Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Sea of Faces

I've been looking at faces a lot these past weeks - faces from the internet, of famous people, profile pictures of the less so on social media, my own from times past and present... I don't know why this has happened but before I can catch myself I see that many minutes have passed in silent and absorbed contemplation of the pictures that I click on, zoom in on, open in applications so that I can get a less cluttered view...

Perhaps I am trying to see what time does to a face when it freezes it for eternity in a particular pose, at a particular time of day, in a particular light, in a particular mood, in the throes of a particular self-absorption. Most of these pictures are of people staring directly at the camera, some of them have the air of being caught out, but most are of those investing something of themselves in the moment, aware that the here and now is when they are being captured for eternity while attempting to infuse the moment with a sense of timelessness, as if the moment will be a salve for the relentless toil time takes on the self-image.

Exoticism, fetishism, escapism, voyeurism... are terms that come to mind when I think of what I am doing, but even so, these are terms that are only ever relative to a subjective sense of moral outrage and what relativity can extend to my quiet reflection on the face of another that is available in the public domain, and that for all intents and purposes is being advertised in the service of the promotion of a personal brand?

So, what exactly is the purpose being served here? Comparison, perhaps? Here I am, a middle-aged parody of the man I once thought I was, stolidly plodding along through the opacity of a recent civic relocation, trying to keep my head above water in the face of recurring challenges to a personal sense of well-being, during a phase in my life when I should have already been paying back mortgages and planning vacations two and three years into the future, and not wondering where the next year's school fees are going to come from. Comparison, in these circumstances, is only ever going to be disastrous to my continued functionality as a father, husband, and citizen, and therefore is a moot point.

Could it be due to something darker? That I am trying to infuse in the faces of anonymous others something of my tottering belief in the shared sense of the human? That the shattered state of the world today can somehow be overcome by a preoccupation with form, and aesthetic, and imbued character and personality. That the face of another is a giant outlined slate that I can write my fantasies on; of origin, and ambition, and mobility, and dreams. Tenuously holding on to a personal belief that the world consists of faces that are representative of more than just the exigencies of personal advantage, and self-aggrandising, and terror, and fear, and the darkest manifestations of our collective flaws and follies.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Something to believe in

There is a certain sadness in writing about things that once mattered to you, and realising in the present that your interest was founded on a once profound naïveté and unjustified optimism that you wish you weren't disabused of, if only because the myth would have been easier to live with these days.

The myth of representation is certainly one of those things. I grew up in a community that was wholly sceptical and apathetic when it came to matters of political representation. It was understood that council members, MLAs, MPs, and sundry representatives of even the local Residents Welfare Associations (or equivalents thereof) were corrupt, mean-spirited, under-educated, big-mouthed, self-serving accused (or convicted) criminals, that one with some future in life would do well to steer clear of. Elections, consequentially, were times to sit back and let the whole pageantry of campaigning glide by your upraised eyebrows, when you were not smirking at those poor schmucks to whom they apparently meant so much. Nothing in the personal experience of public life ever changed those fundamental impressions of lassitude and was indeed only ever scrutinized subjectively when you were forced to confront the fact that you did share a country with those who would determine the state of the roads and/or the condition of the drains before the monsoons came if they embezzled too much of your taxes when they did come to power.
In such an environment, if one were to enter the political space as a campaigner, coordinator or even a vocal supporter you had to be prepared to face scorn, accusations of complicity in an unethical social order, and sometimes even violence when the confrontations with the status quo became too immediate for a retreat into the relative safety of a measured appeal for civil discourse.

This very environment, or somewhere very similar, is where most first-generation migrants to the First World originate from, and if they claim that they are treated as second-class citizens in their adopted countries, feel constantly racially and ethnically discriminated against, and worry for the futures of their children, what is most often the reality is that they are disillusioned with the quality of political representation, in comparison to their encounters with political representation in their home countries.

When my family and I migrated to Australia in 2013, the timing of our move happened to coincide with the 44th Australian General Elections. The first thing we noticed was that it was an event lacking in the loud pomp and skulduggery and drama that characterises every election in India. The second thing we noticed were the colourful names of the myriad smaller parties contesting seats for the Federal parliament - names like, 'Australian Sex Party', 'Smokers Rights Party', and, ' Pirate Party Australia', to name only a few of the more colourful. The third thing we noticed was that the campaigns, at least between the two parties seriously competing for power, were being conducted almost purely on a platform of prosperity vs. economic doom, with the challenger repeatedly focusing on a plus/minus view of public policy vis-à-vis graphic projections of looming budget surpluses or deficits depending on who the Australian public chose. The fourth thing we noticed, and that we are still continuing to see, is that the business of political representation in Australia is as feckless a performance being enacted for public consumption as it was in the country we left behind, albeit with the stakes much higher for us now.

From the time of the first alarm bell ringing in the current Coalition government's record to the latest one (there are so many of them, take your pick), there is no evidence that public life here is more accountable, held to a higher standard, or less petty and basely competitive than it is even in the places where politics is only a matter of assassinating your opponent and declaring a State of Emergency for the 1000th time. The level of discourse in Parliament is wearily obfuscatory, the campaign promises one after another so spectacularly disowned and discarded, and the character assassinations so familiar, that it takes all I have not to dissociate in despair of the legacy we are leaving behind for this increasingly multi-cultural, immensely promising, stunningly beautiful nation of wanderers, dreamers, and doers.

There is no question that this base ignorance of the real reasons behind the, 'Stop the Boats' slogan, the relentless attacks on the Renewable Energy industry, and the suspiciously regular eruptions of a patriotic dissonance based on supposedly, 'imminent' attacks on our way of life, must be tackled among the electorate so that we, as a society, do not succumb to the hysterical world view of Tony Abbott and his honourable frontbenchers, but what is also of increasingly critical import is that Australia as a nation must live up to its potential as a shining beacon of fairness, a place of boundless possibility, a land where its truly wondrous indigenous history and fantastic geography can seamlessly come together to create the conditions for true leadership in the modern world.

We must always remember that hundreds of millions of people in the developing world are watching us and waiting for a sign that things can and will be better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When was it, shall we say, that we became radicalized?

There are some aspects of modern living that are so completely opaque to me that to even consider them manifestations of an evolving civilization would be to launch myself into a deep, dark chasm of terrifying self-revelation that has no escape chute inherent in its design.

The American faith in the selling of guns for public consumption is one such abyss, but there are others so much more immediate in their criticality, so crucially undermining to the myth of a shared humanity that we must construct to be able to have any will at all to continue living consequential lives, that to deny naming them is to deny that there might yet be a measure of salvation for us.

Will we say to our future generations that we became radicalized when we saw the sceptre of absolute and calamitous devastation wrought upon the people (and their children) who were systematically terrorized for being trespassers on their own land in the fifteen years since the 2nd Intifada of the Palestinian people began?

Will we say that we became radicalized when we saw tumultuous waves of terrified and desperate foreigners (and their children) descend upon our paved streets and pretty waterfront chalets to bring us face to face with our 500 years of economic and physical predation of their erstwhile lands?

Will we say that we became radicalized when we shamed and cut down people (and their children) because they were less fortunate, less able-bodied, less adept at negotiating the ways of a treacherous world of elite exclusivity?

Will we say that we became radicalized when we saw the fatal effects of a staggering dehumanization of a whole race of our neighbours (and their children) by the guardians of society, whom we pay and put our trust in to protect all of us, for no other reason than how different they looked from us?

When was it, shall we tell our children and grandchildren, that we became radicalized?


Friday, July 3, 2015

You can't eat the weather

There should be a word for this kind of living - one that encapsulates various lifestyles, all extremely leisurely; one that unremittingly strives to go beyond what is romantically alluded to as an 'utopia'; one that makes that smile forming at the corner of your mouth as forcefully garnered as the enjoyment you are expected to feel at a beautiful day, no matter whether it's spring, summer or winter, on the water (some water, any water); one that feeds the sense of belonging to a cult of sensual-gratification worshippers more closely matching the famous description of, 'Shiny Happy People', than, probably, any other community anywhere else in the world.

The living in Western Australia's capital city of Perth is a dream wrapped in a cocoon of exclusivity presented in a gigantic steel bucket filled to the brim with ice, sans the gleaming green bottle of celebratory bubbly - 'Sorry, mate; you should have brought your own', says the sticker on the side. Long regarded as a sun-drenched and tradie-hungry haven for those escaping the class-ridden daily humiliations of Great Britain, the city is slowly beginning to capitulate to an idea of the world that allows for all those inscrutable black, brown and yellow bodies to take a servile part in what is locally regarded as genteel society, but is rudely coming up against the competing idea that some of 'them' might actually begin to live like 'us' if 'we' allowed them to.

Australia is too dependent on the kind of skilled migration that has long been spoken about in parliament and corner shops around the country in hushed tones, to wish to antagonize the large community of expatriates, temporary residents, and permanent residents who have chosen this beautiful country to try to make their futures in. But in less-scrutinised hubs such as Perth, far removed from the bustling crowds at Dandenong Market and every other shopping centre in Paramatta, the outrage at these 'others' moving in, and buying everything in sight, including smug markers of prosperity such as boats, double-storey Mcmansions, and the latest caravans, is gradually beginning to manifest itself in the shutting out of people from professions in which they have a direct propensity to contribute, and earn a living by. Subjective judgement about what constitutes expertise, experience and communication standards, cultural bias, and racial prejudice, drives most recruiters' instincts when considering CVs, and the unending renewal of short-term contracts for professionals used to a much more demanding work ethic in their home countries doesn't lend itself to a sense of security and belonging, and contributes to a wider alienation among them that consequentially fans the communal flames at the heart of the current citizenship debate in Federal politics.

Australia is surely trying to come to terms with what kind of immigrant nation it wants to be on a national level, but the effects of that debate are being felt in its distant townships and suburbs, on the beautiful white-sand beaches and verdant parks far, far away from the hubbub of Parliament's musings on Australian identity. And those effects are not good.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Get Social

I don't know if there has ever been a more monumentally voyeuristic forum for the kind of wide-eyed gawking that we were less self-conscious of as children, when we gather to look upon the world exchanging thoughts, opinions, ideas, and prejudices - all from one accessible interface - on the barely regulated social media platform that is Twitter.
It is certainly endearing that during a time when Facebook is finally making concrete inroads towards that elusive goal of 'monetization' that has been the stumbling block for most fledgling social media platforms, Twitter, in comparison, resembles a confused squirrel debating with itself which tree in the forest contains the best nuts without even being able to see them because its vantage point is so close to the ground.
Inarguably though, the most enlightening aspect of being able to follow, comment on, and troll the virtual selves of people who you will most probably never get to encounter in real life, is the freedom to linger on collective trails of thought: as they first begin life as concise expressions of observation or intent, and evolve, after much rich composting from a mass of unsolicited and critical contribution, into fully-formed insights on the entire scope of human experience that this complex world we inhabit today makes possible. From the loftiest preoccupations of our time such as: the environment, racism, public policy, sex, nationalism, education, civic evolution, and the future of sport, to the specifically subjective: grooming, class, peer pressure, and human physical attributes or the lack thereof, all manner of conceit is up for debate and scrutiny in a whirlwind of direct questioning, quoting, appropriating, and critiquing. It's never been a mystery why such sneering scorn has been heaped on the, 'fashionable outrage of the twitterati', by the establishment - as a society, we never could have prepared ourselves for such a democratic disgorging of the span of human consciousness into neat little 140 character snippets.
It is a tribute to the platform that it facilitates, sometimes, the positive change that can occur in the minds and hearts of even the most hardened individuals because of the pressure brought to bear by a collective consciousness, but we must never lose sight of the thousands of individuals who must constantly be vigilant that their spirits are not crushed by the avalanche of hate that accompanies their personal confrontations with the status quo. It must surely be a trial to feel like you're finally getting somewhere with a dearly held conviction only to be met with vitriol and cowardly ad hominem attacks. It is, after all, a simple walk down the road from there to the swamplands that Reddit, that much heralded and singular banner of free expression since inception, finds itself enmeshed in these days.
Today on Twitter I see racism being dredged up from all its latent holes, stripped bare, and laid out in the hot, humid sun for all to be repulsed by, and hopefully be so repulsed by that it finally signals the dismantling of a 400-year old criminal institution. Perhaps tomorrow I will see post-colonialism, gender discrimination, caste bias, or indigenous rights being so tackled. I wait with bated breath, fingers hovering over touch screen and keyboard. It is a good time to be alive.