Posted on 18 August 2014 | No responses
I have been an activist for more than thirty years now. The world is in ever increasing social and environmental crisis. People are frightened. Some people have been frightened for so long, or have cared so much for so long with insufficient results, that they find themselves unable to engage anymore. Despair and disempowerment are creeping problems infecting us all.
Now more than ever we can’t have people giving up when it comes to crucial issues. We need activists. But where are they? I remember the social activism of the 1960s and 70s. Where are the young people today who are banding together to ensure they have a future?
Why Are People Giving Up?
Culture is a way that we interact with one another and our environment. It speaks of our values and our beliefs, and gives continuity to a group through time. Culture can also be a veil that obscures our view of reality, such that we start to mistake the veil for reality. Our culture currently dresses little girls in pink and little boys in blue. This has gone on long enough that many people have convinced themselves that this is because the boys and girls prefer it this way, or it is “natural”.
Our culture is very much into hero worship. We have mythologies about “the chosen one”, one ordained by the gods or fate to lead or save us. Hollywood almost exclusively uses this trope in its storytelling. This has become codified by the pernicious adherence to “The Hero’s Journey”. Science has never backed up the universal existence of a “hero’s journey”, particularly one that is “archetypal”, existing in perfection within some platonic sphere, or “hardwired” evolutionarily into our brains.
So long as people believe in a “chosen one”, they never have to take responsibility for themselves. They can sit around going, “Oh woe is me, there is no one to lead a revolution.” Of course if someone decides they are going to be the chosen one, on the light side they may take on too much responsibility and burn themselves out or on the dark side create more problems through domination and ill-conceived tactics.
We are also endlessly fed stories through television, film, news, advertising, etc, where everything in life has a swift and apparently understandable solution. When someone experiences good fortune, it is for a reason. When someone experiences bad fortune, it is for a reason. These reasons are often seen as entirely under the control of those who experience bad fortune, but are mysterious when it comes to good fortune. We are taught to believe that we will always understand why a thing happens to us. No one dies of old age any more, they die of a specific illness that we believe is ultimately curable. Solutions come with ease and haste to those who have the money to buy them. Losing hair? Buy a cream. Need a cure for warts? Give money to the appropriate charity or research centre.
Some problems are so large and so complex, we cannot hope to resolve them in this lifetime. That does not mean they cannot be resolved, that does not mean they should not be resolved. It means we will have to take up such problems because we care about the welfare of future generations, whether or not we will personally experience any benefit. I have a great grandmother who was a suffragette. She didn’t get to enjoy the vote, I do. I am deeply grateful to her.
Our market culture is also teaching people to not think for themselves, but rather turn to corporations to supply answers to needs. If you have a health issue that could be resolved with a lifestyle change, rather than leaving you to take responsibility for your changes, they offer an apparently easier path where you pay for pills and you pay for gyms, where walking to the shops and eating carrots would take care of the problem. People start thinking, “it’s not up to me” and start relinquishing far too much of their own responsibilities and thereby too much of their own power.
Why Aren’t We Coming Together?
We all want freedom. But it is becoming a freedom from one another, rather than a freedom that includes association. We have city people admiring small town communities because they see how everyone seems to be supporting one another. We also have country people who admire cities where you can seek out like-minded individuals rather than having like-mindedness enforced upon you. Community and free-association are important. Individuality and cooperation are important. These all require a balance that relies on thoughtfulness. Cultures of domination will not encourage thoughtfulness.
We aren’t coming together because we have a culture that has chosen trade as a means for people’s livelihood. We no longer form extended family groups that share what we have. As such children, the elderly, and the debilitated have their survival always under threat. Since we trade in numbers (meaning currency), there are ways to manipulate its flow and thereby control people’s access to a livelihood. So, women who may be contributing the lion’s share of work and goods in a community can potentially have their survival threatened when their access to currency is limited.
Those who can provide goods and services know that they have to sell a certain amount of these to make a living and a certain amount more to make a comfortable living. This may involve selling more than people actually need. This can be done by making goods and services attractive, addictive, and by putting your competition out of business. Status gives you access to more currency. So, competitiveness becomes more intense.
If status seekers can get you to give up by shaming you, they will. If status seekers can get you to buy their goods by making you afraid of what others may think or do to you, they will. If status seekers start destroying their environment in order to encourage over-consumption, oh well, as long as the suffering doesn’t touch them then it doesn’t matter in their opinion. Marketing is teaching people to be endlessly shamed and afraid of one another.
How Can We Gird Ourselves for the Task?
We have to be prepared to be small. It can’t be about a single person’s victories, or a single person’s place in history. It cannot be about our egos or status will kill our ability to make positive lasting change. The problems of this world are all our responsibility. Each of us is culpable when it comes to the problems we are facing, each of us is crucial in taking what steps we can to create change. However, no one person can be expected to take on the whole of our shared burden. Give up on the idea that there are a special important few, and that everyone else is dross. Every single person is critically important. Every…single…person.
We have to understand that we live in a world of partialities. We only have partial control and partial understanding of our lives. That’s why we need one another. That’s why acceptance and tolerance are important. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle that is life. When you readily and harshly judge people, you are cutting off knowledge and experience that might be crucial to our survival.
We must train ourselves to be resilient. We must train ourselves in the ways of healthy lasting friendships. In this manner we can help one another. We must learn to laugh, create, and play together. These are invaluable for our mental health and our ability to effectively engage with problems, rather than be defeated by them.
Instead of getting wound up in what we don’t want, we need to celebrate what we do want. Instead of always angrily protesting what is wrong, we need to create what is right and provide an example, a meme that can go viral, to the whole world.
We must respect our emotions, recognising that they often tell us when things are wrong, that it’s not just in our head. We then need to ask “why” am I feeling this way, and dig very deep into the situation: how is our outlook causing these feelings, how are our circumstances a cause, what can be done? We must respect our intellect to help us always question, but that intellect must be tempered by compassion. Otherwise, it can become oppressive in its own right.
We must take care of ourselves. We must look out for our health. We must live a life where work, play, quiet time, friends, and family all have their place. Self respect is the beginning of respect for others and our planet. We must never neglect it. We also must must must value kindness over looks, power, money, or greatness. I can assure you that a world of shared kindness will be saved.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 12 August 2014 | No responses
Many of us are saddened by the passing of comedian Robin Williams. People are expressing bewilderment as to why someone who was so rich, famous, and brought so much joy into people’s lives would want to kill himself. Some just chalk it up to “the sad clown” stereotype. I cannot know why Robin Williams made this choice. People have many reasons why they choose to take their own life rather than go on, some of them legitimate.
Humor author Terry Pratchett is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He is contending with greater and greater memory loss and mood swings. As such he is advocating and preparing himself for assisted suicide. I’m sure anyone who has had to euthanise a pet because of that family member’s suffering, wonders about why it is considered the loving thing to do in one case, but not the other.
People who say you shouldn’t commit suicide because it is “wrong”, because it will cause others pain, aren’t really helping those who are in the throes of suffering. It’s unhelpful to tell someone that they should have no control over their life, because it might make you cry. It’s understandable if you love someone that you don’t want to let them go, but whether it is in a relationship or someone who has lost brain function, it is not your choice whether or not they stay.
People who are in the arts have a number of reasons why they might fall into suicidal depression. Predominantly these are based on our culture’s intense worship of money and status.
If you choose to go into the arts, frequently family members will not understand. They will either see it as a step down in your status and thereby theirs by association, or that you are trying to one up them through fame. Try living in a situation where your family has cut you off because they are unwilling to accept your adult choices. That’s sufficient to put many people into a suicidal frame of mind. Now add to that not having sufficient money as a struggling artist to have children of your own.
And if you think that’s rough, add the fact that if you stick with your art then eventually your friends with “regular” jobs will stop communicating with you when they hit their 30s, because they only have time to mix with the friends they make at work or through their children’s school. The isolation can be extreme.
Of course those who go into the arts often do so because they were already outsiders for one reason or another when they were growing up.
If you do achieve some sort of fame or fortune, some families will then “forgive” you. But then you know their judgement has less to do with who you are and more to do with your social standing. You will have people who want to be your friends in hopes of improving their own situation, not because of who you are. There’s a reason why famous people tend to hang out with other famous people, and it’s not always to exclude you. Sometimes it’s to protect their own emotional lives. Of course even other famous people can continue to be social climbers, shallow, and lost in their own publicity. More isolation.
Right now we simply do not have enough jobs to employ all human beings on this planet. People who cannot find work are treated harshly. We have people judging and bullying the unemployed because they are seen as deserving of their suffering. Those of us in the arts have to regularly deal with unemployment. The only way to get skilled up enough to compete for the small number of arts dollars is finding time to do our art. Some of us have gone into incredible debt pinning our hopes on an arts job, paying a university to help us get one. We are then seen as the enemy: because we often challenge social norms, because we are supposedly getting to do what we love when others suffer in boring brutal jobs, because we are often poor.
Simply asking someone “how are you doing” can help a little, provided you are genuinely ready to respond to a real answer. If you aren’t prepared, it will make things worse. I know individuals who have had a child die and people becoming angry with them for still grieving after a few weeks. Sending “hugs” on Facebook is nice, but sometimes people need a real human in real time listening to their problems. Keeping all the frustrations and suffering in your head, because no one has time and no one understands, is crazy making. It’s okay if you can’t fix these people, but don’t make it worse by offering half-assed or inappropriate help and then getting huffy when that sort of help is rejected.
Telling an arts person that their suffering is “all in their head” when they are unable to pay for food speaks of a callous personality. Giving an arts person anti-depressants, so they can better live with being underappreciated, under-paid, and alone, is a form of cruelty. The arts are not an optional extra, they are an important part of our well-being as individuals and as a culture. Those people who do things that help us to survive our own jobs deserve a lot more support and respect. Of course the clown is sad, if you punish her for being happy because you aren’t. But if you give the clown a chance, he might make your life a little brighter.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 4 August 2014 | No responses
In the last number of decades we have seen more and more people admiring fictional villains, seeking transgressive humour, and deriding those things that are meant to represent good. In step with these trends is the increasing violence found in TV, film, and computer games.
Is this a sign that people are going bad? Is the civilising force of society breaking down? Are those things that keep people from basic destructive urges dissolving? I would say, little bit yes…and a bit more no.
The best metaphor I can think of for our current situation is a dysfunctional family. In such a family you may have a husband/father who was abused by his own parents as a child. He has learned that the safest place to be is in power, where he can intimidate others, and frighten people into giving him what he needs and wants. He is terrified of showing any sign of weakness, because as a child the weaknesses of being small, emotional, and inexperienced had dire consequences.
In the same family you may have a wife/mother who was abused in her own way. She will have received little acknowledgement as a child, except when destructive attention was directed her way. She may end up feeling in need of a protector who is as big or bigger a force than her parents. In this way she may trade off who she fears most. She may feel that she can at least control her husband in some way and so he is in essence her dangerous guard dog. Living without him may seem terrifying in its own right.
The children have a natural inclination to bond with their first source of survival. If their parents are also dangerous to that survival, they will develop strategies to get by. Because this is all they know, they will see the situation as normal, and not even know to question it, much less realise something better is out there.
Some children will survive by doing what they are told, flattering their parents’s egos, and/or staying out of the way or hidden. They will agree to everything: all the demands, all of the judgements, all of the worldviews. In so doing they become part of the dynamic that holds the dysfunctional family together. They will be seen as “good” children by their parents, and parents of equally dysfunctional families.
Then you have the children who sense something is wrong. They may act out, becoming destructive. They may try running away. They may start questioning and talking back. They may start having problems with depression and suicidal behaviour. These will be seen as “bad” children for threatening the status quo of a dysfunctional situation.
So, who really are the “good” children and who the “bad”?
If we have a society that is similarly dysfunctional on a massive scale, then you are going to find people who are deemed “good” simply because they are holding the system in place. They aren’t good because they are kind, caring, or actively seeking the well-being of humanity and the planet. They smile and are unchallenging.
You will also find people who can’t manage living within a system that is inimical to their mental and emotional health. They may become violent and/or self-destructive. They may start speaking out, protesting, challenging social power. All of them will be called equally “bad”. Sometimes they will embrace this. Not often enough do people defend themselves as representing a healthier good.
Right now the Earth needs an uprising of genuine goodness: a goodness that enacts kindness, respect, acceptance, and the life-affirming. We need to rethink, redefine, and reclaim goodness. The bullies of the world are not good, but they are wounded, and completely lost in that woundedness. The “bad” kids of the world fully have it in them to lead us all to the light.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 1 August 2014 | No responses
Marketing loves casting people into competitive positions: surely you want to be a big alpha male with all the best stuff, surely you want to be the thinnest most sexually attractive woman with all the best stuff.
Our culture has expected girls to be kind, gentle, nurturing, and submissive. When a girl feels the need to be treated equally and given the right to a fulfilling career with fair pay, she may want to shake off ALL the stereotypes. The percentage of girls who resort to violent bullying in school yards has been steadily increasing. Our society isn’t good at teaching the distinction between power and empowerment.
When a female works for positive social change, it is expected of her and often goes unnoticed. When a male does this work, it is seen as exceptional and he may receive social praise. Can you name any female Nobel Peace Prize winners? A few exist, but they are hardly noted by our media.
What concerns me with all this is that kindness is seen as weak and effeminate: a natural trait for females and an acquired trait for boys. As such it is being rejected by both genders.
Kindness has to be encouraged and practised. It’s not for wimps. Look at how much strength was needed by people like Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Aung San Suu Kyi, Wangari Muta Maathai, and Betty Williams.
Stereotypes need to be ended, but backlash against those stereotypes doesn’t improve things. We, all of us of all genders and gender associations, need to thoughtfully consider what values and characteristics result in a more harmonious future. We then need to remove gender judgements and expectations, and just do what is best. To heck with anyone who might call you a wuss. You are no wuss, if you are willing to stand up to their ignorance.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 29 July 2014 | No responses
After this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival I have been re-thinking my blog. Even though I could say more about comedy, I haven’t been certain if I wanted to remain so narrowly focussed here.
I went into the arts because it’s who I am. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t feel 100% dedicated to serving the world through my creativity. One of my earliest memories is of being in a church for an aunty’s wedding. Just staring at the light coming through the stained glass windows stirred feelings so big for such a little girl that I burst into tears. I wasn’t sad or upset, I was in awe. I couldn’t have been more than five and my parents were concerned because they couldn’t figure out what the matter was. My family have loads of humorous stories about how they could always reason with me: that time was beyond them.
I have also been a social and environmental activist since I can remember. I have long felt that the issues we face in this world can only be sustainably addressed when we change people’s attitudes, when we help them to embrace uplifting and life-affirming values. Forcing people to change via legislation only goes so far before people start rebelling. Lecturing at people only really works with those who are willing to listen to a lecture, and often that’s the converted. However, when you engage with people’s feelings and imaginations, they tend to open up more. The arts are not an optional extra, they are crucial to our development as mature human beings.
Charles Dickens’s portrayal of industrial child labour helped to bring about British child labour laws. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy television show helped considerably in improving US attitudes toward the gay population. The Harry Potter series of books by J.K.Rowling brought about the Harry Potter Alliance and a growing movement of youth charitable involvement. Some people will smile patronisingly when I speak about these things, but these are people who want to seem important, not actually do important work.
We cannot use people who are too proud to care. We can use people who are engaged and joyful. We can use people who are accepting and kind. We can use people who are willing to hold out a hand in friendship to others no matter how strange or different they may seem. Comedy is important to me because it is a strong factor in giving people the resilience and will to do good. Comedy is as noble an art form as any.
So, I have decided to make this blog more about arts, values, learning, activism, AND comedy. Comedy will still be here. Hence the name change from In Search of LOLitanium to Bildungorama in 3D! “Bildung” is the word for a German concept about personal maturation. This is achieved through the harmonisation of heart and mind such that an individual can freely add to social wellbeing. It’s part of my collection of cool words like “ubuntu” and “gambatte”.
If you have been reading In Search of LOLitanium, I hope you continue to read as I take this slight change in direction.
Thank you all for your wonderful support through the years.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 3 June 2014 | No responses
The Museum of Comedy has just opened its premises in London. It is located near the British Museum in a historic old house.
Currently, it’s running an exhibition of the photography of Steve Ullathorne, the man responsible for some of modern British comedy’s most iconic portraiture. This space is arranged for performance and comedy workshops as well.
The brainchild of Leicester Square Theatre director Martin Witts, the Museum of Comedy is a brand new, interactive, immersive museum for all the family, featuring iconic props and artefacts from our rich comedic history and housing one of the most comprehensive collections of Comedy memorabilia ever to be amassed in one place.
The museum has been lovingly put together by Martin with his collection of over six thousand artefacts and print from some the most iconic comedians and comedy shows both past and present, amassed during his career spanning over three decades in the comedy industry.
Given how large the Melbourne Comedy Festival is and how much comedy is a part of Australian culture, we really need a space like this in Australia as well. One day someone is going to say, “Katherine, I would very much like to work with you on creating something like that,” then LOOK OUT! Awesomeness will ensue.
In the meantime I know exactly where I’m going during my next holiday stay in London!
Museum of Comedy: http://www.museumofcomedy.com/
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 25 May 2014 | No responses
Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame did a talk about his ten commandments of making. Many of these equally apply to creating a comedy show. The commandments are the first ten minutes of this video. The rest of the video is Savage taking questions from his youthful fans.
Humans do two things that make us unique from all other animals: we use tools and we tell stories. And when you make something, you are doing both at once.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 17 May 2014 | No responses
Sarah Millican talks about her experience attending the BAFTAs. Her dress received more (negative) comment than the quality of her comedy, for which she was attending.
I’m sorry. I thought I had been invited to such an illustrious event because I am good at my job. Putting clothes on is such a small part of my day. They may as well have been criticising me for brushing my teeth differently to them.
“Sarah Millican: Twitter was a pin to my excitable Bafta balloon“
Read the whole article. It’s worth thinking about. We need to insist that all people are judged by the quality of their character and/or the quality of their work: not by their gender, not by their colour, not by their sexual preferences, not by the money in their bank account, not by the country into which they were born, not by anything that is beyond their control.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 12 May 2014 | No responses
According to the festival director, Susan Provan, only about half of the acts break even. That means that after the 10 per cent who get all the big crowds, the remaining 40 per cent lose money — or, as she calls it — are “investing in their career”.
Make sure if you are doing comedy, you genuinely love it. If you make it about fame and fortune, you will break your heart.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 12 May 2014 | No responses
I’m currently finalising sign-ups for an arts festival. I know a few people who have talked up a good game about participating, but when push comes to shove, are unlikely to do it.
I know of one fellow who asked to help on one of my shows as crew. He said he wanted to learn, so he could eventually do his own show. When I invited him on board, he disappeared. He was terrified he would mess things up, and he wasn’t even going to be on stage.
So many like to think that if they were given a chance, they would be a public superstar of some sort. You become a “superstar” by being willing stand up to the task.
A few things I have learned:
- If I wait for things to be just right before I do something, I may never do it.
- If I wait until I’m not scared to do something, I may never do it.
- If I wait until all my friends approve, I may never do things.
- If I wait until my parents approve, I definitely will never do things.
- If I wait until I’m certain I won’t fail, I will never do things.
- If I wait for other people to do things for me, I will never do things.
- If I blame other people for my not doing things, I will not do them.
- If I think I am a failure, I might do a thing, but I am much more likely to sabotage it to prove that I am a failure.
The only way to do a thing is to just do it, and be open to whatever happens. As an artist, you have absolutely no wasted experience. You learn, you gain insight into life and humanity, and you have material to make your next artistic creation. In the arts there really is no such thing as failure. You might be disappointed in an outcome, but it can always be a step toward becoming a better artist.
Peace and kindness,