Category Archives: Society

Ode to Colin: Suckling on the tabloid teat

Australia, and in particular Sydney, has witnessed a fascinating human spectacle this week. While the rest of the world has been obsessed by the performance of the Jamaicans in Beijing, we’ve been preoccupied with the health and eventual death of a humpback whale calf named ‘Colin’.

Now Colin (AKA Collette; a closer examination revealed he was actually ‘she’) had somehow become orphaned and was snuggling up to large boats in a stretch of water we call ‘Pittwater’. Supposedly a highly intelligent animal, this small humpback thought one of these boats maybe his mother. As he became increasingly hungry, he became increasingly snugly in trying to suckle whatever piece of racing yachtware he could find.

While this piece of animal delusion was interesting in itself, what was even more interesting was the vast array of whackos that came out of the woodwork as ‘experts’ or ‘friends’ of Colin. Odd-bods from all over Australia were putting in their bit, getting their faces on commercial news condemning authorities for “not doing enough to fix this dreadful tragedy”.

There were whale whisperers, whale chefs (who thought they had the ideal recipe for whale milk), Aboriginal whale callers and whale psychologists all thinking they had the answer. They all believed they knew better than the scientists who concluded that euthanasia was the best and only course of action. Sad but necessary.

What was even sadder was that commercial broadcasters gave these over emotional do-gooders airtime. People whose sole connection with animal health was possibly the ownership of some Skippy videos or a statue of a dolphin, were given the same airtime as our Parks and Wildlife professionals.

Yet the whole shebang doesn’t end with the fast and assisted death of Colin. There are now some in Sydney who are lobbying for a memorial to Colin…a statue or fountain that would help us remember his (her) trials. Oh dear.

In a week where we’ve witnessed the pinnacle of sports achievement at the Beijing Olympic games, the tragic death of hundreds in a Span-Air plane crash, and TV images of tanks rolling through the towns and villages of Georgia, the death of Colin is a very unimportant bleep on our evolutionary and historical radar. In the big picture, the death of any living thing – human, whale or chicken – is minor. Life isn’t always fair, cute or important.

As the ill-considered blatherings of a few become newsworthy, our myopic view of what really is ‘news’ funnels even more into something parochial and inane. Our increasingly irritating tabloid news becomes fixated on individual teardrops rather than national or world ones.

Yet there’s an even greater concern. By raising the insignificant to something worthy of prolonged media attention, we somehow dilute and devalue the truly significant. While a focus on the small issues maybe benign, a lack of focus on the substantial issues of our world creates a malignant state indeed.  It’s a state that higher mammals like humans – and whales – can do without.

Finding Community: A Christmas or anytime wish

This piece was published in the Melbourne Age in December 2001

Ask anyone what is missing in 21st century life this Christmas and the chances are pretty high that the word ‘community’ will be listed somewhere. Sure, they’ll list the detail like time with the kids and wooden toys, but I’ll bet that somewhere in the top 10 will be that romantic notion of a ‘sense of community’.

Whereas the word ‘community’ once meant a township, or place, ‘community’ is now some ‘feeling’ we long for, and if we can only find this ‘feeling’ the empty hole in our psyche will be filled.

So where if anywhere has our sense of community gone? Many believe it went west with the advent of globalisation or the introduction of internet communities. Others lean towards the work v’s community theory; that the more we work, the less time we have for building a nourishing sense of community.

I don’t subscribe to any of those theories. Many young people talk glowingly of their strong communities formed online. Long, hard work has been around for eons. For many traditional cultures, hard work is so enmeshed with family and indeed survival that our current privilege of separating work and home life doesn’t’ exist.

A more likely answer to our waning sense of community stems from our current fixation with it. I’m convinced that as we become more and more obsessed with finding our lost sense of community, we actually lessen our chances of ever finding it.

Several years ago I joined a commune in order to establish a sense of place. The same motive drove the other participants, and for a while all went well in our consciously created, manufactured community.

But ultimately, our ‘boy band’ of middle class social existence began to crumble. We learnt that trying to consciously create a basic building block of human existence without at least some degree of natural cohesion was disastrous. Our attempt at mapping and manipulating the community genome failed. While we could plan our careers, our holidays and our finances, we simply couldn’t plan and create the thing we desired most.

Yet in our totally planned and timetabled lives, it’s hard to believe that there are just some things that can’t be obtained through conscious endeavor. We tend to believe there must be a formula for everything. If we learn about money we’ll be rich. If we work hard at marriage we’ll live happily ever after. If we learn the secrets of happy children our kids will lead trouble free lives. Bollocks!

Some things in life tend to happen with very little conscious effort. Falling in love is one of them, and like finding love, community will probably be found where and when we least expect it.

So how do we suddenly stop the search and gather the faith to rely on a happy accident to fill our community vacuum?

Perhaps the best message is to simply forget about it all together. Wipe the phrase ‘sense of community’ from the vocabulary completely.  If we go to church, go to worship God as the only reason. If we buy real estate, buy it because we like the house, not because the agent flogs the ‘community’ angle. Shop, sing more, walk the dog and dig the garden. Eat heartily with friends and family this Christmas. Have a drink or two…just don’t even think about community.

It may be then that this Christmas, we’ll find our lost ‘sense of community’ in the nooks and crannies of our existing ordinary lives; in a space we’ve been all along; in a space we were too busy searching for to find.

When giving isn’t giving

This piece appeared in the Melbourne Age in January 2004

I’ve just had my worst ever day of shopping and it had absolutely nothing to do with the annual post-Christmas sales. The crowds were fine, I managed to find a car park in less than 10 minutes and I even remembered my green carry bag so I wouldn’t destroy the environment.

No, my shocker experience was linked to something far deeper and more troublesome than crowds or parking. The sole cause of my daeus-horribillus was that creeping mug of a Christmas present – the gift voucher.

While there’s no formal research on the emerging popularity of the gift voucher, my highly academic questioning of three shop assistants revealed that this Christmas was, as one put it “a voucher boom Christmas.” In our hectic, self-absorbed world, the voucher makes perfect sense.

Now I don’t know how many others received these pretty bits of cardboard or plastic but I’ll bet you would number in the thousands or even hundreds of thousands. You know the ones, they usually have a line that says ‘From’ where the friend or relative nicely prints their name followed by a “To” where your name appears. Underneath that is a dollar amount that firmly fixes your value to the said relative or friend. I’d guess some vouchers have three figures or even four. Mine only had two, and I received three of ‘em. They were all for the same amount and all from relatives. For a while I was pleased that I’d managed to be consistent in my dealings with family. That feeling didn’t last long.

For what a voucher effectively does is put the effort of gift decision-making and purchase firmly back on the head of the receiver. Rather than taking time and effort to search for the right gift for the right person, the voucher buyer simply says ‘stuff it, I’m not gonna battle these Christmas crowds and search for a gift that shows I’m really thinking of ‘em, I’ll just buy ‘em some credit and they can do the work.” The buyers are actually thinking of themselves!

Now I know I’m male and not that much into shopping. I know going to a mall doesn’t thrill me much, and yes, I’ll admit it, I’ve also been guilty of buying gift vouchers. This Christmas I gave two. Yet my guess is that even the most ardent shoppers go through some anxiety when doing their inevitable voucher ‘dumping’.

My 10 year-old daughter is into shopping big time. She mainly hunts for earrings and clothes, yet is also into shoes, cosmetics and anything else she’s not allowed to buy with her pocket money. As she also had a voucher from a popular CD outlet to ‘dump’ and as she usually has no trouble making decisions, I thought I’d take her along.

We went to the popular CD outlet first. I thought a bit of solid 10 year-old decision making with swift purchase would set us off on the right foot. I was wrong. After 30 minutes browsing the racks I realised she really only knew two acts and both Shania and Missy were delivered by Santa. Faced with 40 thousand CDs and DVDs she went into buyer shock and was frozen by too much choice. I knew how she felt as I go through the same thing every time I go to the video-hire store. I’d rather they gave me a list of five and made me choose from them.

I then made the most crazy business deal I’ve made in 2004. “Would you like me to give you the $30 cash and I’ll use the voucher when I want to buy a CD?” Her decision was instant and now I’ll have to go back to the mall to dump the voucher at some other time. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

We then went to the bookstore to dump two of my vouchers and where I experienced the same decision anxiety as my daughter. Faced with millions of titles, I was bamboozled by choice. There was nothing I particularly wanted and ended up getting some books ‘on sale’ I had only remotely heard about and that added up to my personal two-digit value.

Our final voucher dump was at a large department store where I was determined to buy a new tie. Now I haven’t shopped for ties in years as ‘significant others’ have always given them as gifts. I have no idea what’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’ so using the video store idea I collected five reasonable ties in order to narrow down the field. I thought each tie would easily fit my voucher value and was stunned to discover that even at the sales, each tie was worth more than double the value one family member had put on me.

My daughter then came over with a tie she said was really cool. She had recently finished a geometry unit at school and the tie was covered in angular shapes. She pointed out a parallelogram. The best thing though, was that the tie fitted my voucher value. I now own the tie.

Giving a gift means caring about someone. It involves knowing what they like and taking the time to find the gift that will in some way add to their life, or at least not diminish it. My new-year resolution then, is to avoid the gift voucher completely during 2005. As hard as it may be in our fast-paced, news hardened world, I’m going to try to find the time and energy to choose meaningful gifts that are symbols of care, rather than symbols of my own self-focused busy-ness. By doing so, the ritual of gift giving for me at least, will hold so much more.

The new battle for Gallipoli

This piece first appeared in the Melbourne Age in April 2005

Anzac Day is over for another year, and this year for the first time, we’ve been sobered not by the ritual of what the day represents, but by the specter of what the day could become.

This year we’ve seen TV footage of the tons of rubbish left on the hillsides…rubbish left by Australian patriots with a hunger for fast food and a reluctance to take their rubbish with them. We’ve seen images of the enormous video screens used to bombard the crowd with hits by the Bee Gees, James Taylor (what has HE got to do with Anzac Day?) and Eric Clapton (likewise!).

Canada’s ‘National Post’ on Tuesday described the Gallipoli crowd as ‘young people who spent much of the weekend drinking and partying at a camp out near the site of Australia’s most significant losses of the First World War’. They went on to label the event as a ‘piss-up that rivaled any major concert weekend.’ Isn’t it great to see a leading overseas newspaper describe the event in such glowing terms?

Closer to home the supermarket shelves have been chockers with a dazzling variety of Anzac biscuits. No doubt Woolies and Coles did very nicely out of that thank you. We have Anzac footy games, Anzac flags and a burgeoning Anzac paraphernalia market that will soon rival that of Valentines Day. The Australian Ebay site is currently offering ‘Huge deals on Anzac products” Why, there’s even ‘Anzac Day flag style umbrellas with free post for $19.99’. Bargain!

Our television channels dedicated umpteen hours of highly paid commercial airtime to Anzac Day. The fact that the time delay meant we could actually watch the Dawn Service without getting up at dawn was a marketer’s delight. TV advertising types will be examining the ratings figures closely to tweak next year’s broadcast. Perhaps the March could be cut just a bit shorter so we could get a panel discussion thingy in prior to the actual service. Perhaps there could be an Anzac Eve Service as well and maybe a sponsored pre-dawn sound and light show could stretch the coverage a little.

I even heard people wishing one another a ‘happy Anzac Day’. Why then can’t we have Anzac Day cards that we give to friends and loved ones? Brilliant!

The new battle of Gallipoli lies not with some road going too deeply into a hillside or a car park being built too close to a battlefield. The new battle lies in the probable commercialisation of a significant date that needs no hype and no spectacle to pull the heartstrings of those who care. The new soldiers will be those like RSL Victoria Chief Executive John Deighton who was disgusted at the “lack of respect” shown by attendees at the Gallipoli service. They will be fighting not only the media types who see live coverage of the event as an enormously profitable advertising vehicle, but the myriad of event organisers, promotion marketers and entrepreneurs who see the world as simply a marketplace.

No matter how badly it may sit with business, the world is more than just a shop. It is a children’s playground, a concert stage, a hospital, a game of hopscotch, a school and a garden. It is many things that don’t necessarily revolve around consumerism, advertising and hype. Anzac Day is also one of these things. A day when simplicity and silence can paint a far more memorable picture than any Bee Gees film clip or televised spectacle.

This whole concept is anathema to marketers around the world, yet lets hope that somehow, common sense can prevail and Anzac Day will be spared from the galloping madness of contemporary consumerism.


What can a billion buy?

This piece first appeared in the Melbourne Age in September 2004

The message from big business during the current reporting season is clear. We’re doing very well thank you! The past quarter has seen record profits from Newcrest, Woolworths, Rio Tinto, IAG and Pacific Brands to name just a few. These aren’t just profits in the millions, but profits rated in the billions. Rio’s last profit registered 1.4 billion. BHP Billiton’s was 7.6 billion. Now that’s a big number. I previously thought a billion was only a number astronomers used, yet a billion is actually a thousand million.  I know because I looked it up.

Yet these figures represent only a third of the much-discussed ‘triple bottom line’ now expected from big business. The triple bottom line involves reporting not only on financial matters, but environmental and social factors as well. The recently published Corporate Responsibility Index (The Age, August 28) rated companies according to a number of criteria including corporate values and community involvement. It was a terrific start in assessing big business on more than just financial performance.

Yet Australian business is slow when it comes to thinking beyond the dollar bottom line. Community partnerships, the concept that big businesses can band together to support initiatives that advance society is far more popular in the USA and Britain. The Levi Strauss Company recently pioneered the Community Investment Team (CIT) approach, where over 100 CITs around the world identify and invest in worthwhile projects.

The London Benchmarking Group is another. This is an association of unrelated businesses that donate to specific need areas. Companies such as BP, IBM UK, Marks & Spencer and Whitbread view social investment as a business obligation, and see no need to ‘own’ the investment as a brand recognition or PR tool. The linking together of businesses to foster social development may provide some marketing leverage, yet it’s the power of joint investment that’s more important. In this way, massive investment from a group of companies can be made towards society, and massive results benchmarked. It’s really quite simple.

In Australia, the areas of social concern have always been education and healthcare. The robust argument lately has centred more on education, and specifically federal government funding to the private school system. There’s either rage over the perceived neglect of the public system or rage over the possible withdrawal of funds from private schools. There’s also an enormous chasm when it comes to educational resources across both sectors. Not every private school is well resourced, while not every public school is broke.

Yet what if our big end of town took the lead from some other countries and saw education not only as the responsibility of government and individuals, but of the corporate sector as well…and I don’t mean the corporate takeover of our schools by Krispy Crème or Macdonalds!

An Australian equivalent of the London Benchmarking Group may consist of companies like Rio Tinto, Woolworths, BHP Billiton and IAG. Lets call them the ‘Aussie Helpers’ just for fun. These ‘Helpers’ may identify a few specific issues that need to be addressed during a year, and may decide that 5% of their total net yearly profit is all they can afford. They may argue that they already give to other charities, the arts, sports and community events so 5% is reasonable. Fair enough.

If 5% of net profit came from these four companies alone a total of 512.6 million dollars could be dedicated to particular issues over the year.

Then let’s say they decided to allocate just half of this towards the public and private education of Australians. Let’s call this the ‘Aussie Helper Education Fund’…a fund with 256 million dollars. If my research is correct, this is more than the total public works budget for Victoria’s schools in 2004.

Their advisors may nominate 150 public schools and 50 private schools that really need a hand across the country. Some may only get enough to build a new classroom. Others may get an assembly hall, specialist teachers or new heaters. Two and a half million among 200 schools buys a lot of resources.

Now if the top 30 companies in Australia gave 2.5% of net profit, we would see such a dramatic balancing in our education resources that the great private/public school divide would no longer be an issue. Imagine!

I can hear the cries of ‘red under the bed’ now. Yet doesn’t it seem a little odd that in the days of record profits from the big end of town, we are still experiencing an enormous chasm in the educational resources available to our children? Perhaps with just a little cooperation from our corporate champions we could not just narrow the divide, but fill it completely. By doing so, these champions would add substantially to their triple bottom line at a time when Australians are suddenly realizing the true meaning of billion…a potentially dangerous piece of learning.

Time for business to act

There’s a particular tenet of democracies that is so basic, we often tend to forget about it. Its basic premise is that any organisation, big or small, survives only by public consent. Now this concept doesn’t exist in a non-democratic society because in reality, those government systems don’t give a damn whether the public consents to something or not. In a democracy such as ours however, the notion of consent is paramount for the survival of the system.

In Australia as in all democracies, we give consent through many different means. Because of the consumerist nature of democracies, the dominant way we give consent is by buying. Yes, every time we buy something from Myer, Macdonalds or Macquarie Centre, we implicitly give consent for that business to keep functioning. Without our combined dollars, they would crash, and it’s only by consumer consent that our major businesses survive.

Another way we give consent is by voting. Every three years or so, we vote for the government of our choice. We either give consent for it to keep going, or shift consent and give another party a go. Simple.

Yet there’s two very large differences between consuming and voting. Besides us not having to pay to vote, it’s also true that we only get the chance to give or shift our consent every three years. The last possible date for the next Federal election is January 19, 2008. In anyone’s language, that’s a long time between drinks. Much can happen in three years, and without a means of withdrawing or shifting our consent, we’re pretty well stuck.

Now in ages past, if a society wasn’t happy with government decision making, the people would engage in social action. Burning and looting were common in the industrial era, while protests and strikes were more common toward the end of the 20th century. In 2005 however, the entire concept of social action has become so remote that we seem to have lost the ability to even think about it. It is as if our new-found national wealth has robbed us of any initiative to act in order to improve our already improved lot.

There is no doubt that de-unionising and the societal shift from working-class to professional class has weakened our inclination to act for change. The swift and almost total rise of the white-collar class has meant not only new-found individual wealth, but a work ethic that serves to preserve that wealth at the expense of everyone else. This is the very nature of competition, and in many ways we are all our own personal competitive business nowadays. I’m OK Jack…bugger you!

So what do we do when we suddenly start to understand and detest a government policy that’s been around for yonks…let’s say one like mandatory detention. What do we do when the true nature of the policy starts to sink in? The recent stuff-ups by the government highlighted by the Cornelia Rau and Virginia Leong affairs have made all sorts of people speak out…people who wouldn’t have spoken out before. People like Coalition Government ministers. People like TV personalities. People like you and me.

Yet gee, it’s also just sunk in that we only recently elected our government and if they decide to stick with the status quo like Mr Howard is indicating, we may have this awful policy for years to come! It’s like we’ve been on another planet! What can we do?

We personally can’t do much and to be honest, taking to the streets won’t do a lot of good. It will help show numbers, but won’t really hit the Howard government where it hurts. That can’t happen for another three years at voting time.

But while we as individuals can’t make a meaningful statement now, there is one extremely powerful group in Australian society that can land the Howard government such a body-blow on mandatory detention that it would easily turn policy. This group has increased in power dramatically since the arrival of the Howard Government and is arguably the most powerful sector in Australian society today. It’s also the group that is the quietest on social issues, as if they’re somehow deaf to any debate that doesn’t impact on them specifically. As if they’re somehow uninvolved in the greater community they work in.

The group I’m talking about is the business sector, and particularly the CEOs and directors of our Aussie businesses both big and small. Imagine if you will, that Australian businesses, in a combined show of ‘non-consent’ for the Howard Government policy on mandatory detention, or any damn policy for that matter, decided to actually make their feelings felt. I don’t mean taking to the streets here. I certainly don’t expect Gerry Harvey to pick up a placard or Richard Pratt to go on strike.

I’m talking money here lads, and I’m specifically talking about the considered non-payment of your quarterly ‘ GST payable’ your ‘Pay as you go instalments’ and your ‘Pay as you go withholdings.’ Now to the non-business person, this probably all seems like gobbledygook. Yet business people have now become so accustomed to paying these regular amounts to the government they don’t give it a thought. They especially don’t consider the absolute power they hold in NOT making the payments.

I can feel the quaking of the accountants now. What, refuse to pay our company tax! Preposterous! But listen up lads…it’s easy. I suggest its just a simple matter of writing the words ‘NO Mandatory Detention’ in large letters in black felt pen on a copy of your quarterly BAS statement (I’d use a copy just in case the ATO fines you for desecrating a legal document). Phase one could be simply making the statement. Let’s claim the next BAS due date of July 28 as ‘No mandatory detention day’. Phase two, in the next quarter, involves you not paying a cent and risking a fine.

Of course the government will say they’ll fine you just as Bob Carr in NSW stated that everyone who didn’t pay their train fare on Sydney’s recent ‘No fare’ day would be fined. In the face of such overwhelming public action, he backed down.

What perhaps the bean counters forget is that we, the public, give consent for their businesses to exist. By buying from them, we give permission for them to run their department stores, their factories and their fast-food restaurants. While we may like their products, it’s probably high time we also know where these businesses stand on the important issues in our society. If as individuals we have unconsciously relinquished our power for social action, we now rely on you, our business leaders to do the right thing and sway policy where you can. Where does the NAB’s Chief Executive John Stewart stand on mandatory detention? What is BHP Chief Executive Chip Goodyear’s view on Australia’s presence in Iraq? Does Kerry Packer support the Howard policy on industrial reform? And what lads, are you prepared to do about it?

Perhaps the most overlooked way we give consent in a democratic society is by being silent. If as has been the case, Australia’s business sector continues to remain silent on the important social issues present in our society, we can only assume they agree with policies such as mandatory detention. This being so, it is then up to us as consumers to direct our spending dollars to the business that makes a stand, and takes some action for change.

So accountants, CEOs and directors of small and big businesses everywhere, it’s time to realise there’s more to being in our society than just operating your business. As BAS time approaches, it’s high time you consider how you can act to make Australia a better place to live. Get that felt pen ready.

Why unemployment is good for us

Been to the shops lately? Noticed the posters in windows asking…no…pleading for staff? Shops and businesses everywhere are struggling to find staff either skilled or unskilled to fill vacancies.

It seems those days of placing an advertisement for staff, and being hit with 30 applications are well and truly over. Being hit with one application would be fantastic. Two would be a dream! More businesses are resorting to the trusty answering system or family members to field calls due to lack of reception staff. My local Subway was closed for two nights in a row last week due to lack of staff. When food chains close, you know there’s a problem.

Yet what does our super-low unemployment rate do for us as individuals, and more importantly, for society in general? The no-brainer says that we’ve all got money and are therefore ‘better off’ than generations before. We’ve got a little disposable cash, and even though we don’t like rising interest rates or falling house prices, we can at least work six jobs to cover whatever financial stress we find ourselves in. If we only had 72-hour days to work in these six jobs we’d be fine.

The not so obvious answer is that super-low unemployment creates a distinct decrease in service and product quality that we’re only just starting to see. As businesses, in their panic to get staff, employ people who either aren’t suitable or aren’t skilled, we find that whatever level of satisfaction we had experienced as a consumer is being eroded.

Staff competence is an odd term. While mostly it means the ability of a staff member to do their duties as expected, in Australia we’re accustomed to a little more than just ‘adequacy’. The notion of ‘caring’ about the customer, and going ‘beyond expectations’ has long been accepted and valued. Good staff don’t just do their job, they are an integral part of the business that assists in its growth and development. Adequate staff say, “Have a nice day” or “Enjoy” because that’s the template they’ve been fed and they don’t question it. Great staff say, “Enjoy your golf game on the weekend John” because they take the extra step of knowing the customer and, shudder the thought, remembering their name.

Yet why should any staff member push beyond the realms of ‘adequacy’ when they know full well there’s not hundreds of potential replacements scratching at the manager’s door? What makes anyone be and do the best they can?

The answer lies in human evolution and the theories of Charles Darwin. If we as human organisms are forced to compete for any of the resources we value, we’ll go out of our way to do our best. Valued resources could be food, shelter, sexual partners, credibility, money or a squillion other things. If we on the other hand, have no competition for these valued resources, we don’t bother to do our best, or find creative ways of attaining them.

The sportsperson who’s told before a match that they’re guaranteed of winning due to their competition’s failed drug test will seldom do their best. Even the African lion, when fed a regular and plentiful diet of prepared food, will lose the incentive and ability to hunt creatively. Why bother?

Professor Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi from Chicago University, in his research into how and why humans work, found scarcity or the lack of guarantee one of the conditions of ‘flow’ and work enjoyment. We’re more likely to work well at a job that challenges us and makes us do our best. The possibility we may lose our job, is one challenge that drives us.

Psychologically, there’s another interesting implication. As competition for a resource decreases, the value of the resource diminishes. It’s a fact known by biologists and fashion designers alike…we don’t value what we don’t strive for. A job that’s easily won is a job less valued. A product no one else wants, or is plentiful is a product not worth shopping for.

In order to avoid a society made up of ‘adequate’ or mediocre service, products and modes of thinking, a degree of scarcity is essential. While no-one wants to return to the unemployment levels of the mid 90’s when unemployment hit 8.5%, an unemployment level that creates a clever country, rather than an adequate one, is unpalatable yet important. While not everyone will agree, surely having a ‘great’ day, is better than having a nice one.

Legal assault on the treadmill of life

Last week I took a visit to the shopping mall for my yearly purchase of business shirts at the ‘stock take sales.’ While I doubt the true value of the ‘bargains’ I came home with, I felt that after the experience I needed some counseling…as if I’d suffered some emotional assault at the hands of the mall.

There were hundreds of people grabbing at clothing items they normally wouldn’t have glanced twice at. These ‘sale’ shoppers, in their search for the perfect ‘bargain’, were more like hyenas to a carcass than savvy consumers. It was hunting and gathering at its worst, and I was a part of it.

No doubt overly sensitised by my shirt experience, I was then struck by the thousands of signs demanding that I ‘Look’, ‘Buy’, ‘Try’ or ‘Eat’. Demanding signs and audio messages were everywhere, and this assault, coupled with the hyena frenzy could easily make the faint hearted spiral into fit of unconscious spending. I decided to go to the gym instead.

After struggling with a few barbells, and feeling depressed by the 18 year-old Adonis nearby lifting double the weight I was, I took to my weekly stumble on the treadmill. Yet even in my sacred treadmill space, the assault continued. The main reason was that the ‘cardio theatre’ at my gym has 16 screens all showing a different program. Programs ranging from Oprah to Dr Phil to Judge Judy all show at once. My brain can’t cope with one American talk show, let alone 16. I’m not epileptic, but I felt a seizure coming on.

The main screen however, the one that truly is theatre size, showed non-stop clips of black rappers pumping and gyrating with women all dressed in …well …not much. The rappers all held their hands in some special way that looked like they had no second or third fingers. Perhaps they didn’t. Whatever their physical ailments, the rappers, their message, clothing and ‘bling’ was out of my world. I wondered why my gym thought that us stumblers, mostly over 40 and looking nothing like ‘MC Funky-dog’, would be at all interested. Even Mr Adonis, who was now strutting proudly on a step thingy, didn’t seem interested.

The final punch came when ‘MC Funky-Dog was interrupted for a ‘Boot Camp’ advertisement. Lots of young people were running on the sand and being ordered about by someone in army fatigues. It was clearly the modern thing to do. The ad told me to ‘Enrol now and save’ and asked me to ‘Reach for the sky’ and ‘Try my hardest.’ I thought I was.

I felt another fit coming on, and to avoid it I calculated that if there were 15 ads an hour on each screen, I had been exposed to 127 advertising messages during my 30-minute treadmill stumble. No wonder I feel bad when I leave the gym.

Now I might be getting old and grumpy, but surely it’s time for us all to minimise the sensory assault we tolerate in our daily lives. If the mall assaults us, we could decide to shop in a less bothersome environment. If the gym assaults us with video blah, we could change gyms or jog in the park. If the clock radio wakes us with advertising messages, we could simply choose to wake up to a non-commercial station. We’ve just got to take a deep breath, realise we do have the power to change our world, and act.