Perfectionism

Posted on 27 May 2015 | No responses

  • Some feminists are extremist, so we don’t have to stop being sexist.
  • Some religionists are extremist, so we can demand the elimination of their religion.
  • Some atheists are misogynistic, so we can ignore all their ideas.
  • Some animals have been known to be harmful, so it’s all right to wipe them all out.
  • Some cities don’t sensibly recycle the rubbish people have carefully sorted, so there’s no sense in us bothering with the extra effort.
  • Some unions have abused their power, so we shouldn’t bother with worker’s rights.
  • Some organics are still damaging the environment, so we can keep buying fruit and vegetables that are raised in an even more damaging manner cheaply at corporate supermarkets.

Black and white perfectionism is a flight from reason and responsibility. Grown ups accept that we live in an imperfect and nuanced world that doesn’t always have ready answers. Sometimes making things better is a long term process and you have to accept baby steps. But those baby steps must be made.

Judgemental cynicism is an issue, not the answer. It brings with it the excuses for apathy. It’s well worth remembering the adage, “If you aren’t part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.”

Let me see you get out of your cushy armchairs, out from behind your TVs and computers, and do something then tell me, “It’s all too hard.” And I want to see you stick with it for a few years, rather than turning up to one protest in the entirety of your life then saying, “I protested for one hour of one day and nothing changed.”

And complaining it’s because everyone else is so awful is the height of narcissism. If you start talking with people, spending time with people, caring about people, things will change. But not if you keep yourself in angry fearful isolation.

Become a bright light of kindness, gentleness, concern, and activism. Do not worry so much about how others are getting it wrong. Just focus on doing the best you know how. Time will demonstrate this is the most worthwhile path.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Sandbox Land: SUPER Heroes!

Posted on 21 May 2015 | No responses

Sandbox Land is going to be HOT this Saturday! So, if you want performance that will warm you up, come along!

The night’s performers:

Comedian: Dilruk Jayasinha!
Poet: Lana Woolf
Storyteller: Ian McNally
Singer: Yasemin Arifoglu
Singer/Musician: Chris Southall
Cosplayer: Sam Dowling
Sketch Performers:
Gabe Hogan
Kaska Harvey Zielinski

MCs:
Katherine Phelps
Morgan Phillips

When: 7pm Saturday 23 May
Where: 14 Raglan Street, North Melbourne
Tickets: http://www.trybooking.com/HRPF
Family and child discounts!

2015-05-sandbox-land-poster-sm

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Hating Things

Posted on 20 May 2015 | No responses

I have been frequently seeing and hearing people use the word “hate”. A lot of it trivial like, “I hate banana yoghurt”. Some more significant like, “I hate climate-deniers”. I wish people would think about what they are doing when they hate something.

Here is a list of things people hate:

Banana yoghurt

I’ve heard people go into great details as to why they hate a food and put on a great show of various “yuck” faces. They will ask you how you can posssibly eat that stuff. I wonder if this bit of theatre is really about hating a food or rallying for personal support. If they can get you to hate a thing, then it justifies their hating it. They don’t feel like an outsider for not enjoying something that others are. All of this is done with musical taste as well. Perhaps they need the personal strength to accept difference: their own and others.

Wesley Crusher

Wesley Crusher is a character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. This character was largely hated by Star Trek fandom. He was put in to be the bridging character for a young audience. The problem was his portrayal seemed patronising. Other characters in media will be hated because they are feminist or anti-feminist portrayals, they represent politics we don’t like, they are unpleasant and flawed.

Stories best serve their purposes when they honestly portray human emotion and human behaviour. Anything less becomes manipulative. Therefore, you should expect characters to be flawed. Hating them for this flaw when it is crucial to good storytelling is nonsensical. You need to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes a character is badly conceived and written, like perhaps Wesley Crusher. Hating Wesley Crusher is a waste of effort. You should be annoyed with the writers, directors, and producers. Wesley is a fiction, hating him achieves nothing whereas writing an email to the people who created him, explaining why you have problems with how this character is portrayed, is a more meaningful act. Otherwise, if you really hate these characters that much, stop watching the show or reading the book. It’s that simple.

Cats

Some of this goes back to banana yoghurt: a person will hate cats for preference reasons and wants others to conform to their viewpoint for validation. It’s understandable if someone does not wish to be in the proximity of a cat because of allergies. The dislike arises because of the discomfort it brings. However, this is not a personal act perpetrated by the cat upon the person. The same would be true for dog, horse, or gerbil allergies.

One of the more revealing things you can do is ask someone why they hate cats. You will get reasons like: they are unpredictable, they don’t do as they are told, they don’t give me unconditional love. The reasons are often the same as ones given as to why some men hate women. Sometimes it’s because cats don’t lend themselves to being dominated. What kind of person needs that sort of validation? The unconditional love one always has me scratching my head. If you want unconditional love, why aren’t you giving it?

The most justifiable reason for hating cats is the destruction they can inflict upon the environment. However that isn’t the cat’s fault, they are an animal like any other animal, and behave as they biologically need to. That’s a human problem. We need to better manage our pets. Hating an animal is nonsensical. What are you going to do? Make all of one species extinct? I can understand when people feel that way about large predators like sharks, but killing off all of a species may very well damage our capacity to survive, as it damages the ecosystem.

Smokers

Smoking is a destructive activity. Smoking is killing the person indulging in it. The butts kill animals who accidently eat them and puts poisons into the soil. The smoke is killing friends, family, and strangers who have to inhale its poisons due to proximity. Smoking is incredibly antisocial.

The people who smoke began due to a possible combination of peer pressure and rebellion. They may have wanted to belong to a group representing the type of person they would like to be: tough guys, artists, comedians, intellectual sophisticates, the wealthy smoking on expensive cigars. You would think that alternative peer pressure might reverse that, but cigarettes are an addictive drug. You put the hate on a smoker, they try to stop due to the pressure, find it difficult, then discover they don’t have the personal wherewithal to get past the addiction because you have added to their low self esteem. Those who smoke as a form of rebellion, if you use hatred to stop them, they are just going to smoke harder and in your face.

Anti-vaxxers

Once experience passes out of recent affairs and especially when it passes out of living memory, it becomes unreal to many people. I am just old enough to have experienced other children being crippled and put into iron-lungs from polio. I remember how terrified everyone was of this illness. I understand the necessity of vaccination. Even if some risk may be attached, it’s still less of an issue than the physical devastation that comes with the illness. Jonas Salk, the man who developed the polio vaccine, worked for a federally funded university. When asked if he would patent his cure he said, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

If all our medicines were created with this sort of spirit, I would feel more comfortable about the prescriptions I am given. However, these days the water has become muddied. Large corporations interested in profit rather than your well-being are churning out symptom relievers that may be more dangerous than the symptom they are relieving. I’ve had my own experience with being given a drug for a minor complaint and ending up with a life-threatening side-effect.

So, it’s not surprising that people are angry and concerned about anti-vaxxers threatening our collective health. It’s not surprising that people are angry and distrustful of pharmaceuticals.

When you hate an anti-vaxxer, remember that these are often people who vote for gay rights, are concerned about the climate, want more money going to schools and less to the military industrial complex. In short these are people who are your supporters in many other areas. Why are you alienating them with hatred? How about creating a system whereby they are reassured that you are working in their best interests? How about putting systems in place that better monitor the integrity of research?

Climate-deniers

Hatred of climate-deniers is pretty much what has helped to create a growing rift in our populations.

People at the top of our cultures may well believe the environment is in danger. However, dealing with the issue will cause them to lose power and status. How many oil corporations do you really expect to honestly look at the problem? Maybe money doesn’t trickle down as per the “trickle down” theory, but fear certainly does. To take care of the environment we will have to use less fossil fuels. Using less fossil fuels means fewer jobs in the oil industry. This means fewer jobs in the car industry and many other industries that rely on oil products. That’s an immediate danger. Whereas climate change will be affecting the grandkids and maybe someone will find a cure in that time without us having to change anything. This is crazy thinking, but it is going through people’s minds.

Frightened people, no matter how smart, are irrational people. You hate them and they just get more frightened, because the threats are mounting. Frightened people aren’t going to change their mind. They are just going to crawl deeper into their holes, quaking in fear.

Domineering egotistical eggheads/Emotionally manipulative egotistical gurus

I can get so mad at both of these sorts that I want to spit tacks. They are both out for power.

Certain eggheads want theirs to be the voice of authority regardless of the subject. They will speak outside of their expertise and expect people to fall down at their feet in agreement. They then get huffy when you question them. They are right in telling you to question the world, but that includes them. They are not magically above reproach, especially when their work is funded by corporate grants. Their behaviour can muddy the waters when it comes to convincing people about real dangers.

Hating these people isn’t helpful because they are capable of useful research. However, we should be expecting more honesty, integrity, and humility from our scientists. Theirs is not the highest calling on the planet. If you want to worship at someone’s feet for the importance of their calling, make sure to send your mom a nice card on Mother’s Day.

We find gurus in business as well as religion and spirituality. They can take something genuinely worth knowing and convince people to come on board to learn more. They can give lonely people a sense of community and a sense of purpose. Once they have you hooked, like some sort of social drug, you are then used to forward their status and agenda.

Negative attention gives these people more power. How big is Westboro Baptist really? How many people are involved with that group? However every time they do something shocking, it makes international news. This makes them feel important. News stations are told not to pump up stories about suicides and mass killers, because it encourages others to do the same. Do what you can to curb these people. Hold out a hand of compassion to the people trapped inside, so they have some hope of getting out.

The sin (but not the sinner)

I can see the point in “hating the sin, but not the sinner”. I dislike smoking, but I don’t dislike the people who are doing the smoking. However, hatred is the wrong word and the aphorism is applied indiscriminately. Do you hate left-handedness, but love the person? Hating something a person is born with is cruel and nonsensical: whether it be skin colour, gender, body-shape, ability, etc. This aphorism is a whitewashed excuse for hatred. It’s smiling with a weapon hidden behind your back. “See! I’m a good person because I am smiling…just remember I have a weapon.”

Hatred is a waste of your energy. You will never be able to use it to make a better world. You will just make your own life darker. If you use hatred to topple a destructive regime, it will be replaced with another destructive regime. Just look at any number of countries who have been in a cycle of violence for generations. Have your preferences: recognise toxic activities but just move away from them and be yourself. You change things by imagining better, by demonstrating better, by finding peace and joy inside yourself and sharing it. Then when you knock over a wall of darkness, you aren’t even looking at it…you are still moving ahead toward that brighter world because it is already in your hands.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Finding The Correct Problem

Posted on 15 May 2015 | No responses

When I was growing up my family frequently moved from one small town to another. As anyone who has been in that position can tell you, being the new kid at a school is a misery, doubly so when it’s in a small town. My response to the teasing and bullying was that I just wanted to be left to myself. It was fine as long as I had a couple friends. I didn’t want to be like the “popular” kids in order to fit in. The “popular” kids were horrible. I work hard to be the sort of person I want to know (doesn’t mean I always get it right).

We were close to another family who also frequently moved. Their kids used different tactics. “If only we were like the popular kids, we would fit in and be happy,” seemed to be their outlook. The girls worked hard to become cheerleaders, fashion leaders, and young business leaders. Their brother got into vicious dogs and guns. We played together when we were little, I find it disturbing interacting with some of them now.

I don’t believe the problem was that we didn’t fit in. I believe the problem was that we had moved into insular cultures with people who had never had the opportunity to learn how to accept diversity. It’s a tricky thing trying to determine how much of a situation is your problem and you need to learn, and how much of it is someone else’s problem. Of course if it’s someone else’s problem, but you have to live with the results, then it becomes your problem again.

People are notoriously bad at risk assessment. They are often equally bad at recognising the core of a serious issue. As such they end up fighting the wrong end of the stick and are surprised when that doesn’t resolve things. People want clear black and white situations. They want leaders who can figure out all the hard stuff for them. They want a simple world with simple solutions, so they can get on with things. They want easy targets for relieving their fear, anger, and anxiety. Don’t talk to them about complexity and longterm solutions. Don’t talk to them about justice, when swift vengence seems so much more satisfying.

When you try to enforce people into a gated community of simplistic living, the results aren’t satisfying. That’s because the results sought are unrealistic. People don’t realise that the way they are biting others in order to make their lives manageable is the way in which they will be bitten as well.

This happens in both the right and the left of politics. You have people on the left who are terrified of those who they see as holding “irrational beliefs”. For some it seems the irrational beliefs are what is causing all the world’s problems and anything that has an association with irrational beliefs should be mocked, banished, and hated. Personally, I find fear and hatred as a basis for how people treat others irrational. You need to be looking deeper. You need the patience to understand and address core issues. If you have an axe murderer who believes in the toothfairy, do you blame his belief in the toothfairy for his murdering ways? I don’t recall anything about the toothfairy that should instigate axe wielding. Now he may be crazy enough to claim it does. However, if you subsequently forbid anyone from believing in the toothfairy as a way to stop axe murdering, don’t be surprised if nothing changes. The focus has gone to the wrong problem.

Alternatively, you have people who focus on ensuring they are associated with the “right sort”. They assume the “right sort” have all the answers, own all the goodness, and can be trusted. Therefore, they seem to be a world of safety. People assume that when they have joined the “right sort” that they have achieved a state of knowingness and goodness, and others should take it for granted that they are people you can trust. Their membership is a sort of talisman that represents who they want others to believe they are, whether or not they have taken the time to earn that representation. “I am a good person because I am wearing a badge with a symbol” rather than “I am a good person because I care, I’m willing to take the time to figure out what is fair, and I do good things.” These are the people who cover up a situation whenever a member strays, because it besmirches their very identity. They lose their “get out of jail free” card. If they weren’t looking for shortcuts for their own behaviour, they might take the time to protect other members in their community. This happens among middle class communities, religious communities, intellectual communities, and more.

All groups are made of people and people are flawed. All writings were written by people and therefore carry their flaws. You cannot judge the entirety of an institution based on the behavior of some members. You cannot judge the entire membership of an institution, because you don’t like the institution. Should we do away with democracy because some politicians are bad? Maybe educating the populace to want better would work better in the long run.

The answer is, as always, there are no easy answers. You will always have to learn how to think for yourself. You can’t rely on shortcuts. You have to have good internal measuring sticks based on life-affirming values, which you regularly apply every time you meet a new person, deal with a new group, or face a tricky situation. Be the person you want to see in the world. Model the behaviour you want others to take up, demonstrating its value. Fear is chewing humanity into pieces. That is the problem which most needs addressing. The solution is learning how to feel strong enough in yourself to wish others well, finding the patience to cooperate, and the kindness to do genuine good in the world.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Reminder: Tuesday 12 May is
George Carlin Memorial Freedom of Comic Speech Day!

Posted on 8 May 2015 | No responses

Track down your nearest comedy venue and read out “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine!

More details here.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Basic Income Day

Posted on 1 May 2015 | No responses

EN-blau-dunkel

As automation of the workplace continues to the tune of possibly eliminating half of all current jobs in the next 20 years, unconditional basic income represents the ability to empower labor on an individual basis. A newly gained ability to say “No” to employers, would have an undeniable effect on the sharing of profits through better wages, job conditions, benefits, etc.

The achievement of basic income would be the achievement of a new contract between employer and employee, including the empowerment of the employee to become their own employer. It would mean a new age of innovation and entrepreneurship, where all are free to pursue the goals they wish to pursue, and all work could be recognized for its societal value, instead of only paid work as it stands now.

~Basic Income Day website, http://basicincomeday.org/

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Joan Baez – The Road to Woodstock: The Road to Peace

Posted on 29 April 2015 | No responses

With the executions of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan—Joan Baez, a figure for activism and the power of song, is as relevant today as she was in the 1960s-70s. She worked tirelessly to help secure civil liberties for Americans of African descent and to stop the Vietnam war. She also campaigns to halt the execution of prisoners. In 1992 she held vigil outside of San Quentin State prison when Robert Alton Harris was to be the first person executed in California after the death penalty was reinstated. She held vigil again in December 2005 to stop the execution of Tookie Williams.

Joan Baez popularised the song that typified the era of peaceful protest, “We Shall Overcome“. Listening to Baez sing that song sends shivers down most anyone’s spine. However, her presence is a testimony to the fact that we all need to find the resilience and concern to continue working toward peace and justice throughout our lifetimes, not just for a brief moment in our youth. Noam Chomsky has said, “One of the problems with organising…is that people tend to think—even the activists—that instant gratification is required. You constantly hear: ‘Look, I went to a demonstration and we didn’t stop the war so what’s the use of doing it again?'”

Neil Cole has chosen powerful material for the times in writing Joan Baez – The Road to Woodstock, a cabaret production currently showing at Chapel Off Chapel. Petra Elliott plays ongoing hero Joan Baez. Baez’s vibrato became stylish in her opening era with others bringing that sweet trill to their music as well, notably Buffy Sainte-Marie. Elliott chose not to use that accent, but nevertheless brought a similar strength and honesty to her performance. The show as a whole is about bringing the spirit of Baez to Australia and making it live. Elliott understands this and weaves together an important performance that speaks to us today. The audience appreciated the gentle command she brought to the role and roundly applauded her efforts with calls of “Brava!”.

Supporting the show are Bekkie O’Connor as Janis Joplin and Paul Watson as Bob Dylan. O’Connor is an exceptional singer. I feel the advertising for the show did both Elliott and O’Connor a disservice. The show follows the Joan Baez story, but the advertising seems to imply that you probably don’t know Baez—but come along because it also has Joplin and we all know how cool she is. The image on the Chapel Off Chapel site compounds the problem by making it look like the show is equally about Baez and Joplin, it is not. Expectations are seriously skewed, and all the women deserve better. Watson brought a solid rock and roll quality to his character. It would have been fun to see a touch more interaction between he and Elliott.

Joan Baez – The Road to Woodstock is a good show with great music and some significant insights. The sixties were a time when strong women had strong voices and made a difference. We can have that again: if we choose to speak out with our hearts as well as our minds, if we find it within ourselves to be dedicated to a better world as a way of being not just a moment of passion. I am so pleased Petra Elliott had a chance to stand in such big shoes and bring this woman to our current generation.

Tickets can be purchased through the Chapel Off Chapel website.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Television and Sketch Comedy

Posted on 28 April 2015 | No responses

I remember the first time I went to San Diego Comic Con. Everyone was talking about how the previous year the two major comic book companies, DC and Marvel, were predicting the death of the comic book. They had all but pulled out of that year’s convention. Instead we had a great flowering of independent comic books companies. Their message was that life was never better for their industry.

Fortunes have changed yet again for people in comics. However, I would like to point out that big companies have a tendency to see themselves as the whole of the world. How they are doing is clearly “the universal state of affairs”. When people take advantage of their hubris, the world has a chance to move forward in marvellous and innovative ways. Television and publishing are both facing this issue and are doing a fabulous job of shooting their own feet.

Opportunities are still to be had online. Trade paradigms need to shift and people need to learn how to cooperate more in order to see a further flowering of online creativity. Sketch comedy is an example of where online is trumping television in a big way. Television execs could be harvesting loads of online talent. Instead they disparage sketch comedy and refuse to compete. Either they dominate or nothing seems to be their policy. This is also your entry point, provided you are willing to work with other sketch comedians and video makers.

TV executives are increasingly under pressure to keep viewers on screen rather than online as they defend the bastion of terrestrial broadcast, from the scourge of digital innovation. And to do that they need big names and convoluted contracts and licensing to ‘give you something that nobody else will’. Being funny doesn’t just cut it anymore; you’ve got to have commercial value.
~Adam Dahrouge, “Where has all the TV sketch comedy gone?

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Why The Arts Are Vital

Posted on 16 April 2015 | No responses

I helped organise an evening of lectures about the history of Australia and its peace movements around 1915. Given the event was to be nearly three hours, I felt we needed to break the time up with live music between each lecture. Our musicians did an admirable job performing songs relevant to the subject and the era. They brought the events described to life. A few people’s eyes were tearing by the last song. Afterward we shared a meal of homemade sandwiches, cakes, and hot drinks.

The arts are crucial to our well-being and our survival. We are so surrounded by human aesthetic that, like a fish who cannot conceive of water because it takes water for granted, we are unaware of the nature and power of artistry and therefore take it for granted.

Artistic design goes into our clothes, our houses, our offices, the packaging of our food, our cars and trains. Almost nothing is untouched by an aesthetic sensibility. You could say the aesthetics are an optional extra, but we are strongly attracted to aesthetics for good reasons. Sadly, our ignorance makes us vulnerable to the manipulation that is possible when creative expression is misused. Most significantly art has been turned into a commodity and removed from the hands of the populace. People no longer create their culture, but are given it by a power elite.

Importance

I would posit that the arts are important for many reasons, but I would like to focus on two in particular: our ability to evolve thought, and our ability to form alliances.

Evolving Thought

Mammals play when they are young. This is a crucial period in a young creature’s existence. Through play they are learning the skills they need to survive later in life. But this isn’t a mechanical formality. Young animals have a plasticity of thought that is less available to them later in life. Every generation is going to be born into differing circumstances. They will be playing within those circumstances honing their skills precisely for the challenges they will face. Changing behaviour in order to survive is much faster than waiting hundreds of generations to grow an extra thumb. Certainly some behaviour will be instinctual, but this is combined with a moment of innovation in an animal’s life.

Neoteny, the continuation of a childlike state, is found amoung creatures who survive by thinking and then creatively manipulating their environment. Creatures who include tool use in their behaviour will tend toward neoteny. Creatures who need to form complex relationships with others of their kind also tend toward neoteny.

Human beings have selected for intelligence as our favoured tool for survival combined with cooperation. As such neoteny and the mental plasticity it brings has been an important part of our evolution. Just as you exercise to maintain muscle strength, you create art to maintain the plasticity of childhood. This is not art’s sole reason for being, but it’s a biologically significant one. Showing your capacity to think creatively by making a partner laugh, moving them with a poem or song, dancing, etc are good mating activities. You show you are someone who can innovate and solve problems that might threaten the family. Another biologically significant role.

I have been a post-graduate supervisor. You only get a PhD for original research. I have known students who are good at remembering facts. I have known students who are good at solving set problems. However, if they have divorced themselves from play and creativity, they have difficulty conceiving of new research. They get too bound up in having “right” and “accepted” answers validating their sense of self-esteem. They have not allowed enough free intellectual play into their lives to access “ah-ha” moments. They have to go beyond worrying about: is my answer “right or wrong”, and focus on all the possibilities no matter how crazy.

Research done with MRIs is showing that all thoughts start as emotions. We then use emotion to motivate thought and action. Emotion is also a significant factor in remembering thoughts, facts, and events. This is why people are conceiving of ways to use the arts to help inform our descendants where nuclear waste may be buried.

Through art we also practise our emotional skills developing the means to widen our thought and prioritise the life-affirming for ourselves and this planet. Caring is a valuable and mature form of thought.

You will note that oppressive regimes regularly reduce people’s opportunities to play and create, only allowing that which they have sanctioned to go out to the masses. No playing or creating means less thinking, fewer alternative solutions conceived, and less emotional resilience to their dictatorial behaviour.

Forming Alliances

As hunters go, humans are terrible! And yet we are clearly omnivores. We don’t have claws, long teeth, or thick skins. We don’t run all that fast, we aren’t exceptional at swimming or climbing trees. Our brains make it possible to defend and feed ourselves independently as adults, but our young have an extended period of dependence. For the human race to survive we are built to cooperate.

Animals that cooperate do a lot of playing that serves to train them in conflict resolution, coordinating activities, and tending to each other’s needs. Self-reflection, the very definition of sapience, is extremely useful for effective socialisation when combined with empathy. It makes it possible to predict actions and needs. Beyond simple empathy we need emotional bonds to help motivate conflict resolution, coordination, and caring. We form those bonds through shared emotional experience such as dancing, singing, joking, storytelling, or group meals.

Not only do these activities increase our bonds they help us to emotionally evolve. We have an opportunity to see ourselves in others and think is that really who I am…is that really who I want to be? Do I want to be more like what I see or do I want to change in some manner? More often than not we want to be more like those around us, because we fear ostracism. This is not wrong or bad: it’s instinctual because we aren’t good at surviving alone. However, a healthy human population allows for greater diversity without fear, since that provides a greater array of tools for survival. We don’t always know what is going to be helpful in the future. A certain amount of tolerance creates greater security. Sharing culture and art helps to build that tolerance.

Of course our cooperative nature goes beyond other humans. We are unique in the extent to which we form alliances with other animals. We are clearly Homo socialis, as well as Homo sapiens and Homo ludens.

squid

Some have posited that we are attracted to animals because their large eyes remind us of human baby eyes. If that’s our primary criteria for forming alliances, why aren’t we more attracted to squid? They have large eyes, they also have large fleshy heads like babies.

A horse doesn’t look remotely like a baby and yet some of the earliest human paintings are of our relationship with the horse.

Lascaux horse

Our ability to empathise and form relationships with animals has been highly evolutionarily viable. We move faster by riding animals, we survive wider climatic circumstances by using animal wool for clothing, we ensure ongoing sources of food by tending to animals for their eggs, milk, and meat. Other animals help us to eliminate pests and assist in managing herds.

Much of our earliest art is about our interactions with animals. Much of our earliest religions involve worshipping certain animals. Not only do we imagine animals as having inner lives like our own and anthropomorphise them, we also like to imagine ourselves as animals, dressing up as various creatures and playing in a way where we are mimicking their behaviours and skills. We are wired to at least see mammals as a continuity of beingness connected to ourselves. Mammals are frequently seen as family at some level. Our arts and our play reflect this—watch nearly any Disney animated feature.

The Problems

Our connections with art and play are strong. People speak of starving artists without thinking about what that means. We have a whole class of people who are willing to go through hardship because they value the experience of creating that much, even when they aren’t always receiving attention from an audience. You have people who are jealous of artists and insist that they should starve, because artists get a certain sort of freedom and joy unavailable to most people. Certainly some people are attracted to the arts because they crave the status of fame and fortune it can sometimes give a few. If they don’t get lucky in their early years, these sorts usually burn out fast and leave.

Our culture has forced many artists into marketing. Transnational corporate states are taking over some of the best minds of our generation in order to direct them toward the creating of consumer propaganda. Advertising is mostly about fear and status. If you are frightened that you will lose status by not smelling right, not wearing the right clothes, not having the right car, etc, you are more likely to purchase these products for a fleeting sense of security. The problem is this sort of constant stream of fear-mongering breaks down social relations because we are constantly fearful of one another.

We are surrounded by stories that represent normalcy: who you need to be to be accepted, who you need to be to feel secure. When our lives do not match the story, we may do ourselves damage trying to fit in or find ourselves isolated because we don’t dare openly express that difference. The people who control the stories can control how you feel about yourself as a person, and how safe you are. People who control the stories can also obscure the past, ensuring only certain stories go out. We then think their version of reality must be true and we do not have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. This is currently happening with ANZAC events this year in Australia, where stories about the broken soldiers of WWI are being deleted from historical records in Canberra and conveniently forgotten. So much for “Lest We Forget”. Of course by doing this a government can insulate people from thinking about consequences, then with impunity send our children off to war.

We even have stories that cut us off from the reality of our living environment. We see images of happy cows and chickens on wide open farms cared for by happy farmers, insulating us from the poverty farmers often face and the cruelty to which animals are often subjected.

Our culture is being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands through stringent copyright regimes that benefit large businesses. They like to make artists think they are being protected by these laws, so they can trot out attractive poster children for their propaganda as to the “necessity” of their regimes, but it’s a smoke-screen. Artists are not particularly benefitting.

Think about what it means to have only one class of people selecting the stories, the music, the images, even the sports you get to see every day. What you think you are experiencing as real life is mostly a few powerful people’s perspective on life, and they have no idea what it is like to be you.

Some Solutions

This has to change. We have to put arts and play back into everyone’s hands. We have to re-democratise art.

We have to ensure more people can have access to pure art careers without having to commercialise beyond simple sales of their work. We have to ensure everyone has the time to play and to create. We have to encourage people to particiapte in local arts and to go to live events. We need to use our technology to develop more new sources of stories, storytelling, music, images, etc.

Probably the biggest ask is that we must use the arts to help change people’s attitudes and values. We cannot continue in a world which has a price tag written on each person’s forehead, and that is the determinant of how well or ill they will be treated. Industrialised society has turned us into meat machines. We go to assembly line style schools that train us to be cogs in assembly line style work environments, and are taught that the only things of value are work and basic physical survival. You can’t actually survive for long when only food and clothing needs are addressed. Physical as well as emotional survival demands we form emotional bonds with friends and families, and that we have time to rest, play, and create. These are optional to a screwdriver not a person.

We have to use our creativity to build life-affirming alternatives. The goal is not to be rich and famous: it is to experience security, acceptance, and happiness. As artists we can envision that world and help others to envision and create that world. Only in this way will we have a future worth living in.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

2015 Melbourne Comedy Festival: Playing to the Young
• Jon Bennett—
It’s Rabbit Night!!!
• Yackandandah Players—Scaredy-Cat

Posted on 12 April 2015 | 1 response

This morning I was at a pathology centre having blood drawn for testing. When the nurse asked about my employment, I dutifully spoke about my comedy festival show in order to encourage another bum on my seats. She was a middle-aged woman who had never taken a writing course in her life, and the only performance experience she ever had was playing at theatre as a child. Now many people have begun in the arts from even more meagre origins than this. She told me her family had told her that she should write children’s books or plays. I groaned inside, but wasn’t going to gainsay her when she had a needle stuck into my arm.

Many artists groan inside when people make light of the amount of skill and effort that goes into becoming a good creator, and how much more goes into becoming a financially successful creator. Many people seem unable to grasp that being an actor, comedian, musician, or writer is in many ways no different than being an engineer, risk manager, or programmer. It takes years learning how to execute these jobs, and once you are employed then you have to put in at least 40 hours a week to get by. Even people who respect this much of the equation will put their toe in the water by starting with children’s media, thinking it is easier. It is not.

Children, unlike adults, will only laugh when they think something is funny…not just to be polite. Children are not an amorphous group. What is funny to the primary school children is not funny for the tween-agers, and definitely not the teenagers. If you go into this genre of art making, you either have to be intimately involved with and enjoy children, or have a passion for the style of art that is created for children—preferably both.

Until this year the comedy festival has only had 18+ listings or listings for kids (primary school children). Tween (10-13) to teenagers were only appealed to through the Class Clowns program. I have been listing my shows as 13+ and this year for the first time, my production is one of the first they put into a “family” show designation—which is precisely my target audience.

For the child audience you use a simpler story structure, but it has to demonstrate an understanding of the experiences and psychology of persons at this stage of development. A child’s concept of the world is different than yours. A child’s priorities are different than yours. When they laugh at a poo joke, it’s less likely to be out of transgressive humour and more to do with the effort they still have to put in to control bodily functions. You won’t find that angry edge.

Tweenagers will still enjoy playful, dynamic comedy, but they are already becoming aspirational. They want stories with empowered children or protagonists with whom they can identify. Plots can take a more complex turn.

Teenagers tend to experience humour deficit disorder. They want to be taken seriously and be respected. Straight stand-up will appeal to them more than anything that might make them feel or seem foolish. They are trying to establish themselves in the world. If something playful is highly popular with the university set, such as The Mighty Boosh or Adventure Time, they may let their guard down.

Family comedy is an exercise in socialisation. The comedy needs to be in reach of the children, with some of the trappings of childhood, but aimed smack dab at the adults. This is something I learned when I was a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and again when I was a judge for the Aurealis literary awards. The books may ostensibly be for kids, but it’s the adults who buy them and read them to their off-spring. You have to get them on-side first.

So mom and dad take their kids to a show. They laugh hard. Their primary school children will laugh because their parents are laughing, and will learn what their family finds funny. The tweenagers, who have already learned the family code of humour, will understand when to laugh on their own. The teenagers will look around to see if any other teenagers are laughing before allowing a grin to creep across their faces. I actually believe this sort of family and social bonding can be healthy, provided we give people something worth bonding over.

This festival I have seen two “children’s” shows. Both have people of real talent putting them together. One is struggling from mis-aimed marketing.

It’s Rabbit Night!!! (family edition)

Jon Bennett, the creator of It’s Rabbit Night!!!, is a consummate storyteller. I’ve seen people get utterly lost in his tales, such that they forget where they are. His are humorous and dramatic rip-roarers from his youth.

People have this weird idea that if a story is about a person of a certain age, it must be for a person of that age. To Kill a Mockingbird was written for and originally sold to an adult audience, but because the viewpoint character is a young girl, a story about racism and rape is now seen as for children. I have a feeling Bennett was convinced to do a children’s version of his show because of his subject matter. At least someone was smart enough to put the words “family edition” rather than “children’s edition” next to the title. However the promotional graphic that looks ironic for the adult version, gives the mistaken impression that it is for primary school children in the family version. Bennett’s humour is far too sophisticated for people that young.

He tells tales of the farm and the realities you find there. What he has to say is educational about life when you are forced to face genuine consequences, without the buffer of supermarkets and the media. I believe young people at some point do need to think about what it means to raise an animal for food. I would still recommend It’s Rabbit Night!!! (family edition), but bring your tweenagers to this.

Scaredy-Cat

Scaredy-Cat is a rollicking piece of comic theatre. Writer/director Brendan Hogan is clearly inspired by the film Moonrise Kingdom in this story about the Yackandandah Little Troopers. Hogan is a school principal and drama teacher. He also participates in community theatre, helping young people gain experience in performance. He knows his target audience and wisely created a story that is focussed on young people and performed by young people (even the adult parts).

I get annoyed with reviewers who are too soft on children’s media, because when something special comes around, it’s difficult to express how far ahead the particular work really is. I have only a few quibbles with Scaredy-Cat. The performance needs to be snappier. This show has already gone quite a distance beyond amateur panto. If you cut the story to sixty minutes and sped up the scene changes, you would have more professional polish. I would also spend time practising clearer enunciation with the kids. I know they aren’t professionals, and fortunately the plot makes it clear what they are probably saying, but it wasn’t always easy deciphering their lines.

Otherwise I would say, Scaredy-Cat is pure genius. Hogan has created a top-notch ensemble of young performers who each get their moment in the spotlight. They are playing caricatures, but they are loveable cartoon ones that deserve further outings in future productions. The story has a lovely sense of the absurd and derives its humour from understanding the quirks of childhood. This is the sort of thing I really wish ABC2 or ABC3 would produce for television. The Yackandandah Players deserve to be proud of their efforts.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

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