LivingTheDream_SquareBy STEVE MASCORD

ON Boxing Day – the day after Christmas, American and Irish friends – I found myself in a leafy backyard idyll on northern fringes of Sydney.

My sister was celebrating her 40th birthday. The poor girl shares my dark hair, pointy nose and vaguely round face – though not my scruffy beard, thankfully.

Around her were eight of her nine brothers and sisters. Some were entertaining children, others nursing beers …. huh? What? Yes, I did say ‘her’ brothers and sisters.

They were not my brothers and sisters. They do not share the physical characteristics described above, that I share with her. My sister and I were each adopted out – to different parents, in different cities – while infants.

I did not know my sister existed until 2006.

Let’s go back 24 more hours. I am north of Brisbane, marking Christmas with my other sister, the one I grew up with. And her partner. And her daughter.

Not ‘his daughter’ – because my sister’s relationship is about 16 years younger than she is . My niece also has a boy and a girl who were once strangers, then became her brothers and sisters and are now … somewhere in between because they were the offspring of my sister’s ex-boyfriend.

See those dots “…”? They are what this column is about.

What words do we have to describe family members? Mother, father, daughter, son, brother, sister, cousin. Then add “great-” and “step-“.

I have a great grandfather (biological) who was wounded at Gallipoli and survived. My great grandmother – who nursed him back to health – already had her kids when her first husband died in the First World War, so I am not biologically related to my great grandfather (from the family I knew nothing of until recently).

But if I can be proud of the grandfather in my adoptive family, who also fought in the Great War, don’t I therefore have the right to feel a similar sense of pride and belonging about the man wounded at Gallipoli, with whom I also share no blood?

Language is supposed to serve us. It is supposed to reflect the culture it serves. As all sci-fi nerds know, Klingon has no word for “love” but a single syllable grunt that says “I’m sorry sir, I killed the prisoner”.

But language can also inform and drive behaviour. You may not be a racist, but if you use bigoted language in front of your child, he or she is at risk of becoming one.

When it comes to family, our language reflects what we want family to be: the mythical nuclear unit which is actually quite rare. I know from my family history that relatives for whom there was no word – or if that word was, say “bastard” – were cast out.

The untidy growths on the family tree were callously clipped and never spoken of again.

We have cracked down on racist and homophobic language because we accept words inform behaviour. But we still say mother, father, son, daughter as if they are the only worthy roles in a family.

There should be a specific, short terms for “brothers and sisters of my biological sibling, to whom I am not related” or “siblings from my parent’s failed relationship who remain my friends”, “My biological uncle’s children from a previous relationship”, “relatives by marriage of my adoptive family”, etc, etc, etc.

“Step-“ is dismissive. As a prefix, it wants the subject to go away with no further explanation.

I’ve tried to kick things off by referring to my biological family as the “biofam”. “Adoptofam” sounds kind of crappy though, so I’d appreciate some suggestions there. My girlfriend calls the children of her siblings “chiblings” (‘niece’ and ‘nephew’ have no collective, sex-neutral assignation).

My point is this: that which we have no word for, we cannot discuss. This isn’t familial dysfunction, its human reality, a reality which was pushed under the carpet to the enduring misfortune of millions for centuries.

When we change our language, we will forever escape our shame.



TRAWLING through Facebook today, I found a paid post by the music news website Loudwire. “Very sad news for Marilyn Manson”. it read, with a link to the site.

“Oh right,” I thought,, “I wonder….” Hang on …. no, surely not. They’re not…. really? Yes they are folks: Loudwire were using the death of the rock singer’s mother, Barbra Warner, as click bait.

For the uninitiated, it works like this: you’ll remember the days when headlines told you what was in a story. Sometimes, they even said things that weren’t, or were barely, in the story. That practice has been getting journalists in trouble for a century or more.

But now, in an environment where no-one is buying papers and journalism is collapsing, the trick is to pique the curiosity of the readers on social media to such an extent that they cannot resist visiting the website being promoted by clicking on the link, hence the term “click bait”.

The number of page views dictates the fee charged for advertising and the fee charged for advertising dictates whether the site is profitable, the reporters get paid and the relevant information is disseminated.

Another post on Loudwire‘s Facebook page reads: “Foo Fighters are full of surprises these days, including one very big one over the weekend! Details here:”

The death of Marilyn Manson’s mother, to the chimpanzee churnalist sitting in Loudwire‘s office, was no different to Dave Grohl’s latest song, video or reality TV show. You just apply the formula: leave out the most important fact and people will come to the site in droves. That’s social media doing its job: you don’t give away that which you are selling, do you?

I complained.

“Guys this is very distasteful click bait. To use the death of someone’s mother to get a page view by withholding information in a facebook post is, at best, a serious misjudgment, and at worst morally bankrupt. Where will all this end?”

And later, also from me:

“Imagine a photo of four kids and a heading ‘one of these children was hacked to death” you gotta click to find put which one, giving the website a page view. THAT’s where this is heading unless some decency is applied.”

My comment was liked 230 times. That made it the top comment, giving it a prominent display on a post that Loudwire pinned to the top of their page because of its popularity. They did not change the tasteless wording of their post; my criticism of it was helping it attract even more “engagement”!

I’ll let that sink in: a media outlet has been called out for immoral behaviour. Hundreds of readers agree. The outlet highlights the criticism without responding to it – because the criticism simply attracts more readers.

That’s the world we now live in. For all the disdain of traditional media, this sort of amoral, exploitative behaviour would have a newspaper, radio station or TV network severely censured. But for social media, any publicity really is good publicity: venom and hate grease their wheels much more efficiently than praise. Websites and Facebook pages simply don’t care; they are malevolence incarnates.

Every person that challenged me in the comments under the Manson story, I engaged. I tried to explain click baiting … over and over again. Louis Minnett seemed to think I was accusing Manson himself of exploiting his own mother’s death by writing and posting the item himself.

Loudwire are in charge,” I responded.  “How stupid do you think I am? That Marilyn Manson goes posting stuff on music news websites? Helloooooo….”

Then I received a response that stunned me almost as much as the post’s crassness. It’s a comment that made me think social media will eventually become an intellectual ghetto, where the anti-social and gormless will be left to canibalise each other in a sort of electronic leper colony.

Jay Padalecki: “ha…..Steve…’re so smart…Steve Mascord for president…..steve posting “stuff” on Facebook. Hellooooooo….”

In other words, if you’re so smart, why are you interacting with idiots like us? Leave Facebook to me and my fellow imbeciles…..”


A QUICK note about this column.

I am 45. I’ve never been married, have no kids, no car, no mortgage. Pretty much everything I have ever done for work, I would have done for free. I am abiding loyal to one person above all others: my 18-year-old self.

I try to make him proud every day. I do not save, I currently do not even pay rent in any one place, let alone own property bigger than that couch I have in storage.

I have an idealistic perspective on just about everything. I expect people to tell the truth, do what’s fun above what is profitable, try to get the most out of life, and be vitally interested in others.

I think I probably revel in my own naivety. I see the world very differently than you do.

Yet all I have ever written about is rugby league and rock music. So this column is about everything else. If you think I’m selfish, say so below and I’ll write a column about it. If you think I’m going to be lonely in old age or that I’m sad or shallow or naive or stupid or ugly or a loser … great topics for the next Living The Dream.

I might not be living the dream. I might be dreaming my life while you’re living yours’ … in which case, you can help me grow up.