Monthly Archives: October 2006

Off the top of my head and with a dubious criterion…

Do lists like this, especially ones that are so short, tell us anything about ourselves?  To create these ones I set myself a single criteria:  For each category, I had to write the first five things that came into my mind.  No amendments, no deletions.  Try it! So here’s the result:

My 5 Favourite Live Albums of all time

The Last Waltz – the Band, Dylan et al

Running on Empty – Jackson Browne

Get Yer Ya Yas Out – The Rolling Stones

The Skiffle Sessions – Van Morrison, Kenny Lonnigan and Chris Barber

The Three Tenors (1990) – Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras

My 5 Favourite Hit Songs of all Time

My Sweet Lord – George Harrison (Sure, it’s a copy of “He’s so Fine” but so much better)

Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys

Different Drum – Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponies

Taxi – Harry Chapin

Friday on My Mind – The Easybeats

My 5 Favourite Films of All Time

Lawrence of Arabia

A Room With a View

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Death in Venice

Once Upon a Time in the West

My 5 Favourite Books of All Time

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin

The Brothers Karamazov – Dostoevsky

Vanity Fair – Thackeray

My 5 Favourite Albums of All Time

Exile On Main Street – The Rolling Stones

Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan

Revolver – The Beatles

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust – David Bowie

Astral Weeks – Van Morrison

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Art, women and the whiff of paedophilia

I was in the gallery today looking at the prolific output of etchings by Norman Lindsay, all of them of naked women and the occasional boyish looking man.  Struck again by the sanctioning nature of art, how the framing and mounting of pictures makes them apparently devoid of prurient qualities.  Which is ironic considering that Lindsay was a great iconoclast who was roundly criticized for attacking, through his art, the middle class values of the first half of the 20th century.  Now, of course, he is an icon himself and his once scandalous work is accessible to the same middle class that was so affronted 6o years ago.

 

And yet…and yet.   Art continues to confound me.  Here are the same pictures – of artistic merit certainly and with an impressive fidelity of vision – but erotic nonetheless.  And, I wonder, would any of these respectable people around me staring so closely and with such careful appreciation, feel the same level of acceptance if the same pictures were photographs under their sons’ pillows?  Art somehow gives us permission to be a voyeur.

 

There is no doubt, however, that Lindsay loved the female body and when I walked outside I was feeling much the same way.  And then I looked around, of course, and found that the female body, no less than the man’s, comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, most of them totally ignored by Lindsay.  His imaginative idylls are full of idealised women.  So even then, women were created in the image of men’s desire.  True, the female form in these etchings, in keeping with standards of the time, is fuller and rounder compared with the skinny young things that depict today’s perfect woman.  But they are idealised nonetheless and equally unrealistic.

 

I wonder why the penchant for skinny women is so prevalent in the popular culture of the Western world.  This woman-as-girl fixation often smells to me suspiciously like paedophilia dressed up as fashion.  And women – either actively or through aspiration – seem complicit in this.

 

Anyway, art as is entirely appropriate, gives us  mirror through which we can look at our world differently.  To that extent, I found the exhibition well worth the cost.

 

A long time ago I was standing in an art gallery trailing behind an elderly couple obviously unimpressed by the modern art before them.  Suddenly, they stopped before a picture and the following conversation took place:

“Now, you see, Myra, that’s what I call art.”

“Well, you can tell what it is, can’t you.  It’s really beautiful.”

“And very realistic.”

“That’s right, it’s just like a photograph.”

“Just like a photograph.”

Pregnant pause.

“Myra, it is a photograph.”

“Oh, yes, so it is.”

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If you love something…

A teacher I know told me this story of something that occurred in her first year of teaching.  She had a class of ten year olds and over the course of the several months she had taught them how to debate and analyse issues from a number of different points of view.  One day a student raised the point that keeping the much-loved classroom pet, a small yellow canary, in a cage instead of allowing it to be free, was cruel. My friend saw an ideal opportunity for the practical application of democratic principles.

She decided to have the class debate the pros and cons of setting Monty free.  Which ever view prevailed, on the basis of evidence and logic, would result in the canary remaining in the cage or being allowed to fly wherever his heart led him.  After half an hour it was clear that the class consensus was for the door of Monty’s cage to be opened and for his incarceration to end.

Everyone sat forward expectantly as the teacher opened the cage door and lifted the little bird gently onto her palm.  Then with a gentle flourish upwards, she ushered Monty into the air saying, “Fly, little birdy, fly!”  The class clapped and cheered.

Now, Monty – under the effects of freedom’s mighty intoxication or maybe just severe depression – flew up and up and straight into the whirling blades of an overhead fan.  With a sudden crump and a blaze of yellow feathers, the tiny bird fell lifeless to the classroom floor.

Intensive counselling and sustained rest were needed to overcome the more traumatic effects of this tragic event.  Even some of the children were affected.

Lessons that we can take from this little tale?

  • If you love something and set it free, it may come back to you quicker than you think.
  • Just because a decision is democratic doesn’t mean it’s a good decision.
  • If you love something and you set it free and it doesn’t come back, it may be dead.

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Bargain hunting in the mall of shiny dreams

I am moving slowly through the air-conditioned mall surrounded by the faces of Saturday shoppers.  I am going to have a haircut.  Outside the sun is shining and the Indian Ocean, just a few kilometres away is wondering where I am.  Its waves rush hissing up the sandy beach searching for my feet, waiting for me to grow small within it. 

 

But a haircut is a haircut.

 

I wonder why everyone else is here.  How did they wake to such a beautiful day and find themselves meandering lost-like through this artificial landscape?  They are looking for something, something that is promised by the bright lights and gaudy banners.  When will you wake up, I think.  Soon you have to wake up; life doesn’t go on forever.  And then I remember Woody Allen in one of his early stand-up routines saying, ”Do you like my watch?  My grandfather sold me this watch on his deathbed.”

And I wonder if for many people, maybe the habit of acquisition is just too strong, its intrinsic emptiness lost to their perception forever. 

Here is the triumph of advertising over the human spirit. 

There is a metaphor for this blind consumerism.  Imagine a jail where every conceivable safeguard has been put in place to prevent escape by the prisoners.  There is a high wall with a moat and minefields, the guards are heavily armed.  The cells are buried deep within a labyrinth of booby-trapped tunnels beneath metres of reinforced concrete.  Multiple doors protect each cell and each door is made from the strongest metals known to man.  The inmates are chained to their beds.

 

And then, just to make perfectly sure that no one escapes, each prisoner has been hypnotised into thinking that he is free…

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Sex, childhood and the Kingdom of Heaven

The famous French crime writer, Georges Simenon, was once asked if he had been religious as a child.  “Oh, very religious.  When I was eleven I got a scholarship to the College of St. Louis and I was thinking of becoming a priest.  I got rid of that idea when I was thirteen.”  And what happened when he was thirteen?  “I made love for the first time.  I saw all that about guilt and sin was nonsense.  I found out that all the sins I’d heard about were not sins at all.”

I suspect that at thirteen, M. Simenon, like most adolescents, fell into sexual activity out of natural curiosity and inclination rather than for the purpose of “making love.”  For all its bad press, sex is fairly easy to learn, even for teenagers, and far less confounding than love.  Nonetheless, the French writer does touch on a universal social phenomenon; that of the relationship between religion and our view of sexual behaviour formed from a young age.  The effects can be profound and deep and yet rarely positive, particularly in respect to our sense of guilt.

My own childhood and adolescence, however, while imbued with generous portions of both sex and religion was relatively benign in its articulation of the relationship between the two.  Despite attending Sunday School and church for almost all of my formative years – under duress, it’s true – the matter of sex was never raised.  If it was alluded to then I was too obtuse to recognise it. 

The only lasting effect of Sunday school was that brought about by our 16-year-old lay teacher who told enthralling tales of the strange and lingering deaths of missionaries in far away jungles.  I remember that one such story involved the hapless Christians being tied upside down in a bag of snakes.  If it were not for Sunday School I would never have learned that our small-town war memorial was actually filled with the bones of dead soldiers.

But my religious and sex education remained separate and unrelated experiences.  The theory of sex was as absent in church as the practice of it and not for me the wandering hands of conniving clergy or preying priesthood.

I believed in God and that punishment for sin was as inevitable as school on Monday and the infallibility of parents.  I just had not made any connection between sex and sin.

And between the ages of eight and sixteen my sex life, with boys and girls, was prolific and richer in variety and purer of motive than it was to be at any other time of my life.  That this life was hidden from the adult world was not at all the product of guilt or shame but of that very peculiar English inheritance, embarrassment.  I was never remotely imbued with a sense that God would punish me for sex with others and myself.  But the thought of my parents learning about the games we played was mortifying.

When a sixteen-year-old friend returned home for holidays after years in a Catholic boarding school and told me that he believed masturbation was a sin against his body, I was genuinely incredulous. 

Did my little town protect us from sexual guilt, was our little church aware of the need to keep scripture and sex separate?  Not at all.  We were a community living out the last vestiges of our English ancestry and we did so with equal measures of hypocrisy, ignorance and, it’s true, a deep distaste for public indiscretion.

But I am grateful to have lived in that time and place.  Nothing sexual abhors me, only its use to exploit, control or hurt others.  And that’s not a bad legacy for life.

  

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Sexual conundrum #72

If sex is all in the head, is it socially acceptable to blow my nose in public?

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The urge to splurge

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5 Reasons why you should not shop today

You are just encouraging those little bastards in advertising to find new ways to exploit, stereotype and manipulate our lives.

It won’t make you happy… No, really, not even shopping for shoes.  In all the world’s scriptures, not once does it say “And thou shalt find peace in the gardening section of K Mart.”

The money you spent could have bought you an experience instead of just a thing.  And experience lasts a lifetime.  Guaranteed.  If you have a choice between owning stuff and doing stuff, choose the latter.

You are going to die one day.  And you know it.   Don’t you think today might be a good time to work out why you’re here.  Nothing you can buy today will add up to a pile of beans when you are on your deathbed (unless it’s morphine, of course).

Everything you buy is consuming our planet.  Everything you buy is one more thing for you and one less thing for someone else in the world.  Give that money to someone who will make a difference.

5 Reasons why you should shop today

Even those little bastards in advertising create employment and employment leads to wealth and wealth builds our capacity to give.  And giving is tax deductible.

Shopping won’t bring happiness, it’s true, but it will buy you comfort.  And owning a new plasma or handbag can at least distract you from being unhappy. 

Some stuff we own actually is an experience e.g. that ipod reveals a whole world of music and lifts that spirit to another place; the new computer links you to people you never would have met before; those new shoes lead you to a restaurant where you meet the love of your life.

Sure, you are going to die one day.  But not this day, right?  Today you can enjoy yourself a little, OK?  I mean, enjoyment might not be the meaning of life but then, maybe it is.

Everything you buy consumes part of our planet, it’s true.  But what if you buy a book on recycling?

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