Monday, January 17, 2011

Why the hell did I volunteer?

So the flood clean up is in full effect. Tens of thousands of residents strode out over the weekend to go and make a difference. (That difference mostly being 'sewage' to 'no sewage'.) People started out upbeat, and on Saturday night I saw a lot of talk on social media about how uplifting an experience the whole thing has been. Come Sunday afternoon and people were getting tired. Occasionally they were getting resentful.

I heard stories about people being berated in public for not helping out and there was a definite sense of judgement out there. Some volunteers couldn't understand how people could sit around laughing when they'd spent the day with people in mud and (let's face it) shit.

But quite frankly, I'm surprised that I volunteered. I've never volunteered before for anything like this. In fact, Volunteering Qld is also surprised that I volunteered. They've been completely overwhelmed with offers from citizens. From their point of view this is completely unprecedented, and I've got a theory why that might be.

That's quite a bog.

I haven't been affected by the flooding other than a couple of hours without power. In fact my wife was sent home from work so in that respect it was a blessing. Under usual circumstances I might have occasionally seen some news mentioning how bad the damage is... somewhere else, happening to other people.

There's always something terrible happening to other people somewhere and like most people, I'm able to compartmentalise it and emotionally distance myself from it. Our monkey brains are only smart enough to deal with 150 real relationships. Anything larger and things get abstract.

But then my Twitter feed lit up like a Christmas tree. The information poured in and it was too much for my dams of cynicism to mitigate. I couldn't ignore it. People can't put something to the back of their mind when they keep exposing the front of their face to it.

When my wife suggested that we make a donation I responded with a number much larger than she expected and moments later I was signed up to the Emergency Volunteers website as well.

Almost everything on my Twitter feed was flood related and everyone was trying to help, but when I looked at the numbers it still meant only 1 in 100 people were out there on Saturday helping. Tons of people aren't effected and aren't doing anything to help.

They've compartmentalised the tragedy and I think it's because they're not exposing themselves to social media. They're able to put it to the back of their mind. Just like we all do. Just like we have to in order to function in the world where there's always something terrible happening.

I've pitched in because being connected to Twitter has made this my tragedy, but for some people, it's not theirs.

It's not their turn...


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fireworks, going off

So there's a great deal of natter on the social sites about cancelling the Australia Day fireworks. People are excited by the concept of taking the millions of dollars that go up in smoke and giving that to flood victims instead. A noble ideal, on the surface, but these people are naively under the misapprehension that whenever the fireworks are presented, that our local government is donating a selfless gift to the community.

They're not.

For one thing, that money doesn't all go up in smoke. A great deal of it pays for the expertise of the companies that organise the event. The actual incendiary devices will only be a fraction of that cost. And it's not millions. Riverfire sure does suck the cash away but the Australia Day fireworks routinely come in under the $300,000 mark. With 80,000 people turning up to watch that amounts to less than $4 each. That's a pretty cheap night out even if it is on the government's teat.

So thousands of people come into Southbank to watch the show. All of them filling up the public transport that usually goes half empty on a Saturday night. To deny the public their fireworks denies Southbank their massive influx of customers for that night. If anyone is hurting right now after the floods it is the people whose livelihoods depend on commerce at Southbank. You'd actively take from them their one chance to make back some of the losses from this horrible disaster?

I can only do so much without the government's help.

Now don't get me wrong. There are some negatives. Many restaurants away from Southbank have trouble getting custom when there's free entertainment on offer and woe betide anyone who's trying to put on some sort of theatre show that night. (I've had first hand experience with that one)

But of course there's the spillover effect. People who seldomly head out to get a taste of our great south-east are tempted by the long weekend and the free entertainment. A small portion of those people, with their newly aquired taste of adventure, will endeavour to head out more often, thus stimulating the economy.

The government don't just burn the cash up. It's an injection of cash that pays for itself almost immediately.

But the reason that this campaign has gained support so quickly is because it's easy. It only requires that you sacrifice something you didn't want anyway. There's only one problem.

Sitting there on the internet getting indignant about the cost of fireworks is about as helpful as putting one of those badges on your Twitter avatar. It allays your guilt without you actually having to sacrifice anything at all. Maybe you should take the amount you were already planning on donating to the Premier's Flood Relief Appeal and add your allotted fireworks budget of $3.60 to the amount. Then you can go and enjoy the fireworks totally guilt free.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Movie Awards for 2010

Every year I like to do a wrap up of all the movies I've seen across the year. You can see last year's over at and links at the bottom of that page to all the older ones.

I remember when I'd hit the cinemas every week or so. Oh the terrible movies I'd see. This year I've fallen into the trap of watching TV shows all the time. It's so much easier to dedicate 45 minutes to something than two and a half hours. But I have managed to see most of the ones I was really excited about.

Now, I feel bad to have missed both 'The Social Network' and 'Animal Kingdom' but there will always be gems that sneak under the radar. It does bother me though, that the movie that I might love the most is one that I'll simply miss out on because of apathy.

Kick Ass
This comic book adaptation was sold as a wacky 'wannabe superhero' comedy but by the time the credits rolled around it was pretty obvious that this was an extremely violent celebration of testosterone and excess. Perhaps if I'd realised, going in that it had all the lightness of 'Dusk 'til Dawn' I may have enjoyed it more. As it was, I came out feeling just a little bit violated.

Toy Story 3
Speaking of being emotionally violated, the big tear jerker that is Pixar brought back their juggernaut to wrap up their most celebrated story. It was a very clever film, and full of the Pixar brand of comedy but I found it wasn't a patch on Toy Story 2. There were some thrilling moments and, as always, it was very well put together but I couldn't help but feel the story lacked a certain strong thread to join all the elements together. I certainly swelled up in the climax (If you've seen the film you know which part) but for some reason I just wasn't invested in the tragedy of toys being rejected.


Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Now from one extreme to the other. This film was all about style over substance. The story was flimsy at best, it was full of 'fan-service', the characters were impossible to relate to and the whole thing felt kind of like watching someone else play a video game. If you've picked up anything from my previous picks you'll probably guess that I hated it. What you've failed to take into consideration is the fact that I'm the fan that the fan-service attends to. Every zelda-esque ringing had me giggling out loud. I saw this film in a completely empty cinema and it was like my own private showing where I cackled all the way through it. This film was extremely close to being my favourite of the year.

People LOVED this film. It's nice to see a film explore some exciting concepts and it was a rollicking adventure. I liked it a lot. The action was thrilling and the contrivances were perfectly justified in the context of the film. (Hey look. It's a freight train ploughing though traffic.)  It was also nice to have a slightly complex element that the director didn't feel it was necessary to explain up front. I didn't find it confusing at all but I understand some people did. All I can say is that I don't feel like I wasted my time watching this but I'm probably not going to see it a second time.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Speaking of time wasting, I'm only watching these stupid films out of a tortured sense of completion. It was fine to watch I guess. As always it's nice to see the grandiose scenes you have in your head from reading the books, painted in light up on the big screen but I just have no empathy for the characters up there. The actors do a fine job but there's a difference in reading about Harry being a whiny little emo and actually watching it for two and a half hours. You can just never escape it.

And finally the esoteric one that makes me look a little bit cultured.
Exit through the gift shop
This documentary follows the underground street art culture of Los Angeles and finally the works of 'Banksy'. The first half of the film made me want to learn parcours and start climbing buildings and painting them. The second was a romp as it tested it's audience to see just how closely they were watching and how honed their sense of being manipulated is. It made me gasp and laugh and it really did enthuse me. It's still not my favourite film of the year though.

So what is?

Well, my question is 'What is a film?' and how does it differ from a telly show or a made for television movie. Aladdin was only 90 minutes long. You know what else was 90 minutes long?

Sherlock - A Study in Pink.

And it was BRILLIANT!! Well put together. Professional. You could tell that the people involved were doing it because they truly loved it. This show made me concentrate all the way through and it's so nice to not have my narratives spoon fed to me. If it had been shown on the big screen I would have walked out of the cinema raving about how great it was. Moffat's storytelling genius really made this experience worthwhile and he's blurred the lines between cinema and the lounge room in exactly the same way as those 120 inch Plasma screens have.

Is it cheating to choose a TV show over a movie? Maybe, when it comes down to it, they're all just stories that I love.

And after all, last year a book won.

And in 2005 it was my disappointment that took first prize.
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