Category Archives: Social Media

Give Me the Meltdown: Rob Thomas’ Controversial Melbourne Comments

Many years ago, I was a young, beginning teacher with very little discretionary income, yet still I shelled out for a CD called Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox 20. To give you an idea, that album and Live’s Throwing Copper were what my teenage students at Mulwaree High and I bonded over –but ‘my’ copy of Throwing Copper began life in my brother’s collection and may or may not have mysteriously travelled to Goulburn with me when I moved out. (Sorry, Justin).yourself

I’ve loved every album from MB20 and also from their frontman, Rob Thomas. I have the INXS track where he sang lead; his Christmas single, and his track from the Meet the Robinsons soundtrack, Little Wonders (more on that later). You could say I’m a bit of a fan.

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There was a track on Yourself or Someone Like You that always resonated for me: Real World. I love it. I do wish the Real World would stop bothering me. As someone who is an overthinker, it doesn’t happen often. But most of all, I loved the line, “I wonder what it’s like to be the head honcho.” Not because I do–leadership is not something to which I particularly aspire–but because my tiny, erratic, loud Scottish grandfather used the phrase. A lot. He would ring the phone company, or the electricity company, or the local K-Mart, and bark down the phone in his inimitable and almost incomprehensible accent to whatever hapless person answered, “I want to speak to the Head Honcho.”

So, in November 2000 when my Grandpa, Tom, was in hospital for the last time, I was staying at his house when a competition came on the TV. Ring up, answer one simple question, and you could win two tickets to see MB20 in Wollongong, they said. The question was, “Name the frontman of Matchbox 20.” I did. I won. My friend Jody and I went to the concert the night before my Grandpa’s funeral and I said a private, quiet goodbye to him when I heard the head honcho line.

At the concert, I was impressed. I have always loved musicians who wrote their own music: Lennon and McCartney, Andersson & Ulvaeus, Billy Joel, the Finn brothers. (Don’t bother hating on my musical taste; I’m way too old to care). These guys also write their own stuff. Thomas played: guitar, piano, even drums. Part of the set was acoustic, and I was awed. At one point I saw Adam Gaynor (who has since left the band) beckon a security guard, indicating that he wanted to give his plectrum to someone in the audience. I rolled my eyes, expecting it to be some buxom blonde. It wasn’t. It was a kid, about ten years old, there with his Mum and floating on air when he received it. I was impressed. These guys, it seemed, were class acts.

Jody and I were both pregnant with our second babies at the time. I came home from the concert and my husband asked how it was. Two things, I said. From now on, I want to go see these guys whenever they tour. Also, Rob Thomas is a nice name.

Now in my defence, Robert and Thomas were both family names that were already on the short list (along with one other). It just wasn’t a combination we’d put together before. But I had a moment during that concert when I thought, I wouldn’t mind if my son turned out like one of these guys. And so I have an almost-15 year old whose given names are Robert Thomas, in that order. And last week, Live Nation contacted me to say I’d won two tickets and a meet and greet in Sydney with Rob Thomas in Sydney next week, because I shared the story of my boy’s name and said I’d like to introduce him to his namesake. I have been quietly freaking out ever since. Via email, Roslyn reassured me that my worst fears were unlikely to come true: Rob Thomas probably won’t think I’m an unintelligible idiot who can’t string a sentence together; and if he thinks I’m nuts for naming my kid after a pop/rock singer, there’s nothing I can do about it now. But, as I confided to my daughter, my greatest fear really is: what if he turns out to be a jerk, and I’ve named my kid after him?

The love affair with MB2o and RT is ongoing, and has seen me through some tough times. When my Rob was 3 and my daughter was 5, I was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma; a cancer that is rare, aggressive, and thankfully, treatable. I had a clunky blue Discman and my MB20 albums to get me through long lonely nights in the oncology ward, away from my husband and kids. The song 3AM came to have particular significance. So did others. Years later, I was being interviewed on-air at Relay for Life about my cancer experience and Ricardo Bardon, a wonderfully supportive local DJ who was there with our sponsors Power FM, asked me how I got through it. “Well,” I said, “I discovered just how dark my sense of humour is. And I listened to a lot of Matchbox 20.” He raised his eyebrows, so I elaborated, citing lyrics: “I’ve got a disease/down deep inside me.” He laughed. I continued, “I’m not crazy/I’m just a little unwell.”

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Let’s see how far we’ve come …

I’ve been in complete remission for more than a decade, but having had a serious illness changes your views on mortality a bit, to the point where I’m no longer scared of it, and I tell the kids what I expect at my funeral. Well, I am the planning queen of the household, I won’t be able to do it, and I want it done right. This makes them a bit uncomfortable, but their father has the memory span of a goldfish (in fact, most days he can’t remember the names of his own goldfish), so there’s not much point telling him. So I’ve told the kids that they are to play “Little Wonders” at my funeral, or I will haunt them. This makes them roll their eyes, complain, and also look at me in sort of amused horror when the song plays on my iPod in the car.

My daughter was once complaining about this to one of my young students whom we sort of semi-adopted, Josh. Josh grinned at me and said, “it’s the perfect song.”

Josh is Koori.

Several years back, I wrote my PhD thesis about Indigenous writers and writing, looking specifically at how colonisation and forcing people off country caused social problems, and influenced Indigenous writing. I’ve tried to walk the walk, too; teaching academic literacies to students in the Aboriginal Education and Training Unit in Nowra (a site opposite the Bomaderry Homes), working with the fabulous staff and students at Woolyungah Indigenous Centre whenever I get the chance, teaching into the Djinggi Project, being a “yellafella” volunteer at the National Reconciliation Conference in Wollongong way back in 1999. We’ve blogged about racism in Australian sport, and the power of inappropriate comments. Last month, I was in a class at UNSW when a friend who is an immigrant from Britain said that she couldn’t really understand the link to country, but that she respected it. The lecturer pointed out that many Australians don’t really understand the symbiotic link to country, either, and commented on the current government “plan” to shut down some remote communities. Hang on, I argued, even if we don’t get it, surely we know that this doesn’t work, because they tried this in Cherbourg in Queensland, and Bomaderry in New South Wales, and Moore Rover in Western Australian, and a whole bunch of other places, and it didn’t work then, either. The lecturer looked at me and said, “yes, but most Australians aren’t as well educated as you.”

Gulp.

Back to Rob Thomas. So, for my birthday, my firstborn decided I needed concert tickets. She enlisted her father’s help, because the ticket price was a bit beyond her, and then I further complicated things by insisting on going to Melbourne because none of the NSW concerts were indoors, and we once booked the whole family tickets to Day on the Green at Moss Vale on Valentine’s day (Rob Thomas’ birthday!) and it poured, and my husband said we couldn’t take the kids out in that, and I wept all the way back to Nowra. I’m sure I’ll get over it one day, but I’m still at the point where I’d rather pay for airfares and accommodation than have that happen ever again. So we were at Rod Laver Arena for the first show of the Australian tour. We were there for that comment.

RLA for RT

The crazy eyes on me give away the level of excitement

Basically, the story in a nutshell goes: there were technical difficulties. Rob Thomas turned and asked his band if it was all of them, and one of the backing singers clearly said, yes. He then tried to fill for a bit, saying he’d tell a story. He decided to share his cure for jet lag. First, he said, I start drinking as soon as I get on the plane, and I drink until I think I’m Australian. We all laughed. Then, he said, I drink until I think I’m a black Australian. There was a collective gasp. I turned to my daughter in disbelief. This is a guy who sings, “My sisters and my brothers/of every different colour;” a guy who had a clearly multicultural band, whose wife and in-laws are Latina, and someone who advocates for all kinds of human, as well as animal rights (in the picture above, my daughter is wearing an anti- animal cruelty Sidewalk Angels shirt). It seemed out of character. Then he said to someone up the front, “don’t be racist.” He went on to say that after that, he drinks until he thinks he’s a little girl, and then his wife gets worried about him.

Right then, I was worried for him. I couldn’t reconcile it: how could a “drink until I think I’m black” comment be OK, anywhere?

The concert went on, we had a good time, we managed to navigate the vagaries of Melbourne public transport and we got back to our weird little hotel and went to bed. I woke up and the first thing I read on Sunday morning was Rob Thomas’ apology on Facebook.

RT apology 1

OK, I thought. Seems sincere. I still don’t get why it would be OK anywhere, or why he thinks it’s only at this point in time, but it seems genuine, and it seems like it’s him (not some PR person). That’s good.

Then people started messaging me: Oh dear. Hope this didn’t ruin your night. And so on. And they were sending links to the media reports of it.

I made the mistake of reading some of the comments under the FB post. There were waaaay too many people saying Aussies have lost their sense of humour; the PC “police” have ruined the world; people should drink a cup of concrete and harden up, no one could/should/would be offended unless there was something wrong with them; Aborigines do drink (seriously?) … and on and on it went.

Read the man’s apology. He’s not saying, “I wish that I didn’t have to be politically correct.” He’s saying, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t politically correct.” Being politically correct is not a bad thing; it’s the same as the great Aussie practice of “giving a stuff.” He was upset that he had caused offence, not complaining about those who took it.

A number of people were obviously thinking along the same lines as me, in terms of, how could that comment be OK anywhere? And a second apology, with a further explanation, was forthcoming.

RT apology 2

OK, that makes a little more sense. Again, many commenters missed the point and were telling him that “true Aussies” got what he meant.

Well, no. I’m not sure we did. Once I read the context in the second apology, I was closer to “getting” it, though.

It is very tempting, when you are a “fan,” to excuse even the inexcusable. You only have to consider the etymology of the word to see why this happens: only a fanatic will think that their idol is right, all the time. I am not apologising for or excusing the comment. It was the wrong thing to say.

Rob Thomas has acknowledged that. He’s apologised. He’s said what he’s going to do–educate himself–in order to rectify that.

So: the guy is not, as it turns out, a jerk (one arguably inadvertent jerky comment notwithstanding). If my son grows up to be someone who admits his mistakes, explains them without making excuses for them, apologises, and attempts to make amends, I’ll be a very proud mother. Rob Thomas is still a nice name, and I will still be pretty happy if my son grows up to be a little bit like him … because I want both my kids to take responsibility for their actions, and their mistakes.

P.S.

If you’d like to show support for Indigenous Australians in a tangible way, this mob do great things for students, both in school and at Uni:  AIME Mentoring

And for those who usually donate to Relay, here’s the 2016 link.

Thank you!

 

 


Shifting the shape of advertising

Taking a slightly different approach to shapeshifting, social media has for a while been circulating pieces that draw our attention to some of the ways women are framed in advertising and fashion. They do this by switching the gender roles and placing men in traditional women’s fashion poses, or switching the context out to the real world instead of a fashion shoot. The intention might be solely or partly comedic, but it is also a good technique to get people thinking about our assumptions and expectations about gender.

One of the examples of this is from a shoot of male comedians in traditional female fashion model poses.

A second example is a series of shots of men posing in typical women’s fashion stances; like the first example, drawing the attention to the way women are often posed in sexy, coy, and frankly ridiculous ways.

And a third shows women in everyday surroundings, removed from the high fashion scene, reproducing poses from shoots. The argument here is that women are often pictured in unnatural positions that are not only ridiculous but also link women with weakness, madness, and the artificial. The link comes from a blog where I found this, but the work is from Yolanda Dominguez, who has followed it up with another switch out from a Chanel ad.

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Can you imagine male models being used in this way? So far I’ve not come across any examples using the reverse technique, of placing women in traditional men’s fashion poses, but it’s worth considering how that may work, or if it would work, and what it might tell us about expectations and assumptions about men.


Twitter: Shifting the Shape of Political Culture?

The following is an edited and expanded version of a piece I submitted to Mama Mia.

I am one of those strange people who really enjoys election campaigns. My first work experience was with a local newspaper, and although I ultimately headed through high school teaching and into academia instead, there’s a part of me that really just wants to be Annabel Crabb. Social media affords me an opportunity to occasionally publish political comment on a very small scale—tweeting during Q and A on a Monday night, recirculating things on Facebook and Twitter, engaging in polite debate with friends when I do. (I apologise to anyone who actually looks at our Twitter links on this page and expects to find tweets about, you know, shapeshifting. The election campaign has another 4 weeks to run).

And not necessarily like-minded friends, either. After all, if you are all in agreement, you can’t call it debate. Or democracy. If you read this blog, you’ll already know that I’ve done some analysis of the impact of social media controversies on popular culture—notably, how allegations of Stephen Moffat being misogynistic on Doctor Who played out across Twitter. I never really expected to be finding out about misogyny on Twitter firsthand, but this week, that seems to be what happened.

On Tuesday night, I came across the clip of Tony Abbott discussing the attributes of Liberal candidate Fiona Scott in Lindsay. The link to the clip came from @mamamia. For those who don’t know, Mama Mia.com is generally recognised as the go-to place for Australian women’s opinions on, well, just about everything, and has one of the largest Twitter followings in Australia. So kind of a big and influential audience.

I retweeted the link, adding my own comment to the beginning of the tweet: “Oh dear.” That was it.  A response came almost immediately:

@KMcMahonColeman @Mamamia now it is unfashionable to say someone has sex appeal

I replied that I thought it would be smarter politics to discuss competence, rather than looks, when recommending a candidate to locals. I actually believe that should apply to both genders and all jobs. Well, most jobs. I grant that looks might be relevant if you’re a model, for instance. But as an elected political representative? Not so much.  The sexism, in this instance, is implied, because I can’t for the life of me remember anyone ever suggesting we should vote for a male politician because he’s sexy. But I maintain that the standard of thinking about attributes, track records and policies should be applied across the board when deciding for whom to vote, regardless of gender.

But apparently my reply, measured though I thought it was, only incensed my correspondent. He got gender specific, and he got personal:

@KMcMahonColeman @Mamamia he made a throw away jibe and the bitter twisted feminist [sic] are upset how ugly you lot must be inside

OK, so at this point, I’m truly puzzled. It was a throwaway line, yes, and quite frankly, I think that’s pretty much how I responded to it. “Oh dear” is hardly savage or hard-hitting—I didn’t even use the full 140 characters Twitter allows.

Secondly, I’m not convinced that Mr Abbott made a “jibe”; I rather suspect that Mr Abbott meant the comment in a complimentary manner. But still, a minor gaffe, mildly humorous, not the crime of the century and unlikely to derail his election campaign.

I’d characterise the “bitter twisted feminist” thing as a jibe, though. As it happens, I am a feminist, although I did not declare myself to be one to this Tweep. I’m not quite sure why that must necessarily mean I’m bitter, though. Or why my insides might be uglier than anyone else’s.

But here’s the bit I really don’t get: what was this guy trying to achieve? A quick look at his Twitter account showed that he’s pro-Liberal and anti-Labor. A quick look at mine and you’d probably be able to quickly deduce that I’m left-leaning. OK, so we’re probably going to disagree on a number of issues. I’d prefer to do so politely, though. And the Liberal party has been trying for a long time to deal with what has become widely known in popular parlance as “Tony’s women problem.” There’s a well established belief that the Opposition Leader and likely next PM, Mr Abbott, is very conservative when it comes to gender politics, started, in part, by a number of public comments made some years ago. To be fair, a lot of conservative men of a certain age are; and the subset of men raised Catholic, I’d suggest, probably more so. I say this with some confidence, as the daughter of one.

Since the former PM, Julia Gillard, gave her famous misogyny speech in Parliament late last year, countless column inches have been devoted to arguing about the differences between sexism and misogyny. In a world where context is everything, this video went viral with the context excised. Mr Abbott had referred to a male MP as a misogynist after he sent what were evidently supposed to be flirty text messages to another guy likening female genitalia to mussels in brine. The tone of the texts was, in fact, misogynistic. And they were so explicit and demeaning that they could not be shown on the evening news, despite being the lead news story. Mr Abbott, in pointing this out, was not being misogynistic or even sexist. And yet he copped it, based on previous public comments he’d made. Don’t get me wrong, some of the public comments he’s made about women and their capacities absolutely floor me — but I fundamentally don’t “get” why this was the moment to address them.

For the record, the argument put forward by members of the Coalition that “Mr Abbott can’t hate women because he’s surrounded by them,” while completely twee, is probably accurate. It is perfectly plausible for men of older generations to be simultaneously proud and somewhat puzzled by the professional successes of their wives and daughters. A little bit of ingrained sexism because of how you were raised doesn’t necessarily equate to blanket hatred. But that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to point it out, either.

I also think it has to be acknowledged that Mr Abbott has been trying hard to address the issue of his “woman problem.” He’s been more measured in his comments about women since he became Opposition Leader. He’s talked about his wife’s work outside the home and how it contributed to society. But all of this will be for nought if he has supporters like my friend on Twitter, who hurl this kind of vitriol around the Internet. What he published, which essentialised all female dissonant voices as feminist, ugly and bitter, certainly seemed hateful and yes, misogynistic. By including @Mamamia in all of his replies, this keyboard warrior has published his nasty messages to a large, predominantly female, Australian readership on Twitter. Now, the way democracy works is, you need more than 50% of the vote in order to win. So hurling abuse at women who disagree with you is probably not the best strategy when you’re trying to get your guy elected.

At this point, I started to feel sorry for Mr Abbott. I’m sure he and his team would much prefer not to have this guy “helping” their cause in such a manner.  So I alerted him to the conversation:

@TonyAbbottMHR, how do you feel about your warrior [Twitter handle removed] hurling abuse at “bitter” and “ugly” voting feminists like me and @Mamamia? – 13 Aug

There was another instant response, thought not from Mr Abbott:

@KMcMahonColeman @TonyAbbottMHR @Mamamia Give us a break the only thing [sic] ugly are you lousy feminist [sic] screaming about nothing

OK, so apparently now we’re all shrill and vacuous as well.

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We’ve all wondered how political leaders will effectively manage election campaigns with the advent of the 24 hours news cycle and social media playing increasingly large roles. I think we’ve always assumed that it was a matter for the politicians themselves, managing their online personas and the increased vulnerability that comes with increased coverage and comment. But suddenly I find myself wondering instead what they will do about the challenge of managing rogue supporters who may be inadvertently doing their cause more harm than good.