Posts Tagged Sydney Morning Herald
The list of what can be better described as “tributes” than obituaries marking the passing of film critic Roger Ebert (including one by President Obama) reflect the tremendous impact that he had on the cinematic world. To pick just one, the New Yorker‘s Alex Ross said that:
The wonder of discovering “Aguirre, Wrath of God” or Errol Morris’s “Gates of Heaven” redounded on the man whose enthusiasm led you across the threshold. It could have been anyone, I suppose, but for quite a few of us, it was Ebert. There was some kind of missionary fire beneath the easy, conversational surface of his writing.
Ebert knew cinema better than anyone else. One of the most touching pieces of writing that I have ever read was his reflection on losing the ability to speak due to cancer, which meant that he could no longer get to know actors, directors, and producers the way he used to. Still, he wrote some of the most insightful reviews out there – as well as some of the most scathing. Take, for example, this excerpt of his review of the goddawful second Transformers movie:
The plot is incomprehensible. The dialog of the Autobots®, Decepticons® and Otherbots® is meaningless word flap. Their accents are Brooklyese, British and hip-hop, as befits a race from the distant stars. Their appearance looks like junkyard throw-up. They are dumb as a rock. They share the film with human characters who are much more interesting, and that is very faint praise indeed. …
The human actors are in a witless sitcom part of the time, and lot of the rest of their time is spent running in slo-mo away from explosions, although–hello!–you can’t outrun an explosion.
Reading this review and others brought to mind another critic’s review that I had seen recently: the review of The Walking Dead season 3 finale written by Giles Hardie, the Entertainment Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald‘s website.
The comparison was not exactly flattering.
You see, reviews serve two purposes for readers. The first and most obvious is for people who have yet to experience whatever is being reviewed (for the sake of convenience, I will assume a TV show from here). Here, the reviewer’s job is both to give their audience a sense of what the show is about, and to say whether or not it is worth seeing.
The other purpose is for those who have seen the show already. Here, the reviewer is there to help their audience to process what they have just seen. For this reason, I always look up reviews straight after I see anything very thought-provoking. A good reviewer is there as an expert speaking to the masses. They can point out techniques used that most people would miss. They can put the show in context and explain how it relates to other shows, what its makers were trying to achieve, and what kinds of themes it had beneath its surface.
Roger Ebert was not just a good reviewer, he was a great reviewer. Whether or not I agreed with his assessment of a movie, his reviews were always entertaining and insightful. They were easy to read and, without fail, I would walk away with a better understanding of the movie.
That brings me back to Giles Hardie.
Hardie is currently trying to fill the shoes of Doug Anderson – the Herald‘s long-time TV critic, who was recently one of hundreds of layoffs that the Herald‘s parent company Fairfax Media made last year in order to cut costs. I can only assume, therefore, that Hardie is being paid a lot less than Anderson was to do more or less the same job. If that is indeed the case, boy are they getting what they pay for.
The review starts out with the sub-heading “So what happened?” It then proceeds to not so much “run” through the episode as “trawl” through it – he quite literally reprises every moment in the entire episode, pausing to interject with “funnies” like this:
Over at the prison Carl is angry. It isn’t clear if this is because Rick almost betrayed Michonne, if it is the first signs of post-apocalyptic puberty, or if it is because Rick called Shotgun on the road trip they are packing the cars for.
Get it? Because Rick called shotgun? Hilarious right!!!
And there’s the reflection on the episode, which comes across as completely brainless (I’m really sorry, I couldn’t help myself). For the benefit of those who haven’t seen the episode, I’ll give my thoughts on the episode, as well as a more extensive critique of Hardie’s thoughts, below.
I do want to say, however, that I do not have any animus towards Hardie. He isn’t a great TV critic, but not everyone has to be – I’m sure he’s not bad at being the online entertainment editor for the Herald. What is sad to me is that the online entertainment editor also has to double as the TV critic these days after the real TV critic is laid-off. Critics do an important job, and good ones definitely draw me (and I’m sure others) to a publication.
Publications like the Herald are taking exactly the wrong approach to the digital age. They are resisting change for as long as possible, then cutting their biggest assets – their writing staff. Fairfax is still delaying putting up a paywall around the Herald and the Age, years after everyone else did it, and its pages seem to be filling with more and more syndicated content instead. All that means is that when the paywall does finally go up, there will be no reason to subscribe.
So what did Hardie love about the season? The Governor:
The beauty of this season was they gave us a villain, a live villain, who could have his own character arc and ambitions. This was always the struggle while the zombies were the main threat, they are not only nearly inanimate physically, they are entirely unmoving as characters. … The Governor is a great character, who posed an evil-genius threat. He also gave a standard by which to measure all other evil, and this as much as anything facilitated Merle’s journey back to… well his own approximation of goodness.
Before I talk about the Governor, I want to address that Merle comment. I didn’t see Merle going on a “journey” to some kind of goodness, so much as Merle being the same old Merle, then suddenly going “hey, you know what would be a great idea? Why don’t I suddenly do something really dramatic and completely out of character, without any real explanation?” Merle’s journey was not facilitated by the Governor, it was facilitated by bad screenwriting.
As for the Governor, I don’t necessarily disagree that having a human villain is a good idea. The problem is that the Governor was about as one-dimensional as the zombies. It took a few episodes for the show to tell us just how evil and twisted he really was – and that was some entertaining television. After that, it started to feel like the Governor could just jump out in front of a crowd wearing a t-shirt saying “I’m a bad guy” and start mowing people down with an assault rifle and nobody would notice that he was a bad guy.
In fact, it took the governor jumping out in front of a crowd and mowing people down with an assault rifle for them to realise quite how bad he was. Here was Hardie’s take:
The Governor’s genocidal betrayal of his people was, well, necessary from a narrative perspective. It was also terrifyingly believable from what we knew of his character. That was the final chapter in The Governor’s journey from beatific leader with a room full of heads and a zombie-girl in a pillowcase to out-and-out bad guy.
I do want to say that I find the use of the term “genocide” here to be quite offensive. The Governor shot a few deserters. There are a lot of words to describe that: homicidal, sociopathic, psychopathic, insane, murderous, brutal, massacre, etc. What he did not do was try to wipe-out any race of people. Ergo, not a genocide. Genocide is a very serious thing and it’s not a word that should be thrown around like this.
Also, this little massacre was not “terrifyingly believable” and it does not complete any journeys. The Governor has been an “out-and-out bad guy” for half a season already. The only “journey” this may complete is the journey from a smart bad guy to a dumb bad guy. Until now, the Governor had killed when he wanted to, but had also been careful to preserve his power. Here we have him firstly leading his people into what can only be described as the Most Obvious Trap In The History Of Television (I mean, seriously! “Hey, where is everyone? I know, why don’t we follow this note that they left us into those narrow and unlit corridors What could possibly go wrong there?”) and then doing the one thing that he could have done to show the morons in Woodberry that he’s not actually a good guy (see above).
Most annoying of all, the Governor then drives away with Unquestioning Henchmen A and B, without being killed. This episode was supposed to be the one where the Governor and Rick had a big show-down and the Governor was killed. There were so many options: dramatic shoot-out with Rick in the prison; Andrea lunges in a final moment of desperation; Michonne sneaks up on him from behind and twists the knife a little; Tyreece finally does something interesting. The writers were spoilt for choice, but instead they decided to keep this past-his-sell-by-date villain around for God knows what reason. Yes, killing him would have been the obvious choice and we didn’t expect him to not be killed this episode – but this is one time where I wish they had done the obvious thing.
Speaking of obvious things, I need to mention Andrea’s long drawn-out demise (and to his credit, Hardie did mention this one). The set-up to the situation at the beginning of the episode actually worked very well. The Governor torturing Milton was pretty powerful, the scheme of leaving Andrea tied-up while Milton slowly dies was clever and built a lot of dramatic tension.
Problem is, the show’s writers decided to squeeze every last drop of dramatic tension out of that scenario and then keep on squeezing just in case. This meant Andrea casually shooting the Breeze with Milton for a while, then looking over at him a lot, then checking on him – and more or less spending all of her time worrying about Milton instead of, you know, escaping. It even got to the point where poor Milton’s last words were something like “uh, Andrea, you should probably try and escape now”.
And THAT was good characterisation. Where a lesser character would have been screaming “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! SHUT UP! NOW IS NOT TALKING TIME, NOW IS GETTING OUT OF HANDCUFFS TIME!”, Milton is polite and reserved as ever. It’s a shame really, Milton was a genuine, well-written character with a compelling character ark. I would have liked to see him hang around. This was another poor choice by the writers – there was no shortage of boring characters to kill off, why take the one interesting one?
As you can probably tell by now, I thought this was a very weak episode, capping off a weak half-season. That’s a huge shame, because the first half of season three was great. TWD has a huge amount of potential, it just needs to rid itself of the mediocre writing and it would be a great show.
I’ll leave you with the words of Jeffrey Goldberg, who along with JJ Gould and Scott Meslow has written reviews of TWD worth reading all season:
A post-catastrophe world dominated by zombies would be, if nothing else, an interesting place to observe. Somehow, The Walking Dead has made such a place boring.
A couple of articles popped-up yesterday that really showed the difference between journalists and…people who know what they’re doing when it comes to reading data. Take, for example, Tim Colebatch, writing to defend recent welfare cuts in the Sydney Morning Herald:
In 2008-09, only 3 per cent of Australians reported taxable incomes of $150,000 or more. Since then, household incomes per head have grown by 5 per cent. If evenly distributed, that would put 3.5 per cent of Australians above $150,000.
As a maths graduate, I find that calculation offensive.
But the Herald was not the only criminal here. Stephen Lunn wrote into yesterday’s Australian to try and convince us all that we want more alcohol regulation.
Yet there is a growing view that alcohol is a societal problem. The report finds “the vast majority (80 per cent) of the population [state] that Australians have a problem with excess drinking and alcohol abuse.” This is up noticeably from the 73 per cent in the AER Foundation’s initial survey a year ago. And while more people consider illicit substances than alcohol to be the most harmful drug in Australia, the gap is narrowing.
Here’s the issue: it relies on whoever was taking the survey to define “problem” – if I say that Australians have a “problem” with “excessive drinking”, that could be totally different from what anyone else means when they say the same thing. After all, how much drinking is “excessive”? Furthermore,
IT’S a paradox and a grand self-delusion. It is this: Eight in 10 Australians say there is a major alcohol problem in this country. …But despite our unambiguous acknowledgement of the problem, seven in 10 of us are comfortable with how much alcohol we personally consume. Just 7 per cent admit to being concerned about their own consumption levels, a recent survey by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation finds.
EXCUSE me? 7/10 of us are comfortable with how much we personally consume, but 7/100 of us are concerned about our consumption levels. Congratulations Steven Lunn, you just skipped a factor of 10. So in reality, 93% of us are satisfied with our drinking levels – which would support that, as I said before, we are not use the same definition of a “problem with excessive drinking” as the people Lunn is interviewing. That doesn’t stop suggestions like this:
“Things have clearly gone backwards over the past 10 to 15 years. Governments have been spending millions on treatment, on community services, on advertising campaigns, but the policy approach has been centred too much on personal responsibility and it has failed,” Thorn says. “What we need is a more sophisticated regulatory approach to preventing alcohol having such a detrimental impact on society.”
Ahh, things have gone backwards over the past 10 to 15 years. And the esteemed Michael Thorn of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation knows this from a clearly flawed survey that his foundation has been doing over the last two years.
This is actually a serious problem. Misrepresenting data like this can completely change societal attitudes on certain things, once something becomes “viral” in the press (read: one journalist misreads something that sounds sensational and dozens of others re-report the mistake without bothering to really check if it’s true or not). This happened earlier in the year with some research about Australia’s racial attitude.
A decade-long national study has found that nearly 50 per cent of Australians identify themselves as having anti-Muslim attitudes.
Luckily, there were some others in the press to pick up on the mistake a little down the track. Funnily, we did not see a huge amount of coverage of this little gold nugget.
What the journalists did not explore was how these results were obtained. Yet the answer was not hard to find. The Challenging Racism tables headed “Racist attitude indicators” provide data for specific regions and then calculate variations from state and national levels.
These tables provide the statistics on the anti sentiment and explain the methodology. Surprisingly, the calculation rests on just one question. Respondents were asked: “In your opinion, how concerned would you feel if one of your close relatives were to marry a person of Muslim faith?” The question was then repeated for the Jewish faith, Asian background, Aboriginal background and so on.
It is quite a jump from concern over marriage of a close relative to a person, for example, of Muslim faith, to labelling the result, without qualification, as anti-Muslim in a table headed “Racist attitude indicators”. A wide range of factors could explain concern over the marriage of a close relative, not least the strength of the respondent’s identity and desire for transmission of values to children, without drawing a straight line to “racist attitude”
So essentially, various media journalists mis-read a survey to create a racism problem that is not really there. Even now, someone trying to research racism in Australia would probably still use that survey because of the articles that pop-up on Google when they do a search.
I would just like to finish by begging people to really look at the data on various issues before we start putting more tax on drinks that already cost us almost twice as much as they do in most other countries…
So Fiona Byrne was in the Sydney Morning Herald trying to justify herself this morning.
The Punch published this brilliant response from sports writer (yup, sports) Anthony Sharwood:
Despite butchering her run at state parliament, not to mention the credibility of both the Greens and her own council over the Israel boycott, Marrickville Mayor Fiona Byrne went down swinging in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, with a bizarre, longwinded justification of her council’s right, nay civic duty, to embroil itself in matters beyond garbage collection.
“Being involved in international affairs is part of being connected to your community and through it the broader community of the globe,” she wrote.
This statement is so laughably meaningless and waffly, it barely deserves shooting down. The simplest, straight-from-the-hip rebuttal is to suggest the council might have first targeted a boycott of all things Chinese, given the fact that Marrickville Council raises the Tibetan flag on Tibet’s national day.
Mind you, with the local councillors’ propensity to yum cha at the excellent Hung Cheung restaurant on Marrickville Rd, that might have made life a little uncomfortable.
In her Herald piece, Byrne also cited section 233 of the Local Government Act. It states that one of the roles of council is “to provide leadership and guidance to the community”.
Well, interpreting this to mean that council should involve itself in the affairs of Israel, or any foreign power, is a logic leap of staggeringly audacious proportions.
Council should provide leadership and guidance? Ok, fine. How about a little leadership in fixing the numerous potholes on Illawarra Road. Some of that guidance would come in really handy in handling the delicate issue of the proposed expansion of Marrickville Metro shopping centre too.
The above image is from Damien Murphy in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. NSW election is only one day away and the Greens look poised to take three lower house seats – Coogee, Marrickville and Balmain.
There was a great breakdown of why the Apartheid comparison is “nonsense” by Bruce Loudon in The Australian, a former international correspondent in both actual Apartheid South Africa and the Middle East:
FIONA Byrne, the Greens candidate who is favourite to win the seat of Marrickville, is being plain silly in trying to draw parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa.
In a word, it’s nonsense. Anyone who knew South Africa in the bad old pre-1994 days of apartheid and is familiar with Israel and the Middle East knows that to be the case.
…Israel is a vibrant, fully functioning, hotly contested parliamentary democracy in which every citizen can play a part. It is the only such democracy in a Middle-Eastern sea of corrupt autocracies and dictatorships that are now being challenged by Arabs seeking freedom and a new course for their countries. A place where there is completely free political debate, a completely free press and a completely free judiciary.
Contrast Israel’s democracy with the situation in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid when a small elite of whites held virtually all the political and economic power and members of the numerically overwhelming black majority – 30 million to fewer than three million – were, simply because their skin was the wrong colour, discriminated against at every level and denied any role that didn’t involve servility and servitude.
“Whites Only” signs meant that blacks were excluded from park benches, couldn’t go to beaches, had to queue in different lines at post offices, couldn’t get hospital treatment, could mostly work only as menial labourers or domestic servants, had to ride in separate elevators, and had relationships across the colour bar only on pain of being hauled before the courts and imprisoned under the Immorality Act.
For a time, blacks were even barred from placing family funeral notices in newspapers. The right to mourn the loss of loved ones was segregated. That was the evil of racial discrimination.
This message, unfortunately, has been lost on our friend Mayor Fiona Byrne, although she does seem to have miraculously realised that maybe this whole BDS kerfuffle is damaging her reputation as a real politician. Australian reporter Imre Salusinszky noted today:
A GREENS candidate in the NSW election who denied she had ever “pushed” for a boycott of Israel was slated to speak at a public rally next week in support of such a boycott, and in protest against “Israeli apartheid”.
Fiona Byrne, the Greens candidate in the inner-western Sydney seat of Marrickville, initially denied to The Australian she had agreed to address the “Sing Out Against Apartheid: Boycott Divestment and Sanctions” rally outside Sydney’s Town Hall next Wednesday.
…It is the second time this week that Ms Byrne has been caught playing fast and loose with the facts about the extent of her involvement in the global movement to isolate Israel economically and culturally.
After she denied ever expressing an intention to introduce an Israel boycott into state parliament, The Australian revealed a tape of a press conference last month where she did so.
She’s already lying on the campaign trail, this doesn’t bode well for her seemingly impending election into State Parliament.
Speaking of which, the ALP has been panicking about losing Carmel Tebbutt to Byrn in Marrickville, so has been telling everyone who’ll listen how evil the Greens are and why Liberal voters need to preference the ALP over the Greens because it’s better to have anyone except The Wicked Witch of the (Inner) West. Fair enough, and you would struggle to find someone who could convincingly dispute that.
Only problem is that apparently this only applies in seats where Labor is threatened by the Greens and the Liberals can help. On the other hand, if it’s the Liberals threatening Labor, they are more than happy to “deal with the devil” and hang on to power.
In what is seen as a compromise, the Greens in Coogee will preference “progressive independents” before Labor, but Labor before Liberal. After informal talks with the Greens but no written agreement, the Labor Party will preference the Greens in Coogee.
This is a really worrying double standard. The Greens have only got where they are today because of Labor preferences (although Liberals helped Adam Bandt in his Melbourne bid) and even though the Greens are now posing a serious threat to Labor’s standing as the party of the mainstream Left, they still seem to be repeating the same mistakes.
I could compare it to fishers who fish all of the fish out the water until there are no fish left, only these fish never tasted any good in the first place.
The opinion pieces dealing with the Arab world this morning from The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald come from complete opposite viewpoints, but each accuse the other of being condescending and helping to stereotype the Arab people and so perpetuate their dictators. In the SMH, New York Times commentator Nicholas Christof writes that anyone who doesn’t assume that these protests will create democracy is applying a “crude stereotype”:
Is the Arab world unready for freedom? A crude stereotype lingers that some people – Arabs, Chinese and Africans – are incompatible with democracy. Many around the world fret that ”people power” will likely result in Somalia-style chaos, Iraq-style civil war or Iran-style oppression.
That narrative has been nourished by Westerners and, more sadly, by some Arab, Chinese and African leaders. So with much of the Middle East in an uproar today, let’s tackle a politically incorrect question head-on: are Arabs too politically immature to handle democracy?
I’m not too sure I like the way he backs-up his argument:
The common thread of this year’s democracy movement from Tunisia to Iran, from Yemen to Libya, has been undaunted courage. I’ll never forget a double-amputee I met in Tahrir Square in Cairo when Hosni Mubarak’s thugs were attacking with rocks, clubs and Molotov cocktails. This young man rolled his wheelchair to the front lines. And we doubt his understanding of what democracy means?
In Bahrain, I watched a column of men and women march unarmed towards security forces when, a day earlier, the troops had opened fire with live ammunition. Can anyone dare say that such people are too immature to handle democracy?
I can dare say that. These examples no doubt show tremendous courage, but why is that the same as being able to handle democracy? I don’t understand how a man rolling his wheelchair into the front lines shows that he understands democracy. If Kristof can write for one of the leading newspapers in the democratic world and not understand democracy, why is understanding assured for a brave, somewhat handicapped, Egyptian protester?
Maintaining a functional democracy requires voting rights for all citizens; the rule of law; an independent executive, legislature and judiciary; the ability to criticise those in power; a free press with which do to so and an army/police force that will maintain the rule of law and protect all of the above-mentioned rights. How exactly this relates to marching unarmed into a massacre I’m not entirely sure.
David Burchell in The Australian explains this kind of viewpoint very eloquently:
What seems obvious about the young Libyans in the streets of Tobruk, Benghazi and Tripoli – like young Iranians and Egyptians, and quite possibly many Syrians and Saudis too – is that they no longer want any truck with those miserable self-serving fantasies of Arab victimhood and Zionist sorcery. Instead, they merely want to live – as Said was lucky enough to do – in a “normal” country, where their persons will be treated with dignity and their views with respect. But about how to create such a country, beyond toppling statues and setting fire to police stations, they have been left almost totally in the dark – partly through the agency of their own rulers, and partly by us.
The “miserable self-serving fantasies” he is referring to specifically come from Arab-American intellectual Edward Said, who created the theory of “Orientalism”, which basically explains that the West in the present day continues a patronising, colonial attitude towards the Orient, despite not actually colonising it anymore, meaning that we feel the need to impose our values and mindset on a people who don’t want or need them.
Said presented a political perspective of almost child-like simplicity: the West, in its domineering ignorance, was forever doomed to “other” the Orient, and to treat it as its inferior, even while Said and his disciples blissfully “othered” the Middle East themselves, as a sepulchre of Arab suffering, in a mirror-image of those they deplored. Said’s acolytes are probably less familiar with the articles he wrote over many years for the Egyptian state press – articles devoid of the criticism of any existing Arab government; (least of all Mubarak’s); and which reduce all the problems of the Arab world to the actions of those two familiar pantomime villains, the US and Israel. You will not be surprised to hear that Said had nothing whatever to say about Libya’s absurd Mussolini imitator, Gaddafi – except to heap abuse upon the US when it responded to the colonel’s various terrorist provocations.
Said reserved special contempt for brave Arabs who criticised the region’s political, economic and social backwardness. As he wrote, in his customary lachrymose tones, in Egyptian state weekly Al-Ahram in 2003: ‘I recall the lifeless cadences of their sentences for, with nothing positive to say about their people, they simply regurgitate the tired American formulas: we lack democracy; we haven’t challenged Islam enough, we need to drive away the spectre of Arab nationalism.’
So according to Burchell, Said and his “acolytes” attach a baseless romanticism to Arabs, meaning that they support everything that they do and assume that they can do no wrong and always know what’s best for themselves, without any need of Western intervention or values, because the West only ever does harm. Ironically, Kristof (and Paul McGeough) seem to fit this description exactly. In fact, it explains why, as I wrote yesterday, Western NGO’s refused to investigate the Taliban for war crimes and only wanted to scrutinise Western forces in Afghanistan.
These dictators are facing criticism now, but I only remember these commentators blaming Israel and the US for all of the Arab woes in the past. At the time, they followed Said’s point of view that Western ideas like secularism and democracy didn’t need to apply to the Arab people. I tend to agree with Burchell – our desire to be optimistic and tolerant is glossing-over the very real changes that these countries need in order to create functional democracies. Hopefully our leaders at least can see this.
By Sydney Morning Herald cartoonist Cathy Wilcox.
I don’t know what I like more about this; that it kind of compares the Keneally government to Qaddafi, the contrast between the fat Aussies on the couch with the brutalised Arab peoples or the way all of our problems with transport, water and power look next to people living in extreme poverty under a cleptocrat who is not above carpet-bombing his own citizens to stay in power.
That said, if you listen to 2GB in the morning you are likely to want to get out there and protest Keneally’s cleptocracy…