Archive | September, 2010

The Death of Tyler Clementi and What Used to Be Trust

30 Sep

L: Tyler Clementi; C: roommate, Dharun Ravi; R: another classmate, Molly Wei

“Roommate asked for room until midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Dharun Ravi’s Twitter message on 19 September says it all: behind the nonchalant air, there’s the whiff of perversion, of callousness and of the blatant disregard for the privacy of another individual (his rommate) who had specifically requested it.

Three days later the roommate, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from New Jersey’s George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. Though the development of events in the few days leading up to Clementi’s death still remain unclear, media reports speculate that the invasion of privacy by Ravi and fellow classmate Molly Wei in distributing webcam footage of Clementi having sex, and the fallout in the immediate aftermath, was the cause of Clementi’s suicide. So far, Ravi and Wei have been charged for the violation of privacy and face up to 5 years in prison under NJ law.

Fellow students’ accounts of Clementi say that he was a shy and reserved young man (apparently only 3 students out of 50 in his dorm knew him), yet active in music circles as an accomplished violinist. In the hours immediately prior to his death he was at a Rutger Symphony Orchestra rehearsal where Thomas Jung, who shared a desk with Clementi in the violin section, did not notice anything wrong. ABC News and the Star-Ledger of Neward also reported Clementi posting a message on his Facebook on the day of his death: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry”.

Clementi’s reaction to the broadcasting of his sex life would seem, under the logic of a heteronormative community, rather histrionic if it wasn’t for the main fact upon which Ravi’s Twitter and all media reports that I’ve read so far pivot. That is, Tyler Clementi’s sexuality. Let’s pretend that sexual preference really mattered for a minute. If Clementi had been having sex with a girl, and Ravi and Wei had broadcast that across the Internet, I’d bet you the scandal would on a whole be less to the chagrin of Clementi. Heteronormative behaviour relishes the chance for display and affirmation of its perceived dominance. Just think back to that movie American Pie and Jim streaming a live feed of the exchange student, Nadia, undressing in his room. I found this poor quality clip (you get the idea):
It’s OK! It’s a hot girl being watched by guys. Chill. But does that make the violation of two straight people having sex any better? The media fetishizes and commodifies celebrity sex tapes into glorified, albeit salacious, publicity stunts. But at least we can trust the law to preserve our civil rights, or so we hope.

But this hasn’t stopped the gay rights group Garden State Equality making a martyr out of Clementi, whose death they consider to be a hate crime. At the end of the inaugural event of Rutgers’ “Project Civility” program, protesters gathered outside the student centre chanting “Civility without safety – over our queer bodies!” But I thought Clementi’s sexual orientation of “unclear”, NY Times? Not that it matters or anything. You can’t stop people, especially 18-year-old freshers, being speculative about others and also of themselves.

The worst justice done here is the appropriation of Tyler Clementi’s unfortunate death by political groups for a particular end, as a martyr for hate crimes against the gay community. Tyler Clementi’s death shouldn’t be about the death of a man speculated (key word here)to be gay. It’s the tragic death of a young man whose basic right to privacy was violated to the extent that it was intolerable.

But I’m taking the right of all individuals to civil liberties (in this case, sexual freedom) for granted in saying that because Clementi’s demons demonstrate that invisible barriers in familial, societal and cultural spheres can remain strongly ingrained, and that their risidual effects can remain as pervasive as ever in the mind of the individual.

Our law has the responsibility of protecting the civil rights of any individual whether they are female, male, intersex, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. And the crime perpetrated by Ravi and Wei, of blatant disregard of Tyler Clementi’s rights, is one that cannot be drawn upon lines of sex, gender and sexuality. This was a crime that shows the violent results of the abuse of privilege and power by actors, and the tragic results of such coercive forces on an individual who was denied any power to mitigate the actions – in this case, death. This is also about something even more fundamental to human civil society and morality: trust. What ever happened to it?



Changing Lanes – 19/09/2010

24 Sep

Were I suffering from even the slightest depression Changing Lanes would’ve sent me over the edge. Everyone was taller, hotter, and had nicer clothes than I did. As you would expect from a festival that was so cool that it hurt, the ratio of people:SLR cameras was about 1:27,000. It seems like having so much pretty acts as a pheromone for photography.

Whilst the line-up was significant, I got the distinct feeling that no-one was really in it for the music; for the group I was with, at least, the best part of the day was spent in the pub next to the main stage. Despite the forgettable nature of many of the acts, Tame Impala played a solid closing set, continuing their tradition of managing to make three or four songs last the duration of their entire allocated stage time.

…more photos after the cut
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Things Josh Hates: Tavi

22 Sep

I hate Tavi.

For those of you who (fortunately) don’t know, Tavi is the fashion world’s Bieber. With an extra dash of Harold and Maude. She’s tight with Wintour, personal attaché to Lagerfeld*, and just finished a collaboration line with Rodarte. And I hate her. Why?

Because she’s just not that good.

Now, I’m willing to admit that the little green monster may be playing a little bit of a role in this. But it’s more than that.

I spoke in a previous post about how I hate plus-sized models. Tavi, in my mind, belongs to the same school. She’s judged with a different standard because she is different, and art should not allow that. We shouldn’t be subjected to collections from Rodarte that are, frankly, crap, but have to pretend to think that they’re amazing because they’re designer is different.

Did I mention she's terrifying?

Now don’t get me wrong. There are child chess prodigies that I think are amazing. I’ve played with 12 year olds who can blast out Rachmaninov’s 4th piano concerto with the best of them. And I respect them; perhaps even pay them more respect due to their youth.

But I will not respect someone who, due to a combination of pity and dumb luck, has risen to a position that many talented, hardworking people never will. Whilst the adage that the cream always rises to the top may be true, it appears that there’s a lot of other crap up there too.

*Yes, I am equally nauseated by the thought of Lagerfeld around children.

Equally terrifying.

Rising above the crowd

21 Sep

There’s no underestimating the power of the masses. Forgive me if I just sounded like a staunch Marxist predicting the the beginning of another failed revolution. Not that there’s any problem with being left wing… But it’s a general truth that a single man, or woman, immersed in a much larger crowd is no longer an individual. Not simply because they’re in a sea of people; but that to a certain extent it becomes difficult to distinguish between the actions of the individual vs. the actions of the larger crowd. In a mosh pit you throw your arms to the beat like everyone else; at the last welfare activists’ march you jumped behind a cause you knew nothing about, but shouted the rallying cry like your life depended on it; or you’re caught in another crazy Japanese prank. It’s in his poem “Among School Children” that W. B. Yeats provocatively asks, ‘How can you tell the dancer from the dance?’ What drives homogeneity in crowd psychology? Does our “inner sheep” have a place in a society where greater value’s placed on identity, individuality and difference?
In a fairly recent example of crowd psychology going awry, nineteen people were crushed to death at the Love Parade in Duisburg, Germany, after festival-goers packing through a tunnel panicked and triggered the catastrophic stampede to escape. Tracking back on the Darwinian evolutionary tree, sticking together in a pack probably boosted survival chances when our simian ancestors were being hunted by some giant bird. It didn’t matter if a few of the weak were lost (that’s natural selection for you); what mattered was the survival of the majority of the group. The gathering of individuals into larger packs was probably also the biological basis of larger communities from which modern society stems.

From primitive communities to the “civil societies” of the advanced human race, these survival tactics became increasingly codified practices which marked one’s place within a society and as belonging to a particular group. Mass building projects such as the Great Wall or the Pyramids; communal wild-goose chases such as the Inquisition or the Salem witch-hunts; all these activities, whether through implicit or explicit force, reify and reinforce the social structures of their communities. They establish the unwritten laws of behaviour and class. Ballroom dancing in 19th-century England for example, the highest achievement of the privileged classes, engaged not only the unwritten codes of class decorum but was also the homologue of speed-dating in the early 2000s. Not to mention this also inspired Jane Austen to write books which have poisoned the minds of millions of young, impressionable women to accept nothing less than Darcy in a potential partner.

Whereas the key players controlling the stakes in ballrooms across the English countryside are largely invisible, there are those organizations whose masses are controlled by certain individuals, or a group of like-minded individuals at the centre of a large body of participants. This kind of system seems to contrast what I’ve suggested above in that this latter theory suggests that the mass is a convergence of like-minded individuals, whereas I’ve largely been citing examples of contagious behaviours in that spread out into the group above. But bear with me for a sec.

Organized religion Cults are an example of convergence groups, though there are definitely characteristics that put them under the contagious umbrella as well. Under the aegis of salvation, questionable messianic healers sometimes manage to draw crowds of thousands who, for heck knows how many reasons, find solace in communal delusions and madness. People allow themselves to be “touched by the hand of God”, or “slain in the Spirit” by kooks such as Benny Hinn. In the disillusionment of the masses, it can sometimes become hard to draw the line between the real and the unreal. And when faith obscures the boundaries between fact and fiction, it can become dangerous.

But perhaps the most spectacular incarnations of cultural camps today are the Olympic games and particularly their highly-theatric opening ceremonies with their overt, and extremely contrived expressions of nationalism. Samuel Huntington’s speculated that in a post-Cold War age, lines of division are no longer fought on political lines but are fought most ardently through cultural and religious means. Consistent throughout is a “them vs. us” mentality. Taking the 2008 Beijing Olympics as an example, it’s astonishing what a deeply engrained cultural penchant for group mentality can do: flawless mass formations; thousands of men and women brainwashed into wearing fluro-green LED-studded body suits; a billion people frozen with raised arms forming big circles. The message was clear: this new-age Chinese lifestyle of futuristic fashion and fun-for-all-the-family callisthenics was by far superior to the West and its excess of Comme Des Garçons and Gaga.What’s happening in the world are paradoxical movements both towards increased individualism, civil rights, freedoms and modes of expression, and at the same time towards new camps, new groups and organizations emerging out of a climate of intense change which draw up new battlelines and divisions. They provide refuges for people who may be looking for some solidarity in an uncertain world, a promise of salvation in a future yet to be determined, they are sites of survival. Yet at the same time these groups can be dangerous in the ideas that they spread and that they teach their followers to believe. Honestly, how many of those idiots in Cronulla back in 2005 could actually spell “Australia”, let alone name the waffly mess of ‘Strayan Values that they were prepared to protect and fight for? A similar mess is happening again.

At other times groups are quite benign, just preserves of some kind of behaviour, belief or culture, just like a pack of LED sheep. It pays off to be a bit more skeptical of established thought systems, to test boundaries and question beliefs, to not take things for granted. And it’s definitely a good idea not to go wandering off into the forest with some kook just because they think the end of the world is nigh.

Images courtesy of Dave Bullock and Mitterand+Cramer.

Slug Guts – Oxford Art Factory 17/09/10

19 Sep

Despite some absolutely horrific sound mixing, Brisbane’s Slug Guts appeared to go down a treat at the Oxford Art Factory on Friday night, with the leather and lipstick crowd nodding along approvingly in what felt like a throwback to the good ol’ days of Oxford Arts pretentiousness (something I would be well in favour of, especially given the extreme downhill slide that Saturday night has taken in said venue).


More photos after the cut

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Asians can be so culturally insensitive #2

17 Sep

And just when you thought it couldn’t get better than Yoga for Black People, I remembered this old footage from YouTube showing a fight on a San Fran munibus in Chinatown. A fight ensued after the Asian lady reneged on an offer to teach the black lady yoga. Indignant at being swindled out of a Kim Kardashian body, the second lady launches a punch and full-out cultural warfare ensues. Jaded Label doesn’t condone violence unless of course it’s aesthetic.

NB. to anyone who understands Cantonese: notice the man’s voice shouting “Beat the shit out of her!”


Spare butter in the fridge?

17 Sep

I suppose we all have our own little guilty pleasures…


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