What the same-sex marriage debate is about

There’s a postal plebiscite about to happen in Australia, asking if we should allow same-sex marriage in Australia.

The Yes side of the argument is quite simple: gay relationships are legally and socially accepted in Australia and given all the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual relationships – except those tied to marriage. An inconsistency in the law that needs fixing.

The No side of the argument is a bit weirder. There isn’t an argument being put forward for why gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married. Instead, topics not relevant to the question are raised, like religious liberty, freedom of speech, school curriculum, or already settled laws about who can raise children (these laws are state, not federal, and gay parents across the country are already raising children within the law).

It’s like two completely different topics are being argued by the Yes and No campaign.

The real crux of the debate (that only one side is willing to say out loud), is this:

Same-sex marriage will further the acceptance of gay people in Australia.

The Yes side of the debate wants this, because gay Australians are just Australians like the rest of us.

The No side doesn’t, but given same-sex relationships are already widely accepted in Australia, they know that argument will make them look bad.

Next time you see the No campaign put an argument forward, ask yourself two key questions:

  1. Is the argument actually about same-sex marriage, or is it about something else?
  2. Is it just a cover for not wanting homosexuality to be accepted in Australia?

The plebiscite result will communicate to the Australian gay population, and to the rest of the world, where we stand on accepting gay Australians. Make sure you vote.

Awkwardly Timed Nationalistic Celebration Day

Want to scare an Australian? Want to instill a deep, soul-sucking fear that will chill them to their core?

Suggest changing the date of a public holiday.

For a fair while now, indigenous Australians have been pointing out that if we’re going to have a day celebrating our country, maybe we shouldn’t make it on January 26, given that’s the anniversary of the day their genocide started.

Which seems like a fair point. Given how much we’ve shafted them over the years, it does seem pretty morbid to celebrate our country on the day they lost it to invading Brits.

No big deal, right? We just shift it to another day, and make it a celebration of all of us together, yeah? January 16, maybe. Whatever. Pretty much any other day of the year would be fine.

But something bizarre has been happening. Instead of just accepting this unbelievably simple and valid request, Australians have been going to war against the idea on social media.

The childish gut reaction of “no! I don’t wanna!” has turned into an unending series of dopey racist arguments like:

  • hey we weren’t alive then, so not our fault even though we’re still reaping the benefits, why should we have to slightly adjust our calendars?
  • they’re playing the victim card, just because we started slaughtering them by the hundreds of thousands on January 26
  • it’s a day for everyone to celebrate together, they need to stop whining and join in the party on their day of mourning
  • things weren’t a complete utopia before we arrived, so we totally didn’t do anything wrong
  • they should just get over it and move on, while we go cook some more ANZAC biscuits
  • racism will go away if we’d all just stop talking about race, according to white people who don’t suffer from racism
  • it’s good we got here first because other invaders would have been worse than us, like the Japanese, because apparently people want to double up on their racism
  • or, my favourite batshit crazy one: they should be thankful the Brits arrived and improved their lives, because apparently a military force appearing and wiping out three quarters of your population is a sweet deal

All of these arguments are both dumb and irrelevant.

The simple fact is, we did something horrible and we’re still reaping the benefits. We’re consuming stolen goods, right in front of the few remaining original owners. You’re munching on a stolen Mars bar in front of the shopkeeper, indignantly yelling at him you owe him nothing because someone else stole it and gave it to you.

This is not subjective. This is a matter of Australian and international law. The Brits were only allowed to settle here because the land was claimed empty – terra nullius. That claim was overturned by the Australian High Court back in the 1990s.

But you know what? We don’t have to leave. We can stay here, in the homes we grew up in. There’s not really anyone seriously asking us to do otherwise.

We just need to move our day off, slightly.

Some of these crazy yahoos say that it won’t be enough – we’ll do that, and they’ll just ask for other stuff.

Maybe. Maybe not. Who gives a crap? That’s well within their rights. We royally screwed them over. We killed most of them. We took their land and resources. We’re nowhere near the point of unreasonable demands – and the current one takes near zero effort to fulfil.

If they do ask for anything else, we can talk about that. Shifting a holiday really is the very least we can do. Pathetically easy. But people are still crapping their pants like angry toddlers about it.

Grow the fuck up. Change the date.

Pavlova photo by Katie Humphry

Spoiler policy: a refresher

A lot of people seem to have little understanding of what is appropriate regarding spoilers. True, we live in a time that makes spoiler policy more complicated. We can’t rely on people having seen the show as it airs; the word ‘airs’ is becoming irrelevant. We also have social media, where you can post a comment that gets seen by hundreds of your friends whether they wanted to see it or not. It’s time to go over exactly what you should do when you’ve seen episodes of a show that someone else may not have.

Discussion of episodes is a marvellous thing and we should have more of it. And letting people know which shows you’re excited about is a great way to help them spread. But if you do it in a way that screws up people enjoying the show, the whole exercise is self-defeating.

So what do we do?

First, it’s important to get one thing very clear, as it underpins this spoiler policy: you are an idiot.

You are not smart. You are not clever. You are not Joss Whedon or George RR Martin. You have no idea what you are doing.

Now we can proceed.

When is it acceptable to talk spoilers?

We don’t have the simple “X days from air” scenario we used to have. Not only is it irrelevant in a post-broadcast world, but people watch TV differently now. Many save up episodes and binge a whole series at a time. You never know where people are up to.

So here’s the new rule:

  • You can talk spoilers with people you have directly established are up to the same point as you.
  • Otherwise, shut the fuck up.

That’s basically the end of the policy. Nice and simple, isn’t it? Just don’t say anything. It’s pretty obvious, but because people are stupid, they try to circumvent it. Here are some methods they use.

Making cryptic references

Just don’t do it. You don’t know how. It’s like having a beautician rewire your house. Leave electricity to the electricians, and leave the storytelling to the storytellers.

People find it fun to throw tiny bits of information they think doesn’t actually spoil anything, for some reason. Some kind of bizarre “I know something you don’t know” urge they have left over from being 6, and haven’t moved on from.

You need to understand it doesn’t work. It just makes you look like an idiot, and anyone with a passing understanding of story can reconstruct the entire episode based on your one “cryptic” hint.

I have no idea
This is you.

The same rule applies here: just shut the fuck up.

Level of importance

You might think some kinds of spoilers are harmless. You think you can get away with dropping facts or hints about the story that aren’t clear plot elements. You can’t.

Because you’re not a storyteller, you don’t know what does and doesn’t matter. You don’t know what elements intrinsically point the story in one direction over another. Storytellers put all these things in for a reason, they’re not just filling space.

Don’t think you know how that works. Just shut up.

For dumb shows

Sometimes a show turns out to be really stupid, or have a really stupid twist no one likes. When this happens, people tend to relax about spoilers. It wasn’t enjoyable for me, so why does it matter if it’s ruined for someone else? They wouldn’t have enjoyed it either.

Let’s go back to first principles: you are an idiot.

Maybe you didn’t understand the twist. Maybe you individually didn’t like the direction that takes the show. But you are one person. One idiot. Don’t assume your response to it will be the same as everyone else’s.

You may have noticed people have different tastes. You may, if you’ve been paying any attention while on this planet, have come across a scenario where you hated a movie and other people seemed to like it.

There’s a familiar rule you should apply here, can you guess? It involves shutting the fuck up.

Whether spoilers matter

Much like someone who has kicked a puppy complains that the puppy shouldn’t have been in their way, you’ll often get numb-nuts trying to justify spoiling people.

They’ll usually point to one of those studies that find a lot of people’s appreciation of a story is increased by knowing what happens.

Nope. Doesn’t work.

Firstly, yes, re-watching something knowing what happens is a good experience. But it’s a different experience. If you haven’t been spoiled, you get two good experiences. If you have, you only get one.

Secondly, studies give you an average. They don’t dictate what everyone enjoys. Pushing spoilers on to someone because a study says they might enjoy it more is like demanding someone eats fish when they’re allergic to seafood. Most people like fish, right?

Keeping everyone happy

There’s a reason we use the word ‘spoiler’. Regardless of whether or not you’re meaning to spoil it for someone, that’s what you’re doing. Giving away a key plot point to a good series is like taking a crap on someone’s dinner. It’s a pretty horrible thing to do to the person who wanted to eat that dinner, and it makes you look like a dickhead.

You’ve seen the episode and enjoyed it. You want to communicate that enjoyment, and that’s great. But don’t destroy that enjoyment for others.

Don’t assume people have seen it. Don’t make cryptic references you will screw up. Don’t assume what is and isn’t safe. Don’t decide what others prefer. Just shut up, and let people enjoy the series.

Victim-Blaming & Rape-Permitting

The R word, being discussed in a blog post written by a man. This rarely ends well.

Any time you discuss the topic it’s bound to get heated. Any topic that involves such trauma for both the victims and the people connected to those victims is going to be a powder keg, no matter how well-intentioned those discussing it are.

Last week, and not for the first time, the suggestion of women being able to avoid rape by avoiding particular scenarios – like binge drinking – was raised, and discussed quite a bit.

I figured I’d take a crack at explaining the issue in simple terms, and I’m also going to suggest a new way of talking about it.

The Good News

This is a debate where both ‘sides’ agree there’s something horrible going on, and both sides don’t want that horrible thing to happen. This is actually an excellent starting point. There’s not many public debates where both side A and side B want the same result – in this case, both sides want to stop women getting raped.

But arguing out of well-intentioned care doesn’t mean you’re right, and it doesn’t mean you’re not causing more harm than good.

Theory A

The suggestion, on a very basic level, seems like a sensible one:

  1. A lot of rape happens when women are drunk
  2. Therefore don’t be drunk

So what’s wrong with that?

First, it puts the onus on the women to not be drunk (something she has every right to be), rather than the rapist not to rape (something the rapist doesn’t have the right to do).

The natural response to this is that much like you can’t reason with a rabid dog, you can’t reason with a rapist. Women have to be the proactive ones here because we can’t offer advice to rapists, by the nature of a rapist they’re not going to listen to it.

The problem is a rapist isn’t a rabid dog. A rapist is a human, and a human who is part of our society, whether we like it or not. In the US, around 2/3 of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Not a stranger, or a cultural outsider.

When a rapist hears someone say a raped woman shouldn’t have been wearing those clothes, in that place, he doesn’t hear that someone put themselves in the path of a rabid dog. He hears that the fault lies with the woman, not the rapist – so as a rapist, he’s not so bad. He doesn’t think of himself as a rabid dog, something taken as a given by non-rapists.

He’s just going ahead with what everyone seems to agree is inevitable. He didn’t decide she was going to dress like that. This is her choice. What did she expect was going to happen?

That’s our context.

Theory B

The problem, and its solution, are therefore:

  1. A lot of rape happens when women are drunk
  2. This is because our culture makes rapists think rape isn’t that bad
  3. We need to change our culture

You might say that in the short term we could avoid a lot of rape by telling women not to get drunk. But this just perpetuates the real problem: a culture that says rape is the woman’s fault, by only talking about her choices, not the rapist’s.

New Term Required

As much as we’d like to, we can’t discuss social issues in a bubble. Rapists aren’t some outside alien incursion, they’re people living alongside us.

Victim-blaming, and victim-shaming, are big problems. But those terms don’t seem to be communicating what the problem is to a lot of people, and still makes the whole issue about the victim. So let’s instead say rape-permitting. By suggesting a drunk or ‘immodestly’ dressed woman bears responsibility for a rape occurring, you’re giving rapists permission to rape those people.

Plenty of people will still argue that regardless of the scenario you’re best off acting in a particular way to avoid a horrible scenario. But remember, communication isn’t about what you say, it’s about what is heard. Rape isn’t some fringe issue, it’s a huge problem in the West. When you make a statement about rape, that’s the context you’re stepping in to, and rapists are listening.

Binge drinking is a problem that needs addressing. Rape is a problem that needs addressing. But blurring the two issues is not only illogical, it does more harm than good.

Ideas are overrated

Two things I’m involved heavily in are web & app development, and filmmaking. In both of these growing fields you often hear people talk about ideas like they’re worth something. They’ll be amazed at an idea behind something successful, or dismayed when someone else is successful with an idea they had first. They’ll talk about talented people in terms of them having “great ideas”.

People often say things like this to developers:

“Hey, I’ve got this great idea for a (web/app/compact four wheel drive). How about you build it and we split the profits?”

This ingenious business proposal generally causes the developer to laugh a lot.

Here’s the thing: ideas ain’t worth shit.

Execution is what matters.

It’s a big world. Everything you think of has probably been thought of by someone else. The difference between ideas that become successful and ideas you never hear about are how well that idea is bought to fruition.

Speaking of fruit, Apple are a classic example. There’s nothing special about their ideas, broadly speaking. Pretty much every successful Apple product had a competing predecessor. They took a established ideas and built products that actually worked. It wasn’t the ideas that redefined the market, it was the execution.

On paper, there wasn’t anything especially significant about the iPhone. Not only were there already phones with all those features on the market, there were phones with a lot more features. So why did the iPhone turn the market upside-down? It wasn’t because Apple are fashionable, or because the iPhone was a great new idea.

It’s because they executed designing a phone so well. They didn’t just put a web browser on there – they put a web browser on there that let you browse content made for a bigger screen in an intuitive way. They didn’t just put a camera in there – they developed a way to browse and share photos from your phone that felt right. They didn’t just add an email app – they made it unbelievably simple for an average person to set up accessing their existing email account from the iPhone.

Despite what a lot of people think, Apple are a massive success because of how much they value execution over ideas – if they can’t get the execution right, they won’t put a product (or feature within a product) to market. Many other companies flail about trying to make money off ideas that were good, but they could never quite get right.

“I’ve got this great idea for a film. It’s going to be really good. No, I haven’t written the script yet.”

New filmmakers, or people who talk about being filmmakers, say they think they’re going to do well because they have some great ideas. Anyone with any real experience in filmmaking internally snorts when they hear that.

If you’re going to be a good filmmaker, you don’t just need some good ideas, you need a crapload. Because the really important part comes when you develop an idea. That’s when your initial ideas get winnowed away and you need new ones to keep building your story.

No one cares if you have an amazing idea for a film or TV show. No one’s going to hand you a bunch of cash for an idea. Turning ideas into something that actually engages an audience is a process that takes skill, patience, and a lot of hard work.

And that’s just getting to the point where you have a script – let alone shooting and cutting it.

It’s worth mentioning that in Australia, ideas literally aren’t worth anything. You can’t copyright an idea, you can only copyright work. If you tell me an idea for a film, I can make that film and owe you nothing. If you write a 3-page treatment for a film and I make that film without asking, you can sue me, because you actually created something that I stole.

So why do people talk about ideas like they’re what matter? Simple – it’s hope. Ideas are seen like winning lottery tickets. Humans are always looking for a shortcut. It’d be great if you could just come up with an original idea and money started flowing into your bank account.

But that’s simply not the case. Apart from a few odd examples here and there, every success story has years of hard work behind it that you don’t generally hear about.

People love hearing the stories of products that take off and make the creators millionaires overnight, but you don’t hear about the sacrifices it took to get to that night.

Ideas are great. Ideas are important. But they’re just part of the process. Don’t mistake them for something of value. Learn how to execute your ideas, and then you’ll be getting somewhere.

The next business model for TV series

It’s clear the current business models for TV won’t last much longer. The internet, particularly as it gets faster, provides a much better method of delivering video content to an audience. The concept of a piece of content only being available at a specific day and time before it disappears in a puff of radio waves already seems ridiculous.

But those dying models work, economically. We either pay for the TV we watch with advertising space, or with a monthly fee for cable. What we’ve done very little of is pay for an individual series – at least, one we haven’t seen yet. Buying individual shows won’t ever work at a large enough scale.

Doom-sayers believe the rampant piracy through mechanisms like BitTorrent show that people aren’t willing to pay for content. These people miss the reason people pirate.

The bottom line is, price aside, piracy has provided the best user experience. Once you get past its initial complexities, you can get the content you want in a timely manner, and watch it when and how you like. Current commercial models have been unable to compete with this.

But a lot of people aren’t watching long form content online at all – their online video experience is limited to cat videos on YouTube. This is because of the current gap in many homes between the internet and the big TV sitting in the lounge room. Who wants to watch an episode of Homeland sitting at their laptop? And who on earth would pay for that?


What the hell do we do, then?

Other markets have shown that if you get the user experience right, people will happily pay. The success of Steam, the iOS App Store, and the Amazon Kindle are excellent examples.

The question becomes, what is the magic combination of:

  1. the right user experience
  2. a pricing structure that users will accept
  3. a revenue level that makes creation of content sustainable

Old dog, new tricks?

I believe the answer lies in shifting the existing cable TV model into a new user experience.

While free to air networks in the US are struggling, the cable networks are doing pretty well. This is because their business model rests on smaller, niche audiences. If a free-to-air show gets a million viewers in primetime, that’s a disaster. If a cable show gets a million viewers in primetime, it’s paid for itself. Some shows that would have been highly successful on cable, died on free-to-air.


People won’t pay for individual shows – but they will pay for cable. It’s because it offers them choice. People don’t want to lock themselves in to paying for a particular show, but they’ll happily pay to have access to a group of shows, and bet on a big enough proportion of them being entertaining.

That brings us to the second reason people pay for cable – curated choice. People get HBO because they know they’ll get damn good adult drama. People get SyFy because they want science fiction. People get the Lifestyle Food Network because they like watching people cook things.

There’s so much content available now – from cable to free-to-air to YouTube – that audiences struggle with choice. Cable networks deal with that through their natural process of curation. They’ve already thinned the herd to find the best content that fits their library.

The cable model already provides the money, the content, and the curation of that content. But how do we move it online?

Old dog fails

Currently, cable networks have been coming up with their own streaming solutions. The results are crap, because getting user interfaces right is hard, and it’s not what cable networks are good at. Most of them have terrible interfaces people hate using. And even when they’re not too bad, they’re all completely different, making the process of watching a show convoluted. Can I get that network through the hardware I have? Which box plugged in to my TV do I use now? And which app?

There’s no simple one way to just watch some TV, like you have with broadcast. That’s what users want. A single, simple interface for browsing and watching all the content they have access to.

But cable networks don’t want to give up all their content to someone else’s brand. They don’t want people associating their shows with Apple or Microsoft. Cable networks are their content. HBO is annoyingly protective of their shows, but it ultimately makes sense. If people don’t realise the content they love comes from HBO, why would they bother paying for HBO?

Hey, what’s that new dog doing?

Let’s look at Netflix for a moment. They’re doing insanely well. People streaming Netflix make up over 30% of primetime internet traffic in the US. They’ve created a user experience people love, and a working business model to back it up. They’ve put themselves on every bit of hardware they can – from Xboxes to Apple TV’s to televisions themselves. They’ve made it easy for people to get watching in the place people want to watch stuff – the lounge room.

They’ve also moved from just collecting existing content to creating their own, with shows like House of Cards and the new season of Arrested Development.


But there are problems with Netflix’s approach. They don’t charge very much, meaning original content is rather unsustainable. They often don’t get key content people want (such as Game of Thrones), or they get it much later, due to cable networks protecting themselves. And despite Netflix’s recommendation engine, it’s a big vat of content that is difficult to wade through.

New dog, meet old dog

I believe there’s a solution that could work for everyone.

Netflix is currently acting like both a platform (delivering content with a good user experience) and a network (creating content like House of Cards).

They need to split these two things up. Let’s call them Netflix and Netflix Originals (a term they use for their own content already).

Netflix could offer their platform at a base monthly fee with their existing archive included, and Netflix Originals thrown in as their first network. Users could then pay to subscribe to other networks to be delivered through the Netflix platform.

Content from a network could be very clearly marked as such. When you’re watching Game of Thrones, it’s clearly branded as from HBO, in both the interface and the video itself. The latter already happens with HBO content through their distinctive static animation we all know so well.


This means users just pay for the kinds of content they want, not one big subscription fee for a lot of content they don’t. Through the one, simple interface, they can access all the content they’re paying for. But they can still narrow it down to a particular network within that interface, so when they’re in the mood for some complex adult drama, they can head straight to the heavily branded HBO section.

Of course, the big issue is that it’s entirely reliant on Netflix as a platform. But it doesn’t have to be – Netflix is just the example.

Who let the dogs out?

Once we’re distinguishing between platform and network, it shouldn’t matter which platform you’re using. You could be paying HBO for you subscription directly, then access that subscription through Netflix, or Apple TV, or Lovefilm, or an Xbox. We could have a virtual equivalent of the cableCARD system – allowing subscribers to access the content they’re paying for through whatever platform makes most sense for them.

It leaves us in a great market position, for everyone. Platform creators are competing on user experience. Networks are competing on content, and not having to worry about creating user interfaces. Users are happily paying their subscription fees to the platforms and networks they use, as they’re getting the best possible user experience. Which means the networks have the funds to create more content, and hopefully the content people actually want.


Of course, it would take a lot of wrangling to get such a system to happen. But the technical side is relatively simple. It’s just about getting the business deals right. Given such a system would be good for everyone, the optimist in me hopes that’s possible.