February 21st 2009

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Articles from this issue:

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Parenting not something to outsource / Diversity fanatics threaten charities

Anti-rural campaign (letter)

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Coalition differences over Rudd stimulus

Deregulation of wheat (letter)

LABOUR AND JUSTICE: The worker in Catholic social teaching, by Gavan Duffy

NATIONAL SECURITY: Secret Saudi funding of Australian institutions

ENERGY: How Australia can become fuel self-sufficient

TERRORISM: The two faces of Eve - nature, nurture or Islam?

EDUCATION: Non-government schools give parents better value

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Obstacles on the road to economic recovery

Bushfires blamed on global warming (letter)


Valuable contributions (letter)

CINEMA: The Wrestler grapples with life's big problems

CHINA: Chinese unrest in face of massive job losses

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Can Rudd save Australia from the global slump?

CULTURE: The other side of the ledger

OBITUARY: Fred Schwarz, Cold Warrior, friend of Ronald Reagan

UNITED STATES: Supreme Court contributed to global financial crisis

EDITORIAL: Bushfires: when will we ever learn?

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The other side of the ledger

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, February 21, 2009
Were the media really kind to Heath Ledger, when he was alive, in endorsing his lifestyle, asks Babette Francis.

There is a stark contrast in the life stories of two Australian celebrities, actor Heath Ledger and cricketer Matthew Hayden, both subjects of major articles in newspapers in the past month.
Heath Ledger as the Joker
Heath Ledger
as the Joker

Both received standing ovations, Ledger when he won a Golden Globe in Hollywood for his performance as the Joker in the latest Batman movie The Dark Knight and was nominated for an Academy Award, and Hayden when he announced his retirement from cricket.

Ledger's award was posthumous - he died nearly a year ago from an accidental prescription-drug overdose. Hayden performed a lap of honour with his three children, Grace, 6, Joshua, 3, and Tom, 20 months, in a car driven around the Brisbane Cricket Ground, the Gabba, during the Twenty20 international match against South Africa. He was joined at the ground by his wife Kellie.

Hollywood darling

The media have been glowing in tributes to Ledger, both during his life and after his death. Ever since his performance in Brokeback Mountain, a love story about homosexual cowboys, Ledger has been the darling of the Hollywood glitterati.

In contrast, Hayden, following recent batting scores perceived as mediocre, was harshly criticised by cricket-writers along the lines of "Why doesn't he retire now?" This criticism turned to warm testimonials once Hayden announced his decision to retire. The journalists had succeeded in "bowling" the man.

But were the media really kind to Ledger - or to young actors who might see him as a role model - in endorsing his lifestyle or the cultural permissiveness which contributed to his death? In a culture where recreational drug-use is in fashion, tragic deaths like Heath's should be a warning.

His depression following the break-up of his relationship with girlfriend Michelle Williams is one example of the fact that not even Hollywood celebrities are exempt from broken hearts. Heath was devoted to Michelle and their two-year-old daughter, Matilda; but he and Michelle had arguments about his drug use.

So much for the permissive "harm minimisation" policies on drugs of addiction promoted by left-wingers, in contrast to the zero tolerance of illicit drugs with court-ordered detoxification and rehabilitation favoured by conservatives.

Dr Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America suggests that another significant factor in Heath's depression could have been his parents' divorce.

She says: "A wake-up call from the culture is Heath's statement that he felt like he had lived out of a suitcase ever since his parents divorced when he was 10 years old.

"In spite of children's supposed resilience, divorce leaves predictable negative outcomes and father-absence leaves a vacuum that is virtually impossible to fill.

"Heath talked openly about his difficulty in dealing with his parents' divorce; he felt close to both his parents and blamed himself. He said that getting into acting helped him deal with his dark emotions after his parents' divorce."

So much for "no-fault" divorce...

Ledger's friends reported that, before his death, he had become a virtual recluse - he hardly slept and was reliant on sleeping-pills. He told a friend he felt his life was spinning out of control.

For Matthew Hayden the decision to retire was obviously emotional but had many positives. He told his daughter, Grace, while they were in their back garden that he had had enough, and "I want to be here".

"Here" is with family - and Hayden has other contributions he wants to make to cricket, such as mentoring Aboriginal cricketers and putting on the agenda the social issues of players being away from their families for long periods. Hayden knew the stress of being separated from family.

Family is the key to the difference in the outcomes of the lives of Heath Ledger and Matthew Hayden. Hayden's children have a father and the not-to-be-underrated simple joys such as his company while gardening, fishing and growing up. The late Heath Ledger's daughter can read about her father and look at his awards but she won't have his companionship.

As Father Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International wrote: "A thumbnail sketch of his [Ledger's] adult life might look something like this: Hollywood glitter, money and status, cohabitating with a girlfriend, a child out of wedlock, an activist for an immoral lifestyle, drug overdose and then death at a very young age. It's a real tragedy... the culture of hedonism and death."

Is Hollywood so hollow that no one suggested to Heath Ledger that he shape up as a parent? For all the adulation he received and the awards celebrating his acting talent, his daughter won't have a childhood enriched by the presence of her father.

- Babette Francis is vice-president of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia (DACA).

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