Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Depicting Julia Gillard

datePosted on 14:27, July 5th, 2010 by Lew

I’ll be watching with interest the characterisation — and caricaturisation — of Australia’s new PM, especially as compared to Helen Clark. Some of you might be aware that I once wrote a research paper on the characterisation of Clark by John Banks and Lindsay Perigo in talk radio during 2007. I was informed at the time that, via the usual academic networks, a copy made its way from Victoria University of Wellington to someone at the Australian National University in Canberra who had contacts within the then-Deputy Leader’s office, and that Gillard had read it with some interest. I’m not sure how true that is, but I do know she took a keen interest in Helen Clark’s public image, likely with this very eventuality in mind, so it isn’t altogether implausible.

The Clark-Gillard comparison is a natural one, due partly to geographical and temporal proximity; but also due to genuine similarities between their politics, manner and ascent to power. The comparisons have been highly ambivalent. The usual slanderers have already begun spreading the same ludicrous assertions that Gillard, like Clark, is a closet lesbian, on the grounds that she hasn’t had children and is more apparently bolshy than her husband. Apparently very deep in the closet, since she’s come out against gay marriage. (But then, she would, wouldn’t she?)

Peter Cresswell described her as Helen Clark with lipstick, which I guess is negative as to her politics but positive as to her perceived femininity, notwithstanding that Clark did in fact wear lipstick herself. Auckland University’s Jennifer Curtin pointed out some comparisons as to the two women’s assumption of their roles, though I can’t help but think she must have a more nuanced and complex position on the topic than was suitable for an AAP statement:

“They’ve both started off on the left but moved kind of to the centre of their party,” she said. They both appear to be hard workers, good speakers and have made similar choices in selecting their political allies and portfolios – opting to avoid women’s policies specifically. “If they represent women they do it in a more mainstream kind of way,” Curtin said.

Clark’s biographer Brian Edwards, speaking on ABC Radio National, outlined the similarities in more detail:

Well there are extraordinary similarities. I’ve been reading some of the reports about Julia Gillard in the papers here in New Zealand, and it’s absolutely uncanny, and what we’ve just heard is also true, that from the start, Helen Clark was a professional politician, she was absolutely focused, her intention I guess, long term, was to be prime minister, and she would do everything possible to do that. And if you look at the two women, as I say, the similarities are remarkable. Both unmarried, both decided, clearly, that being a politician and aiming to be prime minister did not go with having children, that was the decision, a positive decision which Helen Clark made, she and her partner, Peter Davis. Helen in fact, never wanted to get married and was actually more or less pushed into it by the Labour Party, and wept on her wedding day, which was relatively unusual. She was an atheist, she received some of the same sort of criticisms that I gather Julia Gillard has received in your country for her voice, she had a strong Kiwi accent, a rather deep voice; for her looks, people didn’t like the look of her hair, they didn’t like the look of her teeth; she was accused of being a lesbian, primarily by her opponents admittedly in those early days, and had an extraordinarily hard struggle to make it at all.
And these were all things that a man would not expect to happen at all in politics. None of those things would have come up if the man was a bachelor or was married or didn’t have any children, or any of those other things.

Clark fought these attacks, in part, by recourse to a “makeover” in mid-2005, when she appeared on the cover of women’s magazines — notably Woman’s Weekly — more heavily made up, more softly and sympathetically portrayed and generally appealing more directly to women, and to men who, if they had to be led by a sheila, wanted to be led by a real sheila. This was probably crucial to her winning the 2005 election. Gillard, The Australian tells us today, already has a similar glossy campaign well underway. It’s a good move. (Anyone who wants to call it fake or staged or a cheap trick or blatant media sycophancy to make such an appeal had better first recall John Key’s appearance on Gone Fishin’ (audio), and accompanying article by host Graeme Sinclair in — you guessed it — Woman’s Weekly. Incidentally, if anyone has or can find a copy of the video of that Gone Fishin’ episode, I’d love to see it. I missed it at the time.)

Other Gillard comparisons have also been made: to Margaret Thatcher (as Clark before her was), and to British Labour’s present acting leader Harriet Harman. In contrast with Jennifer Curtin’s observation that neither Clark nor Gillard emphasise their femininity in policy terms, The New Statesman‘s Alyssa MacDonald argues that the public treatment of Harman illustrates that it’s still not politically viable to be an overtly feminist female leader, even in 2010:

Both come from legal backgrounds, hold multiple political posts, have strong union connections, speak with distinctive voices and are always politically “on”. But while Gillard is popular and respected, Harman is often, very unfairly, spoken of as hectoring, dowdy and not very bright. Even before Gordon Brown’s departure, her chances of becoming Labour leader were the same as the number of forthcoming Harman biographies: zero.
Politically, there’s a glaring difference between Gillard and Harman. One has fought consistently for a feminist agenda, while the other has approached her political career with individualistic ambition. Not to do Gillard down — she’s very good at her job and she deserves her success — but her premiership isn’t necessarily any more of a great lunge forward for women than Margaret Thatcher’s was thirty years ago.
Meanwhile, Harman’s drive to push issues such as rape laws and the Equality Bill into the spotlight has undoubtedly been good for British women — and a huge contibuting factor to her unlovely public image.
Gillard’s success is still a symbolic step forward, signalling that the presence of women in Australian politics has become normal. And it looks likely to be good news for the country as a whole. But it’s not as if Australian women now have a Harman at the top to look out for their interests.

As MacDonald notes, Gillard is much more favourably-portrayed than Harman (and I would add, than Clark was at any point during her leadership). I think a lot of this is down to the “lipstick” to which PC refers: a metaphorical sort of lipstick which speaks to a particular notion of femininity, like the kind which Sarah Palin made famous. For one thing, Gillard’s attractiveness has been emphasised by the favourable comparison to Scottish actress Tilda Swinton:

This distinctive visage, the “bricklayer” voice to which Brian Edwards alluded, and her speaking style have been welcomed by the Australian media and satirical communities, who found Rudd “almost irritatingly bland”, according to editorial cartoonist Bill Leak. This from an article, also in today’s Australian on the topic:

Gillard’s wealth of striking anatomical attributes is almost too much of a good thing, says Cathy Wilcox of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun Herald. “She’s got so many features that if you just go for one, it isn’t enough. The challenge is how to get all those things in there without her head being enormous.”
Since Gillard took power, editorial artists have been studying her face with the obsessiveness of a lover, poring over photos and freeze-framing the TV to parse her every angle and expression.
Australia’s first female Prime Minister, seen through their eyes, has a “striking head of hair”, “incredibly beautiful skin”, eyes that manage to be simultaneously “squinty” and “big and distinctively shaped”, “chubby cheeks” with “pronounced cheekbones” and a mouth that “sits small and low” above “a small chin that tucks into an incredibly long neck”. Not even her earlobes escape attention.
And who else but an artist would notice that the new PM has “a reasonably ample bottom in relation to her head”?
But there is one facial feature in particular about which they all rhapsodise: Gillard’s “pointy”, “assertive”, “wonderful” nose. A nose, as Leak puts it, “that looks like you could chop wood with it”.
Fiona Katauskas, freelance cartoonist and producer of the Talking Pictures segment on the ABC’s Insiders, says Gillard’s nose is a defining feature that artists can utilise to express her character, just as the jutting lower-lip of former PM John Howard came to represent his determination, or obstinacy.
“I will take a punt and say Gillard’s nose will become the equivalent of Howard’s lip,” she says.

What’s interesting about all this is that, unlike most of the discussion of Clark and Harman’s appearance, it is robust but not unkind. Gillard’s relatively warm reception is being put down to her status as Australia’s first female PM, and I think there’s some legitimacy to that view; a genuine preparedness to “give her a go” tinged by a fear that bagging her too early would come off as sexist. We’ll see how long that persists, and how long her distinctiveness — of appearance, manner, and political character — is portrayed as quirky and endearing rather than bizarre and threatening.

L

Brown still on the horse

datePosted on 09:59, June 22nd, 2010 by Lew

Bless the Herald, burying the most important point of an article about the Auckland supercity mayoralty race at the very bottom:

Mr Brown also spoke of leadership and the need to deliver a resounding majority for the mayor so he or she could sit there with the mandate with the support of the community. [sic]
Judging from the mood of the meeting [in Point Chevalier], he won a resounding victory last night.

It seems remarkable to me that Brown could beat John Banks “resoundingly” in gentrified Pt Chev, of which (as I recall) Banks is himself a long-time resident. But then, I don’t know Auckland very well, and perhaps I’m misreading it. Is there something I’m missing or is this actually a biggish deal?

It apparently counterindicates DPF’s and Hamish Collins of No Minister’s reasoning that Len Brown is toast because Kerre Woodham reckons he’s a nutter and she is some sort of bellwether for this “Grey Lynn liberal” demographic. Because her status as a talkback host and columnist who recently came out in favour of three strikes didn’t disqualify her from that already.

Disclosure: According to 8 Tribes questionnaire, bogus pop-sociology though it might be, I’m very squarely a member of the Grey Lynn tribe myself. I’m sure you’re all shocked, just shocked.

L

Life mimicking art: outrageous vainglory

datePosted on 13:56, June 18th, 2010 by Lew
This is John Galt.

“This is John Galt.”

If there lingers any doubt the film production of Atlas Shrugged is going to be an epic adolescent ego-stroking festival, it must surely be dispelled by the news that the director (Paul Johansson, of teen-angst-dram series One Tree Hill) is also the hero: John Galt. The resonant hubris of this is so stark that the fact he’s never directed a feature film before barely deserves a mention.

There’s one point of interest for New Zealand viewers, though: Grant Bowler, probably better known as Wolf from Outrageous Fortune, is down for Hank Rearden.

There is no such thing as a temporary (career) suicide.

“There is no such thing as a temporary (career) suicide.”

Grant Bowler has some chops, and he suits the character. My previous misgivings notwithstanding, I reckon that’ll be reason enough to watch it. But, my goodness, what a brush to risk being tarred with.

(H/T to Peter Cresswell and his always-excellent ramble.)

L

Summary of joke news coverage

datePosted on 08:26, May 14th, 2010 by Lew

“John Key has made a meal out of ongoing Treaty negotiations with Ngāi Tūhoe, remarking at dinner with representatives from neighbouring iwi Ngāti Porou that if he were in Tūhoe country, it would be him on the menu. Tūhoe have found his comments hard to swallow, with lead negotiator Tamati Kruger saying the remark was in “poor taste.” Others believe the gag should be taken with a grain of salt, as a self-deprecating reference to the roasting Key has received since ruling out the return of Te Urewera National Park. The decision has soured iwi relations with the government, and effectively put negotiations on the back burner.”

(Some artistic license employed, but I’ve seen each of these puns in bona fide media coverage over the past 24 hours.)

Update: It seems nobody other than ak and I have the stomach for a pun-fest. Oh well.

Still, better to remain silent than engage in the shrieking, confused and exploitative orgy of idiotude on display at The Standard. Its only meaningful distinction from the response of the KBR seems to be the lack of ginga jokes. And the comments are a bit shorter. A shame, because there was some reasonable sense from both posters and commentariat on this topic yesterday.

L

Cannabis bust news coverage bingo

datePosted on 17:57, April 27th, 2010 by Lew

Here’s a fun game. Watch tonight’s TV news (either channel) and count the following tropes.

Update: I did this — both channels, since they were conveniently on at separate times, and was pleasantly surprised by reasonably sober tone of coverage. Comments in italics.

  • Gratuitous display of cannabis leaf or other marijuana iconography
    Four times on One and thrice on 3. Mostly in the display of the “Switched On Gardener” signage.
  • Gratuitous display of drug porn (huge quantities of plants, or egregiously sticky buds, etc.)
    5 times each. TV3 used this as their studio backdrop, otherwise it was the same stock footage throughout, obviously supplied by the police. A distinct lack of additional file footage and High Times-style images of the sort which are usually stock-in-trade for this sort of coverage.
  • Police casually destroying huge quantities of same
    None! Only some police confiscating computers, other equipment in the TV3 footage.
  • Tenuous linkages of marijuana with other drugs, violence or terrorism
    None! Some passing mentions and image of other drugs, firearms and references to organised crime, but nothing tenuous or unjustified.
  • File footage of a shadowy person smoking a joint — None!
  • If it’s clear despite anonymisation that the person is brown-skinned
    None of these either.
  • Footage of people being arrested or detained
    No images of people being arrested. One shot of an unidentified (white) person walking down the street as the voiceover informed us that those arrested were appearing in court.
  • Footage of supposedly ill-gotten gains: flash cars, etc.
    Twice each, references to property being seized under proceeds of crime legislation. Nothing major.
  • Smug, serious middle-aged white people expressing deep concern.
    The only examples of this in both cases were press conference shots of the senior police officer.
  • Triumphal statements that this has broken the back of the cannabis industry, with no supporting evidence
    Again, just what the police told us. Reporters stuck generally to the facts.
  • Reporter looking smug and saying words to the effect of “we can’t reveal which garden centre at the moment …” with the clear implication that it’ll all become clear pretty soon, and anyone who’s anyone already knows
    Well, although National Radio didn’t report (and the police refused to say on-air) which gardening shop chain it was, it was no secret, so none of this.
  • Breathless revelations that people who aren’t beneficiaries or gang members are involved in cannabis production and consumption
    Mentioned twice on One and once (but more extensively) on 3 — the fact that “managers and directors” of the company were among those arrested. But in general, not a big deal made of this fact.
  • Implication that schoolchildren might have been in danger
    Not mentioned or implied at all.
  • No mention of the fact that alcohol causes orders of magnitude more harm by almost every indicator
    Not mentioned or implied either, but on both channels, the booze story took precedence, occupied considerably more screen time, and was covered in much more depth.

So, all in all, nothing much to separate the coverage on One and 3 news. Both items were characterised by a heavy (almost total) reliance on official source material and footage — although both did a field cross, TVNZ’s was the usual pointless live cross, while TV3’s reporter didn’t even make the screen, with the field shots showing police hauling stuff out of a building. Both used similar (probably supplied) footage and images as background, and emphasised the length of the investigation, the number of people involved, and the impact the bust would have on the cannabis industry. Neither report was journalist-centric, with both reporters essentially relaying facts with a minimum of editorialisation. Both reports showed a distinct lack of sensationalised narrative, imagery or suggestion, lacking the usual devices employed to propagandise and pad out this sort of topic matter.

So: well done One and 3 News :)

L

Psychic’s Advocate

datePosted on 14:32, February 28th, 2010 by Lew

Poneke has another post up about Sensing Murder. Just for the record, I agree with the core argument of the post, and its somewhat famous predecessor. It should come as no shock to most of you that I also agree that the worst bit is that some journalists and current affairs directors treat them as newsworthy — but that’s the newsmakers’ failure, not the psychics’.

But here’s a comment from Falafulu Fisi I think could use a little unpacking:

People earn money for a living by being honest and hard work.
Business men are successful by being brilliant in running their businesses.
Paranormal practitioners (psychics etc,…) earn money via people’s stupidities and gullibility’s. They can become rich of course. Put them into the real world to try and earn an honest living they would be the laziest and incompetent wherever they are.

And in response, this from Klytemnestra:

I would have to disagree somewhat with Falafu Fisi. Excluding those cranks who actually believe they can talk to the dead, these ‘psychics’ are really quite successful business people. Getting rich by exploiting niche markets with false services no one really needs; this is a feat worthy of a degree of respect, even if they are repugnant in every other way.

Contra both of them, I’d argue that their “honest living” isn’t as psychics, or necessarily as providers of false services; it’s as entertainers. After all, those who actually use those “services” are a tiny fraction of those who consume the televised or stage-managed product which results. I also don’t accept Poneke’s suggestion that these consumers necessarily believe they have psychic powers — after all, it doesn’t follow that people who watch vampire movies actually believe in vampires. But even if they did, it ultimately doesn’t matter: taking advantage of peoples’ credulity isn’t wrong in and of itself, and for doing it these folk don’t deserve any more — and in general considerably less — criticism than financial advisers, real estate agents and talk radio hosts. They give a great many people who want such things something to watch of an evening, and something to believe in and make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. In this regard it’s little different from — say — soap operas or romantic comedies. There’s a fair argument that it’s ghoulish, and perhaps hurtful to the real people involved, but in this regard it’s little different from — say — the cheesier end of TV current affairs or other reality programming.

Even if you don’t personally see any value in it, that’s an honest living, wouldn’t you agree?

L

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