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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's been quite a week in the news...

...here in Australia.

I've avoided commenting on various news stories that have caught my eye, notably the death (apparently by suicide) of a British nurse who'd been "pranked" by a couple of young Australian DJs. While aspects of this pressed my emotional buttons, at the end of the day we can't legally blame the DJs for the nurse's death. Even claims that their actions were morally somehow equivalent to murder or manslaughter are over the top. That's not to deny that their prank was taken too far - the way they pressed it, rather than ending it quickly when it became apparent that they were dealing with someone whose low level of English language skills made her especially vulnerable, was immature and cruel. There was gloating afterwards on at least one Twitter feed, since deleted, and this adds to the impression of a cruel or callous mentality.

Then again, I don't understand why the British media, which evidently displayed even more cruelty, seem to be getting off without blame.

More generally, when will we all grow up and take the attitude that it's simply not funny when powerful people use that power to humiliate ordinary, seemingly good, powerless people? Surely we can work on cultural change, so that actions like of those of these DJs are no longer considered acceptable. They were handed great power, in the form of their platforms at a popular radio station, and placed in a culture that encouraged them in every way to abuse it.

Despite some of my own intemperate tweets, one of which I subsequently deleted as it went much too far, I think, on reflection, that the blame goes a long way beyond these rather young (and in this instance, evidently immature) people. It's better for us to introspect about what we really want as a society, when the powerful confront the powerless, than to conduct a witch hunt against these two individuals, who appear to be emotionally shattered by the experience.

Then there was the sensational Federal Court judgment that found the civil law claim against Peter Slipper for alleged sexual harassment to be an abuse of the process of the court. This does not mean that Slipper is entirely exonerated - he may be guilty of some borderline sexual harassment of a staffer - but in this case there are issues of proportion, ulterior motives, and even political conspiracy. The ramifications of the case will continue for some time.

Some days earlier we saw lobbying to ban teaching Love in the Time of Cholera, by celebrated author Gabriel García Márquez, as a literary text in Victorian schools, and this seems to have met with some success. Last I heard, it's under review.

Crazy times!

3 comments:

Steve Zara said...

The British media could have kept quiet. It was hardly news of any importance. They would have known that someone had been fooled and would be in a difficult position.

Max Toby said...

You need to do an epic post on metaethics. Something along the lines of Sam Harris v Derek Parfit v Richard Joyce. That would be awesome.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Isn't it interesting how perspectives on things can be so very different?! I thought that there was a quite a considerable amount of commenting and discussion over this suicide and the part played by the two DJ's. So, i for one am glad that you've written this piece Russell. I enjoy your tweets and writting and found myself over the last few days wanting to shout, "stop, stop. Enough! You haven't considered what you are saying. You aren't being rational. This is an emotional response etc etc"
I didn't because i see you as a powerful person and to be fair to myself i wasn't prepared to put myself into a firing line.
However, there is something which i'd like to say about this stuff which might or might not be relevant. Feel free to delete it if its rubbish.

When i was a wee girl, my friends and i would play a game called "chap door and run!" The game did exactly what it said on the tin! You played it as follows.
1. Pick a door to someone's house
2. Sneak into the garden
3. Chap the door as loud as you can
4. Run away
5. Hide somewhere and watch as the person answers the door
with the punch line being -- there's nobody there!

Now yes. I could now go through a list as long as my arm to the morality of this game. I could go through a list about the possible consequences to the person answering the door or the children playing the game. Yes, most probably i could make a really case against any child ever playing "chap door, run" again.

Except - I want to hold onto the possibility that one day when i'm a wee old woman with a wicked streak for novelty and cheek and fun and naughtiness, that i might one day tell my grandchildren how to play "chap door run!" I would really like to think now, that society will be such that the innocence of laughing at having carried out a prank with your friends is still alive and there! I hope that my grandchildren will play such games so they can learn to say "okay, thats been really good fun................now thats enough!"

Whats the cost to me? Well i suppose that the cost to me for wanting a society where my grandchildren can play daft and silly and immature games like "chap door run" is that i need to accept that (hopefully) sometime i'll be behind the door of a chapped door. I'll need to play my part well, with a grumpy face at the pranks these darn cheeky children are playing on me!

I might even be lucky enough to hear the laughter from behind a bush or tree!!!

So, there you are. My take on why pranks are important to not lose sight of. Why a prank is soemthing that is more innocent than not. I'm no English Royalist. A young woman however, carrying her first baby has to carry with her the memories of all this. And why? Just because she is who she is.