Ireland’s Yes Vote: When Decency is Non-Ideological

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In a world where religion and conservatism are often used to justify prejudice, the idea that a socially conservative Catholic nation could enshrine marriage equality by popular vote was always going to be momentous. Ireland’s 62.07% vote in favour of marriage equality has lifted the veil of ideological objection and bared an important truth: ideological beliefs can exist alongside human decency.

A watershed moment in Ireland’s Yes campaign came when Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland, disclosed that she had a gay son and urged the nation toward a Yes vote. This proved a massive blow to Ireland’s No campaign, which was led primarily by religious groups. Why? Because McAleese is a highly respected and devout Catholic. Though fear and prejudice often masquerade as religious sentiment, a devout McAleese was able to urge a “yes” vote on the basis of empathy, decency, and kindness. These are religious traits, if you ask me.

In Australia, conservatism remains a key obstacle for marriage equality, yet does not represent the popular view. Opinion polls show that as much as 72% of the population supports marriage equality, while Australia’s incumbent right-wing government continues to oppose same-sex marriage on conservative grounds. Such opposition has ever dwindling legitimacy; conservative parliaments in the United Kingdom and New Zealand have already legalised same-sex marriage, and Ireland’s referendum is a resounding blow to the conservative stance.

Why then, does Australia continue to lag on such an important issue? If a similar referendum were possible in Australia, the result might prove decisive. But unlike in Ireland, our Constitution does not make reference to the definition of marriage, meaning that the power to enact change lies entirely in the hands of our elected representatives. These individuals have rejected two bills to amend the Marriage Act in the last 11 years. At what point does it become an obscenity for the government to ignore the resounding view of the Australian people?

On the back of Ireland’s referendum, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has now introduced a third bill attempting to legalise gay marriage, a move that was instantly flagged as political opportunism by our PM. Tony Abbott has long opposed marriage equality on ideological grounds, and is a self-confessed “last bastion” of conservative values even among his own family. Marriage equality becoming the legacy of his government must prove a frightening prospect for him. While the major parties spar, the Greens have lamented the issue becoming political at the detriment of real change. “Another marriage equality bill?” Greens MP Adam Bandt tweeted, “We should be working together, not having duelling legislation.”

Regardless of whether Labor’s stance is political opportunism, Ireland has shown that the issue is vastly larger than this. Our government should look at the sky, not down at its shoes, for setting aside political and religious dogmatism in favour of human decency affects real lives. Studies show that homosexual and bisexual people are twice as likely to experience anxiety and three times as likely to experience depression when compared to heterosexual people. A 2012 report showed that two out of every five victims of homophobic bullying at school attempt or contemplate suicide, while a 2008 study of 390 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Victorians found that nearly one in seven reported living in fear of homophobic violence. Ideological opposition to same-sex marriage feeds discrimination. It reinforces social inequality, excuses prejudice, and worst of all, leaves these individuals with the belief that their love is less valuable than someone else’s. When an issue affects lives on such a basic human level, how can discrimination be excused by religion or ideology?

Regardless of how the Australian debate unfolds, the Irish referendum on marriage equality has proven a valuable lesson for our democracy. Ireland has shown that decency is non-ideological, a simple truth, yet one that governments and interest groups continue to trip over. While marriage equality has become an issue of stance, a playground for a dogmatic ideology, it should be viewed as an issue of decency.

Imagine all of the lives that would change, and be saved, if only this were true.

– Lucy

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Why U mad, tho? Another treatise on Sexual Violence in HBO’s Game of Thrones

It’s been a little over a year since Lucy (formerly Peachy) wrote her article discussing the now infamous incestuous rape scene in the third episode of Game of Thrones’ season four. History has a funny way of repeating itself, doesn’t it? If you’re a fan of GOT, be warned that there’ll be spoilers from here on in. Those of you not riding that particular roller coaster are still encouraged to read on, because what I have to say doesn’t only apply to the seven kingdoms. At the end of episode 6, Sansa Stark (played by Sophie Turner), was married to Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), in what she was made to believe to be a power move by a political puppet master Petyr Baelish, whose relationship with her revolves around her serving as both a political pawn and a romantic proxy for her dead mother, upon whom he long had designs. That disturbing little tidbit is not even what I want to talk about right now. What I do want to talk about is the general and critical reaction to the very final scene, in which she is raped off-screen by her new husband (long established as a sadist), with her former foster-brother watching on. I’m not here to have the “but was it rape?” argument, I’m here to have the “why does fictional rape garner the outrage non-fictional rape evades?” discussion. Some fucked up stuff happens on Game of Thrones. Some fucked up stuff happens in real life. In real life, though, we can cloak these things in an ambiguity and reason that’s difficult to foster when it’s presented to us by an omniscient narrative eye. So long as there’s room for doubt, you can rationalise it away or pretend it didn’t happen, at least “not like that”.  But when it’s right in front of you, like it was in this episode and in last year’s, there’s no “he said, she said”, no evidence to gather, no allegations to discount and no witnesses to find or discredit. You saw a fucked up thing happen. You are a witness. You can’t hide from it anymore, like you could when if happened to a friend of a friend’s cousin. You have to confront a very real and fucked up thing that happens to women and men all over the world under a range of fucked up circumstances, and it makes you uncomfortable. Which is fine, by the way, you should be uncomfortable. Only rapists are okay with rape (in addition to an alarming number of politicians, religious and academic institutions, etc.) But are you as upset by a 30 second headline on the six o’clock news about a real, violent, sexual crime perpetrated by and upon real, living people as you are by something simulated by actors in a safe and controlled environment? Are you going to jump online and write about how it should never have been allowed to happen? Are you going to demand that it never be allowed to happen again? What is arguing with a stranger going to achieve? Sex is still a pretty significantly taboo topic in contemporary society, especially when it comes to issues of consent. The way it’s dealt with on our tv and movie screens reminds me of repeats I’ve seen of shows from the ’60s where married adults slept in twin single beds. For centuries, polite society – historically, the part of society that makes and enforces the rules – refused to allow the open acknowledgement that consensual sex, within the boundaries of a loving relationship, was something that occurred in a fictional universe, let alone in a real one. Sure, we’ve moved on, sex is everywhere in contemporary media, for better and worse. There are dozens of crime shows that thrive on twistedly empowering narratives of rape – the perpetrator is convicted, or served poetic justice, the victim is avenged. Our fiction feeds us rhetoric about survival and the power of the system, when nothing is more systemic, on a global scale, than sexual abuse. In attempting to depict narratives of sexual violence that conform to resolution-driven, episodic formats, contemporary fiction is unknowingly and implicitly reinforcing the tendency to hide from the inconvenient truth of reality. There is nothing more damaging or pervasive than willful or enforced ignorance. You can’t hope to change or fix something you don’t know how to talk about. I am by no means advocating for more rape scenes on my television. What I would like though, is for the people watching and talking about them to think seriously about why it makes them feel the way they do without becoming the proverbial ostrich, blocking out the inconvenient or uncomfortable. Come on, other humans, do me this one solid.

Shon

The pseudonym: A (partial) Obituary

Many moons ago, when Magpie Shon and I were but wee uni students, we were sitting in the dingy kitchenette of our hall of residence and had a wonderful idea.

The idea was to create a blog. This blog would be a beautiful mess of a forum, a playground for the sarcastic and the witty, a meadow in which the creative and ridiculous would frolic. It would reflect our individual interests and flex a mutual need to stare at a screen mulling over synonyms while feverishly consuming tea.

As we penned titles, topic areas and taglines – Guide to Everything? That’s a lot of responsibility – we stumbled on one minor detail.

I was happy to have my name displayed on the interwebs, common as it is. Lucy is the 208th most popular girls name out of 4276 names – thanks Wikipedia! – and by all accounts unexciting. Shon, on the other hand, was not.

Historically, literary women have often opted for the use of a pseudonym to protect their identities. Charlotte Bronte famously pubished Jane Eyre under the gender neutral Currer Bell; her sister Emily published the wildly beautiful Wuthering Heights under Ellis Bell. Nelle Harper Lee, the author of the infamous To Kill a Mockingbird, opted for the more androgynous Harper Lee. But Shon’s desire for a pseudonym was not for fear of gender barriers or the perils of being a creative women entombed in patriarchy, her reasons were more modern.

The internet – wonderful as it is in so many ways – remains a large and anarchistic pot of wild cards, a place of epic good and even worse evil, to the point where it really is quite mind blowing. Privacy? Pshhh. What privacy.

And so it was that we spent the remainder of the evening brainstorming pseudonyms.

Peachy had a simple birth. When I was younger, I used to use the adjective ‘peachy’ a lot, much to the annoyance of, well, everyone:

“How are you today?

I’m peachy thanks, how are you?

No.

What?

Just no. “

Etc.

This word had somehow become my internet tag for several things, why not WordPress too?

Magpie, on the other hand, had a much more hilarious birth…a story you can read about here.

For now, join me in raising our tea cups and toasting to the (partial) death of the GTN pseudonym*, and the birth of a new blogging era.

Fare thee well Peachy and Magpie, hello Lucy and Shon.

x

*we’ve dropped down to first names, we hardcore.

IT’S… ALIVE!

So, I’ve finally climbed off my bum and written a blog post. “Guide to Nothing,” I hear you say, “I thought they were dead!” Not dead, dear readers (plural, because there are at least 5 of you – hi, Mum,) just very distracted. In all honesty, a more accurate description would be: sleeping, working, studying, and tumblr-ing. But, after a recent period of prolonged boredom, resulting from a hand injury,* and repeated lamentations by both Peachy and myself on the subjected of our neglected brainchild, I’ve finally roused myself from my creative torpor and had an Idea. An actual, actionable Idea. And I feel pretty good about it, if I do say so myself.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I love to read. I love books. I love stories, I love knowledge, I love ideas, and poems, and essays, and articles… you get the gist. I also talk a lot. So, I thought, why not combine those two things and start talking (or writing) about some of the books I’ve read. I read pretty widely, and have favourites in almost every genre, so it’s not as though I’m going to run out of things to write about any time soon. The contents of my head are 80-90% stuff I’ve read, 1-2% people’s names, and 5% meals to make with beef mince and spaghetti sauce. The remainder is made up mostly of puppies, sugary food, sarcasm, and Star Trek: The Next Generation references.

One of my main aims here is to share a passion of mine in a reasonably accessible and interesting way, which isn’t always the first thing that people think of doing when they write about literature. If it helps, I think of ‘literature’ as virtually anything printed, bound, and legible. I may not personally like what you’re reading, but if you are reading, enjoying, and engaging with whatever it is, I’m not going to lecture you about how it’s not worth your eyeball time – I’m going to do an internal happy dance, because there is no reason anyone’s opinion should stop you from doing something that brings you joy. Unless it’s serial homicide or substance abuse, obviously. Don’t do that.

The other reason I want to do this is entirely selfish. I’m doing it for me. I like writing, and when I’m able to do it regularly, my brain feels less like an overfull tombola and a bit more like an overfull shelf. Hey, I’ll take what I can get. It’s also a good way for me to *pretentious artist voice* “work on my writing,” and “develop my own voice.” Translation into more palatble terms, I’ll be trying to compromise between being a perfectionist and being incredibly unmotivated. Should be fun.

I was originally going to work an introduction into my first book-y post, but my introduction ended up being 500 words of self sustained blab, and this is the internet. I know you’ve got at least four other tabs open right now, so I won’t drag this out. But fear not! The first post should be up in a couple of days, and in honour of Guide to Nothing’s glorious return to life, the first book I’ve chosen to write about (truth: started randomly thinking about while eating coco pops the other day,) is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I struggle to say I have a single favourite book, but if I could, this one would be a serious contender.

If you’ve enjoyed GTN’s previous fare, but don’t really consider yourself a book person, fear not – I’m sure I’ll get sidetracked and end up talking about chocolate unicorn donuts or something at some stage. And now I’m hungry for donuts. Awesome.

Until next time, dearest fruit-loops,

Magpie

x

*a hyperextended right thumb, from having either

a) wrestled a Drop Bear (thylarctos plummetus) into submission on a family holiday to the Snowy Mountains,

b) tried too enthusiastically to give a really good movie two thumbs up,

c) slipped while climbing over rocks in a creek on a family holiday to the Snowy Mountains, OR

d) opened the tightest jar lid ever.

I’ll let you decide which you find most likely.

Televised incestuous rape? OVER MY DEAD BODY: Sexual violence in HBO’s Game of Thrones

GTN, my darling. I have missed you.

As uttered to Magpie on numerous occasions –  in cars, cafes, Skype dates and tea slurpings – GTN is the child we put up for adoption. To use an appropriate analogy, it is the infant the White Walkers carted off to ice-henge.

But we are back. We have returned. WITH TWO POSTS IN ONE DAY. TRY NOT TO HAVE A STROKE.

As a mirror to Magpie’s post on Tess of the D’urbervilles, a nineteenth century novel that addresses the social repercussions of sexual violence, I thought this piece of mine was appropriate. Enjoy.

*Spoilers for the most recent series of HBO’s Game of Thrones in this article. Ye be warned*

Jaime

For a show that exposes within its 56 minute segments a medieval concoction of incest, prostitution, murder, torture, beheadings, zombies, slavery, and sacrifice, people sure do love it, and people sure do get worked over a bit of rape.

And I sure find it very hard to write “bit” in jest. Because there is nothing at all light about sexual violence, and for it to be displayed in one of the most popular and widely pirated television series’ of all time has done more than ruffle a few ravens. The episode in question, “Breaker of Chains” aired recently as part of the newest season of HBO’s medieval drama currently showing on Foxtel in Australia, and received a good deal of backlash for its depiction of a previously deplorable – and now fan favourited – character, Jaime Lannister, raping his twin sister in very close proximity to their dead son. Yes, this show is that insane.

Up until now it has garnered nothing but praise. Recently being renewed for a fifth and sixth season, GoT has received widespread critical acclaim and popular support, boasting one of the largest casts and budgets in television. Set in the fictional medieval land of Westeros, it chronicles the violent dynastic struggles of seven noble families as they fight for control of the Iron Throne, all the while shadowed by looming supernatural supernatural threats in the icy north and fiery east.

Game of Thrones has become well known for its merciless displays of violence, sexual intrigue, and the innumerable dark facets of human nature, evoking a realism and moral ambiguity that sets it apart from fantasy stereotypes. In short, there seems to be no line in this gritty series. But recently, viewers recently stood up and marked one, ripping their ‘Jaime Lannister’ banners through gold-flecked tears.

Let’s just recap for a second on how far this show has gone in the past. In season one, we witnessed incest, the attempted murder of a child, nudity, and beheading. In season two, sadism, the sacrifice of infants. In season three, castration, torture, mass slaughter and the sowing of a wolf’s head on to a human body. And yet for some reason, none of these portrayals have triggered a peep of outrage when compared to the uproar that followed one recent scene.

There is a surprisingly simple reason for this. In our society, we are fortunate enough that beheadings, incest, torture, and slavery are virtually unheard of. They strike a chord with very few viewers, providing only bloody colour for a world of entirely foreign substance,a world that doesn’t even exist. They blend in to the fantasy. They become, in this context, forgivable.

Rape does not. And that is because it remains for us – more so than ever due to its exposure – a social concern that has ongoing implications. Sexual violence is as prevalent now as it has ever been, and the psychological scars it inflicts on victims run deep and everlasting. That is why the blasé handling of rape on the show has sparked so much uproar, and with good reason. Personally this widespread reaction, unique thus far to the series, has triggered in me very conflicting concerns.

The first is is that Game of Thrones now has an extremely far-reaching influence, and that this arguably affords it a degree of responsibility. It is unable to continue to stretch the line when it is a cultural phenomenon that can at any point be seen to be championing or over-exposing issues that are of huge social sensitivity. It cannot be careless with its portrayal of crimes that are still abhorrently prevalent in our society.

My second contrasting concern, is that viewers are being selective about the deplorable facets of the human condition they condemn. As mentioned repeatedly, Game of Thrones far from holds back in depicting shocking events. Let’s come away from Westeros for a second. As a politics student, I have  Thomas Hobbes’ famous “life is nasty, brutish, and short” tattooed on my eyelids. Humans do evil things. The reality of ‘medieval’ times was that these things often went un-policed, and Game of Thrones is famed for addressing this with ruthless accuracy.

It is perhaps irrational to expect that in a fictional universe where incest, murder, torture etc is a daily reality, sexual crimes are not. “I know rape happens, but they shouldn’t show it.” But can you really expect a show famed for its realism to suddenly omit its portrayal of one aspect of human evil? This would arguably cripple the power of its storytelling.

I will never defend sexual violence. It cannot be excused. But I do believe that fantasy is fantasy, and that storytelling should cause discomfort. Art exists to turn a mirror on us all, exposing human darkness.

Regardless, viewers have drawn a line. In reality, when a show’s influence pushes ever expanding edges, walls must be raised to keep out sensitive subject matter – the ‘White Walkers’ of our world. Though shiny and rogue in the early days of a far smaller viewership, with fame comes accountability.

And for a cultural phenomenon with such tremendous influence, viewers clearly demand it.

 

 

An open letter to Angel Clare, on GTN’s first birthday.

Hey kids!

First point of order: HAPPY BIRTHDAY GTN! A notification happened, informing me that today is the 1st anniversary of Peachy and me typing life into our blaby (blog-baby,) and it is, if you’ll believe, a complete coincidence that we’d both planned posts for today! Peachy is in the middle of study at the moment, so it is my great pleasure to write today : )

Second thing: I’m reading Tess of the D’urbervilles at the moment- well, strictly speaking, I’m on a break from reading Tess of the D’urbervilles, because that is some emotionally exhausting shit. I’ve had to take a small break with each major plot development, waiting until I’ve calmed down some before I can get back into it. You’ll see why. A warning, for the unread- the following open letter makes details of the plot explicit.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*- though only up to just over halfway. Only after reading The Fault in Our Stars was I willing to accept that maybe I’m prone to over-investing emotionally in characters I like, and having to write nonsensical, rambling, open letters when they upset me, so I can sleep.

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