The Null Device
The first people convicted under Victoria's religious vilification laws were two evangelical Christian pastors, one of them an unsuccessful Senate candidate from the Family First political party (you know, the ones all the majors did deals with to keep those dangerous radical Greens out of the Senate), convicted for a 2002 seminar in which they told their congregation that Muslims were training to take over Australia and encouraged domestic violence, and that Islam was an inherently violent religion. The two pastors, from evangelical group Catch the Fire Ministries, claimed that they were merely trying to "increase understanding of Muslim culture".
On one hand, it seems fair enough; the two defendants were obviously fundamentalist bozos. On the other hand, it makes one wonder against whom else the laws could be used. If, for example, Canadian Muslim reformist Irshad Manji did a bookshop tour of Australia to discuss her thesis that mainstream Islam has problematic veins of intolerance and absolutism, could she be prosecuted? Could she be prosecuted for claiming that the Koran was written as a pragmatic political tool for governing the Arab Empire, and not a divine revelation? (Also, if she did the same in Britain after the Blair government's Religious Vilification Bill, which allegedly prohibits saying mean things about the Koran, were passed, what would happen?) Could we end up with a situation where following certain lines of inquiry could lead to criminal prosecution and, instead, baroque lines of circumlocution must be devised to avoid the elephant in the middle of the room?
Quoted from Graham's blog, whose comments appear to be broken:
Bizarro sex ed animations, produced by the BBC. Theres one for the girls and one for the lads. Not Safe For Work. Also notice the difference in the title banners. And could you imagine the response from Murdochs hounds if the ABC even broached anything like this? More evidence that weve fallen behind the mother country in the prudity stakes. (Edit: or ahead, depending on your point of view.)
Actually, I don't think it's a matter of Australia having fallen behind the UK, so much as "respectable" Australian social morés always having been more conservative and less permissive than in the old country. It was like that in the 1950s, when Melbourne and Sydney were (on the surface) much more buttoned-down and less accepting of any deviancy than London; and in the early 1960s, when
a British model British fashion model Jean Shrimpton went to the Melbourne Cup wearing a miniskirt (which was the done thing in London), it caused public outrage and indignation.
Part of this would probably come from the frontier/outpost mentality ingrained into the Australian psyche. Australia is a new country, half a world away from civilisation, and thus needs more discipline to hold the line against barbarism. It is, the reasoning can be extrapolated as, not yet mature enough to be trusted with as much leeway as they have in London or Los Angeles. The fact that it was originally a penal colony, ruled with an iron fist by colonial governors, could have something to do with the political culture as well. The convicts are gone, but the paternalistic streak remains in Australia; from John Howard and his idol Robert Menzies to fictitious civic patriarchs in films like The Cars That Ate Paris and Welcome To Woop Woop, Australia has traditionally been a country of stern father figures laying down rules they expect to be heeded. Australia has also been a traditionally censorious society; other than high-profile cases like Baise-Moi and Nine Songs, many mainstream films have scenes cut or shortened prior to being allowed to be shown in Australia; meanwhile, a number of books, including, allegedly, 18th-century erotic novel Fanny Hill, are banned in Australia. And given how popular Howard's retro-styled leadership is (after all, one can only give so much credit to Rupert Murdoch's news-management for the last election), one can conclude that much of Australia finds this sort of governance reassuring.
Of course, that is only one side of the story. The streak of paternalistic conservatism in "respectable" bourgeois Australian society is counterbalanced by another phenomenon: the larrikin tradition. This tradition, of borderline contempt for authority and propriety, has been in Australia since the days of convict settlements and corrupt, arbitrary government, and is just as firmly ingrained, underneath the surface of society, as conservatism. The larrikin element can be argued to have informed everything from Australian contemporary art from the Angry Penguins onwards to youth counterculture (from bodgies to ferals), from contemporary scofflaws (it's no accident that Melbourne is home to the Cave Clan, dozens of zines and one of the world's most active stencil graffiti scenes) to the fine Australian tradition of political pranks.
And so we get the dynamic between wowserism (the bourgeois paternalist conservatism) and larrikinism, with both sides of the equation reinforcing each other. The larrikin vein beneath the surface of Australian culture is proof that Australia isn't ready for the sorts of license they have elsewhere in the world, and needs a firm hand to guide it. Meanwhile, the conservative, conformistic streak in respectable Australian society fuels the undercurrent of resistance. It is a balance, and a positive feedback loop, between order and chaos, just as that described by Discordianism.
It appears to me that the prominent larrikin-wowser dynamic, and its various consequences, is the main difference between the Australian and British cultures. Britain is less conservative or censorious as a whole (in fact, some have called this Britain's "repressive tolerance"), but doesn't have the larrikin tradition (not that it's a terribly orderly place, just that its disorder seems to be confined to drunken neds punching each other up outside pubs at 11pm, and has no deeper cultural manifestation).
A British designer has created a coffee mug with a shelf for storing biscuits. The Dunk Mug, sensibly enough, comes in left- and right-handed variants. (via bOING bOING)
Rod Liddle in last week's Sunday Times on Britain's upcoming religious vilification laws:
Heres a short Christmas quiz. Let me rephrase that. Its a short Winterval quiz. I would not wish to frighten or alienate any Sunday Times readers by waving Jesus Christ in their faces.
Anyway, the first question is this. One of the two statements below may soon be illegal; the other will still be within the law. You have to decide which is which and explain, with the aid of a diagram, the logic behind the new provision. a) Stoning women to death for adultery is barbaric. b) People who believe it is right to stone women to death for adultery are barbaric.
Other people, including comedian Rowan Atkinson, have pointed out that the religious vilification laws could have profoundly chilling effects on debate, which the Home Office strenuously denies. The bill, as drafted, apparently criminalises treating religious texts, such as the Bible or Koran, "in an abusive or insulting way", thus sounding dangerously like the all-faiths blasphemy bill David Blunkett went out of his way to say it wasn't. It does, however, specifically exempt comedians.
(I'll bet that the Church of Scientology's lawyers are rubbing their hands with glee at the shiny new blunt instrument for use against critics they are about to be handed. I wonder whether they'll get to use Britain's national firewall to block access to critical sites.) (via FmH)
Brazil now leads the world in revolving apartment technology, with the first-ever such building, Suite Vollard, giving each of its 11 residents their choice of 360-degree views at the touch of a button. (via bOING bOING)