AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ELEPHANT & EMPEROR

Bec Bignell

Sorry guys, this is not an open letter *fake news* … Everyone reads open letters, they get a fair bit of traction, so I lied to you to get your attention because exploitation is a major theme of my article and I wanted you to understand how it feels from the very start.

Ordinarily, I’m pretty laid back - like to have a laugh, take the piss and I’ve drawn on humour as a means to disguise the elephant so it can linger happily hidden in the room. After reading this article http://www.smh.com.au/comment/the-australian-media-industry-operates-a-protection-racket-for-men-like-don-burke-20171127-gztgu3.html written by Tracey Spicer and in the wake of the Weinstein files and my own personal brush with dodgy dudes I was finally nudged into action. I no longer have the energy or impetus to help Dumbo remain hidden- he’s exposed and he’s huddled like a startled rat in the corner of the room with his old mate, the Emperor, who isn’t wearing clothes…ironic right?

Spicer’s relentless investigative work has greater implications than merely outing individuals - it’s critical in overhauling the entire entertainment system, a system that’s evidently fundamentally flawed. Anyone who’s ever tried to overthrow a dominant, established system knows well the plight ahead.  Warriors of worldly change are often like a rogue fly that hurtles towards the electric fly trapper light with passion and ferocity only to meet a brutal fate. They’re aggressively zapped, convulse dramatically, their wings shrivel and they’re fried into a very public example of death by confidence to caution anti-establishment rebels in waiting. Fellow flies bury their heads in the sand and remain crawling up walls- why buck the trend when you’re capitalizing off it? The elephant and Emperor high five each other in the depths of the dimly lit room against the dulcet tones of periodic zapping…

I’ve shimmied out of this room- I developed an intolerance to corporate cool aid, so I registered a business name and found myself knee deep in the start up world with a bag of digital dribble on my back and a hat on my head. (I legit purchased a cap and my boyfriend said I looked like a knob so I raised him two on the knob notch and bought a pair of black-framed glasses and a subscription to slack because I'm a millennial entrepreneur so you know, I do what I want…) While it's all well and good to incubate in incubators, arrange and rearrange colourful sticky notes and listen to all the latest podcasts about all the latest podcasts this whole start up thing actually involves a lot of elbow grease which they failed to share at all those rousing tech talks where they preach about achieving unicorn status in the land of digi paradise. In short- I missed the memo because I was lost in a reverie about unicorns dancing over stars. Don't get me wrong- I was raised on a farm so I’ve got no objection to hard yakka- it's just that the work I've got ahead of me is not going to be littered with glitter and rainbows because, like many start ups (and just like Spicer) I'm suggesting an alternate way of doing things- a reimagined system - so I'm dancing near the fly trap and I’m kind of haunted by the fried fly graveyard.

One of the major motives that propelled me from the safe zone to the danger zap zone was that I became very disillusioned by the incessant lip service about leveraging women and other marginalised voices. I'm sick of seeing the same dominant narratives told by the same dominant people and I'm so fatigued from overcompensating across a burgundy board table every time I'm presenting to the 'decision maker' who is a middle aged bloke. NB- I'm a rooky at this controversial stuff so I'm going to caveat the latter by clarifying that I'm not claiming that middle aged blokes broadly are bad (hell, some of them are my biggest supporters) I'm just saying that the stats prove women are grossly under represented at the top and when most of the bigwigs sport a Rolex and a Y chromosome it just gets decidedly boring. I got so sick of yawning and yarning about the issue that I took matters into my own hands- I figured I’d just try to do it myself. I designed my business Cockatoo Colab with Marius Foley, who is as fascinated with human centred design as I am with audience centred work. We are inspired by this ‘crazy’ idea that maybe we can drive diversity by asking audiences what they want and by working with them directly, instead of acting on behalf of them. Hold the phone- we’re going off the grid and we might not come back alive…

We hope to make an attempt to bypass the linear, power-poisoned system all together by flipping it on its head. We’re aiming to work with communities in totally interactive and collaborative ways to develop stories that start with diversity at the outset, not as an after thought. We want to develop an environment that encourages multiple perspectives, multi-media, multi-platforms, new media, new ideas, new designs and do it all sustainably so people can develop skills to tap into their own voices and tell their own stories. We desire to release the talent on the fringe that ordinarily gets forgotten by a system largely controlled by the Weinsteins of the world. We’re not underestimating the task we’ve got ahead- we know we’re up against it and we know that we’re going to face a barrage of resistance but we’re sweet with that. We like to think it might probe robust discussion and we think that awkward conversations, tension and constructive chat is heaps better than having everyone agree with us because that limits diversity and undermines what we seek. Plus we’re entrepreneurs so we love free feedback as much as we love free wifi (or free anything- broke AF).

The stats suggest attention spans are shortening so suffice to say you’ve checked out now and haven’t made it to the punch line. In the spirit of storytelling (the heart of Cockatoo CoLab) for those of you that did scroll on I’d like to reward your interest and investment with an anecdote. One of the communities we created, Rural Room (a media space designed for regional Australian people that started on Facebook and quickly grew to 60,000 people) has launched a program called the Rural Room Media Stringers, to attach our regional talent to creative projects happening locally. The media stringers cover a diverse range of stories to showcase their life and people and the initiatives in their communities such as a video story covered last week by Gab Leake and Josh Van staden (two young, upcoming regional creative talents) about a Ravensthorpe Regional Arts Council initiative, supported by the Regional Arts Partnership Program, where they brought an internationally recognised dancer into the region to keep dance alive within their remote pocket of Australia. In the same week, another of our media stringers, photojournalist Kate Davies, wanted to cover the Yaraka BnS in Northern Queensland and was keen to be supported by a videographer. The Yaraka BnS was brought back to life by a group of young dynamos with a view to raise money to increase awareness about the impact mental illness has on regional and remote communities. Kate tackled the long stretch of road while I tried to resource a videographer in the face of claims that I was ‘off my head’ because Yaraka is 16 hours north of Brissie. The Rural Room community were not deterred- the post spread like wild fire among the network and blow me down, from the depths of whoop whoop Kirstie Davison dropped us a note. Kirstie is an experienced videographer and journalist who lives just one and a half hours away from Yaraka. You wouldn’t read about it (expect that you did). Kate and Kirstie got together at Kirstie’s house for a conference call to talk logistics the day before the event. I called the landline (mobile reception up that way is a daily challenge itself) and the women were sitting at Kirstie’s table brainstorming their approach. They had never met and yet they instantly slid into a cooperative team. Accommodation at the BnS (what little there was) had been booked out months in advance, I launched into an apology and Kirstie cut me off, “Bec- we don’t expect five star Hotels-it’s the bush. We’re taking our swags and we’ll park our utes under a shady tree. We’ll make it work and get it done.” Sure enough- they did. They worked seamlessly together through the night, got some momentary shuteye in the morning before they helped hand out bacon and egg rolls and got back on the dusty. The stories were emailed to me well before deadline and were high quality and extremely professional- just like the women themselves.  

The point is- we actually don’t need your system to empower us, because we will empower ourselves, we will always ‘make it work and get it done’ because that’s what women do. What we do implore is that you step up to our level and try to genuinely understand where we’re coming from and take us seriously. You can further our cause by putting your money where you mouth is- signing off the proposals that might be outside the box but give new talent (even that located in the middle of the outback) and new ideas some much needed air time. You can look outside your traditional strategies and boards and business offerings and misconceptions about who we are and what we stand for and just give us some props for being so effing brilliant and so effing resilient despite jumping repeatedly through hoops and taking the sh*t on the chin. You can lift us up and champion us on because Spicer and I, and millions of women the world over, are chipping away at the system so it will change despite your desperate attempts to keep installing ugly carpet to sweep all the skeletons under it.

Here’s what’s up- rent is really high nowadays and the elephant and Emperor will be hard pressed to find a vacant room to creep in during this coming era. We say good luck to them (we’re not vindictive) but success is the best revenge and if the future has us at the helm then it’s as bright as the light we’re flying towards.  

Bec Bignell1 Comment