Friday, November 25, 2005

Five Things I Hate About You

Well, not you personally, but from a sub-editing point of view, ‘Five Things I Hate’ is a far less catchy title.

These causes of irritation are listed in no particular order:

People who answer their mobile phones in the cinema while a film is screening. If you do this, I may have to reconsider my statement about the non-personal nature of my hatred; what is wrong with you!? I have been in films where people not only answer their phones but then proceed to speak to the caller without any consideration for other patrons who are trying to enjoy the cinematic experience. I have no problem if you forgot to turn your phone off—it happens—but to answer it and engage in an unhurried conversation in which you announce ‘yeah, yeah, I’m in the movies’ at a volume so loud that your neighbours can’t hear the onscreen dialogue... Well, sometimes the merits of a hard slap are under-rated. Last weekend Dr H and I went to see Corpse Bride and we sat next to a group of teenage girls. I kept catching sight of the light from one of the girl’s mobiles which was irritating enough, but Dr H heard their debates about the virtues of their new mobiles in relation to their old mobiles every time anything requiring the slightest bit of focus happened in the film. I heard their murmurs all the way through the piano duet between the groom and his live bride-to-be. I was hard pressed not to pelt them with popcorn. As it was I didn’t move my legs when they wanted to leave as soon as the credits began rolling, but I doubt they noticed as they stepped over me.

Woolworth’s the Fresh Food People. Has there ever been a greater oxymoron in the English language? I watch their advertising where they show the farmers of Australia showing their produce proudly and telling you about the stringent procedures they must comply with in order to get their fruits and vegetables distributed and sold by Woolworth’s. I’ve even endured that man who bounces in the front cab of a utility vehicle through banana plantations talking about specially adjusted suspension. But it seems that somewhere between all those proud grinning farmers and managers and the fruit and vegetable section at my local Woolworth’s, something goes drastically wrong. I’m sure the farmers produce fine produce and I suppose if the advertising is not false then I must take the manager’s word about the worth of said suspension in preventing the bananas from bruising. Perhaps what is needed is an advertisement in which the staff on the ground at Woolworth’s stores relate how they await each delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables; how they take pride in preserving the integrity of the chain that ensures a high quality product is delivered to the shopper. At the moment the advertising completely elides the role of the store personnel in storing and handling the fruits and vegetables they are responsible for selling. I’d like a statement where they say something along the lines of ‘if we won’t eat slimy spinach then neither will you’ as they inspect the in-store displays and throw out the offending wilted greens. I think I would like the local Woolworth’s staff to sit down to a dinner of the old, withered and even rotting produce they have the audacity to present for sale. They’d soon be more vigilant as keepers of the farmers’ wares. At the moment, both the Farmer’s Federation and the ACCC could go to town on the reputation of the Woolworth’s Fresh Food People.

Strangers who tell you to smile. On a couple of occasions I have been walking into the city and fairly deep in thought when complete strangers have told me to smile. On the most recent occasion, a few months back now, the fellow in question was exiting the Roma Street Transit Centre car park, when he stopped at the pedestrian crossing and in addition to the suggestion to smile, advised me that to do so would not cost anything. For a fraction of a second I experienced a surge of pure fury. In that moment I raged against his comment, moving through a range of responses with lightning speed. My first analysis of this kind of comment, which in my experience is only ever said by men, is that it derives from an assumption about how women should behave; we are expected to continually perform in accordance with strict ideals of femininity, which of course means we should appear smiling and carefree, and not act seriously or be thoughtful. Following on from this observation, I considered the extent to which such a comment becomes an act of power; is it an attempt to exercise control by suggesting that as a woman I’m somehow lacking because I’m not, in his eyes, behaving appropriately? I’m not sure if this is too fantastic an interpretation, but somehow after having a comment like this directed towards me I feel as though I’m somehow less than I was before. I feel erased. Then there’s just the sheer ignorance of such a comment. The comment-maker had no idea about the details of my life. If he perceived that I was unhappy, why assume that feeling has no source, that it’s something that can be just overcome through individual will. At the very least the directive is insensitive to a range of possibilities. On this particular occasion, I was interested by the suggestion that happiness was somehow free, as if the only possible source of my apparent unhappiness could be material. I was able to make a conscious decision not to react to the comment (I suppressed my impulse to tell him to fuck off). I pointed to the green light he had stopped at in order to make his comment and told him he could go. He did seem disappointed that I didn’t react, emitting a kind of argumentative groan, before obviously thinking better of it and driving on. Afterwards I had another thought about how I might have responded to his comment. The fact is that we live in a liberal democracy and we are freer than many to feel and express the whole gamut of human emotions, not least a little melancholic introspection while waiting to cross the road.

Overzealous security guards. The weekend before I saw Corpse Bride, I went to the same cinema to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. While Dr H and I were waiting for G to arrive we stood in the cinema’s enormous foyer which is two stories in height. There is a kind of mezzanine level from which you enter the cinemas after climbing the stairs from the foyer. From the mezzanine level you can look down upon the people in the foyer. While standing there waiting and talking with Dr H, I looked up and noticed a security guard surveying the foyer with a very serious expression on his face. He was dressed in the standard uniform and was equipped with radio communications in the form of an ear piece. I commented to Dr H that his whole demeanour seemed very aggressive; he was strangely oblivious to his immediate environment on the mezzanine level but intent for any sign of aberrant behaviour in the foyer. We forgot about him and resumed our conversation when we noticed he was marching across the foyer, again with a very intent expression on his face, heading for a couple on one of the large ottomans positioned around the foyer. The girl was sitting beside the guy who was half lying down on his side, with his feet on the ground. What was strange was that the security guard didn’t even make a connection with the girl but ignored her entirely while he unceremoniously shook the boy and told him to sit up. I’ve never seen a security guard so strangely aggressive; we weren’t in a nightclub, but at a cinema on Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock! Usually security guards in retail and general entertainment areas don’t try and pick unnecessary fights. More often than not they ask how you are. Later when we climbed the steps he was there again pouncing on everyone for their tickets and then again when we actually went into the cinema he was demanding our tickets. I have to keep using the word strange. Not once did he look at us; isn’t observing faces part of being an effective security guard? Strange, so strange.

Snowflakes in summer. Once, a few years back, the Christmas decorating committee of the Queen Street Mall made a revolutionary decision to display Christmas decorations inspired by the weather in Brisbane during December. The displays were comprised of a number of coloured Perspex shapes of starfish and coral and suns and such, arranged into the traditional Northern Hemisphere tree shapes. I was very glad when I saw the decorations; it has always puzzled me, when Brisbane dwellers spend the Christmas period sweltering in our own juices, why our decorations are snowflakes and snowmen and reindeer pulling sleigh. I know there is a strong cultural affiliation with the Northern Hemisphere traditions, but I always thought an innovative retailer would light upon the idea of Australian themed Christmas paraphernalia and make a fortune. It would be the decorator’s equivalent of Six White Boomers. When the coral and starfish Perspex went on show, I thought they would be the Mall’s Christmas decorations for years to come. Bravo! forward thinking Mall decorators, I cried. Alas my joy was short-lived. We had those glorious decorations—pink, light green, yellow and blue—for only one year, perhaps two, when a new theme came along or, rather, the old theme was pulled out of storage and revamped; it was back to fake snow, woolly scarves and beanies to ward off the Northern chill. This year we have blue snowflakes, translucent white angels and reindeer weathering the humidity and torrential rain.

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