Branding the past

John Mulhall, on of Australia’s ABC News Editors, recently wrote a blog entry about when women (often crime victims) are referred to as just ‘mothers’ in news stories. He suggests it’s more of a sympathy-wringing device, but it poses an interesting question about the representation of a person in a public context. Are they a woman? A mother? A wife? An artist? A writer? Or a whole bunch of things?

It got me thinking a bit more about how we are represented in public spheres, and how – therefore – our story will be remembered.

On a Life Matters podcast about the virtue of forgetting, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger of the Information and Policy Research Centre at the National University of Singapore spoke about how forgetting can enable us to live in the moment, and move on from unpleasant past experiences. He cited an example of a professor who was denied entry to the USA forever on the basis of a quick Google search by the border guards, who discovered an article mentioning how, 40 years ago, he had experimented with an illicit substance.

You’ve gotta ask: how can we grow and be who we are today if we are constantly reminded of our mistakes, and of who we were in the past? Even US Pres. Obama advised caution when posting stuff on facebook because of the implications for the future ‘you’.

So what do we do with the stuff-ups, and how do we make them work for us? How do we frame it?

Take a look at this post on The Nest blog, in which the National Theatre in Australia tweets a knee-jerk reaction rather than a calculated institutionalised response.

In the exploding world of social media, one slip of the trigger-finger can mean instant professional, social, corporate death… or not. The Twitosphere was not horrified, but rather more impressed with the authenticity of the Tweeter’s reaction; the humanness of their response.

I wonder if the theatre’s wild-child Tweeter will go public one day – and I wonder what their story will be.


  1. H.II has made frequent interesting references (such as in 'Once Upon a Time') to interwoven themes associated with portraits, the artist's canvas as a metaphor and authors' voices in fiction.I'm currently reading 'The Portrait' by Dutch writer Willem Jan Otten. It's promising, and won all sorts of awards – as you do. I've not read enough yet to be able to recommend this for your immediate attention and in any case, the availability in Switzerland of this nicely produced volume could be problematical: it may actually be easiest to learn Dutch alongside your Deutch, since the English translation is actually by an expat Australian David Colmer and it's published in Melbourne. Anyway, the story is narrated by a canvas – 'a key eye-witness to, and participant in, an extraordinary story', as the blurb assures us.This makes it quite hard to ignore the role of the narrator and be swept along in the tide of the tale. Even a mildly logical brain (I avoid the temptation to apply a gender-specific epithet, even though the cranium in this case is mine) must consciously suspend those circuits that keep asking how the canvas can hear this or observe that as the events unfold. Still, it works. Let's call it a special case. I'll let you know if the success is sustained.

  2. Well, I think it still works for the rest of the novel, but only just. It's certainly a special case, but I find the story has little to say about the art of the portrait or what it all means. H.II's hint is duly noted – but in fact Santa's sleigh has already departed towards the Dear Land of the Sixth Foodgroup and Long Horns bearing some other perhaps more interesting authorial viewpoints. Whew, that might be breaking Santa's rules of confidentiality, or leaking state secrets.

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