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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Unreality TV: the game show as story

I know, I said just last week that I was retiring a blog that I hadn’t updated in almost a year, and here I am posting again. But I realised that there are things I want to write that don’t fit on Wild Lily. So The Philosophy is staying for now, where I can write about society, education matters, and other miscellany that fills my mind.

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Apparently there was some controversy this week about My Kitchen Rules.  Apparently, not everything is as it seems.  

Now here’s my disclaimer: I have never watched an entire episode of My Kitchen Rules. I don’t watch much at all in the reality-competition genre. It’s not really my thing. A few episodes, or parts of episodes of, The Biggest Loser, Survivor, Beauty and the Geek, The Great Bake Off, The Amazing Race, to name a few. I have, however, seen more than one entire series of MasterChef. I started watching season one halfway through on recommendation, and enjoyed it, so I watched from the start of season two and ended up forcing myself through to the end. Big J decided he really wanted to watch it last year, and I had to keep abreast of the show to know what he was talking about and explain the bits he didn’t understand. (He’s counting down until this year’s season starts next week.)

I am not sure that a lot of the viewing public realise that there is more than meets the eye in these reality-game shows.  There needn’t be any controversy, if viewers understood that it is all just storytelling.

These game shows are not just game shows. They are not Sale of the Century, or Wheel of Fortune, or Deal or No Deal, where the contestants show up, filming runs all day.  A few clothing changes make it look like the carry-over champ has been there all week, when they have actually played back to back games. In this new breed of game shows, filming lasts for weeks, but probably not as many weeks as the show actually runs for.  But, that’s not particularly controversial. It’s almost common knowledge that a week in the MasterChef Kitchen or the Biggest Loser house is not a week in real time.  At least I hope it’s common knowledge: last year on MasterChef, the contestants travelled to Dubai and Paris, all in four days! 

Reality game shows are not just game shows: they are an unfolding drama. 

Contestants don’t have a quick profile read by the gameshow host on their introduction: they have a backstory, a dream, and something to play for.  A life changing accident, migrant parents, children they want to be an example for.   They are more than just contestants: they are characters.  The show is carefully edited, possibly even scripted, to help build characters that the audience will love or hate. The caring mother, the young man barely out of his teens lacking in confidence, the feisty older lady, the middle aged man who has had a string of rotten luck. The things they say on camera, the things we see on camera, have been chosen out of hours of footage to create a character which may or may not reflect who they are in real life. 

(My cynical hunch is that the producers have already decided the winner, or a selection of possible winners, after the contestants have been selected. The potential finalists are created as the loveable characters, juxtaposed against the arrogant, the cocky: the ones we are glad to see go. We cheer when our favourites scrape through, and when ‘the bad guys’ don’t get through to the next round. The competition is constructed to make sure that the chosen finalists get through to the finals, even if it means a surprise return of an eliminated contestant.)

It is all story telling.  Every single contestant on MasterChef gets a plate up in time, despite the preceding scenes suggesting that some people might not. Their benches are all clean in time for judging.  No-one ever gets so hopelessly lost or delayed in The Amazing Race that they are ever more than an hour or two behind the first to arrive. And how come sometimes they have to carry a backpack and sometimes they don’t? 

It is all story telling, as much as Home and Away, Big Bang Theory, or NCIS is story telling. Scenes are crafted, characters are created. Props and sets are used, along with clever camera techniques.  The music heralds tension, climax, resolution, victory. 

The producers don’t really care about who can lose the most weight, or be Australia’s best amateur cook, or get to the last checkpoint without being eliminated. They care about getting the most people to watch their show. 

I don’t want to discourage you from watching these shows.  The stories are enjoyable. They are meant to be. We relate to the characters. We empathise with them. We are inspired by their triumphs, their progress. If she can do that, then so could I!  

However, I do want to protect you from the next controversy. Just like in a movie you know that the bad guy didn’t actually hit the good guy, it was just acting, you should also know that the ice-cream should have melted by now and those two bickering contestants actually get along just fine, so you won’t be shocked when you see in Facebook newsfeed that someone has revealed the dirty tricks of your favourite reality show (controversy is handy for boosting ratings… just sayin’).   


Keep enjoying the shows, but know that they are not reality: they are a cleverly told story.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Retiring

The Philosophy is retiring.

Not that I've written anything here for a year or so.

But I want to start again, so I'm writing a brand new blog, mostly about simple living with a few other things thrown in.

It's over here at Wild Lily

Go and bookmark it, because I'd love you to keep following me.

And I can't leave without a thank you to my readers for hanging out here and reading my rants.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Travelling Light: the new baby edition


Last Christmas we were away from home for almost a month. 

We had a wedding, a week on the Gold Coast, and Christmas, all interspersed with visits with family. 

Five of us: the smallest of whom was eight weeks old at the start of our trip.  Five of us needing a whole lot of different gear to cater for the different actual scenarios we were going to encounter.

We were going to need a car while we were in Brisbane, but timing meant we had to fly there on the day before my sister was getting married.  So my mum drove our car down for us, and took with her our stroller, a travel bassinet, and a bag of Christmas presents, as well as the kids’ carseats. Everything else we needed came with us on the plane, and it all had to fit in the car to come home again.

This was our pile of bags at the airport:




I thought it was far too much, but I couldn't get it down much further than that. The blue Converse bag had all our wedding outfits; half of the big black suitcase was Christmas and birthday presents that I had bought ahead of time because I wasn't sure if I could get them easily while we were away. (We have a lot of family, and a disproportionate number of birthdays around Christmas.)  

It’s not the first time we’ve travelled with a baby. All three of our kids have made the trip to visit their grandparents sometime in their first few months, and again later in their first year (our youngest is heading down for her second trip in a few weeks time, just before her first birthday). In that time, I’ve moved from a pack-for-every-possible-eventuality type traveller to an if-it-can’t-fit-in-a-carry-on-it-can’t-come. 

Here’s what I've learnt about travelling with young children: 
1. Buy nappies and wipes when you arrive at your destination. I usually just pack in my carry-on enough to get me through to when I can get to the shops.
2. Consider hiring or borrowing car seats, porta-cots, high chairs, and strollers at your destination. (Virgin and Qantas both include this as bonus baggage on the plane, but, for me, the cost of hiring is worth not needing to lug them to and from the airport.)  Or, consider even which of these things you can do without while you are away.  
3. Use a baby carrier at the airport. If you don’t have one, borrow one. Putting Miss M a carrier meant I had one hand free to drag a wheeled suitcase and one had free for to hold Little J’s hand. 
4. Stay somewhere that you can wash. The less clothes you can take for everyone means the less you need to carry. 
5. Don’t take too many toys and things to keep the kids entertained.  Find things to do at your destination. 
6. The smaller the baby, the more you need to take for them. Muslin wraps. Extra clothes in case of leaked nappies. 


What are you tips for travelling light with a baby?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is bullying always bullying?


I have no doubts: bullying is a bad thing.

But, kids are mean. Kids don’t know how to deal with the other kid who is ‘different’, and ‘different’ kids get picked on. 

Understand where I’m coming from. I grew up as the ‘different’ kid: a bit socially-awkward, a bit un-sporty, a lot nerdy. Low fruit for mean kids, and for the kids who need to make themselves look good by making others look worse. But, the only time I’ve ever considered myself ‘bullied’ is in the workplace, as an adult.  Many other kids probably had a similar experience to me through school, and learnt that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words leave deep scars, making you question your worth well into adulthood when the things that once made you ‘weird’ now may even make you the envy of the ‘normal’. 

Here is my question: is there a difference between bullying and kids being mean? 

If there is, what’s the difference? If we label all acts of kids being mean as bullying, do some kids end up more victimised: not only are they taunted by their peers, they are now labeled as ‘bullied’ by the grown ups.  But if we blanket say that most ‘bullying’ is just kids being mean, then do the genuine bullies - the ones that seek out weak kids to make fun of - get away with it more easily.  And if we say that kids are just mean, are we implying that it’s okay, it’s just a part of growing up, and ignore the kids on the receiving end?

If there is a difference - and I think there probably is - we need a different approach to dealing with the bully as we do with dealing with the kids who are mean. And whether there is a difference or not, dealing with bullying can’t be just left up to the schools. It needs to start at home. We need to teach our children to be resilient, confident and respectful of differences. (I also like to remind my son that he doesn’t have to be friends with the dominant personalities that like to call the shots, often at his expense: there’s plenty of nice kids at school to play with!)  Not that schools have no responsibility, but, like most things, schools, parents and students need to work together to make it work. 

What do you think?  (Feel free to disagree!) 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Eat the packet, throw away the chocolate


The Husband brought home some chocolate recently.  This wasn’t a huge surprise, given that in our house chocolate is one of five food groups. 

But this chocolate was different. 

It was natural and sugar-free chocolate.

Now, I have been to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory in Dunedin and I saw them making chocolate with cocoa beans, milk and sugar. What on earth is in sugar-free chocolate? Cocoa beans and milk?

Actually, it had a natural sweetener - Stevia - which isn’t sugar.  It has a lot less calories than cane sugar: it’s a lot sweeter, so you can use a lot less. But, it’s not cane sugar, and it tastes different.  

I tried a sample of Stevia in my coffee recently.  I could taste the difference, but The Husband couldn’t. But, then, he also thought the natural, sugar-free chocolate wasn’t too bad.

He was wrong.

It was awful. 

He said it’s because it was dark chocolate and I don’t normally eat dark chocolate. I say it’s the polydextrose and erythirol and isomalt they had to use in order to give it the same texture as dark chocolate! 

Here’s what I think: forget low-fat or low-sugar versions of foods. It’s the fat and the sugar that make them taste good. Eat the bad-for-you foods. Just don’t eat them all the time. Treat them as treat foods. 

Give me decent chocolate any day… just not every day. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Cult of Motherhood: Part One - Idolising the Perfect Mother


A typical day for a mother of the full-time variety (whatever that may mean) might look like this:
Mum gets up and puts on a pot of coffee and a load of washing. She prepares the children their breakfast, then the whole family eats breakfast together. Dad heads off to work, and the children play while Mum does the housework, carefully marking off each chore on her Master Schedule. She helps the children cook something delicious for morning tea, and after they have finished eating she sets up their craft activity. Once the craft is hung on the wall, and the mess cleaned up, Mum heads out with the kids do errands, and usually they’ll stop at the playground on the way home where she’ll push the kids on the swings, or chat with one of the other Typical Mothers.  After lunch, Mum might allow her children a half-hour of television so that she might have a well-earned break. Though it can hardly be called a break, when most of the time is spent online paying bills or reading Important Articles on the Latest Research on Child Development. She cleans up promptly after lunch, does a quick tidy around the house, and puts the children down for their rest time.  Rest time is very valuable to a mother: if she is lucky she is able to pursue a hobby or earn an income at home during this time, but usually it’s the first chance she’s had all day to get any housework done or have a break.  But after the children wake up, Mum spends precious time playing with her children.  They build cubby houses, have tea parties, read stories, sing songs, dance, imagine.  But, sadly, this time each day must come to an end, as Mum has to follow her Meal Plan so it’s off to the kitchen.  If Dad is home by this time, the children will play with him, but if he’s not yet she might resort to another half-hour of quality television. They eat, the children bathe and go to bed, and she pours herself a glass of wine and gets to work on her latest craft project, probably something that she’s seen on Pinterest, before heading to bed herself. 

My day looks nothing like that, except maybe the ‘puts on a pot of coffee’ part.  I’d be hard pressed to do all of those things just once in a week.  Usually my day involves a sink never empty of dirty dishes, dirty nappies, too much time online, my kids watching too much TV while I read a book, whatever I scrape together for lunch. It involves yelling, impatience, laziness, frustration. It involves beating myself up over not doing a good enough job with my kids.  Every so often it involves craft, cubby houses, or a trip to a playground. There’s plenty of coffee involved.  While I’m typing, my middle child is colouring himself in with a felt pen.  And there’s laughing and cuddles, games, lego constructions, lightsaber battles and books. 

The Typical Mother* isn’t typical.  She’s phenomenal, but she’s fictional. (Or possibly a liar.) And yet, I think many of us have got in our head that The Typical Mother actually exists. She does: she’s online.  She writes a blog (sometimes more than one), and others pin her creations on Pinterest. She updates us about her day on Facebook or Twitter.  She gives opinion and advice and kind words on parenting forums.  

These mothers are real women, and they may well be brilliant women. But the online world can only give you a certain image of reality. Anyone who posts something online is constructing an image of themselves, whether intentional or not.  We tend to post only our successes, rarely our failings.  If we do post our failings, it’s not often out of honesty, but rather for attention, or for someone to say ‘oh, you stuffed up, but you’re still a good mum’, or to give an appearance of integrity (that’s what I was doing up there, when I pointed out my own inadequacies).  And sometimes those failings aren’t even legitimate failings: we just haven’t measured up to the Perfect Mother image.  Online, we don't see what these women aren't doing. 

If you are a mother of little kids and your day looks nothing like my opening description, but you think it should: stop beating yourself up over it. 
Stop assuming that other mothers are doing those things.  
Get offline.  
Stop reading other mothers’ comments on forums.  
Stop reading blogs by mothers, especially the ones where they wax lyrical about their daily schedules and their ah-mazing children.  
Stop comparing yourself to your friends based on their Facebook statuses and photo streams. 
Stop browsing Pinterest for lists of 101 Easter Crafts for Kids and birthday cakes that would take a normal person 56 hours to create.  

We cry out against magazines creating unrealistic expectations for girls and body image, but need to see that we are doing the same with motherhood.  We’re looking at airbrushed images of mothers and comparing our messy, unstyled houses, our meal plans (or lack thereof), our kids who draw on the furniture, our hair that doesn’t quite sit right, our craft projects that never quite end up looking like the photo. It's okay that people publish their seemingly perfect lives online - who wants to look at photos of messy houses? - but remember that a lot of the time it is just staged. 

Use the Internet to connect and find inspiration, but don't let it be a source of discontent with your own life and circumstances.  

You don’t have to be The Typical Mother. You don’t have to be The Perfect Mother. You just have to be Your Children’s Mother.  BUT…I’ll write and post Part Two, um, sometime. There isn’t enough coffee or episodes of The Octonauts for me to guarantee when the next post will materialise. 


Leave me a comment, feel free to tell me I’m the only person in the world who has this problem, or that you are indeed a Typical Mother. 



* Maybe it’s just what I read, but ‘mothers’ always seem to be ‘mothers of under-6s’. Except around Mother’s Day, when all mothers have grown up children. That could just be my warped view, so feel free to ignore this statement. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Great Benefits of E-Books

I don't have an e-reader*.  I've read one e-book on the Kindle for Mac App, but I'm not in a hurry to read another one.  I have more than enough physical books on my bookshelves and on the library's bookshelves to get through before I can justify buying an e-reader and buying books for said e-reader.  Call me a luddite, if you will, but really I just haven't needed an e-reader.  I enjoy physical books, and find I tend to skim-read anything on a screen. At the moment I don't read enough, mostly just too much screen skim-reading.  And I'm not blaming having kids: it's pure laziness on my behalf.

Oh, I know there are Great Benefits to e-readers, and I will concede that an e-reader would help when travelling with reading material to locations where it would be too difficult to swap your last read at a book exchange or drop into an op shop.  (My holidays always are filled with good intentions to read, but it rarely happens, though I never travel on my own.)  I guess some e-readers would weigh less than some books, too, and maybe are smaller, which could be handy if you were carrying a book to read with you a lot.   Though, if I'm going to take a book with me to read somewhere, I take something small and lightweight. I know. Crazy. 

One Great Benefit that is often touted in discussions on e-books is that you can store THOUSANDS of books on your e-reader. Think how much SPACE you can save by not having to store all those books in your house.   Logic tells me this: if you read one book a day, it would take three years to get through just ONE thousand books, let alone however many more thousands of books are stored on your Super Duper e-reader.  If you only read one book a week, and I seriously doubt many working outside of an English Literature related field would read any more than this, it will take TWENTY YEARS to get through a thousand books. (Meanwhile, I'm culling my books and letting the libraries and secondhand bookstores store my reading material.) Digital storage doesn't make less clutter, it just makes digital clutter.

A more contentious Great Benefit to e-readers is the environmental benefit. I remain skeptical. No trees are cut down to make e-readers, but an e-reader isn't going to last as long as a paper book, it needs to be charged regularly, and the servers where the e-books are stored before being purchased need to be run on electricity.  I have well-read books on my bookshelves that are older than me. I'd like to see an e-reader still in use into its thirties.  Digital has its own environmental footprint. Just because it is stored on a hard drive doesn't mean it uses no resources.

One final note.  An article I read this week said this: 


"Fiction is moving to e-book more quickly than non-fiction, especially romance and crime; in fact sales of romance novels have dramatically increased. This stands to reason by the way: I tend to buy crime fiction on my tablet and serious non-fiction in print, although that may change in future.The biggest market for e-books is women over 45 and whereas the split between female and male print book consumers is 60-40, in digital form it's 70-30."


I'm not certain what to make of this.  People who tend to read literary fiction are slower to transition to new technologies? People who read non-fiction would prefer to make notes on the text? E-readers are an easier way to hide the fact that you are reading Mills and Boon? (Are they still publishing those, or do I just sound old/ignorant?) Maybe I'm just not old enough to get into the whole e-reader thing, given that I'm still well off 45. 

Go ahead, enjoy your e-reader. One day I might convert. I sincerely hope the digital publishing world takes off. That writers are paid well for their work. But I equally hope that ease of digital publishing doesn't diminish the standards of books and reading, because a good book is a marvellous thing. Oh, and I hope real books hang around a little longer yet. There are literally thousands of books in my local library, and I haven't read them all yet. 


*The terms e-reader and e-book give me the giggles.  Remember when new words were taken from other languages, like French or Latin. Okay, neither do I, but I've read about it happening a long time. ago.  These days, you just whack a vowel in front of a word and voila! a new word! 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Is hiating the present tense verb of hiatus?

I've been on a bit of a hiatus. Please don't tell me you haven't noticed!  

I've been busy: having a baby, getting the house ready to sell, Battleship and Payday, travelling, Angry Birds Star Wars.


I've been busy.


But I'm looking forward to a bit of blogging again in the coming months.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A steady diet of good books.


Ah, home readers.  Those small books of questionable literary merit that come home each week for you to hear your child read and improve their literacy.  I know they are of good value, but they are tedious.  But this week we had a chuckle at a non-PC little book called Mum’s Diet. 

“I’m too fat,” said Mum.
“No, you’re not,” we said.
“You’re only saying that,” said Mum.  “Look at me! I’m far too fat and I’m going on a diet.”
We all moaned and groaned.  When Mum when on a diet, we went on a diet too.

On the first day of Mum’s diet they all eat lettuce and tomatoes.  On the second day they eat parsley and carrots.  (What sort of diet is this?)

We said to Mum, “You have carrots and parsley and we’ll have spaghetti.”
“No,” cried Mum. “I’m not sitting here watching you two gobble down spaghetti.”
“You could close your eyes” we said. 

The next day they go to Dad’s house and try to raid his fridge.

“Don’t tell me,” said Dad. “Your mother’s on another diet.”

Mum weighs herself every morning, and cries that she is still fat.  

But then one day the kids come home to a fantastic smell:  spaghetti and doughnuts!  Mum has given up on the diet.

Or maybe it’s not politically incorrect.  They have ticked other boxes of inclusivity: a dark skinned family and a single mother.  Maybe the book is indeed educational, about the importance of self acceptance and the dangers of yo-yo dieting.  It finishes like this:

We hugged Mum. 
“You’re a cuddly mother.  We like you just as you are.”
“I think I like me too,” laughed Mum, and she had another doughnut.   

Or maybe it’s time to cull this book from the collection. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Decluttering Conversations


I’ll clean out the spare stationery draw today.  

Oh, good.  There’s a lot of stuff in there you don’t need.

Yeah, yeah.  But I’m sure most of it is useful!

How many spare display folders does one need?

Okay.  Not that many.  But I’ll keep all these manilla folders.  They are definitely useful.

Hmm. You’re less than halfway through that box of 100.  Did you buy that box when you were still at uni?  That’s at least ten years.  You usually just recycle a manilla folder when you need one.

Of course I do!  I don’t want to waste them! 

And all these refill pages for display folders. There’s an unopened packet of 100!  Plus the rest…

I used to use them in folders for my sheet music.  

But a packet of 100?  Why did you even buy that in the first place?

In case I needed them.  

In case you needed them?  Why not just wait until you actually needed them?

Yes, okay, okay.  Can we move on?  What will I do with all these envelopes?  

That’s a lot of envelopes.

I know.  But I when I needed envelopes I could only buy a box of 100.  And I use those four different sizes.  Just not very often.

Fair enough.  That letter paper?

But what if I need to write a-

You don’t write letters.  Ever.  Some of that you’ve had since you were ten.  Bin! 

What if I need this graph paper?

Have you needed graph paper in the last fifteen years?

But what if I NEED some?

You can get more.  Get rid of it.  

Right.  That’s done.  Yes, I’ve kept a little more than I probably need to.  But this is my first stationery cull.  I think I’ve done okay. It looks tidy.  There’s less unnecessary stuff in the drawer. I’m happy with that.