The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'wowsers'
Since taking office, Victoria's conservative government has pursued a war on indecent language. First it instituted on-the-spot fines for swearing in public, and now, it has unveiled changes to the liquor licensing laws which allows venues' licences to be revoked for tolerating "profane, indecent or obscene language", or not promptly removing indecent graffiti.
“What this means is that if someone swears inside your venue Police can penalise your venue with Demerit Points. The concern … is that this gives Police unprecedented authority over an already over-regulated legitimate business sector that contributes strongly to the local economy. Vandalism is also mentioned. Does this mean that if someone has graffiti-ed in the bathrooms that police can issue Demerit points?”
The possibility of Australia legalising video games not suitable for children moves a little closer, now that the main obstacle, South Australian
Witchfinder-General Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, has resigned from his post, in the wake of a poor election result. Atkinson, a religious conservative, was exercising his power of veto over the possible introduction of an 18+ rating for video games, and was on record making statements comparing video gamers to motorcycle gangs. He also tried to pass a law banning anonymous speech on the internet prior to the election.
South Australia has led the fight in keeping Australia a censorious society; the wowser-state's Attorney-General's veto has been the main stumbling block to legalising video games unsuitable for children. Now, state laws have come into effect requiring R-rated films to be displayed in plain packaging, with nothing more than the title:
Adults aged over 18 seeking to buy or borrow a copy of Mad Max, the acclaimed desert war drama Three Kings, starring George Clooney, the Brad Pitt classic Fight Club or the 2009 Blu Ray release of Sasha Baron Cohen's fashion parody Bruno will now find them in plain packaging displaying nothing more than the film's title.
Under changes to the state's classification act, which came into effect on Sunday, businesses will face fines of up to $5000 for displaying a "poster, pamphlet or other printed material" for films classified R18+.
The law was announced by the office of South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, whose conservative campaigning is well known to the film industry.
Today's heartwarming display of ecumenical outreach between religions comes to us courtesy of Australian Christian-right parliamentarian Reverend Fred Nile, who has tabled a bill to ban toplessness on beaches, to protect the sensibilities of Muslims and Asians who are not used to such licentiousness:
The Reverend Nile has rejected allegations that prudishness is behind a bill he has prepared to ban nudity, including topless sunbathing, on the state's most popular beaches.
Australia's reputation as a conservative but culturally inclusive sociery was at risk of erosion by more liberal overseas visitors, he said.Of course, Australia has only been a "conservative society" for some 11 years. Well, and all the time up to the Whitlam government in the 1970s, but that was a long time ago. Now, it's gradually and haltingly inching its way back towards a Western secular-liberal consensus. (Not at any great rate, mind you; video games unsuitable for children are still outlawed, film censorship is still handled by the Howard government's conservative appointees, and there is that national firewall proposal that keeps lumbering forward, zombie-fashion, despite not being remotely viable; but still...) Some people, though, don't want to abandon their dream of Australia as a spiritually pure Kingdom of Prester John in the South.
"Our beaches should be a place where no one is offended, whether it's their religious or cultural views," he said.No-one? I wonder whether this extends to the Wahhabi Muslims who would be offended by the exposure of naked female ankles and elbows, or even faces, on Reverend Nile's modesty-enhanced beaches. Or even by the fact that men and women can be on the same beach in each other's company. Unless Reverend Nile is prepared to mandate full gender segregation of beaches and the full burqa for women, I suspect he is being a wee bit hypocritical.
The Australian government announced mandatory internet filters. Under the scheme, all ISPs will have to provide a "clean" feed free of pornography, which will be the default. It will be possible to opt out of this, which will either involve requesting an unfiltered (or less filtered) feed from the ISP or, after getting one's age verified, getting an account on a government-run "adult content proxy". What it will involve is Australian internet users having the choice of having access to adult content blocked or signing a "perverts' register". Then again, the government has promised that the system will not affect download speeds (which are already lagging behind the rest of the world), so perhaps the whole thing will be quietly placed in the too-hard basket after Family First (whose votes are needed in the Senate) are satisfied that Rudd & Co. are fellow wowsers.
Proof that the wowsers haven't completely won the Australian culture war: Australian commercial radio stations have received complaints for playing censored American radio edits of alternative-rock/rap songs:
Nova 100 music director Estelle Paterson said the station received complaints about "radio edited" or "clean" songs it played, describing a version provided by record companies which is shorter and deletes profanity present on album versions.
Radio edits of some hip-hop songs are so cut-up as to be almost unusable, she added, laughing, "And in America everything's considered offensive!"
In Oslo, Norway, some concerned citizen has taken it upon themselves to cover up indecently unclothed statues:
With the exception of one lone figure, every scrap of nipple, crotch or posterior was covered with black strips of paper, no matter the size nor position of the statue. The unknown assailant left an explanatory note behind: "There is too much nudity in newspapers and magazines, so here on the bridge the limit has been reached!"
(via Boing Boing)
Two stories have recently made the Australian press: firstly, the government pushed through its sweeping "anti-terrorism" laws, rolling back presumptions of free speech and civil liberties taken for granted with no meaningful resistance; there being nothing in the way of a formal guarantee of rights in Australia, post-Whitlam institutions of free speech and civil liberties crumbled like so many sandcastles in the path of an incoming tide. Secondly, there was mass outcry as a convicted drug smuggler, Nguyen Tuong Van, was executed in Singapore, only to be reborn as a national symbol alongside the likes of Ned Kelly and Breaker Morant, with unofficial national moments of silence at the time of his execution and numerous strangers attending his funeral to pay their respects. It is quite likely that shrines will be erected in his honour.
On the surface, the two stories seem contradictory: though, on a deeper level, they are an example of the larrikin-wowser dynamic at the heart of Australian society. The crucial point being that Australia does not have a strong tradition of civil society. It has a strong tradition of authoritarian and paternalistic governance (from the penal-colony days, through the Menzies era to the present, minus an anomalous period of fashionable liberalism in the 1970s, 80s and 90s) and arbitrary authority exercised as a means to an end (such as has been manifested in the oft-publicised incidents of police corruption), and of censorious social conservatism of the sort that would not fly in more cosmopolitan parts of the world. It also has an opposing tradition of borderline contempt for authority and propriety; the larrikin tradition, manifesting itself in everything from the Rum Rebellion to the stencil art scene, not to mention in numerous incidents of political, artistic or cultural radicalism or impropriety and, of, course the summary transformation of anyone who dies in the course of pissing off authority — even if they were undoubtedly guilty of unsavoury crimes (and most Australians, presumably, do not condone armed robbery or heroin trafficking in principle) — into a folk saint of sorts, as we are seeing now.
That's all very well, but the downside of this is that there is no centre to hold between the two; no entrenched, stable institutions of a liberal culture, but only a precarious balance in an ancient war between two extremes. Usually, these are well balanced, and things stay roughly where they are. Occasionally, one gets the upper hand, pushes the other back, and gains ground. It happened during the 1960s and 1970s, when the wave of cultural change that resonated through the Western world pushed back the the conservative status quo of Anglo-Saxon Protestant wowserism, itself undermined by the challenges of immigration and cosmopolitanism; it's happening in the opposite direction now, because of terrorism and the resulting culture of fear.
The Australian federal government adds another ally to its culture-war Coalition of Willing, with the Special Minister of State addressing a dinner by a militantly anti-gay Christian group known as Salt Shakers:
The Salt Shakers website says it is time to stop pandering to the gay minority group, especially as homosexual sex is still the main cause of HIV/AIDS in Australia.
"By lending his credibility to a hate group like Salt Shakers, Senator Abetz is undermining the Howard Government's commitment to tolerance of homosexuals and religious minorities," Mr Croome said.("Commitment to tolerance"?)
And so, the courtship dance between the Australian conservative government and a rising US-style religious right continues. Which suggests that, far from being in decline, Australian wowserism is remaking itself in the image of the tremendously politically sophisticated US religious right and attempting to make the (increasingly misnamed) Liberal Party its own (much as happened with the Republican Party in the US).
Electronic Frontiers Australia, Australia's equivalent of the EFF, are pushing to legalise adult-oriented computer games. Presently, the video-game rating system is written with the assumption that games are for children; it only goes up to MA (i.e., 15 years or over), and thus any games deemed unsuitable for 15-year-olds are illegal. This has resulted in some games being banned outright, and others (including some in the Grand Theft Auto series) being bowdlerised for Australia's tender sensibilities.
Of course, getting such a change of law passed by the social-conservative Tory government (which, after all, is responsible for tightening up the censorship system to its present level of Mary Whitehouse-esque prissiness and banning a fuckload of things Britons and most Americans can see freely) would be a difficult task at any time. And now, it may be even harder, given that a Tory senator's career of swashbuckling high adventure has come to light. If Senator Lightfoot, alleged to have been gallivanting around Iraq with a gun and smuggling money to an oil company, is found to have been a political liability, the government's Senate majority may disappear, and were that to happen, they would be forced to go into coalition with religious-right party Family First, who make them look like, well, liberals (they are the ones demanding a Saudi-style national internet firewall). With that looming on the horizon, it may be prudent for them to bulk up their wowser credentials, and developing a reputation for being open-minded, tolerant or otherwise "soft on filth" would be exactly the wrong thing to do.
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 modicum of common sense in Canberra; the ruling Tories have rejected a national internet porn filter, as demanded by Family First and Tasmanian religiot senator Brian Harradine, on the grounds that it would drive up costs without necessarily solving the problem. Let's hope they stick with this approach.
Curiously enough, Australia has a notionally more liberal internet regime than Britain; the UK has a national internet firewall, as do Singapore, China and Saudi Arabia, only it is currently only used against child pornography sites. What will happen the next time, say, a former MI6 agent publishes his memoirs abroad and the D-notices start flying, however, may be another matter.
John Howard's Australia's 1950s-style parochialism and prudery strikes again, as Michael Winterbottom's latest film receives an X rating, preventing it from being shown in cinemas or made available except in the ACT. The film, 9 Songs, involves a couple attending live music gigs, before repeatedly having sex; Winterbottom (who also did 24 Hour Party People) made it as a statement against prudery. I guess such statements have no place in Relaxed and Comfortable Australia.
Australia has made its choice, the Tories have been reelected with an increased majority, and look like gaining control of the Senate as well (current predictions show them set to have half the Senate in their own right, with a Family First senator giving them a majority, in return for a religious conservative legislative agenda). The Greens did well, but, with Labor having collapsed under them, they will be unable to do much with all their Senate seats. So, what can we expect in the next three years?
For one, we're likely to see a stepping up of the culture war. The election has shown that Australia is polarised, between a small, cosmopolitanist minority in the inner cities who voted Green, and the majority of Herald-Sun-reading suburban battlers who back Howard. Given the acrimony before the election (other parties directing preferences away from the Greens as if they were One Nation, and scare ads about the Greens standing for drugs and paedophilia), and the Family First factor, the prospects of a new, triumphant Howard government waving the olive branch of inclusion seems unlikely. What seems more likely is that the boot will come down hard, and the culture war will become uglier, dirtier and more brutal, with the full weight of a completely controlled legislative apparatus being used to instill "Australian" values and punish the deviants who resist them.
What will this entail? For one, more censorship. Under Howard, Australia had already become quite a censorious society (witness the banning of Baise-Moi in the cinemas a few years ago), and will do so even more as Family First push for children and adults to be protected from filth. Expect more controversial films to be denied classification, or film distributors to even stop bothering trying to get a rating for anything controversial in Australia, while many films which are shown will only be shown in expurgated editions. More internet censorship is on the cards. Family First proposed a national censorship infrastructure, like Singapore's, funded by a $10 annual levy on each user; it is not unlikely that the Howard government will borrow this idea. After all, the current censorship arrangement (as secretive and undemocratic as it is) still doesn't stop children from viewing filth at a few mouse clicks (as any tabloid journalist will be happy to demonstrate). And national censorship infrastructures have been shown to be workable; Singapore, China and Saudi Arabia have them, and Britain now also has infrastructure in place to block web sites (it is presently used to block a few child pornography web sites, but could be pressed into service to block the next equivalent of Spycatcher or David Shayler at the drop of a D-notice, but I digress). Some in the Liberal Party even suggested, some years ago, blocking all adult content from the mainstream internet, requiring those perverted enough to look at such content to register for access through a special proxy server. Registration would, presumably, limit one's career prospects in certain industries, just in case your Suicide Girls habit made you into a kiddie diddler.
With Australia's new family-friendly cinemas and internet, the country's reputation as a modern, cosmopolitan society will suffer. Film and arts festivals will lose any edge they had, attracting little in the way of anything controversial but instead presenting only comforting banalities. Sydney and Melbourne will once again give up their claim to be world cultural capitals and fall back to being big provincial towns. And don't expect anything like Piss Christ being exhibited in an Australian gallery; chances are, Andres Serrano wouldn't even get a visa. Welcome to relaxed and comfortable Australia, where decent people needn't fear having their sensibilities offended.
Other consequences of the Culture War could be loss of reproductive choice (current health minister Tony Abbott mentioned his opposition to abortion, and with Family First's new influence, it could be banned or restricted), institutionalised discrimination against homosexuals (they are, after all, deviants who have no place in Howard's idealised 1950s suburbia), continuing denial of indigenous rights, not to mention a policy of pure spite towards refugees.
And then there is the US-Australian Free Trade Agreement, in which Australia signed over vast swathes of economic sovereignty to the US in return for access to US markets for its sugar industry, only to find out that that wasn't part of the deal, but pressed on anyway out of loyalty. Since we're adopting wholesale the US software patent system, we can expect small Australian software companies to go out of business, unable to risk the cost of patent litigation, or be bought out en masse by multinationals with patent portfolios and cross-licensing agreements. Within a few years, the Australian industry will be little more than a branch office of US multinationals. Open source may not escape unscathed; given the broadness of software patents, anything without a multinational with a huge legal department behind it will be too much of a risk for anybody to use, distribute or support. And then there's our adoption of US copyright laws without actually having a Constitutional fair use provision, as the US does, which means that anyone with an iPod is committing a crime.
If there's one good thing that may come out of the new, repressive, paternalist Australia, it is the prospect of an underground culture flourishing in pockets of resistance. After all, it was the roiling undercurrents of resentment in Thatcher's Britain that gave us everything from alternative comedy to the explosion of British indie music and art. (Not that the Thatcherites took their credit for that happening on their watch; they were too busy promoting their view of proper British culture in the form of Lloyd-Webber musicals and insipid Merchant-Ivory costume dramas and the like, their own equivalent of "Relaxed and Comfortable".)
A look at John Howard-approved potential balance-of-power-holders Family First's internet policy:
Conservative political newcomer Family First wants an annual levy of $7 to $10 on all internet users to fund a $45 million mandatory national internet filtering scheme aimed at blocking pornographic and offensive content at server level.
via Road to Surfdom/Counterspin
So what will the culture-warriors in Canberra do to follow up their anti-gay marriage bill? How about withdrawing the morning-after birth-control pill from prescription-free sale. All in the name of protecting young girls from the dangers of sex, of course. Presumably the need to get parental consent for a prescription will scare a lot of teenagers into abstinence, or so the theory goes. (Do the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers really vote for such reactionary gestures?)
Anyone want to start a book on when the Howard government's US-style abstinence-only sex education push will be unveiled?
Microsoft announces that they're shutting down all unsupervised chat rooms because of paedophiles. A few days later, Senator Alston, the Savonarola of Canberra, issues a statement praising the action, and saying how this will force other operators to shut down their chat rooms as well. You can almost see the glee in his beady little eyes as he contemplates the golden age of shame-based morality and self-righteous busybodyism this will usher in, in which everybody is their brother's keeper and private moral lapses (from morality as defined by our spiritual leaders) have serious public consequences.
Protecting Our Values: After pressure from the paternalist Liberal Government, Australia's film censors have banned Baise-Moi, overturning the R rating previously granted. More than 50,000 people have seen the film while it was legal; the ban is believed to be the work of a board stacked with religious conservatives and political appointees, and advice is being taken on how to challenge it.
(Wonder what they'll do next; how about bringing back the ban on the importation of electric guitars, just like in the hallowed Menzies Era, in case this rock'n'roll thing corrupts the morals of our youth.)
I saw Baise-Moi last week. I'm still not sure whether it's a work raising serious questions or an adolescent tantrum of sensationalist violence (more likely, it's somewhere in between; the question is whether the crux of its difference from all the by-the-numbers post-Tarantino films is in its message or in the fact that they have actual sex in it). I don't think it should be banned though.