Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Street performers - sometimes creepy, always entertaining!

Have you heard the expression

"The job was handed to him on a plate"?

This probably wasn't what you were thinking of ...
photo credit: D.Watson
or perhaps the performer had received advice on

"How to get ahead in your career"!
photo credit D.Watson
Are you talking about me behind my back?
photo credit: D.Watson

Various careers require excellent balance and poise, though some might say of this man -

"He was sitting down on the job"
Bad puns I know, but street performers seem to bring that out in me ;-)

Seriously though, these artists are worth their weight in gold (oh dear there's another one) and I have huge admiration for them; I also thoroughly enjoy watching the audience discussing the show and trying to work out how it's done.

The performer above not only managed to hold the pose, and cross and uncross his legs, but maintained his composure when one woman practically crawled under him to look up at his bottom to see how he was "magically" sitting in thin air!
A tiny stage, some props and confidence
-  almost all you need to begin!
These modern day performers providing walk-by entertainment are following in the footsteps of an age old form of employment and although the costumes and makeup might be different from what was seen hundreds of years ago, they still need to pull an audience and encourage them to give money, to enable them to make a living.

A fine Jazz group on the Charles Bridge in Prague are not only performing, but selling CDs to an appreciative audience.
A delightfully random piano recital at a railway station ...
This gentleman's kit included a quality sound system but unfortunately there were very few passers-by when I saw him.
Ulm. Germany
All jobs have their particular challenges and street performers are no exception. I found myself wondering how a job advertisement for a mime artist would be worded:

The position

This free-lancing job provides a daily adrenaline rush, inconsistent hours and unpredictable income. You'll be your own boss and must have good planning and financial management to sustain you during the lean times. There is the potential to be 'discovered' and take the world by storm. Would suit a person who thrives on unpredictability, works well alone and has the ability to think on their feet.

Key selection criteria

  • Excellent body control
  • The ability to remain motionless for extended periods of time
  • Proven ability to engage the attention of a distractible, fickle audience
  • The ability to engage people of different ages and nationalities and encourage them to part with money, using only gestures and facial expression - ie outstanding non-verbal skills
  • Enjoy working at different ourdoor locations (known as a pitch) and able to assess pedestrian traffic to gain maximum exposure with as few other distractions as possible
  • Desire to work in varied and changeable weather conditions
  • Have a repertoire of poses to deflect hecklers and those determined to get a reaction
  • Self belief and confidence
  • Skills with make up and costume design
  • A willing accomplice to assist with the set up and dismantling of the equipment
  • Be prepared to put in a lot of time "out of hours" to fine tune the act

  • ... and most of all, excellent bladder control is vital or you'll be scampering in a most un-angel-like way, down from your pedestal, intent on finding a suitable location to find 'relief'.

More information for those wanting to enter the profession: 




Monday, November 25, 2013

On the meme about Irena Sendler

I've come across this meme a couple of times recently and felt uncomfortable after reading it, but hadn't spent much time looking at my reaction or the structure of the wording.

My superficial impression was that it was a backhanded, unsavoury dig at Al Gore, and presumed it was written by climate change denialists.
The reader is being asked to agree that the lady in question acted honourably and selflessly (which I gather the did), yet the wording compares her acts of wartime courage with Al Gore's attempts to raise awareness to the challenges associated with climate change and the need for action.

I felt manipulated. Given how the piece is written, if I agreed that Irena Sendler was a good and honourable woman, then I would have to acknowledge that Al Gore wasn't deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. But like many people I moved on, not giving it any further thought.

However yesterday, I saw the meme again and was directed to a blog, The Daily Mull, where the author had analysed and outlined some of the tasteless aspects of the piece.
Most readers won't even know that a criteria for the Peace Prize is being involved in significant activities during the past two years, and that therefore she didn't even qualify by the basic rules, at the time.
And regarding Al Gore:
They won't bother to find out that it was for all of his "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."
Since then I've done some more reading and found further interesting information. In Examples of Really Faulty Logic, I discovered that what is now a handy-to-forward meme, apparently began as an email which you were encouraged to share (aka a poisoned letter) during a US campaign year. 
the email originated before June of 2008 – about4 years ago – during a political campaign year (gee, could that have something to do with it?)  At that time, it only mentioned Al Gore, not President Obama.  Since it mentions that award (The Nobel Peace Prize 2007), which, by the way, was awarded jointly to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”, that might have been part of the incentive. 
The letter has apparently morphed a few times and President Obama doesn't appear in the latest incarnation. Only the dismissive and poisonous punch line mentions Al Gore and the barely accurate, snide comment about a "slide show on global warming" remain from the original. 

Someone clearly has an issue here and is working to perpetuate the fantasy that climate change is a myth, sneakily planting the seeds that encourage readers to be predisposed to further derogatory, undermining comments and minimising the desperate need for action. 

Despite being recognised and honoured for her great work, Irena Sendler's significant awards aren't mentioned in the meme. 
She has been honored by international Jewish organizations - in 1965 she accorded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem organization in Jerusalem and in 1991 she was made an honorary citizen of Israel
Irena Sendler was awarded Poland's highest distinction, the Order of White Eagle in Warsaw Monday Nov. 10, 2003. 
In 2003 Irena Sendler also received the Jan Karski Award for Valor and Courage. This is awarded to a "person whose substantial life work best exemplifies Karski's valor and compassion, including selflessness, a profound sense of humanity, extraordinary courage and willingness to accept a burden, pain and suffering to save or help others. Clearly, not an insignificant award!

These are impressive decorations, and not to be taken lightly, yet the reader is encouraged to assume that she hasn't been adequately recognised for her work. This is clearly not the case.

If these words and photos were honestly designed to celebrate the life of a courageous woman why are these awards completely ignored?

So now I know why I felt uncomfortable after reading the meme. Irena Sendler's good deeds are being used to degrade and devalue the important work of others. It's undermining. It's not honest. It lacks integrity. It deflects from focusing on the importance of action on climate change, and equally offensively, by manipulating the reader, it detracts from the celebration of Irena's courage.

Manipulation? You bet.
Underhanded? Absolutely.
Nasty? Yes.
Open an honest about its intent? No.
Accurate? Only partially.

Some questions to ask:

  • Who benefits from this kind of meme?
  • What is the real agenda?
  • What am I being asked to accept in the hidden message?
  • Am I being placed in a bind where if I agree with one message, then by default I have to agree with the second message? (In this case that climate change is unworthy of attention)
  • Is there room for complexity and grey areas?

The whole thing is as unsavoury as biting into a crisp fresh apple and finding that it's rotten to the core.

Since writing this post, I've been contacted by Mary Skinner the writer and director of the PBS Documentary about Irena Sendler - In the Name of Their Mothers. Her comment is in the comments section below, and she confirms that the email and meme are indeed not appropriate and would be disliked by Irena Sendler.

In an interview, Mary Skinner talks about meeting with Irena Sendler and encouraging her to be filmed:
"It was very hard for her to talk to be filmed. She was embarrassed.  She didn’t feel extraordinarily heroic. She didn’t like to recount her memories of the war, but we eventually convinced her to give us some time on camera, mostly because we used the argument that the more women, especially young women, learned about her story and the story of these other women that were part of her network — basically teenage girls — the more people will be inspired toward that kind of moral courage. It was essential for people like her to talk and to recount what actually happened, because so many of the eyewitnesses are passing and  we can’t ever forget how devastating that experience was for the Jewish people, especially in places like Warsaw." (my bold)
In the above paragraph, the phrase "moral courage" stands out. It is definitely lacking in both the meme and offensive emails. A person or group who displayed moral courage would be honest and upfront about their motives.

Further information:
Irena Sendler: 


Climate change: http://www.skepticalscience.com/

On sharing memes: