Sunday, February 18, 2007

Watch out for life!

To the as-yet-unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: Watch out for life. I have caught life. I have come down with life. I was a wisp of undifferentiated nothingness, and then a little peephole opened quite suddenly. Light and sound poured in. Voices began to describe me and my surroundings.

Those are the opening lines of a smart little novel, Deadeye Dick, by Kurt Vonnegut, once described by Graham Greene as "one of the best living American writers". This outspoken author, now 84 years old, made headlines in 2005 with an interview for The Australian in which he described suicide bombers as "very brave people" who "are dying for their own self-respect". Not surprisingly, Vonnegut's words were misunderstood by most people, including the interviewer, and his son stepped into the turmoil in an intelligent attempt to justify the celebrated novelist's "provocative posturing".

During the time my peephole has been open on the planet Earth, I've seen certain senseless symbols. The most notorious of all were on stage, for all the planet to observe, at exactly the moment my peephole opened: the visual symbols and brainwashed chants of Nazism.

I've always been attracted by symbols [this, after all, is their raison d'etre] but wary of their origins and repercussions. For example, I've always loved the symbol of Qantas, Australia's national airline. But there are limits to my love. I find that the celebrated video on the theme of I still call Australia home, which apparently brings tears to the eyes of many Australians, is frankly embarrassing, like a Steve Irwin sequence. Its supposed message is like that of religious faith. Qantas has used its airliners to transport a team of mindless singing [?] schoolgirls to various significant places on the planet, and asked them to proclaim robotically that their religious faith in Australia was such that they weren't impressed by any other places in the world.

No matter what they saw, the angelic schoolgirls in white shirts were supposed to chant [click the image to watch the video], like the brainwashed offspring of a religious sect, that they still saw Australia as home. You might say that the girls went everywhere, but they saw strictly nothing. We even discover them gallivanting with Aborigine kids in the bush, which—as everybody serious Australian knows—would be unthinkable for these urban teenagers (including a judiciously-chosen black-skinned girl). Obviously, I don't blame these delightful schoolgirls for their narrow-sightedness. They were simple pawn-symbols in a superficial publicity scheme. Their tender peepholes weren't yet tuned to watching out for life.

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