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Community highlights

The Conversation receives a lot of comments each day and you can’t read everything. That’s why we occasionally end the week with a selection of community highlights: comments we enjoyed or thought interesting. Read on for comments and discussions from five articles I thought worth highlighting.


Alice in Wonderland at 150: Why fantasy stories about girls transcend time

Ben Marshall offered up his view on why Alice in Wonderland so enduring, looking at its construction humour and intellectual elements:

Yay - another article on one of my favourite books.

But you didn’t answer your own question - why have Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland become so important in the canon?

It’s not a hero’s journey, because Alice is unchanged - tbh, she is largely a cipher, though with an admirable dour spunk and sass. Neither is she any more vulnerable than a boy of similar age. Neither is ‘Alice’ quite a fairy tale, though it uses many of the fairy tales’ storytelling tropes.

I suggest that while Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were intended as a diversion, a mere fantasy to enthrall, when Dodgson wrote the thing out in its final version, it became a satire.

The behaviours that Alice encounters are variants on universal human themes, and Dodgson wanted to be instructional and entertaining in equal measure. What I suspect he didn’t realise, and would’ve been arguably appalled by, is that to do both these things - entertain and enlighten - he inadvertently lampooned precisely the institutions, authority and high office he overtly defended in his professional life. He’s on record denouncing the mocking of precisely those things he mocks in Alice.

The other aspects that keep Alice an enduring pair of tales are the playful use of paradoxes and mathematical references. Alice is probably the most quoted book for chapter headings in my bookshelf on the sciences, not just those on physics, math and cosmology, but also the biological sciences.

Dodgson’s imagination was rich, and this synthesis of all he knew of life, and all he desired to gift to the young girls he was in love with (and, yes, that’s a story in itself) made Alice more multilayered than most books before or since.

Whether he was aware of all this, or whether the reader picks up on more than a fraction of it on first reading, I’ll bet Alice lasts another 150 years with ease.

Meanwhile, Jena Zelezny took a more cultural and psychological approach, exploring what the book says about the lives led by young girls:

Interesting Michelle. Thank you. I wonder whether these dreamlike/liminal states are what the writer conceives as some sort of rite of passage/transition from the freedom of childhood and the absence of manifest sexuality to a more responsible reconciliation to the realities of young womanhood/sexuality/marriage and childbirth. Dorothy reconciles her aversion to the boring black and white austerity of Kansas and Alice’s growing pains and fears are transposed metaphorically into a journey. I’m sure these thoughts are not new and it is significant that both stories were written by males.


Alcohol advertising has no place on our kids’ screens

Sherilene Carr discussed her experience of trying to raise children in a world with alcohol advertising and wondered who really benefits from it all:

So we ignore all the research on the influence of alcohol advertising on kids drinking because we don’t want a nanny state. And we blame parents for failing to prevent their kids from seeing alcohol ads. As a parent myself, who likes to watch AFL on TV with my kids, I can tell you that this is almost impossible. And I’m not going to read every Rolling Stone magazine before my daughter gets it in the post so I can remove all the alcohol ads (and there are many). And I’m not going to look over her shoulder every time she’s on the web to make sure she doesn’t see any of the pop-up alcohol ads there too. You argue that it’s ok for kids to be exposed to alcohol ads because it makes no difference to them - they can’t buy it. But kids are drinking, and they start as early as around 12 years and binge drinking is common in teens aged 15-17 years. Recent research from the US shows that underage teens even have alcohol brand preferences, and these preferences are associated with alcohol advertising they see on TV and in magazines. What’s important about this research is that it shows that alcohol advertising is seen by kids (the same deal here in Australia, especially during sport), and it influences their behaviour (brand choice). Given what we know about the harmful effects of alcohol on children and adolescents - violence, sexual assault, preventable (aka stupid) accidents - does it seem sensible that the alcohol industry should have its way and continue to spruik its products to the next generation of drinkers? The only ones I see benefiting from this arrangement are the shareholders.


Explainer: what is genderqueer?

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow shared her and her daughter’s experience of transgender issues:

I’m the mother to Crystal Love Johnson, a transgender person from the Tiwi Islands. I really don’t care about the distinction. Crystal is my daughter, and unless she ever signifies she wants me to refer to her as ‘he’, I’ll happily respect her choice. What’s more important to me is Crystal as a person. She put herself on the line with her efforts to prevent suicide among teenage boys on the Islands. Besides that and her other attributes her gender pales into insignificance.

It’s been Australia’s hottest ever October, and that’s no coincidence

Paul Tikotin put Australia’s hottest October in context of weather extremes:

In a stable situation, we would expect to see record highs and record lows happening at about the same rate.

That is not what is being measured at the moment. We are seeing more record highs than lows; just what we expect if the average is increasing. There is no ignoring of the downside records, it is just that they are outnumbered by the upside records. This is the point of the article.

So, we expect an increasing average; our physics based models tell us that. We measure the increases, thermometers in the oceans and the air tell us that, and now, as expected we are breaking more records on the upside. You can therefore understand why most atmospheric scientists believe that global warming is occurring.

Now the effect is quite delicate at the moment and cool weather is not about to go away soon. So what should scientists do? Wait until no more downside records are broken? If the BOM were to wait until the end of the day to discuss the day’s events, it would be of no use as a forecasting body; so too for longer range forecasts and predictions of global warning. Given the potential cost of some consequences of warming, to ignore the signs would be to be irresponsible.


How many classes does it take to describe Australians? The answer may surprise you

Lena Rodriguez offered up a view of class that goes beyond income, and wondered what that could mean for people growing up in contemporary society:

Why income is not an accurate measure of class: We now appear to be at a crossroads where professionals may be earning a high income but have substantial debts and should they lose that job they could spiral down quickly. Also middle class parents are likely to be subsidising their adult children in perpetuity - thus keeping the ‘kids’ in a middle class lifestyle but at a price. As a university lecturer I ask my first year students what class they think they belong to: about a third say working class and two thirds middle class. My challenge to them is: if you - or your parents - did not have your regular income for 6 weeks - or lost a job,and couldn’t find another immediately, would that impact on your ability to pay for a roof over your head? If so, it would suggest you are actually working class because you are dependent on your job’s income to maintain the lifestyle. Then, if you didn’t find a job within a year, you would rapidly be approaching joining the Precariate: Australia’s fastest growing group. If you add the underclass (intergenerational welfare dependency, long term illness, significant under-employment etc) to the Precariate the real figures are quite shocking. Labour conditions in Australia are eroding quickly across all sectors - it’s entirely possible our younger workers will not know job security - without job security, many other factors including family stability, mental health and deterioration in housing options begin to sap away people’s capacity to contribute to the social matrix … and on it goes.


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