The Clientele – Saturday

I haven’t been very… interested in anything this year. Well, except food. I can count the pieces of media I’ve really enjoyed on a couple of hands. I didn’t read a book for six months, and made it through films and comedy shows on the pretext of finding something to write. The music I heard was the few thousand tracks on my phone, but where usually I would find myself entranced by something every couple of weeks, I just left shuffle to do its business without bothering me.

That’s why The Clientele were quite special. I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding musical terminology, over the years, trying not to know the musical reasons that my emotions are being worked on. But here it seems a bit obvious. It’s melancholy and drowsy. It feels like the late afternoon, and feels like I feel in the late afternoon–melancholy and drowsy. Alisdair Maclean’s vocals are breathy, but he also has a breathless quality that strings his words together. As I’ve learned, while trying to sing Clientele tracks in the shower, Maclean’s phrasing isn’t easy to imitate. the words themselves sound good; they’ve been well chosen and mix a lot of original phrase-turns with familiar sentiments at key, hooky junctures. It’s not presented histrionically. It’s more defeated, but with a charm that most depressive-fuck music lacks. The reverb and the tone stops tracks feeling as dismal as, say, Beck’s Sea Change. I get defensive when music tells me it wants me to like it.

A few nights ago, I was at the launch of Mary, where I told a horrified creative writing student that I only like poems that rhyme. I said frankly, that I’m a philistine, but it’s an unapologetic viewpoint. I’d prefer that poetry was all presented as music. There’s much more opportunity with words when you can control the environment around them – the way they’re sung, the voice singing, the instruments behind them. It’s possible to hear something more realised.

The hook of Saturday is much more subdued than in other tracks. It was a Saturday Autumn, sunset, on public transport through Royal Park and past the Queen Victoria Market. Being a Saturday, I thought to look for songs of the title, hoping there would be something to pump me into an  illusion of energy submission. I got this instead. I’d heard it before and paid little heed. But a couple of moments “I touched your face and saw the night again”, almost repeats itself as “I saw your face and I thought you were a dream” and both come with a lazy anticipation between words. If the song were a codex, those lines are the keys. After I understood the structure (though, at the time, it wasn’t a thought of “I understand this structure”) I’d hit the first stage. You start to notice the words that repeat, the echoed phrases.

The Clientele’s music is smart without cloying you in cleverness. All of their elements fit together, and it’s a flattering fit.

The taxi lights were in your eyes
So warm against St. Mary’s spires
The carnival was over in the rain
And arm in arm through Vincent Street
The evening hanging like a dream
I touched your face and saw the night again

And in your arms I watched the stars
Ascend and sweep a loneliness away for a while
Your fingers white and locked in mine
I kiss your face, I kiss your eyes until
Tthey turn to me and softly smile

And empty hearted I walked on
The river flowing to the song
Of the evening in the darkness and the rain
The Christmas lights were far down stream
The wind so lonely and unreal
I saw your face and I thought you were a dream

But when I saw your eyes what could I do?
What could I say, my love?
Your kisses they will hide away the stars

It’s Saturday, the evening’s come
The football crowds have all gone home
But still behind this window I look on
December’s leaves so slowly fall
To cars that break the evening’s pall
And I will wait for you to come tonight

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Yarn Clusterbombing: a non-knitter explains how people are like wool

Noticing a ball of wool isn’t just wound like a yo yo in first position can be an epiphanical experience for a kid. It’s like drawing your first picture where hair doesn’t fall in two neat strands down either side of your subject’s head. A penny lizard’s tail can grow back, but it’s stubby and wonky, and there is a difference between a Crunchie and a Violet Crumble.

It’s that stuff, it’s home, it’s school, it’s whatever other kids did while I spent my latch-key afternoons watching Buffy, that turns us into more-complex-than-they-sound balls of wool.

At 1:00am I found a metaphor that works very well for my own mind. I presume I’m special enough to come up with an original analogy, but not so much that my mind can’t be equated with others’, so I’ll speak with uneducated universal authority. Also, sorry it’s wool. It puts me in the camp of people who have display pictures of lanterns and thought Frankie was a good idea.

Back track. By adulthood, we’re balls of wool. We start knitting ourselves into scarves. Some of us try to knit more difficult things, like jumpers, socks, and alpine-ready ski suits. Some of those more ambitious types fail—perhaps they weren’t knitting from the right pattern and had no one to tell them how, or maybe they’re really bad at knitting. They can usually salvage something, even if it is a scarf. My mother is a lovely scarf of this sort. Cashmere, without the cash.

I was quite a nice ball of wool in my first year of university. I was friends with lots of other balls of wool, and a couple of lovely jumpers. I was very slowly starting to knit something, but when people noticed, I thought I should speed up. I was told other people knit faster, and you need to start knitting quickly if you want a nice ski suit.

My interpretation of this was to pull at the ball of wool to get more thread for knitting. Not doing it properly, just making the wool increasingly tense, so it became harder and harder to get anything from it at all.

When the ball couldn’t get tighter, I didn’t know what to do. I’d cast on quite well. I was a couple of lines in and hadn’t missed any stitches, but I couldn’t pull anymore. This happened just as everyone else was getting to a point of knitting that it starts to take a form.

My ball of wool started unravelling. The problems which weren’t noticeable when I was pulling at my project seemed like a kitten got hold of my ball in the middle of the night and started hi-jinking, But it didn’t stop. At an infuriatingly slow pace, I kept unravelling, never managing to re-wind the wool because I was still trying to get my stitches and couldn’t stop to look at the mess. I had a complex project to work on. I had to focus on the ski suit, not the tangled mess of a former ball of wool that I was using.

I started hitting knots, but I was okay with a slightly imperfect ski suit. I’d realised my ski suit should be a representation of the wool they came from, and if that had knots? Fine.

Then I finished one of the more complex bits. An arm pit that would be hard enough if you’d set your ball up properly. I stepped back and realised there’s no fucking point trying to make a ski suit from a tangled mess of wool on the floor. A ball that’s lost all evidence of the quirks that made it such a great ball of wool in the first place. The arm pit was like the underarms I drew alongside neat strands of hair as a child. not great.



So, the ski suit can wait. I’ve got sixty years to knit a ski suit, and maybe I don’t even like skiing. I’m taking some time to put my ball of wool back together.

Out of the metaphor, I can’t even fucking knit.

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Community 101: Sarina really likes writing cinema essays

So, at this time last year, I was writing an essay on Community, I still think it’s one of my better efforts. My marks agree, and sometimes people ask to see it.

Cultural theorists such as Jameson, Corrigan and Baudrillard have argued that the emphasis on spectacles, intertextuality and serialisation in contemporary entertainment places the “meaning” and coherence provided by closed, classic narratives under threat. Do you agree? In your response, you may want to consider Jim Collins’ alternate argument regarding ‘negotiation of the array’

Community 101: How to Make Neo-Baroque Sense in and of a Postmodern World

For Jameson, Corrigan and Baudrillard, the infiltration of postmodernism into popular culture might as well have signalled the rapture. In casting dire predictions and critiques of the movies and television which mark contemporary culture, they not only make the presumption that meaning and coherence are exclusively related to closed, classical narratives, but that this form of meaning is both inherently superior and under threat. Community (NBC, 2009) embodies the challenges which can be raised against this argument, in regard to the “threats” serialisation, intertextuality and spectacle. Notably, it is the successful melding of these three categories which ensure the programme’s success.

The idea espoused by Corrigan, et al., that contemporary entertainment is incoherent, is very relevant to situational comedy. Community occupies an interesting space in contemporary popular culture, being exemplary of the hybridisation of serial drama and traditional sitcom, which has occurred in the past decade. Mills has suggested the sitcom is ‘often perceived to be of less worth, or less invention and of less social value than many more “serious” forms of programming’ (2005, 5). Like 30 Rock (NBC, 2009), Community uses a single camera and no laugh track, film with cinematic realist aesthetics, to counter this traditional notion. These production values are key to the programme’s industrial context as ‘the cultural capital associated with certain kinds of comedy far outreach those of others for certain demographics and such audiences are the ones the broadcasters are often keen to attract’ (136). Aesthetically, Community ‘doesn’t need to be filmed in this way’ (128), but it wishes to attract a cinephilic audience. This audience is necessary, as Community makes little sense outside the immense number of texts it references, and it is the entanglement of serialisation, intertextuality and spectacle which give the programme meaning to its audience.

More of a challenge to Community’s coherency is its limited ability to negotiate the array of its structural form. Collins argues ‘the conditions of the narrative’s eventual circulation’ can no longer ‘be considered somehow “outside” the text’ (1991, 180). Community regularly references its episodic structure, as when the Dean’s announcement which opens the second episode is followed by this exchange:

Troy: That dude makes a lot of announcements.

Abed: I like it. It makes every ten minutes feel like the beginning of a scene of a TV show.

(1.02 – “Spanish 101”)

The programme also spends an entire episode parodying the mockumentary form of other quality sitcoms, such as The Office (BBC, 2001). ‘I’m excited about the narrative facility of the documentary format. It’s easier to tell a complex story when you can just cut to people explaining things to the camera,’ Abed explains in one such address (2.12 – “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking”). Despite this, Community has not, in two seasons, made any reference to its own quality sitcom form. As the programme is still running, however, we do not know that it will not do this in the future. As such, it is more difficult to make meaning out of Corrigan’s argument, asserting meaning only applies to closed texts, than it is the programme itself.

Meaning is conceived differently by Corrigan, et al. and Jim Collins, with Collins suggesting ‘within this politics of diversity and difference, “value” is not abandoned – only absolute “truth” values’ (1997, 200). Community’s meaning is confined to the audience it targets. The programme does not perceive every potential recipient of the text in the same way, and is much more interested in attaining a meaningful connection with those who do see why it makes sense.

Community raises an interesting question of just what is meant by Corrigan, Jameson and Baudrillard by meaning. In the presumption that this is exclusively offered by closed, classic narratives, the theorists suggest that coherency must be bound within a single text, and that this text is giving meaning to a unified audience, extraneous to the world around it. Considering that in relation to this exchange on Community shows it to be a fallacy.

[Jeff is in the cafeteria, Britta has just walked off. A matronly female stands near him]

Jeff: Shouldn’t be too hard to fake a study group, should it?

Lady: Huh?

Jeff: Oh, jeez, I’m sorry, I was raised on TV and I was conditioned to believe that every black woman over fifty is a cosmic mentor.

(1.01 – “Pilot”)

The idea of independent meaning jars heavily with postmodern theory. Jim Collins suggests meaning and coherence are ‘complicated … by the co-presence of previous representations persisting through mass media’ (1989, 134). In this sense, representational activity can only have meaning in today’s media landscape by consciously acknowledging its cultural past, as the exchange above suggests. Community’s strategy of citing generic conventions to destabilise an audience’s expectations of that genre, gives it meaning in this intertextual sphere.

Another instance of this occurs even earlier in the first episode. Downward mobility is evident in almost all of the characters—from disbarred lawyer, Jeff; to former jock, Troy, who lost his scholarship in a keg flip. When these characteristics are espoused by the Dean in more general terms in the first scene of Community, while the camera scans over the characters we’re yet to meet, it is established both as ‘loser television’ (Kellner 1997, 187), and as a study of how loser television is created. In both instances, meaning and coherence is created by knowledge; on the part of the character, in the first example; and audience in the latter, of how generic texts make meaning.

In this sense, Community extends what Umberto Eco opined in “Casablanca: Cult movies and Intertextual Collage” (1997). It is now not only the semiotician and audience negotiating the array of cultural signs in a text (Collins 1991, 170), but the characters themselves. Joel McHale, who plays Jeff, articulated why this is a savvy strategy in an interview:

In my life and growing up, my friends and I, we make pop-culture references constantly because it was constantly in our faces,” McHale says. ”When Community came out, some people said, ‘Oh, it’s just pop-culture reference humour’, and I thought, ‘Yes, but that’s how I spoke with my friends’. (Idato 2011)

Community suggests that a sitcom today which did not notice how many tropes of a sitcom it was fulfilling, would be incoherent. This is because the characters, to establish verisimilitude, would have seen sitcoms and be aware of those tropes. As Linda Hutcheon suggests, ‘there is no directly and naturally accessible past “real” for us today: we can only know – and construct – the past through its traces, its representations’ (1997, 39). Intertextuality is not a choice in imbuing contemporary entertainment with meaning, but a necessity. Community presents a ‘critical vision of the current generation of youth raised primarily on media culture’ (2997, 183), the characters of Community have negotiated through the array so that ‘initial disorientation [with this absorption of culture is] quickly made manageable’ (Collins 1997, 194).

The negotiation of the array is also a means through which Community involves its audience in the characters’ psychology, which Corrigan feels is missing from contemporary entertainment (1991, 170). Because the characters, especially Abed, are constantly negotiating the same array as the audience, we establish empathy with them, as in his awareness of the TV ‘feel’ of the Dean’s announcements above. Because they, and we, are still shown to have meaning and coherence in our lives, we see coherence is not a practice limited to closed narratives.

In this sense, the array may be absorbed into what Angela Ndalianis calls the ‘neo-baroque’, rather than postmodern, as texts extend beyond the frame, creating structure and meaning, which she believes we are ‘obsessed with’ (2011b). Where once people might have cited Job from The Bible, one of the grand narratives to which Lyotard, an influence of Corrogin, refers in The Postmodern Condition (Brooker 1997, 3), now it is more resonant for Abed to cite Goldie Hawn in Overboard, as he does in “Home Economics” (1.08). Likewise, where we might once have called something ‘sky blue’, more meaning is attained for the audience to have their colour chart range from ‘Seal to Seal’s teeth’ (1.06 – “Football, Feminism and You”). In doing so, Community embodies the qualities of the postmodern which Linda Hutcheon defines in ‘Postmodern film?’ as ‘awareness of cultural continuity and a need to adapt to changing formal demands and social conditions though an ironic contesting of the authority of that same continuity’ (1997, 36), by way of those neo-baroque means.  Overboard as a discreet text may not offer the same depth of narrative as The Bible, but it belongs to a broader culture which taken as a whole, offer more meaning to contemporary life as we negotiate the array.

The serialisation inherent in quality sitcoms (Hammond and Mazden 2005, 76 and Mills 2009, 131) and evident in Community allows it to deploy intertextual spectacles without endangering its own narrative cohesion, as Corrigan et al. suggest is the faculty of all of these features of postmodern entertainment. Parodies occur so frequently in Community, as episode-long features that the frequent occurrence of spectacular events is written into the narrative world of the series. By “Rocket Science” (2.04), the characters are comfortable spending minutes walking in slow motion toward a space simulator, as the filmic intertexts they have already experienced do not make this parody of films like Apollo 13 (Howard, 1995) fracture their own stories. Thus, rather than interrupting the diegesis, the repetition of intertextual spectacles becomes integral to the way characters see the world. It is because of the serialisation that spectacles do not become citational pastiches. By hybridising with the serial form and not offering neat resolutions to the character elements of its plots, Community ‘refuses to be complicitous in the perpetuation of the myth-tradition’ (Henry 2004, 269), wherein everything can be solved by an episode’s end. Without watching from one episode to the next, we may attain much less meaning from such parodies, but this lack of coherence occurs on the level of reception, not production, and is subject to only some recipients.

This cohesion is strengthened by the ongoing relationships between characters and their individual developments, also a product of serialisation, as ‘the episode fragment and the series whole coexist and interact’ (Ndalianis 2005, 96). The gradual establishment of characters over the course of years is potentially more meaningful than Corrigan’s version of how Bogart and Bacall anchor the loose threads of closed narratives (170). This is because their status as authentic subjects can be questioned by a multitude of potentially fracturing spectacles. Abed’s documentary might serve as mockumentary spectacle to the audience, but it is used to advance several storylines, including Pierce’s reliance on pain killers and Britta’s selfish/selfless inner turmoil. It is serialisation which has given weight to these stories, and these stories then transcend the spectacles they are immersed in.

With the negotiation of the array acting as character motivation, rather than suspending and neutralising it, as Corrigan suggests (1991, 173), Community offers meaning and coherence not only to its own narrative, but those it refers to through parody. In “Introduction to Statistics” (1.07), Abed dresses as Batman for Halloween. Specifically, Christopher Nolan’s Batman, as portrayed by Christian Bale in Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005) and The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008). We know it is that Batman, because Abed resolutely imitates Bale’s voice as part of the parody. This parody keeps with Abed’s character progression, as he is established as deeply committed to popular culture, and our culture is one which engages in mockery of Bale’s Batman voice; showing how both character and audience negotiate the array while creating, rather than destroying meaning for the text. The parody does significantly more than this, however. At its climax, Abed-Batman facilitates a slow motion rescue of his peers which uses a non-diegetic score similar to that of Nolan’s films, while a table fort collapses around them. After launching in to the parody, this exchange turns into a monologue typical of Nolan.

Jeff: Are you staying for the party?

Abed-Batman: If I stay, there can be no party. I must be out there in the night, staying vigilant. Wherever a party needs to be saved, I’m there. Wherever there are masks, wherever there is tomfoolery and joy, I’m there. But sometimes I’m not, ‘cause I’m out in the night, staying vigilant, watching, lurking, running. jumping hurdling, sleeping. No, I can’t sleep. You sleep, I’m awake. I don’t sleep, I don’t blink. Am I a bird? No. I’m a bat. I’m Batman. Or am I? Yes, I am Batman.

The monologue becomes voiceover as we turn to see Abed-Batman standing on a building with a wide, high-angle shot turning to reveal his full body, before in a seamless movement switching to a low angle which tightens to his high-key, underlit face. The first function of the scene is the use of the mini-spectacle to reveal the technical elements which go into creating Nolan’s seriousness, undermining them through a voiceover which deliberately fails at establishing the right degree of urgency crafted in the films. The second function actually offers meaning which may have been lost while watching Nolan’s films. When Abed-Batman refuses to stay at the party, he employs the same dialogue which keeps those films open to the serialisation which Collins outlines in “Batman: the Movies, Narrative: the Hyperconscious” (1991). While Corrigan et al. believe this is one of the features which erodes narrative meaning, Abed’s inclination to believe he should be out of the streets to be true to the character, reveals a closed narrative would have no coherence for a character such as Batman. It would betray Batman’s character psychology and thus destroy the meaning and coherence in Batman texts, to diminish their serial potential, as the character would not believe that once a battle is won, society returns to normal. Community’s combination of intertextual spectacle and serialisation is then capable of offering meaning and coherence not only to its own narrative but those to which it refers.

In this instance, intertextual parody works to create meaning through the subversion of generic tropes. Finally, on other occasions, references are summoned by characters to remove the audience’s novelty of noticing them. This means the narrative is able to run its course without a sense of betrayal on the part of the audience, for the programme failing to notice its conventions. In these cases, while the story may run its traditional course, an audience is able to see why that narrative has had enough dramatic clout to be worth repeating. Jameson deplores this strategy of postmodern entertainment, regarding it as ‘cultural “schizophrenia”’ (Storey 2001, 159), however Community  paints a different picture of the strategy. In “Modern Warfare” (1.23), Jeff and Britta are compared to Ross and Rachel, from Friends (NBS, 2004), due to their drawn out sexual tension. The inevitability of their romantic entanglement is stated matter-of-factly by their peers, as it will have been noticed by the audience. This shows the way we can not divorce ourselves from culture in general while watching a specific text, as Ndalianis states: ‘the very structure of the intertextual movements …  have a great deal to tell us about how meaning is disseminated, assimilated and consumed within our society’ (2011). For the audience, it is recognising, as McHale found, that cultural citation is as much a part of our lives as the characters; while for the characters it allows more complex genericity and character development. This in turn counters the argument that meaning and intertextuality do not coexist, posited by Corrigan.

For Corrigan, Community would be a thorough waste of time, as it does nothing but ‘waste’ narrative time (1991, 166), by intermingling the qualities of serialisation, intertextuality and spectacle which critics of postmodernism feel have destroyed meaning in entertainment. For a contemporary audience, however, it is that very awareness of what has come before and empathy built on a shared cultural history between character and viewer, which gives Community narrative coherence in 2011. Pastiche becomes a redundant term, as the inevitability of ways characters will react to scenarios incontrovertibly alters generic plots, even when they are not notably transgressed. Community is in an irreconcilable double-bind with these critics; without its seriality, it would be even more confined to its intertextual spectacles, and though narrative closure would be achieved, this would come at the expense of caring for character psychology. Through acknowledgment that meaning is not exclusive to closed classical narratives; and that it is subjective rather than all-encompassing, a much brighter picture of the array of contemporary entertainment can be achieved.


Baudrillard, Jean. 1997. “The end of the panopticon” in Postmodern after-images, edited by Peter Brooker and Will Brooker, 162-164. New York: Arnold.

Baudrillard, Jean. 1997b. “The reality gulf” in Postmodern after-images, edited by Peter Brooker and Will Brooker, 165-167. New York: Arnold.

Brooker, Peter and Will Brooker. 1997. “Introduction” in Postmodern after-images, edited by Peter Brooker and Will Brooker, 1-20. New York: Arnold.

Collins, Jim. 1989. Uncommon Cultures. New York: Routledge.

Collins, Jim. 1991. “Batman: the Movies, Narrative: the Hyperconscious” in The Many Lives of the Batman, edited by Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio, 164-181. New York: Routledge.

Collins, Jim. 1997. “Television and postmodernism” in Postmodern after-images, edited by Peter Brooker and Will Brooker, 192-207. New York: Arnold.

Corrigan, Timothy. 1991. A Cinema Without Walls: Movies and Culture After Vietnam. London: Routledge.

Eco, Umberto. 1997. “Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage” in Faith in Fakes, 197-212. London: Minerva.

Hammond, Michael. 2005. “Introduction” in The Contemporary Television Serial Hammond, edited by Michael Hammond and Lucy Mazden, 75-82. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Henry, Matthew, 2003. “Triumph of Popular Culture: Situation Comedy, Postmodernism, and The Simpsons” in Critiquing the Sitcom, edited by Joanne Morreale, 262-273. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Hutcheon, Linda. 1997. “Postmodern film?” in Postmodern after-images, edited by Peter Brooker and Will Brooker, 36-42. New York: Arnold.

Idato, Michael. 2011. “Contains References”. The Age. Accessed 02/06/2011.

Jameson, Fredric. 1997. “The nostalgia mode” and “Nostalgia for the Present” in Postmodern after-images, edited by Peter Brooker and Will Brooker, 23-35. New York: Arnold.[1]

Kellner, Douglas. 1997. “Beavis and Butthead: no future for postmodern youth” in Postmodern after-images, edited by Peter Brooker and Will Brooker, 172-181. New York: Arnold.

Mills, Brett. 2009. The Sitcom. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Mills, Brett. 2005. Television Sitcom. London: BFI Publishing.

Ndalianis, Angela. 2005. “Television and the Neo-Baroque” in The Contemporary Television Serial Hammond, edited by Michael Hammond and Lucy Mazden, 83-101. Edinburgh: Edinburgh  University Press.

Ndalianis, Angela. 2011. “Open Storytelling Practices I. Intertextuality ~ Global Aesthetics and the Dispersal of Meaning? Searching (Again) for The Searchers” in Hollywood and Entertainment lecture, 04/05/2011. Parkville: University of Melbourne.

Ndalianis, Angela. 2011b. “Open Storytelling Practices II. Television, Serial form and the Convergence of Film and TV aesthetics… and a little case of viral marketing” in Hollywood and Entertainment lecture, 11/05/2011. Parkville: University of Melbourne.

Storey, John. 2001. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. Essex: Prentice Hall.


30 Rock – Season 1. DVD. Various directors. 2006-2997. Sydney, NSW: Universal Pictures. 2008.

Apollo 13. DVD. Directed by Ron Marshall. 1995. Sydney, NSW: Universal Pictures. 2008.

Batman Begins. DVD. Directed by Christopher Nolan. 2005. Sydney, NSW: Warner Home Video. 2005.

Community – Season 1. DVD. Various directors. 2009-2010. Sydney, NSW: Sony. 2010.

Community – Season 2. DVD. Various directors. 2010-2011. Los Angeles, California: Sony. 2011.

Friends: Complete Season 1. DVD. Various directors. 1994-1995. Sydney, NSW: Warner Bros Television. 2010.

Overboard. DVD. Directed by Gerry Marshall. 1987, Sydney, NSW: Metro Goldwin Mayer. 2010.

The Dark Knight. DVD. Directed by Christopher Nolan. 2008. Sydney, NSW: Warner Home Video. 2008.

The Office – the complete first series. DVD. Directed by Ricky Gervais. 2001. Sydney, NSW: BBC. 2003.

[1] This was the way they were bundled in the book, rather than an inconsistency on my part.

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Subs ‘n’ Tubs

I subedit for the University of Melbourne mag, Farrago. Fortunately, I’m rarely asked to come up with titles. I find it a very enjoyable role. It’s so easy to make little tweaks that markedly improve others’ writing. It’s not to suggest they’re inept, it’s very difficult to attain critical distance from your work at short notice. Sometimes it’s just copy-editing, sometimes fact-checking… I was given a piece on cross-stitch which I found impossible, as I couldn’t confirm whether there were crafty errors. I like being trusted to drastically re-draft pieces that do not work, when there’s no time to send them back to the author. I’ve had to cut up to 50 per cent of the words from features, and tweak verbs in 40 syllable micro-reviews.

I don’t like what Fairfax is doing, because there are a goddamn massive number of journalists in Australia, and jobs don’t find me on the right side of supply-demand.

I was chatting with another Farrago sub last night, at the Emerging Writers Festival, about how silly it is to send subs away from regional papers. Many of the stories in these papers are area-specific. With no offense to the subs at the Fairfax editing warehouse, I doubt they’re too cluey, re: the peculiarities of local folk. Not the dude-in-Hot-Fuzz-with-a-big-ole-gun-shed way, but that there are people you will not be able to search for on the internet. You may not know if their name is spelled with four “p”s or their personality litigious. When News Corp bought out one of the local papers in my home town, it got itself a foul, shiny blue cover, and the layout of a school newsletter. I don’t really understand the use of this buy-out – the paper was free and delivered to every home, and there was hardly room for editorialising. I guess there were plenty of garage sale notices and death-memorials.

But my friend told me it was worse in her home town. The paper I refer to was called The Armidale Independent. After that buy-out, News Corp started up an Independent in Port Macquarie. It was the same school-newsletter fromat, but this paper was started just after the region picked up a couple of independent members–including Rob Oakeshott. To the untrained eye, it looked like a the weekly derring-do of a political party that did not exist.That these political members had a blue campaign bus did not help the matter.

The rules of journalism aren’t that hard to follow. Inverted pyramids, news values, avoiding defamation and showing both sides of a story. Working daily news isn’t something to which I’m aspiring. And good-o, as cadetships at The Age require not only internships but years spent at local news desks. But good subbing is crucial. When a journalist is churning out a half dozen stories each day, they simply cannot gain the distance from a story to see where it needs fixing.

I’m not suggesting there aren’t significant industrial challenges in journalism today. But destroying the quality of your product by demanding more productivity at a lower cost is not a solution.  There are so many choices for news today, you need to make yourself indespensible.

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Fuck yer normal

So, I’m not science-minded, but one thing I gather is that the aim of life, in biological terms, is making more life. Cell division. We evolve, we get stronger, we finesse shit down to make sure the cells we’re perpetuating are as like our own cells as possible, or help us do stuff that facilitates this while not too imminently threatening us. We’re not going to try to make bananas go extinct, because we can eat individual bananas to give ourselves the energy to make more humans. At the same time, bananas are unlikely to overtake humans as the winner of evolution. We would like to make viruses go extinct because they are not like bananas and their perpetuation is a threat to our species.


I am not science minded. But I am social science minded.

We want to assist our cell division, so we do shit that helps it along, like monogamous heterosexual partnerships.

Normal is anything that facilitates cell division – which for humans means reproduction… you know, ‘cause we’re not amoebas anymore.


So we stigmatise and ostracise anything outside this ‘normal’. Normal is superior for reproduction, so the first instinct is to morally relate everything to this normal, sometimes subconsciously.

Sidenote – racial and gendered discrimination come from different places in this. Racial because the genes are ever so slightly different to your own, which form a different “normal” depending on geographic shiz; gendered because for humans, one sex does shit like carry the fetus and produce milk, faculties which lend themselves to being near the resultant fucking kid for prolonged periods.

So there’s your normal. It underlies every form of discrimination.

Fuck your normal.

99% of humans could stop dividing their cells right now, and the species would continue. There is nothing superior about the feat of reproduction at this point. Normal no longer correlates with “right” because there is no objective need for it.


I am privileged because of how many aspects of my up-front personage are considered normal. I’m white, cisgendered, able-bodied, and of a fairly average weight. I’m also female, queer, working class and not in the greatest state of mental health. I don’t feel oppression on a daily basis. On one end, because of how few of my less privileged aspects present themselves, but on another level because I have no desire to be normal.


It’s not normal to be same-sex attracted, transgendered or depressed. It’s not normal to weigh 200 kilograms or be polyamorous. If it impacts at all upon the proven formula of the easiest route to cell division, it is not normal.

Doesn’t matter. Nowadays, that’s not a decent reason to discriminate against someone.

Normal may not even relate to majority/minority – at this point I’m surprised by the statistic that half of Australia’s adults are overweight – not because there are so many of us, but so few. I loved the Hannah Gadsby quip about a dude saying she would only be liked by “women and other gays,” and her response that that constitutes a majority.

There are some people who seem properly equipped on every axis to divide their cells. There are very few. There’s no guarantee they’ll be empathetic, intelligent or funny, but they’ll probably be powerful, because we see normal as correct, and the people who are most of the correct things are the ones most likely to have power. It’s their reward for being correct. And if you’re encouraged to believe you are correct, you are more likely to be blinded to the fallibility of that reasoning.


But now there is no reason for normal and correct to be synonymous. It’s worth fighting against discrimination, for any aspect of what society has deemed “not normal” and treats as incorrect. With the exception of race there’s no point in trying to say it is “normal”, which only enforces the correlation of normal with correctness.

Same sex marriage is increasingly accepted because it can be so easily paralleled with heterosexual marriage. With IVF and adoption considered valid options for reproduction, these unions are touted as normal. But this doesn’t fix the problem of normal being seen as correct, it only takes one of your non-normal axes out of the discrimination equation.


Cis = Opposite of trans. I was assigned female when born, and I agree with that.

IDK, does anything else seem jargony?

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A union, a council, an Independent Media, and where I fit’n’sit

Usually when I write, I like to offer some measure of entertainment. I find the things I have written about below interesting, but if you’re not a student at the University of Melbourne, or a student politician elsewhere, you probably won’t. It’s 1,200 words of discussion on student life and its interplay with the media.

Yeah, I was supposed to be writing something else. Why do you ask?

3AW and the Herald Sun have been saying things about my Student Union that I do not like. It goes beyond the sensationalising of individual issues, which is what I expect of them. What they are doing, with the aid of the Liberal Club on campus, is ignoring the amazing work the union does every day. They are punching holes through the credibility of UMSU with small, contentious events that mean nothing, except to a few people who are now very angry. The problem is that these stories can be used by future a future Abbott government to undo the Student Service Amenities Fee, which is doing a great – if slow – job of involving students in campus life again.

When it reduces down, the jus is that I want students to be students. I want them to look back at University and not think solely of study, but the experience of being students. I think a big starting point is spending time on campus, and I think the Union is the linking thread between students and their place of study.

I have an unfashionable love of unions. Not of mismanagement, spending workers’ pay on election campaigns or theirheavy-footed Labor right lobbying. I like the idea of a body that will fight for my rights as a worker. An organisation dedicated to making sure I stay above the poverty line and have the clout to get shit done.

When Voluntary Student Unionism was introduced in 2006, I knew nothing about the entitled and fraud-ridden bodies elsewhere. In Armidale, New South Wales, the University of New England Student Union was in cohorts with the Belgrave Twin Cinema. In showing the arty flicks without much hope of making money in a small town, the union helped the whole town in keepin’ cultured.

I was keen to join the union when I arrived at the University of Melbourne in 2010. For $99 I received a t-shirt printed with my own face, some pop-corn, bags from different departments, and discounted club membership. I met friends at events organised through union departments like Queer and Wom*n’s in O-Week, and occasionally attended Queer events. I picked up the university magazine, Farrago, and usually read some bits; and often found myself on the computers in the Rowden White Library. I wasn’t at the height of involvement, but I’d say I got my money’s worth. A lot of what I did – reading the magazine, doing Queer shiz, could have been done without being a member, but it could not have been done without a Union funding those departments.

I did all of this because I spent a lot of time on campus, mostly on South Lawn. I couldn’t understand why people were so eager to go home between classes, or as soon as class ended. If you stayed around uni, you could meet friends with interests more interesting than getting trashed or shopping. Sure, my hair wasn’t cool enough to hang with the proper radicals, but on the peripheries were my people.

After engrossing myself in sobriety and study in the first semester of 2011, and finding I was lost and lonely, I started involving myself properly as the year progressed. I was a Farrago sub-editor and began actually attending launches, despite my failure to entice friends into accompanying me. I was more cluey and more confident in discussions and started feeling like I could offer something, and take plenty in return. By showing up regularly to Media Collective and the Independent Media pre-selection, I found myself asked to go on Indie Media’s ballot as a Student Councillor for the 2011 elections.

I agreed immediately. I had no idea we had a student’s council. I didn’t know what an office bearer was, though I’d heard the terms ‘Queer Officer’ and ‘Wom*n’s Officer’ bandied about since I arrived. But I am good at showing up to things… and I liked the idea of an extra line on my resume.

I damn well know what a Student’s Council is now. I spend hours every day in Union House. More than is strictly necessary. I’m writing a column for Farrago and still acting as a sub-editor, and my hair may not have improved but I’m better at defending my opinions in discussions. When motions are moved on Council, I question how it benefits Farrago, and more widely, how it promotes an independent media outside the university. Why did I vote in favour of a motion I find somewhat ridiculous to have been brought up and received a 30 minute debate – that the union sends a letter of solidarity to Chilean students protesting the huge fees they’re charged? Because if everyone in a media system here or abroad comes from one privileged strata of society, it’s harder to foster an independent media – free from the ideological biases of one class.

It’s verbiage like that that recently had me called a socialist. I’m not. My friends would laugh at the suggestion. On a personal level, I doubt that letter will make any goddamn difference, but when I’m thinking in the super-serious Student Councillor mode, those are the issues I need to consider.

But there’s a question, as a representative of Independent Media, of how much I should be weighing into the events stirred up in the media by the Liberals. I should be seen to be above the fray. Independent Media is non-partisan, and I like that. It formed after some abysmal years of Farrago led the people actually interested in writing to form their own party. This way, it isn’t Labor or Liberal running the student magazine as a mouthpiece or a joke. The people in charge are the ones most interested in advancing into careers in the media.

But the Media Office is a department of the Union, and the stories in recent weeks try to undermine UMSU as a body. If the SSAF goes, Farrago’s funding diminishes and it’s harder to advertise for people to get involved, provide launches and picnics where people can network, or create a product people want to pick up.  Additionally, the way these stories have been stirred up is the product of a biased, sensationalist media. The Herald Sun and Vex News, in their pieces on Rad Sex and Consent Week, have ignored facts; used illegal recordings, and failed to seek quotes from people not in line with their anti-union agenda. They have latched on to the Liberal Club’s train which during student elections campaigns on federal policy.

I do think UMSU needs to publicise the good things they’re doing more widely. Sending their own articles and press releases to news outlets and generally promoting themselves with more than chalk, flyers and Facebook. I never knew about so many things the union was doing until I become gruesomely ingratiated. The Union can be for everyone. As niche as a bum massage may be, as betrayed as you feel by Mark Kettle’s failure to lay an ANZAC Day wreath, stop pretending that’s the end of the story. Work out what your interests are and start a club for cider-fans or society of lolcat appreciators. You can get the grants to fund your parties! Sure, it’s a bit of bureaucracy, but you’ll start reaping the rewards of the SSAF you’ve accidentally harvested. If it keeps you on campus, I’ll be happy.

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This would sound more sincere if not written in February…

I really dislike flowers. I don’t like the smell, is the big problem. I don’t like it coming from the flowers themselves or from perfumes or air fresheners. I bought a lavender macaron last month and it tasted like eating my grandmother’s underwear drawer.

As much as I love pumping my body with sugar, I could not make it through that shit.

Some flowers are pretty. But fuck are they not pretty enough to justify the whole industry based around them. So useless. I can’t remember which comedian it was who noted the stupidity of giving people flowers, the whole ‘Here, watch this die’-ness of it.

I rarely have to tell people about this, because I’m not dead enough for people to be showering me with them. I don’t think I give off the impression that floral arrangements are something I find value in, even when I haven’t verbalised it.

So, not receiving flowers today was no great blow. Not receiving chocolates is a bit sadder, but more on the this-is-part-of-why-I-have-no-chocolate front… even then I prefer to choose my own cocoa products. Had I receiver of such a typical gift I might have still been angry… there are 365 days in a year, and it’s a bit nicer to be made feel special on a day which doesn’t lend itself to expectation and disappointment. I feel the same about birthdays and Christmas. Not because I don’t love birthday and Christmas presents, but because in my mind, every new dawn should be a new opportunity to give me things.

Seriously, though, I feel pretty freaking honoured and humbled when friends give me the tiniest things with no such provocation. I don’t think of it as materialistic. I’m dreadful at verbally or physically expressing my thanks, and when I can afford it try to signify to people that their existence is worthwhile with consumer goods… it works both ways. One of those ways is probably capitalism.

OH, that was off the beaten track. I wasn’t really thinking about Valentine’s Day today. I went into university at midday for a meeting of Student’s Council, to discover the meeting was at 2:00pm. Come that time, we failed to reach quorum, so no Student’s Council at all. Between 12 and 2, and 2:30 and 4, I killed time in a library which wards off study. I read back-issues of Farrago and learned an awful lot about the introduction of the Melbourne Model, then borrowed The Room.

Sexy day, amirite?

I then ventured to Misty’s Diner in Prahran, to catch up with a friend over deep fried oreos, curly fries and a Reese’s Pieces thickshake. Misty sprinked our table with love hearts. We were both carrying non-fiction gender studies-ish books around with us, livin’ the cliche.

I would not call my day dissatisfying, but then, that really is testament to just how much I dislike flowers and enjoy feisty student debates.

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