Saturday, 31 January 2015

Protecting a dead man's reputation at the expense of a trailblazing woman's.

Australian best-selling author and neurophysiologist, Colleen McCullough, best known for The Thorn Birds and Masters of Rome series, died on January 29.

News outlets around the world paid tribute to her passing, and her incredible contribution to Australian literature. Whether you read her books or not (The Thorn Birds sold an estimated 30 million, Rome sold even more), she was a trailblazer.

Yet one newspaper got it badly, badly wrong. The news came in late at night, so journos would have scrambled to put a story to press. The Australian did a sterling job on the lead pages, then grabbed a pre-written obituary (this is common in daily newspapers, where many obits are prepared in advance) and ran it on page 9.

That's when "the fertiliser hit the ventilator". This is the opening paragraph. Read it and scream.

COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”
In a nutshell, The Australian obit told women that no matter what we achieve in life, we'll always, ALWAYS, be judged on how ugly and fat we were.

It also told us that even though we might be ugly, by some miracle some people might even end up shagging us? Now there's something to look forward to!

It's a day later. I am still angry. I've gotten rid of the f-bombs in private. I have tried to read the obit in full, but I can't get more than a few paragraphs in without red mist falling down over my eyes.

(I've just locked myself in the swear-room and let off some more f-bombs, to keep this post clean).

Then things got seriously insane.

Crikey media made a call. A source at The Australian said the obituary was pre-written and that the obit writer himself was now dead.

 A source with knowledge of the matter declined to name and shame the writer.
I'm sorry, what? Your obit writer is himself dead, but you won't name him. You won't name a miserable, no-talent cog-in-the machine? Possibly to protect his reputation? Because he can't defend himself now that he's dead?

My irony gland just exploded, because this is the same newspaper that was happy to fat-shame Australia's most successful author, who herself is unable to reply because, oh yeah, she's dead.

So, this is an editing failure, then? A pre-written obit wasn't read before going to press and going to internet. Because it went out to the internet. It is STILL THERE!

(breathe, breathe, take off the ALL CAPS)

Somebody must also not be reading the tweets The Australian sends out, because this was tweeted to The Australian's 255K followers, with that sexist bollocks of a first paragraph right there (dear GLOB, she sold 30 million copies of The Thorn Birds, but the very first paragraph focuses on her looks and weight!).

We have serious problems.
Sexism is alive and well, and people will keep making excuses for men responsible for such awful, casual sexism. Even dead ones!

The good thing to come from this was the #MyOzObituary comments on twitter. Gleefully sending up the newspaper for focusing on women's looks ahead of achievement, people wrote some dazzingly good 140-character character-assassinations.

As of 10.30 am Saturday, January 31,  The Australian is yet to apologise.
I can't imagine why. It's not like they've got a reputation to worry about.


Rebecca said...

[F-bomb] pre-written obits are such a morally wrong practice to begin with, but what the [f-bomb] was that [f-bomb]-unknown-author thinking when they wrote the f-bomb thing, anyways?!? Sexist, to say the least. I'd hate to speculate on all the [f-bomb]-ing ways they've discriminated against the majority of the human race. This has made me horribly (again, [f-bomb]-ing) sad.

Ebony McKenna. said...

I understand the need to have an obit file on notable people who are in their twilight years. It's distasteful but it's common practise to have files that are updated - but to publish it without a read-through first, as this *must* have been (because they can't honestly have read it and said it's fine?).

Off to smother some more f-bombs myself.

Lyn said...

OMG, WTF? I still can't wrap my head around that particular paragraph being present in any obit, famous person or not.
I understand having obits pre-written, but when did they do the editing (certainly doesn't look like ever in this case). And as an aside, since the writer of the obit is dead, what if Colleen McCullough had lost weight after the obit was written?

Seriously, a person's own opinions of another shouldn't be in an obit at all.

Ebony McKenna. said...

I'm currently face-planting as people on twitter are asking 'what all the fuss is' and thinking it's 'not that bad'. Oh pluhlease!