Self-promotion in Rome and now…

Here’s a paragraph from a book I’m reading about the power of images in the Roman empire. People were pretty much using images of themselves doing cool stuff (cooler than their neighbours) to establish their own brand. Their own significance. Their own place in the great pecking order of life.

The disintegration of Roman society created individual rivalries and insecurity that led to exaggerated forms of self-promotion even among people who had nothing to gain by it. What began as a traditional agonistic spirit among the aristocracy denigrated into frantic displays of wealth and success. But the scope of opportunity for such display was often still rather limited. P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, 15

Sounds a lot like now. Except we have Facebook.

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Image: A screenshot from Facebook’s “Timeline” page

Using Facebook to glorify something other than yourself and your curated life is pretty hard. Even the links we share about stuff that we’re passionate about tends to be stuff that tries to make us look good. Check out this TechCrunch article that may as well be titled the hypocrisy of our use of the Internet, but is actually titled “Sex is more popular than Jesus on Google” (for some depressing confirmation – try going to google and watching the autocomplete results for “I’m 10 and” and then adding a number until you get to your 50s, 60s, or 70s…).

The TechCrunch article features this series of snippets from a presentation the guy who made buzzfeed (Jonah Peretti) gave at a conference today.

When you look at google searches, he says perhaps unsurprisingly, “sex is more popular than Jesus on google.” Compare the search terms “diet pills” and “Arab spring,” diet pills win. Obviously, this isn’t what Larry and Sergey had in mind when they started Google.

We use Google to search for secret things, to investigate what other people are saying about our deepest darkest secrets, interests and curiosities. Google Image search is filled with pictures of pets doing hilarious things, while Google search serves up results on the great ocean of porn out there on the Web.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a projection of our social relationships and behavior. Together, they generally represent and are a metaphor for the two ways we use the Internet. On Facebook, the same person who is looking at stories involving nude pics, is also looking at and sharing inspiring stories about victims overcoming disabilities and so on, along with politically-motivated stories.

My goal for the next little while is to practice something like the 80/20 rule – where 80 percent of the stuff I post isn’t about me and how great my coffee life is – but about how thankful I am for Jesus, and how thankful I am for other people. And the other 20 percent of stuff is authentically me – not the curated me. I’ll try to be interesting, and not just reflect on my toast (unless it’s a really cool instagram shot of my toast. No wait. That’s doing it again).

Gittins on Disaster Reporting

The discussion on the reporting of Disasters goes on, here on my post, and elsewhere. Ross Gittins, the SMH’s chief economic reporter, has an interesting piece on it from an insider’s perspective. It’s worth a read. I’ll admit I’ve played devil’s advocate a little in discussions on my post. I think there’s a need to cover disasters and coverage can be helpful to highlight the plight of people suffering as a result of the event. And I think the bushfires are a big deal. The biggest disaster we’ve had to confront on our soil. I stand by those comments. But I also agree with Stuss and Amy that the coverage has gone too far and for too long.

Here’s Gittins’ thesis:

“But media coverage of this one’s gone way over the top. And it’s served to strengthen my suspicion that the community’s reaction to natural disasters is exploitative, voyeuristic, unfair, self-gratifying and even pathological.”

Here are some gems from Gittins thoughtful piece:

On why we watch

“Our emotion-driven caring is highly selective. People with problems get wonderful treatment provided their problems make good TV footage and for the 15 minutes they’re in the media spotlight. People with chronic (old-hat), unphotogenic problems get ignored.”

“Modern city life leaves us with weaker connections to our extended families and neighbours, so whereas once we could let our emotions loose on the misadventures of people we knew, now we need the mass media to provide our emotional exercise.”

On why they broadcast

“Our preoccupation lasts a week or two before the media senses our waning interest and turns away, waiting for the next natural disaster to get excited about.”

“But don’t blame it all on the media. They do what they do because they know it’s what their audience wants.”

“They want the media to give their feelings of sympathy, sorrow and grief a good workout.”

On why we give

“But I also suspect that feeling sympathy for the victims of disasters and rushing to make donations is intended to make us feel good about ourselves.”

“Why does ABC Classic FM carry ads “urging” its listeners to donate? Because management wants its listeners to think well of the station. Why does a bank take out full-page ads announcing all the concessions it’s prepared to make to its affected customers? Because it wants to improve its battered image. I wonder whether the cost of those concessions will come out of the bank’s profits or be spread between its other customers.”

On politics

“Politicians want to be wherever the TV cameras are trained on something exciting. They want to be seen as always on the job, demonstrating their humanity by expressing their profound sympathy for the victims and acting like generals who lead from the front.”

“Like so many things, natural disasters advantage the political incumbents over their opposition. But politicians also act out of fear – fear of the criticism they’d attract from know-all talkback jockeys should they fail visit the scene, or should government agencies be judged to have bungled their response to the tragedy.”

On the shelf life of the coverage

The reason I’m cynical is that I know how fleeting all the professed concern is. I hate things that are fashionable, where everyone has the same opinion and does the same thing at the same time.

But like all fashions, it never lasts. Our preoccupation lasts a week or two before the media senses our waning interest and turns away, waiting for the next natural disaster to get excited about.

Election 2.0

Ben has been persistent in his insistence that I be more consistent with my election ramblings – which currently number a couple of references to YouTube. So here goes. This election campaign is being hailed by members of the “new media”* as being Election 2.0 – the rise of the interwebs (Sequel to Election – The worm has (re)turned) – note that only those with a vested interest in promoting online content to boost advertising revenue streams are pointing people away from the traditional media. I’m not sure I buy this whole interweb campaign – ironic really, given that in posting this blog I’m contributing in a very small form to the debate…

But I digress… Kevin07 – Licence to ill (AKA the earwax video) is now a matter of international significance. The sequel to this episode could well have been Kevin goes to School (and gets mobbed by cheering children – note to K-Rudd – children can’t actually vote…) – however, in a priceless piece of electioneering – Kevin managed to get an old man from a retiree’s choir to swear at him… in front of the cameras (note to K-Rudd – old people can vote – even when senility sets in…). Rudd was obviously pandering to an audience that J-Ho has been traditionally popular with and boy, did it backfire.

Meanwhile the incumbent PM has been busy being heckled on his morning strolls canters – all while trying to lay down the law to a bunch of petulant bankers – warning them that there’ll be hell to pay if they raise rates and he’s re-elected… way to antagonise your core constituency J-Ho. The cynic in me thinks this is all a rouse designed by the PM to keep Costello away from the top job. Call it petty, call it what you will, but I’m fairly sure supporting the guy who’s constantly trying to stab you in the back and take your job is a tough ask – the idea that Howard is throwing the election because he’d prefer Rudd as PM over Cossie is pure, baseless, speculation.

In other news – a faceless caricature has emerged as the leading suspect in the case of the missing British girl Madeleine McCann. In a case that’s going from bizarre to more bizarre one of the McCann’s friends has only now come forward with a story about a man striding away from the hotel on the night…

It turns out the Scud, the Poo, the artist formerly known as Mark Philippousis is now ranked a stunning 1,109 in the world at tennis – his croquet ranking is a marginally better – 1,093 – which is a good thing because he can still enter Wimbledon (which is of course played at the All England Tennis and Croquet Club). The Scud attempted to make another comeback from another knee injury against a bunch of tennis grandpas (over 30s) and lost to John McEnroe. He’s now officially worse than when he started – his ranking then was a respectable 1,072.


It’s amazing the number of topics you can potentially fit under one all encompassing heading. English truly is the language of kings – diplomats can keep their French, and IT nerds their C++…

Topic 1 – Owen Wilson
Ethically speaking journalists should not report on suicides – or attempts – for fear that it encourages copycat attempts. One wonders how many young girls have shaved their heads, attacked cars with umbrellas and undergone “mental breakdowns” since Britney made it cool… but I digress – the Courier Mail ran a sidebar par on Owen Wilson’s hospitalisation under the heading “star stable” – I’m not sure he is, I think that’s the point.

Topic 2 – Equine Flu

I’m glad I’m not a horse I think I’d be sick of being stabled at the moment. I can only surmise that book keepers are the only people sicker than Australia’s horse population.

Topic 3 – AFL

Teams in the AFL are able to strengthen their stable of talent through a draft system that gives priority picks to poorly performing teams to help keep the competition on a stable keel. This presents an interesting dilemma when teams – like Melbourne and Carlton – are positioned on the table in such a way that to win the final round would be detrimental to the team’s draft opportunities. Carlton and Melbourne are on even points. They sit at 14th and 15th on the table – my understanding, and I hate AFL, is that 15th and 16th get the pick of the litter when it comes to the draft. Carlton just happen to play Melbourne in the last scheduled game of the AFL’s season proper – both teams want to lose – they can’t acknowledge that publicly of course – but this is one game of AFL that I feel compelled to watch.

There are more topics I could mention that are variations on the “stable theme” – wrestling for instance and my desire to see stables formed again to provide momentum for feuds, or my inability to surf, skate or do anything that requires a sense of balance or stability – I can’t even do a forward roll… and then there’s the fact that in just a few short weeks I will be entering the stable state of marriage – and the even keel our planning finds itself on now that invites and housing have been sorted… but I’ll leave those until next time.

Presumption of innocence

One of the pillars our legal system is built on is the idea that the law must consider people innocent until proven guilty. I learned that in my few years of soul destroying legal studies. And from Law and Order. Which I don’t watch. The courts have a responsibility to consider defendants innocent until proven guilty. As does the media – they can’t be seen to unduly influence court proceedings. Trial by media is dangerous – particularly in jury trials where perception can become reality.

Dr Death Part 2: the terrorist Indian is a case that has thrust the doctrine of presumption of innocence into the spotlight. The government has been lambasted for revoking Dr Haneef’s visa before any conclusive findings have emerged. While political pundits point at this move as blatant wedge realpolitiking (creating a divisive issue in the national interest) and point scoring with the critical (in terms of importance rather than critique) dumb masses – I’d say the onus on the government is slightly different. I don’t think the government needs to function under the same umbrella doctrine when it comes to the potential innocence of a potential terrorist. Their responsibility is different. Government’s must be slightly prejudiced to protect their citizen’s interests. The burden of proof is also different – extradition is a different kettle of fish to incarceration. Kicking someone out of the country for possibly being a threat to the populace is not the same as removing someone from the public because they’re a confirmed danger.

For anyone outside the judicial branch of government to presume the innocence of anyone charged is for us to presume that the police force, the prosecutors et al are incompetent and every arrest and charge is wrong.

While Haneef is probably – on the weight of the evidence published so far – only slightly more dangerous than your average Queensland medical practitioner – I don’t think the government can be criticised too much for wanting to put the interests of their citizens at the top of their concerns. Even if it’s been a critical success (in the positive opinion sense of the word) with the critical masses (in the essential to election success sense of the word) giving the government’s approval rating a slight bump upwards in the polls – that’s surely no reason to be cynical…

Eddie Bones Himself

Nine’s nominal head honcho (nominal because nobody really seems to be running the show) Eddie McGuire has boned himself. “Boned” of course being the euphemism he coined for terminating employment at Nine – an action trotted out with increasing frequency at the station that formerly ruled the roost. Nine’s ratings are plummeting. People in newsrooms across Australia are starting to speak out against the administration and James Packer has recently announced his family will split their evil gaming interests from their pure and wholesome media interests so that investors don’t get confused between the two. While Eddie has boned himself from the top job it seems he’s given himself another job within the organisation. Somewhere in the creative department. I guess one of the perks of being CEO of a sinking ship is that you can arrange a cushy new job somewhere on board as the rest of the rats jump off. I like mixing metaphors.

Humour me

It seems the rise of the individual’s participation in what can loosely labelled the new media has been coupled with the rise of the humourless new media critic – incapable of reading between the lines and willing to take offence on behalf of those wronged in an attempt at comedy or satire. I’m not sure where these people were before – but looking through the news in recent weeks I have to wonder – where did the great Australian ability to laugh at oneself or the misfortune of others go. Even cruelty to animals is now frowned upon. Even if the animal is a cane toad.

A judge in the Sutherland local court is to be commended for finally upholding common sense and a common sense of humour in her decision on The Chaser case. While the side line nay sayers were up in arms over the audacity of the Chaser team after they turned up at a Bulldogs game hawking fake supporters kits stocked with fake weapons – the judge in her conclusion said that the majority of people would have realised it was a joke – and that a reasonable person should not have been angered or outraged by it. Now certain people may be prepared to accuse the Chaser team of having an underdeveloped sense of propriety and may also suggest that they lack maturity – but surely a certain level of impropriety and immaturity is allowable for humour’s sake. There’s a reason that toilet humour still elicits laughs from movie audiences. Some people have lost touch with their inner child because they’re all to eager to jump on the politically correct bandwagon and condem the actions of others on behalf of an innocent third party.
If I choose to take a quote or comment out of context and take the taking out of context to its unnatural extreme (ala yesterday’s post) please don’t feel the need to condemn my actions on the basis that I have done so – instead see it for what it was – I was at work with very little to do, I had a silly conversation which amused me, and I posted it on my blog.
So in conclusion – unless I directly and purposefully offend you, please don’t take offence. Turn that frown upside down.

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