The Australian GIF-Making Co

When my friends and I talk to each other online a good deal of our language is made up by 'graphics interchange format', or what we commonly refer to as GIFs. You know, these things:

^EVERYONE. A classic movie line makes for a classic GIF.

GIFs are an easy, accessible way of showing what we mean or feel about something. If they say something funny, send a GIF of Bugs Bunny laughing. If you made a mistake by revealing your location to them, send a little girl lying in distress in Autumn leaves. Or if you made a really bad mistake, send a repetitive GIF of Sam Dastyari saying "I made a mistake".

Or if you made a really bad mistake, send a repetitive GIF of Sam Dastyari saying "I made a mistake".

Or don't do that because such a thing doesn't exist. There isn't even a meme around of Sam Dastyari saying to the media, "I made a mistake. I made a mistake. I made a mistake." Nor a Youtube video around, despite the amount of TV coverage Dastyari's plight recieved after he "made a mistake" by allowing Chinese businessmen to pay a travel debt he owed.

Fortunately, if you Google image search "Sam Dastyari" then "Mr Bean" comes up as an alternative search option.

Despite all the wonder and joy this brings to me, I remain annoyed at the lack of GIFs/memes/videos available about Sam Dastyari. (How many times do I have to say his name? Enough to impacts search engine results for Sam Dastyari).

The reason for this annoyance isn't simply because I think Sam Dastyari's "I made a mistake" speech (which primarily consisted of those four words strung in that order and repeated indefinitely) but because when I search those four words on GIPHY, it comes up with:

That is, it comes up with some American lady saying those exact same words. Why is this lady first in the order of GIFs? Why can't an Australian be admitting a mistake alongside or instead of this American? Sure, we Australians don't make as many mistakes but, as in Sam Dastyari's case, we do sometimes make big, career-destroying ones.

Okay, let's try searching for some other relevant Australian thing. Let's say... cricket. Here's the first dozen or so GIFs that appear on GIPHY:

Nothing to do with cricket, except for the top left one which is of a guy wearing an Indian Premier League (IPL; a Twenty20 competition) shirt. Scroll down a little bit and there's a few GIFs actually about cricket. Search using Facebook Messenger's GIF engine and you won't find any. Use GIPHY's "sports" section to search for "cricket" GIFs and it comes up with a giant ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ emoji and no GIFs.

A giant ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ emoji and no GIFs.

Okay, now you are probably wondering why this matters so much to me. Is this a point of national pride? Or just a strange fascination of mine? Yes on both accounts, but it's also a matter of language and all that the term means.

Our language is turning American and we're losing the colours and flavours of Australian English. Or as an American would say (write), the colors and flavors. Just writing those words down hurt.

Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing since language has to change as culture changes and develops and stagnates and refreshes. "Selfie" didn't exist ten years ago (that also hurts, using "selfie" as representative of culture), "thou" is an archaic term that barely anyone uses — including in most translations of the Bible. The list goes on (to use a cliché which has developed through our language and culture).

^The selfie culture.

Yet I take issue with the passivity with which we are allowing our language to change.

We are letting our (Australian) language change without much of a thought, indeed without any thought since it seems to happen through the subconscious as American culture permeates our own — through movies, images, books, GIFs. Whenever I hear somebody say "math" instead of "maths" they do so without realising they have committed a crime against language and a little part of me equivalent to the square root of twenty-five dies.

A little part of me equivalent to the square root of twenty-five dies.

I heard once that Tim Winton had to fight an American publisher who wanted to change the word 'ute' to 'pick-up truck' in one of his novels. The reason he fought the change is because he's committed to the Australian language that is essential to his work. To call a ute a 'pick-up truck' would be to Americanise the language and to lose something of the Australian feel to the book. The language that he uses belongs to the place in which he writes, which is why Aida Edemariam thinks it works so well.

Further to changing the location (and perhaps then the identity) of a message, language has an important role in displaying a culture's viewpoint. To quote a quote I wrote down from the October edition of the Australian Book Review, "language is never neutral but rather always betrays an ideological interest and unstated messages". This is always important to keep in mind.

"Language is never neutral but rather always betrays an ideological interest and unstated messages".

If our language is American then we risk having the "ideological interest and unstated messages" of that country/culture transform our own. From the promotion of anti-immigration and isolationist policies (as shown by the recent election of someone who's not that American women shown above) to the repeal of gun control to the further to the detriment of cricket in favour of horribly boring sports like American football. You might not be able to see these things in a GIF of white Americans firing a gun while hosting a college football talk show, but they are most definitely there.

"White Americans firing a gun while hosting a college football talk show"

Is this a bad thing? If we accept it without thinking then the answer is an emphatic yes. It's a horrible thing.

And of course, if this new language of GIFs is American then we risk losing our own one little by little. More so, because GIFs are image-based rather than prose-based (though they can be a combination) they have the ability to promote things more easily, more quickly; movies, TV shows, political events etc.

If we don't have access to GIFs of Sam Dastyari making a mistake, or of Steve Smith's incredible catch or of utes, then we lose access to a lot of Australian culture. But there is something that you, yes you there reading this blog post, can do about it. The best thing about GIFs, other than the fact that they're good for a laugh, is that they are easy to make.

Here's one I prepared earlier:

And now, if you search Sam Dastyari on GIPHY, there'll be a GIF for you to use.

JR


Photo of my Week

Where I post a photo that sums up an aspect of my week.

It's a Christmas tradition in Karratha for the firies to come out and drench the children of the city in water. Now, Sam and I (who are both adults for your information) had no desire to get wet but Dad, the biggest child in the house, did. He's also the fire chaplain which probably explains why he was absolutely soaked by the firies and Santa who passed by in several utes and firetrucks, all hoses blazing (if you'll excuse the pun, because we're talking about fire fighters and blazes and water and such).

I haven't really been out much this 'holidays', but hopefully I'll escape the house for a sunrise or two in the next week. Stay tuned.

Joel Gibson

Read more posts by this author.

Perth, Western Australia

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