Saturday, 30 January 2016

My Kitchen Rules 2016

One thing I don't enjoy about summer television - apart from missing out on the series I manage to get addicted to through the year that aren't on - is the overload of advertising for upcoming shows for the new year. And, we've reached the cliffhanger point now - based on a surfeit of ads - My Kitchen Rules 2016 starts tomorrow night. TOMORROW NIGHT, PEOPLE!!!!!

We won't be watching it this year. 

We did end up watching last year and got hooked, despite the increasingly irritating bad behaviour of many of the contestants. The two women from Mount Isa, who won the hearts of most viewers, created a significant balance. Likewise, the two guys who won the series were just nice guys.
MKR 2015 semi final. Photo, The Sydney Morning Herald
However, based on two ads in particular for the upcoming series, it appears that the producers have gone all out to find the most feral individuals possible, and they're past what either Dragon Dad or I want to watch. Click on the links and have a look - they won't take long:

The young woman in the first ad, one of a pair of young lawyers is unnecessarily arrogant, and dangerously so - most of what she's seen to say in the ad is said before she and her cooking partner have hosted their initial dinner party. I'd have thought that was just plain foolish, to be honest, and she's just so rude! The second ad is intended to introduce the pair of guys - the miners - but the focus ends up being on another young woman from a different team who is beyond rude. There's another ad that shows her taking a shot at judge Manu Feidel's weight - I couldn't find that online. Also, the list of things she either doesn't like or refuses to eat - because she eats super healthy (no carbs, no oils, not much of anything really...) - is enormous. What the hell is she doing on a cooking show? 

Oh yes, silly me. While, apparently, MKR IS a cooking show, and it's all about the food, the reality (it being reality TV) is that it's become, with each season, more and more about the behaviour of the contestants - and from this year's ads, it would appear that they've been chosen specifically because they're rude and arrogant and can be guaranteed to make a spectical of themselves on TV.

Dragon Dad keeps asking - out loud - when we see the ads why anyone would do that to themselves. Ultimately, the damage isn't being done to the show or the victims of their bad behaviour - it's what whowever many million viewers end up thinking of them by the end that's the issue. While it might not matter in the scheme of things what most people think of us individually, there will be times that the negative impact would have to be important - say at work, or a job interview even... I do remember the girl who was chosen by Australia's first Bachelor, Anna Heinrich - a lawyer - saying in an interview that I read some time after the end of the series, that people no longer took her seriously as a lawyer...funny that...

The thing is, the bad behaviour isn't even necessary - it really isn't. I also watched Masterchef last year - the whole series, for the first time in years. I got a bit over cooking shows, actually, competition shows in general and took a break from all of them. The contrast between Masterchef and MKR last year couldn't have been more marked. In MKR there was the Melbourne socialite pair, Ash and Camilla, and a couple from Perth, Kat and Andre. Kat, in particular, produced some notable tantrums that had Dragon Dad firmly of the opinion that she was a complete psycho, and rattling on with various lines about the horrors of living with her if that's what she was really like. Ash and Camilla certainly had their moments too, and were unapologetic at what they viewed as their apparent rightful place in society compared to some of the others. 

Changing over to Masterchef, and allowing for the stresses of some of the heats there, and inevitable tears - which drive Dragon Dad absolutely bonkers, but then, he's never been in a professional kitchen (I spent years in them) and the pressure cooker environment can bring trained chefs to tears on a really bad day, so meh, a few tears... What there ISN'T on Masterchef, is the bitching, the tantrums, contestants flinging themselves on the floor when something doesn't work, or the attacks on other contestants. How much of that is governed by the fact that the contestants themselves have a vote on MKR while Masterchef is all based on the judge's (professionals) opinions, I have no idea, but the 'strategic' - read sabotage - vote was definitely in evidence on last year's MKR. And on Masterchef, it was ALL about the food - because, hello, it's a COOKING show. Sure, we got to know the contestants, but the guts of each episode is FOOD.

So, here's the thing - we're not watching MKR this year because, apart from the irritation factor, by watching we become complicit in this bad behaviour being OK. More than that, it's creating a twisted form of celebrity. HOW is that OK? Kids watch these shows - I'd say that kids are, these days, an enormous percentage of the audience for all of these shows - and the results of the singing competitions usually bears that thought out... So, our children are watching these exhibitions of quite appalling behaviour, that because it's out there on TV, is somehow OK? Really? 

The Block is another example - and I've only ever watched two complete series of that, the first one and the year before last, I think. That show has been characterised by awful behaviour from the get go. In one episode last year that I did see a bit of, the woman from the Adelaide couple staged a massive tantrum and walked off the program.

Obviously, what we see is engineered by the editors of the programs. The cameras are running full time through any given period and what we see is a much edited finished product. However, all the contestants know that, and while it's inevitable to see magazine and newspaper articles after episodes blaming the editing for the bad impressions created, the bad behaviour HAPPENED. It's on film. We might not be seeing the entire context, but we're certainly seeing the tantrums, the name calling, etc - so it happened. 

WHY would anyone in their right mind put themselves in that situation? Clearly the producers of these shows aren't giving it a thought within any sort of moral context, for them it's ALL about the ratings - a nice big fat meltdown means RATINGS...and in the weeks where there's a really big one, we know it's going to happen because that's the entire focus of the ads. 

The Stepson was addicted to all these shows - they may still be his chosen viewing. He thought the tantrums were hilarious. I've known him since he was 13, and he was a quite young 13, and he thought that stuff was funny. He still thinks they are, although that's tempered by comments about 'psycho woman' (Kat) as well. But, he tosses it off - although we have had a few conversations about it and when pressed, he's quite clear that he thinks it's all pretty stupid.  

While I know that by not watching MKR this year, and only depriving Channel Seven of two potential viewers for their rating stats, is highly unlikely to make any impression at all on the people who create the show, I would urge people to stop and think about what we're fostering by continuing to watch most of these shows. If I watch any reality TV this year, it'll be Masterchef, because that show is creating amazing opportunities for people who really care about food and going onto careers in the industry - last year's winner, Billie McKay, is at The Fat Duck - Heston Blumenthal's restaurant in the UK as a result. That, I admire, although it's never a pathway I'd choose to take. The people who land on MKR, a lot of them, well, I really don't know. If they're aiming at creating notoriety for themselves, many of them certainly are, but thankfully, in most cases we never see them again - Kat does apear to have vanished off the face of the TV planet, and long may she stay vanished. I sincerely hope that the nasty individuals in the ads for this year's show go off early in the piece so that the ad time on Channel Seven isn't dominated by more displays like the ones that have already been screened.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The NRL and the age of entitlement

Mitchell Pearce. Photo: The Roar
I've written about entitlement issues before, mostly in regard to teenagers. You can read that HERE. However, it's not just the kids who can sometimes be called on an exaggerated sense of entitlement by any means. In the wake of the Mitchell Pearce debacle, social media has exploded with commentary - as was to be expected in an age of smart phones and a media network always hungry for a sensational image or video. For me, Clementine Ford's piece in Daily Life really summed it up. 

Rather than a general rant about yet another NRL player doing something vile while 'off duty' (so to speak), Ford takes a hard look at the culture of the NRL, and the overriding sense that comes from constant stories like that of Pearce, that the players themselves, and the organisation don't appear to hold themselves to generally appropriate standards. Not only is an incident like Pearce's recent efforts not really news any more, given that just about any time players from the NRL are out to play and there's alcohol involved we can almost count on hearing - or seeing - about assaults, inappropriate sexual behaviour, violence and other socially unacceptable carrying on. We can also be reasonably sure, based on a string of like incidents, that the culprits are unlikely to suffer too much as a consequence, unlike their victims. As Ford says in her article, while there may well be civil charges and fines, the NRL doesn't appear to see that their players' behaviour is at issue - since it is rare that they, as an organisation take steps to bring any consequences to bear.

There is some talk that in Pearce's case, he may be stood down from The Rooster's captaincy. However, if we look at the fate of other players who've crossed the line, we've good reason to expect that if, as a result of his behaviour, he does lose his place at Easts, it's quite likely he'll turn up sometime down the track playing for another club. 

Whether they like it or not, these men are public figures, and are - supposedly - role models. Our kids, if they're into League, look up to them. They represent a dream many football mad kids have that one day, they too may be up there playing professionally. Mrs Woog wrote today about having to tell one of her sons what Pearce had done - Pearce being one of his favourite players. HOW do you tell a young boy about that? How to you frame the story of a drunken binge where a man out of control harasses a woman in her own home for sex, repeatedly, and when rebuffed he mimes a sexual act with the woman's dog, urinates all over her furniture and refuses to leave when asked? How do you explain a world that, as the story breaks, features people blaming the woman in question - brushing away what the man did because 'that's just men'?

Dragon Dad and I were talking about it yesterday, and he said to me, "When I have a few drinks (which, by the way isn't all that often, really) I don't force myself on a woman, and then consider playing that I'm having sex with a dog - let alone wee all over the furniture! Why don't I do that? Because it's nowhere in my head as something that's OK to do!" 

As he went on to say - and it was a mighty fine rant, too - alcohol usually brings out what is latent in people. Give Dragon Dad a couple of beers, and he'll be a happy, giggly and entertaining mess - he really can't drink. Give my late father a few, and he'd turn angry and violent. My ex husband would become sullen and aggro. Of the three, Dragon Dad's reaction to booze is closest to what you see in him sober. The other two had a veneer over the nasty stuff that fell off when under the influence. So it begs the question, given the history of bad behaviour (to put it nicely) of NRL players when drunk, who those men really are, and why it is that they're so revered...

Because they can run fast and kick a ball? Because the big ones can charge and send bodies flying all over the field? Because they earn such ridiculous amounts of money just playing footy?

None of those things makes those men special, smart, or even successful, really. It just means they've been VERY VERY lucky. The percentage of men who get to play at that elite level, of the thousands who want to, is tiny. Obviously, that creates all sorts of pressures for them - but that's no excuse for foul behaviour off the field. Yet, it continues to happen. When are the NRL executives, coaches and managers going to step up and own that there is a serious problem in the culture of League football today? It's not OK to continue to mitigate the possible damage done to the image of the clubs and pass if off as 'men behaving badly', as if that's to be expected and somehow understood. I'm sure as hell the woman in the Pearce story is still struggling to understand how things got so out of control at her house...

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey - should we have known they were sick?

In less than two weeks, the world has lost three much loved and greatly influential performers. David Bowie, icon of the unique; Alan Rickman, suave bad guy with the honeyed voice to die for; and Glenn Frey, guitarist and co-founder of rock band The Eagles. 

These men were all 'icons' in their way. Bowie, chameleon extraordinaire, and the master of reinvention before that was even a thing, made it possible for generations of fans to accept the 'different' in themselves. His landmark ventures in music carved out a unique pathway through the work of more mainstream music makers. Rickman, classically trained and a force to be reckoned with on stage, by all accounts, will always be loved/hated as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movie franchise, but there were so many other roles he played where he made a huge impact, and gathered fans. Frey was the co-founder of one of the iconic bands of my childhood and adolescence, and many others of my generation. I know all the words to Hotel California - who doesn't? There is still a timelessness to their music - much of which he wrote or co-wrote - that speaks of serious talent and knowledge of music that we see so rarely these days in the contemporary music scene. 

Much of the shock appears to have been due to two main factors: none of them were very old - late 60s, and all of them were ill and had chosen to keep that information private. In today's terms, the late sixties are no longer seen as the venerable age they once were. The bibilical 'three score years and ten' (70) that we have traditionally been allotted is certainly a landmark age, but the average life expectancy in Australia is currently around 82. Our sense of what is really 'old' has changed, and while we know and accept that illness and accidents all too frequently take people much younger, we are able to reconcile ourselves to the death of someone in their 80s - they had a 'good run', after all. 

That they were all three ill, and decided to keep that information within their families is absolutely fine, as far as I'm concerned. Yes, it adds to the shock for fans, but that's their decision. There's an agenda out there, particularly in chronic illness circles, so I'm certainly seeing a degree of backlash as far as Frey is concerned, that people in public positions should be open about illness, so that awareness can be created about the diseases, which will benefit those of us with similar illness who don't have a public face. I have a real issue with the assumption that because someone is a public figure, they have an obligation to also be advocates for their disease. Certainly, there have been famous people who have been open - Jane McGrath, among others, did that for breast cancer in Australia. Due to her profile, and that of her husband who has continued the work, the foundation formed in her name has been instrumental in placing a large number of specialised cancer nurses in medical centres to benefit other women suffering the disease. That's all to the good - BUT, it was a personal choice made by McGrath. It remains, and should remain, an entirely personal decision as to whether or not anyone - public figure or otherwise - creates a public profile based on their disease and educates and/or advocates for it. Should some individuals chose not to should not mean that they be castigated - during or after their lives.
I am beyond angry to see the level of hysteria and panic in the groups I belong to on Facebook over the claim by Glenn Frey's manager that it was the drugs he took for RA and Ulcerative Colitis that killed him. One - to my mind - highly ill-advised, irresponsible and disrespectful comment has sparked a rash of posts and threads with people worrying about what this means for them, wanting to know which meds he was talking about (having said what he did, he followed up by saying he'd been legally advised to not divulge the particular drugs), and the inevitable comments from the woo merchants alluding to Big Pharma and the poisons that they call drugs that we should all, apparently, avoid.

The official statement from the Eagles website, from his family and friends, is that he died from complications of RA, UC and pneumonia. THAT is what should be respected. I don't think, also, that writing posts and comments berating him posthumously for not having been more public about having RA is useful either. This phenomena seems to me to be more rife in chronic illness circles than other diseases - somehow, if a person has cancer, there is a different level of respect granted them for their fight, and space to do that without the requirement that they do anything beyond manage their lives with the disease. I haven't seen similar comments being made about either David Bowie or Alan Rickman, neither of whom made their fights with cancer public knowledge. 

That the family did make public Frey's fifteen year struggle with RA and UC public with the announcement of his death is, I believe, useful in itself, because it does raise public awareness of the seriousness of diseases like RA. All too often, those of us living with the disease struggle to be taken seriously, by doctors and non-medical people alike. Unfortunately, his manager's comment about the drugs has taken away from that, by introducing a level of conspiracy theory that not only raises great fear and unease among other people with RA, but it downplays the intrinsic seriousness of the disease itself. 

For myself, it is a sobering reminder that my disease is serious, that I have to maintain focus on ensuring that I continue to have a good medical team around me, and that I keep educating myself about advances in research and emerging treatments so I always give myself the best shot of keeping it controlled. What I see online suggests to me that, unfortunately, too many people don't do that. They're so fast to grab onto sensational moments like that comment about Frey's drugs, without realising that the combination of diseases Frey had, in addition to surgery for the UC, and the complication of pneumonia appear to have been a perfect storm of pathologies that brought about his death. We DON'T KNOW any more than the family have chosen to make public, and we can't assume anything. Everyone with this disease presents differently, and everyone responds differently to accepted medical protocols. Instead of ricocheting wildly into the realms of supposition and panic, we should instead be reminding ourselves that Frey was ill with a serious disease, and all too tragically, he died. As did Bowie and Rickman from their respective cancers.   

The world has lost three remarkable men who contributed enormously in their respective fields, and we will be poorer for losing them. That is enough. Zichrono livracha, and may their memories always be a blessing.