What makes music boring?
Fleet Foxes, the National, Bon Iver, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: my friends really rate these bands, but I’m a bit meh about them. In What Makes Music Boring, Steven Hyden notes that describing a piece of music is boring doesn’t refer to its inherent characteristics, but simply means that it didn’t resonate with us. When Hyder thinks a piece of music that other people like is boring, his main feeling is disappointment, rather than superiority because he’s more discerning or has higher tastes.
Non-fiction writers, particularly reviewers and journalists, tend to frame their critique around a piece’s supposedly objective qualities. It’s true that expressions like ‘I feel’ ‘I think’ ‘It seems to me’ ‘I guess that’ can be tiresomely repetitive, and come across as self absorbed. Representing things as personal opinion/experience, rather than fact, could also be perceived as undermining the reviewer’s authoritativeness: i.e. why don’t they just back themselves by making a judgement?
In my view, non-fiction writing that takes a experiential, subjective approach is more meaningful. Debate and analysis of facts has its place, but is ultimately limited given that things don’t exist independently of how they’re experienced. I find writing most interesting when the author interrogates their own experiences openly, as well as imagining how others in the story might be feeling.
How did they conceive of the issues they protested about?
Media coverage of the pay dispute between Victorian nurses and the government has so far been limited to recounting the history of the dispute and outlining the competing positions of both sides, with a little analysis. I appreciate that journalists probably don’t have the time or inclination to do a Tom Wolfe or Joan Didion for a state industrial dispute. But in addition to the recounting of facts and arguments, it would be interesting to find out more about the underlying ideological frameworks, perceptions, and experiences of the various participants in the conflict.
It’s a fight of sorts, so the parties in dispute take diametrically opposed positions and argue over the facts. The structure of the situation means that they’re not interested in exploring ambiguities (although perhaps they do need to consider them in anticipation of an eventual compromise). But how do you get the truth when neither of the sides have any motivation to find the murky truth that exists in between their polarised positions?
It’s my experience that being politically active, either party-political or issues-based, makes it easy to jump on a bandwagon. Sometimes you need to. As an advocate, lobbyist, or a decision-maker representing one side of a conflict, spending too much time pondering the grey areas can do your head in.
My instinct is to sympathise with the nurses. The government (simplified version) wants to reduce nurse numbers, replace nurses with ‘lower-skilled’* assistants, and reduce nurse-patient ratios, in order to save money. I’m not sure whether the money saved will be thrown back into the health system. It kind of sounds like a bad idea, doesn’t it? If something sounds like a bad idea, and you don’t have the time to find out the facts, is it fair enough to assume it’s a bad idea?
But surely there are certain tasks, like cleaning, wiping up, etc, that could be done by other workers that haven’t gone through nurse training, and hence are paid less. And is it necessary to have a completely inflexible nurse-patient ratio; are there absolutely no settings where numbers could be reduced?
I really do hate the word ‘efficiently’, I feel like it probably represents an ideology that don’t agree with. But if you’re the government, and you have a certain amount of taxpayers money to spend, don’t you have a responsibility to make sure money’s not being wasted?
There are a few problems with the government’s position though. What are they doing with the money they save? Will it be thrown back into the health system, where the funds are desperately needed? (Sorry if there’s an obvious answer to this that I don’t know, but I’ll bet there’s not). And how will the added ‘flexibility’ by implemented in practice? Given the shonky ways things are often done, it seems inevitable that corners will be cut, and patients’ care compromised. Maybe it’s better to have inflexible rules when it comes to heathcare, even it does mean that the government’s not saving every possible penny.
A friend told me he overhead a conversation between a young nurse and an old nurse on the tram yesterday. You could tell by looking at them that they were really nice people, he said. One of the nurses saw the other wearing a red shirt and then asked if she was going to the protest, and pulled out her own red shirt from her bag, taking it out of its wrapper.
He found the subsequent conversation disappointing. His description of it was something like: Old nurse: Are you going to the protest? Young nurse: Yes. Old nurse: hopefully a lot of people will be there. Young nurse: Yes… and on like this, in a kind of repetitive way. He’d been hoping to hear some discussion about the issues and their perspective on them.
Now it’s not like these guys exist for the purpose of holding ‘interesting conversations’ to appease bored commuters. But this story interested me, becuase when I was at the protest yesterday, I was wondering how many of protesters had formed their views by reflecting upon the issues in light of their own healthcare experiences, and weighing up all perspectives. Or was it more about banding together, doing it for the team?
I always get caught up in protests; they have a grand narrative feeling, giving me the sense that you’re immersed in a reality larger than yourself. I feel like there’s a war and I’m on the right side; a problematic feeling, I think. This one had a wholesome, celebratory feel. The music was perfectly rousing – they were playing ‘I see Red’ – and the protesters reminded me of a lovely, usually political dispassionate mum or aunty who’s been stirred into action on this one occasion by the absolute worthiness of a cause.
Looking at them, I wondered how they conceived of the issues they were protesting about. Were they really passionate about healthcare, with well-worked out reasons why they didn’t agree with any reduction in the ratios? Were they just there to support their mates? Did they have a well-founded feeling, borne of their experience, that actual implementation of the so-called ‘flexibility’ provisions would result in a reduction of health standards?
One thing I found a bit disingenous was that the speakers kept saying this was not about pay, it was about nurse-patient ratios, which was met by loud cheers from the crowd. But if you look at the Australian Nursing Federation’s log of claims, an 18.5% pay increase is first on their list. Conditions are obviously vitally important too, for both patient and nurse welfare, but perhaps it would have been more honest to say that this is not just about pay.
I understand that the issue of respect and resourcing for nurses is intrinsically linked to their willingness, ability, and capacity to do their job properly, which of course affects patient welfare. And I’m not doubting the commitment of nurses, but I do wonder how many would protest if the issue was purely about patient welfare. Perhaps that’s an irrelevant and not entirely helpful question given that nurse and patient welfare will always be interdependent.
*I’m not totally convinced about calling them ‘lower-skilled’, which implies a hierarchy of professional worth. I guess ‘lower-skilled’ could, in this context, mean something that is easier to learn, i.e. it takes less training? But in many contexts, it seems like ‘lower-skilled’ is used as a lazy synonym for ‘paid less.’