Saturday, May 31, 2008

Flanagan and Fear

“A subtle fear has entered Tasmanian life; it stifles dissent and is conducive to the abuse of power. To question or to comment is to invite the possibility of ostracism and unemployment.” These remarks by Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan would prove to be true after they appeared in an April 21, 2004 article in the British paper The Guardian. The article, about the clear cutting of forests on Flanagan’s home island, criticized the close ties between the government and the Gunns corporation, Australia’s largest logging company holding a monopoly in Tasmania. Flanagan did not anticipate the backlash he would receive from the Tasmanian Premier, Parliament, and the local media that were all critical of his opinion being voiced in a foreign venue that brought local politics to international attention. In remarks made later, Flanagan describes how he realized at that point the power of the media to create an image of a person that has nothing to do with reality. The false identity amounts to an ad homonym attack foreclosing the point of criticism and stifling dissent.

Flanagan’s latest novel, The Unknown Terrorist, derives from the context of the writer’s personal controversy to explore the way the media capitalizes on public concerns about terrorism to construct a story and a new identity of one woman as a terrorist that has no basis in reality. I argue the media construction amounts to a spectacle that forecloses identity based on fear and allows terrorism to succeed because transnational terrorism is a media spectacle. Flanagan attempts to engage this issue by going beyond the media spectacle and beyond the spectacle of terrorism by asking the questions regarding fear and terror that make readers “question and comment” in ways that engage the issues rather than buy into an emotional reaction perpetuated by the government and the media. The text is Flanagan’s means of fighting against “the politicians and the security forces and the journalists, who, instead of protecting people, also betrayed them” (Unknown Terrorist 186).

Set in Sydney, the novel explores the nuances of how the fear of transnational terrorism dominates the local imagination. Even though Australia has been relatively secure, fear becomes the primary mechanism through which the people view the world and is used to define every aspect of those around them. “People like fear. We all want to be frightened and we all want somebody to tell us how to live” (Unknown Terrorist 166). Fear is the means through which the unknown becomes palpable in a time of uncertainty, and when societal forces capitalize on fear, art needs to go beyond the recognition the media spectacle provides to critically engage the topic and bring about an ethical solution.


Dillon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dillon said...

I like how the article states that fear can be used from societal forces to take advantage of its citizens. Part of the reasons why I hated the Doll’s character in the beginning was because she became a prisoner of fear. Fear is so ubiquitous that reading it from a character is irritating; I don’t want someone just to be a victim when I’m reading to “broaden my horizon”. It reminds us what we hate about ourselves, just standing by, not being our own agent of change.

However, the Doll finally stands up for herself in the end, overcoming fear, initializing change. So, in that sense, it made the book for me. I knew the Doll’s character change was coming and her actions in the end were heroic.

In relating to the article, we can be controlled by fear or we can overpower it. The book shifts from a realistic point of view to a more artistic point of view when the doll makes that character shift. Everything seems more allegorical with the hail falling from the earth and the Doll’s conviction to make change. So, the argument that art creates change is made by this book because fear and realism was the theme of the first part, and art and change was the theme of the end.

The book inspires us to be agents of change in some way with our lives. Otherwise, what’s the use of our existence? Why do we even live if we don’t have something to contribute? These questions posed by the book seem to mimic Flanagan’s frustration with societal forces in Australia, thus his “solution to the problem” would be the art of his writing in this book.

KLamm said...

In addition to fear, one of the main topics of this book is the idea that love is not enough. In my opinion, the definition of love can be seen in the relationship between a parent and child- pure, honest, and unconditional. Using his portrayal of this relationship throughout the text, Flanagan brings up an important question- Is it possible to live without love in your life?

Nick’s relationship with his children is first seen when he is watching his children sleep (pg. 71). But even as he stands there, his mind wanders to his affair and loveless marriage. He might have cared for his children, but they never had a true relationship. Richard Cody, at a point when he begins questioning his success and the purpose of his life, only wants to be near his son (pg 198). This is the first mention of Cody’s child, and because we never actually see contact between them, Flanagan leaves the impression that Cody and his child are estranged. In addition, The Doll is never able to have a relationship with her child. He could "never let her knwo she loved and was loved" (pg 247). Also, the Doll had no contact with her father (for good reason) and his expression of love towards her as a child, if you could call it love, was sick and twisted.

All of these relationships are contrasted with a sense of pure, real love seen in two random strangers in the book. First, the Doll sees an African mother gaze at her child with a “slightly complacent, slightly stupid, completely undeniable look of love” (pg 224). Another mother is seen later, this time with a child giggling and “look[ing] up at his mother with the broad, open face of complete trust and love” (pg 261). Even the relationship between Wilder and Max, although not perfect, shows the love that each of them have for the other.

Neither the Doll nor Richard Cody have a relationship with their children, and neither of them survived. Nick, although he lives, has had suicidal thoughts (pg 73), and his life feels empty and meaningless. With these conclusions, Flanagan is making a bold statement that a life without love is basically death. One needs love to have purpose, fulfillment, and life.

lilyofthefield09 said...

On the subject of fear, I agree that the Doll became of prisoner of her fear of what the media was portraying her to be. But I think that Flanagan showed her to be a prisoner of fear from the firsts few moments we meet the Doll. She was afraid to be herself. "The Doll was a pole dancer. She was twenty-six, thought routinely claimed, as she had been claiming since she was seventeen, to be twenty-two." (Flanagan, 5) She was afraid to show the world who she truly was, and so from the very beginning of the book, we see everything from her age to her profession is a way of hiding from people.

When she falls into the media spotlight, the Doll's fear of revealing herelf is magnified. She could have gonne to the police or to the media themselves to try to tell the truth, but she was too afraid to tell the world what and who she really was.

I think this book is an excellent illustration of the types of prisons people can build for themselves. Doll's actions bound her to her fate. By running and hiding, she doomed herself to becoming exactly what the media was making her out to be. I agree with Dillon in that we must all be "agents of change". Had the Doll been her own agent of change, she may have been able to step out of her fear and become the person she was truly meant to be.

JE said...

Lily, I would agree that the Doll is a prisoner of fear with in herself. She fears being the person that she has know all of her life. Society does that to all of us. There are so many things that we think twice about becase we may be worries about what someone may think. Society is and A-hole. I understand that I make up for this as well, but it just bothers me so much. Flannagan allowed us to see the pressurs of society and how we fear fear itself. The doll was a great character to shine light of fear because she transitioned stronger into her misery until death. At the time of her death, I beleive that she finally got over it and became aware of who she is. Fear will die with you , but society keeps it going through people's perseptions.

Vijay said...

Just from reading this almost made me sick of the power the media weilds. The media has the ability to take an issue, whether it's a person or event, and completely turn it around. They put there own twist on things just to get an extra couple of ratings. At the same time they victimize others in the process, such as the Doll. They can completely destroy someone's life through gossip and slander, and they don't give a rat's A about who they destroy.

I feel it was such an elevated moment when the Doll killed Cody, because it symbolized that she refused to be a victim of such slander and hate. She freed herself from the bonds of her own prison.