Three things I love the most: flashmobs, marriage proposals and equality
Today, Angelina Jolie made headline news.
For an A-List celebrity this is not an uncommon feat. But today, in a moving piece for the New York Times Jolie revealed that earlier in the year she underwent a preventative double mastectomy. Unlike an attention seeking paparazzi tip off; this was a headline that Jolie wanted.
Now I don’t want to unnecessarily praise her personal decision based purely on her celebrity status but it was an incredibly brave move for someone whose career is based largely on body image. As an actor, Jolie largely involuntarily relinquishes the interpretation of her body to public discussion and critical evaluation. In the public sphere of celebrity magazines everything about her body is up for grabs from her pouty lips to the reports of her weight gain/loss. The decision process for Jolie to remove both breasts would have been a large one. Hell, it would be a large decision for most women.
I mean, take myself. Now to put it lightly, my cup does not runneth over when it comes to my breasts and like Shakira’s they will never be confused for mountains. However, when it comes to my favourite body feature they rate pretty highly. Not only do they enhance an outfit but on some primal level they are indicative of my femininity. It’s purely aesthetic of course. So please don’t feel obliged to tell me because I am more than aware that as a female I am more then my breasts. However, the thought that my breasts could one day kill me is rather unsettling. Now fortunately I do not have a family history of breast cancer. However, that’s not to say that I’m immune.
I know about predisposition to disease. When I was born I was routinely heel-prick tested for Cystic Fibrosis. My positive test result threw a massive curveball for my parents and doctors alike who struggled to understand how a child of European/Polynesian heritage, which didn’t have a disposition to the disease, could have it. Specialists were flown from Sydney to Newcastle to test me and it eventually turned out that the first test was just a false reading. I was fine. In reflection the experience teaches me that it only takes one genetic mutation to start a lineage.
Now I don’t want to seem overdramatic but after reading the article by Jolie I reflected on the decision she felt forced to make acutely aware that as female I could one day have the same fate bestowed upon me. Now, there is no right answer. I mean, in an ideal world breast cancer would have a cure; in an ideal world breast cancer wouldn’t necessarily mean a life sentence, and; in an ideal world breast cancer wouldn’t exist. But, the fact that Jolie’s double mastectomy was preventative is incredibly thought provoking for me.
To be honest, if I had breast cancer my first option would be chemotherapy and if it that wasn’t successful then I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at getting a mastectomy. I guess in that circumstance I would be looking at eradicating the risk. For a person like me a decision in such circumstances would be based purely on logical reasoning. If that’s the problem… then the problem needs to go.
So, if we go back to the idea that my breasts were murderers and it was proven that they were trying to kill me then yes, in the name of self-defence I would have them removed.
But, if my breasts had a genetic history of deviant behaviour, although they hadn’t yet been deviant, would I remove them?
This is the question that faced Jolie. Thanks to an inherited gene mutation her doctors estimated that she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. Jolie witnessed cancer ravage and eventually claim her mother’s life. For a mother of young children, Jolie rationalised that the loss of her breasts meant less to her family than the loss of her life – their mother, his wife.
This is the power of knowing. It’s the confirming knowledge that you carry a silent killer gene within your body that puts you at a higher risk of being targeted than the average person that changes everything. When faced with an 87 percent risk Jolie looked at the numbers and presumably didn’t trust that with a 13 percent chance that her breasts wouldn’t turn on her.
I understand that.
I mean looking it from a physiological point of view the breasts primary function is for feeding newborns. I mean, if you’re not breastfeeding then they don’t really serve a purpose unless you’re after free drinks at a bar. However, trivial services of the breasts aside if breasts are not breastfeeding then physiologically there is no point to them.
Therefore the attachment that women have to their breasts is more emotion than physiological. For me, my breasts were largely representative of the Britney Spears like transition of no longer being a girl but not yet being a woman. It was one of the first signs of adulthood and my first bra heralded that passage. Therefore what I would be holding onto is the sentimentality of my memories of having them.
I guess modern science these days is making such incredible leaps and bounds that unlike some double mastectomies of the past you’re not going to be left as a disfigured Frankenstein shadow of your former self. So for me based purely on aesthetics I know that there would be ways around it.
Even though I was initially surprised by Jolie’s decision when confronted with her options I understand why she did it and would probably do the same thing in her circumstance.
However, knowing that’s the decision I would make it does not make me go out now and get a double mastectomy in the situation I am. I mean, Jolie and I would both be doing it for preventative reasons but the difference is that Jolie has a predisposition that has already taken a life whereas I do not. That’s not to say that our circumstances automatically mean that Jolie will get cancer and I won’t – for life can be so incredibly fickle that the opposite happens for no justifiable reason.
Therefore, the most important thing that I got out of Jolie’s article was that it was thought provoking. It allowed a positive and constructive type of critical evaluation on a celebrity’s body. It generated a discussion and gave me comfort in my own realisation. It provided me with a recognisable face to an unrecognisable situation. Jolie is incredibly brave and the decision she made and shared will potentially save lives.
This week I had some chance conversations with two of my primary school teaching friends. The crux of their existence? NAPLAN testing.
As a childless twenty-six year old, who finished secondary education a good decade ago, NAPLAN seems quite far removed from me. To my understanding it is just a test, albeit a controversial one, which attempts to raise Australian students’s numeracy and literacy levels. Fair enough.
What I didn’t realise is just how political and stress inducing this test is.
I met one friend on a Saturday morning for a coffee. She is a twenty something who is currently doing University placement at a local primary school for her teaching degree. Now, not only has she had to give up work for the duration of her unpaid teaching placement she quickly experienced that for teachers some of the classroom expenditure is financed by their own pockets. A simple need for pipe cleaners for a Mothers Day art project had her making an early morning dash to the local department store before work. She tried to find the supplies at the school but soon realised that if the project was to go ahead she would have to foot the bill herself.
The other conversation was the result of a chance encounter with my friend, a full-time primary school teacher to a class of five/sixes, as she made an after school department store trip to purchase supplies (reward lollies) for her class ahead of their impending NAPLAN test.
I asked both how everything was in their respective lives with Student Teacher and Full-time Teacher both lamenting on the arduous process that was preparing their class for the NAPLAN test.
Full-time Teacher said on the day of the conversation alone she had to deal with three emotional students as they threw stress-induced temper tantrums while she was teaching a practice NAPLAN test. She made the effort to highlight the regression of these ten-to-eleven-year-olds behaving and reacting like toddlers at the thought of sitting the test. Full-time Teacher also admitted that she and other teachers had openly suggested to their less capable students or the ones who became too overwhelmed by the test to have the day off on testing day – “Oh, it sounds like you’re not feeling to well: maybe you want to have the day off tomorrow” Full-time Teacher said reflecting on her interaction with a student.
Student teacher similarly reflected that she spent a proportion of her time consoling her students when she was supposed to be preparing them for the test. Even more interestingly though Student Teacher is supposed to be supervised at all times. However, thanks to stretched teachers required to supervise the NAPLAN test she is required to create a lesson plan and teach the grade sixes, which even though there is a connecting door between classrooms to another teacher she admits her teaching will go largely unsupervised.
I listen to their stories of emotional and stress filled students and think to myself that I’m lucky that I didn’t have to sit this test when I was in primary school. That is until I come to the realisation that I would have been fine. Why? I test well. I always have. A test only partly reflects what you know. For the most part however, it reflects how you deal with tests. Can you compose yourself enough for rational thought and logical argument? Does the ticking clock distract you? Does the frenzied writing rush of your peers pressure you to think that they know the answer and you don’t?
As I said, I test well. This is not me boasting: this is just fact. Throughout my schooling years I willingly admit that I was stupidly lazy. I didn’t pay attention most of the time and every school report I received had teachers commenting that I “distracted others who could not afford to be distracted”. However, it was incredibly fortunate for me that most of my overall course scores relied heavily on end of year test results. So, I remembered all the parts and functions of the human eye and I remembered word for word the MEAA/AJA Journalism Code of Ethics. Math and science tests use logic and problem solving. History and Geography use memory. English is largely interpretation and persuasive argument. From primary school onwards I was always in the accelerated learning class for subjects because I tested well.
I could tell that it annoyed my schoolmates. It was not uncommon for me to go into a test sitting on a credit because of classwork and leave with a high distinction. Friends would often be perplexed trying to figure out how the girl who sat in psychology class relentlessly trying to get everyone to sing Bonnie Tyler’s “Totally Eclipse of the Heart” could finish the course with a high distinction.
However, this is not to say that I was one of the most competent kids in the class. In fact, if they had conducted an unexpected test where I didn’t have the chance to revise and cram then chances are I would have failed. If you compared my class levels to my test levels I think you would find that they would tell two completely different stories on my numeracy and literacy levels.
Therefore, I have difficulties comprehending how one test can be truly indicative and reflective of education levels. I mean there are going to be kids like me who test well and therefore will automatically achieve higher levels of competency because of this. But that’s not to say that they are in fact more competent than their peers. Truth be told, there will be students who are equally if not more competent but who just don’t test well. The test also highlights the students who are struggling and therefore doesn’t reflect that they may be competent in other non-tested areas.
I raised this concern with my teacher friends and this sentiment was further echoed in their testimonials. Full-time Teacher also said that she was informed that she would not know the results of the test until October and couldn’t fathom any understanding of how a test designed to tailor learning outcomes for the year would only endure a two-month berth. Not only that, she also lamented that she was informed that teacher’s wages would also be affected by the outcome of the test. In a move that I still don’t understand – teachers with higher performing students will be paid more.
This absolutely does my head in because commonsense tells me that teachers would be spending more time and energy with the lower performing students to get them on par with the national level. If teachers are already reaching into their own pockets for teaching supplies then I can assure you that teachers from low performing schools will be looking to apply for jobs at high performing schools. Why? Because at the end of the day their mortgage repayments still need paying.
Is it a test of the students taking the test or of the teachers? Because honestly there are some teachers out there bending over backwards for their students and they should not be penalised because of the possibility that their students don’t test well.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am an extreme advocate for the importance of education but surely NAPLAN is only ONE indicator of a child’s academic progress and therefore should not be treated as the be all and end all of it for students and teachers alike.
It’s payday. FINALLY. I log on to my online banking account and start feverishly transferring money to pay bills so I can find out what I have left to play with. Rent - the non-negotiable expense that I pay if I want to continue living with a roof over my head. TICK! Phone bill - why do I pay for such an exorbitant contract that I never fully use? TICK! Gym membership - oh yes, that place I drive past. TICK!
As the pathetic remaining balance in my account is revealed and I rule out any chance that I am the unsuspecting victim of an underground banking crime syndicate, I realise that I must start tightening my belt buckles – it’s time to save!
I channel the spirit of Wayne Swan trying to fix the federal budget and I begin to look around the room for a sign of where I should make my first financial incision. The magazines littered on the floor around my room catch my eye and I quickly declare them to be the first casualty in my war on saving money. As, I pick up the magazines and start adding their prices together I realise that in just over a month I have spent over $100 on magazines and all I have to show for it is a pile of glossy paper in my hands. In a reverence reserved only for a fourth base referee at a baseball game, I emphatically state (accompanied by the use of hand signals) in the drama appropriate for this life changing decision - Magazines, you’re outta here!
Day 1: I walk past a newsagency and I hear the siren call of the magazines enticing me in. Keep walking. I am in the slowest moving queue at the grocery store when Miranda Kerr, on the cover of Cleo, starts telling me to buy her. Not today, Miranda. I log on to Twitter and I see the happy testimonials from magazine readers. Sign off.
It has not even been twenty-four hours when crawled up in the foetal position that I begin to realise the severity of my money-saving decision. I LOVE magazines. I love buying them. I love reading them. I love ripping out their pages. Heck, my Honours thesis at University, “The True Blue and The Beautiful: Understanding the Representation of Australianness in Who Magazine”, was a six-month analysis on a magazine. I actually enjoyed writing every word of the fifteen-thousand-word process because it involved magazines. While my classmates foraged and read stale books with the unmistakable smell of forgotten literature I joyfully flipped the technicolour pages of my magazines. Oh golly, what have I done?
Day 2: Now, do you know those days where everything and everyone gets in your way and you just really feel like a Katy Perry plastic bag drifting through the wind wanting to start again? Yeah, it’s that kind of day. Foul. Now, I do acknowledge that presumably there may be a direct link from my magazine withdrawal to my foul mood. Regardless, I need my fix of instant happiness. I wave my white flag on my war on saving money and surrender.
I relapse and head straight to the magazine aisle of my closest supermarket and with the latest Cleo magazine securely in my basket my heart starts to excitedly beat faster in anticipation.
I take my purchase home and begin laboriously lingering over every article and every photo savouring every morsel of it. It is nourishing me and educating me and inspiring me. I read it cover to cover and then back again because like Aerosmith, I don’t wanna miss a thing. As this euphoric feeling begins to build and pulsate around my body I have never been more thankful for my lack of willpower. I’m like Carrie Bradshaw in that scene of Sex and The City when she says:
“When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I just thought it fed me more.”
As I am bask in the afterglow of my fulfilling magazine read I have this clear, yet understatedly simple, epiphanous moment: I NEED to buy magazines.
Here I was, this person who loved magazines so much that I wrote a university thesis on them yet when it came to saving money they were the first thing I threw under the metaphorical bus. Which is a decision made further more ridiculous, when you consider I am a journalism graduate who would give an arm and a leg to work in the magazine industry.
I guess, I thought it would be easy for me to stop buying magazines because it was always the purchase that friends and family scrutinised as being frivolous (I do however note, that they were more than happy to hypocritically read my magazines once I had finished!). However, one just needs to look up the research of Angela McRobbie to know that magazines play an important socialising role for girls and women. Not to mention that these magazines are important because they invite their reader’s participation in a cultural sense of belonging through gossip. Therefore, any adage of a “high versus low culture” when it comes to magazines is utterly ridiculous. These magazines I had purchased had served my unconscious personal need by creating an opportunity for escapism and voyeurism. I needed the reminder that these magazines were more than just glossy pieces of paper but instead they were an invitation into a cultural citizenship that I had taken for granted. I NEED to buy magazines.
Lets remember, that it was only February of this year that the doors of Grazia closed due to the “challenging times” described by Bauer Media chief executive Matthew Stanton. What will be left of the magazine industry if these falls in magazine sales continue? Where is the job security of those in the magazine industry? What about the follow on affect regarding the sense of belonging and community that magazines provide? Where will we turn if all the magazines are forced to close their doors?
In an attempt to keep my magazine habit alive and well, I decided to look into downgrading my phone contract and signing up to a gym that I would actually go to. While saving money is still important to me, I realised that was a more economic way of going about it that didn’t purely rely on deprivation. I realised, that for the sake of the industry I love that I need to support it. I need to do my part to prevent more doors from closing. I know that I can’t solely change the reading and consumptions habits of the Australian public, but I am comforted in the knowledge that this blog is the result of me reading one Cleo magazine… imagine what heightened level of understanding I will achieve once I go out and buy all my other lovlies!
The ONLY reason this should be illegal is on the grounds of complete adorableness.
This morning at 4:30am I went to work.
I park my car and walk across the empty streetlight lit highway to get to the office. I say my customary good morning to the wild rabbits that frequent the area when the sun goes down. I collect the morning’s papers and enter the building. I sit down at my desk and begin editing audio. The radio program this morning includes live in-person and phone interviews. There will be live crosses from all over Tasmania and pre-recorded packages. It is another day at work.
But, today is ANZAC Day. The one day of the year where the nation, as a collective, stops to say thank you to our soldiers. I know the correct term is “commemorate” but, let’s be honest - when we are remembering what they have done for us what we are really saying is “thank you”. Thank you for going. Thank you for keeping us safe. Thank you for giving me the freedom of choice. And for the large part - thank you for going; so I don’t have to.
So, there I was alone at 5am sitting at my desk in a heated office cutting audio for a package about children of veterans. I know the program’s focus is on ANZAC Day (heck, I am the one producing it!) but as I listen to a 17-year-old girl tell her story about her father serving in Afghanistan tears start to well in my eyes. No, you don’t have time to cry, I tell myself. Focus on the job at hand, I repeat under my breath.
The program starts at 6am and the presenter does a call out for listener’s to choose the music we will play for the next four hours. The phone lines light up, and with an ”***, Hobart - This is Tahlea” I start taking requests.
There is one caller, a Vietnam Vet, who requests “Leaving On a Jet Plane” because when he had a day off he, and the other soldiers, would gather around drink beer, listen to that song and hope.
There is a granddaughter who requests “Lili Marlene” for her grandfather who never spoke of his experience at war but when asked would hum that song.
There is a Navy Reserve who requests “I Still Call Australia Home” because when he returned from the Gulf in 2005 that was the song they played when they disembarked from the HMAS Darwin on to Australian shores.
There is a nurse who requests “White Cliffs of Dover” for a late veteran she used to look after because it was his favourite song and he played it everyday.
I search high and low on the database for these songs and more. Not just because they are song requests and I am doing my job but because they are no longer just songs to me: these songs are memories. These songs are saying “thank you”.
For most of the morning, I sit in my producer’s studio organising and then listening to the interviews being broadcast live on air across Tasmania. Stories of a war veteran, of a serving corporal, of a student studying post traumatic stress disorder, of a war nurse, of a sports journo boarding a plane to New Zealand to cover the Saints vs. Swans AFL game and of many more. As I listen to some of their harrowing tales my eyes well up with tears. No, you don’t have time to cry, I tell myself. Focus on the job at hand, I repeat under my breath.
At 10am the program finishes. A program that sees me wrangling audio files, darting between the three computer screens in front of me, playing with audio levels, answering the phones and swearing like a sailor on leave at disruptive technology. As soon as the familiar news music began to play I let out a sigh of relief. It is over for another day.
I return to my desk and start preparing for the program tomorrow. I am sitting there having a look at the latest press release emailed to me and I finally let it hit me.
I am a young woman with an education.
I am a young woman with a job.
I am a young woman who walked to work unescorted in the dark.
I am a young woman who works in an industry that relies on Freedom of Speech.
But, most importantly - I am a young woman who is thankful.
I’m thankful that I grew up in a country where young girls are not denied an education or get shot walking to school. I’m thankful that I was able to use that education to get a job rather than be forced into a child marriage. I’m thankful for the sense of safety I enjoy that means that I don’t have to think twice before leaving my home in the dark. I’m thankful to work in an industry that I love where I can say what I’m thinking without fear of oppression. I am thankful that I don’t have to put my life on the line every time I go to work. I am thankful that I have a choice and that choice gives me the freedom and confidence to do whatever I want. I am thankful that my family and friends are always just a phone call away whenever I need them.
So for those who went, those who were left behind, those who are still over there, those who will never come back, those who came back, those who left and returned changed, those who have since gone, those who are still here, those who try to forget and those who remember so we don’t make the mistakes of our past - THANK YOU.
So, there I was having a heated discussion at work about the importance of song choice on The Voice when a fellow co-worker asked pop culture’s equivalent of the chicken and the egg question: If you had to be on one reality TV program, which one would it be?
Before my brain fully shifted into gear towards answering the thought-provoking question at hand, I wanted to understand the realms of reality that conditioned my appearance on reality television programming. I HAD to? Why did I have to? What happened to my freewill? Is this one of those “gun to the head” kind of scenarios? What kind of gunman would shoot someone because they refused to be on a reality TV program? What about if the person agrees to be shot? What does this say about the victim’s preference of mortality over reality TV? What happens when you die? What is the meaning of life?
Realising that my co-worker was waiting for my answer to the original question rather than the Socrates based philosophical understanding of life’s question facilitated by such a scenario, I decided to focus on the question at hand: which reality TV show would I go on? Hmmm.
THE VOICE/THE X FACTOR/AUSTRALIAN IDOL
Admission requirement: Singing ability
Okay, the main problem with entering a singing based reality television competition is the ridiculous expectation that the contestants are able to sing. Bastards. I can’t sing. Nope. Not at all. I mean - can I produce sounds from my voice using augmented speech? Of course I can! Unfortunately, what I lack is the rhythm and the tonality required to make it pleasurable for the listener. Therefore, the only fate that could ever be bestowed upon me if I entered a singing based reality television program would be a William Hung “She Bangs” like experience. No thanks.
Not to mention, I lack the emotional backstory that is needed for the audience to empathise with me. This is literally how it would go down:
Judge: Tell me about yourself, Tali.
Me: Well. Where do I start? I had a really difficult childhood… my parents were really supportive and they always encouraged me to follow my dreams. (holding back tears) My family always provided me with everything I needed and my family life was filled with laughter and happiness. (sobbing) My friends have always had my back and they accept me for who I am. I’ve just been suffocated with love and support and it’s just… really crippling.
Yeah, no judge is going to turn their chair for that.
Admission requirement: Not Applicable
When the new season of Big Brother rears its vicarious head on to our television screens I am often met with the reaction: Tali, you should go on Big Brother! However, I’m yet to ascertain if they mean this as a compliment because they think I would be entertaining or they just see it as a punishable opportunity to sit back and watch me get my come uppance on national television.
Now, there are some pretty important reasons why Big Brother would not be conducive to my personality:
1. I’m weird. Seriously, my time on Big Brother would result in a scientific study where men in white coats would comically chase me around carrying oversized butterfly nets.
2. I’d want to be kept up to date with what is happening in the real world – i.e. the global financial crisis, the war on terror, Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy etc.
3. I sing whatever I am doing like my life is a musical. (See previous entry: I can’t sing.) Therefore, I would probably be the first homicide victim in the Big Brother house.
4. I would pull a Leonidas on the housemate that made us lose the house challenge. Seriously, I would spend my days digging a massive pit in the backyard and when we lost the house challenge I would find the responsible culprit and kick them in the pit while yelling “THIS… IS… BIG BROTHER!”
5. Inevitably, at some stage I would try and lead the revolt of housemates against Big Brother. Viva la revolution!
AUSTRALIA’S GOT TALENT
Admission requirement: Talent
Now, putting my ability to lick my elbow (which some say is impossible) aside I don’t actually have any discernible televisual talents. I don’t sing, don’t dance – what do you do? I can’t draw, so that rules out sixty-second portraits. I can’t do magic, so if I sawed someone in half I would probably get arrested for grievous bodily harm. I can’t do comedy, seriously my favourite joke is – Why did the plane crash? Because the pilot was a carrot!
If Australia wants to prove that it has talent then I probably shouldn’t be the conduit of its existence!
MY KITCHEN RULES/MASTERCHEF
Admission requirement: Cooking ability
Now, the best way I can explain why a cooking based reality TV program would not be suited to me is by telling you a little story.
For my education I attended an all-girls catholic school. In grade seven and eight the subject of Home Economics was compulsory. Now, Home Economics involved cooking and sewing and all the other things a proper lady should know in order to please her future husband. I was terrible at it - I swapped plain flour for self-raising, I put metal bowls in the microwave and once I dusted the classes cupcakes with flour instead of icing sugar. After grade eight, you could choose if you wanted to continue with the subject so my teacher took matters into her own hands and stood me aside and actually requested that I did not choose to take the subject the following year because I was quote “too much of a liability”. Yeah, if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach I was told at the tender age of thirteen that I would need to take another route!
Nowadays, I find myself on the verge of pulling a Sylvia Plath every time I bake a cake in the oven. Although, having said that, I once had a dream that I was a contestant on My Kitchen Rules with my red-haired friend. Funnily, in our cuts to camera the moniker they had decided best suited our relationship was “Minorities” - which just goes to show that even my subconscious is against the idea of me entering a cooking based reality program.
THE AMAZING RACE
Admission requirement: Navigational skills
Now, on paper The Amazing Race should be the winner. I enjoy seeing the sights and having delights on every foreign shore and if people asked me the place that I adore I would tell tem straight away… no wait, that’s Burke’s Backyard. See, I do enjoy traveling and meeting new people but the problem with The Amazing Race is that I am navigationally challenged. Largely because I tend to get distracted and just follow the person in front of me on the mistaken belief they are travelling to the same place as me. Also, I don’t cope well with airports. Well, let me clarify, I don’t cope well with other travellers who go through security protocols at airports. How is it so hard to remove the coins out of your pockets and take off your jewelry and belt and hat and shoes before walking through a metal detector? It’s not hard – it’s exactly the same process that you partake when you put them on … it’s just in reverse. The majority of people know they are travelling when they go to the airport so I don’t understand why they can’t just dress accordingly. Therefore, I hit levels of Mel Gibson rage when people take forever to go through the security gates. Could you imagine that rage compounded with me in competitive mode? Oh golly goodness.
Therefore, if someone held a gun to my head and told me I HAD to be on a reality television program I think I would choose… all of them! Not because, I would give into the pressure of having a gun to my head or because I wanted to save my life or because I would enter a reality TV program. No. I would choose all of them because I found a technicality in the question - I just have to be ON a reality television program, it doesn’t stipulate the conditions of why I am there. Therefore, while I could NEVER be a contestant on a reality television program… I COULD be a host!
WHAT?! BOOM! MIND BLOWN!
Wait… I could just go on The Mole – I mean I’m pretty much Sherlock Holmes anyway. Did you see me deduction my way to that “host” answer? Elementary.
It was 10pm last night when I stumbled in to my local dive. I made a direct beeline to the bar and requested that the barkeep pour me a pint of his finest cider. As he poured I initiated the customary bar talk chitchat because a free therapy session should always be taken advantage of. When the barkeep finished pouring my glass he passed it to me across the bar. I paid him for his services, picked up my glass and walked slowly across the room in the vain attempt not to sacrifice a drop of this nectar from the cider gods. This is when I saw it. My heartbeat quickens and I could feel the blood pulsating through my veins. It’s glorious. Standing triumphantly in the corner of the room is a pool table. Its felt and woody goodness was enticing me in and begging me to come and play. I could not resist. I turned to the company I was keeping and graciously extended them an invitation in to the arena. Pleasantly, they accepted my offer. I placed my glass down and walked over to the table. I inserted the necessary gold coin payment required and when I heard the click, which signals the release of the pool balls, some neurological impulse was triggered in my brain… IT’S FUCKIN’ ON!!
My competitor breaks. I take hold of the cue that has been extended out to me and I painstakingly line up the white ball with the red ball hovering on the middle pocket. I release the cue and to my horror my shot is off. I look around and notice that my competitor is distracted. I move in swiftly and slyly sweep my hand across the table and dispose of a red ball in the right hand corner pocket as I walk past. “I’M RED,” I proudly shout out as I linger over to the white ball to collect my free shot void of any guilt. The game quickly disintegrates from there. There is cue tampering and swearing and blaspheming and a call for a urine sample to corroborate my theory of doping and cheating… oh god, is there a lot of cheating. This is all compounded by the aura of my utter smugness that suffocates the room, on the rare occasions, when I legitimately sink the ball. My competitor prematurely sinks the black ball signally their defeat. It is immediately met by my performance of a slow motion victory lap of the table whilst singing the theme to Chariots of Fire. I continue across the room to a random that I convince to engage in a slow motion freeze frame high five. I look back at the face of my opponent in their moment of despair. As if it were an involuntary bodily reaction to my victory, my inward-faced palms travel in a diagonally downward trajectory motion as I signal for my competitor to “SUCK IT”. I am Charlie Conway at the end of every Mighty Ducks movie - gloriously victorious!
Yep, that’s right - I am competitive. I am Tonya Harding at the 1994 U.S Figure Skating Championships and the world is my Nancy Kerrigan. Give me a dice, a deck of cards, a board game, a ball game… anything competitive really and I turn into a mini Hitler. For example, Monopoly: I am the landlord from hell/ tough ass prison guard who never grants parole/ bank robber/ The Godfather if I lend you money and you don’t pay it back. That’s right - I play Monopoly in a way the truly reflects the softening financial market. If The Block auctions have taught us anything it’s that the real estate markets are in decline and therefore Monopoly should be played accordingly.
I have always been like this. I want to blame my upbringing. My mum and dad NEVER let me win. To this day when I play Samoan card games with my dad and he is dealt a good card he will “accidentally drop” the card so that I am aware that he has it. After that, the whole game is littered with maniacal laughter as if we are Germany trying to take over Europe. One game (which he claims to be traditional but I am convinced he invented it himself) actually ends with the winner hitting the opponent’s nose with the opponent’s remaining playing cards. Mum is just as bad. I don’t think I have ever played a game of Euchre against her that didn’t result in her saying that she “has all the luck in the big city” or singing “Simply The Best”. Oh, and then there are my three brothers. I remember playing Tekken on the PlayStation and being Yoshimitsu and frantically hitting all the buttons on the controller in the hope that I would come up with a fatal and winning combination. When I did win they would throw their controller down in disgust saying that my win didn’t count because I didn’t play properly and even cited that I was “ruining the controller” in an attempt to prevent me from playing on in the “winner plays on” approach that we took. Heck, I mean, just that in itself - we only ever played in “winner plays on” style. I have been conditioned to be competitive in a way that would make Pavlov’s dog salivate.
Therefore, when I found out this morning that my competitor “allowed my victory” on the bargaining justification that they would sleep well at night I only had I thing to say: I slept fine…. I mean, why wouldn’t I? I went to bed a winner!
For the uninitiated Chatroulette is an online chat website which randomly connects strangers online from around the world so that they can have a chat via webcam or text. I heard about it because Jessica Alba once used it. Somehow, in my head this celebrity endorsement equals validation and therefore I decided to check it out.
Except, where’s the fun in just signing up and having a look around? No. My signing up to Chatroulette had to be for the good of humanity! Can you tell that I suffer from illusions of grandeur? So, I decided to turn my soiree into the online chat world into a social experiment.
AIM: To discover the world of Chatroulette through the eyes of a first time user.
HYPOTHESIS: I will be inundated with naked-ness.
1. Sign up to Chat Roulette.
2, Chat to the first ten people.
3. After five minutes move on to the next person.
4. No premature clicking of the “Next” button.
5. Document findings in witty blog post.
RESULTS (AKA WITTY BLOG POST)
Number One is a red-headed male from Canada. His first words to me are “Hey cutie, what are you up to?”. We’re off to a good start, mainly because he is giving me an ego boost. Number One tells me that he likes my heart tattoo. Flattery will get him everywhere. I ask him if he has any tattoos and he directs me to look at his profile picture. When I tell him I am clearly not paying enough attention he virtually laughs… a lot. Number One is throwing out his “LMAOs” and “LOLs” like they are going out of fashion. I wasn’t even that funny, I mean it wasn’t even my Lena Dunham best. Number One tells me he is bored and I tell him about my experiment. He warns me that I am going to see a lot of “dicks and ass”. When Number One observes me smiling through my webcam at his comment he tries hard to impress me for the next few minutes. I throw him a bone by thanking him for taking my Chatroulette virginity. NEXT
Number Two is a male from the US. His webcam is on which means I can see his immediate reaction when I pop up. Number Two smiles and leans forward to type “rock on girl”. I reply with a more customary ‘hello’. He tells me that he is bored and asks me what I do for a living. I tell him I am a radio producer. Number Two seems impressed with this answer because he tells me that he is a Lighting Designer and that he worked on the Presidential Palace in Dubai. I think that Number Two might be peacocking. I tell him that I am doing an experiment. He replies with “Are you waiting to see how long it will take me to ask you to see your boobs?” I’m impressed by his quick wit. I explain to him my true experiment. Number Two tells me that he will be the most interesting out of the ten. I tell him that Number One told me that there will be dicks and ass and I tell him he shouldn’t count his chickens just yet. Number Two then offers to “accelerate the process”. NEXT
Number Three is a 22-year-old male from the UK. It takes everything in me not to ask if he knows any of the members of One Direction. Instead he says hello and asks me what’s going on in “Aussie Land”. I ask him if he speaks Cockney slang. Number Three says “I’m not Cocnkey, but I’m not posh either”. I jokingly tell him that I have now ruled out any possibility that he is Prince Harry. Number Three replies by saying “Nah, not Harry - though I’d like his crib and money though”. It’s at this stage that I make the educated guess that Number Three is a white boy who raps. As I listen to the probable Eminem impersonator I think to myself that I’m really lucky I didn’t ask him about his One Direction connections. Number Three tells me that he is a window cleaner and that he loves his job. When I click on to the fact that it would be four in the morning in the UK he tells me that he doesn’t get much sleep. Not wanting him to fall from a great height at work due to drowsiness or have him view me as some kind of Occupation Health and Safety hazard I tell him to go to bed! NEXT.
It tells me that Number Four is a nineteen-year-old from Canada. I can see that he has started typing so I let him make the first move. It takes him forever to type “Hello, how are you?”. This one will exercise my patience, I can already tell. I ask him what he is doing and as I idly race turtles waiting for his painstakingly slow reply telling me his is bored. I make the observation that most people on Chatroulette seem to be bored. He laughs. Number Four then types: “I have difficulty for talking in English”. I sink down in my chair realising that I am the worst person ever. Here he was struggling with a language barrier and there I was judging him on his slow typing pace and his heavy reliance on computer generated smiley faces. Number Four tells me that he is French and when I ask if he is French Canadian or proper French he laughs and says “proper French”. At this stage I’m just trying to cleanse my virtual conscience. I let him talk about his job as a Chicken Vendor because I feel I owe it to him. I thank Number Four as I leave and the last thing I see him type is “WAIT” but it’s too late… NEXT.
Number Five is a middle-to-old-aged man from Mexico. He is sitting on a computer chair in the middle of a room wearing a white button down shirt which seems to be missing all of its buttons. I have the glorious view of his chest hair, his gold chains and his utter disillusionment that women find this look attractive. I desperately want to click NEXT because he looks like the kind of man that could play the role of “Online Predator” in a dramatisation with much conviction. The only reason I don’t is because of the rules. I go to type hello and the window changes. Number Five NEXT’ed me. Even though my first reaction should have been one of relief, it wasn’t. Weirdly I took a bit of an ego hit and as I nursed my bruised ego the next window comes up.
When Number Six comes up he is wearing a Chicago baseball top and playing the guitar. Smooth. I ask him if he takes requests. He stops playing and starts chatting to me. Number Six tells me that he will play me any song I like. I ask him for some Rolling Stones. He does a medley of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Satisfaction and Start Me Up. Every time I smile in appreciation I can see Number Six trying to conceal the smirk rising on his face. I ask him if he is a musician. He tells me that he is mainly a guitarist but he also plays the piano and the harmonica. When I tell Number Six that they are the best three instruments to play he starts playing riffs from Sweet Child Of Mine and Sweet Home Alabama. Number Six is starting to show off and when he tells me that he will “BRB” I take his absence as an opportunity to thank him for his music and leave. NEXT
Number Seven pops up on screen and I see a teenage boy or barely twelve wearing a lime green t-shirt and sticking his fingers in his left eye. As a result, Number Seven’s eye is red and veiny. My initial reaction is to gasp and pull the ol’ EWWW face. Number Seven gets what he is after and clicks NEXT. Like The Panics, I don’t fight it.
Number Eight is not there. The screen tells me that he is a 24-year-old from Germany but all I can hear is a Spanish gangsta singing a song with lyrics like “get money, get paid/ get paid, get laid”. After about four minutes I start bopping along because I am ridiculously impressionable and then all of a sudden a voice comes down the line: “wanna fuck?” NEXT.
Number Nine’s photo is him in a cockpit, flying a plane. I read his bio it says: “I’m a pilot. I fly planes”. I forget that he can see me as I chuckle to myself that he is coming across as a plane-o-phile. Number Nine initiates the conversation by asking if I like planes. I say yes. Number Nine proceeds to tell me that he flies planes. I ask what kind. Number Nine types what I assume is a plane model but to be honest the random combination of numbers and letters could have been the password to his hotmail account. When he can tell by my facial cues that I can not Rainman my way out of the random sequence of numbers he clicks NEXT.
When Number Ten first appears on screen his display picture is a pencil. All of a sudden Number Ten’s webcam is initiated and on my screen appears a shirtless teenage boy motioning for his friend to come over. I type hello. Number Ten’s friend walks over, sees the screen and says “ah-mazing”. I smile. Don’t worry; I’m aware the compliment is coming from a child. Number Ten asks me if I speak Spanish and when I tell him I don’t he types “no entiendo una mierda jaja” which translated means “I don’t understand shit haha”. Number Ten and his friend start conversing in Spanish and then Number Ten’s friend points at me and in broken English requests that I “lift-a shirt-a”. I smile. They look at each other. They think this is happening. NEXT.
From my Chatroulette experiment I learnt that there are quite a few bored and horny people out there on the internets. But for the most part (well, in my experience anyway) there seems to be some genuinely lovely people out there who are happy just to have a chat with a complete stranger. I think for that part the idea of Chatroulette is quite a nice one. I guess, for some (i.e the insomniacs or the linguistically isolated) Chatroulette offers an escape from their loneliness. But for me, what I got out of Chatroulette is that it feels good when someone, it doesn’t matter who, gives you a compliment. For me, that was the lesson that Chatroulette taught me. So, next time I am out and about and I see someone who is doing something or wearing something I appreciate then instead of only thinking it to myself I am going to tell them. Why? Because when someone does something like this it feels ridiculously good:
Because even though he is wearing noise cancelling ear protectors and has a hat that looks like a dead animal he is still happy to dance around on screen because he thinks you like it: