Archive for the ‘Miranda Devine’ Category

Miranda and zero tolerance

November 14, 2008

My favourite (not) columnist, Miranda Devine, is running a campaign (1, 2) about NSW’s draconian (as she would have it) system of demerit points under which a series of relatively minor infractions within a three year period can lead to loss of your driver’s licence. That can be a very serious deprivation for many people who rely on their licences for their livelihood or, where public transport is poor, basic mobility and social participation.

I wonder how it is that Miranda has just mounted this hobby horse. It so often is the case that when a journalist (and even more, an opinionist) gets interested in something, it is based on a personal connection of some sort. After all, for years, thousands of people have lost their licences for unpaid fines, often quite unwittingly. Then, if they drive without their licence, they commit further offences and get further fines and disqualifications. But this tends to affect the poor, who either do not have the money to pay the fine or who change address more frequently than they get round to notifying the licencing authority, so perhaps it comes less to Miranda’s notice.

Reluctantly, I am tempted to agree with Miranda. Not only has there been an inflation of penalties, but in addition, the ramping up of the panopticon of red-light and speed cameras and improved techniques of police surveillance (generally conducted at places where drivers are likely to drive over the limit, often because everybody is doing it or the road conditions allow it without difficulty), not to mention school zones, especially on major roads, have greatly increased the chances of people losing their licences. It’s not hard to accrue 12 points, which is the licence-losing or -suspending point, particularly if you are at all frequently on the road, as people who drive for their jobs often will be. You can pretty well lose your licence all in one hit if what you do occurs on a holiday weekend when the system of double demerit points is in place.

Incidentally, there will be more trouble (on the fines rather than the points front) later this year, when the concept of a “no standing” zone is phased out in the name of uniformity under the Australian Road Rules, and any remaining zones “automatically” convert to “no stopping” zones. In other words, there will only be no parking zones (where the driver can stop for up to 2 minutes and can leave the car so long as no further than 3 metres away) and “no stopping” zones. But you can just guess which way any changes in these signs will have been implemented: I would be very surprised if any “no standing” zone has been converted to a “no Parking” zone because that simply isn’t the way people who designate parking zones on streets think. Already it is, strictly speaking, almost impossible to be set down or picked up lawfully by a taxi in the city. This is ridiculous, but it is the taxi drivers who have to take this risk. If it were Melbourne, there would be shirtless Indians in the streets straight away once this came into effect.

The thing is that it is great to have laws about all sorts of things, but if laws are absolutely and strictly enforced, life becomes unbearable. To escape the full rigour of the law is, in a practical sense, an aspect of de facto civil liberty. That civil liberty is diminished by the improvement in detection and enforcement. The law which we had is, in legal realist terms, now a different law. Increased penalties only compound the effect.

But this doesn’t only apply to people driving cars. There are other areas where improved detection has brought us closer to perfect (ie, absolute) lawfulness, such as the use of sniffer dogs to detect those with even minuscule quantities of drugs, or the proposed Great Australian Firewall. The GAF, a bit like the No-Standing-No-Stopping slide under the cover of “uniformity,” is being promoted by the the Government as a fulfilment of an election promise (to require ISPs to provide filtering to those who want it) nudged further by Senators Xenophon and Fielding (impose it on everyone for the things that they don’t like). And what government or lawmaker or bureaucrat is inclined to argue against anything that will lead to more perfect compliance with the law? Civil liberties? Only lawbreakers have anything to fear!

In most of these other areas, I hazard a not-uninformed guess that Miranda is a fan of “zero tolerance.” I would be more interested in her campaign about law enforcement against motorists if she widened her perspective to the more general problem of how a perfect lawfulness, enforced absolutely to the hilt and the letter, is not such a good thing as at first it may seem.

O brave new world…

August 21, 2008

…that has such people in it. (as they say).

I’m thinking especially about Germaine Greer and all the more specially, of course, of our own Miranda. (You need to click the link to see the illustration, which is yet another reference to the cover of The Female Eunuch.)

Miranda is at present on a bit of a roll as a pop psychologist. Hot on the heels of her triumphant analysis of Peter Costello as a younger sibling, she has tried her hand at Germaine Greer on the occasion of GG’s recent essay on Rage.

These are the fruits of Miranda’s psychological labours, as I have gathered them from where they are scattered throughout the column:

First:

Most reasonable adults control themselves at dinner parties, especially ones held in their honour, and don’t fly into a rage when teased. All power to Greer for not needing to belong or grow up, but she is like a particular type of precocious indulged child, allowed latitude because she is so interesting. No society can operate with more than a handful of entertaining anarchists.

This is a reference to Greer’s own account of an occasion when her own rage brought a dinner put on by a friend for Greer’s own birthday to come to a premature end with which Miranda opens her piece. At the very least, Greer must be telling this story in order to give an inward or subjective account of rage. Greer lives her life at a high voltage and it is not so surprising that something like this might occurred. Even if, as seems more than probable, she is capable of and has committed great acts of rage, that cannot be dismissed as a valid basis for a subjective account.

Second:

It was striking, watching Greer perform on the ABC’s panel program Q&A last week, to see how coquettish she can be, describing herself as “naive” and the book that made her famous, The Female Eunuch, as “girlie” and “jejune”. All her life she has been agitating for the attention of men, one way or another, with other women as competitors.

I almost didn’t include the first sentence, as if I were to include all of Miranda’s personal observations about Greer I would be quoting a disproportionate amount of her article. At this point, I want to concentrate on the psychology.

Third:

She [Greer] hints at the roots of her obsession in her book Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, about a father she has called distant, weak and unaffectionate.

I almost omitted that as simply being an account of what Greer has said, but it probably contains an additional psychological conclusion or hint at one.

Fourth:

Never having had children, or lived an extended period of domestic bliss with a man, she has rejected the experience and choice of most women. Her 2003 picture book The Beautiful Boy, which lusted after teenage boys whose “sperm runs like tap water”, indicates her emotional development never progressed much past 12, leaving her suspended in a mindset of doing or saying anything to get a boy’s attention.

There is an earlier reference to Greer’s having been married for a week in 1968, and being of a generation which despises marriage, the fashion of whose “middle age” was “immortalised in the 1962 Edward Albee play-turned-zeitgeist movie Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.”

I’m not convinced the dates really match.

There’s more in Miranda’s article than that, but then I’m sure there’s more to what Germaine has to say than Miranda is letting on. So to the extent that now I’m interested to find out about what Germaine actually said, Germaine seems the real winner here. If it were not for that, and for the possibility that GG may indeed be said to be dealing in the same currency, albeit at a more generalised level, I’d have to wonder if Miranda had not strayed at some points beyond psychology to personal abuse.

Miranda hasn’t given up about The History Boys

May 31, 2007

Miranda Devine has finally moved her campaign about children, films and censorship  (see also  here) from the tabloid Sun-Herald to her mid-week broadsheet gig in the Sydney Morning Herald. The History Boys again rates a mention.  She doesn’t say that she has seen it. 

I confess I am tiring of her, in fact, I was tired of her before she began this latest riff, but it is still maddening to read her statements which gain nothing in accuracy or truthfulness by their repetition but do nevertheless gain currency and publicity.

 For the time being, I shall content myself with a non-exhaustive commentary of some extracts.  Emphasis in bold added by me.

We are witnessing the acceleration of “ratings creep”, the steady erosion of film classification standards, as more and more adult content seeps down into PG and M ratings, leaving parents powerless and confused about what to allow their children to watch.

What is it that leads parents powerless?  If parents have a particular sensitivity to such matters, then they need not rely on the nanny state (the censor) or reviews aimed at the public at large.

Even G ratings are not what they used to be. A 2003 revision of movie classification guidelines allowed drug use and nudity “in context”. Mild coarse language has always been allowed, as has “mild and very discreetly implied” sexual activity and drug use. 

You don’t have to be a wowser or a religious fundamentalist to dislike the trend.

You don’t have to be, although it certainly helps.  It’s probably enough if you are a conservative columnist who gets paid for being conservative and have a bee in your bonnet about homosexuality. 

 Parents are increasingly finding themselves walking out of films they have discovered are unsuitable for their children. You are hard-pressed finding a children’s movie tamer than an M – the third Pirates of the Caribbean film and Spider-Man 3 are the latest M-rated blockbusters. Of 21 movies advertised yesterday at Hoyts cinemas, just one was rated G and three were PG, and all four were being shown in Chatswood. The rest of Sydney was a ratings desert for children.

Well, this is either a problem with the ratings (some children’s films are incorrectly being rated G or PG) or else a failure of the market.  If the latter, then surely the “invisible hand” can see things right without any help from Miranda, as she seems to concede later:

 To return, however, to the flow of her argument:

But in the same M category are movies clearly unsuitable for children that might once have been rated MA15+. Two current M movies are The History Boys, a homoerotic tale set in a British boys’ school featuring a pedophile teacher whose students don’t mind being groped; and Georgia Rule, with the theme of child sexual abuse, scenes of oral sex and lots of swearing. Trailers for both movies would appeal to children under 15.

That’s the point which maddens me because this is where Miranda runs a “ratings creep” agenda of her own.  Just because the M rating has been applied to Pirates of the Caribbean film and Spider-Man 3 (I presume because they are either scary or violent), Miranda, who isn’t too worried by violence but doesn’t like sex, bad language or depiction of homosexuality, thinks that other films now need to be “bumped up” a rating. (And anyway, if we go back further, the MA15+ rating was itself an innovation: it used just to be M and was purely advisory.)

Everything which Miranda says about The History Boys is wrong, unless, you allow her, like Humpty Dumpty in Alice through the Looking Glass, a special mastery over words.  To itemise this:

  1. The film is not homoerotic.  Inclusion of references to homosexuality is not the same thing.
  2. The teacher is not a pedophile.  He is a teacher who abuses 18-year-olds and is expressly not interested in the younger-looking boy who would attract his interest if he were a pedophile.
  3. The students do mind being groped by him.  They are sufficiently loyal to him for other reasons not to actually shop him for it,  but they all try to beg off accepting a lift from him on his motor bike, which is when the groping occurs. 

Miranda is peddling this account now for the third time.  I don’t see any reason to believe anything she says about any other film which I haven’t seen given her track record on the one I have seen.  Her peroration gives the tone:

But in fact it is precisely because of the cornucopia of violence and porn available on the web that we need to carve out safe ground in which desirable standards are maintained.

Otherwise we are just frogs in boiling water, barely noticing that the debasement of language, casual violence and sexualisation of everything is having a deadening effect on our culture, not to mention our children.

Oh my God, our children are being deadened!

Miranda is still banging on about History Boys

May 27, 2007

In her weekly column in the Sun-Herald, Miranda Devine has returned to The History Boys. She says:

Pitched as a new Dead Poets Society, The History Boys is soaked in homoeroticism and features a teacher at a British boys’ school whose students adore him even though he fondles their genitals.

Obviously, she garnered little support or sympathy for her “not-a-prude” friend who took his pre-teen children to an M-rated film. Not even from “reader Helen” who wrote:

“If I had known, I wouldn’t have gone to see a movie about a pedophile.”

 There is something pathetically comical about having to engage in a debate  about the sexual proclivities of a fictional character, but, if only for the record, Hector, the character in question, is not a pedophile.  And only somebody with Miranda’s obsession with the “elephant in the room” could say that the film is “soaked in homoeroticism.”  That description comes out of similar polemics against the kindergarted readers which happen to depict gay or lesbian families – it comes from people who, because they want to see the world bleached of any representations of or references to homosexuality (because they hate it) see any reference to such matters as an outrage.  

With the power of the Sunday press at her disposal, Miranda has been able to elicit one colourful story of an allergic reaction to the film, by the 16-year-old friend “reader Jasmine”.  He “had been abused by his PDHPE teacher when he was 12.”

“Jasmine wrote to say they had thought The History Boys would be like Goodbye, Mr Chips but left, shocked, halfway through. She followed her friend to the toilet and held “his head as he vomited violently”.”

Of course, even rating this film MA15+ would not have prevented this occurring.  Implicitly, Miranda concedes this, because her conclusion is (emphasis added):

“An appropriate classification or honest review might have saved him the torment.”

Because her account of the film is so inaccurate, I don’t think that Miranda has established that the classification of The History Boys was inappropriate, though doubtless many of her readers, who have not seen the film , will probably now think so.

Miranda is now advocating a more complicated array of censorship classifications, as is the case in New Zealand, which provides for, as she puts it:

“eight easily comprehensible ratings: G, PG, M, R13 (restricted to people 13 and over), R15, R16, R18 and R.” 

The difference between this and the Australian system is the addition of the R13, R15, R16 classifications, all of which (unlike our MA 15+ classification: which allows people under the age of 15 to attend with a parent or guardian) are absolute age-based prohibitions.

So, do we want such a censorship system to meet the desires of parents who want the state to ensure that their children, and other people’s children, are prohibited from seeing things which they don’t like?  The case which Miranda mounts (such as it is) indicates why not, because then we will just be buying further into the arguments which we already have where a body whose only obvious expertise is in child developmental psychology erect a series of defensive ramparts against what they see as a flood of undesirable materal, and then, by extension, also apply their own prejudices against what even adults can see.

In the meantime, it is telling that Miranda reaches back to Dead Poets Society as a kind of stalking-horse.  The true elephant in the room in that film was its failure to suggest in any way that such a teacher as Robin Williams’ character is very likely to have been gay, and even if not, in real life he would certainly have been suspected of so being.  Proponents of more rigorous censorship are all about keeping that elephant invisible, so that when or if it occasionally becomes visible, it can be denounced as deviant and offensive, or as “undermining marriage,” etc etc.  There is no word from such people, such as our beloved prime minister, who has the nerve to denounce bullying in schools, of the bullying and other harm which this conributes to.

History Boys and Miranda

May 23, 2007

Miranda Devine has come out swinging against this film,  and in particular (helped by the subeditors who might, rather than Miranda, be responsible for the headline) the decision of the Film Censorship Board of Review to rate it “M: for mature audiences only.”

It is tempting to say that the warning proved useless in this case, and I can resist anything except temptation.

Spurred by Miranda’s condemnation, I went to see the film (only $8.50 on a Tuesday at Greater Union, George Street).  I had already seen the play when the National Theatre production toured to Sydney last year.  I seriously wondered if Miranda and I saw the same film.

Miranda describes the film as:

“a pederastic fantasy about teachers who fondle their students’ genitals in the nicest way and the boys don’t mind at all”

and the central character as

“Hector, a loveable, obese, married pedophile and pedagogue played by Richard Griffiths.”

Miranda provides a little critical analysis:

“The only fleshed-out female character is the history teacher played by Frances de la Tour, the horsy, gender-neutral giantess Madame Maxime in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.

She knows about Hector’s proclivities but does nothing.”

This last point is a bit misleading.  The character in question knows about Hector’s proclivities, in a general sense, but at the point where she discovers he has acted on them to the point of fondling (which is pederastic in the sense that he is a pedagogue, but not, I think, pedophilic: the boys are studying for scholarships after completing their A levels, and the one gay boy, who looks the youngest is actually exempt from Hector’s attentions), it is hardly to the point whether she should do something, because the headmaster has delivered an ultimatum to Hector to retire at the end of term.

Miranda also summarises some other aspects of the characters and plot:

“It’s about a British boys’ school in the 1980s where all the students are openly or latently gay. Even the flagrantly heterosexual pretty boy, Dakin, who is bedding the headmaster’s busty assistant, seamlessly switches sides, offering oral sex to Irwin, the slimmer of his two gay teachers, out of gratitude for winning a scholarship to Oxford.”

Well, if that doesn’t open a can of worms!  What on earth does “latently gay” mean?  Only one boy is gay.  The others are prepared to camp things up a bit (hasn’t Miranda ever seen The Footy Show?) and Dakin (who is definitely not gay) offers to let Irwin suck him off – perhaps out of gratitude, but equally, one feels, as an exercise of the hold Dakin has over him.  (It is true that, in pursuit of a cheap laugh, Bennett has another boy, who is religious, say that he will be giving thanks, as he takes it Dakin will be, on his knees, but that is not what Dakin himself says.)

Perhaps Miranda got her account of the film at second hand.  Because she explains the source of her story:

“Last weekend I ran into a friend, who is no prude, reeling out of a suburban theatre with his wife and two preteen children. They had walked out of The History Boys just as straight boy Dakin asks his teacher Irwin, ‘if there was any chance of your sucking me off’.”

Woah! That happens about ten minutes before the end of the movie.  The children had presumably dozed through the references to A E Housman and W H Auden as “nancies” and the fact that Auden had possibly interfered with his students much as “Hector” did.  I suppose they scarcely comprehended (and would therefore have been bored shitless by)the early classroom play-acting scene in French which starts out pretending to be in a French brothel and ends in a field hospital somewhere near Ypres.  They were probably left cold by the analysis of a poem by Hardy about drummer Hodge buried somewhere beneath the veldt.  I don’t know what they had made of the scene where the headmaster told Hector that he would have to resign because a lollipop lady at a school pedestrian crossing had reported that he had been observed massaging his students’ genitals whilst giving them a lift home on the back of his motor bike, the scene where Hector’s colleague, played by Frances de la Tour, roundly denounced him for such conduct, or the scenes where Hector and Irwin discussed the question of how they dealt with their attraction to their students and where Dakin made his first suggestion to Irwin (which was the fore-runner of the apparently just-too-much sucking-off proposition).  I imagine the children, if awake, would have been clamouring to be taken home or to MacDonalds by the time their parents took them out.

Miranda continues:

“My friend felt he had been tricked by the M rating and misleading advertising into taking his children to a grossly unsuitable movie which normalises pedophile behaviour and promotes a world view in which heterosexuality is aberrant, women repulsive and marriage a sham.”

The “marriage a sham” line is a reference to a scene where the Frances de la Tour character talks about what women who marry men like Hector want from such men and what they may or may not know about such men.  Maybe it means that some marriages are sham (which is debatable, in the scheme of things) but it hardly sustains the generalised description which Miranda gives it.

And since when did one “repulsive” woman (not fair to Frances de la Tour, not to mention the headmaster’s buxom secretary) in a film amount to “promoting a world view” that all women in general are so?

I can’t work out at all where the claim that the film “promotes a world view” that “heterosexuality is aberrant” comes from.

To return to Miranda:

“How could the Classification Board get it so wrong? The History Boys has the same M rating as Spider-Man 3, Harry Potter and Kenny, while in the US it was rated R because of “strong language and sexually explicit dialogue.”

This of course begs two or even three questions.  Perhaps the rating of Spider-Man 3, Harry Potter and Kenny is the problem.  The question about the US rating is my “even” third question, but the second question is, how could Miranda’s friends have got it so wrong?  Remember, this film was rated M: that means that it is for mature audiences, but not a film which (MA 15+) persons under 15 are prohibited from seeing unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.  Was Miranda’s friend, though “not a prude” (notwithstanding the distorted account of the film which he appears to have given to Miranda), simply too stingy to pay for a baby-sitter?

Miranda addresses this point further, because she doesn’t just blame the censor.

“With our untrustworthy classification system, movie reviews would usually alert parents to offensive content.

But no.”

She then quotes a number of reviews, and summarises her criticism of reviews in general as follows:

“Review after review neglects to acknowledge the elephant in the room.”

Which she contrasts with the acuity of a well-known journalistic standby (not apparently available to her “by no means a prude” friend):

“Wikipedia has no such blind spot, accurately categorising the movie as ‘pederastic film’ and ‘LGBT (lesbian, gay or transgender-related) film’.”

She concludes magisterially:

You don’t have to object to the movie, just to the inexplicable deception of the audience.

I think the first clause in this sentence is disingenuous.  It is clear that Miranda does object to the film, even if only at second-hand. And a pre-requisite to objecting to the film  (what does that mean even? object to pre-teen children being dragged to it?) would be to understand the film, which nobody could do on Miranda’s account of it. After that, we might be in a position to have a useful discussion about the respective roles of censorship boards and reviewers.

And baby-sitters.