Category: The Lot

Be Happy: Leunig, Authenticity & Reality

Happy Clappy

Each time we discuss illusion and reality we return to the notion that money and success will not automatically lead to happiness. Which is all fine and well…but what, then, does lead to happiness?

Be Happy, an article on ‘Less Wrong’, which describes itself as a ‘blog community devoted to refining the art of human rationality’, brings together, in a nutshell, some thoughts on Materialism and being happy.

Cheerful to a Fault, by Alfie Kohn who writes widely on human behavior, education, and parenting, explores the negative implications of always being positive and cheerful. It echoes Leunig’s feelings in Lest We Forget: in “nicey-nicey land you must be happy-clappy and positive all the time – bad news is taboo.”

Plato’s Cave

I liked the concept that arose from watching the animation in class today, the idea that just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. The brief summary of Plato’s cave below explores the idea that only when we are presented with new realities can we see our old ones as illusion.

“Plato’s cave is an allegory portraying a group of prisoners who have lived in a cave for their entire life. They are chained to a seated position in which they are unable to turn their heads, forced to look at the wall in front of them. Behind them is a fire which casts shadows on the wall from the figures who walk behind them on the roadway. The prisoners make a game of naming the objects (shadows) that appear on the wall. To them, this is all they know, their reality. When one prisoner escapes, he travels past the roadway and ascends into the sunlight. At first he is blinded by the sun (a metaphor for truth, goodness, knowledge and reality) although his eyes eventually adjust and he realises that what he had taken to be reality was merely an illusion. He descends into the darkness of the cave in an attempt to alert his fellow prisoners of his discovery. However, they believe he is mad, deluded from the sunlight, and hence they continue to live their life in the darkness, taking this as their reality. Plato’s cave is a philosophical metaphor that Plato intended as a truthful portrayal of the human condition. The allegory questions whether we can truly know what we experience is real or if we are blinded by illusions. He argued in his philosophical texts that reality is something objective and consistent and that it is found beyond the mere physical appearance of things.Through the study of philosophy, logic and mathematics, the ‘real’ world becomes visible. In order to find truth, reality and knowledge we must ascend from the ‘cave’ (in what he described as a difficult journey!) and see the world in an objective way, find meaning beyond how things appear to be. Perhaps we too like the prisoners are trapped in a cave of a false ‘reality’….” Source: http://year12englishssc.wikispaces.com/Mr.+Bassios’+Reality+Scrapbook+Task

This is a rather long clip, but it is facinating. How different the world might be if we were more willing to accept the views of others? As the clip suggests, this does go both ways – the chemist had to change the way she perceived the world and others. It was important that she attempted to understand their reality in order to find a more effective way of addressing both of their concerns. “If only I could make you see….” – a nice title for a Context piece?

The Dragon in My Garage – this is a favourite story of mine by the late Carl Sagan, renowned astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist and author. He raises the idea that something that is unprovable doesn’t exist – as opposed to the new reality of the prisoner in Plato’s Cave which is a reality that he actually experiences and can be experienced by others. The last line is a winner.

Another sample for Whose Reality – using Michael Leunig’s THE LOT

I found this at http://daprano.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/sample-for-whose-reality-using-michael.html. Enjoy.

Our environment shapes our reality’

The family holidays of my youth have largely molded together in my head. Despite remembering nothing else about it, a clear memory of a trip to Joanna is the birth of a new born calf. As most holidays are a mental montage of theme parks, resort pools, or beach side caravans, baring witness to such a wonderful moment is entirely unique. There it was; defenseless, damp and incapable; the calf lied next to its mother as excited farm hands simultaneously kept us away and ensured we could see. Despite their familiarity with the lifestyle it was clearly a special moment for them. Why then do I remember the moment but not the year? Hell, it took me two goes to remember the exact place! I remember it because of its wonder, its uniqueness, its natural beauty. I am distant from the calf’s rural and raw lifestyle, even on holiday. Michael Leunig would no doubt knock my lack of authentic experience, though perhaps he could acknowledge my appreciation for this moment. He detests the rampant commercialism of modern society. Indeed he celebrates being entranced by the “widely peculiar” sight of foal born during the recent drought. He is right to knock me. Most of my holidays are common, the result of commercial bookings rather than a chance encounter with ugliness in an uncomfortable environment. But in this wiz bang society the package tour is easier than a chance encounter with God’s work. There is still room for the pure moment though. No travel agent could guarantee being able to witness a natural birth. I am glad that I have been reminded of this moment. I have traveled the Great Ocean Road many times but have never been to back to Joanna. Would I appreciate the moment if I saw it every year? Probably not. It has made me realise that these singular moments, often left in my unconscious, are precisely the best kind of memories. They are chance encounters that remind me how wonderful the world is. One trip to Skeene’s Creek on the Great Ocean Road was rudely interrupted when a gale swept through the caravan park sending kids, adults and tents flying down the dirt road. While most braved the night, one simply scooped up the tattered remains of his tent and began the two hour drive back to Melbourne. It has become an iconic camping story in-spite of the plush toilets and availability of electricity. Whenever I stare up at another ridiculous roller coaster, smell chlorine in the pool or notice the trees that have been trimmed to ensure I see the Opera House, I am reminded of these distinctive moments. The natural juxtaposed with the forced reality of a commercial holiday. My favourite moment on the Gold Coast was being caught walking home in what can only be described as a Monsoon (and people say Melbourne’s weather is unpredictable!) So soaked were we that no cab would pick is up, making for a long, damp walk back to the apartment. I could only laugh at the mess as we collapsed when we arrived. Leunig can be cynical of society’s obsession with artificial appearance, false wit and faux personality. He has every reason to smirk at Occupy Melbourne protestors who use iPhones and Twitter to spread their message. But the purity of nature can still be appreciated. As the recent drought and floods have shown, we can wear whatever mask we want, but our environment will always frame our perception. I choose to remember great moments of my holidays, the moments when, like the new born calf, the place allowed me to experience something new and utterly unforgettable.

Michael Leunig, “The Lot” and Writing in Context

I found this article on The Lot in The Age’s education section – enjoy.

The Lot: in words by Michael Leunig

 Karen Ford April 23, 2012

You would no doubt recognise Michael Leunig’s very distinctive cartoons as many teachers refer to them for Language Analysis. His work presents his view on issues and concerns about life and ‘‘society’s mood or madness’’. Leunig’s cartoons can be dark and ironic. Many people disagree with his views and he has been accused of being insensitive, un-Christian, pro-Islamist and un-Australian. Leunig calls himself a ‘‘troublesome, disturbing cartoonist’’.

Leunig doesn’t scream a point of view. His work is often contemplative and reflective.  It brings to mind words such as ‘‘ennui’’ and ‘‘malaise’’ — a sense of being tired of humanity’s tendency towards emotional and spiritual idleness. On certain issues he can be outspoken, controversial and confrontational. However, Leunig’s greatest achievement is that he encourages his audience to react.

For him, having no response is the worst crime, what Leunig calls ‘‘a loss of spirit’’. He is a commentator on a ‘‘desperate humanity that doesn’t know what to do any more and has resigned itself to banality, mass-mindedness and self-harm …’’ (The Bushfire Telegraph).

Many think he is negative and bleak and in some ways he is, but by presenting the uncomfortable, the unthinkable, the unlikeable he is actually revealing his passion for the often forgotten things in life. Go to page  21 of The Lot: in words and read about ‘‘yorro, yorro’’, then you will start to get a sense of what’s important to Leunig.

This collection is also about his reality — how the world appears to him and how he wishes it would appear more often. He writes about his own childhood, Australia, nature, fear, war, art, God, men’s underpants, death, a chicken’s birthday, beauty and love.  It is extremely personal.

You may be frustrated that he doesn’t have a neon sign around his ‘‘contention’’ for easy and quick access. And that is the point; with his writing you will have to work and often work hard, but with the work comes great reward.

Each reflection within the collection provokes deliberation on all aspects of our existence. The writing is tempered and conversational. It is intensely personal and introspective. And it is for this reason that the collection is ideally suited to the Whose Reality context; not only because his writings are about perceptions but because his style of writing is so engaging and endearing.

It is a style to be noted by fellow expository writers — Leunig takes a moment in time and then weaves outward, linking his moment to the bigger picture, all the while maintaining his focus and central argument. It reveals the beauty of great expository writing; that is, to articulate a ‘‘moral to the story’’ within a framework of reflection and contemplation.

Working with the text

In Xenophobia and Memorabilia Leunig uses Anzac Day as the starting point for a reflection on childhood, goodness, war and a desire to understand ‘‘this spiritual inflation and emotional conscription’’.

The essay’s title  already advocates the idea of perception — Xenophobia and Memorabilia — and with these we can contemplate the role and power of both forces on our view of the world. What is the basis of xenophobia if not about a perception based on fear? And isn’t memorabilia the ‘‘souvenirs’’ of our past, the objets d’art in the recesses of our mind that link us to earlier events and colour the way we see them?

Leunig meets a Turkish man — already an interesting starting point as Turkey and Australia were enemies during World War I — and this leads him to a discussion about personal truth and commitment.

This simple encounter takes him back to his childhood where the vigour of youth was indoctrinated with chants about power and pomposity. The consequence of not being a true and good patriot was a whack from his teacher ‘‘who prowled with strap ready to belt us if we showed the least sign of traitorous irreverence’’.

Already Leunig encourages the reader to reflect on the irony of such a situation. His memories are coloured by fear, intimidation and ‘‘meaningless words’’. Even as a child he remembers the ‘‘celebrations’’ linked to war and victory.

A simple phrase such as ‘‘celebrated a famous terrorist bomber Guy Fawkes’’ reveals the hypocrisy of society, then and now. To use ‘‘celebrated’’ and ‘‘terrorist bomber’’ in the same sentence is challenging, for the reader is forced to stop and consider the implications of such imagery through his use of language. The words together are paradoxical — to rejoice in destruction — but isn’t that exactly what history, tradition and patriotism do with war? The documents of war and sacrifice have been coloured because the black and white view of the truth is undesirable.

The ignorance of youth is lamentingly remembered with the knowledge of adulthood, and where it seems, society has not learnt anything. He remembers the child who blew things up, including ‘‘innocent creatures’’ and derived a great source of pleasure from it. As the man, he is able to reflect on the then and now and ask who are the ‘‘innocent creatures’’ society blows to ‘‘smithereens’’ in the name of ‘‘remembrance’’ and success.

From there Leunig is reminded of the writer Kurt Vonnegut. In his desire to understand ‘‘what humans are on about’’, Leunig remembers a short passage from Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions: ‘‘In a dim, dreary bar on night, the lonely writer listens as the locals denounce writers and artists and praise the local role model, the father and trainer of the young female swimming champ. Kilgore Trout ponders, then turns to the group and asks, ‘What sort of a man would turn his daughter into an outboard motor?’ The writer is set upon and beaten black and blue. This tale often helps me to understand Australia.’’

This observation within an observation says a great deal about Australia’s obsession with making ‘‘champions’’ — at the expense of childhood — and it is one we may not agree with. However, his perception engenders an assessment of our own perceptions. We are all part of the same humanity but what is it that colours our vision of our world? What is it that has us see a parent’s ambition for his child as either a testimony to commitment and success or a consequence of self-doubt and abuse?

This link to Vonnegut is made because of the common thread of war and destruction. Vonnegut’s writing has resonated with Leunig and it is in his memory and part of his philosophy, just as we all have images, words and trinkets that become part of our ‘‘reality show bag’’.

At the end Leunig returns to his starting point, Anzac Day, and mourns the loss of youth and beautiful souls lost in a ‘‘disgraceful misuse of humanity by the wielders of political and economic power’’. The simple encounter with a Turkish man over coffee has gone full circle and the reader is back to where the dialogue began.

The Lot: in words is powerful because it is about one man’s view of the world and his place within it. The writing of the essays  is a deliberate choice in shaping, inclusion and omission. What Leunig writes about and how he writes about it is a construction of perception in itself.  Then to have us share in his reality show bag of memories and thoughts is made even more powerful because by allowing us into his memories and perceptions we can reflect upon our own. And that can only be a good thing.

Karen Ford lectures in the Melbourne graduate school of education, University of Melbourne.