Monthly Archives: July 2014

Actors and their bodies

I’ve never been a consumer of celebrity mags, but it’s sometimes hard to ignore those headlines about who’s showing cellulite, got a bit thin/podgy etc.  It was none of my business and I just wasn’t interested anyway.

However, after I’d edited a number of actors’ CVs, I had a revelation about the role of an actor’s body  in their profession. An actor’s body is his or her tool of the trade. It is what they make their living from. An accurate and almost clinical description of their dimensions and appearance is an essential element of their “skillset”, as much as their acting abilities.

I found this unsentimental and functional relationship with one’s body completely liberating. If it needs to be thinner, just do what it takes to make it thinner. Or fatter. Or stronger. No whingeing. No resistance. No argument.

Acting is whole-of-body, physical work (working in radio maybe not so much). An actor is never separate from their body. So when they are acting, their whole body is part of that work.

The celebrity mags assume the on-screen body is as “real” as the off-screen body and judge accordingly. But this isn’t so. Actors can be as flabby/hairy/cellulitey etc as they like in real life; there is no obligation to be “perfect”.

Another myth arises from this use of the actor’s body as a work tool: the celebrity diet. Actors may diet (for gain or loss) for a role, usually quickly and often do so in ways that are not advisable for the population as a whole. These diets are not meant to be sustainable. They may result in quick loss but only for the duration of the shoot or performance schedule. To promote celebrity diets for the general population is duplicitous if not outright fraudulent.

It seems clear that some actors have bought into the celebrity hype, and lose the ability to distinguish between work and self-promotion. Sad.

For the rest of us, I think our relationship with our bodies should be far more pragmatic, and less sentimental and self-indulgent. Our body is our only and indispensable vehicle. It has to function well in every way for what seems to us to be forever.

And finally; a wish more than advice I’d expect anyone to take: don’t bother with celebrities. Ignore them and they really will go away and back to doing what they do best – their work.

PS: now I’m thinking about how this works for  professional sports folk. There are similarities and differences. Pain is likely to be more of a factor in sports. And how much acting is involved in sport?



The new atheists

As a third-generation atheist who has spent almost my entire life as a lone atheist outside my family, I was thrilled to pieces when the new wave of atheism arose. Finally, I would have like-minded fellow non-believers!

However, it didn’t take me long to be thoroughly disappointed with those who had “converted” from some form of religion. Most of these (but not all) were angry at and obsessed with their former religion and held many of the distorted values and beliefs they were supposedly liberated from. It seemed they were just as much hostage to their religion in their non-belief as they had been in their belief.

In addition, many (not all) of these new atheists turned out to be concrete thinkers, with a very simple, mechanistic view of life, existence, consciousness and our place in the universe. The reality of science is infinitely more awe-inspiring than any concept we could have of a god (because reality takes us way beyond our imagination). But much of that science is as esoteric as any religion. And is based on concepts, models and ideas from the flimsiest of evidence itself. There is so much we don’t know – we must just honour this fact. Instead, many new atheists are as dogmatic as any religious zealot, and insist that if there is no evidence then there is nothing.

When I was in my early 20s travelling in India, whenever I had to give my personal details for some bureaucratic purpose, in response to the question “religion?” I’d say “none”. This always upset my Indian hosts – they couldn’t fathom that someone couldn’t have religion. Their overwhelming response was one of great sadness and compassion. After a while I began to tell them I was Christian. Although it was a lie and I felt (still feel!) uncomfortable about saying it, in one sense it was true. Although I was an atheist, I had been brought up in a Christian culture. It is in India that this becomes starkly (but not unpleasantly) apparent.

I am grateful that my parents were not dogmatic atheists. They were gentle philosophers with minds open to all possibilities, and active ability to reason.

Through my life, every now and then I will meet an “old” atheist – non-belief inherited from parents or grandparents. These people have always held strong moral positions on personal and social issues, and have worked passionately for the benefit of those less advantaged than they are. I salute you!


Religion is as religion does

I’m a third generation atheist on my mother’s side and second generation on my father’s. As a young child living in then working-class Brunswick my mother and her brother were pulled from religious education classes by my grandparents. As a result, both children were the victims of merciless brutality by their Christian fellow-students. Both wore the scars until their deaths; ashamed and silent on all matters religious founded on an indelible deep fear and sadness.

My father elected to be an atheist through his blossoming political awareness as a student at Brighton technical college. He was always comfortable with and outspoken about his politics and his atheism.

As a young child, my parents gave me both sides of the story (science vs biblical) when I asked about the origin of this world. I chose the family tradition of an evidence-based approach, but have deliberately kept an open mind on the range of possibilities. Strangely, they sent me to a church school – renowned for its science education and music programs, and its social justice values. Somehow, nothing about Christianity entered my consciousness (it is a total mystery to me!) I was stunned as an eleven-year-old when, during a religious education class, I asked the girl sitting next to me whether she believed what the teacher was telling us. She admitted that she did. I was gobsmacked!

I experienced discrimination and bullying from a few teachers in my early teens, but didn’t realise it was due to my politics and atheism until decades later. How could fully-grown responsible adults behave so badly towards a child who behaved at least as well as any other child? I puzzled for that long!

As a result of my particular life and heritage as an atheist, I am much more relaxed about religion than many who seem to be obsessed with religion. I have come to conclude that religion is as religion does. We all have beliefs, motivations, values and principles (whether we are aware of them or not) that drive our behaviour in the world.  Some of the most generous, radical, loving, socially progressive and effective people I have had the privilege to know have been religious (not just “spiritual”).

We need look no further to see the sinister side of religion in our most prominent religious politicians: Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Kevin Andrews. Men who appear to share the characteristics of psychopaths due (in part) to their demonstrated lack of compassion, and infliction of unnecessarily cruel policies on the most vulnerable of society. To say nothing of their breathtaking dishonesty!

Whatever a person believes drives their actions. Whether you believe in karma ,in reincarnation, in eternal damnation, or in virgins awaiting you in heaven – you are likely to act in accordance with the most strongly-held beliefs, consciously or not.

I advocate choosing your beliefs on the basis of desired outcome. For example, I have chosen to believe that the biblical depictions of heaven and hell are in reality here on earth now. And that we have the choice to create either – in our own lives and in the lives of others. Who cares if there’s a basis for this in fact – it serves to improve our little tiny miraculous and spectacular lives!

This brings me to reincarnation. It’s a two-edged sword. On the one side, it gives permission to excuse suffering that has the potential to be alleviated, on the basis that improvement will be gained in the next life (karma is part of this process too). On the other hand, it does mitigate against a frenzied desperation to make the absolute most of this one life. This can result in detriment to others, now and in the future.

If we truly believed we’d be re-born randomly into the world we’re creating right now, how different would our current behaviour be? Huh?

It  doesn’t matter what we believe, as long as it actually results in a better world for everyone – especially the poorest of the poor –  in the here and now and into the long-term future.