Writing

One step closer to an inclusive community

The line out front of the little hall stretches all the way up the driveway as people wait eagerly to enter the building coloured with disco-lights.

Yet this is no ordinary gathering of young people.

A team of enthusiastic volunteers and members of the Brisbane community are joining together to help improve the quality of life of young people with special needs.

Specialised Programs and Community Endeavours (s.p.a.c.e.) is an independent community centre run in Kenmore which aims to support social inclusion, particularly between members of the community with special needs.

The centre was founded in response to a lack of affordable, regular and dynamic social services for disabled members of the community in the Western suburbs of Brisbane.

With their own building, s.p.a.c.e. is now able to provide many services to the young people including a singing program called Voice Box, a dance program called Bust a Move and Big Night Out, which is designed to reflect a night out on the town.

All of these activities allow young people with special needs and the volunteers to expand their social networks, stay connected and have a great time.

Claire Lawler volunteers at s.p.a.c.e. and felt that joining this team would give her that “sense of belonging” that comes with volunteering and being part of an inclusive community.

She sees an inclusive community as a “diverse community in action where people of varied beliefs, actions, abilities and ‘diffabilites’ – instead of disabilities – come together”.

“It’s where your differences are not only recognised but they’re accepted,” said Ms Lawler.

At s.p.a.c.e. they are creating awareness within Brisbane about the need to be a part of an inclusive community, however with so much inequality still present in Australia and arguably more so in other parts of the world, the idea of a completely inclusive community may not have been fully adopted just yet by the majority.

Ms Lawler argues that although we have come leaps and bounds, we are not close to an inclusive society yet.

In discussions with her grandparents, Ms Lawler has found “they believe that our society is perfectly multicultural and balanced”, yet she can see inequality.

Ms Lawler believes the new generation of young people coming through at the moment could see the implementation of great positive change in communities because they have lived through the “weening process of taking away from the old school of thought into the new scheme of consciousness”.

She would also love to see the idea of an inclusive community become less about “a policy or a governmental ruling that says we have to do it”.

“When it’s a free-flowing action rather than an enforceable amendment, I think that’s when we know it will work,” said Ms Lawler.

Before society can become more inclusive, Ms Lawler talks about the need for the cycle to be broken of people feeling marginalised or being categorised as that.

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) released a report in 2012 which indicates that people between the age of 15 and 24, who are not participating in the education system or the labour force, are “viewed as being at risk of becoming marginalised from society”.

The statistics show that 18.3 per cent of this group have a long term health condition or disability.

Organisations like s.p.a.c.e. take these statistics released by FYA very seriously as a reminder as to why they need to provide their services.

Ms Lawler is among the representatives of s.p.a.c.e. who recognise this is a huge percentage of young people with disabilities or a long term health condition who are not reaping the benefits of education and work or being involved in the basic social interactions that come with both of these activities.

Even for those young people with disabilities who finish school, Ms Lawler argues that “there’s not much after that for many of them”.

“It’s a very daunting and scary world,” she said.

Ms Lawler views the use of the term ‘marginalised’ very negatively.

“No one should be marginalised.

“It’s a horrible term that makes me think that they’ve fallen through the cracks.

“There are services out there to help young people with disabilities, however somehow through the process they got lost or someone forgot about them or they didn’t fit the certain criteria that was required.

“I think that’s really sad that a system gave up on them, or maybe the system just didn’t suit them,” said Ms Lawler.

Even though there are a lot of disabled young people out there who have been failed by the system, Ms Lawler maintains that many of them have a level of activity that is certainly higher than some young people she knows and interacts with on a daily basis.

“Some of the young people at s.p.a.c.e. work two jobs, they have active social lives, they live by themselves, they have partners and they have friendship groups.

“Yet they continue to be categorised as being marginalised because of their disability.

“You can’t just slap the label ‘disability’ on everyone.

“It’s ‘differently abled’,” said Ms Lawler.

Bec attends s.p.a.c.e. as a participant quite regularly and works a part time job.

She loves the activities they provide and is especially looking forward to the next Big Night Out.

“Big Night Out is really fun and I make a lot of friends,” said Bec.

Volunteers like Nathan Boase are able to directly see the effect they have on improving these young people’s lives.

“It’s really great to be able to put your finger on where you know you have improved one person’s life, and if you can improve just one person’s life that is an amazing success,” said Mr Boase.

Ali Phillips also volunteers at s.p.a.c.e. and runs Bust A Move each week.

“I’ve known some of these students for four or five years now, so I’ve gone through engagement parties, 18th birthdays and dance competitions that they’ve won.

“I feel very, very honoured that I get to be a part of this,” said Ms Phillips.

It is passionate volunteers at s.p.a.c.e. like these who are always bringing something new, dynamic and unique to their position.

They are out there in the world having social interactions with the young people in public settings.

“When people see you interacting with them and in that social setting, those are the moments that make my heart soar,” said Ms Lawler.

She describes the process of seeing the young people grow and become more confident as a very humbling experience.

“You can’t just have a one dimensional life; there’s more to it.

“It’s about being engaged with the people around you, being empathetic and compassionate towards them, and knowing that you can make an impact in your world,” said Ms Lawler.

As s.p.a.c.e. continues to grow as an organisation, it is likely that our wider community will become more aware of their own ability to be more involved in being a part of the celebration of these young people.

Sick kids say goodbye to the Wonder Factory

Dozens of children are scattered throughout the bright and colourful Wonder Factory with smiles from ear to ear, playing games and creating magnificent art.

This room and the “world of fun” it provides will be missed by young patients, their families and visitors at the Royal Children’s Hospital as it prepares to shut down in late 2014.

The Royal Children’s Hospital and the Mater Children’s Hospital will combine to create a new hospital for paediatric health care at South Bank.

The Wonder Factory is an interactive entertainment room in the Royal Children’s Hospital where generous volunteers help to facilitate arts and crafts activities with the children, face painting, interactive competitions, video games, board games, karaoke, celebrity visits and role play.

Unlike the daily routine of a child in hospital, the service has an emphasis on the children being in control of what is happening to them.

As part of the Children’s Health Foundation charity attached to the Royal Children’s Hospital, The Wonder Factory receives substantial community support from corporate partners, community groups and individuals who donate towards children’s health across Queensland.

Nick Van Dyke, General Manager of Hospital Services at the Royal Children’s Hospital, passionately leads a team of 500 volunteers as the permanent base to support The Wonder Factory’s aims and services.

“We provide a lot of fun for the kids so they can forget about being in hospital and concentrate on recovering from their illnesses or injuries,” said Mr Van Dyke.

The volunteers not only support the children through entertainment services, but also other services such as the information desk, their support for children in the burns clinic and operating theatre, as well as the Book Bunker service and the Cuddle Carers.

According to Mr Van Dyke, the volunteers associated with the new hospital will “just be concentrating on playing with the kids at the bedsides and in the play rooms that are attached to the hospital wards”.

“There will be huge amounts of play space in the hospital but no dedicated entertainment room like we currently have here,” said Mr Van Dyke.

He believes that the Royal Children’s Hospital itself “does hold a bit of sentimentality for people that have been [there] for long periods of time and used the Wonder Factory as a bit of an outlet or escape to forget about their treatment”.

“They can just come here and be kids, meet new friends and concentrate on recovering,” said Mr Van Dyke.

The service has been in operation since 2000 when it was initially called the Rainbow Entertainment Centre.

Since then, the entertainment room and services have developed as a source of fun and delight for patients and their families.

Mr Van Dyke is “sad about the whole idea” of the Wonder Factory shutting down as he has been dedicated to the project for such a long time.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids come in here and have a lot of fun and I believe that the distraction that the Wonder Factory provides really does assist the recovery process.

“I think [it] has just been an incredible rock here at the Royal Children’s Hospital,” he said.

According to the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, human development is dependent upon interaction with other people.

The survey also found that social networks, such as the interactive entertainment room at the Royal Children’s Hospital, can enhance the recovery process.

Dr Lynne McKinlay, Paediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital, believes that group interaction is important for the children.

She says that group activities in hospital allow “children with chronic conditions to realise that they are not alone in their experience of illness and hospital”.

“Hopefully, the enjoyable experience of play and entertainment will leave them with some happy memories and mean that they will have a more positive view of their time in hospital,” said Dr McKinlay.

Sarah Flynn works in the Wonder Factory as the Entertainment Services Manager.

Before becoming a manager she volunteered for a few years and understands what is involved in the role of being a volunteer and the benefits of their services for the children.

“The service that we provide is very unique, and I believe, essential.

“[The children] don’t have their friends, their backyard, their playroom, they don’t have their bedroom, and the Wonder Factory becomes all of that for these kids,” said Ms Flynn.

She emphasises that their services are not only essential for the benefit of the sick children but also for the parents to get a spare second to keep track of their day-to-day life.

“For parents to be able to leave their children in the Wonder Factory [and know] that they’re in a safe and happy place is invaluable.

“It gives Mum and Dad a chance to leave the bedside for 10 minutes to make phone calls, go and have a coffee or a take a shower,” said Ms Flynn.

Ms Flynn says volunteers and staff “get told every day how much of a difference [their service] makes.”

“Kids will tell us how awesome this place is and parents tell us what a wonderful job we do.

“It’s what really drives us because we know it does make a difference,” said Ms Flynn.

The Wonder Factory staff will be sad to see the entertainment room go, but they are excited for an opportunity to improve their bedside services and continue to be responsible for putting smiles on sick children’s faces.

Nick Van Dyke, General Services Manager at the Royal Children’s Hospital and Sarah Flynn, Entertainment Services Manager at the Royal Children’s Hospital (Right to Left).
From the Wonder Factory in the Royal Children’s Hospital: Nick Van Dyke, General Services Manager and Sarah Flynn, Entertainment Services Manager (Right to Left).

Subversive Films

This was a speech I wrote in school a few years ago about the subverted film: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

There is much debate about the validity of genres – especially film genres – in fact, it’s very difficult for our generation especially as we’ve been raised on a diet of subversive films – so the very idea that standard ‘genres’ exist, is quite difficult for many  of us to grasp. So what do you we do?  We turn to the experts. In his text, Theories of Film (1974) Andrew Tudor offers a pragmatic solution to the problem of working out exactly what constitutes ‘genres’.  His idea is thus:  we should rely on a “common cultural consensus”. That is:  in Tudor’s words, “to analyse works that almost everyone would agree belong to a particular genre and generalise out from there”.  He says that “genre is what we collectively believe it to be”. Today, I think we should follow Tudor’s solution when we examine how we define ‘children’s films’.  I must admit, the more I thought about the film, ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’, the more I began to wonder whether it truly was meant for children, however, in typical Tudor style, I think we could all collectively agree that it is indeed a children’s film.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events was directed by Brad Silberling and unleashed to eager Snicket fans in 2004.  The story began as a series of children’s books – even though they dealt with some fairly dark ideas – the stories were definitely for children.  Other popular literary children’s texts at that time were the first few books of the Harry Potter series. So with the story already well-known it’s no wonder most cinemas were packed with children, popcorn and drinks in hand, bouncing on their seats waiting for the film to begin, and the first 42 seconds did not disappoint.  However the rest of the film unfortunately scared the pants of them.   It tells the story of the three Baudelaire children whose parents perished in a mysterious fire. They were left in the care of their greedy uncle, otherwise known as the “demented evil genius”: Count Olaf. This film belongs to the genre of a children’s film. However, A Series of Unfortunate Events subverts the genre and impacts on the way our culture chooses and makes judgements on the suitability of children’s films. I will help you to understand this by analysing the conventions and ideologies of the “typical” children’s film in comparison to the “subverted” film.

In all films there are certain narrative conventions that are followed – we expect certain things. For example; in a horror film you expect evil characters, suspense, dark space and to feel alone in the world. Whereas, we expect a totally different theme in children’s films. We anticipate that it will be non-offensive, an all-child’s point of view and lessons or morals to be learnt. We also expect it to be entertaining, wholesome, designed for children twelve and under, simple, politically correct, way too much child humour, wild and imaginative plots and themes, journeys, creatures, the supernatural, far-a-way worlds and ultimately the “Goodie” and the “Baddie”. Basically, we don’t expect to walk out of the cinema without a grin from ear to ear.

The “good” and “bad” characters play a huge role in children’s films and need to be clearly defined. A “good” character is often seen as the child or children who overcome their fears, complete an adventure and nearly always triumph over evil. Also, the “cute” factor is something directors like to capitalise on. Children in children’s films typically have huge, glossy eyes – mostly brown or blue, with long eyelashes and wear neat, colourful outfits.

Adults are made to look superior in comparison to the children – so the “bad” guy is most often an adult. They can commonly be portrayed as a large, ugly man, an old, witch-like lady or an imaginary creature. Either way, they are always seen as being bigger and stronger than the child, which makes their defeat all the more powerful. Their eyes, like many other features, are not as likeable as those of children as they are sharp, not rounded and colours of sickly green or piercing red. They wear black or other dark colours and have long pointed noses. In quite a few films they are partnered with a support character that is their “evil side-kick”. These characters may come in the form of an evil scientist or a pet like the famous Captain Cook’s parrot. Other support characters include the groups of children or community that help win the battles against evil.

In children’s films music is a dominant element of the filmic conventions. I’m sure you are all quite aware of typical tunes such as those from the Disney Princess films. We all know them – why? Because they are designed to be catchy, repetitive – and yes boys, really annoying. Directors, you have certainly succeeded in using music to keep these films popular and well-known over time.

Additionally, these films aim to add a positive light to our culture’s ideologies. We choose to follow the more comforting and preferred belief that good can and always triumph over evil. For example, we see the beloved Lilo and Stitch defeat monsters. Ironically Stitch is a monster – but he is more of a “child character” and hence, he defeats the evil monsters. Events like this then lead us to believe that we too can triumph over the evil in our lives – even if it’s only escaping from the agonising duties of washing up for just one night.

Now that we’ve discussed what makes a traditional children’s film, I will show you a clip from the subverted film: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

So, did that scare the pants off you? I told you all that A Series of Unfortunate Events is a children’s film – however, as you can see there are certain elements that have been darkened.

Knowing this, I thought that it would be interesting to read to you an extract from the same part of Lemony Snicket’s book The Bad BeginningREAD SECTION. I’m sure you will agree that the film was more effective in making Count Olaf appear sinister and evil. This is predominately due to the power of visual effects and how they accentuate the character’s malicious personality.

It is also obvious that the narrative conventions have been subverted in this film.  We expected it to be non-offensive and wholesome. Instead, we were faced with the reality of something quite different – violence and threats. These are rarely seen in children’s films, especially in such a serious tone. At the same time, death and violence is something of a sick joke throughout this entire film. The violence is prominent in the scene I showed you earlier mostly because it deals with children, who we see as innocent and angelic. Nearly everyone could feel uneasy when a baby is hanging from the top a tower, caged like a savage.

The stock characters in A Series of Unfortunate Events, unlike the narrative conventions, do uphold to the expectations of a typical children’s film. There is an evil character who is a tall man, he is overpowering and has the evil, cackling laugh. We also see the children as the “good” characters. The director has emphasised their innocence by giving them pale skin, victimising them and making their small size in comparison to the adults clear. Also, the typical thug side-kicks could be seen standing by their “master” Count Olaf.

In the film, lighting could be considered as one of the main filmic conventions. It is dim, which could be expected of a dark film; however A Series of Unfortunate Events is advertised as a children’s film. If it truly always complied with the genre of a children’s film we would expect mostly bright lighting. Furthermore, in the scene shown earlier we saw a close-up shot of Olaf talking to Violet and grabbing her arm. This shot allowed us to see her tightened, stressed facial features and understand the fear she must be feeling. Silberling uses the camera shots to position the audience to feel as though they are in the room. What better way to make an audience empathise with the child’s situation than make them feel like they are part of it – an unwilling participant – privy to the cruelty but unable to do anything about it.  All of a sudden, this subversion takes an audience from being ‘onlookers’ to ‘people involved’.

So we expected that our culture’s beliefs would have a positive light added to them after watching this film. However, we were faced with a rather dark reality. A Series of Unfortunate Events leads us to believe that life is nothing but a cosmic joke. Instead of being comforting, it virtually laughs in the face of pain. Sure, there is comedy – we do laugh – but it is dark humour, and cannot please everyone in our society. Some of these people would include the parents who walked into the cinema, holding their child’s hand, expecting a lovely children’s film – but were alternatively viewing a twisted tale that many of them, by the end of the first 42 seconds, did not believe was suitably characterised under the genre of a children’s film. This has therefore changed the way parents will choose what films their children can view – they won’t rely upon how it is advertised.

To conclude, it is evident that Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events subverts what our generation knows to be the typical genre of a children’s film. It has also impacted the way our culture makes judgements on the suitability of children’s films.  In some ways, the subversions reflect reality – and like every children’s film – there’s a moral – here, perhaps it is – beware the power of children – they’re more clever than you may think.

Gen Y

How often do you hear songs on the radio about sex, “Emos”, alcohol and drugs? Ellie McLachlan explores the exaggerated story behind generation Y and the music they are exposed to.

Rebecca Batties, Executive Vice President of Programming and Marketing for Under Ground Online, recently challenged some common perceptions of gen Y culture when she claimed:

Today’s society is extending upon what has always been there in culture. Just as the musicians or artists of the 50s talked about falling in love, having a good time, sex and rebellion, today’s musicians and artists are doing the same but just using the trends and styles of today to do it. The difference is that no one blamed the arts for antisocial behaviour then and they do now. (Rebecca Battie, Executive Vice President of Programming and Marketing for Under Ground Online, Under Ground Online’s official website, section 4.)

Batties’ words might be comforting for those parents worried about their children, but do studies support what she has to say? Even though Gen Y is not to blame, their values have changed for the worse. The present writer can recall their own parents and grandparents frequently denigrating teenager’s “distaste” in music, saying that it influences the behaviour of generation Y, the way they dress and how they represent themselves. There is no denying that values have changed drastically throughout the years. Generation Y has moved away from writing people a letter and dressing “respectably”; to completely depending upon their mobile phones and girls dressing to impress the boys in skimpy outfits. Admittedly, this stereotype does not depict all teenagers born into this era. They have just been generalised as the moral-lacking, no-hopers in media texts, such as ones within the Music Industry.

There are many male artists becoming increasingly famous through their exploitive lyrics and thumping beats. The band, 30H!3, is a particularly good example of the co modification of women.  The band members, Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte, play a mixture of hip hop, alternative rock and electro music. It presses on the minds of concerned listeners to think that these animals on heat are considered “cool” by their teenage fans. The lyrics give off the impression that a women is an object, almost doll-like, and that the men own them. Also the artists make it clear that there is no such thing as love in a modern relationship, as proved in the song line: “L-O-V-E’s just another word I never learned to pronounce.” (Starstrukk, 3OH!3) However, not only do these traits show true within their lyrics but also the visuals in their film clips. All the girls look plastic and run towards the band members, giving the impression that “all girls” want these perverted men. No longer does a couple share the traditional values of the man courting the woman, apparently things have changed to the sex-crazed woman chasing the sex-crazed man of their dreams for a relationship that has escalated to  become so meaningless.

Too often, we hear girls hating their bodies and always pushing their limits to look stark thin and “booty-licious”. The band 30H!3 seems to predominately relate their music to a woman’s “perfect figure” through sexual desire. They sing catchy tunes outlining materialistic traits that are apparently attractive to the boys. “Low-cut, see-through shirts” is just one of their ideals. The sad thing is, several teen girls actually feel that if they want to impress that is how they should dress. Respectable pants and collared shirts have perhaps disappointingly been replaced by thick, dark eye makeup and mini shorts.

Not only does the stereotyping in music affect the clothing of teens but also the behaviour. Dr Gail Gross, a licensed psychologist in Texas recently wrote:

Teens do not directly commit acts of suicide as a result of listening to music. However some disturbing ideas can be put into their heads, making them feel as though they’re not quite “good enough”. It is the expectation that they should all be perfect in a relatively imperfect world that triggers depression.” (Dr Gail Gross, Psychologist, The Truth Behind Depression, Pg 26)

In today’s modern community, adolescents are exposed to music so regularly that it has become an increasing central part of their culture. But does this fad negatively affect teens? Many people are starting to believe this to be true, which is why new restrictions have been enforced. On programs such as iTunes and also CD cases, a red “Explicit” label is appearing so as to warn customers when there are disturbing or inappropriate texts in the music. These were intended to target parents and make them aware of what they’re buying. However if the parent isn’t involved, can the responsibility of choosing appropriate music really be left to the teen? The answer is clearly no, because the most popular artists, such as Lady GaGa and Lily Allen, produce explicit music which is ironically highly relevant to the present generation. So therefore kids will buy it to keep up with everyone’s expectations.

It is clear that values are changing for the worse but one must also question whether gen Y is to blame. Maybe it is time for society to take the reins and enforce revolutionary policies.

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