Rear Left

Spaces of Refusal

Posted in DigiCult, Dog Food by rearleft on September 25, 2010

Preliminary findings from new research into young Australians’ usage of mobile and social media reveals that while networks of information and communication technologies are changing rapidly, so too are the social practices that surround them. One interesting aspect of Kate Crawford‘s three year study into the practices and attitudes of 18-30 year olds across Australia is the comparison between mobile phone (and media) usage in urban and rural populations.

In cities, where 3G coverage is near-ubiquitous, the study captured a population that is, in a sense, always online. This ability to connect with others in one’s social network through a number of channels (face-to-face, telephone, text message, social networking sites…) can, in the situation of a failure in the technological networks, result in a “connectivity panic” in which the individual experiences anxiety as a result of being unable to use their device to connect to other people or sources of information. As a way of addressing this hyperconnectedness, nuanced social norms are emerging around how to deal with the ability to reach and be reached at all times. These may include taking intentional time offline, or away from social networking sites, but also in more subtle practices such as the differentiation of styles and modes of communication for various cliques and social clusters that one is part of. For instance, one might develop a norm for using telephone conversations as the primary mode of communicating with family members, but prefer the use of email for work contacts because of its ability to be answered in an asynchronous fashion, and thereby to seem less socially demanding on the person contacted.

In rural and regional locales, where data and telephony network coverage is far more patchy, attitudes and practices around the use of such technologies takes on a different character. In the situation where technological networks cannot be regularly or reliable accessed, social norms emerge that account for the fact that communication is not always possible. Respondents to the study reported practices such as writing and storing text messages while offline and transmitting large amounts in bursts when a signal became available. Conversely, in a low-coverage area it becomes more socially acceptable to not respond to a message at the time it was received by virtue of the fact that it is possible to have been out of range.

These methods for defining when and how one sends and receives information to one’s contacts can be seen as tactics by which individuals and groups are negotiating community norms in the context of rapidly changing technological and social network formations. In the case of placing limitations on one’s availability to the communication network, Crawford notes that these tactics can be seen as the creation of what Genevieve Bell has called “spaces of refusal”. However the creation of such spaces and times without connectivity to networked communications media should not be seen as a total rejection of the new communication technologies, but rather as an important aspect of negotiating new ways of being connected to online and offline communities.


Hey Hey it’s White Supremacy

Posted in Race/ism by rearleft on October 9, 2009

(Dear Readers: apologies for the long absence. The fates have stepped in and made me a full-time carer for my injured partner and our baby, so little time for blogging. Background here. That said, some stories are too infuriating to ignore.)

I’ve previously mentioned the prevalence of the Golliwog figure in Australia in these pages. Last week, on a reunion show of “Hey Hey It’s Saturday“, an extremely popular and long-running television variety show that ran all through my youth, an example of Australians’ obliviousness to the prevalence of racism in oz came roaring into the nation’s living rooms.

That’s right, producers and audience thought it was so funny the first time they did it 20 years ago, they brought it back for an encore. For those non-Australian readers, the cutaway to the caricature of a fat-lipped figure with the caption “Where’s Kamahl?” is a reference to a popular Australian lounge singer who is ethnically Tamil and was born in Malaysia.


Get it? Kamahl has dark skin! And sings! Hilarous, right? Kamahl is reportedly not amused.

Discourse around the story in the media and blogosphere is following a similar line to that begun in the exchange between Harry Connick Jr and Daryl Somers in the clip above. To summarise:

Rest of World: Hey Australia, that shit is racist and it’s mind-blowing that you’re still yucking it up to minstrel shows.

Australia: This is not America. Blackface is not considered racist here. Take a joke, mate.

Me: White Supremacy is so deeply entrenched in Australia that ridicule of people of colour, even in the crudest and most outmoded of forms of expression, is a socially acceptable form of entertainment.

Note that Daryl’s apology is directed to Harry for offending his American cultural norms, not for the content of the segment itself and its offense to people of colour.

While Australian blackface commonly mimics the Golliwog/Sambo/minstrel type, we also have an indigenous form. Growing up in North Queensland, King Billy Cokebottle was a popular performer who did his routine on a local radio program, when not out touring the pubs of the nation and selling audio cassettes by mail order.

It is important to remember that the assault on racial justice in Australia is not only taking place in the field of representation. The government has suspended the Racial Discrimination Act as part of the “Northern Territory Intervention” in order to enact policies that explictly discriminate against indigenous people, and deployed the and federal police to enact these laws. Lynchings occur, and semi-organized fascist groups are sprouting.

But it’s just a joke, mate…

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Of Wogs and Golliwogs

Posted in Race/ism by rearleft on June 18, 2009

There are certain things that it seems that Australia has not received the memo on. Glitches in the cultural continuum that send a jolt of culture shock through my system and let me know that I am in thoroughly americanized space, but not the US.

Being a new parent, I spend a fair amount of time browsing through childrens’ shops for cute new clothes or toys for Ramona. Many average mall baby/toy shops stock some version of the Golliwog.


As racist as the US is institutionally, this type of “Sambo” minstrel character is generally understood for what it is, a deeply insulting racist caricature from a bygone era. Apparently not here in the supposedly progressive Australia.


Until recently, Arnotts, an Australian company iconic for its Tim Tams, Iced VoVos, and many other baked confections sold biscuits called “Golliwogs”. (NOTE: I tried to find an image of this, but was amazed to find that I could not. Australians not so good with uploading? Arnotts on an aggressive revisionism campaign? weird…) In a seriously half-arsed PR move, “Golliwogs” became “Scalliwags” when Arnott’s sought to expand business in the US (maybe? not great sources on this).


Not only is the Golliwog still alive in Oz, it has spawned descendants. In Australia, dark-skinned people, particularly immigrants (often southern Europeans, Arabs), are often referred to as “Wogs”. “Wog” is a shortened form of “Golliwog”, first used by British troops to refer to Arabs, and later becoming a more general slur against people of colour. It is reported that in the 1960s soldiers from the Argyll and Southern Highlanders Regiment would display a Robertson’s Golly Badge for each Arab they had killed in Aden (Yemen), a British mandate until 1967.

Jason Di Russo remarks on the morphing context of the term “wog” over the past 20 years in his well thought out essay in The Australian. Russo does a good job of pulling the ridiculous framing of the Chk-Chk Boom non-story into focus. The story here is not whether or not Clare Werbeloff witnessed a shooting (she did not), it is the normality of white Australia’s caricatures of people of colour.

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