Vaguebooking for Dummies

“I can’t bear it anymore. I’m so done.” “When someone is fake you always find out in the end…” “I knew it was all too good to last.”

If that made you roll your eyes and sigh then chances are you have already been subjected to a vaguebooker. This is the colloquial term for those people who post vague Facebook statuses in order to achieve… well, I’m not entirely sure.

In a previous post I talked about the nature of mediated suffering, and the ways that the media cashes in on it. I concluded that in most cases this is a form of exploitation of someone or something that does not possess the power to be autonomous over their own tragedy, and the ways in which, or even whether they want to portray it. I found this topic extremely interesting and decided to explore it further for my major assignment, thinking I would research something along the lines of how people feel when they observe suffering. During my research into this however, I came across a blogpost discussing how posting on Facebook about tragedy brings people together. This led me to start thinking about the nature of mediated suffering when the medium is the sufferer’s own social network.

Does mediated suffering change when the sufferer chooses to broadcast it? Does it become more or less relevant when there’s a name and a face to the tragedy? What are the reactions of the people who look at the suffering? What does the sufferer want to achieve by broadcasting it? Is it the same as the regular media who exploit suffering to make a quick buck (in this case a like)? Or is it just a new way of confiding about what we’re going through?

At first I wanted to look at these questions through the straightforward portrayal of suffering, like when people post about a loved one who’s passed away. But during my usual routine of doing minimal study and maximum procrastination, a friend of mine, we’ll call them A, posted a status update: “When some people aren’t even worth your time”. That was it. No explanation about who or what or why. They could’ve been talking about me for all I knew. They could’ve just as easily been talking about a barista who had gotten their coffee order wrong. My instant reaction was to roll my eyes, but that didn’t stop me scrolling through the comments out of pure curiosity, to see if A had explained what they meant. To my complete non-surprise the explanation didn’t exist. Instead there was just a stream of “are you ok?”s and “message me :(”s.

This was not the first time A had written an ambiguous status. In fact they’re a repeat offender. And every time this style of status appears in my timeline I just ask myself “what are they trying to achieve?” So that’s the question I decided to try to answer. Why do people post statuses that indicate enough emotional distress to make others worry about them, but not enough information to convey what’s wrong? And how do most people react to these statuses? Do they worry about the poster, or roll their eyes and contemplate blocking them like I do?

My initial research led me to discover that this all-too-common practice is known as vaguebooking. According to Urban Dictionary (because let’s be real, this word isn’t going to be in any real dictionaries) vaguebooking is the act of posting “an intentionally vague or one-worded status update…to seek sympathy and/or attention”. So there’s my answer right? People vaguebook for attention. Honestly this is a way of thinking that I subscribe to. Whenever I see a vaguebook status I just assume that whoever is posting it just wants attention. That it’s some juvenile way to get noticed and have others reassure them that “I care”. Further research indicated that no official investigations have been done into this at all. There have been no official studies conducted into things like how prevalent a phenomenon this is, why people do it, or how people react to it. Instead I came across blog posts and forum posts about how annoyed people get by their Facebook friends vaguebooking. This meant that I would have to do all my own research.

I decided to conduct a survey in order to answer these questions. I thought that a survey with both multiple-choice questions as well as extended answer responses would give me the best balance between quantitative and qualitative data (yep, I was listening in my second year communications class). This is because quantitative data shows patterns of behaviour and allows the gathering of statistics, which for some reason everyone just believes. It is about numbers and presenting data which can be measured. Qualitative data is more about that data which can’t be measured or reduced to a number. It deals with description and opinion, which is what makes it such an important aspect of my research. I want to know WHY people vaguebook, and HOW onlookers react to it. Not just how many people do it and how many onlookers roll their eyes.

My initial draft of the survey was admittedly quite callous and blunt. The first question was “Do you vaguebook?” The second was “If yes, why do you vaguebook? (e.g. attention, sympathy).” I decided to show it to a friend before posting it and asking people to respond. Her response was to laugh and tell me how brutal I was being, which made me reconsider the tone of my questions. I didn’t want people to get offended and refuse to respond at all. So I started reframing and rewording the questions to sound more sympathetic, even though I honestly didn’t feel any more sympathetic. In my mind, vaguebookers were still just attention seekers needing reassurance that people liked them enough to ask what was wrong. However I couldn’t show any bias when conducting my research project, because that would reflect in the questions and skew the data. The final product read like this:

Have you ever posted an intentionally vague Facebook status? Yes/No

Do you have Facebook friends who post intentionally vague Facebook statuses? Yes/No

If you answered yes to question 1, why do you post vague Facebook statuses?

If you answered yes to question 2, why do you think people post vague Facebook statuses?

If you answered yes to question 1, what response are you hoping for when posting a vague Facebook status?

If you answered yes to question 2, what response do you have to vague Facebook posts?

Eventually I posted the survey link on Facebook, because regular Facebook users were my target audience after all. I asked all my friends (including the regular vaguebook offender) to complete the survey to “help me out guys!” I decided that I would like 35 responses, because that would give me a sense of the patterns in the data, and allow for the few responders who answered “no” to everything (however unlikely I thought this to be). It would also not be such an overwhelming amount of data that I would find it hard to reconcile the results.

When I got my first response I was really excited. Despite my fierce belief that I already knew what the intentions of vagubookers were, I had still become very invested in finding out if I was right. The first response didn’t give much insight into this unfortunately, because they answered no to question 1. However the answer to question 2 was yes so I was excited to read their answers to questions 4 and 6:

Why do you think people post vague Facebook statuses?

“They are looking for attention.”

Ok, brief but backs up my own opinion.

What response do you have to vague Facebook posts?

“I ignore them.”

So I was a little let down by my first response. I started considering whether my survey was not worded in a way that would elicit a well thought out response, but decided that I would wait for a few more before I revisited the questions. When I had 35 responses (which admittedly took a while and much Facebook nagging) I closed the survey and started collating the results. Of the 35 responders only 5 answered yes to question 1. This didn’t surprise me because I had figured that some people wouldn’t want to admit to being vaguebookers, even if it was done anonymously. On the other hand all 35 answered yes to question 2. What this indicated to me was that either vaguebooking is a lot more common than my survey results were indicating, and I would need to take that into account, or that people would vaguebook without realising it. I also realised I hadn’t really given any guidelines about what counted as a vaguebook, and so my responders may have different opinions on what was and wasn’t a vague Facebook status. There was also the possibility that because all of these responders would’ve been my Facebook friends, they could’ve all been referring to the same vaguebooker. Nevertheless I started reading through my responses and came across some very interesting answers.

Most of the responses to questions 4 and 6 equated to essentially what my first responder and I believed- vaguebooking was an attention-seeking venture and it was easier to just ignore the person doing it. One response even said that you “shouldn’t give them the attention they want because then they’ll just keep doing it. Treat them like a dog- if they do something bad don’t reward the behaviour”. The most interesting responses actually ended up coming from those people who admitted to having posted a vague Facebook status. One responder did confess to sometimes posting a vague status for attention, but clarified this by saying that they have social insecurities and anxiety and vaguebooking is a way to get reassurance that people like and care about them. I know personally how debilitating anxiety can be so reading this response made me start to reassess my opinions about vaguebookers.

Easily the most well-written and thought-out response also came from a responder who answered yes to question 1:

“[The reason I write vague Facebook statuses is because] I tend to use Facebook more like a personal journal or sounding board than a purely social medium. I write about what is on my mind without explanation because I am not writing for an audience, I am writing for myself, and working out my own thoughts or feelings. I think this is a perfectly legitimate use of the medium, as part of the usefulness of Facebook is the ability to look back and see change in oneself over time, notice recurring thoughts or recall forgotten ideas. What’s the difference between posting my thoughts on Facebook to people who write blogs, or have Tumblr, or post on Twitter? If people find it annoying and think that I’m attention-seeking that’s their problem. I’m not going to apologise for finding a way to express myself.” (anonymous responder, 2016)

This response really resonated with me. The reason I maintain a blog, even if I don’t update it that often, is because it’s somewhere that I can post my thoughts and feelings without feeling judged, and is actually really helpful when I’m feeling overwhelmed and anxious by my own life. Considering that this might be the reason that people post vague Facebook statuses made me reassess my original feelings towards it. Anything that helped someone cope with the difficulties they were facing in their lives without causing harm to themselves or others couldn’t be a bad thing right?

The conclusions I’ve drawn from this project have been that most people find vaguebookers annoying, and consider them attention seekers. While this may be true of some or most of them, I have found out that it is not true of all of them. Some people do it because it is a way of coping with internalised insecurities and anxieties, and as a way to express themselves privately in a public forum. In hindsight I wish I would have extended my survey to include questions about age and gender, to assess whether there was any correlation in regards to these factors, and this is something I would like to endeavour to learn more about. For now, I still find vaguebook posts annoying, but this project has shown me the importance of stepping back and considering what someone else may be going through.

References

Flux, E. (2012). Is It Ok: To Vaguebook?. [Blog] Lip. Available at: http://lipmag.com/opinion/is-it-okay-to-vaguebook/ [Accessed 7 Jun. 2016].

McDonald, C. (2016). Suffering, social media and the danger of distance. [Blog] Thorns and Gold. Available at: http://tanyamarlow.com/suffering-social-media-and-the-danger-of-distance/ [Accessed 19 Jun. 2016].

Parrack, D. (2012). What Is The Imbecilic Art Of Vaguebooking?. [Blog] MakeUseOf.

Ramos, B. (2014). No One Cares About Your Passive Aggressive ‘Vaguebook’ Status, So Get Offline Read more: http://www.mommyish.com/2014/04/03/vaguebooking/#ixzz4C1vu4ITe. [Blog]Mommyish. Available at: http://www.mommyish.com/2014/04/03/vaguebooking/ [Accessed 7 Jun. 2016].

Roberts, D. (2016). Qualitative vs Quantitative Data. [online] Regentsprep.org. Available at: http://www.regentsprep.org/regents/math/algebra/ad1/qualquant.htm [Accessed 19 Jun. 2016].

Urban Dictionary. (2016). Vaguebook. [online] Available at: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Vaguebook [Accessed 13 Jun. 2016].

Webegtodiffer.com. (2013). Why do people vague book? – Page 2. [online] Available at: http://www.webegtodiffer.com/showthread.php/104225-Why-do-people-vague-book/page2?s=ef1606d850c4c7b8e03f122ae2471496 [Accessed 19 Jun. 2016].

The Art of the Selfie

I’m not proud to admit it but last night I spent half an hour in a bathroom taking photos of myself. Context is everything and I think it is important for you to know that I was at a restaurant for a friend’s birthday, eating, drinking and generally having a social life. A girlfriend had announced that she needed to use the bathroom and, being women, four of us decided to go with her. This is a weird trend within the subgroup of 18-24 year-old girls, whereby we go to the bathroom in groups, whether we all need to or not. It is partly for safety, but mostly is a way to go and gossip. As soon as we walked into the bathroom every one of us immediately commented on how fantastic the lighting was, and that it was like “a real-life Snapchat filter”. It was almost instinct for us all to pull out our phones and start taking so many photos of our faces that you would think we may have forgotten what we looked like. But trust me, I know what I look like. Because I take so many selfies.

Taking a selfie is a skill I have honed over the years. In other words, I have figured out the exact angle that highlights all my favourite facial features (try saying that 10 times fast) while downplaying the stuff I am not so fond of. Basically all my selfies look the same- angled down so my eyes and cheek bones are prominent and only a slight smile. In case you were wondering, this was the result of my selfie session last night. Not bad if I say so myself.

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The selfie phenomenon is a cornerstone of internet culture and is very representative of the self-obsessed society we live in. At its core the selfie is just a digital representation of our narcissistic tendencies, and a need to feel love and acceptance. When I uploaded my selfie to Facebook, I refreshed my notifications for a few minutes after, making sure people were liking it. I doubt I am the only person who has ever done this, because most people nowadays are obsessed with social media, and how they in particular are portrayed on it. This is because platforms like Facebook and Instagram have become so ingrained in the daily lives of most people, they have actually become extensions of their personalities. The ways that people relate and are related to on social media directly affects their real physical life, and getting a bunch of likes on your perfectly angled and lit selfie has been proven to release the same endorphins that get released when eating chocolate or having sex.

The selfie however is part of a much bigger issue- a need to be acknowledged in a world saturated by media. Dr Terri Aptor has described this as “a kind of self-definition. We all like the idea of being sort of in control of our image and getting attention, being noticed, being part of the culture.” This essentially means that the careful ways in which most people curate their social media presence stems from wanting control over their own identities and relationships, in a modern context where most things are out of your control.

 

Images of Suffering: Calls to Action or Exploitation?

There is a reason the Vietnam War is also known as the “Television War”. It marked the beginning of the media’s wide-spread fascination with broadcasting images of violence and suffering, and was the first time most people in the western world had been faced with the atrocities of war. In 1965 American troops in Vietnam increased to 175 000, and this was a dramatic enough number that TV journalists, who had not been particularly interested in the conflict previously, decided it was a worthy subject for broadcast. So they followed the troops over.

Before Vietnam, media coverage of conflict and war had been heavily controlled and censored. This changed with the exploding popularity of the television, which gave the media unprecedented access to viewers in their own homes. Because it was such a new technology, the government had no idea how to control what was being shown on TV, and journalists used this to their advantage by broadcasting images of the raw brutality and suffering associated with war. Initially these newscasts followed the popular viewpoint of the time, that the war was a just one and America was protecting itself from encroaching communism. This was achieved through the showing of candid and uncensored images of fallen American troops or, as can be seen in the video below, footage of the Vietcong attacking American soldiers and compounds.

In this video, there is a clear distinction being made between the Americans and the Vietnamese who died. The body of an American soldier is shown (at 0.40), but there is no blood and his face cannot be seen. His body is also being looked after by a fellow soldier. This is a direct contrast to the bodies of the fallen Vietnamese shown (at 1.00) who are covered in blood and whose faces are clearly visible. The bodies are shown being carried away in ways that are not at all respectful or mournful of the deaths, and a soldier is even shown pushing a body back onto the gurney using his foot (at 1.12). This lack of respect is made more apparent when the journalist covering the piece says “One by one the VC (Vietcong) are located and killed, their bodies unceremoniously dragged outside and down the street,” over footage of this happening (at 5.13). The images and interviews used throughout this news piece are reflective of the initial standpoint of the media when entering Vietnam- the Americans were the ones worthy of sympathy, whereas the Vietnamese were just animals who deserved what they got.

This standpoint changed dramatically however in January 1968 following a stand-off known as the Tet Offensive. The media at the time labelled it as a massive failure for the American army and said it was indicative that the Americans were fighting an unwinnable war. Following this, coverage of American involvement of the war, and of the soldiers themselves, became largely negative. When the massacre at My Lai was broadcast, the media had completely changed their viewpoint, and depicted the American soldiers as ruthless murderers. This caused an uproar back home which prompted America’s withdrawal from Vietnam. Men who had largely been forced into fighting through conscription and wanting to be patriotic, who had left being patted on the back and being told they were heroes, came home with PTSD to a population who shunned them and made them social pariahs. This shows the sheer power of the media to influence the public into believing whatever is convenient at the time, and also the lack of conscience in exploiting the suffering of others as long as it makes for a good story.

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In the case of the Vietnam War the depiction of suffering and the horrors of war did end up being a call to action that resulted in the ending of it. However it created a precedent of exploitation of suffering that is still prevalent in the media today. And while a lot of it is a way to remind us that we are lucky and there are many people worse off in the world, a large portion of it is not. Shows like “Struggle Street” and “Teen Mom” are created under the guise of documentary but are merely a form of entertainment pedalled to middle-class white folk to make us feel like good people for shaking our heads and feeling sorry for those less fortunate. But at the end of the day rarely do any of us do anything about it.

Life Resolutions

This has far and away been the most challenging semester in my entire 3 years of uni. The workload has been overwhelming, the work itself has been harder, I had one class where we got a new lecturer and tutor three weeks before the end of the year and my time-management and motivation have been at an all-time low. All of this coupled with my job, which requires strange hours (I’m a functions waitress, not a prostitute) has meant I haven’t been sleeping very much either.

I handed in something late for the first time ever earlier in the semester and that one late hand-in became two and three late hand-ins. I was so stressed and anxious that every time I would sit down to do an assignment my heart would race, my brain would turn to mush, I would feel physically ill and like I was going to pass out or cry. This led to me getting very sick, but I still had to work 6 days a week. I have never been closer to dropping out.

But I didn’t. I clenched my jaw and continued. I’m proud of that.

At the start of the semester the three values I chose as being my most important were concern for others, kindness and being trustworthy. All three of these still very much resonate with me, but I have also realised they’re all about other people, and how I can help and make other people feel better. I’ve always been reluctant to put myself before others because it feels selfish. Even this blog sometimes feels like an exercise in narcissism, but if I’ve learnt anything over the course of this semester, it’s that putting myself and my health first is so important, so I’ve reassessed the things I value.

The first is that my health, whether that be physical, mental or emotional, has to always come first. This is because it is impossible to properly function while any one of these is under threat. I’ve had problems with all three over the course of the last three months- it started off mentally, with me telling myself I couldn’t cope and that I was bound to fail. This became an emotional burden that caused stress and general unhappiness, leading to a weakened immune system. My physical health was then in jeopardy because I became sick. Being sick caused more mental and emotional stress which kept my immune system weak and made it impossible for me to get better. It just became a vicious cycle.

Professor Kristen Neff of the University of Texas works in the field of human development and is the mind behind the idea of self-compassion. This concept encourages being less self-critical and accepting that you can’t be the best at everything or help everyone who needs it. It is about promoting a self-love that goes much deeper than body acceptance or the like- it is about accepting your own limitations and respecting yourself enough to not berate yourself when these limitations become apparent, but instead to take a step back and realise they are there for a reason. Self-compassion also promotes the idea that if you aren’t taking care of your own health, it becomes much harder to care for the health of those around you. Over the last week or so I have started incorporating the notion of self-compassion into my own life.

A couple of weeks ago one of my closest friends went through a very tough break-up. She was devastated and couldn’t cope because she had uni going on at the same time. I was there for her as much as possible, and would stay up talking to her instead of going to bed, only to have to get up early for work the next morning. I don’t regret this at all- she has always been there for me and I am so happy that she feels the same way about me. Unfortunately it was at a time when my stress and sickness were extremely bad, and the extra emotional pressure of being a confidant made it very hard for me to function. I also really needed someone to talk to about how I was feeling and it would usually be her, but I would never have done that because I knew that she didn’t need the extra stress. I think one of the worst characteristics a person can have is to be a one-upper and put all your problems on someone who trusts you enough to confide in you about their own. Looking back, I should have practiced self-compassion and realised there was too much on my plate at the time. I should have told work that I needed a day or two off and asked for an extension on an assignment I was doing. If I hadn’t had these things hanging over my head making me feel inadequate and sick, I would’ve been a much better ally for my friend. In order to practice this self-compassion I took a day off work this week, the day that would’ve been my friend’s 3rd year anniversary, and I’m going to spend it with her at the beach. Just this simple act of knowing that I have a day to relax and spend with someone I care about has in and of itself made me feel so much better, and I plan to practice self-compassion much more in the future.

The second thing I’ve realised I value really highly are my personal relationships. Looking back, the periods when I felt most stressed and sick were times when I didn’t have time to spend with my friends and family. I felt isolated and like I had no one to talk to or confide in about what I was feeling and this just made everything worse. I would spend so much time at work or inside doing uni work that I wouldn’t have interaction with anyone further than messaging on Facebook and seeing my parents and brothers for the hour or so a day when we were all in the house. I am friends with everyone I work with, but this is a different sort of relationship to my close friends from school. I don’t feel like it’s appropriate to confide in people from work about personal problems because the way a person acts at work differs dramatically to the way they are outside of it (this is to do with the sociological role theory which I’m not going to go into, because I’m all sociologied out for this semester).

Doctor Mary Jo Kreitzer has performed research into the vital nature of personal relationships. She has found that having close relationships and connections extends life expectancy, helps you cope with stress and makes you healthier. In this way, focusing on the important relationships in my life heavily links into putting my health first. Doctor Krietzer also found that there were many negative effects of not having a strong support system and close relationships. These are increased risk of depression, a weakened immune system and higher blood pressure. I can attest to all of her claims (except maybe higher blood pressure). When I felt like I didn’t have time to see any of my family or close friends my stress and unhappiness increased, and my immune system weakened. I am planning to prioritise the nurturing of my personal relationships in the future. This is because in the long run good marks may get me a good job, which will get me a good income, but if I have no time for the important people in my life then it’s not worth it.

These two values form the basis for the third thing I have realised I value above all else. It is going to sound a little cliché, but I think it’s the most important of all my values. I want to be happy. This means creating a healthy balance of university, work, and looking after myself and my relationships. It means not letting things affect me in such a negative way and realising that there’s always going to be things that challenge your sense of self and wellbeing. It also means knowing that these things are temporary and not worth putting yourself in jeopardy over. I am not expecting to get marks half as good as I usually do this semester, and in some ways this scares me. But I also know that at the end of the day these are numbers on a computer screen. They don’t define me as a person. I know that I’ve had some shifts at work over the last month where I haven’t done the best job. These don’t define me either. What will define me as a person is who I surround myself with, and how I treat these people. What will define me as a person are the experiences I have which help me to grow. What will define me as a person is being happy.

In order to achieve what I consider happiness I have made some resolutions. I don’t think it’s appropriate to call them New Year’s resolutions, even though it’s very close to New Year. I would prefer to call them life resolutions. This is because a New Year’s Resolution is usually synonymous with shallow temporary mottos like lose weight, gain money. The resolutions I am making are much less about materialistic wants and much more about improving my personal health, fostering my valued relationships and in consequence maintaining my happiness. The first of these resolutions is practicing self-compassion in all aspects of my life. This includes doing 3 subjects next semester instead of 4, taking less shifts at work, making plans to see my friends even if it’s just for coffee and spending more time at home with my family. I am also resolving to learn to recognise the signs that my stress and anxiety are getting out of control and how to step back and make sure these feelings don’t overcome my life. I am going to learn techniques that will help me do this such as breathing exercises and meditation. Another way I am going to try to achieve happiness is by eating healthier and exercising more, as these will improve my physical health as well as my mental health. I think doing these things will make me much more able to cope next year, and will make me much happier in the long run.

As for my future career, I’m not entirely sure what this all means or will amount to in regards to that. This semester has made me realise that I have a lot more options than I originally thought, and the anxiety that I have been feeling about not being able to get a job after uni is irrational. If I don’t get the exact job I always thought I would, that’s fine. There will always be a way to end up doing what I want to do. And what I want to do effectively is write. I have also realised that deadlines aren’t good for me, and that I do much better work when I don’t feel pressured and can do it in my own time, about subjects that interest me. For this reason I would ideally like to blog for a living. And yes I do know this is an unrealistic aspiration because very few people are good enough or get the right sort of exposure to live off a blog, but you also never know. I am still young and have so many options, and as long as I’m healthy and happy, then my life is a success.

Hang In There

Over the past 6 months or so I’ve been going through what I like to call “The Uni Student’s Lament”. I’ve been questioning whether I’m still as dedicated to being a journalist as I was in high school. I’ve been questioning whether I’m going to be able to make it through the next two years of my degree. I’ve been questioning whether I’m even cut out for journalism, or if my concern for others and the anxiety I get about being judged will ultimately be my downfall. And I’m really over essays.

This is what was playing on my mind when I went to interview Siobhan McHugh, a tutor and professor at UOW. I met her last year when she taught my Feature Writing class. She is an amazing journalist, a published writer and a recipient of the NSW Premier’s Award. She has so many amazing achievements to her name, but these weren’t the reasons I wanted to speak with her. I wanted to speak with her because in the short time that she taught me Feature Writing, I always got the impression that we shared many of the same values. Values such as empathy and concern which I assumed would hinder my ability to be a journalist, but have seen her become highly successful.

Siobhan is a very skilled interviewer. Over the course of her career she has interviewed members of the Stolen Generations, homeless people and women who were sent to Vietnam to entertain the soldiers, to name a few. In her words “the marginalised”. “The forgotten voices”. She told me that she was always subconsciously drawn to the stories of people who had been largely ignored and wanted to restore recognition of these people. “I never realised there was an actual…logic to what I was doing, I was just attracted to this story and then I’d go after that story but when I sat back after 30 years and started looking at it, in fact they’re all people from the margins.”

At this point you may be asking “why would you choose to interview a professional interviewer?!” and trust me I was asking myself the same question. I was worried about Siobhan judging my interviewing skills, or lack thereof, but her ability to interview someone without making them feel uneasy or put on the spot is one that I would like to be able to replicate, so another motivation in choosing her as my professional was so I could also get some feedback on how I did. In case you’re wondering, my questions were good but I need to work on ice breakers to make the person I’m interviewing feel more comfortable. The weather’s lovely today, is that a new dress?

When I first asked Siobhan to assign herself three personal values, she chose honesty, empathy and kindness, and I saw these reflected throughout our conversation. She is able to talk to people free of judgement and exudes a kind nature that allows people to open up. She respects the experiences of everyone she speaks to and has the ability to identify with them. An interesting point she made was that this ability stemmed from her time as a waitress. “I joke that I started off learning about psychology from years of being a waitress. You can see who the people are who are kind and patient, and you can see likewise difficult customers and the bullies, and you can even observe the relationship at the table. I was absorbing this without even realising it.” As a waitress I can definitely attest to this. I’ve always thought that the way a person treats wait staff says a lot about their character.

The turning point for me in the conversation came when Siobhan referred to her empathy and kindness as an asset in her job. I think I audibly sighed in relief upon hearing that my non-cut-throat nature wouldn’t see me unemployed. The qualifier was that of course there are forms of journalism where being empathetic and honest are not good qualities to have, but my aspirations don’t lie in celebrity journalism, they lie in human rights journalism where having a strong sense of ethics and concern are very important. She also made the point that the changing nature of journalism doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom like I’ve seen it. It’s actually an opportunity to create your own job, and your own deadlines. This can only be a positive for me because I hate deadlines. In fact at this point in time I’m still working on an essay which was due two days ago. Oops.

At the end of our conversation the qualities I had picked up that Siobhan hadn’t mentioned were a sense of curiosity and genuine interest. When I told her this she laughed and said that curiosity was always important in journalism. “I always say a journalist is a licenced sticky beak”. I like this description, because it perfectly encapsulates what journalism is at the core without being harsh or playing on the stereotype that journalists have no scruples and will do anything for the story.

What I came away from this interview with, on reflection, is a much broader understanding of where I’m headed. I know that I want to be in this profession in some capacity, and if it ends up being not in the way that I originally expected that’s ok. I’m 21 and I have so many options and opportunities ahead of me, I just have to hang in there.

I would like to thank Siobhan for taking time out to speak to me, it was so enlightening and interesting.

Find Siobhan here

Find a presentation she did on the importance of audio storytelling here

Find the journal she founded that reviews radio documentaries here

My Mum Hates My Tattoo

Last Sunday (the 30th of August for those of you who like exact details), I went and got my second tattoo. I had decided what I wanted three weeks before and booked it in two weeks before. This was a stark contrast to my first tattoo which I had talked about getting for literally years before I finally did. When I told my mum that i was getting another, and that it was going to be a lot bigger, she was visibly dismayed. When I asked her if she wanted to see what I was getting she pursed her lips, shook her head and walked out of my room without a word.

Getting a tattoo hurts. I’m not going to beat around the bush. People who say it’s like getting scratched by a cat have clearly been hanging out with some vicious cats. Or maybe they’re referring to cats of the bigger variety than a small domestic cat. In the hour and a half that it took to get my tattoo, I felt like I was going to throw up, pass out, or a combination of both more times than I can count. I also considered just asking my tattooist to stop and walk out with a half completed tattoo, but I gritted my teeth and got through it. When I saw the completed piece I just about forgot about the pain because I already knew I absolutely loved it. I thanked my artist, paid, and walked out feeling really good. I’m not sure if it’s adrenaline or if your body releases copious amounts of dopamine to combat the pain, but the tattoo afterglow is a real thing. It happened after my first and it happened after this one- I was just deliriously happy.

I got home and cleaned it, then looked at it in the mirror for a good 15 minutes or so before my mum got home. She asked to see it and once again did nothing to hide her disdain. I understand why she doesn’t like the idea of tattoos. My mum is not good with pain and she can’t see why anyone would willingly put themselves through it. She also sees tattoos as being nothing more than an eyesore that ruins your skin. I understand. The thing is she never bothered to ask what this tattoo means to me. I understand where she’s coming from, so it would be nice if she attempted to understand where I was coming from.

My tattoo is a mermaid. I know, I know, basic girl tattoo. What is not as basic is that my mermaid is inspired by Adore Delano, a drag queen and singer. Yeah, weren’t expecting that were you? Adore has a very particular aesthetic and style of drag that a lot of other people in the drag community don’t understand. For a community that is in itself very misunderstood and harshly judged, it is somewhat surprising how judgemental drag queens can be of eachother, and when she competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Adore was the subject of a lot of criticism calling her “unpolished” and lazy. She never let it affect her, and in fact would respond to criticism about her appearance by saying “I look fucking cool”. This ability to not let the words and opinions of others affect you is something that has always evaded me but I heavily aspire to be able to do. My tattoo is a constant reminder that even in a culture like drag there will always be people to judge and say negative things about you. My tattoo is a constant reminder to make every effort to let these judgements and negative opinions roll off, like water off a duck’s back (that was another little drag reference for anyone who was paying attention). And that’s why it doesn’t matter that my mum hates my tattoo.

mermaid 1

The Value of Concern

Personal values are the beliefs and philosophies which define each person as an individual. They are the things that, consciously or not, we use every day to make small and large decisions. They are intrinsically linked to our behaviour, interests and relationships, and having the ability to express your personal values can be the difference between being successful in the workforce or not. So it is a bit surprising that, three years into my degree, I am only being asked to consider what my personal values are now.

In order to figure out the value I consider most important I thought about some of the instances in my life which have been most affecting. It was surprising and somewhat upsetting to realise that the majority of these events have not been positive. Perhaps this makes sense because it is how we react to challenges that define us, and these experiences have helped me grow and develop into the person I am today.

I had a friend who, after school, lost a lot of weight. I thought he might be anorexic, but could not be sure, so I would make sure he ate while I was around but felt like there was not much else I could do. Unfortunately body issues were the least of his problems. He came from a religious background and was struggling with his sexual identity as well. I had always known him to be a happy and positive person but he fell into a very serious depression, going so far as to attempt suicide. When he drank it just became worse.

One night I had just gotten home from work and I was really tired. My phone rang. He was drunk and crying, telling me he wanted to lie down on train tracks and apologising over and over again for relying on me so much. I spent the next hour telling him how much he meant to me and to all our friends and what an amazing person he was, trying to remain upbeat and not get emotional. When he was home we hung up and I was almost relieved because I could finally cry and get out everything, but also terrified because what if my words were not enough? What if I woke up the next morning and he was dead? I cannot count how many times this scenario played itself out over the next few months.

That period in my life was awful, but I would also never change it because my friends and I are probably the reason he is still around.

Reflecting on these events I came to the conclusion that my concern for others’ wellbeing over my own is the quality I am most proud of, and that this value is one I use most in my own life. MSS Research defines the value of concern as having the ability to “forget yourself” and focus on others by being an attentive listener and being non-judgemental and open. Throughout his depression, my friend always knew he could call me and I would listen without judgement or bias. I feel proud about that.

This concern for others also extends to people I do not know. One night I had gotten off the train in my suburb and as I was crossing the road I saw a girl on her phone walking very fast towards, and then past me. She was on her phone and crying about how she did not know where she was and wanted to kill herself. I instantly had flashbacks to those long nights when my friend would call me and knew I had to do something. I phoned the police and told them where the girl was and where she was heading, what she looked like and what she had been saying. They said they would send a car and find her. I know that a lot of people would have pretended not to notice this girl and kept walking and even though I do not know what happened, I hope I helped her and whoever she was talking to.

In coming to the conclusion that concern for others was the value I most identified with, I started thinking about how this would influence my future job opportunities. Ideally I would like to become a journalist, and I think my concern for others will be something that has positive as well as negative impacts on this career. The SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) Code of Ethics very clearly lays out the values that every journalist should aim to uphold in their career and being concerned with others’ welfare will help me adhere to many of these expectations. The three that most resonated with this value are:

Journalists must be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.

My concern for others and ability to see things from another point of view means I rarely break promises and take promises very seriously.

Journalists must support the open and civil exchange of ideas, even views they find repugnant.

My ability to listen without judgement or bias means that I will be able to support the flow of free ideas.

Journalists must boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.

Again my ability to listen to people will mean I will be able to seek out voices that are not heard or considered often.

My ability to listen to people also means I am good at conducting interviews. I am a very active listener and feedback from people I have interviewed in the past has been that they felt very comfortable talking to me, because I was actually paying attention and had the ability to change my pre-planned questions or stop using them altogether because the interview ended up going in a different direction.

There are a few areas in which my concern for others may be a hindrance rather than a help however:

Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere.

I may find this hard to do if I become so overly concerned with someone’s wellbeing that I am not able to see the bigger picture and grant someone anonymity who does not really need or deserve it.

Overall I am very proud to have the personal value of concern for others and very grateful to have been given the opportunity and skills required to figure this out on my own.                      

Starting Again…

I have always looked at blogging as being a chore. It has been something I can’t enjoy because I’ve only ever done it as part of uni assessments. Even though at its core blogging is a form of self-expression, I always looked at it as something that was being judged and assessed, and so I would never get too personally attached to what I was writing out of fear of criticism.

When I was in high school I was very committed to school and concerned with marks. This may have stemmed from being bullied pretty viciously in primary school, and becoming a very quiet person who read a lot. Before you make assumptions, I did have friends and I wasn’t unpopular in high school. I was just part of the 90% who weren’t part of the popular group either. Just kind of existing. Looking back this may not have been a bad thing because I was top of a lot of my classes and the people I was friends with at school have become my best friends in adult life.

This story does have a point, I promise. When I went into year 11, I qualified to do Advanced and Extension English for my HSC. As I mentioned before, I was very concerned with marks rather than “the journey” of completing an assignment (cue flashbacks of HSC English) and for Extension English I was given a 3000-word essay assignment. This was by far the longest piece of writing I had ever done and I put a lot of effort into it. I got 8/20.

What happened after I got given my marks can only be described as a very embarrassing, awful experience. I felt that lump in the back of my throat that means you’re on the verge of tears. I held it in. My teacher asked me if I was ok, and I burst into tears. The difference to other instances of bursting into tears was that I couldn’t stop. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I started hyperventilating. Tears were streaming and I couldn’t form sentences. It felt like I was dying. I went to the bathroom to clean myself up but I still couldn’t stop, and I spent the rest of the class taking shallow, loud breaths while my classmates pretended to ignore it. I decided in that moment that I never wanted to feel this way again.

From then on I stopped caring about marks. It wasn’t that I kept trying hard but wouldn’t let a bad mark affect me too much, I just stopped trying. It didn’t seem worth it, and if I got a bad mark it wouldn’t matter because I hadn’t put in effort anyway.

Years later I found out that I’d probably had a panic attack, and that it wasn’t something that I was prone to so was probably an anomaly. Something that, chances are, would never happen again. But the damage had already been done. My marks dropped and I didn’t get a good ATAR.

In the end I got into the course I wanted to do and that part of my life seems like such a long time ago. I think I have a healthy relationship with marks now, and I can take them as they are- numbers. However I don’t like the idea of being judged on something personal. And now we come full-circle to the reason I never enjoyed blogging. It didn’t feel like something I could use for self-expression, because it was going to get judged by someone who came from a different context and set of experiences.

I’ve decided to start blogging of my own accord now, for me, and not for anyone else. And if I get some negative feedback or a nasty comment every so often then just know that I’m probably having a panic attack and it’s YOUR FAULT! Or I’ll just brush it off and remember that everyone comes from a different place and experience. So watch this space.

Who makes the cut? Worthy and unworthy news

In order to analyse what news is considered most worthy I picked up the weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald as I think a lot of people would get their news from here, thinking it a very balanced and truthful news source. The featured picture in the middle of the front page corresponds to a story about how Muslim women in their teens are “already coping with the trials of adolescence [and] facing the ‘burqa’ backlash by reclaiming their space”. My first thought is the fact that the word burqa is in quotations makes it seem like burqa is not a real word. On turning to Page 11 to read the story which was the most prominent feature of the front page I was surprised to find a story that took up less than a quarter of the page, smaller than the ad next to it. The original picture was bigger. Above it, taking up half the page is a story about the Rabbitohs. This is very reflective of Australian media as a whole- we take the wellbeing of minorities that we are targeting with very negative media less seriously than sport.

Below the photo on the front page is a story about how Telstra is going to start charging more for landlines. I can understand why this might be considered news to SMH- the majority of people buying it are probably older and still have a landline phone and the 7% increase in the price of said landline probably is very important for them to know about. Upon turning to page 8 to read the rest of the story I found out that this 7% increase which may or may not happen next year is considered much more important and newsworthy than the fact that the victims of a Pastor who was revealed to be paedophile may never come forward or get any peace. Again this is reflective of Australian media which seems much more concerned with money than anything else.

The last feature of the front page of SMH which struck me is that a large portion of it is advertisements, and not informative stories.

Television in translation and why it doesn’t always work

When a television show is extremely successful it becomes a target for getting remade. It is natural to assume that an idea which has already succeeded in one part of the world will work in other parts of the world. However this is not always true, particularly in the genre of comedy. Comedies rely on their audience understanding the social norms that the comedy is sending up, and these differ culture to culture. Another major problem which presents itself in the translation of television comedy from one culture to another is different perceptions of what is acceptable to make fun of. This becomes especially evident in the translation of British humour for an American audience.

The IT Crowd is a good example of this concept. A show about two Information Technology guys and their technologically inept manager, it was very successful in Britain and Australia, and even to an extent in America. A US production company ended up buying the rights and casting Joel McHale in the role of Roy, a woman-obsessed IT man originally portrayed by Chris O’Dowd and recasting Richard Ayoade in his original role as Maurice ‘Moss’, a socially-inept genius.

it

Only the pilot was ever released, a shot for shot carbon copy of the British original. It was then cancelled.

The reason the show did not work comes down to the fact that Americans and Brits have very different senses of humour. Roy’s attempts to get women to talk to and go out with him constantly failing becomes much less believable when a man as handsome as Joel McHale steps into the role. Ayoade’s Moss is an exact replica of the original and the circumstances under which Jen gets introduced, with her walking into a destitute toilet where a man is wiping his butt and laughing manically just doesn’t seem like it would be considered very funny in America.

Perhaps it’s a good thing it was cancelled so fast because it allowed Joel McHale to go on and star in Community, an arguably much better show that the US IT Crowd would have been.

http://io9.com/the-failed-u-s-remake-of-the-it-crowd-is-fascinating-t-1557311843

http://annikarei.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/it.jpg