Monday, August 31, 2009


I have been thinking a lot about homelessness lately- working in the city it can be quite in your face- and so I thought I would share some things I've come across in the past little while...

My thinking for this post started with a bit of a rant about political correctness. Triggered in turn by a comment on an internet site who created a character who was homeless and mentally ill, of perpetuating stereotypes of homeless people as having mental illnesses and being drug and/or alcohol addicts. Sadly I do not remember exactly what the person said, but it puzzled me somewhat.

The first thought I had was that when I think about people being derogatory toward homeless people is the accusation of laziness and the need for hard work/a job. The second was that a large proportion of homeless people have addictions and/or mental illnesses, and the third was that in a way the remark could in a way be construed as saying that it was right to dismiss people who are mentally ill or addicted, but that there were deserving individuals out there who were homeless for no fault of their own.

To sum up, my response internally was that although I understand that it is a good thing to see people as people and not stereotypes, it is important not to whitewash the problems of homeless people, because they need to be addressed in helping the homeless. After all, mental illness and addiction can adversely affect people's ability to hold down a job or a house, particularly without proper support. Which they should have. And I disliked what I felt was a kind of stigma associated with mental illness implicit in the remark... Maybe I was being overly sensitive.

I guess talking about these things is difficult, I feel the need to clarify- I don't think that everyone with a mental illness is homeless or unable to hold down a job, since I can clearly see that this is not so, and I don't think that everyone who is homeless is mentally ill. Or addicted to drugs or alcohol. I don't think that everyone who is mentally ill takes drugs or drinks, or vice versa. Have I covered all my bases? Have I been offensive? Let me know if I have, I will try to address it.

Alrighty then. According to ABS statistics from 2007 54% of people who have ever been homeless have a mental illness, compared to 20% of all Australians. There could be a few reasons for this high proportion- one is to do with Government reform which left a large number of mentally ill people without proper care or resources. Then there are the effects of living homeless, and the effects of life events that make people homeless. I found it harder to find drug and alcohol stats... But I hear the proportion is high. So what should we do with this information/ We should help the homeless. Provide better mental health and rehab facilities. Homelessness can happen to anyone. Yeah...

Really you should read this blog: Micaiah Sells Out. It really says it all a lot better than I do... It's written by a Christian guy (my friend's little brother actually) with a social work degree and a job at Mission Australia working with homeless people. Which makes him better qualified to talk about homelessness than me.

And I found this story touching- it's about a one-time pop star, now aged, who has experienced mental illness, homelessness and alcoholism... I didn't save the link, but I found it on SMH:

Depression has been a constant companion for Cave. Uncomfortable in the company of strangers, panic attacks have been a regular feature of his life. Even in his heyday, he says, he would get nervous for days before appearing on stage. Tragically, these problems would eventually bring him into the orbit of notorious psychiatrist Dr Harry Bailey, the man at the centre of the Chelmsford Hospital scandal in which many patients died during, or committed suicide after, Bailey's unregulated experimental techniques.

Cave blames Chelmsford for much of his physical and mental decline over the next few years. In the 1980s his alcoholism and mental illness accelerated until he found himself sleeping in the toilets opposite the St George Leagues Club in Kogarah.

“If it wasn't for the people at the club, I wouldn't be here. They looked after me, gave me breakfast and kept an eye on me. I'd be dead if it wasn't for their kindness.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

the ugly truth about romantic comedy?

In the last few months I have seen two romantic comedies at the cinema- 'The Proposal' and 'The Ugly Truth'. One of these is about a Canadian editor who proposes marriage to her assistant in order to be able to stay and work in America, one is about a tv producer who is forced to hire a misogynistic presenter whom she instantly dislikes in order to get ratings. One of these movies horrified me with its attitude toward women, one of them pleasantly surprised me, even if it had some cringe-worthy moments. Which is which? Spoilers ahead...

'The Proposal' starts with a self-confident editor, a terrible boss with her life (and those of her subordinates) firmly under her control, being threatened with deportation because she hasn't fulfilled her visa requirements. She then gets her overworked and overlooked assistant to pretend to be her fiance, and agree to marry her, so that she can stay. While she uses her power over him to do this, from then on he has something on her and the tables are turned. He then takes every opportunity to humiliate her- because he is so angry at being coerced into doing this thing he does not agree with. They go to spend the weekend with his family in Alaska.

It gets very weird from here on in, because this is the part where they are meant to fall in love (and of course the audience knows this). But how does this happen? She embarrasses herself in front of his family, falls into the water from a boat and needs to be rescued (since she can't swim), opens up and tells him about herself and in generally is made more vulnerable and likable. As for him... he reveals himself to be a fairly moody character, doesn't talk to anyone much and certainly doesn't respond when she opens up about her past (I will just mention in passing that there seem to be at least 4 nights in this 'weekend').

Skip forward to the point when she is found out and returns to her office to pack for Canada with him following after realising he loves her. He marches into the office, in front of all their co-workers, insists that she marries him and kisses her- at which point a co-worker yells out 'show her who's boss'. Net result of movie: there were fun moments, but after walking out we were increasingly outraged that 1) there was no effective romantic development and 2) the lead female character was basically humiliated and torn down until the male character establised himself as the one in charge. Left with a bad taste in our mouths...

'The Ugly Truth' was a bit of a worry, the male character is introduced as a real misogynist, he's pretty horrible, and so I wondered where the movie was going and what point it wanted to make. But as it increased it improved, and I think it had a major advantage in having better chemistry and romantic development between the two leads- the control-freak tv producer and the obnoxious presenter. He coaches her on how to get the perfect guy, the hot-doctor-next-door, by being everything a guy wants. Which some people find offensive, I will quote:

"Men are not particularly well represented in The Ugly Truth, either, but the onus on changing yourself to be desirable is placed squarely at the feet of women. If Abby wants a boyfriend, she is instructed not to criticise eligible men, to laugh at their jokes - funny or not - and to never talk about her problems because he will not really care."- Emma Young, SMH, 24/08/09

Which would be fair, but that's not the take-home message. She breaks up with the perfect guy because she feels she has not been herself, and she wants a more honest relationship. The presenter falls in love with her and has to confront his demons about love and relationships. They both humiliate themselves on national tv by declaring their true feelings for another (in a hot air balloon no less, in one of the worst CGI scenes of modern times). So I was pleasantly surprised, since I had been worried about what this movie might be trying to say, but in the end both characters came from a more equal setting, both grew, and they met each other somewhere in the middle- both stepping down somewhat from their positions. Moral of the story something fairly Hollywood, along the lines of 'you can't plan love' and 'you have to find someone who loves you for who you are.'

It's not so bad, Emma Young. She even gets to keep her career (and most of her dignity) at the end. Battle of the RomComs: The Ugly Truth:1, The Proposal: 0.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

strong themes

One of the things I wanted to do when I grew up was to catalogue fairy tales. I read a few collections of fairy tales from various countries and noticed that there were notable similarities between folk tales from completely unrelated countries. I decided I would hunt down these similarities, compare them, and find out why this was.

When I grew up, I found this had already been done. Well, fairy tales had been catalogued- centuries ago. There were universally acknowledged and referenced 'types', which you can refer to by number if you know the catalogue well. This was fairly discouraging. I guess I should have seen it coming, what with the collections of comparative folktales and all, but you always hope. They'd even tried to figure out why. This is where Jung's idea of the collective unconscious theory comes in. As far as I understand it, the theory states that human experience is to some extent innately shared between all humanity, without needing to be learned, and this knowledge encompasses a large portion of mythology, and perhaps language to an extent.

I kind of like that theory, it has an implication for the shared humanity of all people, and that everyone has something in common deep down. But I think it's largely discredited, maybe there's some correlation between the preference for nurture over nature in the nature vs. nurture debate. Which has now swung back, at least a bit. Also modern science and psychology doesn't sit well with it. So maybe I will have to give up on it. Another theory involves migration.

Long story short, I find fairy tale comparisons fascinating. So many variations, so similarity. Joseph Campbell tried to condense the comparison even further, by theorising that most tales share one basic structure, involving hero going on a journey. This was famously used by George Lucas as the basis for Star Wars. It's interesting that where fairy tale similarities are seen as a sign of shared humanity, works of popular culture which share similar themes are often seen as derivative. That seems somewhat unfair. So I'm glad to see that they have now catalogued tropes in popular culture in a handy online location- TVTropes. Although, I will warn you that XKCD has classified that site as addictive, so view at your own peril.

I wonder how much overlap there is between folk and fairy tale tropes and popular culture tropes?

Monday, August 10, 2009


I had millions of ideas to share with you all on the bus ride home, but once I got here they all went out of my mind completely.

But why is it that my bus always leaves exactly as I reach the bus stop. No matter when I start running, or where the bus is when I begin, or how fast I sprint ('sprint' for a given value of 'wearing work shoes') the moment I can reach out and touch the doors is the moment that they close, and the bus drives off, not heeding my waving arms and exclamations?

On another note, I have often spent time defending Gen Y against the various slights made on them, but maybe there is something in this attention span, instant gratification thing. I say this because I notice myself checking facebook compulsively for new updates, but worse still getting annoyed when there haven't been any new posters put up on the traffic light post near my bus stop for over a week. Where are the new things? I already know I can get beginner piano lessons, I need more news!


Wednesday, August 05, 2009


So I suppose I have given you long enough to finish that long and, if I say so myself, very long-winded blogpost that I wrote last, and now is the time to write something new. Strangely I have spent a long time wanting to write something, but now that I start all my ideas disappear like magic. Or maybe not strangely. Maybe that is just the nature of writing?

So now I will do something a bit unusual and share with you a recipe that I came up with the other day. It's pretty simple, but tasty (and healthy!)

Baked pears

2 pears
Natural yoghurt

Thinly slice pears, place in a baking tray. Brush with honey, sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Place in preheated oven on low/moderate heat (go for 180 degrees if unsure), bake approx. 15 minutes or until starting to soften.
Serve with scoop of yoghurt and a drizzle of honey.
Serves 2 (vary number of pears for different amounts of people)