Posts Tagged ‘Irony’

All too often, gross remarks – be they racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise abusive and vile – are excused or condoned on the grounds of irony; that because they were meant to be humorous, they can’t possibly be offensive. And if somebody is offended, then they’re either oversensitive or incapable of laughter – either way, though, the problem is with them, not the joke-teller.

Except that, no: it’s not.

Generally speaking, there are two reasons why people make ironically offensive jokes: either they think we live in such a post-racist, post-sexist, post-discriminatory world that the act of mimicking historical abuses cannot possibly reinforce those abuses, on account of how they no longer really exist; or they secretly think the stereotypes which underlie offensive jokes have some basis in reality, and are therefore funny because they’re true. The former person can be anything from genuinely well-intentioned but oblivious to belligerently convinced that society has swung so far in the opposite direction that previously oppressed groups are now the beneficiaries of so much privilege that mocking them is only fair. The latter person, however, is almost invariably bigoted, even if they’re not consciously aware of it.

As such, there are really three types of people who tell ironically offensive jokes or make offensive remarks for fun: those who think bigots either don’t exist or are so vanishingly rare as to be meaningless statistical anomalies, those who are bigots but don’t realise it, and those who embrace their bigotry as the only logical truth. If that’s true, then it’s surely important to know the exact intentions of the people both making and responding to supposedly ironic jokes – otherwise, you run the risk of laughing at yourself.

But if the remarks themselves are functionally identical regardless of who’s making them, then how can you possibly know which ones are meant ironically?

The answer is, you can’t – and for those who’d like to contend otherwise, permit me a small experiment with which to support my case.

The following statements are all, word for word, sexist comments or messages I’ve received online from total strangers. Some, by the explicit admission of the senders, were intended ironically; others, also by explicit admission, were not. Some are from self-professed sexists; others are from individuals who violently objected to my labelling them as such. Some were sent in the course of a conversation; others were out of the blue. But all were sent online, by people I don’t know in real life – meaning that you, my readers, know as much about the senders and their potential motives as I first did on receiving them.

So tell me: which ones are ironic, and which are not?

1. im gonna rape you

2. you rant and whine like a true cunt

3. Most women need to be dominated. It might not be what they think they want but its what they need, trust me they eat that shit up.

4. God, what a feminist bitch!

5. you just sound like another bitter angry man-hating lesbian

6. Petal, you have no idea how pleasurable it is being fisked by a self-righteous tea-cosy-wearing Scots feminista called “Foz”.

7. it’s not really a sexist belief that women are mentally and physically inferior to men

8. You’ll never get a husband thinking that way.

9. You’re a fat bitch with a man haircut that never got laid so you turned dyke and you’re on a feminazi rage.

10. still an ugly slag, get some surgery bitch

Laughing yet?

I’m not.

Not because I don’t have a sense of humour – I do. It’s just that this isn’t funny. This is a tiny, tiny taste of what it means to be a woman online: I have folders full of this stuff, and I guarantee that most of the people sending it don’t think of themselves as being the least bit sexist or misogynistic . Oh, no: they’re just being honest, or – god help me –¬†comedians. But the thing is, the ironic-offensive-humour-peddlers? They’re the minority. The vast majority of the offensive nonsense I receive – that all women receive – isn’t meant ironically. It’s either meant explicitly to intimidate and frighten, or ¬†– just as chillingly – is nothing more than a deadpan, no-nonsense glimpse into the sender’s view of women. It’s the opposite of irony.

So when you joke about how I should get back in the kitchen and make you a sandwich, you’re not being clever or witty or post-ironic. You’re offering up a pitch-perfect imitation of the sort of abuse I routinely receive, and – at absolute best – are asking me to laugh at how weird, how implausible it is, that people used to think like this! Isn’t that just crazy?

What’s crazy, friend, is that you expect me to laugh at my own belittlement.

Bottom line: ironic sexism is still sexism. Not just because women can’t tell the difference, but because misogynists can’t, either – and they think that shit’s hilarious.

Warning: complete spoilers, much rant.

Up until about a week ago, I hadn’t planned on seeing Sucker Punch¬†at the movies, primarily because I didn’t know it existed. That all changed when rumblings in the blogsphere alerted me both to the film itself and to the suggestion that it was a sexist, misogynistic piece of rape-obsessed trash, as opined (among others) by The Atlantic reviewer Sady Doyle and blogger Cassie Alexander. This did not provoke in me a desire to spend money at the box office so much as a profound feeling of disgust – and yet, I remained a little bit intrigued, too, if only because of the amount of controversy racking up. First, lead actresses¬†Emma Browning¬†and Abbie Cornish¬†both defended the film, and then I saw a favourable review that had been¬†published, of all places, on the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center blog, wherein the author praised it as “the best movie about dissociation [he’d] ever seen.”¬†

Despite my initial reaction, Sucker Punch was starting to look like something I ought to see, if only for curiosity’s sake. Going in, I was prepared for the worst, but also open to the possibility of redemptive surprise, particularly as I’ve found Zack Snyder’s previous three efforts to be something of a mixed bag: I loathed¬†300, was on the fence about¬†Watchmen, and liked¬†Legend of the Guardians. Given that these were all adaptations, what then might I make of a story that Snyder had written himself? Accompanied by my long-suffering husband, I bought some popcorn and prepared to find out.

Visually and narratively, Sucker Punch operates in three different realms: the real world, where heroine Baby Doll has been committed to an asylum after her abusive step-father frames her for the murder of her little sister; the first dissociative layer, portrayed as a bordello, where Baby Doll and four of the other inmates plot their escape while enduring sexual abuse at the hands of the male orderlies; and the second, deeper dissociative layer, where the girls’ efforts to overcome their situation are expressed as ¬†fantastic battles against giant warriors, dragons, androids and – wait for it – steampunk zombie Nazis. (And I’ll bet you thought only Hellboy had those, right?) In honour of this approach, I’ve elected to critique the film on three different levels – construction, continuity and context – in order to cover all bases.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

1. Construction 

Besides Baby Doll and her fellow inmates – Sweet Pea, Rocket, Amber and Blondie –¬†Sucker Punch¬†has three other noteworthy characters: villain Blue Jones, a crazed orderly (real world) and sadistic pimp (bordello); ally Vera Gorski, their psychiatrist (real world) and madame (bordello); and a character listed only as the Wise Man, who commands the girls during their fantasy battles. ¬†(He also appears in the real world, but we’ll get to that later.) From the moment she enters the asylum, Baby Doll is on a tight schedule: unless she can escape within five days, a doctor will come and lobotomise her. To this end, the Wise Man lists the items she needs to achieve a “perfect victory”: ¬†a map, fire, a knife, a key, and a fifth thing he refuses to name, which Baby Doll doesn’t mention to her friends. One by one, these items are acquired during the fantasy scenes, returning afterwards to the bordello realm, in which we spend the greatest amount of time. Our only visits to the real world, in fact, are spaced far apart: the very beginning and very end of the film. While this lends a certain sort of symmetry to the narrative, it’s a conceit which swiftly becomes problematic (more of which during the continuity section).

Despite their disparate themes, Zack Snyder’s previous films are united by a common visual aesthetic to which¬†Sucker Punch is no exception:¬†stylistic¬†slow motion interspersed with lighting-fast flashes of violence and a sepia-tinted colour scheme give the film an eerie feel, while his trademark close-ups and swooping vistas provide a strong contrast between personal scenes and battles. The soundtrack is, I’ll admit, catchy, but at a price: the song-to-dialogue ratio is so heavily skewed that vital character development is done away with in favour of what are, effectively, music videos. Snyder’s distinctive visuals only compound this problem: the action scenes are long, almost totally unscripted except for the Wise Man’s briefings, and delivered with such a predictable rhythm that they soon become self-defeating, like endless cut-scenes in a video game.

As per the traditional laziness of the trashy action genre, our five man – or in this case, five girl – army is desperately under-characterised. Although we witness the chain of events leading to Baby Doll’s imprisonment, these opening scenes have no dialogue, leaning heavily on the straw-man Evil Step-Father image to justify her wrongful incarceration. Of the other girls, only sisters Sweet Pea and Rocket are ever given the slightest bit of history, and even this is flimsily done: Rocket ran away from home after clashing with her parents, and Sweet Pea, despite not being part of the argument, followed. How they ended up in the asylum is anyone’s guess – but then, there’s not much real world logic to Sucker Punch, even when we’re actually in the real world.

2. Continuity

As was demonstrated by the recent success of Inception, it is entirely possible for a Hollywood blockbuster to switch back and forth between multiple interlocking realities in a way that actually makes sense. Sucker Punch, however, does not do this. Partly, this is down to laziness, but there’s also an ample helping of fridge logic, too. For starters, it’s inferred that the real world is not the present day, but rather sometime in the 1950s, an assumption supported not just by the cars, technology, clothing and general mood of these scenes, but by the type of asylum Baby Doll is sent to. The fact that her step-father openly bribes an orderly to admit her might¬†still work in the present day, if one were willing to explain the visuals as an affectation; but the threat of a lobotomy conducted via a chisel through the skull-front is undeniably past tense. To borrow from another recent film, think Shutter Island with women. That’s our base level of reality, and even with the dearth of early dialogue, it’s still as plain as day.

And that, alas, is a problem. Even allowing for the creation of an internally¬†dissociative¬†fantasy, I cannot buy the presence in that world of anachronisms – one or two, maybe, but the number here is enormous. Baby Doll’s outfit, for instance, is pure weaponised Japanese schoolgirl, down to the fact that her gun is accessorised with cute little dangling charms. The same is true of all the fantasy costumes, never mind the presence of touch-screen technology, battle suits and silver-gleaming androids. This is further compounded by glitches in the bordello realm: near the end, one male orderly plays with a touchscreen device, his ears adorned with the trademark white earbuds of an iPod, while earlier, a major plot point revolves around Sweet Pea’s ability to photocopy a map of the asylum. Or at least, that’s what we assume she’s done: a machine that looks like a very old, very simple photocopier is shown in Blue’s office, and if Sweet Pea was only going to draw a copy – a lengthy and improbable option – she wouldn’t need to take the original off the wall.

But these are all nitpicks when placed against the bigger problem: understanding how anything in either fantasy world possibly corresponds to the real. In the bordello level, for instance, Baby Doll dances to distract the men while the other girls steal each item – but what does the dancing represent? Sex? Are we witnessing a calculated seduction of all the male orderlies as expressed through Baby Doll’s decision to dance for them, or is she taking advantage of their ongoing¬†coercion? When Amber takes a lighter from one of the men, giggling in his lap¬†while Baby Doll¬†dances nearby, what is actually happening in the real world? Either way, Baby Doll is meant to be so distracting that the men don’t notice the other girls sneaking around – and that’s before you factor in that Baby Doll’s dance is always the cue to segue into the higher fantasy world.

During the botched theft that results in Rocket’s death, for instance, we switch back to the bordello from the fantasy to witness two interpretations of the same event. In the fantasy battle, Rocket is blown up by a bomb on a speeding train, unable to escape because her jetpack is broken. In the bordello, we see her stabbed by the cook, dying in Sweet Pea’s arms while finishing the conversation they’d ¬†started on the train. At no point do we drop down into the real world – because, of course, doing so would reveal the entire action to make no sense at all. If the bordello-dance is already a layer of metaphor, then how do we explain a reality in which Baby Doll distracts the cook in his tiny, cramped kitchen so effectively that he doesn’t notice that four other girls are occupying the same space? The final break with reality comes when Blue kills both Amber and Blondie in the bordello world, with Gorski and several other orderlies as witnesses. Clearly, the girls must die by Blue’s hand in the real world, too: and yet, despite this overwhelming evidence of his savagery, Blue remains in charge. In fact, his next act is to try and rape Baby Doll, who defends herself by stabbing him in the shoulder. So total is the dissonance between the bordello world and reality that when, much later, real-world Gorski is explaining Baby Doll’s history to the lobotomist, she mentions that yes, the patient did stab Blue,¬†but omits to mention that Blue is a murdering rapist. And lest we think she’s simply glossing over a tragic, traumatic event, in the very next scene, we see that Blue is still working at the asylum.¬†As, for that matter, is the equally murdering cook.

Let me repeat that, in case you missed it: three girls have been killed by two staff members in the space of a week. Two of the murders took place in front of multiple staff witnesses. And yet neither man is disciplined, or queried, or imprisoned or suspected or anything until – cue the Narrative Convenience fairy, and also the fairy of Unbelievably Stupid And Offensive Plots – just after Baby Doll’s lobotomy.

Oh, yeah. She gets lobotomised at the end. Apparently, the fifth thing Baby Doll needed was to sacrifice herself so Sweet Pea could escape instead. And by “sacrifice herself”, I mean “get lobotomised”. By a doctor who didn’t really want to do it. In a way that makes no sense. Or, sorry: in a way that makes even less sense than you might already think, because in order to get Baby Doll lobotomised, Blue had to forge Gorski’s signature on the paperwork. Except that Gorski, who is standing right there throughout the procedure while holding the paperwork, objects to the lobotomy taking place. And presumably, if Blue had to forge her signature to get it done – this is, after all, what Baby Doll’s father bribed him to do – then only Gorski has the authority to authorise lobotomies. So you could be forgiven for wondering why, at some point prior to Baby Doll getting lobotomised, she didn’t stop to look at the fucking paperwork and question why the lobotomy was taking place. Oh, no – that particular revelation is saved for three seconds after an irreversible procedure has already happened. Which is also when, all of a sudden, the other orderlies suddenly declare that they don’t want to help Blue hurt the girls any more. Oh, but they’re still willing to leave him all alone with a newly lobotomised girl they’ve just helped strap to a chair – it’s just that they’ll feel bad about it now.

And then the cops come Рliterally, they reach the place in about two seconds Рand arrest Blue, just in time to stop him molesting Baby Doll (well, molesting her more, anyway Рhe still gets a kiss in). And not because he killed Amber and Blondie, though. Heavens forbid! No: Gorski has dobbed him in for falsifying her paperwork. 

Capping off this carnival of narrative errors and continuity gaffes, we come to the final scene: the newly escaped Sweet Pea at a bus station, trying to find her way home. As the bus doors open, the police appear and try to question her on the suspicion that she is, indeed, an asylum escapee. It looks like she’s doomed, but wait! Who should the bus driver turn out to be but the Wise Man himself?That’s right: the figment of the girls’ collective dissociative imaginations who commanded them through their battles is actually a bus driver, that is to say, a person previously unknown to them who actually exists in the real world. And of course he lies to the police, telling them that Sweet Pea has been on his bus for miles now, when of course he’s never seen her before (But has he? Wait, no, because that makes no fucking sense)¬†and so they let her go, and on she gets, right behind a young male passenger whose face, as it happens, we’ve also seen in the fantasy world, fighting in the trenches of the zombified World War I. Which also makes no sense.

Yeah. About that.

3. Context

Speaking in a recent and undeniably sympathetic¬†interview, Zack Snyder said that¬†Sucker Punch was “absolutely” a “critique on geek culture’s sexism.” Regarding two early moments of metatextual dialogue, he has the following to say:

“She [Sweet Pea] says, ‚ÄúThe dance should be more than titillation, and mine‚Äôs personal,‚ÄĚ and that‚Äôs exactly a comment on the movie itself. I think 90% are missing it, or they just don‚Äôt care…¬†As soon as the¬†fantasy¬†starts, there‚Äôs that whole sequence where Sweet Pea breaks it down and says, ‚ÄúThis is a joke, right? I get the sexy school girl and nurse thing, but what‚Äôs this? A lobotomized vegetable? How about something more commercial?‚ÄĚ That is basically my comment on the film as well. She‚Äôs saying, ‚ÄúWhy are you making this movie? You need to make a movie more commercial. It shouldn‚Äôt be so dark and weird.‚ÄĚ”

In some ways, this is a perfect explanation of the film’s failure. Snyder has tried to be ironic in his handling of sexiness and objectification, taking schoolgirl fetishism, harem fantasies and sexy nurses and putting them in a situation which is decidedly unsexy -that is to say, a deeply misogynistic environment rife with violence, rape and abuse of power – in order to make his male audience members feel guilty about finding the girls attractive, and thereby forcing them to realise that their lusts align with those of the villainous male characters. To quote the same interview:

“Someone asked me about why I dressed the girls like that, and I said, ‚ÄúDo you not get the metaphor there? The girls are in a brothel performing for men in the dark. In the fantasy sequences, the men in the dark are us. The men in the dark are basically me; dorky sci-fi kids.‚ÄĚ”

It’s a self-aware sentiment – and yet, the film itself is anything but self-aware. Despite his intentions, Snyder has created a film which systematically disenfranchises its women in order to teach men a lesson about not disenfranchising women. Which, you know, would seem to defeat the purpose. Certainly, it’s possible to empathise with the characters, despite how thinly they’re drawn – but that’s because the entire film is engineered to paint women as victims and men as abusive bastards. What Snyder sees as a dark, edgy ending, perhaps even a cautionary tale about the dangers of male lust – that is, Baby Doll’s lobotomy and the deaths of all her friends bar Sweet Pea – actually reads as a story of victimisation: the girls couldn’t save themselves. Even in the very depths of their fantasies, they still needed a male general to formulate their plans and give them orders. I understand the sexy costumes of the bordello realm, to an extent – it’s a logical leap of dissociation, given the culture of sexual abuse – but why, then, would the girls still imagine themselves in¬†titillating outfits during the second realm’s fantasy battles? The answer is, they wouldn’t: those scenes are there as fanservice, not to make a disquieting point about fetishism and rape, and however much Snyder might have wanted the film to rebuke exactly the sort of objectification its merchandising¬†provokes, the Hollywood factor means that in the end, it can’t help but reinforce the very cultures it attempted to satirise.

In the end, Sucker Punch is a sexist wasteland: a ham-fisted attempt to make chauvinist geeks care about rape by luring them in with action scenes. The idea of creating strong, competent, interesting female characters whose looks play no part in their marketability is apparently too radical for Snyder, who might have saved himself a lot of bother by watching Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and seeing what real girl action heroes can do, if only you don’t embrace the “rocks fall, everyone dies” approach to storytelling. Because, look: when your five main female characters are all being raped, wrongfully imprisoned and generally abused; when the only names they have are diminutive, sexy-sounding¬†nicknames¬†bestowed on them by rapists, which they then use even among themselves; when you dress them in sexy outfits, call it ironic and then merchandise statuettes of the characters wearing those outfits to your male fanbase; when your female resistors, even in their deepest dissociative fantasies, must still take all their orders from a Wise Man; when all your girls bar one are either murdered or lobotomised at the end, and that selfsame Wise Man calls it a “perfect victory”; then you have not created a film which is empowering for women. Instead, you have taken the old, sexist trope of hurting female characters to motivate goodness, chivalry and protectiveness in their male counterparts to a new and disturbing level: that is, you are hurting female characters to motivate goodness, chivalry and protectiveness in the male audience. And I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to see that as an improvement. Because of how, you know. It’s not.

Great soundtrack, but.

Returning early from work on Tuesday afternoon, I found a slip of cardboard in my letterbox informing me that I had a package to collect. ‘Ah!’ I thought. ‘My visa and passport have been returned! Lovely!’ – whereupon I grabbed my purse and rode straight up to the post office. Once I reached the counter, however, I found myself thwarted by a Postal Chick.¬†The conversation went like this:

ME: Hello! I’ve got a package to pick up. Here’s the slip from my mailbox.

POSTAL CHICK: That’s fine. Do you have any ID?

ME: No, that’s what I’m here to pick up. It’s my visa application stuff.

POSTAL CHICK: I’m sorry, I can’t give you the parcel without seeing some ID.

ME: But all my ID is in the parcel. I can’t show you any ID until you give it to me.

POSTAL CHICK: You have no ID?

ME: No, I do have ID – it’s just all in the package. Look, I don’t have a valid driver’s license or a student card. My passport is my only form of photo ID, and that’s what I’m here to collect.

POSTAL CHICK: Do you have any other ID with your name on it?

ME: Yes and, again, no. All my cards still have my maiden name on them, but the package has my married name on it. Which I know, because I wrote the address. It’s a reply-paid parcel. I bought and sent it from here on Monday. That lady next to you served me.

POSTAL CHICK: Sorry, we serve millions of people a week. We don’t remember you.

ME, Internally: I’m sorry – you, personally, serve millions of customers per week in this tiny suburban post office, or Australia Post serves millions of customers? Because there’s a difference!

ME, out loud: Really? You don’t remember me?

NICE LADY WHO¬†HELPED ME ON MONDAY: I’m sorry,¬†no.

ME: Ah. Fair enough.

POSTAL CHICK: Do you have any utility bills in your name?

ME: No, they’re all in my husband’s name. I just pay them.

POSTAL CHICK: Do you have a lease agreement, then? A bank statement?

ME: I have no idea where our lease is, and I don’t have a current bank statement.

POSTAL CHICK, disbelievingly: You don’t have a bank statement?

ME, internally: OK. Does anyone on Earth keep their old bank statements lying around for just this eventuality? Do you keep your bank statements, Postal Chick? I think not!

ME, out loud: My bank statements come every two months. The next one isn’t due until July. The only one I have is, once again, in the package. I had to order it from the bank especially for my passport application. Which is what I’ve come to pick up. It¬† contains¬†my visa, my current passport, my childhood passport, my marriage certificate, my birth certificate, a bank statement¬†and a copy of¬†my ticket to¬†Heathrow. ¬†All my ID. In the parcel.

POSTAL CHICK: I can’t give you the parcel until you show me some ID.

ME: This is a chicken and egg dilemma! I can’t show you my ID until you give me the parcel, but you won’t give me the parcel because I don’t have ID! Look, the first time I had to get one of these back, I just had to sign for it at the door. What’s wrong with doing that here?

POSTAL CHICK: Yes, but that was because it was the postie delivering it. That’s different.

ME, internally: But that’s entirely stupid! Either there is a rigid, unbendable standard in place on showing ID to collect a parcel, or there isn’t! I could just as easily have lied to the postie as to you – but it’s my parcel! Addressed in my handwriting!

ME, out loud: This is ridiculous. Isn’t there anything else I can do?

POSTAL CHICK: You can’t show me any ID?

ME: No!

POSTAL CHICK: I’m sorry, but I can’t hand over the parcel without ID.

NICE LADY WHO HELPED ME ON MONDAY, listening in: What about the tracking number I would’ve given you from the bottom of the package?

ME, processing vague memories of a plastic-looking satchel-strip shoved in the bottom of my bag: Yes! I have that! But it’s in my bag. At home.

NICE LADY WHO HELPED ME ON MONDAY: Are you able to go and get it?

ME: Yes.

NICE LADY WHO HELPED ME ON MONDAY:¬†Then that’s fine. Just¬†come straight to the counter when you get back, and we’ll help you.

ME, internally: Thank you, Nice Lady! Now why the hell couldn’t the¬†damn Postal Chick have suggested that TEN FREAKING MINUTES AGO?

So I rode back home, found my bag, rode back to the post office, got my parcel and opened it at the counter. With a certain grim satisfaction, I pulled out my passport and waved it at the Postal Chick.

ME: See? ID!

End result: I have my documents back. But I hate Australia Post.

Oh noes – politicians have been caught Twittering ‘like bored schoolchildren’ throughout an address to Congress! Damn those evil youths and their seductive brainwasters for corrupting the attention of America’s finest! Calamity! Outrage! Way to lay it on thick, Dana Milbank: truly, anyone caught interacting with technology in such a vile fashion must belong to ‘ a support group for adults with attention deficit disorder,’ thereby invalidating the notion of ‘a new age of transparency’ in favour of ‘Twittering while Rome burns.’ ¬†

Or, like, not.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d much prefer our (or rather, America’s) politicans payed attention. That is the ideal scenario. But they are still human, and humans – funnily enough – get bored at inappropriate moments. Our brains are cluttered with odd little thoughts and observations crying to get out. We’re a social species. We can’t help ourselves.¬†Thus, while Twitter undeniably constitutes a newfangled outlet for such internal deviance, it is not the source, and scary though we might find the thought, politicians have always been like this: picking their nose in the gallery, wondering what’s on TV tonight, wishing a hated opponent would get off the podium, watching the clock,¬†perving on their colleagues¬†and generally – gasp! – acting like people.

When, exactly, did we start expecting otherwise normal human beings to stop being human just because the cameras (or teh internets)¬†were rolling? Here’s a wacky theory: maybe the only reason we’ve maintained this¬†crazy notion of political pomp and dignity for so long is because we’ve had no intimate windows into the mindset of our leaders. And in this instance, it’s worth remembering that windows work both ways: just as we can now poke our heads in, metaphorically speaking, so can those on the inside stick an arm out and wave.

So, Mr Milbank,¬†repeat after me:¬†Technology Is My Friend.¬†By the grace of what other agency does your irksome perspective reach¬†Melbourne from Washington with such speed?¬†Through what other medium¬†do I now type this reply?¬†Each new invention changes us, yes, but in¬†most respects, it must first build on what is already there, be it¬†a hitherto¬†unrealised ideal, an untapped market, or the even unvoiced musings of our leaders. If, as per your inflationary grumblings, this new global digital society of ours consitutes a kind of Rome, it doesn’t belong to Nero, but to Augustus.

Because while Nero merely fiddled, Augustus found a world of brick and left it clad in marble.

Unhelpful

Posted: September 13, 2008 in Life/Stuff
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been living in Melbourne a good two years now. I’ve made friends here, some of whom I see more than once a week, while I’ve lost contact¬†(insofar as Facebook allows this to happen)¬†with people back in Sydney. It happens – it’s life. We roll with the punches, grow and flourish as individual blossoms in the metaphoric Garden of Whatever, catch up where¬†we can,¬†move on when we can’t.¬†It’s a healthy Goddam process.

So why are all the numbers in my mobile phone exactly the fucking same as they were five years ago?

I’m not even kidding. Tonight, I’m looking to call someone about the address of a party we’re heading to – we’ve been there before, but can’t remember the route – and what do I find? One releveant number. One. In¬†two years.

It’s like being in the Matrix: I walk around, blythely assuming my ability to call anyone I know, only to take the red pill and discover that a full half of all my contacts are utter strangers. I mean, Colette? Who the hell’s she?¬†Or Bren? Or Debbie? Or Emma? More importantly, why don’t I ever put in last names?¬†Or, let’s go crazy, some form of useful identification, like ‘random chick I must’ve met at a college party, maybe she had brown hair and a weird laugh’?¬†Because this is just ridiculous.

With the exception of about four numbers, the rest are work contacts for jobs I’ve long since left, friends from early highschool I see maybe once a year, and family: in short, numbers relevant only to my CV (where they’re recorded anyway), my life between the ages of 14 – 19, or which I know by heart.

Well, I’m taking a stand. Tonight, by gum, I’m going to do an overhaul. I’m going to find out the numbers of friends, and call them.

Eventually.

Dave Freeman, author of 100 Things to do Before You Die, has died – with his own list incomplete.

Now isn’t it ironic? (As Alanis Morissette might ask.)

Although ironically, her song about irony listed several things that weren’t, in fact,¬†ironic.

Now that’s irony.

Or at least, some branches of government.

After less than a week of temporary employ, I was today fired from the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions. My sin: unprofessional conduct. How this came about is, in my opinion, faintly ludicrous, but here, for your enjoyment, is the full tale.

Near the end of my holiday, I was contacted by my temp agency about a potential job. They were not sure I would get it, as the position required an inteview and I was, at that exact moment, in a different state; nonetheless, after describing it as a general administrative position and right up my alley, they promised to do their best. The following day, I received a second phone call, informing me that the client, upon reading my CV, had declared me a suitable employee for the next two months. I would start work on Monday at 9 AM, and thus was the matter settled.

In fact, on the day itself, I arrived early. In due course, I was shown around, introduced, taught the rudiments of using an internal database and then, after approximately two hours, given a very large whack of photocopying indeed. For those unfamiliar with corporate or legal-grade photocopying, understand that it is no mere button-press, on-your-merry-way exercise. Instead, you are presented with a folder (or folders) the approximate thickness of two good-sized Bibles and told to go forth and multiply, which activity involves standing beside a very large, very loud machine for upwards of an hour and not doing anything else. In my case, the magic number of copies was 23, with a side-order of exquisitely time-consuming tricky bits. This project consumed the remaining five hours of Monday, all of Tuesday and just over half of Wednesday: roughly seventeen hours spent in a narrow hall beside a photocopier.

In order not to go insane during this time, I listened to my iPod (having first, as a matter of course, asked for and been granted permission to do so), read snatches of a book and toyed with assorted newspaper puzzles (the crossword, sudoku)¬†rescued from beside a nearby recycling bin, none of which impeded the actual copying. Rather, with no other pending work, it made sense: I copied,¬†collated, highlighted and filed as ordered, making the occasional wry remark as¬†passing office-dwellers exclaimed over¬†my large¬†collection of paper and otherwise getting on with it. On finally completing this mammoth task, I was given more photocopying, such that the¬†promised moniker of ‘general administration’ was beginning to sound a bit thin: five large folders, each to be copied five times. That took the rest of Wednesday and most of this – that is to say, Thursday – morning, whereupon, after a brief excursion to a nearby court (20 minutes, tops), I was given another file to copy.

Needless to say, I was not thrilled; but copy I did. Idly,¬†while the pages printed, I wrote¬†out two poems from memory onto pieces of paper – one anonymously attributed, one by e. e. cummings – and pinned them beside the machine, reasoning that, as I was spending a lot of time in¬†its general vicinity,¬†some friendly words might be nice. Job done, I returned to my desk, typed a letter (or rather, typed less than ten words into an existing document template), printed it¬†and sat, waiting for my boss to return from wherever it was she’d gone. When she did return, it was with a smile and the news that, coincidentally, the head of HR wanted to see me. This was the¬†man who’d welcomed and inducted me¬†in on Monday. Off I went.

Inside his office, I sat down. Stern-faced, the head of HR lost no time in informing me that my supervisor was not happy with my performance and unprofessional behaviour. I had, he said, been chilling out to my iPod, clearly not focused on photocopying. During this time, I had also dared to put my feet up on the bench, a charge I did not deny, although able to see how this, at least, might have caused some contention. Furthermore, I had made disparaging remarks about photocopying, which caused me to blink a bit, given that:

(a) so had several other employees, usually in sympathy to my workload; and

(b) this is a psychologically healthy reaction to photocopying, especially if one is also laughing at the same time. (I was.)

He then drew two pieces of¬†paper from a¬†nearby pile and pushed them, with deliberate slowness, across¬†the desk: the poems I’d put up.

‘Are you,’ he asked, ‘responsible for these?’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘ I wrote them up, yes, but I didn’t write them.’

‘You were seen,’ he said gravely – if somewhat redundantly, as I had just admitted¬†as much¬†– ‘putting these up.’

This¬†behaviour, I was told, was unprofessional. My disdain for the position and the work it entailed were such that I was to be let go, immediately, before the end of the day, as they – being, one assumes, the HR manager and his immediate fellows – would much rather pay somone who was happy to be there, and incidentally,¬†I needn’t come back to his office again. The actual quality and timeliness of my work was not discussed; pointedly so.

All of which gave the distinct impression that, from my CV, the head of HR had been expecting rather a different sort of person: pencil-skirted and sleek, perhaps, with an eye to bureaucratic formality, and not the sort of person to wear a leather jacket or ThinkGeek shirt.

‘Fair enough,’ I said.

Following this frank exchange of views (and trying, admittedly, very hard not to grin, and sometimes succeeding) I went back upstairs to locate my now-ex-boss. Smiling prettily, she agreed to sign my timesheet, laughed over our joint inability to add up my hours correctly, and in all aspects behaved as though she had not just dobbed me in for a dressing-down and firing. She said it had been a pleasure working with me, but this I found hard to believe, given her stern disapproval of my behaviour as recently expressed elsewhere.

In the doorway to her office, I stopped, hand on the frame, and looked her in the eye. I am quite able to endure being dressed-down for possessing corporate eccentricities, because the absurdity of it makes me grin inwardly; but I do not appreciate the jovial pretense that such has not happened Рor rather, the smiling assertion of the velvet glove that the iron hand is nothing to do with them. It is for this reason that, rather than walking straight out, I smiled in turn and related the following (truthful) anecdote, which I will approximate here:

When my father was fresh out of school Рand this is a while ago, because my father is in his seventies Рhe took a job at a bank, as was done back then. In his spare time, he wrote odd limmericks on some of the bank notepads. Nothing rude; just poems. Passing the time. And one day, the bank manager Рyou can imagine, a large, older, balding man, run to fat Рcalled him into his office, demanding to know why my father was writing obscenities on bank property. And standing there, my father decided Рnot out loud, but in the privacy of his thoughts Рthat anyone who would call a limmerick obscene simply for being a limmerick was a humourless person not worth working for. And very soon after, he quit, and found happiness elsewhere.

I finished by saying that I, apparently, was following in his footsteps, except for the bit about choosing to leave. My now-ex-boss smiled her same, pretty smile, except perhaps it was a bit tigher this time, and said ‘Really?’ in what, under different circumstances,¬†might have passed for a genuinely¬†curious tone of voice.

‘Really,’ I said.

And then, without further ado, I went back to my desk, packed up my bag, put on my coat and left.

And that, as they say, was that.