Posts by Helen R:

    As Samuel Beckett famously said, “So. I wrote a thing.”

    January 24th, 2017

    Right. I’ve written a book, then. I probably shouldn’t have, but it is, in any case, available for sale tomorrow. It is not a terribly important book as it is full of bad sex and largely absent of good politics. There is no noble reason to buy it, and I only recommend that you do so if you crave what may be a funny account of a breakup recovery.

    These are the bones: a few years ago, I went completely fucking potty when my long-term partner gave me the sack. I wasn’t really expecting her to leave and even though her company had made me miserable, I missed it desperately. Anyhoo. In a moment of recklessness, I decided to go on one hundred dates inside a year to see if I could cheer myself up, stopping only if I found someone to love/make miserable.

    I attended a literary “speed date”. I tried to fuck a Russian (a lifelong ambition). I invited myself to a BDSM beginner’s lunch. I talked to a guy who asked me to dress as a sheep. I went out with some exes. I learned that I could never enjoy the intimate company of persons who enjoy the music of Coldplay/the economic theories of the Chicago School. I also started going to a twelve-step program, and seriously considered becoming religious. These latter decisions had nothing to do with dating, but I *may* have picked up a handjob outside a church.

    Obviously, I am not going to tell you if I found happiness etc. as this would not only diminish the small chance that you are going to buy my silly book, but it would also make the false point that “personal growth” was my aim. Which it was not. I was simply trying to survive a period in which I felt, at best, self-loathing and, at worst, a bit like I wanted to top myself. As can tend to occur after a breakup or divorce.

    If there is a moral purpose to this book (there’s not, I was really just trying to crack jokes at my own emotional expense, and your actual expense) it is to counter eat-pray-love-ism. We don’t have to learn. We don’t have to grow. We just have to adapt if we want to survive. So, if you want a divorce protagonist who has no aim loftier than remembering to bathe herself, perhaps it might suit you. I should also say that my beloved cat features prominently in this text. This is a cat person book. It is also a book for people who have been dumped, but don’t have any money to go on expensive journeys of self-discovery, and even if they did, would not subject the people of India to their tantrums. Christ. Haven’t they been colonised enough?

    Buy it. Don’t buy it. I have already had a go in my life at being famous and found it didn’t make me particularly happy, so I really don’t give much of a fuck. I mean, money would be nice, but I’ve given up on ever accumulating any of that. My publisher is quite nice, though. I’d like her to have some money, at least so she can publish other books. But, basically, don’t feel any pressure.

    However. Do please feel pressure to attend one of my “bookstore appearances”. Can you imagine how fucking embarrassing it is to go to one of these things as an author and have three people show up? That happened to me. In 1999, I wrote a book about My Fascinating Depressive Disorder (don’t bother) and some deluded bookstore in Sydney’s North Shore invited me to spruik it. As I have never operated a Thermomix, I am very unpopular on Sydney’s North Shore. The PR guy called his boyfriend so he could pretend he was lining up to have the book signed. Thanks for that, Andy, and I hope you’re doing well.

    I mean, please. This appeal to you is one strictly of individual compassion. You don’t have to like me, approve of me or even consider the purchase of this book. You just have to BE THERE. Please. Shit. I am a middle-aged angry Marxist lady without social skills. At least if you’re THERE, I will not automatically feel as though I have failed socially. Again. As I did, perhaps up to one hundred times while I was writing this ridiculous book, and for all my life.

    Here are the dates. They are linked to booking information. PLEASE FUCKING COME.

    Melbourne, Monday February 6

    This event, 6pm at Readings in Carlton has sold out, apparently. But, you know. People will not fucking come. I know this, because those who RSVPed are largely my friends whom I personally nagged. As I probably didn’t turn up for their birthday party/iftar dinner due to my social anxiety/laziness, they are perfectly entitled to return the diss. So what I am saying is that if you happen to be at 309 Lygon St, Carlton, Victoria, 3053 at 6pm on Monday February 6, there will possibly be a seat for you. They also have awfully nice manners at Readings, Melbourne’s best bookstore, and are quite unlikely to throw you out.

    It will be hosted by my generous friend Francis Leach, a well-regarded broadcaster and sports guy. So at least there will be someone there for you to like.

    Sydney, Wednesday February 8

    This event, 6pm at Gleebooks in Glebe, has not sold out. I take this very personally. I have a great fondness for this store, which is the one in which I first spent my own adult wages on books. I also applied for a job there once back when I was at USyd, and even though they sensibly didn’t give me one, they sent me a very nice note in reply. I had told the manager that I intended to be a writer one day, and he or she replied that they would certainly stock my books.

    What I am saying is that in failing to attend this event, you are effectively shitting on the dreams of a lonely teenager.

    My comrade Eden Riley, of the marvellous and quite unstruck edenland, has kindly agreed to host the event. She knows pain. AND SO WILL I IF YOU DO NOT FUCKING BOOK FOR THIS EVENT YOU SELFISH BASTARD.

    Brisbane, Thursday February 9

    This event at 6pm at Avid Reader in West End has not sold out. I take this quite personally, as I have long been charmed by a place that stubbornly only sells the books that it likes, and employs writers like the fantastically filthy Krissy Kneen.

    I mean. Why do you hate me, Brisbane? Is it because I walked around The Wickham once in 1997 with my left tit hanging out for half an hour before a nice gentleman asked me to conceal it? I can assure you, this was not an intended affront to the fine homosensual gentlemen of that establishment, and I had simply forgot to put it away following its removal in the ladies.

    BOOK YOU INSENSITIVE PRICK I AM DYING. This event will be hosted by the eminent ABC broadcaster, Paul Barclay, who will make every effort to steer conversation out of my trousers and into a broader social context.


    Thank you very much for booking. Thank you for agreeing to “follow” my very tedious author page on Goodreads, which I just produced instead of doing my actual work. Thank you very much for deigning to read this silly book, available from tomorrow in electronic and printed form.

    The rest of you can, in this case, get knotted, as I am feeling very self-absorbed and sensitive, after the fashion of lady memoir writers.






    Angora Bunny

    May 20th, 2010

    I tend to hold forth about the talents of local broadcasters. A quick survey of past writing suggests that I loathe circa eighty per cent of everything local that plays out on the box. Actually, order if we overlook my great enthusiasm for Australia’s Next Top Model the only Australian program I recommend you watch is ABC TV’s Q & A.

    My advice really should have come with a caution. You should watch the program Q & A only in those weeks that I am not a panellist.

    I’m pretty sure I made a good program crap. Of course, find I have absolutely no intention of watching. But, patient really, there is no need. I was there and I have a hazy recollection of berating Tony Jones, a uniquely pleasant and intelligent man, and telling him to, “let me speak or I’ll explode and leave nothing but a smear of detonated Helen on your desk.”

    Why, Helen, why?

    Then, when Tony relented and allowed me to speak, I said something about internet freedom so unfathomable that the ABC security guard looked at me like I was a child pornographer when I left the building. My performance also caused my mother to leave a voice mail message suggesting that (a) my lip-stick made me look like a prostitute (b) I was disinherited.

    It was not as though I was under-prepared for this program. I’d made dozens of phone calls and read hundreds of thousands of very dull Ministerial words to bolster my particular beliefs. Nonetheless, I seemed unable to utter a very simple sentence about what I believed to be the government’s inadequate redress of WorkChoices and, frankly, I was as dazzled by the studio lights as a big Angora Rabbit.

    Why, Helen, why?

    It didn’t help that I was seated next to a man who, in all likelihood, also thought my lip-stick made me look like a prostitute. Then Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, seemed combative in the Green Room from the get-go.

    I found his refusal to answer my queries about the government’s proposed net-filter with anything more than “That’s just not true!” quite distressing.

    Now, I know I’m not a Michelle Grattan or a Kerry O’Brien and, under normal circumstances, my questions do not merit any consideration by government ministers. Except, when they are asked on television in a forum where all participants have implicitly agreed to a suspension of usual journalism. In short, questions from dolts like me need to be answered with respect.

    If O’Connor didn’t want to answer these queries, which surely he knew were coming, then he should have stayed at home, I thought at the time.

    Anyhow, the guy just didn’t like the cut of my jib and I shouldn’t have taken it so personally.

    But, I did. Between this ministerial brush-off, the paralysing threat of live television and the pretty, bright lights reducing me to the appearance of an Angora Rabbit in prostitute’s lip-stick, I did quite badly. And so, it occurs to me, I really must learn to be a kinder critic when it comes to TV. And I should probably stay at home.

    And so, I have been sitting here at my screen nursing the pain of my own misadventure and the sense that, after all, I am in awe of anyone who can utter an entire sentence on TV without telling everybody that they are, “about to explode”.

    So, I’m all praise for television,now. Expect nothing but a high-speed ride on a unicorn where I have nothing but praise for everyone from Hi-5 to  Budget Coverage. I am very sorry for blighting one of the nation’s best television programs, I am sorry for my lipstick and, in short, I am sorry that I didn’t. in fact, psychically explode on the Q and A desk.

    This Great Angora is wiping off her lip-stick and crawling back into her hutch.

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    Love and Aggregation

    February 14th, 2010

    Just about a year ago, prescription I received the oddest email. “Hi, search can we talk,” was its subject; an invitation I rarely decline. Its author, who claimed to be a 14-year-old boy with a rare hormonal disorder, attached a picture of himself to the correspondence. At first blush, the image appeared to be of a slightly underdressed pretty, white, female ‘tween in a tiara.

    There were, as I saw it, two possible grown-up responses to this dubious plea for guidance and so I chose them both. The first was to forward the communication to the Australian Federal Police for examination. The second was to research the young man’s condition.”Paul” claimed to have a disorder called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome that had given him the silhouette of a Hollywood ingénue. I suspected he had something called Munchausen by Internet; a disorder that gave him the urge to feign illness.

    It wasn’t long after the wired world plugged itself ineluctably into the internet that this phenom began. In 1998, the New York Times published a piece about “factitious disorders”. Of course, folks have been faking-it for hundreds of years but not with the precision, breadth and speed first seen in the nineties. With the rise of online support groups and medical cant always just a Google away, hundreds of fakers had risen to fame before the century was done.

    There were few so celebrated as Kaycee Nicole Swenson, purportedly a 19-year-old woman battling with purported leukaemia purportedly in Kansas. On May 15, 2001 the hundreds of thousands of users who had followed Swenson’s blogged record of treatment and remission grieved when her death was announced.

    Swenson, as it turned out, never was ill. The blonde former star of local track-and-field couldn’t have contracted any sort of disease given that she did not, in fact, exist. The author of some 300 upbeat posts was, in fact, a healthy 40-year-old Kansas housewife. When Debbie Swenson was outed, she was not entirely repentant. She apologised for the pain she had caused, but told The Times “I know I helped a lot of people in a lot of different ways.”

    Actually, a lot of folks seemed to agree. On the internet thread that unravelled the ruse, one user wrote, “sure, it might not be real. does it really matter? if nothing else, the story of Kaycee’s death was a moving experience for some”. This week, following revelations that “Amina Araf” the Gay Girl in Damascus was not, in fact, living evidence of the wrath of Al Assad, we saw similar apologism.

    In fact, the middle-aged Post-colonial scholar with his hand up Amina sprang to his own defence. He wrote from his Edinburgh home that he was trying to “illuminate” issues “for a western audience”. Apparently, he felt the world’s colossal pool of Anglophone middle-eastern commentators wasn’t quite up to the job. Thousands of others agreed. What, after all, is a little thing like identity when there are millions of lives at stake?

    Well, quite a bit as it happens. The ghastly paternalism and plain old creepiness of some white dude in drag aside, authenticity matters. Especially when it comes to identity. This is not to say that one should bear the tyranny of an identity that doesn’t fit. Research and lived-experience tells us, for example, that the idea of an “authentic” gender identity can be easily undone. But, there’s an ocean of difference between moving as an individual away from identity norms and taking millions of blog readers with you.

    And authenticity certainly wasn’t the case with “Paul” who, as I’d suspected, was a frequent faker. As it turned out, he’d approached dozens of others online claiming, at various turns, to have been disabled, sexually confused and physically abused. One of the users he contacted on a sexual abuse survivors site was aghast to learn that the “woman” to whom she had privately revealed vivid and particular details of a rape was not a compassionate survivor. Here was someone with a fetish bordering on mania feeding off the intimate details of her distress.

    Authenticity is not an inauthentic word in the case of Amina; its value is not diminished by the focus on “issues for a western audience”. It makes a pirate handbag of Syria’s queer community.

    You can produce all the Baudrillardian culture-of-simulation arguments that you wish. Certainly, the idea of “reality” may itself be imperilled in the world at large; “identity” may be a fluid thing; questioned even by neurologists. We are not yet ready to choke on this sticky, sweet Dessert of the Real.

    This piece was commissioned for the ABC’s website
    Today, troche as you’re amply aware, apoplectic
    is Valentine’s Day. And because it is a Special Day for Lovers, I’ll spare you the standard critique. Viz. Valentine’s Day is evil and has nothing warmer at its core than the icy heart of capital. Valentine’s Day binds the exchange of goods to the exchange of love and results in a market glut of shitty Teddy Bears. Valentine’s Day is the sort of thing Marx and Engels would never have celebrated. Not even with a baby-blue shitty Teddy Bear with the words I Wuv You Like I Wuv Class Warfare written on his polyester heart.

    Blah blah blah. You’ve heard it all before. People, to the best of my knowledge, have been wailing about the marriage of sentiment to the market economy since at least 1848 and nothing has happened to diminish this union. In fact, it’s only got worse. I’ve decided to give up worrying about things of this order and concentrate my efforts toward change on my desktop background instead. In short, I resign from the humdrum chorus of the Left on the grounds that (a) I’m bored and (b) so is everyone else.

    This is not to suggest that Valentine’s Day does not annoy me. It annoys me slightly more than the word “panties” and just about as much as those fuckwits who share a Twitter account. Quite apart from its commodified nature, the Holiday gives couples license to be smug.

    Many actions on this Special Day for Lovers are a grand conceit. They book a couples’ massage at a day spa; a vertical tasting of Pinot Gris; a drive to a Charming Country Inn where they’ll discuss the provenance of veal and The Simple Things in Life.

    These acts, per se, are inoffensive. In fact, they all have a particular lure. Who amongst us wouldn’t be tempted by an afternoon of deep tissue massage and a lot of drink? It’s not the celebrations themselves that are offensive. It’s the fact that they are so broadly documented.

    Today, social media will be crammed full of Valentine’s boasts. In 140 characters or less, the haughty wives of the internet will tell us, “Hubby surprised me w a simple freesia arrangement, breakfast in bed and a passionate kiss. Bliss!”

    This really gets up my jacksie. Of course, it’s lovely that your husband can find freesias out of season and it’s charming that he gave you a yard of tongue. The fact that you had to tell me about it, however, represents nothing less than the death of intimacy. There’s some shit that doesn’t bear scrutiny by others. There’s some shit that, in order to retain its value, needs to stay behind closed doors.

    What should follow presentation of a hand picked bouquet? I’d suggest the correct reaction is an hour or two of dirty, hair pulling sex. Perhaps with a third you picked up in a bar. Certainly not a boast to others or a FaceBook status update.

    But, I’m hardly the first to point out that a culture of being-for-others has bloomed. In our era, a gross aggregation of the self occurs at every turn. So, we can only expect Valentine’s Day to become more of a cheesy performance art; more of a chance to experience less and demonstrate more how our “lifestyles” are lived.



    Iran’s leader is hot or the pitfalls of genital logic

    February 14th, 2010

    Ahmadinejad is hot Helen Razer –The National Times – October 14, syringe 2009

    “Ahmadinejad is hot, drugstore ” said my partner as we were watching the telly. This revelation shocked me on several counts.

    First, I was aghast that she could find anything positive at all to say about a man of whom the world’s most learned commentators largely disapprove. Current events are not my strong suit. However, I’m vaguely aware that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rigged an election. And even in the case that this apprehension is entirely wrought by Zionist and/or CIA agitprop: surely, one’s libidinal interest should not be aroused by the 6pm news?

    Thinking of the current President of the Islamic Republic of Iran as “hot” struck me as somewhat ideologically flawed.

    But then again, it really didn’t. It’s not as though I haven’t had “a thing” for a wide variety of right-wing leaders to date. I was particularly besotted by Felicity, the wife of erstwhile Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, for at least two painful state terms.

    Second, I was surprised, as ever, to learn that there are those in the world who think about sex as frequently or as inappropriately as I do. It has been a key downfall for many years and I do not wish the ill on anyone but my most steadfast enemies. Frequent, inappropriate musing about the attractiveness and sexual style of others does nothing but cloud the capacity for clear thought. As my entire written oeuvre can attest.

    “He’s really hot,” she said. That’s the sort of talk that presages nothing but descent into dumb-dumb.

    Heavens. Don’t I know.

    Once, I was a promising student. During the latter part of my studies at Sydney University, this custom of frequent and inappropriate musing kicked in. One day, while striving to maintain focus on becoming a literary historian with a particular interest in corsetry or something, I encountered a filthy book. The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille is recommended as a true “transgressive text” by many important thinkers. What Susan Sontag and those other clever writers neglected to tell me, however, was that this disturbing tract would cause me to view everyday scenarios with the decadent eye of a dirty old woman.

    Let it be plainly said: there are many tableaux in this putrid pamphlet that are unspeakable. That Bataille, otherwise an inconsistent writer, here arranged his words very well does not excuse the foulness of this text. But more than being a handbook of instruction in the perversion of kitchen objects, it is a work that demonstrates the possibility of sex in even the most banal circumstances. Bataille taught me nothing if not to entertain the likelihood that most things could be fetishised. The upshot of this was that I spent most of my honours year imagining everyone in their underthings, failed to complete my dissertation and sought the only career that fallen academics can. Viz. popular writing. So, the academy was denied another promising theorist and print media was granted yet another mildly under-educated dirty old woman. All because of sex.

    All because of that urge that prompts one to look, for example, at a possible despot and say, “Ahmadinejad is hot”. This sort of genital logic can but end in tears. Or, at least, in distractedness, personal professional loss and a culture that produces no one with any real erudition in the matter of corsets in English Literature.

    I was shocked on a third count, too. Naturally, I was forced to look at the television to assess the bonkability of this chap.

    And, I had to agree, Ahmadinejad is kind of hot.

    Helen Razer is a Melbourne writer.

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    We are all definitely not enjoying the new iSnack 2.0

    February 14th, 2010

    The new name for Vegemite is a serious miscalculation – Helen Razer – The Age – September 30, recipe 2009

    THE chief element in Vegemite’s new product is cream cheese. A secondary ingredient appears to be abject failure. No one likes the name of this new yeast product. Not one bit.

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. There must be at least six Harvard MBAs at Kraft Foods who adore it. Vegemite launched the Vegemite plus cheese product a few months ago with a campaign inviting consumers to name the cheesier cousin.

    The winning name was announced during the telecast of the AFL grand final. In an effort ”to align the new product with a younger market – and the ‘cool’ credentials of Apple’s iPod and iPhone” Kraft chose iSnack 2.0 from a field of 48,000.

    This raises many questions. Chief among them is how very terrible were the other 47,999 competition submissions that Kraft was left with iSnack 2.0?

    The label is every bit as hip as a polka convention and every bit as convincingly ”now” as parachute pants. Further, aligning a breakfast spread with a portable media device makes as much sense as employing a bikini model to sell cabbage. Nonetheless, the failed faux-cool of the new product made it past the marketing department. They even added a tagline reminding us that this was, ”the next generation Vegemite”.

    The decision to give Vegemite a rebellious heir struck many as odd. The act per se of fusing cheese with Vegemite is entirely forgivable. In fact, many of us have privately enjoyed this union in our own kitchens for years. While the product itself might be inoffensive or actually good, its branding is a catastrophe. No one, it seems, fancies the idea of Vegemite fermenting a ”next generation”. As to the bizarre alliance of a brown, sticky breakfast staple with the sleek white lines of Apple’s media players: frankly, it jars.

    The iLoathing for the iSnack is evenly spread. On Monday, the global noticeboard Twitter was jammed with disgust. Comments that included ”I said do you speaka my language? She just smiled and gave me an iSnack 2.0 sandwich” and ”What’s the matter, was the name Crap Paste already trademarked?” appeared under the tag #vegefail to become the website’s most popular topic. One wag suggested that St Kilda’s defeat was prompted by this contemptible act of branding. On a day when many were concerned about Iran’s nuclear proliferation, the top topic among Twitter’s 33 million users was the failure of iSnack 2.0.

    Elsewhere online, it was precisely those young early adopters targeted by Kraft’s campaign that showed their displeasure. The site ”Names that are better than iSnack 2.0” arose to suggest ”Just-About-Anything-Would-Be-Better-Mite”. Even web forums normally given over to specific discussion of software applications were occupied with this new iFailure.

    When Australian netizens realised they were firmly united in disgust, the conspiracy theories began. By close-of-business Monday, consensus was that Kraft had intentionally selected a terrible name. This iSnack 2.0 nonsense was certainly a stunt.

    ”It’s definitely not a stunt, you have my word on that,” Kraft spokesman Simon Talbot told press on Monday. He explained that the public reaction was a little stronger than had been anticipated at Kraft.

    Naturally, garrulous internet users were chuffed at their apparent clout. ”They’re listening to us. We can’t be fooled by marketing in the digital age,” wrote one smug Twitterer; probably from his iPhone.

    It is certainly true that Kraft failed to estimate the cynicism of this market segment. This is odd as anyone with a Facebook account should know that active internet users tend to have something negative to say about most things. And on Monday, you could hear the electronic hive mind at maximum drone. But a failure with the web savvy is not necessarily a failure in the broader marketplace.

    However, it seems the world’s largest food and beverage company got it wrong in all market segments. The iSnack is reviled by people other than garden variety geeks. In the past two days, a handful of marketing kingpins have publicly counselled Kraft to pull the product from shelves. This, they warned, could be a brand calamity equal to the ill-fated New Coke.

    Far worse than underestimating the crankiness of internet users, Kraft misjudged the intelligence of the broader Australian market.

    While we may not be among the most acquisitive of all the world’s consumers, we do tend to be among the most confident. We will adopt new technology and product but we do so based more on our assessment of an item’s quality than its attendant branding blitz. In fact, the descendants of law-breakers and outcasts tend to be chary of obvious bait.

    Thanks to pitiable marketing and a miscalculation of Australian savvy, the iSnack 2.0, as it has been said a thousand times on Twitter, is toast.

    Helen Razer is a Melbourne writer.

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