Sunday, August 26, 2012

Invisible Ads

Picking on the advertising industry is a little like shooting sloths in a barrel.  But when they keep offering themselves up for light-hearted critique, who am I to argue?

Ads in the old days used to be simple.  The TV would show you a picture of the product, a man with a loud voice would tell you to Buy Now To Avoid Disappointment, and you would (but usually still be disappointed).  The point is, you KNEW what you were buying and what it was supposed to do.

Just recently there have been a number of ads on Aussie TV that have been less than forthcoming about what it is that they are advertising and what they expect you to do about it.

Example: Qantas.  Thankfully the schoolgirl choirs have been put back in the closet and (for a year at least) "I Still Call Australia Home" has been silenced from public broadcast.  But one thing that the old ad had going for it of planes!  The ad invited us to gaze up at the Aussie sky, always on the lookout for that red-tailed symbol of hope and patriotism streaking across the sky.  If the Kangaroo was soaring, then we all could soar in our own way.  What other airline could there be for us Colonial Scum?  NOW however there is not a plane in sight!  Not even a jetstream.  Instead (accompanied by the classical wanderings of Daniel Johns), the viewer looks down from on high at ordinary citizens going about their everyday business, not even thinking about the miracle of flight taking place right above their heads.  But Qantas will always be there, for the airline is now a Service.  Something that will be there in times of trouble. But the Individual is now at the centre with the airline looking in.  You would be forgiven for thinking it was a Tourism Australia ad.

Now, this is OK because Qantas is a reasonably cuddly company (unless you're an airline mechanic or a baggage handler).  If the average Australian takes one trip a year on a Qantas plane they're not doing too badly.

Sadly, another ad shows that this Invisible Product trend on our screens is far from benign.  During the Olympics a new ad for Crown emerged...

A footman leads the viewer of a tour of a Typical Crown Resort.  We pass through ballrooms, kitchens, luxury suites.  Attention is drawn to the large numbers of people Crown is employing and training (implication: A successful Crown makes a successful Country).  We're invited to think, "You know, that looks like a great place to spend a relaxing/romantic getaway."

What's missing?  Poker Machines.

Lots and lots of poker machines.

Apart from one coy reference to "gaming", there is little to suggest in the advert that Crown is in fact a very large and powerful chain of casinos.  All the wonderful images of the ad are really the garnish next to the steak.  The whole aim of Crown is to fleece as much money out of their guests pockets as is legally possible in the shortest amount of time.  What Crown are in effect selling is not an opportunity for a comfortable retreat.  They are selling a corporate whitewash of their record of targeting the most vulnerable in society (the working class, pensioners, new migrants, and gambling addicts) and robbing them blind.

I know that advertisers get a positive hit from a Reveal.  But nothing is being revealed in Crown's ad, and with a product that continues to do so much damage to our society I think there is a model obligation for this industry to advertise itself honestly.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Men, Women, and "Investments"

On occasion my Dearly Beloved will come to me saying that she wishes to "invest" in a new pair of shoes (or similar product).  For a moment my heart will brighten with the expectation that she has found a new way to supplement the family finances.  Then reality dawns.  We are having one of those classic Genderspeak moments...

Simply put, "to invest" means to move existing capital in the hope of generating a profit either through periodic dividends or increased sale price of assets.  If you have no realistic expectation of a financial return, what you have isn't an Investment, it's an Expense - you have spent your resources on a product or service to suit your needs or wants.  The persistence of my wife to use the language of Investment to describe expenditure on accessories has been a continual source of bafflement.  I haven't taken a survey, but I'd be willing to wager there are other men out there who have had similar feelings.

Then the light dawned - what was at stake (for She Who Must Be Obeyed at least) was not so much WHAT money was to be spent on, but HOW they money was to be spent.  This was a question of Gender Philosophy, not economics.

Investments are usually matters of family consultation, as they involve sacrificing short-term wealth for eventual satisfaction.  You may put your savings down on a house that will last you until retirement, but this will mean that the ski trip to Hokkaido may have to wait until the mortgage is paid off.  In these situations, all interested parties must be informed and supportive of any use of family funds for investment purposes.  The Female Of The Species sees this as a perfectly applicable model for her discretionary spending.  Her purchase of a $400 handbag this year will mean that she does not have to buy four $150 handbags over its working lifetime.  The woman will see the benefits of having an item that best suits her needs, the pleasure of owning the same, and the reduction of conversations on the topic of Having Nothing To Wear/Carry as sufficient grounds to identify it as an Investment.  And since Investments are for the benefit of The Many rather that The One, its almost like not spending money at all!  The man will see the situation for the Lose-Lose it really is, but if he is wise he'll hold his tongue.

Men, by contrast, never classify their purchases as Investments.  Men are happy to simply Spend Money.  Often lots of money.  On stupid things.  Without even bothering to consult their conjugal partners.  Here's how it works...

Men are merely Big Little Boys.  Little Boys need Toys.  Therefore, Big Little Boys need Big Toys.  Big Toys cost Big Money.  Therefore, a Man who spends thousands of dollars on motorcycles, jet skis, golf clubs, guitars, and other life necessities without discussing it with his Significant Other is merely meeting the needs of his kind.  The value is simply in the enjoyment of the item rather on the potential resale price or how it will affect the children's food budget for the next 5 years.  So when The Man comes home with a Guess What I Just Bought grin on his face, he will be genuinely astonished that his life partner's natural reaction will consist of Stony Silence and Slammed Bedroom Door.

What we need is a shift in the language of Expense Justification from both sides.  Here's what I propose:

Ladies - "Investment" language will not only confuse your Man, such doublespeak is more likely to raise his blood pressure than decrease it.  Instead, when you bring home a new purchase, simply tell him, "I bought this today.  Isn't it pretty!"  The Man will understand this - The Woman needs clothes/shoes/accessories on a regular basis and they like pretty things.  Therefore, such a purchase is natural.  If the Man is smart, he will have already carved out space in the budget so the issue of cost won't occur to him unless YOU make the mistake of suggesting it using "Investment" language.

Gentlemen - By all means, spend your money on the framed 1991 Wallabies jersey for the Pool Room.  However, you are going to have to provide some justification to the Woman when you get it home.  Don't make the mistake of thinking you can just sneak it into the house.  You're going to need an Excuse.  It doesn't have to be a GOOD Excuse, it just needs to be something plausible so that the money spent can be moved in her mind from Waste to Capital Expenditure.

Once you as a couple have established the lowest common denominator to justify ongoing outgoings, both Man and Woman can continue spending with impunity, at least until the bank account is dry and the debt collectors come knocking.  But even if you don't get to keep the Burberry handbag and the new surfboard, at least you have the comfort of knowing that your game of Mutually Assured Financial Destruction has strengthened the bonds of marriage for you both.  Now that's an Investment worth making!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Election and Anglican Baptism

One of the greatest privileges I have in my job is taking our Youth Ministry leaders through some basic Christian leadership training once a fortnight. They are a wonderful group, eager to know the Lord Jesus, engage with their Bibles, and lead others to Christ. They always push back against some of my more provocative ideas and are seldom satisfied with easy answers. Perhaps that's why our meetings always run overtime.

Recently we have been discussing the theological commitments of our Church. Last week I asserted that, if we are committed to a Protestant Reformed Evangelical faith then I believe that there are grounds for saying that the Anglican system provides the best (not "the perfect" or "the only") ecclesiastical "hardware" (to borrow Michael Jensen's terminology) to run this "software". One of my points was that, if Anglican churches stick to the Prayer Book (a shocking idea!) then our sacraments should express our Reformed theological principles, particularly with respect to Election in Baptism. I have written about some of my views on this matter earlier. This caused a bit of confusion in the group, as several people had stated that they had never heard of Anglican baptism having this theological basis and had interpreted the act of baptism differently. On checking the wording of An Australian Prayer Book (the most used modern resource in Sydney for these rites), I had to agree that the language of election or predestination was not present, nor do I think it would be easy for the laity to pick up on the theological nuances unless they had been trained to do so.

At first I feared that I had overstated my case. I must confess to not being an expert on the theological foundations of the 1662 Book Of Common Prayer. As such, I was uncertain as to how strongly the Anglican rite of baptism (particularly of the Infant variety) was shaped by a Reformed understanding of election. Was it really as straightforward as I had been led to believe? Was the language left "vague" on purpose?

After going back to the sources and looking at some commentary on the matter I have reassured myself that a Reformed understanding of Election is indeed at the heart of Anglican baptism. For the benefit of my Youth Ministry leaders (and anyone else who might possibly be interested), I make the following observations:

1) The 1662 BCP baptism service (which is an update of Cranmer's 1552 service) takes Mark 13 as its Scriptural basis, drawing attention to Jesus' promise to receive all little children brought to him. The response to this is one of thanksgiving and prayers for actual grace to the child in the future, rather than conferring on the ceremony itself any sacramental grace. The words of preparation to the godparents express confidence in what Christ has promised to do for the child rather than relying on the imputation of adult faith onto the child. While the language of election and predestination is not used, the wording of this rite only makes sense if the theological basis is on what has already been achieved in Christ rather than what is achieved by the ceremony itself.

2) Article XXV states that Anglican sacraments are understood as "certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will toward us". Obviously, the way that Anglicanism interprets the operation of grace will affect our understanding of the use of baptism. This is not spelled out in detail in this Article and so we must look for clues elsewhere.

3) Article XXVII states that baptism, as well as being a rite of acceptance into the Christian community, is the means by which "the promises of forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed". Given that the Article also states that the application of baptism to young children is consistent with the teaching of Christ, we must conclude that the framers of the Articles believed that those infants who were baptised had been forgiven and adopted by God prior to the rite and that the application of water was merely the physical sign of what had been promised in Scripture.

4) G. W. Bromiley in Baptism and the Anglican Reformers provides a survey of the Reformed views on infant baptism that were key influences on the Anglican reformers (e.g. Bullinger, Beza, Calvin, etc). He concludes that the Reformed position on baptism on infants is that it was done "not to make them God's but because they were God's already".

5) Michael Jensen and Tom Frame in Defining Convictions and Decisive Commitments: the Thirty-Nine Articles in Contemporary Anglicanism state that the understanding of grace which was behind the framing of the Articles was of a character different from medieval theology, which saw it in terms of "substance". Rather, grace was seen as an attitude of God towards humanity. Sacraments could be effectual signs because they could mediate this graciousness of God to sinners. With respect to baptism they state that it "is not primarily a human response to God but rather a sign of God's grace in forgiveness".

None of the above points are definitive proof that the Reformed understanding of election was paramount in shaping Anglican baptism. In fact, as I did my (admittedly preliminary and patchy) research, I was surprised at how little considerations of election and predestination arose when dealing with baptism. However, I interpret the evidence as it stands as lending a strong circumstantial case for seeing a relationship between election and baptism. The wording of the Articles and Prayer Book are consistent with the view that the eternal election of God formed the theological background for the practical application in the sacraments. Concepts of election are, therefore, a few steps removed from the practice of baptism and so the language will rarely be used together, but this does not mean that the relationship is incidental or unimportant.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rockin' Christmas Books 3: "Faces - Before, During and After"

Yes yes, I know that Christmas has well and truly past us by! Some of you may still have the odd ornament hanging from your front door/wall in order to keep that "little bit of Christmas" throughout the year. One year when I was a kid we kept our (fake) tree up the whole year because Dad couldn't be arsed to put it back in the roof (from memory we grew mushrooms underneath it). However, I have been astonished in recent weeks to receive increased activity on this blog, principally in response to my review of Ace Frehley's book some weeks ago. Indeed, that particular review has had double the number of reads of any other of my posts. Now, it could be that KISS fans are insane (disclosure: I am one and am married to an even bigger one), or it could be that somewhere along the line I missed my calling to be the Antipodean Lester Bangs. All that money on theological college wasted. Neverthemore, I hereby present for your edification my thoughts on "Faces - Before, During and After" by Andy Neill.

Picture a concert by one of the great stadium rock acts of our age (U2, Foo Fighters, Bon Jovi, etc). Dazzling arrays of co-ordinated lighting. Special effects and pyrotechnics. Choreography. High levels of musicianship and professionalism...

This bears no resemblance to a concert by The Faces.

Instead imagine yourself at a no-frills music auditorium sometime in the early 1970s. On entering the venue you discover roadies passing out cheap bottles of plonk with the instruction to "have yerself a good time!" While you sip the revolting nectar you notice some movement on the side of the stage. Without any introduction, five drunk Londoners wander out, apparently arguing over what song to play first. The singer sports a tartan suit and a rooster haircut. The other members of the band wear a combination of glam fashion and whatever they happened to find on the floor of their hotel rooms. As they plug in it becomes apparent that they are painfully out of tune. Another argument ensues, until a stagehand brings out a tray of drinks and peace returns. Over the next two hours the band will play a rollicking rock 'n roll set, punctuated by many jokes and flubbed notes, until they are too tired and inebriated to continue, at which point they invite the audience to join them in a celebration at the local tavern.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Faces! Over their too-short career they would have no #1 hit singles or albums, receive precious little critical praise (not that they cared), and never played a perfect show if they could help it. They were torn apart by creative and personal tensions, with two of the members going on to bigger and brighter things. Yet The Faces remain one of the greatest rock bands of all time - a direct influence on the Punk revolution and a touchstone for every young rock band since that loves it loud and bluesy. This latest biography is only the second serious modern work on the band after "Last Orders Please" by Jim Melly, which was as much a sociological study as a rock bio.

"Faces" is probably the most thorough work on the band to date. Neill is meticulous in his research and strives to create a vibrant narrative that is free from hagiography (not easy when the author is a fan of the subject). Along the way inconsistencies in the received tradition are ironed out and certain myths are dispelled. This is not to suggest that the book is dry - far from it! There are many stories of life on the road. In fact, there would have to be as The Faces seemed to spend a large part of their existence on a sort-of Neverending Tour. It's no wonder, in fact, that conflicts arose so quickly, especially when Rod Stewart's solo star began to rise in earnest. Hungover and jet-lagged is no way to run a band.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the book is that the story of The Faces is of a legend unfulfilled. Despite a solid place in rock history, they never were able to produce The Single that would cement them in the public mind forevermore. While a cool DJ might occasionally play "Stay With Me" on the radio, it's almost a guarantee that few listening would correctly identify the group. As a result there is no grand climax in this rather lengthy narrative. Just when you think you are getting somewhere the rug is dragged out from under you. Moreover, the members of the band don't stand close scrutiny very well. Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane both come across as egocentric and petulant. Ronnie Wood is revealed as being a little self-destructive. Kenny Jones and Ian McLagan are just a couple of booze-soaked boys along for the ride, but even they are not immune to bouts of juvenile behaviour that no doubt hastened the demise of the group.

Neill's work is perhaps best classified as an Unauthorised Biography With Significant Assistance. Many insiders are thanked in the Acknowledgments, and McLagan was an enthusiastic collaborator. The other three surviving members gave no significant assistance to the work (though it is revealed that Ronnie Wood's memory of the period is so bad any stories he does have would be considered highly suspect). The rest of the book is diligent in chasing up facts.

So, who would like this book? Well, serious music history nerds like me will wish to read it more than once - there is so much trivia to digest that a cursory reading is nowhere near enough. Anyone who is a fan of British rhythm and blues music will definitely want to give it a look. However, those expecting the consistent tabloid fodder of Ace Frehley's autobiography will be disappointed. This is a serious piece of rock history, not for the faint-stomached, but well worth the meal!

See ya down the pub!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The ALP and Fatso The Fat-Arsed Wombat

Cast your minds back, dear readers, to the dawning of the new millennium - the year 2000. 'Twas a time of happiness and joy for those of us blessed to live in the Harbour City for a momentous event was ready to take place - the Sydney Olympic Games! Even the most jaded got into the spirit of things for that glorious two weeks. We shined our shoes, put away the Drop Bears routine, and tried to be as helpful as possible to the Unwashed Foreign Filth who had come for the celebrations and were trying to understand the complexities of our public transport system.

But 20 million Australians couldn't be on their best behaviour for that long! Someone was going to have to take the piss in a major way at some point. There were, naturally, only two men for the job...

Olympic Mascots have had a certain amount of Groan Factor for a number of decades now. Perhaps since LA '84 no-one has paid them much respect, but they are acknowledged as part of the kitsch that goes along with hosting the Games. For the Sydney Games the organizers came up with a particularly uninspiring set:

Not only were these nauseating natives extremely ugly, but the fact that there were THREE of the buggers screamed loudly that the Games Committee were less than optimistic about making their money back and had put the family silver on tripling their merchandising revenue. Such a balloon was ripe for bursting.

Enter "Rampaging" Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson! Visitors to our shores (particularly those from the USA) were bewildered at the fact that not only were these two loonies conducting a public satire of this prestigious event (including merging Greco-Roman wrestling with Barry White music), but that they were allowed to be broadcast on the Official Television Channel in prime time! If American comedians had attempted something similar (assuming that they understood the concept of "satire") they would have been subject to a long stint in Guantanamo Bay.

Roy and H.G. unmasked the Official Mascots for what they were - a symbol of the fact that the Games had been removed from the control of the People. Australians would never have voted for these critters (soon dubbed "Syd Ollie & Dickhead") if they had been given a free choice. So Roy and H.G. put up their own mascot. One that could be embraced by the Australian Public. The Little Guy, the People's Prince...

Fatso The Big-Arsed Wombat!!!

Fatso was a sensation. His fame spread throughout the land, while the Games Committee did their best to stop it. The Australian athletes entered into the spirit of the rebellion, bringing Fatso up onto the podium and throwing him off the high diving board. In the end the Games Committee admitted defeat. A statue of Fatso is now a permanent fixture outside the Main Stadium at Homebush. To my knowledge, no memorial of Syd Ollie and Dickhead has yet been erected.

This morning a former Prime Minister, who was elected on a huge wave of popular support, was denied the opportunity of returning to the highest office by the same cabal who had knifed him in the back 20 months ago. Australian Labor Party ministers and members spewed forth vitriol of the most poisonous type over the weekend to defend their view that Kevin Rudd should never again be given the keys to the Lodge, even as the party heads towards a massive electoral defeat and the return of a conservative government. At the same time, popular support seemed welded solid to Mr Rudd, even as tales of mismanagement and temper tantrums flooded the airwaves. His polling has been significantly above that of Prime Minister Julia Gillard for well over a year. Overnight busloads of True Believers headed to Canberra to protest outside Parliament House, hoping against hope that their chosen leader, Kevin Rudd, would be brought back to lead our nation. Those hopes have now been dashed, and it is unlikely that they will ever be revived. Our elected representatives have chosen Syd Ollie & Dickhead over Fatso.

I am not a member of the ALP, my political loyalties lie elsewhere. I don't think the ALP made a bad decision today, I think they made bad choices long ago and today's leadership ballot was a consequence of repeated and systematic failures.

Note: I also think Kevin Rudd is in the wrong party. Kev, call me! It's not too late.

What the events of the last 5 days have taught us is that something is fundamentally wrong with the manner politics in our nation is being conducted. People have been complaining about the system, as though it is the system's fault that the will of the people is failing to be heard. But there is something much more rotten in the state of Orstrailya. The power is out of our hands. We can't choose who leads us. Faith is put in political parties that have long since stopped being accountable to the people they represent. What happened this morning should not, by all political logic, have happened - members of Parliament have voted in a way that has guaranteed that they will lose their seats in another 18 months. They no longer represent their electorates but their political masters. I'm not just picking on the ALP; the Libs are just as bad. But they have us all convinced that we have No Other Option but to go for the lesser of two evils when we put the slip of paper in the box. This, my friends, is a lie!

Fatso The Fat-Arsed Wombat has achieved something that few characters in Australian culture have - he has a Legacy. I imagine I will be explaining that statue at Homebush to my grandchildren one day. Whether Kevin Rudd will have a similar monument dedicated to him remains to be seen. He probably deserves one, given that he walked into the lion's den this morning on a matter of principle knowing that it was the will of the People, his true masters. Somehow, I don't think that those who have retained power today will be getting a monument of any sort.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

J. Gresham Machen on Public and Private Education

I came across this quote recently and am using it in a speech tomorrow on the Christian Vote in Contemporary Australian Politics. I couldn't have said it better myself:

A public-school system, in itself, is indeed of enormous benefit to the race. But it is of benefit only if it is kept healthy at every moment by the absolutely free possibility of the competition of private schools. A public-school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised. Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective. Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of the parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them to then to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist. Such a tyranny, supported as it is by a perverse technique used as the instrument in destroying human souls, is certainly far more dangerous than the crude tyrannies of the past, which despite their weapons of fire and sword permitted thought at least to be free.

J. Gresham Machen. "Christianity & Liberalism", pp.11-12.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reformed Romantics: Ezekiel 24 and the Death of Marriage

It has been a while since I posted, for which my sincere apologies. The business of preparing for and then receiving a new baby in the house has occupied my mind considerably. But Onwards and Upwards I say...

I'll also flag that it is at this point that my reflections on Biblical marriage will take a slight deviation from the mainstream. I'm also going to skip over a lot of material so we can move forward to Ezekiel 34, which I believe marks a turning point in God's plans for human marriage in relation to his plan of redemption.

Marriage as a human institution takes a bit of a backseat for most of the Old Testament. There are, of course, passages in the Torah regarding the regulation of marriage for the nation of Israel (e.g. Leviticus 18, Numbers 36). Following this, it is assumed that human marriage continues, with young people being given in marriage to each other, begetting children, and so progressing the covenant. When marriage is discussed it is usually when there is a problem (e.g. Samson's taking of a Philistine wife in Judges 14). These problems function as warning signs that spiritual trouble is not far away. Solomon's taking of many wives from foreign kingdoms and Jezabel's domination of Ahab may also be cited as examples. Song Of Songs is a notable exception, but the restraint and yearning of this romantic drama contrasts markedly with the absence of such behavior in actuality.

As Israel moves into the Prophetic Age, "unfaithful marriage" is an image used by the Pre-Exilic prophets in particular to describe the deterioration of the relationship between the Jewish nation and God. In all cases, God is described as the husband betrayed by an unfaithful wife (e.g. Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel 16). The prophet Hosea is even commanded to take a woman of soiled reputation as a public display of the shame that Israel has brought upon their God.

As the situation cannot continue, God eventually brings things to a head and judgment is visited on Israel and Judah in turn. Yet the question must be asked: does the end of the spiritual marriage between God and Israel signal an end (or at least a shift) in the physical marriage of Man and Woman?

I believe that the answer lies in Ezekiel 24:15-27 and the death of the wife of the prophet. For years I spent wondering if God was a Moral Monster. Here was a woman, who had apparently committed no great sin, brought to an early death by a God intent on making a point. Moreover, her husband was not allowed even to mourn for her death as a sign of the coming judgment. Ezekiel's pain is evident even through the restrained narrative. I could understand and accept God taking away an unfaithful wife as a symbol, but to wrench the delight of a man's eyes away from him seemed heartless and cruel.

After much thought, I have come to a tentative solution:

The death of Ezekiel's wife represents the end of human marriage as the central mode of covenant progression and identity.

What has struck me as I read through the promises of deliverance from exile in Ezekiel and Jeremiah in particular is that the concept of marriage is not "resurrected". God does not "divorce" his bride and then "remarry" again. The image of marriage is basically insignificant to the Post-Exilic prophets as well. Instead, the image of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 is God forming a new covenant with the lost who have been scattered through their rebellion. Those who will be part of the New Covenant will be Spiritually rather than Physically begotten. However good human marriage remains in its created state, it will never occupy the same central role in the redeemed community as it did for Israel under the Old Covenant. Marriage will no longer be the procreative means to a redemptive end and will not theologically dominate the covenant community.