Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Vin Rouge rides again. I met up with my mercurial friend Vin Rouge again tonight. I haven't drunk anything since last Tuesday's farewell drinks at work, so perhaps Vin had more of an effect on me than usual. Two glasses, and I have that warm, voluptuous feeling. The sort that makes you want to lie on your bed, in the dark, and think about ... things.

Vin makes me restless and impatient. He makes me want to call people and say ... things. Speaking of which, I had a drunken phone call last night at 11pm. It was Saige wanting me to do karaoke with her. I might have, except I had half-promised to do karaoke with Shane on Thursday. Why, that's tomorrow! I was going to finish that fucking mannequin article tonight, except that Vin has knocked me for six and I should just call it a night. And think about ... things.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Holy meme, Batman! Given that I am a complete sucka for memes, it is to my chagrin that I only just get around to responding to this one, from The Love Pump.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? (Assume you also get baseline superhero enhancements like moderately increased strength, endurance and agility.)

The I Dream of Jeannie-style ability to teleport myself somewhere else, instantly. This would be really handy for when I'm running late, as I invariably am. Or for when you really want a pie, but you can't be fucked getting off your arse and walking to the shops. Cos today, after craving a pie all day, and saying "I'll go later... I'll go later..." I finally walked down to the shops, and when I got to the bakery the pies were gone. And when I asked them when the pies were coming back, they said they didn't know! And then I had to trudge back up the hill. But on the upside, I saw a guy who looked exactly like a Viking. I wished I had a camera. He had the beard and everything.

Which, if any, ‘existing’ superhero(es) do you fancy, and why?

I sense a batlash against Christian Bale, but I maintain that he is Batalicious. It's the mouth (conveniently exposed by the mask). Here I would like to do a comparative study of Batmen and their mouths. I feel as though Ben would be totally into this worthy intellectual project.

Look at the shifting semiotics of the Batsuit as well. I am particularly interested in the length of the ears and the design of the chest emblem. But of all the recent Batmen, Bale has the least amount of face exposed by the mask. Clooney possibly has the most. Keaton sneers. Clooney smirks. Kilmer pouts. Bale has thin lips, tightly held. When he speaks, they don't move very much, except at the corners. He does some great mouth-twitching that manifests in smiles as dry as martinis.

But to the complete unsurprise of all my friends, I would have to say the most fanciable superhero is Spiderman, because he is publicly nerdy but secretly buff. It is his gift; it is his curse.

Which, if any, ‘existing’ superhero(es) do you hate?

That fucken vampire slayer, with all my heart; but then she is not really a superhero. She is more of a super hero.

OK, here’s the tough one. What would your superhero name be? (No prefab porn-name formulas here, you have to make up the name you think you’d be proud to mask under.)

It is no secret that I am The Incredible Melk. Don't make me angry. You won't like me when I'm angry. And also I am Sweet Cheeks, the bootydancing superhero whose bass-infused arse-cheeks emit an incapacitating sonic boom when slapped.

For extra credit: Is there an ‘existing’ superhero with whom you identify/whom you would like to be?

I always wanted to be He-Man. It would be so cool to hold up some talismanic object and feel power flowing transformatively through your body. No wonder he looks almost orgasmic as he says in a voice of thunder, "I have the powerrrrr!" I like the way his powers are a kind of club that only a few people are privy to. Also, I have always wondered how comfortable those furry undies would be. That whole outfit is kind of kinky. As for She-Ra, she was just a crappy merchandising push once they realised that chicks wanted to be He-Man.

Pass it on. Three people please, and why they’re the wind beneath your wings.

No! This superhero meme has gone far enough! MELK SMASH!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Try and understand it ... whoaaaah whoaaah whoaaahhh. I have recently been thinking about the importance of voice. Last week I was on the tram and I heard a woman talking on her mobile phone. She had the most incredibly annoying voice. I can't really explain what was so annoying about it. It wasn't excessively high-pitched, which can be annoying; nor did it have a whiny tone, which can also be annoying. Maybe it was something about her cadences.

In any case, I found myself thinking snootily, "I could never be friends with someone with an annoying voice." Almost immediately, I realised that was a silly thing to think. Perhaps it's subjective, and an otherwise annoying voice becomes dear to you if you like the person. Still, I do love the way my friends speak. I wonder whether I sought them out as friends because of it. I certainly cherish certain of their vocal mannerisms. Gemma and I have a joke about the way she pronounces the word "delicious". I love the way Jeremy says "Jesus!" I love Stuart's filthy, delighted laugh.

I have been reading Eucalyptus by Murray Bail, mostly "to see what all the fuss was about" and because I am obsessed with books that have been (or in this case, were almost) made into films. All I will say on this front is that Nicole Kidman was completely wrong for this film. She was twenty years too old to play the character and I can't easily see how the script could have been re-jigged satisfactorily to account for her age. Russell Crowe, however, would have been very well cast.

But there was one passage I was reading earlier this afternoon which struck me:
Came his voice, "When the breeder of canaries knocked on Miss Kirschner's door he had dandruff on his shoulders. She had a squint in one eye - something like that. And she had the excruciating taste in furnishings usually found with musicians. It's a mystery how an attraction can spring up in one person for another. Who can say why? It would be amazing, except it happens all the time. A person's voice, say a man's voice, heard in the dark or behind a door is sometimes enough. But it must be a combination of things. What do you think?"
"Just voice isn't enough, I don't believe."
"There must be cases where the attraction is not deliberate. It just sort of happens," he proposed. "It can't be explained - a real mystery. There's no logic to it," he added. It was enough for him to shake his head.
I like the way Bail begins this section, "Came his voice." He suggests that, despite what the protagonist, Ellen, believes at the time, voice may well be enough. The entire premise of the book is that a man woos a woman through storytelling. (Insert obligatory gag about 'oral sex' here.) I don't even think I need to write about the seductive power of the voice, although there's a definite pleasure in it. Perhaps that's a subject you and I can talk about together in an alcohol venue. It would be all the more piquant then. We would no doubt have a lot to say.

Last night I was watching The Wedding Singer on TV. I love Drew Barrymore's voice and her way of speaking, almost sideways from delectable lips. I was particularly taken by the scene in which her character Julia speaks to her reflection in the mirror and has the horrible realisation that she will soon become Julia Guglia. Adam Sandler's Robbie has already anticipated this situation (Glenn (terse): "Why is that funny?" Robbie (deadpan): "I don't know.") but somehow it becomes more awful when said in Drew Barrymore's lovely voice.

By contrast, the name of Julia's true love sounds all the more wonderful in Drew Barrymore's voice. Maybe the audience has this subconscious realisation, and that's why they sympathise with Julia's slow, growing happiness and with Robbie's disappointment as he sees Julia in the window, animatedly chatting to her reflection. Robbie assumes her happiness is about her impending marriage to the odious Glenn. After all, he can't hear her voice.

Are actors chosen for their voices? Think about Jack Nicholson and his voice-a-like, Christian Slater. Think about Winona Ryder's distinctive whistled consonants. Think about Janeane Garofalo's mellifluous sarcasm.

But back to Eucalyptus. What I found intriguing is the way the book attempts to capture the beguiling quality of the human voice using the literary metaphor of authorial voice. I felt it was mostly successful, but it has implications for other forms of communication.

Like, duh, blogs. You imagine a voice for the blogger's endless first-person narrative. I remember being quite shocked when I heard the manslave's voice for the first time - it was completely unlike the voice I'd given him in my imagination. But Will's voice is exactly as you would expect. And when you read letters, emails, text messages or blog posts from people whose voices you already know, you imagine them reading it in their own idiosyncratic voices. You know the most curious thing - I gave Glen the wrong voice. Based on his writing style, I imagined him a kind of playful, comedian's voice, when his real voice is quite gruff. I realised with horror that I'd actually grafted Chris' ex-housemate Tim's voice onto Glen's writing.

Then there are the voices we put on for particular occasions. I used to have a "market research voice", which I put on nowadays for radio interviews and conference presentations. I was taken aback a couple of years ago when I was at a conference in Adelaide, and a chick I met told me that my speaking style had reminded her of a PhD student in her own department, a chick called Saige. Anyone who knows the way Saige speaks might find this diverting.

I realised afresh at the superheroes conference the vital role of the voice. For me, the very clever papers situated themselves as entire performances of an argument, rather than verbal presentations of written arguments. Oh, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone mentioned what Shane has hilariously dubbed "the fantasmatic 'longer version' of their paper." I wish some academics would realise that people pay attention when you can weave your paper into a story, not when you pause annoyingly because you can't get the DVD player to work.

Christian's paper took this idea furthest in the most original way, in that the performance of his paper was itself the argument, and any written version would have to be a literary re-interpretation of the oral original. I remember noting, through a hangover so massive I felt as though my head were drifting clean off my shoulders to bump aimlessly against the ceiling like an errant helium balloon, at the evenness and neutrality of his voice. It was as though he'd hammered smooth his conversational voice, which seesaws between breathy, almost nervous phrases and loud, emphatic rhetorical flourishes, into an assured, fluent Lecturing Voice.

I mean to write more, but I gotta go to a magazine meeting now. Perhaps I'd add to this later.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

History has been made. This morning I awoke to sunlight streaming across my bed. I wished you were there with your ridiculous hair. More precisely, I wished to roll over, encounter a rapidly cooling patch where you'd recently been, and just as I was working myself up to feeling disappointed that you'd nicked off without waking me, you'd come in bearing two steaming cups of tea and the weekend papers.

Thankfully, the steam rising from the tea would hide the smirk you couldn't suppress when you saw me half-sitting-up, my face all pillow-creased and perplexed. We'd drink our tea and read the paper in bed, which I never normally do, and I would point out little interesting stories, like at UWA they've actually done research to prove the theory that Eurasian people are really really ridiculously good looking.

But I read the papers by myself at Penny's work instead. Penny has spent years trying to make me work there, and I have spent years replying that this was a very bad idea. I gave the following reasons:

1. I am very, very lazy and tire easily.
2. I have an intense dislike for cleaning.
3. I have shaky hands and weak wrists, and am very bad at carrying drinks and plates.
4. I find it hard to hide my feelings and thus am not very good at kissing customers' arses.
5. I am bad at remembering orders.
6. Other of her friends have worked there in the past, and set standards of incompetence which I am highly likely to surpass.

However, today I found myself working at Penny's work for almost two hours. This is the historic occasion to which I refer. There were definitely shades of The Nanny to it - I had style, I had flair, I was there.

It will never happen again.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

People-watching. This evening I was in Vis observing a wonderful little play unfolding at the window bench. I shall call it The Competition. Three twentysomething office types in suits were having after-work drinks: a handsome olive-skinned guy with an English accent; a pretty long-haired blonde; and a pretty long-haired brunette with equally pretty high-heeled shoes. The chicks were both wearing pants that were deliberately too long for them because they knew they would only ever wear them with high heels.

They were lined up along the bench, slightly in a circle. From my perspective, the brunette was sitting on the far left, the blonde in the middle and the guy on the right. Funny thing was, the two chicks were both angled to face the guy, almost as if they were interviewing him. Their chairs were quite close together, with a space between them and the guy's chair. Almost as if they were afraid to sit too close to him. But my interpretation was that they were each afraid to give the other the impression that they wanted to sit close to him, and as a result, neither of them were sitting close to him.

At one point, all three of them raised their voices and I couldn't tell whether they were actually fighting about something or just getting chardonnaically boisterous. Penny felt that the guy was serious, but I could have sworn that the brunette had a jokey expression on her face.

The funniest part was when the two chicks went to the toilet. The blonde went first, and while she was gone, the brunette pushed the blonde's chair out of the way under the bench and moved her own up close to the guy's chair. She was leaning in towards him and laughing. The blonde came back from the toilet and physically dragged the brunette's chair, with the brunette still in it, back to its original position, got her own chair back out in the middle, and sat down. Order restored.

Then the brunette went to the toilet and the blonde was behaving in exactly the same flirtatious way as the brunette had been earlier. It was as though they'd both watched a Flirting 101 instructional DVD:

1. Lean towards man.
2. Laugh.
3. Toss hair.
4. Caress man on forearm or thigh occasionally. (Cries of "Oh, you!" optional)

The guy was sitting in that splayed-knee fashion that men often adopt, and the blonde had her own knee right between his legs. This tactic seemed to be working - the guy was caressing her thigh, too. But their idyll was spoiled when the guy's mobile rang. It must have been another work colleague of theirs (or at least a mutual friend), because the blonde soon figured out who it was, demanded the phone, and started yelling into it that the caller "should come down here!"

While she was distracted on the phone, turning away from the guy, the brunette came back from the toilet and started chatting to him again, standing next to his chair with her arm resting on the back of it.

I could have watched this all night, but Penny and I were heading to Yoyogi with C7 on our minds. After we'd ordered, Penny opined that there were two possible reasons for such clumsy flirting: both girls were inexpert flirts; or they didn't deem the guy worthy of more sophisticated flirting. But the part that interested me was the naked competition between the chicks for the guy.

Perhaps I'm just sensitive to this because I always feel myself at a disadvantage in competition with other women for the men I want. I know people who say, "It's not a competition", "I don't buy into that competitive bullshit", etc etc. But they're able to say this because they're winners - the competition is only visible to the losers.

Like on Sunday, Leanne was saying earnestly, "There's no such thing as 'hot' and 'not'."
Bo started laughing and said, "You only think that because you're hot."
I started laughing too, but was soon coughing my guts up.

The art of the epigraph. If I ever end up writing that academic book about hip hop culture in Australia, I would like to use the following as the epigraph:

I like 'em cute, round tits and fat asses
Educated, so I can bust off on they glasses

-- Notorious BIG, "Big Booty Hoes"

The best of Punlovers. In a sentimental mood yesterday, Jane and Sophie let my final appalling pun headline go through. It was about the recent Lebanese elections, in which voters overwhelmingly endorsed the anti-Syria opposition. My headline was "Lebanon Says: Syria Later!" Now I am getting all nostalgic for the shonky headlines I attempted (and usually failed) to get through at work. A while ago, I used to send my friends a weekly email bulletin of that week's pun headlines. It ended up running to 19 editions before I got bored of it. Oh, the rich irony that The Reader will now be a weekly email bulletin.

I thought that I might reproduce a few of them here as an occasional series, arranged thematically. Some themes I can already think of are "Those Crazy Russians", "Sexual Punning", "Political Puns" and "Kriminal Kapers". But first in Punlovers Redux, the cream of my dubious crop, the Puns of the Week.

(3 February 2004)
A man has sex with his relative's sleeping wife...
Mel's Headline: "Sleeping Booty"

(19 February)
Our lives are increasingly mediated by screen technologies...
Mel's Headline: "Makes You Want to Screen" (and I think that one does!!!)

(26 February)
Shoddy Russian buildings fall down...
Mel's Headline: "The Big Collapski" (I can't believe that got through!)

(4 March)
South Australian parliamentarians have passed a bill banning the eating of cats and dogs after the Attorney-General alleged that a cat had been put on a public BBQ in his electorate...
Mel's 1st Headline: "Cat on a Hot Tin Grill"
Mel's Final Headline: "Gourmiaow"

(11 March)
Desperate Islamic militant groups are trying to win support among the Sunni majority by attacking Shiite Muslims...
Mel's Headline: "Islamic Militants Get the Shiites"

(22 March)
Australia has bought 59 US-made tanks for the army, even though others were almost half the price...
Mel's Headline: "Tanks for Helping the US"

(24 March)
Things are mysteriously bursting into flames in Sicily...
Mel's Headline: "Combustissimo" (trying for more of the "Big Collapski" magic!!)

(8 April)
Can a 33-year-old financial consultant perpetuate India's greatest political dynasty?
Mel's Headline (rejected): "The Gandhi Man Can"
Final Headline: "The 'Generation Next' Gandhi"

(22 April)
Now, here usually I would have Pun of the Week, but this week it's not actually a pun. Instead, after toying with puns about tabouli and falafel, I actually ran out of inspiration for a story about the new leader of Palestinian terrorist organisation Hamas, who was blown up by an Israeli helicopter strike shortly after his predecessor was also assassinated. And they actually ran with my 'stand-in' headline!!!
Mel's Headline: "He Didn't Even Last A Month"

(28 April)
California's porn-movie industry is in a state of terror after one of its veteran stars tests HIV-positive...
Mel's Headline: "Scared Stiff"

(6 May - joint winners)
Islamic province Zanzibar has banned homosexuality...
Mel's Headline: "Pansy Bar"

French prisoners have submitted recipes for a new cookbook of gourmet prison fare...
Mel's Headline: "The Nicked Chef"

(13 May)
Encouraging schoolchildren to experiment with oral sex may help curb teen pregnancy...
Mel's Headline: "School Sucks"
(We were torn between this and "School Blows")

(27 May)
The Plain English Foundation was launched at the Sydney Writers' Festibal to rectify "diseased English"...
Mel's Headline (rejected): "Fully Sick Language"
Final Headline: "Move to Communicate Better"

(3 June)
An AFL player tells the media about his battle with clinical depression...
Mel's Headline: "Depress Conference"

(17 June - joint winners)
Shane Warne won't need surgery on his broken left hand...
Mel's Headline: "No Hand Job for Warne"

Germany was finally invited to the D-Day anniversary celebrations so Schröder and Chirac could flaunt their new alliance in the faces of Blair and Bush...
Mel's Headline: "They'll Always Have Paris"

(24 June)
Latham plans to ban fast food advertising on children's TV. This wins because of the intro that actually got past Eric: "Latham and Howard play politics with our nation of lardy infants"...
Mel's Headline: "Bunfight"
Eric's Addition: "Bunfight Over Children's TV"

(8 July)
Does Channel 7's new plan to sponsor Senate candidates reinvigorate democracy or undermine it?
Mel's Headline: "Realitypolitik"

This wins because it was rejected some months ago for another story. If at first you don't get your headlines through, try try again...

(11 August)
Disney has developed a kids' computer (it really has to be seen to be believed)...
Mel's Headline: "First the Mouse, Now the PC"

(3 September)
The RAAF is going to buy long-range stealth cruise missiles...
Mel's Headline (rejected): "Top Guns Get Cruise"
Final Headline: "Defence Force Buys Long Range Cruise Missiles"

Maoist rebels blockade Kathmandu...
Mel's Headline (rejected): "Apocalypse Mao"
Final Headline: "Rebels Blockade City"

Unemployment: Day One. Last night, I told Virginia that I was beginning to feel maudlin. She replied that I ought to feel angry instead. Right now, I can't really summon the required anger. I am mainly thinking how life at work is going to proceed without me much as it did before. Perhaps they'll even be relieved that I'm gone - me and my stupid puns and constant enquiries about whether you would call your child this or that, and whether this or that situation is ironic.

I have mentioned before that I resented being the office buffoon; but it's a role I always slip into when I'm comfortable in a particular environment. I feel torn between two conflicting impulses - my desire to be taken seriously as an intellectual, and my desire to share with others the absurd things that delight me.

I ate some two-day-old pizza and swigged Solo from a 1.25L bottle. I did some laundry. My sheets are the same blue as the sky.

Feel ... strength ... returning ...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Fully sick. Two or three weeks ago we were having a magazine meeting at Vis and I had that horrible foreboding feeling that I was coming down with a cold. Paging through my haphazard mental flip-book of folk wisdom about how to prevent and cure colds, I had a lemongrass and ginger tea. I followed this up with a severe regime of hot lemon drinks, freshly squeezed juices, rugging up in bed (I had heard somewhere that raising the body's temperature kills off germs), gargling with antibacterial mouthwash and wearing scarves round my neck all the time.

Now I have a fucking full-blown cold. The sort where your throat is raw from incessant coughing, your joints ache, your nose runs, your ears are blocked and you feel both boiling and freezing. Of course, I could blame it on last Saturday's superhero ball drinking binge, Thursday's Irish karaoke session, and last night's mega-cleavage. But I choose to blame it on the inefficacy of all my various folk remedies, and am now drinking coffee and sleeping naked again like normal.

I really hope I am okay again by Tuesday, because it is my last day of work and there will be a company-sponsored piss-up that night. I feel quite aggrieved that my birthday is in August so I will miss out on the traditional dodgy birthday cake at work. Oh yeah, and also that I will have no income apart from freelancing.

Oh, and one more thing? Christian Bale = Batalicious. Today Tash was pointing to a picture of Batman in the paper and saying "Hot", like a toddler pleased at having learned a new word. I pointed out that you couldn't really see the hotness because it was a silhouetted picture, but Tash said she was just pleased to know it was there underneath. Tash also asked me who was hotter, Christian Bale or Cillian Murphy. It was like Sophie's Choice; but I eventually opted for Bale.

And as for Katie Holmes, she was out-acted by her own breasts in a satin shirt on a cold day.

Things to do with food courts. Yesterday, Gemma and I had a food court lunch. She had potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. I had a small combination butter chicken and rogan josh with saffron rice. We had been wondering if there's been any academic work done on food courts. I bet Meaghan Morris had a stab at it. I did a bit of a web search but I couldn't find anything specific, although I found this list of general mall-related resources.

I researched shopping centres for my thesis because I was discussing consumerism and femininity in Kath & Kim. What a fucking disgrace that chapter was; but let's not dwell on that. Basically, I'm aware of the standard arguments about privatisation of public space and gendered consumption patterns. And we all know from the movie Mallrats and the recent business about hoodies that the mall is also a site for surveillance of young people and moral panic surrounding their public congregation (panic which centres around people using consumer space without spending money).

The food court is made for hanging out; and its component structure seems to complicate the mall's panoptic regime. Each food outlet is independent, adjacent to the rest but not associated with them. And the people sitting and eating in the common space can buy as much or as little food as they want, and take as much time over it as they want, because unlike other restaurants, the food court outlets have no control over the consumption of their product. "If you were bulimic, you could easily binge without drawing attention to yourself," said Gemma.

I'm also interested in the faux-cosmopolitanism of the food court. I remember the first food court I ever went to, at Box Hill Central in the late 1980s. It had a sandwich place that also served roast meats, a fish and chippery, a hot dog/baked potato place, an icecream place, and another place called "Asian Gourmet Affair". Nowadays we're accustomed to being able to choose from a basic selection of "ethnic" foods - an Italian place, a Mexican place, a Middle Eastern kebab place, an Indian place.

Then there are places like Ong's Food Court, an all-Asian basement which had Vietnamese, Chinese, Malay/Indian and Thai. Apparently it's modelled on the "hawker food courts" that you find in Singapore and Malaysia. And there are the hybrid food courts at fresh food markets, where stalls that sell ready-prepared meals - especially delis, juice bars and bakeries - sit side by side with stalls selling food you can take away and cook yourself.

At last year's CSAA conference, I heard a fascinating paper that focused on laksa as a diasporic dish. It talked about the dish's origins as a Straits speciality, and thus already hybridised, and drew on depth interviews with migrants from Asia to Australia: how they learned to cook laksa; how they built food-related businesses in Australia and how the locals took to them. I was thinking about this because one interviewee actually started the first "Asian" food stall at the Adelaide market back in the 1970s.

I think this kind of research is vital to understanding the food court as an imagined space of cosmopolitanism; as an encounter with the Other through bland, bain-marie fodder. In Kath & Kim, this is a source of comedy - Kath fancies herself sophisticated by consuming "cinos" and "ham and cheese pinatas". I am loath to buy into the recent inner/outer suburb divide (inner suburb=thoughtful, self-reflexive consumer/outer suburb=thoughtless, voracious consumer), and the very thought of my thesis topic now fills me with a curious mixture of rage and ennui. But I still don't want to dismiss the food court as a banal, Orientalised space where dumb suburban bogans thoughtlessly swill crappy westernised versions of exotic foreign cuisine.

I would like to view the food court as a revolutionary space where cultures sit together like curries in a combination Indian meal, or like businessmen eating their lunch on bench seats next to teenagers wagging school and mums with prams. And its very quotidian banality is what makes it revolutionary - there is no patronising search for an essentialist culinary "authenticity". You can have a Flake Shake with your falafel, and put the Vietnamese shop's chilli jam on your McDonalds fries.

(Watch this space for Mel's deconstruction of the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


The manslave stalks me with his whizz-bang new digital camera. This was on Saturday night while I was getting ready for the Superheroes Ball. He kept imploring me to turn around and I kept seeing the results and imploring him to delete them. After a while I just went back to doing my makeup.


Eventually I relented, but you can see I was not particularly happy about it. Or perhaps I was using Marsha Queen of Diamonds' powers on him...

Nobody got that I was Marsha Queen of Diamonds because I just looked like a normal person. There was a real preponderance of Sailor Moons and Spidermen at the ball. Amusingly, this guy that we were laughing looked like the Comic Book Store Guy from The Simpsons actually came as the Comic Book Store Guy. He was wearing a t-shirt that said "Worst Costume Ever".

Most of my friends left really early and I felt quite depressed and abandoned. And I was jealous because Jeremy had been on a highly successful Hot Date that afternoon. Jeremy attempted to console me by saying that "if you lost some weight, you would be really hot!" I felt quite outraged at this, especially given that last year I had a brief crush on Jeremy when he was much fatter than he is today.

In the end, I turned to my cool friend Beer. Oh, Beer and I have had some great times. Saturday was one of those nights. I brought him repeatedly to my lips, running my fingers over the condensation on his glass, and let him slip deliciously down my throat.

After a while, Beer ran out, and I felt depressed and abandoned, but soon moved on to his sophisticated buddy Vin Rouge. Vin packs a punch and I had to take it pretty slow - I couldn't just knock him back. But Vin imbued me with superheroic powers including Killer Dancing, Witty Conversation and Jumping Fences in High Heels. After a disagreement over whether we would adjourn to Ding Dong or Alia (I came down strongly on the side of Alia), I caught a taxi with a bunch of strangers, including an American who looked disconcertingly like Rowan Atkinson.

At Alia I discovered my friend Beer again. He said to me, "Where the fuck have you been? Who cares if the music's shit? Let's fucking dance, baby!"

At times like this I realise I love Beer dearly. We danced. Princess Leia was being hit on every five minutes. She was pretending to be all humiliated at wearing the outfit in public, but she was loving it. She-Ra was making out with a guy in an armchair. Wolverine's white wifebeater bore the marks of a violent altercation with Vin Rouge earlier in the evening, and he was also inexplicably wearing a black bra over the singlet, which I found disconcertingly erotic.

Beer spun me til I was dizzy and Marty had to take my elbow and pilot me to the couch. We talked about the forum the following afternoon. Marty joked that someone should ask whether superheroes were "really gay." Drunkenly, I promised to ask that question. And I did. Stuart put his head in his hands when I put my hand up. This is roughly what I said:
It's interesting that you bring up this issue of camp, and you mentioned Kavalier and Clay. I wanted to tie this into something Angela said in her presentation this morning, about homosexuality carrying a stigma in the 1950s. I was thinking about how in the novel Sam has to go before the tribunal because of the homosexual subtext to his sidekick characters. And I was also thinking about the camp superheroes of the 1950s and 1960s - the 'men in tights' that the conference title refers to. So I put it to you - are superheroes just really gay?"
Big laugh from the audience. Marty said, "Yes, yes, they are," hoping to leave it there. But the other speakers on the panel actually got into the question and provided some answers that interested me - stuff about border crossing and the associations of camp with masculinity.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Mel's comic strip tease. Stuart designed the program for the Holy Men in Tights! superheroes conference at Melbourne University, which I attended this weekend. The program looks like a comic book, complete with panels and onomatopoeic "Krakkk!"s and "Aieieieie!"s. There were some blank pages in the back for notes, and I drew this comic strip on Friday during a mind-numbingly boring session. (Click to enlarge.)

It was so bad that Christian said to me, "I can't take any more of this!' and left during the second paper. I am not one of those ruthless/busy/carefree people who goes to conferences and only ends up attending half the sessions. I have this compulsion to get my money's worth - particularly spastic in this case as I got to go to the conference for free - that leads to me doggedly going to every session and drinking my weight in free booze. Oh my god, I drank so much last night.

When Christian came back in time for the fourth paper (by the always sardonically excellent Martyn Pedler), I had drawn three frames already. Later that night, Mark paid me a supreme compliment by refusing to believe I'd drawn it myself. (Okay, he was drunk at the time.)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Academia and journalism - can the twain meet? I know that sounds like a shoddy essay question from a first-year media studies subject, but it's a very real and omnipresent frustration for me in my professional life, which as I've miserably blogged about before, takes place in a dreary no-man's land in which I get no respect from either field.

The thing that inspired me to write this latest post is an article I wrote this week for the Sydney Morning Herald, which posits the idea of a compliment economy. It's not a particularly novel idea - it clearly ties in with Mauss's gift economy. And my thesis argument about mutual obligation was inspired by a wonderful Ghassan Hage article that spoke of gifts as ethical exchanges. But anyway, I wanted to explain how compliments worked in a very distinctive way as social transactions.

It was a really hard article to write, because I was stripped of the academic discursive mode, which allows digressions, rhetorical gestures towards alternative possibilities, and detailed and contextualised citations of relevant work. By contrast, the journalistic mode - particularly the "opinion column mode" I was adopting, provides encapsulated summaries of other research as self-contained evidence for an unequivocal argument. That "other research" must be a published account of research findings, or a book. There's very little room for going, "Well, then there's this way of looking at it," or "but X counters that idea". And in the newspaper context, it looks dodgy to cite one article someone's written - you want something that suggests authority in this particular field.

Anyway, I used two sources: a recent social pyschology study at the University of Kansas which found compliments improve female self-esteem (I know: hold the front page!), and University of Michigan law professor William Ian Miller's philosophy book Faking It. (I have been a fan of Miller's smart, wry style since reading Humiliation, a book of essays on honour, shame, humiliation and violence.) Then I got the following email from B.Ro, my editor:
Do we have any local input to validate what all these American's [sic] are saying?
A locally sourced quote speaking to the main theme would be useful.
So despite slight ethical twingeings (thinking of how New York Times wundercolumnist Jennifer 8 Lee was bagged for using her Harvard alumni listserv as a journalistic resource), I promptly got on the CSAA list:
Hello all,
I'm currently writing an article for the SMH that imagines the practice of complimenting people as a kind of economy of goodwill. It's a two-way exchange in which people recognise and trade desires and expectations; and how people respond to compliments reveals their perception of the relative social positions of the complimenter and recipient.
I am wondering whether any Australian academics have written on this or similar topics, and/or if anyone is interested in being quoted for this article.
The responses I received really underlined the gap between the standard "help with research request" email you get on such lists, and what I was actually asking for. I thought that because everyone on the list is reasonably self-reflexive and media-savvy, they would understand the restrictive requirements implied by my request, and would tell me about a recent book, or offer a quote. Here's a selection:

Dear Mel, You may be interested in a perspective from other cultures – Franca Tamisari has written ‘the Meaning of the Steps is in Between: Dancing and the Curse of Compliments’ in The Politics of Dance, special issue of The Australian Journal of Anthropology, No. 12, R. Henry, F. Magowan and D. Murray eds. Pp 274-286, or The Gift, by Lewis Hyde with a differing viewpoint. These may impinge on your area of focus.

It's not my field, but I run a course that includes some organisational behaviour material from AGSM - they draw on Covey's Seven Habits stuff to talk about things like "building your emotional bank account" with other people as an effective means of management...with concepts of making deposits and withdrawals. Don't know if this helps.

Mel, Maybe you could note the way that such exchanges tended to be relegated to the 'phatic' communication category - in communication studies - and the content and meaning of the exchange was often discounted, with emphasis placed on the alleged purpose of the exchange - opening/closing the channels of communication.

Can you see why I didn't find these responses particularly helpful? But the most irritating response of all was this:
Hi Mel
Isn't this similar to the notion of the Gift economy?
There has been a lot of work done on this.
When I read this, I snapped and sent this person a short, reasonable email briefly explaining the gulf between academic and journalistic discourse. The tone of this email was very Academicist: dismissing an argument by invoking more extensive knowledge on the topic. And in an academic context, I would take that on the chin with only a few bitter mumblings about hobbit philosophy.

But my query was not academic.

Asking the list was a real misstep on my part. And I feel it was a real indication of how far humanities academics have to go before they'll understand why the Andrew Bolts of this world persist in mocking them. My career project is to bring academic-style rigour (note how it's not academic, but academic-style, the same way karaoke videos often have that little thing at the start: "in the style of Britney Spears") to journalism.

And I felt that this article, being much more theoretical than any journalism I've done so far, would be prime bait for these same academics bitching about how lame this stupid journalist was. So my question was equally a pre-emptive move to anticipate any hostile reaction before the piece ran.

I'm about to head up to Melbourne Uni now to shamelessly use their facilities. Because, funnily enough, the thing I miss most about university is the access to research resources. The internet is becoming less accessible every day as all the good content gets locked behind subscription and registration.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Flashpost. I am toying with the idea of flashposting - a deliberate practice of putting up a post and then taking it down within 24 hours. I don't know if other people have thought of this before, but I enjoy the idea precisely because it breaks several key blogging rules: the temporal integrity of the entire blog as a text; the illusion that blogs are unedited (or, that editing is always flagged); a preference for online archiving rather than constantly replaced material.

The sort of posts I'll consider flashposting are emotive, rambling, diary-like, full of despair or anger. Just like moods, I'll inflict them on you and then they'll pass. Think of when you read back over old diary entries and the intensity of the mood that made you write them had passed, leaving only the faintly self-pitying words behind. Those words have always seemed an inadequate affective analogue to me.

The practice of flashposting seems like a good compromise. I can use the immediacy and editability of the blogging format for specific, affective purposes. And then the words don't have to hang around afterwards, archived, trackbacked, embarrassing me.

The sugar moratorium. Please, please, could we put some kind of limit on the number of pop songs that make lame analogies between sex and desserts or confectionery? I thought that PopJustice had put this issue to bed with their hilarious critique of Fiddy Cent's "Candy Shop" (which I have reproduced here because it's gone from the site, PopJustice being Onto This Phenomenon much earlier than I):

In their review of 50 Cent's new album, The Guardian asked, "He can't rap, he can't write, he can't even insult people... what use is 50 Cent?" DUDES! That's like, so scathing! Because everyone who's heard Fiddy's new single, 'Candy Shop', knows that 50 Cent is really useful for at least one thing - fucking!

Seriously, viewers, this guy just amazing at having sex. He's just unstoppable! (Although of course if you were a lady and you were having sex with 50 and you asked him to stop, he would do just that. There's nothing remotely rapey about this guy!) In the wholly impartial 'Candy Shop', Fiddy employs various 'metaphors' to explain how brilliant he is at fucking. For example!

"I take you to the candy shop, I'll let you lick the lollypop."
Trans: "Ooh my penis is quite big, you can suck it."

"One taste of what I got, I'll have you spending all you got."
Trans: "My sperm tastes nice."

"You can have it your way, how do you want it?"
Trans: "I am versatile in my ability to fuck people. I know lots of different ways. There's missionary, for a start. And the other one. Seriously, there are as many as several positions in which I can - and have - fucked women."

"You gon' back that thing up or should I push up on it?"

Trans: "Are you going to move your vagina towards my penis, or should I move my penis towards your vagina?" (nb: This may seem as if 50 Cent is not masterful in bed, but it in fact simply goes to showcase his versatility as a sex-maker - see above!)

"If you be a nympho, I'll be a nympho."
Trans: "My rhymes are almost as innovative as my lovemaking."

"Got the magic stick, I'm the love doctor."
Trans: "I've got a penis."

"And we gon' sip til every bubble in the bottle is gone."
Trans: "We are, or rather 'you are', going to suck my penis until all the sperm has come out of it, which will no doubt take ages because a) My cock is really big, and b) I have lots of sperm in me. Seriously, you could go whitewater rafting in my scrotum."

"I'm a seasoned vet when it come to this shit"
Trans: "I know how to charm a lady."

"After you work up a sweat you can play with the stick."
Trans: "I've still got a penis."

"Isn't it ironic how erotic it is to watch em in thongs?"
Trans: "I don't really understand words very well."

Ahh, Fiddy. Shane says he's like when the Terminator tries to learn human emotions. Tash says he's like a club bouncer who got hold of a microphone. You decide. But anyway. I used to kind of like "Candy Shop", even though it's so very 2003 with its faux-ethnic noises. But then I got so tired of its regime of sugar-fuelled copulation. It's not naughty or playful like the best of Nelly (who does a great line in "Jesus Christ I can't believe this chick is stripping off and writhing before my very eyes!" shocked expressions).

Instead, it's grim and deliberate, like stuffing a vanilla slice into your mouth in a fit of depression at how fat and ugly you are. Instead of something delicious, sweetness becomes some kind of fuel for joyless, mechanical, unending copulation. Maybe I just read Glamorama too recently.

I heard another one today: "Sugar (Gimme Some)" by Trick Daddy. It really depressed me. I just wanted the torrent of dessert references to stop...

And gimme some of your butter pecan
Put it right there on tip of my tongue, hold it Right jeeeah
Cuz baby, if I bite you I bet you like it
French Vanilla's a hell of a flavor for me
With strawberries, two cherries and whipped cream
The best things are the wet dreams
And uh, the rest is just a flick without a sex scene
Or lee, I speak the truth
Cuz the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice
Cuz, Florida oranges and Georgia peaches
When they nice and ripe, they the best for eatin'
Southern boys we crave for old slice of pie after they main course


Sweetie you look so incredible So delicious and so damn edible
All I need is some honey or syrup
With a lil' butter to rub down all your curves
And no need for the lemonade
Just a twist of lime and some grape Kool-Aid
Can I call you Caramel?
Cuz I'm bout to go coo-coo to taste your Coco Puffs
One bowl ought to fill me up
But that milk gotta be cold enough
So supper time that'll hold me up
I might choke myself if I don't slow it up, but
Honey, you look like a honeydew melon
Or strawberry with the whipped cream filling
Of the top part of the peach cobbler
But uh, the fruit platter ought to do me better

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Putting on the squeeze. The other night as I was falling asleep, I was thinking about the squeeze as a cultural motif. It's simultaneously pleasurable and uncomfortable, productive and destructive, forced and spontaneous. I first thought about it when watching microscope footage of human egg cells being prepared for cloning by squeezing out the nucleus (to leave room for the injection of a nucleus extracted from another cell). The image of the jelly-like nucleus oozing out under the pressure of forceps made me think of the disgusting satisfaction of squeezing a pimple.

Then yesterday I was sitting on the tram with my jacket fully buttoned. Apart from luxuriating in what a jaunty pussy I was, it felt quite comforting to be squeezed tightly into my clothing; to have it pressing lightly on me; almost like being hugged. Obviously I am bibliographically ill-equipped to theorise the squeeze, but I want to try to describe it in my retarded, pseudo-intellectual way.

Think, first, of the corset. It's designed to squeeze the body: to mould it in deliberate, unaccustomed ways. Fashion history writing on the corset tends to couch it as a disciplinary device, controlling women's unruly bodies in order to produce them as socially and politically docile subjects. Erect posture was explicitly conflated with moral fibre: uncorseted women were "slack" and "slovenly". Simultaneously, the corset was a tool of social distinction: clothes that limited the wearer's movements revealed that their economic position didn't rely on physical activity; and the stiff fabrics that lent themselves to corseting, like silk, were the most expensive.

But the sexual fetishisation of the corset provides a clue to the erotic meaning of the squeeze. One's sexual or romantic partner is called one's "squeeze"; and I'm sure we can all envisage our favourite body parts to be gently or roughly squeezed during sexual play. But what is erotic about the squeeze? In the example of the corset, the squeeze dramatises contingent containment. The body appears invincible, encased in its fabric, elastic and metal armour; but it bulges voluptuously over the top of the corset. So, the heaving bosom of the corseted woman serves to undermine the corset's security: it suggests that at any moment, the corset will burst, releasing a gelatinous torrent of flesh. Here, the squeeze is a metaphor for anticipation; a pleasure yet to be unleashed.

There is also the tender squeeze: a desire for physical closeness as a sign of security or affection. Wringing a dear friend's hand; clutching a departing loved one at an airport. In this sense, the corset (or the equivalent close-fitting garment) is a substitute for body contact with the loved one. For the wearer, it feels comforting and secure. I don't think it's a linguistic coincidence that we describe these garments as "snug-fitting" - this is the squeeze as affect.

Think now of the imperative sense of a goal narrowly attained; a position reached with difficulty.
"She squeezed through the crowd to the front row."
"He put in a last-minute spurt of effort to squeeze into third place."
Here, the squeeze is a negative affective state that produces affirmative results: a period of physical or psychological discomfort endured in the expectation of rich future reward. It's the reading of Deleuze in order to attain superheroic insight into the world. How sweet orange juice tastes when you laboriously have to grind the halves yourself!

But the squeeze also dramatises productivity through violence. Think of a confession being "squeezed" from a prisoner, or the extortion of money through intimidation. Something is euphemistically being violated or destroyed: the integrity of the subject's body; his or her mental composure or sense of security; moral or ethical codes. I think this sense of the squeeze is closest to Glen's example of the kiss as a shared, knotty event. The squeeze is both catalytic and liminal. It is the agent of a simultaneously productive and destructive change, and the threshold of that change.

Moving on, then, to the idea of the squeeze as a threshold, I'd say it is the threshold of deliberation and spontaneity. Slow, targeted pressure gives way to an unruly burst of activity. Think of the pimple-squeezing example - the almost jouissant explosion of pus against the bathroom mirror. The idea that we cannot predict or control the results of the squeeze adds extra piquancy to all my previous senses of the idea. What if someone retaliates to sustained blackmail by escalating to hideous violence towards a third party? What if you hug someone you love to death?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Every jaunty pussy needs a tomcat. (This post is simulcast at Footpath Zeitgeist.) On Tuesday we were discussing names for the male equivalent of Jaunty Pussy. We arrived at one that I found extremely satisfactory, but of course I can't remember it now. Suggestions in comments are more than welcome. But today, I was perusing a feature on dandies at, the online home of US Vogue, where a variety of jaunty pussies cavorted in photographic and painted form before my eyes.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you David Hockney!

Moreover, I bring you the rock star of bespoke tailoring, Duncan Quinn!

Any man who's into hot pink is All Right By Me. (Says she wearing her pink jaunty-pussy bow with pink and black striped over-the-knee socks.) There is also a wonderfully camp picture on the website of Duncan sitting in an armchair, surrounded by tousle-haired male models, with a fluffy white dog on his lap. He even has his own Duncan Quinn Signature Cocktail, the French 75:
A LARGE measure of English gin
A generous splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice
A swirl of syrop de sucre

Shake over ice
Pour to fill 2/3 of a flute and top with fine champagne
Miaow, baby!

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Yay! Is Not Magazine is up to Issue Two! That's right - we've made it past the sophomore slump! Issue Two of Is Not Magazine should be hitting the streets of inner Melbourne this weekend. It will be blue and red, like 3D glasses! And the launch should be something else. People will be all, "Man, were you at the Is Not launch when that stilt-walker guy in drag tipped a pint on that chick's white top and then she fell over backwards into the fire-eater?" and you'll be all, "Oh crap, and here was I at home watching TV!"

Something that occurred to me. At my work we have cable TV, for the news, natch. Oh, we were all glued to the live telecast of Graham Kennedy's funeral. It was really quite moving, especially when the congregation had to sing the old Chum dog food jingle (or at least that's where I remember it from!), and Noeline Brown didn't know the words so she had to read off her program like people do at weddings when they don't know the hymns:

Being a chum is fun
That is why I'm one
Always smiling, always gay
Chummy at work and chummy at play
Laugh away your worries
Don't be sad or glum
And everyone will know that you're a chum, chum, chum

As the MC said immediately afterwards to riotous laughter, "They don't write songs like that anymore." But there was another thing that occurred to me...

Toni Lamond and Daryl Somers at Graham Kennedy's funeral.

Nelly and Christina Aguilera in the "Tilt Ya Head Back" video.

I couldn't find any pictures of Lamond performing at the funeral, but she was definitely wearing some kind of black do-rag under the fedora. What a hip woman she is. Or as Jeremy ludicrously attempts to claim is widespread among New York hipsters, she is "deck".

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The internet is for... One of my sources in the dole-bludging industry has just informed me that when you try to access this blog from Job Network computers, you get the following message:
GateFilter Response

GateFilter has blocked because 81% of
it's content refers to pornography

You have been reported to Jobco Management

I'm sorry if I get you in trouble with Big Brother, humble readers. But I am really quite chuffed to be deemed so smutty - even if I didn't think I was quite so smutty. If you think I'm bad, don't try to access Desci's blog!

I would also like to draw your attention to the poorly punctuated nature of this message. It makes me so sad that people who can not only spell but write and think are at the economic mercy of those who cannot.

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