Friday, July 29, 2011

Marriage – a (gay) renovator’s delight

“Gentrification” is now an unfashionable word – the 1970s collective noun for “property renovation leading to capital gain” has long since been usurped by renovation-as-individual-triumph. But (for once) I’m not waxing nostalgic here: gentrification must always cause its own death, and has a maximum life-span of one generation. Thus, in inner-city 1970s Melbourne, for example, predominantly Anglo gay men, and a bit later predominantly Anglo baby boomers (of all remaining genders and sexualties), bought property cheaply from predominantly non-Anglo owners, whose notional capital losses in selling too cheaply, too early, never seem to be factored in to the usual account of gentrification – where everyone’s a winner.

And of course, there is one other big loser group from gentrification – those born too late to partake of it. Not surprisingly then, the current cohort of aspirational young gay men (aka GenY) have embarked on a collective-renovation mission quite different from the real-estate obsession of their boomer parents – to gentrify the currently dowdy, at an all-time-low, thing called marriage.

Angela Shanahan thus quite misses Tracy Bartram’s point: "Personally, I've had two husbands and three marriages, and marriage for me has lost its lustre. But I don't see why the GLBTI community should be excluded from marrying just because it's 'always been that way' ... And let's face it: nobody does 'wedding' better than a gay or lesbian couple!", says Bartram. “Gosh, what a great argument for gay marriage”, Shanahan concludes (same URL) thereby showing all the prescience of my paternal grandparents, who sold in inner-city Richmond c.1973, and then paid a lot more than their sale proceeds for a new house-and-land package on the suburban fringe. Hint to Angela (and Frank Furedi): don’t mistake the gay-marriage lobby’s visible contempt for marriage, such as you own it (“unrenovated since 1890!”) as illogical (or merely “elitist”, like a façade without the whole-box-and-dice accompanying capitalist interior). A decent capital gain can only be made, of course, when the old generation sells too cheaply – and the new generation’s purchasers have every interest in pointing out the flaws of the asset on the sale block.

Personally, I have no taste for either sort of gentrification. Alas, I simply feel too much for the losers, like Angela Shanahan. I couldn’t possibly ever sleep at night if I knew that my own fabulous gay marriage had gained from, or devalued her own plain heterosexual one. Albeit, I know that I’m in a conscientious minority here.

There is also a way out for Angela Shanahan: take up Tim Wilson’s rather daring idea of double gentrification of marriage. His idea: leave civil marriage to the gays, and the straights can circle the wagons around their notion of marriage by renovating religious marriage, presumably so that it is at least as European appliance-y as gay (civil) marriage. Oh what a race this would be! But are you really up for it, Angela Shanahan?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Abattoir cinematography 101

Two disclosures first. I am a carnivore – vegetarians/vegans are likely predisposed to film (and view) abattoir footage as “horror”. Carnivores the opposite, perhaps. For me, this is complicated by my second disclosure: I am as squeamish over blood and gore as it is possible to be. I can’t watch a horror film, and even the 6pm TV news can send me reeling, such as a segment last week promoting Diabetes-awareness something, which depicted a needle drawing blood, with no prior warning.

Needless to say, I did not watch the economic/political-timebomb 30 May “4 Corners” episode apparently depicting animal cruelty inside Indonesian abattoirs – but not for the reason you may think. Any abattoir footage qualifies as “horror” for me, and so in the interests of balance, it would have been appropriate, surely, for “4 Corners” to depict animal slaughter inside Australian, as well as Indonesian abattoirs. The former would be presumably merit the voice-over labels of “humane” and “best practice”. However, the supposed black/white difference between Australian and Indonesian abattoirs would, of course, be lost on me. And I suspect many other also, and for reasons other than pathological squeamishness.

This is not to deny that animal cruelty may well be more prevalent in Indonesia. But Australians need to look in our own backyard first, rather than indulge in a strange-bedfellow alliance between carnivores and vegetarians/vegans (the Indonesian abattoir footage allows Australian carnivores complacency and vegetarian/vegan activists the hollow luxury of a cheap shot).

Do a Google Image search of “abattoir” and you will get, on the first page, mostly well-lit images of neatly-hanging carcasses – a larger, shinier version of the corner butcher’s shop of my childhood (where, needless to say, the killing was not done on site). Do the same search for “Indonesian abattoir”, and the first page is a medley of doe-eyed living cows, poorly-lit killing-room scenes, and only couple of images of well-lit, neatly-hanging carcasses.

This curious dichotomy, of Western abattoirs being archetypal white cubes, and Indonesian abattoirs black boxes, is also the title of an exhibition currently on at the Arts Centre in Melbourne. Appropriately enough, one of the pieces on display is what I would label “abattoir art”: Jill Orr’s “The sleep of reason produces monsters – Goya ” (2002-03).

Funnily enough, while I find abattoir art deeply confronting, as a carnivore, I think it that it is dishonest not to look when such art is brought before one’s eyes. It can’t be considered merely gratuitous – unlike, say, TV news footage of a needle drawing blood. Albeit, I only came round to this view recently, after watching the Rainer Werner Fassbinder film In A Year With 13 Moons (1978). The five-minute or so abattoir scene near the start of the film, which makes Jill Orr’s counterpart video look like Playschool, was apparently filmed in a functioning abattoir during working hours. The dialogue between the two main characters, as they walk through the brightly lit abattoir, killing-floor and all, is as confronting as the background imagery and yet searingly beautiful.

In short, abattoir art is a particularly powerful and poignant genre. If you are making it, please spare me “4 Corners” style voice-overs and malignant lighting effects. If the animal cruelty being filmed is that extreme, surely the camera crew, at least, have a duty to stop filming (= colluding in) such snuff, and to intervene on the animals’ behalf – that is, to set up a dialogue, instead of a stupid, and quite possibly racist dichotomy.

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