Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The intelligence apparatus at the core of this leaked information - the Defense Signals Directorate (who has since spent copious amounts of airtime backing away from any allegations) - had allegedly raised serious concerns about the relationship between Minister Fitzgibbon and a prominent, powerful Chinese businesswoman - Madame Helen Liu, which it was felt had serious implications for the national security interests of Australia.
Everyone worked themselves up into a lather initially, incensed that some apparently rogue elements in Defense had taken it upon themselves to conduct covert surveillance of the Minister - including phone taps, email and computer taps. This couldn't possibly happen in Liberal-Democratic Australia. Military intervention of this sort was the stuff of the former Soviet Union, Communist China, Dictatorial African Nations. We the people elect our Members of Parliament, not the Military!!
Initially the debacle threw up all kinds of paranoid ideologies and discussions about the apparently parlous state of relations between the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and the Defense Minister's office which is one of Australian politics worst kept secrets and bad enough in itself. The PM, Kevin Rudd, who has been off gallivanting around the globe meeting Obama and apparently saving the world from the KF...I mean the GFC...I mean the Kentucky Fried Crisis appeared to be gobsmacked with developments down under. He affirmed his support for the Minister and declared that Fitzgibbon was presiding over the biggest reform agenda in the ADF's history. The usual sort of guff that a PM spouts at a time like this.
There was a certain amount if detachment in PM Rudd's statement - it seemed to be lacking the sincerity I would have thought warranted...I'll explain that one further in a moment.
The shit got positively weird later in the week when the Minister was confronted by a journo and asked directly whether he had accepted any free travel from Madame Liu. Rather than just answer the fucking question, Fitzgibbon went into this five or so minute diatribe about how he and Madame Liu had been friends for some 15 or 16 years and that there had been the exchange of gifts on birthdays and at Christmases at various times and yada, yada, yada...
The bamboozled throng of media were left scratching there heads while the Minister looked like a complete, bloody dickhead. Later that day, Minister Fitzgibbon was forced to issue a "clarification". That, while in opposition Minister Fitzgibbon had indeed accepted free travel from Madame Liu - fully paid travel!! These trips taken in 2002 and 2005 are required to be declared by the Minister on a parliamentary register of pecuniary interests. That they weren't is less significant than the fact that he's tried to cover them up now.
What proceeded this monumental fuck up was much gnashing of teeth, sharp rebukes from both the PM and his deputy - whose holding the fort here while he's away, the usual calls from the opposition for him to be sacked and a truck load of embarrassment for the Minister, cos lets face it - the guy bullshitted BIG TIME.
It also raised concerns about Australia's relationship with China and just how much pull China is able to exert on Australia and Australian politicians who see Chinese investment in Australia's mining industry as the one thing that will save Australia from the eventual global recession. Our Mandarin speaking Prime Minister effuses glowing of China, every chance he gets to - most significantly this past week in America where he has been advocating strongly for China to be allowed a seat at the table of the International Monetary Fund.
Many are doubly concerned given just who China is - an avowed Communist state with an appalling human rights record and scant regard for the wellbeing of its citizens. It exerts an Orwellian grip on the freedoms of it's people and is generally pretty scary looking from the outside. I could spend a whole article alone examining just China is but I'll leave that you for because I am infinitely more interested in a small matter of process concerning the whole issue of who authorized the initial spying operation on Minister Fitzgibbon.
The pinnacle of talking heads TV on a Sunday down here is "Insiders" and for a political junkie like me it is required viewing. This week "Insiders" host Barry Cassidy interviewed a former Parliamentary Secretary of Defense in the Howard Government, Paul Barratt.
It was as though Cassidy had read my mind when he began asking Barratt directly as to how any instrumentality in Defense would instigate an covert intelligence gathering exercise.
Barratt, eloquently explained it this way.
If anyone had concerns whatsoever about the activities of a Defense Minister that were a threat to the national security, that individual would first have to raise the issue with the Parliamentary Secretary for Defense who would then raise these concerns further with the Minister himself. If the Parliamentary Secretary, having had that conversation with the Minister, was still concerned he would be obliged to advise the Minister of his intention to raise the matter further with the Parliamentary Secretary for Prime Minister & Cabinet.
Are you still with me??
If following the "conversation" with the Parliamentary Secretary for Prime Minister & Cabinet, there were still significant concerns then the Parliamentary Secretary for Prime Minister & Cabinet is then obliged to escalate the matter further to the Prime Minister himself who can then assess the gravity of the allegations. If, following that assessment, the PM has legitimate concerns for national security arising from the actions of one of his own Ministers then only he, the Prime Minister, has the authority to instruct the Defense/Intelligence apparatus - in Australia's case either ASIO, the DSD, ASIS or the AFP - to conduct an investigation - covert or otherwise - into that Minister.
So...in view of this and considering that PM Rudd and Defense Minister Fitzgibbon are supposed to be "great mates" is it likely that the PM was the instigator of this covert spying operation? And if he was was then what were his motivations for doing so?
Kevin Rudd's relationship with China is fast becoming the mirror image of our previous PM's relationship with the United States. So apparently fixated is Rudd upon cementing the relationship with China he has conducted secret meetings with Chinese officials which have been reported by Chinese media but were kept from our own media. In another time and place Rudd may well have been dubbed an 'arse licker' but I am not sure if that term applies to Chinese.
If one looks domestically at political allegiances can a case be made that Rudd and Fitzgibbon are rivals and that Rudd would want to drop Fitzgibbon in a great steaming pile of shit? I don't know but Joel Fitzgibbon was a former, staunch ally of prime ministerial aspirant Mark Latham who so sensationally crashed and burned in the lead up to the 2004 Federal Election when it seemed that he might actually do over Howard. The hatred between Latham and Rudd is legendary. Fitzgibbon was best man at Mark Latham's wedding.
See where I'm going with this?
As discussed earlier the relationship between the ADF top brass and the Defense Minister has been in the shitter for years. This has been exacerbated since the change of government in late 2007 when Minister Fitzgibbon embarked upon the most aggressive reform of Defense in it's history. There have been exposed, serious dysfunction's within the Department, highlighted most recently by the SAS Defense pay scandal and the foreshadowed massive budget cuts planned for the air warfare destroyer and the submarine program.
Personalities in the department are said to be dysfunctional on an almost diva like scale. Nick Warner, for example, secretary to Defense Chief Air Marshal Angus Houston is said to loathe Joel Fitzgibbon and Fitzgibbon for his part, was rumored to have sought Warner's scalp such was the antipathy between the two men.
It all becomes very convoluted but to return to my central question - did Rudd "drop Fitzgibbon in it" by authorizing covert surveillance of him to damage him?
Is it more likely that highly placed officials in Defense initiated a covert operation against Fitzgibbon to undermine him and damage him?
The revelations about the Minister's connections with Helen Liu were just a free kick that the Minister himself offered up, making himself look like a dickhead and a bullshit artist in one fell swoop.
The whole issue highlights an even more disturbing insight which, I am unsure that anyone has cottoned onto up until now. If we considered the whole chain of command structure and process highlighted by Paul Barratt in his interview on "Insiders" this past Sunday then the issue has exposed a serious dysfunction in the relationship between Defense and the Prime Minister himself. If the Prime Minister is supposed to have the final say on whether to allow an intelligence apparatus to spy on a elected parliamentarian and this was denied to him, then the Prime Minister is just as culpable as the Defense Minister in his failure to control his department.
A liberal-democracy such as Australia cannot tolerate its military apparatus running around with a paranoid hard-on spying on it's own government. Angus Houston, Nick Warner and any of those other individuals who had a part to play in this little "patriot game" should be sacked.
Joel Fitzgibbon should be sacked not for any other reason but for the fact he lied - badly. There was really no reason to. The best way to neutralize a situation where you are questioned about your links to a person of questionable background is to admit to the incident in question. As Harrison Ford's, Jack Ryan mused in the 1994 movie 'Clear & Present Danger' "It gives them (the media) nowhere to go".
So far as the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is concerned - well the incident severely damages his authority. If he doesn't have a grip on either his Ministers or departments then how can he have a grip on the top job? This is the question that isn't being asked by anyone right now, because they are all too busy being obsessed with this whole "Red Terror" bullshit.
Meanwhile the ching chong chinamen are surely pissing themselves over this disgrace...
Monday, March 30, 2009
(The following is an article I wrote in late 2008 in an effort to sound really impressive...)
I love how the right wing commetariat, all around the world, just can't seem to cope with the fact that their neo-conservative demagogues are no longer in power in Washington. In the vacuum that has been created for them these cheer leaders for the now defunct PNAC posse (a.k.a. The Bush Administration) have desperately sought to recast the new order in their own desired image.
Let me give you an example.
Here in Australia, we have a number of columnists who have attended the Bill O'Reilly School of Conservative Charm and Deportment in recent times. One of whom is Greg Sheridan. Now Sheridan, who writes for Uncle Rupert's News Limited (Australian) stable, is a canny journo - one whose articles I read regularly for a single notion that my grandfather once taught me - 'know your enemy'. I don't believe Sheridan is my enemy per se - I mean the guy wouldn't know me from a bar of soap. But on an ideological level...yes I guess I would indeed consider him my opponent.
The Australian's foreign editor Greg Sheridan - A man I respect even though I rarely agree with his opinion.
This week President-elect Barrack Obama announced key appointments to his team that will form the new Administration come January 2009. While just about everyone else in the mainstream and online press were throwing in their own two cents about the Clinton appointment and its significance, I have to say I was less interested in Hilary as I was in the appointment - or reappointment - of Robert Gates as the Secretary of Defense.
Recognizing - belatedly - the disaster that Donald Rumsfeld had increasingly become, George W. Bush in 2006 made, perhaps, the only wise decision he has probably ever made and cut this village idiot loose. Robert Gates was appointed with little fanfare, though much of Washington seemed relieved with the news that a man was appointed who was, quite literally, a world away from the inarticulate rantings of his predecessor.
Robert Gates - The U.S. Secretary of Defense. I have never had a beer with this man.
Robert Gates brought much needed pragmatism to Defense and surprised many with his forthright and infinitely more considered approach to the twin debacles of Afghanistan and Iraq. A nation thoroughly sick and tired of the war saw, for the first time in a long time, hope in a steady, more pragmatic pair of hands in those of Robert Gates.
Gates stamped his own brand on the position of Sec-Def and he wasn't afraid to 'butt uglies' with the Bush Administration over their handling of the war effort either. In 2007 Gates curled the toe nails of many in the Bush White House when he began giving a series of speeches highlighting the limits of military power in conflicts where no military victory is possible.
This week, in the New York Times, David E. Sanger observed that Robert Gates made popular the statistic, quoted by Barrack Obama, that the United States has more members of military marching bands than Foreign Service officers. Sanger elaborated that Gates 'also denounced 'the gutting of America's ability to engage, assist and communicate with other parts of the world''
That Gates seems to favor diplomacy over 'shock and awe campaigns' is significant if for nothing else that it signals the potential for a seismic shift in the relationship between the defense and state departments in the United States.
These are themes that have come to characterize Robert Gates. He is an evolved thinker rather than a testosterone (read Viagra) fueled cowboy with a hard-on who sees lives as chess pieces on a board. One suspects that he has looked deep into his own conscience to realize that the wars both in Iraq and in Afghanistan are failing. That is why Obama wanted him to continue in the job. Obama sees within Robert Gates a man who is above the kind of political partisanship that is an art form of the conservative side in America. He is a thinker, he identifies problems - even those that might be his own and works to solve them.
Now back to Greg Sheridan.
In the Australian this week, Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan had published an article which can only be described as dripping with embittered sarcasm. 'How to control a pack of alpha dogs', it crowed from the sidelines, and continued with by-line that, 'US president-elect Barrack Obama is going to be a terrific disappointment to his left wing supporters, certainly if his national security team is anything to go by'
Sheridan proceeds to give the reader a rundown of the key appointments - through Clinton as secretary of state, General James Jones as national security adviser, Susan Rice as US ambassador to the UN and of course Robert Gates as secretary of defense.
As though he were attempting to re-cast this new national security team as simply more of the same, Sheridan deludes himself into thinking thata) these appointments are the as far to the right as leftist appointments get - therefore he tries to see some sort of legitimacy in them and b) that Obama is going to have a difficult time keeping this - quote 'testosterone charged, super A-list, alpha dog cabinet' in check.
He singles out Robert Gates in particular, painting the incumbent Sec-Def as a Rumsfeld-ish war horse who spearheaded the US troop surge and wants continue in the Iraqi quagmire indefinitely which is just plain wrong. 'Gates has...opposed a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq, wants more troops in Afghanistan and sensibly wants to modernize the US nuclear arsenal' Sheridan writes. Robert Gates has made his position on both Iraq and Afghanistan quite clear - the strategy is not working. Both Obama and Gates are in synergy with one another on that score. There will be a troop withdrawal from Iraq within the first term of the Obama Administration and a refocusing of effort on the real and perhaps only legitimate campaign - Afghanistan.
Gates has made no secret of his opinion regarding where America has gone wrong with respect to both the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts, laying blame at blame at the feet of both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Gates has even been quoted as saying that 'it is almost like we forgot everything we learned in Vietnam'.
I've observed amongst many of those on the right of the commetariat - a curious phenomenon; a kind of inability to function beyond the blinkered prism of left and right. It has been particularly exaggerated in the past year and a half where we have seen the throwing out of office, down here in Australia, one of the most conservative regimes on the planet. And also in America back on November 4th where Obama prevailed to see off the most incompetent Administrations in living memory.
Obama's National Security Team. I have never had a beer with any of these people either.
Right wing commentators have experienced a kind of psychological amputation, where the phantom sensation of having the neo-cons still in power won't leave them. In their inability to rationalize, they project a right wing persona on those ideological opponents, perpetuating a kind of ideological schizophrenia - where these people must be (of the) Right...they've just simply gotta be!
The fact is what has emerged from these appointments, this past week, is that the US will enter 2009 with one of the most centrally balanced national security teams ever assembled. Putting Hilary to one side for a moment (oh how I do wish she had never resurfaced!), the infamous divisions between defense and state look like they will finally be assigned to the dust bin as Obama has put together a team that, potentially, will see an unprecedented level of cooperation between these two most prominent of instrumentalities.
Gates, a former Director of the CIA, himself has become renowned for making the case for increased funding to other departments rather than his own. David E. Sanger, in his New York Times article, observed that Gates acknowledged during the 2007 Landon Lecture at Kansas State University, that 'for many in the Pentagon it was 'blasphemy' for 'a sitting secretary of defense to travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies.' Sanger writes 'He noted that when Adm. Mike Mullen was chief of naval operations, 'he once said he'd hand a part of his budget to the State Department 'in a heartbeat' assuming it was spent in the right place.'
I fail to see where the charged testosterone is here - the alpha dog mentality. I fail to see it because it does not exist.
It is exactly this kind of gesture from these kinds of people that president-elect Barrack Obama has recognized as being the essential ingredients for a successful administration. For too long the world has endured PNAC influenced, extreme-right focused collective - where it was trendy to have vicious pissing competitions between departments (read defense and state). This collective has steered the United States through a maelstrom of chaos.
A centrist administration, populated by individuals who may be a little to the left or a little to the right will work infinitely more effectively than the Kentucky fried lunacy that has preceded it. These new members of the Obama national security team are aligned more closely to one another on various points of view that will allow for greatly enhanced co-operation and an ability to work through points of difference towards successful outcomes. The more visible example of this - Hilary and Obama - is proof positive of what can happen despite coming from diametrically opposed positions.
The right wing commetariat, whose membership includes the likes of Greg Sheridan, Jan Albrechtson and Piers Akerman down here in Australia, Bill O'Reilly, Brian Maloney and Dennis Prager in America will become irrelevant so long as they continue to trot out their delusions about the right/left divide and attempt to wedge their audience with erroneous character studies that include hormones, personality typologies and canines.
I mean, really...Hilary is not that much of a dog...Dean from Australia is the CEO of the independent think tank Banister's Mind and can be heard sprouting garbage on Red Bar Radio .com (www.redbarradio.com)
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The 'Rocky' series of movies are just one example.
I first saw Rocky back when in first premiered on television in the early 1980's. Testament to the impact the movie had on me, I still have the VHS recording I made of it, complete with the 1980's era ads which are an absolute tripper to watch even now, some 25 odd years later.
Last Friday night, after the family had packed themselves off to bed and I found myself with free reign over the lounge room, I rifled through my DVD collection looking for something that I could indulge my 'lost in the wilderness' mood. I happened upon 'Rocky 2' - the one where Rocky wins.
For, like an hour and a half I was transported yet again - back to a simpler time where the world wasn't so complicated. There was Sylvester Stallone's Rocky, arguably his most successful creation, fresh from his monumental bout with Apollo Creed - basking in the glow of heroic recognition, of having gone the distance with one of the greatest heavy weight boxers in the world.
Rocky 2 sees Rocky Balboa on a journey of seeking his identity. Following the climatic bout from the first movie he is thrust into a world of celebrity. He marries his sweet heart, Adrian. He is about to become a father. He wrestles with trying to make a life for himself beyond the boxing ring but finds the world an even harsher, unforgiving place. All of these events serve as sign posts for Rocky to discover who he is as a human being. Though he encounters conflict from everyone - especially those whom he loves the most - Rocky comes to the realization that his identity is that of a fighter and to try and deny this is to deny a core individual truth.
And no matter how distasteful that may be to some, the importance of himself, knowing who he is becomes paramount in this hero's journey. Without having that jewel of knowing who he is, he cannot be the successful husband, the lover, the father.
This quest for identity is one factor that lifts Rocky up and helps him to prevail in the emotionally charged re-match at the end of Rocky 2.
Through my tears of getting wrapped up in the hero's journey of Rocky 2 (I mean c'mon! Men are allowed to cry at movies!!) I began to recognize the significance of the choice I made last Friday night in selecting Rocky 2 over all the other films in my collection.
The themes portrayed in that film mirror the emotional point I find myself at right now. I find that worthy of discussion...so I will discuss it!
In 2006, DK books put out a fantastic companion piece to the Rocky series on the back of the release of the (?) final movie 'Rocky Balboa'.
By the time the final credits had concluded with that ubiquitous dedication to the memory of Jane Oliver, I had plucked the book out and was examining it in my newly charged reflective state of mind. It was then that I made the exciting assertion that the Rocky films 1 through 6 encapsulate what I regard as my 5 stages of man.
These are maturing from youth, the quest for identity, identity challenged, relationships and the dignity of relevance.
I should stress here that these 5 stages of man are not to be confused with the 5 stages of man from Greek Mythology. And I should also add here that in discussing these stages, I have the works of Joseph Campbell, particularly 'The Hero's Journey', in the back of my mind.
'Rocky' (or Rocky 1 - as the purist will call it) can be regarded as a metaphor for the hero maturing from his youth. In the beginning we see Rocky Balboa as a young man from Philadelphia, a two bit club fighter with limited resources, limited education but a limitless (if unrefined) skill in the art of boxing. He emerges from a disadvantaged youth with potential but no means to focus that potential. It becomes the role of the wise sage - in this case, the grizzled boxing coach Mickey Goldmill - to refine Rocky's potential and then to focus it towards a transcendental event - once in a life time shot at the title of the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the World.
During this stage of his journey Rocky deals with the truth that he has to leave behind the reckless attitudes of adolescence and mature into a more considered human being. That, in order to achieve you have to work, to sacrifice, and to grow. Getting by on a front of smart arsed charm will get you nowhere because despite what you think you know, you actually know nothing.
For some, this maturing from youth takes a long time to realize. Rocky Balboa, himself, is a young man in his late 20's when we first meet him. I came to the realization of my limitations a few years earlier in my 20's. At that point I began a process of sitting up, taking notice and pulling my shit together.
Rocky goes the distance with one of the most unforgiving boxers in the world against all the odds. And despite losing the bout on points Rocky attains a new level of respect from the crowd his opponent and his manager because he has, in his struggle, matured beyond the callowness of youth and become a man. This milestone of maturing from youth hits a critical point in the early years of manhood but the stage itself persists throughout life.
I have already explored the quest for identity as it relates to 'Rocky 2' so the natural progression of this is the identity challenged as is portrayed in 'Rocky 3'.
With the "Hero's Journey" in mind we explore the notion of identity being challenged in 'Rocky 3'. Challenged by success, by celebrity and adulation, by loss and grief and finally by rediscovery and redemption.
Celebrity and adulation, the spoils of success can be seen as a blessing and a curse. Rocky's success brings with it the nobility of being able to provide for his family, to invest in a future and to indulge in the finer things. But in doing so he becomes complacent. Rocky, perhaps unconsciously, leaves important career decisions to others - to his manager Mickey Goldmill, to his accountants, to his wife even. For his own reasons Mickey, in particular, takes it upon himself to protect Rocky by vetting his opponents. By only putting Rocky up against men whom he's sure Rocky can defeat easily. Because he knows there is, out there, a challenger who can defeat Rocky, a challenger who possesses a clearer sense of self than Rocky does at this moment.
Rocky himself embraces the celebrity he has achieved. He uses it philanthropically and thus admirably in making life for local youth better than his own youth. But Rocky also indulges - training for his bouts in swanky hotels, in front of cameras and fans that lap up his avarice.
All the while we watch a new challenger, Clubber Lang as he studies Rocky, watching how complacent Rocky has become.
Rocky's identity is challenged by complacency. He has lost focus of who he is - a fighter, a man whose greatest skill is embracing challenge.
When the wise sage, Mickey, falls critically ill prior to Rocky's first confrontation with Lang, Rocky realizes that he is faced with awful truth that he has neglected his identity. That because he has allowed others to carry his 'self' he has put at risk that quality which he struggled so much to covet.
With the death of Mickey and his crushing defeat at the hands of Lang, Rocky has lost himself. He grapples with the realization that all which he has achieved is nothing without a surety of self. He feels alone and unsure of how to proceed.
A chance for redemption comes in the form of his former opponent Apollo Creed. Creed recognizes during that disastrous last bout that Rocky's identity has been challenged to brink of total loss.
Apollo begins the process of Rocky’s rediscovery of self by helping Rocky to see that they now share a common experience - that of their identity being challenged by complacency.
In order to redeem himself Rocky must deconstruct himself, to relearn that which made him a champion to begin with. He must go to the dirt, the filth and the sweat of the old school gym. By stripping away the complacent layers of himself Rocky can confront the truth of why he lost himself.
And it is during that quest that Rocky realizes that he can longer rely on the wisdom of older, father figures like Mickey to guide him as a man. It is his contemporaries, his friends Paulie, Apollo, his loved ones - most significantly - his wife Adrian who provide counsel. But where he had been guided before, Rocky can only consider their advice now and make decisions himself. He realizes that he alone must confront the greatest challenge to his identity - fear - in order to redeem it.
Rocky Balboa endures these challenges as part of a process of continued personal growth. He ultimately prevails because he recognizes that his identity - his sense of self - is more important than materialism and celebrity. His victory over Clubber Lang at the conclusion of 'Rocky 3' represents not so much a victory of endeavor but a victory of identity.
This is the salient truth which I have applied within my own experience.
I'll skip over Rocky 4 because, in my mind, it has little to offer this discussion.
Rocky 5 though regarded as the weakest film in the series, nevertheless offers useful material with which to explore my fourth stage of man.
The relationships that we form throughout our lives are pivotal in helping us to define who we are. Though it can be said that the importance of relationships is a theme that carries through the entire Rocky series, Rocky 5 valiantly, if somewhat unsuccessfully, attempts to focus upon the familial relationships that sustain Rocky Balboa.
Rocky's son, Robert has grown up in the security of wealth. He has never wanted for anything. He has been given the kind of parental love and attention that was so sorely missing from Rocky's own childhood.
When an unfortunate turn of events see the collapse of Rocky's wealth and security, he is forced to move his family back to where it all began - the mean streets of Philadelphia's south side.
For his son Robert, this represents a seismic shift from that which he is accustomed. The relationship with his father becomes paramount in this unfamiliar environment as he tries to adjust to a harsh school, limited friends and an uncertain future.
For Rocky, the loss of prestige and wealth are devastating but, as always, his embrace of the struggle, the fighting instinct allows him to find a path forward. He returns to the gym that was left to him by his manager Mickey, one of the material assets that he hasn't lost. Rocky searches for meaning once again in the sweat and the leather and finds it in the form of a promising young boxer Tommy Gunn.
Rocky takes it upon himself to train and manage Gunn and they quickly forge a bond reminiscent of that which was held between Rocky and Mickey. They travel the country, spending long periods away from the family. Success comes to this new duo and Rocky indulges in the limelight of it. It is a chance at redemption though this redemption is more material than soulful.
Rocky's son, who is struggling at school with fitting in and dealing with bullies, is desperately trying to reach his father. Robert is at that tender age where his father is his hero but with Rocky completely absorbed with the protégé Gunn, Robert begins to feel neglected. He begins acting out in a vain effort to reach Rocky, but Rocky fails to understand the significance.
Gunn on the other hand is growing restless. Despite achieving an unprecedented level of success under Rocky's tutelage, he is growing ambitious, impatient, and arrogant. Gunn wants more than he feels Rocky is able to give him. He begins to talk to a rival management that offers riches and prestige beyond that which Rocky is able to provide. Again Rocky is blind to these goings on.
Inevitably events take their turn. Gunn walks away from Rocky and Robert confronts his father. Rocky finds himself at a cross road. In trying to capture a past glory he has jeopardized one of the most important relationships in his life. It was always Rocky's wish to have the kind of relationship with his son that he himself had missed out on. He realizes that, in focusing all his attentions on Gunn he has neglected Robert at perhaps one of the most impressionable times in his life. It is with heartfelt humility that Rocky bows before his son and acknowledges his failure and seeks forgiveness.
Of all the relationships that we have throughout our lives it is the relationships with family that endure. They may not take the form that is represented, admittedly through celluloid rose colored glasses, in Rocky 5 but they are the relationships that shape us, define us and indeed sustain us throughout our lives.
We live in a time where the issue of age is consistently talked about and debated. We are told that we should value our older citizens and allow them to continue to contribute to our society if they can do so. Yet the statistics do not bear this out. Age-ism has become a part of the modern vernacular. Older people are consistently passed over for jobs in the pursuit of younger people - even if those jobs end up never getting filled. The opinions of older people are often discounted as the rantings of 'old farts'. Society tends to treat its older citizens with a certain degree of condescension.
In that vein it is useful to explore the notion of the dignity of relevance as my fifth stage of man using 'Rocky Balboa' - the final film in the series to provide context.
In it, we see Rocky several years on from his boxing career. He is older, wiser and more serene. Adrian, his beloved wife, has recently passed away and for the first time in almost three decades Rocky finds himself alone. Though his son is still around, the interceding years has seen a sort of distance develop between them. Robert has had difficulty defining himself in the shadow of his legendary father and that has been a wedge that has not totally come between them - but it has caused tension. Rocky owns a local restaurant 'Adrian's' - monument not only to Rocky's illustrious career but to his wife, his greatest support and confidant.
Rocky is dignified in his station in life. He is productive, he is a provider, he is successful. But there is something missing. Rocky knows deep down that his journey is not yet complete.
A chance event put on by a sports television network - a computer simulated fight between the current Heavyweight Champion, Mason 'The Line' Dixon and Rocky himself - determines that, statistically, Rocky would defeat the Champion. This touches off something in Rocky but he initially pushes it away. He is approaching 60 years of age. Though he is not entirely unfit, Rocky acknowledges that the likelihood of him ever stepping into the ring again is remote.
The simulation however generates interest, burgeoning at first but it quickly develops into fever pitch as the nation begins to become fascinated by the possibility of translating the simulated fight into the real world.
Rocky is approached by representatives of Dixon to participate in what will essentially be an exhibition bout. The offer becomes too irresistible to refuse. Rocky's decision to accept the challenge is met with derision and ridicule by almost everyone - including his son.
"You're too old", "You're way past it", "You're a senile fool" are the refrains the Rocky encounters.
Rather than submit to the consensus opinion, Rocky begins to ask the question - why should age alone be an impediment to endeavor? If a man feels he still has something to give, should he not be free to contribute? "You think you ought to stop trying things 'cause you had too many birthdays? I don't."
In his journey towards the ring for his final bout Rocky asks us to consider the dignity of relevance - the idea that human potential should be an inalienable right of us all, no matter what age we are. It is this notion that encourages his son, Robert, to rediscover his father as the heroic figure he always was and allows him to shake off his own selfish shackles to embrace the pride he has for his father and for himself.
When Rocky steps into the ring for the emotionally charged final bout he becomes the personification of the dignity of relevance writ large. He carries an initially skeptical crowd along with him through 15 rounds of a bout that becomes a serious battle to prove to them, to the Champion, Mason Dixon, and to himself that he still has "something in the basement".
At the end, though he loses the bout on points, Rocky wins the battle of hearts and minds because of the fighting spirit that has defined him throughout his life. Rather than having been defeated Rocky imparts an important lesson - that is we can all contribute, prevail and achieve no matter what age we are. This lesson is not lost on the young Champion Mason Dixon who realizes what it is to be a real champion. He honors Rocky with the respect that the dignity of relevance yields and he has grown himself because of it.
I have long had an affection for the Rocky series of films because of their ability to inspire. But it has only been recently that I have come to the realization that, as a sociological document, Rocky Balboa's journey is a powerful exploration of man's journey through life that can be used as a template to understand what it is to be a man - indeed what it is to be human.
My five stages of man - maturing from youth, the quest for identity, identity challenged relationships and the dignity of relevance - provide for me a contextual basis from which I can understand myself and how I fit. Though I find myself in the third stage of this journey, I feel a sense if peace in knowing that I can face my own continuing journey with a direction inspired by continuing self reflection...
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I ask the question because, as I approach my own...midlife, - albeit from a very fucking great distance (I'm still on the good side of 35!) I find myself wondering what it is that motivates people of the boomer generation to indulge in illicit affairs.
David Williamson a noted Australian playwright and his wife Kristin Williamson, both of whom can be classed as baby boomers, featured in an article in the "Weekend Australian" magazine where they talked openly about this affair David had been having. Kristin Williams observed of her husband in her book that he spent much of his career satirizing this sort of rubbish. Now, it would appear that he, himself was up to his short and curlies in it. The feature mainly served to plug a book she had written about the affair and the impact it had on their marriage. That in itself, I found a little distasteful but I guess one should expect no less from these self obsessed arty-farty types. But it was illuminating, in that I started thinking about the mid life crisis and just how common it seems to be that people - couples - of my parents generation indulge in it more than any other.
I can point to numerous examples in my parents circle of friends alone where an illicit affair has visited a seemingly harmonious marriage. It sheeted home to me just how dysfunctional some these people were - people whom I looked up to. Shit, when I was 20, I found myself in a situation whereby I received some "attention" from one of these bored house wives (who I might add was way hot) but I didn't go there. It woulda been too weird.
Is there some switch in these people that flips at around 40 whereby they suddenly get horny as fuck and just have to go out and screw anyone but their spouse in order to satisfy themselves that they've still got it? I'm sure there is statistical evidence out there, somewhere that reveals that swingers parties and brothels boast patronage in the 40-55 year old age bracket moreso than any other demographic.
Is it that the mundanity of the suburban existence has become so spiritually barren that boomers crave some illicit adventure to reinvigorate themselves? I look across the rooftops of some suburban enclaves that I drive past and I shudder. They are so bloody soulless.
The fallout(s) from these affairs have varied. The affairs have been revealed, the couples have stayed together 'for the sake of the children' and hated each from then on. Or they have split 'for the sake if the children', hated each other from then on and gone on to fuck like alley cats...not each other - separately of course. Or they have somehow laid bare the truth of their situation, acknowledged fault on both sides, resolve stay together 'for the sake of the children', hate each other - for a little while - then end up fucking each other like alley cats, thus subjecting their children to a Steve & Elise Keaton/Family Ties midlife love affair that grosses everyone out. And they make it through.
Did you get all of that?
Mine was the generation X who grew up in a weird time. It began, I think, when Kurt Cobain topped himself and and ended probably around September 11 2001. My generation matured in a fairly dour time of political and economic reform, of recession and rationalization and of world events that were invariably regarded as abject failures - The Rwandan Genocide, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Asian Economic Crisis, Jennifer Aniston. The familiar catch phrase from that time 'reality bites' still lingers. This has evolved into the Y-generation which, with the exception of a handful of people I know, has to be the most comatose generation in history! "Do you want fries with that" Society has been homogenized and pasteurized down into a consumerist amalgam where everything from music to fashion to religion to sex has to have a profit potential attached to it or it has to be something you have to vote for via a fucking 1900 number from your cell.
Whereas my parents generation grew up in the generation of free love, Woodstock, social upheaval and Timothy Leary, I and my contemporaries grew up in a time of free fuck all, oppressive consumerist instrumentalities (constructed, ironically, by the very baby boomers that shunned it), an almost extreme social conservatism and...I dunno...Bono?!
The X generation are weary while the Y generation are so heavily narcotized neither group can be bothered with having an affair.
Dean Carlson, co-host of the popular internet talk radio show Red Bar Radio .com, recently observed that internet porn has ruined the sexual drives of a lot of our generation. Because it is so readily available and often for free, one can obtain instant, masturbatorial gratification without the need for expending effort on illicit dalliances which, quite frankly, just take too much effort.
I mean lets face it - all sex really is, is a moment of ejaculation - a bodily function that, since god knows when, human beings have coveted as though their lives depended on it. Don't get me wrong I enjoy sex - a lot! But the world, my world is complicated enough. I just could not be fagged expending time and energy on an affair for all the bullshit it would cause.
This is the "gift" I guess you could argue, that the boomer generation have bestowed on us. An oft-quoted "whinge" of the boomers is that my generation, in general, are lazy, lack motivation and "just can't be fucked". Well I guess when you have an entire magazine feature in a nations major daily broadsheet devoted entirely to a self obsessed boomer couple's mid life crisis and its fallout then our generations predisposition towards "not being fucked" can actually be considered admirable...
Monday, March 23, 2009
Interior, Kitchen, Morning
The couple are vibrant. Early 30’s, professional. Wife in a smart, sexy business suit, cup of coffee in hand as she rushes about the kitchen getting a few scraps of breakfast in before she goes off to work. Infant sits in a high chair, spoon in hand fumbling about with a bowl of oats. More of the oats are on his face than in his bowl. Man...day off, still in his pyjama bottoms and navy tee, quietly putting together a salad lunch for his wife into a smart Tupperware container with a cooler block and savvy compartments to separate different items.
Wife gathers up her handbag, cell phone, checks her lipstick in one of the glass kitchen cupboard doors. She kisses Man on the cheek and hands him a piece of paper, a list of things to do today. She kisses her infant son on the way out the door then it’s Man and child...a day together.
Interior, House, Morning.
Man washes and dries the dishes, makes the bed and the baby’s cot, vacuums the carpets, puts a load of washing on. Man and child shower splash, splash, splash. Giggling and laughter. cuddles and kisses. Man dresses himself - jeans, light shirt and trendy jacket, and his son - puts a cute little outfit on - a smart long sleeved tee, bib and brace overalls, denim, smart shoes and hat. His son looks hip. Prepares the nappy bag, a lunch for the child, the stroller. Packs it all in the car - a smart European sedan with a roof rack mounted luggage pod on top. Straps the baby in, gathers the list from his wife, puts it in his pocket. Then they are off, Man and son ready to embrace the day.
Interior/Exterior, The Car, Morning.
Man, driving along, feeling light and happy. Singing along to the iPod through the car’s stereo, son giggling with glee in the baby seat in back waving his arms about trying to imitate the Man.
Exterior, Shopping Precinct Car-Park, Mid Morning.
Man pulls the car into the parking bay marked by a symbol of the child and the parent. He is impressed. Lots of space here. First time. Man gets out and opens the rear door. His son smiles broadly.
The voice comes from behind the Man. He lurches up, hitting his head on the inside of the door space as he does so. Man sees stars. Then he sees a woman, an angry woman. A mother with a child - an older child, a daughter, clutching a doll. The woman is waving her arms, pointing accusingly at him, then at the sign denoting the car space as a stroller friendly space. She swears, she spits.
"Who do you think you are?! This is not for you! You don’t belong here!"
Man stares at her, shocked. His mouth open in surprise, his head stills throbs. The woman continues to berate him. Man reaches up, opens the pod. Reveals the baby stroller. Stands to one side reveals his son, sitting in the baby seat looking at her, wide eyed smile on his face. The woman falls silent, eyes wide with surprise. She hesitates then abruptly marches off, her daughter trailing behind her like a rag doll.
Man, shakes his head as he watches her go, rubs the spot where he hit his head then turns to his child.
Interior, Grocery store, Day.
Man negotiates the grocery aisle pushing the stroller with one hand, holding a basket in the other. Checking items off the list as he does so. He is feeling better, feeling good that this task is almost done. He walks slowly along, checking the shelves for a particularly hard to find item. He thinks of his wife momentarily, loves her. Her next culinary masterpiece lies in the ingredients he gets here. Man doesn’t want to let her down.
Man turns abruptly, straining his neck as he does so. A couple is behind him - right behind him. They are obese. Husband with a dirty, grubby woolen sweater, his hairy stomach bulging out from underneath the untucked pants. Wife, sour face, too much make-up, sweat beads forming underneath the foundation. Both of them glare at Man with contempt.
"What are you doing? Day dreaming?! You wanna move out of the fucking way?!"
The Husband is butting the trolley into the backs of Man’s ankles, grunting as though he were trying to push Man aside. Man quickly tries to move the stroller into the middle of the aisle, fumbling with the basket. The obese couple barge their way through. Man up end’s the basket, it’s contents spilling everywhere, glass jars smashing on the tiled floor The couple don’t even stop but snicker as they briefly glance back.
"He doesn’t belong here"
Man desperately tries to maneuver out of the way as more trolleys approach from either end of the aisle. A shop assistant approaches with an angry look on her face, armed with a mop and bucket, brush and shovel.
"Oi!! You’ll have to pay for those items!"
Suddenly from beside the Man, son plucks a jar of gherkins from the shelf beside him, knocking two accompanying jars off the shelf. They smash on the floor. The shop assistant glares at the Man.
The son giggles with delight.
Interior, Shopping Center, Day.
The baby is crying, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. A smell rises from below. Man screws his nose up but he smiles at his son, a little wearily. His neck still hurts as does the lump that has risen on the back of his head. Man looks ahead of him, sees the sign for the toilets.
Relieved, he angles the stroller towards the Men’s toilets.
Man jumps and swings his head around, straining the other side of his neck now. An elderly, curmudgeonly man is there, a janitor. He shakes his head. Man hesitates, looks at the older gentleman quizzically. The janitor raises his hand and points a knarled finger towards another door. One with a sign denoting the baby change room. The door opens and a woman emerges with a baby hanging from a harness on her chest. She regards the Man with disinterest, perhaps distaste. Man angles the the stroller towards the closing door as the woman brushes past him.
Inside, Man is confronted by four or five women. Some sitting, breast feeding, some standing at the benches, the change tables, removing soiled nappies, replacing them with fresh and clean ones. They are chatting, laughing, gossiping. They fall silent as Man enters, struggling to negotiate the stroller with the fat shopping bags hanging off it through the doorway. He regards them with a polite smile, the women turn away from him whispering to each other.
"He doesn’t belong here"
Strangely, that affects him more than the fat couple from the grocery store or the mother in the car park. He feels his heart sink. Man finds an empty corner away from the others. He changes his son's nappy in silence. The women behind him are whispering. He can hear them. As he lifts his refreshed son from the change table and deposits him back into the stroller, Man glances over at the women, their whispers stop. They look away from him. Man feels that twinge again - a twinge of embarrassment as he maneuvers the stroller out of the baby change room.
Interior, Shopping Center, Day.
His son babbles cheerily as Man pushes the stroller along. Son look up at his father with a loving smile. Man looks down upon his son. He can only manage a wan smile in return.
Interior, Food Hall, Day.
Man searches for a place to sit down. He is balancing a tray with a coffee and a sandwich on top of the stroller. The son is crying, hungry. There is a parents area with wide spaces between the tables. Man heads towards there, spies an empty table. He moves towards it. A trio of women armed with strollers of their own cut in front of him, totally disregarding him and collar the table for themselves. Man just stares. One of the women stare back at him.
Man turns away and finds another table a few minutes later on the edge of the parents area, where the spaces between the tables aren’t so wide. Again he struggles. He sets the tray down, spilling some of his coffee onto the sandwich. The baby is screaming now. Mothers across from him glare at him, some have their breasts out, feeding their babies. Man looks at them blankly, sees their breasts, his eyes widen slightly. They turn away in disgust. Man turns back to his child. He feeds his son, settles him down. His son drops off to sleep. Man turns to his coffee. He raises it to his lips. It is cold. Man’s heart sinks. He sets it down and turns to the sodden sandwich. There is a fly on it. Man’s heart sinks further.
Interior, Shopping Center, Afternoon.
Man walks slowly along. The baby sleeps. The items on the list are checked off now - thankfully. He looks through the window of the a toy store. Sees the Lego sets on display. Remembers them from his own childhood. An electronic games shop. He played alot of games before he was married. He is drawn into the store. It’s been a couple of years now. The games have become more advanced. Man examines the system requirements on the spine of one of the PC games. Way too much for his system now, he thinks wistfully.
Man spins around. Feels something pop in his left knee as he does so. A young, arrogant looking store assistant is coming towards him, pointing an accusing finger at him.
"Your kid is pissing on the merchandise man!!"
Man looks down. His son is awake, has somehow released the buttons on his overalls and his nappy. A thin stream of urine arcs, perfectly, across the space between the stroller and the display shelf splashing across a copy of "Halo 3" for X-box 360.
"You’re gonna have to pay for that...fuuuckk!"
The store assistant rips the contaminated title off the shelf and shoves it into the chest of Man.
"What are you doing bringing a kid in here anyway?!? You don’t belong here!!"
Man stares blankly at the young store assistant. His head drops slightly. A lump rises in his throat.
The store assistant, suddenly appears uncomfortable. He backs away from the Man slightly. This guy is gonna cry, he thinks regretfully.
"Hey...it’s no big deal. We’ve...got a special on that game right now anyways"
Man fishes his wallet from out of his jeans, opens it up and takes out a hundred dollar note. He shoves it into the chest of the store assistant, without looking up. Man leaves the store in silence, his son chewing on the corner of the game’s cover.
Exterior, Shopping Precinct Car-Park, Afternoon.
The Man wearily secures his son into the baby seat, packs the stroller away in the pod. He closes the door and rounds the rear of the car. The group of mothers from the baby change room are coming towards him with their strollers, babies and shopping, chatting, laughing and gossiping. They fall silent as they pass him, regard the Man with aloof distaste. He turns away, prepares to open the door of the car. He looks up and sees the mother that confronted him at this very spot earlier in the day. She is still dragging her daughter along like a rag doll, swearing at her to hurry up. She looks up at the Man briefly and scowls. As the Man secures his seatbelt and starts the car he looks through the windshield he spies the elderly janitor standing on the pavement near the car park. He looks at the old timer, their eyes meet. The elderly man smiles - a smile of empathy, of understanding. He raises a knarled, old hand at the Man, flips a jaunty salute and winks. The Man returns the gesture and nods respectfully.
Exterior/Interior, Car, Late Afternoon.
The Man drives home in silence. The car stereo is dark and silent. The son babbles quietly to himself in back.
Interior, Kitchen, Late Afternoon.
As the Man unpacks the grocery items onto the kitchen bench, his Wife arrives home. The son, who is sitting in his high chair, squeals with delight upon seeing his mother. She races to him, arms outstretched, wraps her baby in a enthusiastic embrace, smothering him in kisses. She then turns to her husband, her Man and plants a lingering, loving kiss on his cheek. He smiles faintly, bows his head slightly
"I am so happy to see you both again", she says.
The Man gazes wearily at his wife.
"You belong here," she says to him. "You belong with me and our baby"
She embraces her husband with a more passionate kiss then draws back from him.
"You look tired. Why don’t you go have a shower? I’ll take over for a while, I’ll pour us a glass of wine"
The Man looks at her silently, then turns slowly. She watches him go, a look of concern in her eyes.
Interior, Bedroom, Evening.
He sits on the edge of the bed. He takes of his jacket. He cups his hands together and rests them in his lap. The lump on his head throbs. His neck is sore, real sore. His knee clicks uncomfortably each time he moves it. He gazes at the window, through the window, through the streetlight beyond. He is silent. A single tear forms at the edge of his right eye, it swells in size...
...Then trickles down his cheek.