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Caro’s Flotsam and Jetsam: Our Cate … failing vulnerable … stop the planes …

This year’s Academy Awards was a triumph for Australians, with Cate Blanchett and Catherine Martin taking home gongs. Plus our treatment of asylum seekers, girls’ homes and other shameful moral failings.

Australia’s triumph — and failure. It was a week of triumph and of failure. Just as Australia gets described — searingly — by Guardian Australia editor Katharine Viner as “a globally infamous human rights abuser” on Q&A, we also punch way above our weight artistically at the Oscars. It was thrilling to see Catherine Martin and Cate Blanchett do so well representing the talent and dignity of Australia.

Unfortunately, some sections of our media still can’t see a woman as an individual, no matter how many individual Oscars she has won (four), as Jenny Eather pointed out:

The rise of ‘women’s pictures’. I am a bit of an Academy Awards tragic, I confess, spending much of my youth imagining what I might say if I won an Oscar. Sad to say, I suspect I’ve left my run in that particular arena a bit late, so I satisfy myself (as most of us do) by living vicariously through other Australians who live the dream. It was particularly satisfying seeing two women over 40 represent the best Australia has to offer — something still quite rare. Blanchett’s acceptance speech made pointed mention of the fact that “women’s pictures” — as they are still sneeringly called — can make money. This point is also supported by this tweet written prior to the Oscars by Ellen Barkin:

In fact, this week has brought a number of interesting additions to the gender debate. Having just seen the terrific Wolf of Wall Street, I was rather amused by a re-imagining of the trailer for the film, swapping all the male characters for female (thanks Tara Moss).

I also really enjoyed this amusingly exasperated article by Rosa Brooks in The Washington Post responding to Sheryl Sandberg’s exhortation to women to “lean in”. I couldn’t agree more that far from women needing to work harder, perhaps we all — men and women — need to lean out a little more and live a more balanced life all round.

Australia’s tricky relationship with human rights. Despite much room for improvement, it is worth remembering how far we have come, as an article in The Courier-Mail on girls’ homes reinforces. When I was young, back in the 1970s, I remember hearing about girls being declared to be in moral danger and getting sent to a home. We knew it was something earnestly to be avoided, but what we didn’t realise was just how awful such a fate was. Thanks to revelations this week at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse we now understand just exactly how terrible it was.

To return to what is earning us our international reputation as a human rights abuser, such treatment of vulnerable people we called “bad girls” in the ’70s was acceptable 40 years ago but shocks us now. I wonder how long it will take us to regret our present behavior towards the vulnerable people some call “illegals”? It is nice to see a few politicians reject their party’s cruel policies, even if it had to take the loss of an election to get them to do it.

I also admired an article by Jeff Sparrow in The Guardian about the spiral of ever increasing cruelty we have signed up for. The last line is particularly sobering.

Tweets of the week. This week also saw debate over the fate of a troubled Qantas, which gave rise to the first of my tweets of the week:

It was Russia’s troops occupying the Crimea that prompted the second one: 

Maybe Tony should tell Vlad that he is the PM of Cate Blanchett’s country. That could help.

Anyway, as she’s on a winning streak, I couldn’t resist giving my tweet of the week to a direct quote from a jubilant but still grounded (one could almost say earthy) Blanchett:

Our worst selves. Finally, a typically insightful piece by Ross Gittins in The Sydney Morning Herald about the decline and fall of once prosperous countries when they become captive to vested interests (he means us). And a wonderful but disturbing piece by columnist Nicholas Kristoff in The New York Times about the death of compassion from the wealthy towards the less fortunate.

But, having begun this column about fame and the pursuit there-of, I feel I cannot end without including a terrifying piece by Tracy Clark-Flory from Salon about what can happen to someone’s life when they inadvertently become an internet sex sensation. Trigger warning, this is deeply disturbing.

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    Chris Fowler
    Posted Wednesday, 5 March 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Great read as usual, however, Cate Blanchett is not the first Australian to win two oscars - she is the first Australian actor to do so. Catherine Martin holds that title, along with the title of most Oscar wins for an Australian.

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