Category Archives: Society

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.

Funerals of others (aren’t they all!)

Many of us just don’t know what to do when a friend, associate, acquaintance, colleague or neighbour has a death in the close family.

Your first priority is your friend/neighbour/colleague and their loss and grieving process. The fact that you didn’t know the person they are grieving is not the issue.
Funerals are for those who remain – they serve the grieving process and are the final ritual that puts the closing bracket on a life.

Your support at this important ritual for those grieving a  close relative provide important support and acknowledgement of the process they’re going through.

So I urge you to attend funerals in your role as a member of your communities – neighbourhood, work, social, sport, professional and so on. You don’t have to have known the one who has died – you’re there for the one you do know. To take part in an important part of their life.

You may also wish to bring or send flowers (unless instructed otherwise) and/or to give a card to express your sympathy with their sorrow. It means a lot when a person is at their most emotionally vulnerable.

In my own experience, when I’ve missed the funeral of a friend’s parent, I’ve found it difficult to recall that they’ve died. I’ve never actually asked “oh, and how’s your mum?” but I’ve come close.

So don’t be shy – go to funerals (unless for some reason it’s really not appropriate). They’re also great reality checks for the living.

The currency of fear

Is fear the currency of Australian political, economic and social interactions?
In one of the most secure and wealthy nations blessed with great natural assets, fear seems to dominate our decision-making from the personal to the national levels.
How did we get this way?
How does it manifest in our daily actions, even with our loved ones?
What is the long-term effect of living this way?
Those in power fear that power will be taken from them. Those with wealth fear that too will be taken or lost. We fear change – even positive change; we fear the unknown. Conservatism is based on fear.
The current Australian government fears its own people – the people who did (or didn’t) elect it into power. While the US system was built on mistrust of government, our Australian system was not.
We therefore have systems built around us that generate fear;  if we lose our job there may be no “safetynet” to prevent us from destitution. We can be coerced into fear through our desires. The Abbott government is going to extremes of cruelty to engender fear in potential asylum-seekers; many refuse to succumb and take the journey anyway. Ruling through fear and hate – what’s that about? It’s a choice, and a particularly abhorrent one. We have fought wars in the past to prevent this sort of oppression.

Fear of death is the grand old existential fear and religions have best harnessed that fear for their benefit. It [arguably] underlies all our fears. Not the topic for this short post. Today I’m talking about the psychological and emotional fears that are largely constructed rather than physical fears arising from activities such as driving a car, or walking a tightrope over the Grand Canyon etc.

Our immediate emotional response to fear is anger. And we Australians seem to be more angry than ever now.
That said, we have overcome the worst of our fears around, for example, being an unmarried mother, being gay, being confined to a mental asylum by one’s husband and so on.

Travel is a great eye-opener; it changes our perspective from the myopic claustrophobia of habitual living. We can see new ways of living with more courageous, open and generous values informing cultures.

We DO NOT have to submit to fear. To be conscious of your fears – to explore and challenge them – can be a form of civil disobedience and certainly a life-changing liberation. However, revolutions of any sort demand courage!

I have learnt a lot about fear from my scaredy cat. She misses out on some great stuff because of her irrational fears. The same applies to us all 🙂
The tricky bit is working out which fears are irrational and which aren’t. And what the cost is to us. As individuals and as a community. Short term and long term. Sometimes there’s just no value in being fearful.

Conformity is enforced through fears generated purely for that purpose – by churches, governments, families, friends, and many others. Social conformity isn’t necessarily a bad thing – however, it is by far better to encourage desirable behaviour through positive reinforcement.
Recently I heard a neighbour call to her toddler girl child to “get away from that shed! There are horrible spiders in there!” This had nothing to do with spiders (soooo maligned) and everything to do with the mother’s laziness and need to control the child. The easiest course of (in)action was to instill fear that could be used long into the future. A little tug here… a little prod there…

Where does the fear of catastrophic climate change fit in? Deniers offer refuge from fear in their lies. Many take comfort from their distortions in spite of clear and unassailable scientific evidence. Maybe the deniers are right – climate change as an issue is religion. The fear is on the scale of fear of death and the deniers take the role of religion.

Chill folks; just chill!

Not “Not in My Name”

This morning I signed a petition to close Manus Island detention centre.

There was no way I wasn’t going to sign.

But I passionately disagree with the “not in my name” slogan.

My reasons are somewhat inchoate, but I’ll do my best to express my rejection of this approach.

We are, all of us, the Australian community. Together. Even if we don’t agree with each other. It’s clear there are members of the community who believe it’s absolutely fine to lock up the most vulnerable in inhumane conditions. Accepting or changing that view is the responsibility of all of us. We cannot walk away from that or pretend these people are not part of the body politic in this country.

We are ALL responsible for the government we elect. Democracy is not a spectator sport (although it is currently being played out that way). Voting is the most passive aspect of democracy and being compulsory doesn’t just attract those who are passionate or even interested. Some are positively disgruntled at being forced to vote. And punish the rest of us. Democracy is an ongoing involvement in the debate and its progress. It is about engagement in your community, how it develops, the decisions it makes, the ideas that are being considered and debated.

The “not in my name” slogan is an attempt to disown the decisions made by government. This is pure hubris, and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the functions of government and the role of democracy. It seems, in fact, rather childish. Petulant even. Elitist – “that’s a Western Sydney policy, not for my educated, middle-class sensibilities”.

If we really don’t like the way government spends our taxes (in a kazillion different ways), then conduct a civil disobedience exercise by going on a tax strike. Certainly peace protestors have attempted this in order to not fund the defence forces.