centre. Inherent is an implication that women with power exploit it to maintain their own power and privilege, which, it could be argued is what male powers structures actually do.

Their close alignment with science and technological advance also serves to undermine the importance of scientific progress . In these films the heroes are all on the side of the low tech, with limited access to anything other than their own resources and ability. It is technology which serves to enslave in both Elysium and Divergent and the characters in the Maze Runner are trapped apparently in the service of science. The dystopic futures all three are set in seem to make the power of science enslaving and dividing, something the human spirit must fight against. The idea of the immaculate blonde serves to reinforce the rigidity of science and its danger. In Divergent this science-based approach is directly contrasted with the “humanism” of Abnegation, whose selflessness, low tech public service is pitted against the science-based command-and-control approach of Jeanine and her allies.

Whether this depiction of the middle-aged blonde as dystopian killer technocrat will continue remains to be seen, but it is interesting that it has emerged in three different movies made within a year of each other. As much as I like to see women in science fiction films, and older women who are smart and powerful is doubly terrific, it would be nice if they weren’t the evil one from time to time.