Monday, 3 December 2007

Depriving the six million

GG's lecture was advertised to start at 7pm. At 5:15pm, while I was setting up the drinks and food for the pre-lecture reception which we had in the studio of Idlewild Press, I got a phone call from, I think, this man.* I can't honestly swear to the name but that was the organisation. As I struggled up the stairs of the Nicholas Building clutching trays of vegetarian sushi, phone tucked between ear and shoulder, images of Mike Moore's toupee swum through my head, interspersed with flashes of Steve Irwin manfully wrestling a crocodile, Diana being a devious moron, finished off with John Safran and Shane Paxton going through Ray Martin's rubbish bin.

I'm fairly confident the conversation went more or less like this:

ACA: So, Laura, this 'lecture' Ms G's doing today. It's OK for us to come and film it I assume?

LC: Oh no, it's not OK, you see, Professor G has put a great deal of work into her lecture and we want to preserve the integrity of her intellectual property in case she wants to publish it in some form in the future. There will not be any photography or recording allowed in the theatre. But I'd be delighted to see you there, if you have a ticket. It's sold out. All the seats are sold.

ACA: No ticket. But what about the other journalists who'll be there? They'll be recording.

LC: No, they won't. They might take notes, you know, Pitman's and stuff.

ACA: Taking notes is recording.

LC: No it isn't. It's taking notes.

ACA: (silence)

LC: But thank you so very much for your interest in Jane Austen. It's really gratifying to know that a national investigative journalism program recognises the significance of Austen's writing for the modern world.

ACA: Yes. It's very unusual to not allow recording in a lecture, what's the reason for that?

LC: It's not that unusual. I don't let people record my lectures. Only the University.

ACA: But what's the point of having it if we can't film it!?

LC: ....Well.... the six hundred and fifty people who've bought tickets to come along and listen to Professor G speak for an hour on Jane Austen, they can probably see a point. It's not often you get to hear a world-class Australian intellectual discuss Jane Austen before her home-town audience. I think there is plenty of point. Not before Jane's home-town audience, I mean.

ACA: But imagine if six million people could see it, what about that. You're depriving them of their chance. Their only chance.

LC: Yes I suppose so. But how wonderful that you think six million Australians are interested in hearing about Jane Austen! She's popular, but I never would have thought she had that many fans! Do you think I should look for some extra tutors for the Jane Austen seminar next year?

ACA: Goodnight Laura.

LC: Goodnight! And thank you very much for your call.


M-H said...

I'm surprised that the university didn't insist on being allowed to record it (on sound tape, at least). Pretty well all visiting and special lectures are recorded now at Sydney and can be downloaded as podcasts. But I guess visiting lecturers can object to that.

lucy tartan said...

Well I guess different institutions have different views about these things.

Our partners in this whole conference (VATE) have had experiences where speakers have had their talks recorded against their wishes so it was agreed that there would not be recording at this lecture or at any other part of the conference.

For my part I was surprised that there would be any expectation that recording would be allowed as a matter of course. It's been observed (rightly) that if you make things available for nothing they can be treated as if they are worth nothing, which is not the case in this instance.

peacay said...

ACA: But what's the point of having it if we can't film it!?

Bravo! That's the sort of logical imperative that makes the 6.30pm timeslot the vanguard of Australian intellectualism.

lucy tartan said...


Ampersand Duck said...

Congratulations on being so poised in the face of such sliminess.

And what peacay said.

Mindy said...

That showed em!

Meredith said...

Love how you kept bringing it back to Austen, when of course ACA was only interested in Greer.

Nabakov said...

"But what's the point of having it if we can't film it!?"

He said that like it's a bad thing?

Elegantly handled Laura. Miss Austen would have enjoyed that exchange. Just a shame you didn't um...record the conversation.

M-H said...

I agree with you - the idea that everything should be available to everyone all the time is becoming hegemonic and unable to be challenged. BTW, you and Helen have been noticed by the ABC too. Maybe someone who was there would like to leave a comment for them.

Tim said...

Ah, Martin King, ACA's answer to Marty di Stasio. Or was Marty di Stasio an answer to Martin King?

Anyway, impressively handled.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully done.

kate said...

As soon as Martin King starts giving his work away for free (which is after all what it's worth) the rest of us will too. In the meantime, he will have to share in my disappointment that no ticket means no entry.

Hil said...

Great story! So glad the gig went so well, Laura.

Zoe said...

Just a shame you didn't um...record the conversation.

Maybe she made notes?

and goodonya Laura

Anonymous said...

But did you see that ACA did a nasty hatchet job on Professor Greer on Monday night? I almost didn't tell you, because it meant that you'd know I was watching it - but I only saw the end of the item, whwn they condemned somebody (some publication?) for declaring her woman of the year. ACA thought that it was an insult to Jennifer Hawkins, who would have been a worthy winner.

jj said...

Unlike perhaps most of your commenters here, I find the notion of Melbourne University and Greer's requirement that lectures be preserved for some future potential publication completely farcical. 650 tickets? And did you check whether people had recording devices or mobile phones for recording the lecture on entry? I'd have enjoyed the no doubt furious response of Greer that her intellectual integrity (which has been at best, shakey, for a decade or so now) had been compromised when she discovered her lecture on YouTube, with a dozen comments beneath it proclaiming it irrelevant rubbish.

Academics need to get over the whole notion of preserving their intellectual property from public performances. If the work is worthy of further publication then it will only be enhanced through prior exposure. If, as is more likely to be the case here, the work is substandard, vague commentary without any appreciation of modern interpretations of Austen's work, and the author is preserving IP rights merely to prevent critical responses, then it is an exercise in simultaneous arrogance and cowardice.

ACA may not have been the ideal candidate for recording the event, but at least it may have brought to the masses, a profiling of one of our literary treasures.

I hope that the elitist perspectives communicated in the commentary thus far for this post do not continue. As an academic of 12 years standing, I find them abhorrent. Further, I find the glorification of Greer quite extraordinary when she has delivered very little of substance, and a great deal sensationalist twaddle in the past twelve months of her ventures into the mainstream. When she returns to genuine and reflective (and responsive debate) I will listen. In the meantime, I think the less heard about her, the better for the reputation of Australian scholarhsip.

lucy tartan said...

Slow down, JJ. A number of factual errors in your comment which I'll correct. For an academic of twelve years' standing you have over- and mis-read what's written here in a way that does you little credit.

"I find the notion of Melbourne University and Greer's requirement that lectures be preserved for some future potential publication completely farcical."

the University of Melbourne had nothing at all to do with this event, and Professor Greer didn't make the stipulation about no recording (although she did decline an earlier approach made by the public broadcaster, which was fine by us, since we only asked her to come and give a lecture and that's exactly what she did): recording was forbidden by the joint decision of the Austen conference organisers and our partners the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English. This decision was taken because past experience has shown that speakers whose work is recorded and published elsewhere are not reluctant to take action against event organisers as well as the org that publishes.

Of course some people will have recorded it, but as they've been expressly asked not to, it's out of our hands.

As for the 'no doubt furious' response of Professor Greer to learning her lecture had been recorded, I actually think she would probably not give a damn. As she herself said when we met her on the evening of the lecture, she was not doing anything shameful. But you, JJ, for reasons best known to yourself, want to construe the situation as 'an exercise in simultaneous arrogance and cowardice.' (JJ...stands for what again....?)

One point about ACA: had they called the day before, or even before midday, I would have tried to accommodate them. But there is an infernal cheek in making a request of that sort less than two hours before. And you know what? Other journalists were present, journalists who'd bought their tickets, or rang and asked to be admitted, in good time. I spoke to one in the foyer afterwards who told me he didn't think he had enough to write a story about. 'I haven't read Mansfield Park', he said. With hindsight I think ACA may have wanted some tape for the story the commenter before JJ mentions. I'm not under any obligation to sort them out with that.

You don't seem to have been at the lecture itself. I'm disappointed but not especially surprised that you feel you have a clear enough grasp of what its content was to dismiss it as likely to have been "substandard, vague commentary without any appreciation of modern interpretations of Austen's work."

And finally, I disagree with you that a public lecture is not a 'public performance' or 'prior exposure.' Whenever I give a lecture myself I feel profoundly exposed. It's only reasonable to assume that the audience who shows up to these things is composed of people in a position to critically evaluate the argument. Microphones were provided for 'responsive debate', and were even used.

'Elitist perspectives' - you say that like it's a bad thing!

sexy said...