Small bites (Jan ’18)

Highlights from my week on the interwebs

Victoria’s model of community visitors should be retained (The Age, 30 Dec 17)

John Chesterman, a long-time community visitor and Acting Public Advocate, offers a compelling argument for retaining the Victorian approach to a scheme that exists in a range of different models in different states and territories.

The proposed safeguards prioritise consumer protections such as complaint mechanisms, which are fine if you have the ability and confidence to voice your concerns.

These protections will certainly be important, but they are not enough. Nothing beats being able to say: “Well, we were at that house last week and Louise’s plan may well say she is supposed to go bowling, but she didn’t go bowling. She was at the house.”

This is a really nice example of The Age doing what it does best.

Does the ‘African youth crime’ panic sound familiar to you? It should.

The LNP opposition, the Labor government, the Herald-Sun and The Age have been falling over themselves to condemn ‘African youth crime’ in Victoria.

As Calla Wahlquist points out, the reality is more complicated (The Guardian, 3 Jan 18).  But trying to counter panic with facts is like bringing a banana to a knife fight.

Stopping a panic depends on telling a more compelling story. Here’s John Birmingham, writing in 2000 about the ‘Asian gangs’ panic of the 1990s:

When the first stories of (Vietnamese gang) the 5T were being laid out at the (DailyTelegraph and the (Sydney MorningHerald, the gangs were little more than groups of unemployed Vietnamese teens who had slipped through the net of the secondary school system and often had no close family to rely on. Coming from refugee camps in Hong Kong where 2000 children were kept under armed guard for months without seeing daylight, they may never have been in school. Some had seen their families killed. They arrived in Sydney, were given a few months English training if they were very lucky, then set loose to fend for themselves. April Pham, a youth worker in Cabramatta, told me that they didn’t think of themselves as having ‘low self-esteem’. They just thought of their lives as shit. They could not even cope with welfare. In March 1991, during a deep recession, the Bankstown, Cabramatta, Fairfield, Marrickville and Campsie social security officers combined had only two Indochinese aged between sixteen and eighteen receiving job search allowance. ‘Half the kids don’t have any income,’ said April. ‘The dole is a huge hassle. We virtually have to drag them in there. They live off and with their friends, a dozen in a one-bedroom flat. They share expenses. If one has fifty dollars, everyone gets it.’

This was the 5T in its earliest days. But even bullshit has a critical mass and past that point it becomes self-generating. Cut off from any other source of identity, the loudest message those young Vietnamese had beamed at them was ‘street gangs’. If they ever sat on the floor of their dismal unfurnished flats and wondered what this strange new country expected of them, they need only attend to their media image. Unfortunately that particular fantasy was powered by an alternating current. Just as the symbol of a powerful underground teen-mafia explained the suburban catastrophe of drug-fuelled crime — and offered salvation through the symbol of an unshackled police force waging their War on Drugs with a nuclear armoury of supercharged drug laws — so too did it provide a reassuring myth for their notional enemy (the 5T). Cast adrift in an alien world which obviously distrusted and feared them, the rootless beta-version outlaws were presented with an expertly crafted narrative of their own power and significance. They weren’t sloughed off failures. They weren’t pathetic. They weren’t doomed. They were the 5T. And though they might walk in the valley of the shadow of death they would fear no evil because they were the baddest motherfuckers in the valley. I mean, really, what did everyone expect them to do? Get a haircut and a job flipping patties at McDonalds?

John Birmingham (@JohnBirmingham), Leviathan Sydney: Vintage, 2000, p427-8.

I’ve written before on this blog about the role narratives and feature journalism can play in showing the linkages between the micro (incidents of crime) with the meso (lack of meaning and life opportunities) and macro (structural racism) perspectives.

These narratives are almost exclusively found in The Age — the Herald-Sun‘s tabloid format and style mitigate strongly against them. But lately Fairfax seems to have been chasing the Herald-Sun’s right-wing readership. This is a doomed effort: nobody can compete with News Corp on sensationalism, and it will hasten the exodus of its historically progressive readership over to the ABC and The Guardian.

Call Me By Your Name — a hot take

This film could have been an hour shorter, and all the better for it, if it had cut out all the butt shots (i.e. the whole first half). There’s no chemistry between the two leads, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, and for a teenage romance that’s inexcusable. The counter-narrative of straight sex and seduction highlights the timidity and sterility of the queer encounter at the heart of the film. Go and (re-)watch Moonlight instead.

Listening: Asgeir ‘In Silence’ album

I came late to this and it’s romance at its best. The English version is great — musician John Grant reportedly helped out — but the Icelandic originals are otherworldly.