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  • lydiajulian1

Prying eyes, camera lies and unclear images

In 1948 George Orwell wrote an ominous novel predicting the destinies of citizens in the post-War world.

In the same year photo-finish technology was used for the first time to decide the winner of the Melbourne Cup.

Many in Flemington’s stands were surprised when the new invention of science revealed that the outsider Rimfire, ridden by a fifteen year old apprentice Ray Neville, who turned sixteen the day after the Cup, crossed the line ahead of the more favoured Dark Marne.

Orwell’s prophesy about a dark world where governments sinisterly controlled the freedoms of individuals was called 1984, apparently because Orwell reversed the last two digits of 1948 to write of a dystopian future. So dire were his descriptions of government and bureaucratic control that the phrase ‘Orwellian’ entered our lexicon as a synonym for behaviour that stifles freedom and liberty.

In 1948 I suspect people trusted the camera far more than they do now, even if they held a winning ticket on Dark Marne.  Whilst it was believed that the camera could never lie and a “picture was worth a thousand words”, Orwell reminded us that malevolent government manipulation of what the public saw was possible.

Behind the Iron Curtain there was plenty of corroborating evidence. The diminutive pock-marked Stalin never allowed himself to be other than the tallest man in government approved images, beaming God-like radiance with a flawless complexion over his people. Let’s not forget that ‘west of the wall’, many Americans only saw photographs of FDR during his Presidency that conveyed an image of upright and vigorous leadership, when most of his days saw him confined to a wheelchair.

The arrival of the latest suite of camera technology has only further weakened the integrity of the printed image: cropping and shading changes are just the peripheral aids to doctoring of an original image. Literally, there is no image that cannot be created or distorted. The ability to manipulate images to dissemble truth from the viewer is the visual corollary of ‘fake news’. Whom to believe and trust has become a cardinal question of our times.

I am mildly relieved that I am of a generation that are not able to tell whether a photograph’s shadow is in the right place, let alone the limbs of its subjects. Remember the phrase, to take something “on good faith.”?

The last week has seen the world grapple with the latest episode of “finding the truth” and it has centred on the British Royal family.

The late Princess of Wales, Diana of Spencer , continues reign her influence from beyond the grave, sprinkling paradoxes on her descendants like confetti. Diana craved privacy, but was only too happy to occasionally let the world know her most intimate personal crises. Having let loose the paparazzi, editors et al to share her life, she was astonished the wild dogs of the media could not be controlled, or that interest in her life would not instantly diminish when she wished.  Diana’s American daughter-in-law has failed to recognise the fatal flaw in that modus operandi.  You cannot have the benefit without the burden. If you seek publicity, you cannot become indignant about attention being directed towards you.

Herein is the dilemma that Diana’s heir Prince William has wrestled with in recent days and months. How much personal information should a member of the Royal family be required to disclose for public consumption? Everyone knows that the social contract the public has with a Royal is profoundly different from that of a “typical citizen.” Prince William, wishing to protect his wife and family, initially released details of his wife’s “abdominal surgery” and her necessary retirement from royal duties.  That may be enough for most of us, but inevitability a welter of speculation erupted about the Princess’s health. In a world that conspiracy theorists turn quickly rancid, rumours abounded. The admission that the Princess’s  Mothers’ Day photograph was doctored only served to make the rumours more febrile.

Maybe William should have taken some lines from his father’s playbook. King Charles, has long been an advocate for a more “modern” and ”empathetic “ Royal family. Having waited longer than any other British heir to ascend to the throne, he had to live out his wish within a remarkably short time of becoming King. Charles communicated to his country that he had been diagnosed with cancer following a routine prostate examination and would be waylaid from his royal duties. 

Having recognised his stratified place in the public eye, his candour seems to have generated respect and good wishes from most.  I suspect it may have been the same for William and Kate. Ever since the days of Diana perception of any sort of official ‘cover-up’ by the Palace has created public displeasure. All royals, like our politicians, must accept a conditional right to privacy. Better to attempt to control the narrative than not.

August this year will be the 50th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s ignominious resignation as American President following the Watergate scandal. It was not so much the burglary that destroyed ‘Tricky Dicky as the cover-up.

Speaking of taking lines from an established script, is it only me that has great suspicion about the circumstances of the recent tragedy in Moscow where gunmen opened fire in a theatre, killing over 130 people?

Barely a week after his farcical re-election as President of Russia for another six years with 87% of the popular vote, Putin lays the blame for the attack at the feet of Ukrainian sympathisers of ISIS.  

Rewind almost exactly 91 years ago to Germany. The German Parliament, the Reichstag, is set alight.

Hitler, still shackled by parliamentary restraints, accuses his greatest enemies, including Communists of the arson. In the blink of a legislative eye, statutes are passed culminating in the Enabling Act, which enabled Hitler to suspend parliamentary democracy and begin his demagogic Reich. Naturally, Ukrainians must be to blame for Moscow’s bloodshed. After all, Putin says so. Orwellian, indeed, whether it be 1984 or 2024.

1984 was also a sinister year for the tennis world, but not in a way that we associate with the common meaning of that word. In Roman times, the word sinister referred to left-handers. In 1984 two left-handers, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova unleashed a spell of sinister dominance never seen before and unlikely to be seen again.

McEnroe had the most successful year of any male player in the professional era. He played 85 matches and won 82 of them. As with all things McEnroe, it was a combination of the best and worst. His 6-1 6-1 6-2 defeat of Jimmy Connors in the Wimbledon final is considered by many to have been the finest grass court display of all time. Weeks earlier in Paris, McEnroe had let a two sets to love lead against Ivan Lendl slip in the final after imploding with rage about the behaviour of a courtside cameraman.

Navratilova played 80 matches and won 78 of them. It was a remarkable encore to 1983 when she played 87 matches and lost only one. In 1984, she set an unbroken record for men and women of 74 consecutive victories in Singles matches.

She won her sixth consecutive Grand Slam title at the US Open, joining two other ‘Ma’s’- Maureen Connolly and Margaret Court- as the only players to have done so.  Her US Open victory over Chris Evert in a stirring final -4-6 6-6 6-4- took her ahead of Chris in their majestic rivalry 31-30. It was to end 43-37 in Martina’s favour.

Denied a calendar year Grand Slam in the semi-finals of the Australian Open by Helena Sukova, Martina won a calendar Grand Slam in doubles with Pam Shriver. 1984 was the foundation of their unbroken record of 109 consecutive Doubles victories, a run which ended in 1985.

Both McEnroe and Martina participated in the famous ‘Super Saturday’ of tennis at the US Open, where the two Men’s semi-finals and the Women’s final saw seven and a half hours of tennis played from 11.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m.. Both won their respective Wimbledon Doubles’ titles.

There are thoughts that Jannik Sinner may have an equally stellar year. He still might; however, he has lost his first match of the year to Alcaraz in the Indian Wells semi-finals. Alcaraz won the Men’s title event decisively over Medvedev in the final as did Swiatek over surprise finalist, Maria Sakkari, in the Women’s final.

For most of the ominous year of 1984, McEnroe and Navratilova were the image of tennis perfection.

How remarkable it is as Holy Week commences that millions will continue a tradition of thousands of years by placing their faith in someone of whom we have no definite image.

What we do have is Jesus’ faith, his convictions about how we should live as humans and Christ’s sustaining messages of love and forgiveness.

It is in these messages, untroubled by distortion over the centuries, that we find our greatest hope of rolling back Orwellian darkness.

A happy and Holy Easter to all.











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