Friday, May 28, 2004

Mediated Fear, or Fear Mediated?

I saw something scary today, and what I saw raises a fundamental question, and a particularly relevant one considering that I myself am a student of media: Are fears of the Other prompted by the media, or does the media support our existing fears of the Other?

Blink and you'll miss what I'm trying to say.

Anyhow, here's the whole story, so you can judge for yourself which side you believe in.

I went to Federation Square today to interview Ms May Hu, head of the Mandarin department in SBS radio for my Writing Journalism subject. After my interview, I left Ms May at approximately 3pm. As I was going down the stairs however, I looked up and I saw two men of Middle-Eastern features in the floor above me. One of them was video-taping the interior, and I think I stared for several long seconds as my feet continued downstairs. Basically, what I saw just freaked me out, what's with the Jack Roche case still ongoing, and so Middle-Eastern guys video-taping didn't sit well with me at all. I dare say the situation was made worse cause when I entered the building several minutes before two, there was practically no sense of the building being secured. No guards, not one person of authority in sight, and the guy at reception didn't even offer me a glance when I walked passed. I took the lift up to second floor with no one questioning my reasons to be present.

Now I know FS is a so-called tourist spot, but surely with all the talk about Terrorism, it pays to be vigilant? I mean, as far as I'm concerned, anyone can just waltz in and drop a bomb or whatever, leave and no one inside would be the wiser.

Anyhow, leaving aside my concern for the moment.. I reached the ground floor, and for several seconds just stood staring at the reception, thinking whether to approach them or not to tell them about my fear. There were now three Australians behind the desk, and one visitor (?) in a suit. I was thinking to myself, do I tell, or do I not tell? Am I in the right to be suspicious or had I react in a prejudice manner simply because they *looked* Middle-Eastern to me? I mean, they might have been Malay, or Indian, though my first thought is Middle-Eastern. And as I said a little while back, if not for the Jack Roche case, I doubt if I would have been so concerned, or given it as much thought as I am now.

But in the end I left, cause I felt, FS *is* a tourist spot, and if they were indeed tourists, I didn't want to be accused of being racist. Cause I think I am having racist thoughts right now, am I not?

But that's not the end of the tale. As I was walking towards Flinder's Street, I still couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling. Finally, I thought to myself, okay, I'll just go back and see if they're still there and perhaps have a closer look. I continued towards Flinders, and as I arrived at the foot of the stairs, I saw them approaching. I was freaked out when they abruptly turned around.

Now, it could have been that they came the wrong way, and there are still about a million innocent reasons for the sudden about turn. However, I dare say they recognised me. I mean, how many Chinese girls in denim could there have been that day? And they did see me stare at them as I was coming down the stairs inside Alfred Deakin building, so if they were feeling guilty, not having me see their faces clearly might have been a sensible thing to do.

Now, you might argue that all these *nonsense* could have stem from my imagination. I mean, I admit I'm a fan of mystery novels, but terrorism is very real. And to be very honest, I was already way beyond *normal* suspicion, and my mind just went berserk. I walked up, and tried hard not to appear that it looked as if I was staring at them. Inside I was thinking to myself, to follow, or not to follow? Now I'm only a girl, and I've no intention of playing hero.

Anyhow, so they went to the opposite end, continued video-tapping a bit more, and finally turned the corner towards the cafe, and left. During the time they were in my line of vision, they did turn back a couple of times, but I don't know if they were looking to see if I was following, or what. When they were finally out of sight, I just stood there, staring at the big screen that was flashing words at random. I can't remember half of them now, but there were some words that read fish, chips etc. Several young teenagers (I think they were mentally disabled) were running and shouting. So yeah, to me everything present had became very, very sinister and uncanny. And the sky was dark and gloomy. So yeah, talk about the worst time of atmosphere!!

In the end I walked towards the cafe, then onwards towards Swanston Street to see if I could spot those two, but they were long gone. I don't know what I would have done if they were still in sight. Maybe I deliberatly gave them to 'escape', I don't know. But whatever the reasons behind my actions may be, I walked home after that.

It's almost ten hours since the incident and I still don't know if I should have said something. I written down my concerns for future references. But for everyone's sake, I hope I never have to use it!!!!

Anyhow, to complete the story, a brief description of those two men: The one video-taping was wearing a brown (suede?) jacket, and the video-tape strap was hung on his right shoulder. The other guy wore a blue sports jacket, with a sling bag across his right (?) shoulder. They looked about late-twenties to mid-thirties, but then, I'm not expert. Both were also well-built, average height, probably about my height, 5' 7". Again, to be very honest, I will most likely not be able to identify them again if I met them in the street.

Anyhow, at this stage, I don't know if I've made any sense. I mean, it's 12.58 p.m. over here at Melbourne (my time is in the M'sian zone), so my mind isn't really at its sharpest. But then I don't want to leave it till tomorrow to pen my thoughts down, although technically it *is* tomorrow now.

I don't know, should I have said something then and there? I saw another Chinese lady video-tapping, and I think I was captured on camera film by someone else, just cause I was in the line of vision.

One of the biggest worry I'm having now is simply that security was 100% lax at FS.

Then again, can I, and everyone else for that matter, assumed that things are dangerous based on skin colour? Indeed, should, and can people be allowed to video-tape whatever they want? I don't think there is a law forbidding them to do so.. So yeah, I don't know. Am I in fear of the Other due to watching too much news (and I do watch a lot of news!!), or has the news reinforced an unconscious (?) perception of a fearful Other?

I don't know.

But you know what's the most ironic part of the whole experience? Part of my interview was to question whether Australia's Multicultural identity is shaped by the media, or not. Looks like I'll be needing some expert advice!