Destination Divorce: The New Kind of ‘Getaway’ Taking the Tourism Industry by Storm

A recent article I had published on ‘Debrief Daily’. Check out the website here: 

Divorce Hotels: A different kind of 'getaway'

Divorce Hotels: A different kind of ‘getaway’

Weddings, honeymoons and anniversaries have long been the stuff of big-spending dreams for the tourism and hospitality industries.

Now Dutch company Divorce Hotel has turned its attention to the other end of the relationship spectrum. Under its concept, couples check-in married – and check-out divorced. The concept is rapidly gaining global traction.

Divorce Hotels offer couples all-inclusive divorce packages that help them end their marriage in the most stress-free way possible. Mediators, accountants and brokers are on hand throughout the weekend ‘getaway’ to ensure a successful split.

The stay is anonymous. Divorcing couples enjoy hotel facilities alongside regular hotel guests to distract from the somewhat bleak experience.

It might sound grim, but the Divorce Hotels website offers a surprisingly upbeat vision, positioning divorce “not only as the end of your marriage…but as the beginning of a new phase in your life”. The company’s founder, Jim Halfens, says the concept of Divorce Hotel is about make a split as positive as possible for those involved.

By providing neutral territory for the divorce, the hotel aims to provide a “professional, fast and affordable service” for the separation, void of interference from “unprofessional family members or friends”.

Most guests reach settlement within 48 hours.

The US based Divorce Hotel, which operates out of the Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa in New York, began offering divorce packages to guests late last year. It was previously known as a premier wedding destination in the picturesque holiday region of Saratoga Springs.

(Note: a place called Lake Desolation, which is a short 20-minute drive away, could provide guests with an additional place to reflect on the weekend’s proceedings.)

The process will set clients back about $5000, and the divorce packages come with a welcome basket brimming with Divorce Hotel branded pens, mousepads and beach bags.

With a TV series already developed for Dutch television, Divorce Hotel has set its sights on American TV. Operators are also looking to move beyond weekend ‘quickie’ divorces to mid-week offerings and multi-couple mediation sessions.

At least when the honeymoon period really is over, couples will have another excuse for a vacation…


An Instagrammed Life

Instagram: where the grass is always greener

Instagram: where the grass is always greener

In the digital era, our mobile devices have become faux limbs and our days have come to revolve around our news feeds. In the process, it’s increasingly difficult to detach from social media. The lines between cyberspace and reality have become blurred as we share more of our private lives online. In many instances, it’s through Facebook that friends and relatives derive important information about one another, often before hearing it directly, in-person from the source.

As a twenty-something at the heart of the digital native generation, I’ve become an avid user of social media since first signing up to the nostalgia-evoking, tween-esque platform ‘Bebo’ in my early high school years. As time has passed and social media has further developed, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have become integral to my social life. And at many times, these sites constitute the entirety of my social life.. (Ok, perhaps not all of it, but a significant portion, for sure).

News or gossip about the latest engagement or relationship break-up is first heard on social media. It’s rare to see a day through without at least one pregnancy announcement, European holiday album upload or a new job placement. But with all these life event-based posts, comes a load of excess dribble. It was only the other day the extent to which such unnecessary social news has come to implant itself on my brain became fully apparent.

As my friend and I were discussing our shared envy over an old high school acquaintance’s endless travel adventures, we both realised the alarming amount of trivial facts we had retained from the hours spent mindlessly scrolling through our social media pages.

“Is Sandra still dating that guy with the facial tattoo?”

“Yeah, they’ve been together over 5 years now. She travels interstate to see him all the time.”

It may sound rather mundane and irrelevant to our lives, and that’s because it is. But how did we know all about this? Facebook. We both haven’t seen or conversed with Sandra in about 6 years, but thanks to the wondrous pool of wisdom that is Facebook, we know all about her life and her relationship with guy, who to us, is a perfect stranger marked with overly conspicuous ink. And it gets worse.

“Have you been keeping up with Nicole’s (another high school acquaintance we both haven’t seen since our foetus days) travels?”

“Last I saw she was in the Greek Islands. Oh and her parents celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary the other day.”

“Yes, I saw. Wow, it seems like only yesterday they were celebrating their 19th…”

And that’s when it hit us. Recalling the wedding anniversary celebrations of an old high school acquaintance’s parents (whom we have never seen or met in person) is definitely a little concerning. It’s one thing to track the global movements of a travel bug-infected acquaintance on their Instagram account; but the incognito recognition of their parents’ relationship milestones, is another story.

It’s this very information that has come to overload our social media accounts, and now too, our brains. Fortunately, in the meantime, it’s all just something to have a laugh about, but it’s a timely reminder to avoid becoming too immersed in our social media contacts’ business. For the most part, things aren’t really that much greener on the other side of the Instagram post.

Dr Strangetown: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and ‘Love’ Blacktown (Part 2)

'I Love Blacktown': a rarely uttered phrase indeed

‘I Love Blacktown’: a rarely uttered phrase indeed

Up until my early teen years, I had been oblivious of the stigma that overshadowed my local community. In the years that followed, the media stocked me with reports, outlining the details of everything crime related in Western Sydney. The local weekly newspaper, the Blacktown Advocate, with front-page crime reports, provided further fuel for the fire that was my loathing of Blacktown. Bad things happened all over Sydney, but the good rarely filtered out to us in the West.

During this time, my entire conception of my local area- a radius of about 5km- was formed through a self-created ‘dodginess scale’, which mapped the various streets, reserves and laneways that I deemed either safe or off limits. The western side of Blacktown Road, where many of my school friends called home, was close to a series of walkways and reserves which cut through to nearby bushland, the scene of the infamous Anita Cobby murder. This dense bushland, which stretched along both sides of the Great Western Highway, ranked highly on my ‘dodginess scale’. Ironically, last summer, this very bushland became the site of Sydney’s newest family tourist attraction- Wet’n’Wild.

These initial naïve fears for my safety ebbed and flowed during my high school years, occasionally resurfacing after watching a sensationalistic news piece, but quickly fading into the background within the space of a few days. As I reached my senior high school years and moved to a school beyond Blacktown, my new-found freedom helped quell my contempt. I began to un-bookmark real estate websites I had frequented in my attempt to convince my parents to move suburbs. I ceased putting my energy into the Blacktown newspaper crime reports. I instead began to experience the suburb for myself as a young adult with a mature state of mind. But I still sought an escape; not out of loathing, but in search of opportunity.

Last year, I set off on my first overseas journey to America’s West Coast with a close friend and fellow Blacktown resident. On the day of our departure, I left Blacktown with an impression of the world formed through a lifelong exposure to American media. I had browsed through towering piles of travel magazines and followed the activities of my favourite American musicians and actors as they boasted about their perfect Californian lifestyles on Twitter and Instagram. When we booked our grand American adventure, these manufactured images danced around in my mind. As I sat in the travel agency, I traced my hand over our scheduled tour route on a ceiling-high world map. I imagined the stark white Hollywood sign nestled snugly in the L.A. hills and the contrast of the red ochre Golden Gate Bridge against the deep blues of the San Francisco Bay.

I wasn’t entirely naïve though; my mother had attempted to prepare me for the scenes I was about to encounter during my travels. Influenced by one too many Louis Theroux or Ross Kemp documentaries on gangland USA, my mother, in the months leading up to my travel, called me into the lounge room on numerous occasions to show me the latest American crime story or underworld exposé. She’d look on at the TV screen, shaking her head in dismay. Apart from the guns, the sights I saw on TV didn’t differ all that much from Blacktown; I believed it couldn’t be much worse than what I’d known for the past 17 years in Western Sydney.

Upon my arrival in Downtown L.A. at the start of my American adventure, I came to observe a new and unfamiliar way of living. There were signs of glamour and ridiculous wealth, everything I had come to expect in the Hollywood city, but there were equally just as many signs of crime and poverty. Dilapidated buildings, urine-coated footpaths and deserted city streets. Even McDonalds employed round-the-clock security. On my first morning in L.A., I sat in a Downtown McDonalds only a few blocks away from the poverty-stricken Skid Row and watched on as scores of homeless men and women filed into the restaurant, using any spare pennies, dimes and quarters to purchase some sort of nourishment. I was confronted and saddened as I bore witness to this average day on the streets, experienced by over half a million Americans.

Three weeks later, I arrived home in Blacktown wearing my Los Angeles sweatshirt. Behind me, I dragged a large suitcase filled with the American-themed merchandise I had collected during my journey. But what I didn’t notice at the time was the additional souvenir I brought home with me- a feeling of gratitude and dare I say it, local pride.

While the Sydney turf wars continue to be fought on the battlefields of suburbia, I still struggle to confess my deeper appreciation of Blacktown, but the horizon has been broadened. Although I surely won’t be adorning myself with an ‘I Heart Blacktown’ t-shirt any time soon, I won’t be burning one in a blazing bonfire either.

Dr Strangetown: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and ‘Love’ Blacktown (Part 1)

Something about this just isn't t-shirt worthy...

Something about this just isn’t t-shirt worthy…

Nothing has ever quite intrigued me as much as American ‘hometown patriotism’. Differing from the overbearing George Bush Jnr-style nationalism of the 9/11 era, this form of geographical pride ranges from the small towns to the big cities. It’s not uncommon to see people proudly profess their hometown pride by adorning their bodies with city-themed t-shirts, tanks and sweatshirts. The ‘I Heart NY’ shirt is a wardrobe staple on the East Coast, while for the Southern Californian, at least one item of clothing is sure to have a classic surfer-esque beach print. But what has intrigued me further, is the fact that it only seems to work for American cities and towns. Why are Brooklyn beanies and Compton snapbacks so much cooler than a Hobart-embroidered sweater? The fundamental question of our time…

A few years back, my local council attempted to induce some of this American-inspired pride amongst the Western Sydney suburb of Blacktown. Within a few weeks, Blacktown’s infamous Main Street was decorated with ‘I Heart Blacktown’ banners and the odd sticker affixed by young hooligans to the occasional telegraph pole. The bumper stickers, however, weren’t so much of a hit. Only on rare occasions did I notice such a sticker proudly stamped across a car bumper, and that was usually on late model government cars as they left the Blacktown Council car park. The ‘I Heart Blacktown’ enviro bags evoked a similarly lacklustre response, reserved for use by pensioners during their weekly shopping errands.

As a 17-year-old high school student at the time, operation ‘I Heart Blacktown’ represented little more than a contrived attempt to repair the area’s widely known image problem. Upon announcement of the campaign, I took to social media and swiftly seized the campaign’s comedic potential. Contrasts were quickly drawn between the hugely popular and even trendy ‘I Heart NY’ campaign, while the criticisms voiced by TV personality (and Eastern Suburbs resident) Deborah Hutton drowned out any lingering praise. It was clear: Blacktown’s morale-raising attempt didn’t stand much of a chance.

This wider sense of contempt towards Blacktown was deeply embedded in my own psyche from adolescence. For years, I refused to consider myself a Western Sydney native and instead clung onto my infant years spent on NSW’s Mid-North Coast. At social gatherings and parties, the stock-standard icebreaker question of “Where are you from?” resulted in me subconsciously bypassing my 17 years in Blacktown and consequently recalling the few hazy memories from my infancy. To this day, on social media, there’s also little trace of my Blacktown inhabitance, with the ‘Hometown’ tab on my Facebook profile proudly listing my birthplace of Port Macquarie. I’ll change it, but maybe when I celebrate my 20th anniversary as a Blacktown resident in 2017…

The word ‘bogan’ had not entered my vocabulary until I was well into my teens. Used to describe a (typically Anglo-Australian) ‘working-class’ person of uncouth character, the ‘bogan’ is the Australian equivalent of the American ‘redneck’. The epitome of unsophistication, the bogan is bad, brash and Blacktown-dwelling. The ‘bogan’ quip has since become a main weapon in the Sydney turf wars, deployed from the arsenal of rival Northern and Eastern suburbs residents. In Sydney, the boundaries of the North, East, South and West are clearly demarcated by the land’s natural topography of coastline, rivers and mountains. In this landscape, anything west of Parramatta is declared as bogan territory.

As I approached adolescence, media-fuelled representations of the bogan deepened the shame I felt growing up in Blacktown. Even if I wasn’t categorised as bogan myself, it was my fellow supposedly criminal neighbours that were. And it was through mere geographical association that I too, became bogan….

The Real Cost of our Convenience Culture: MNCs, the Minimum Wage and Worker Exploitation

Ronald McDonald: Is this happy clown really the face of global exploitation?

Ronald McDonald: Is this happy clown really the face of global exploitation?

On a global scale, the exploitation of workers, especially in developing countries, is nothing new. The sweatshop culture from which we derive most of our everyday products is something we’re all aware of- we continue to buy and wear those $18 K-Mart jeans because they’re cheap, look relatively decent to wear and we’ve grown somewhat doubtful as to whether it would actually make a difference if we were to stop purchasing them anyway. In many cases, rather unsuspectingly, we turn a blind eye to the origins of the products we buy because it’s the most efficient option. And in a society driven by the ever-pressing need for efficiency and cost reduction, those K-Mart jeans are just the perfect fit.

While it is easy and convenient to distance ourselves from the exploitation of workers in the sweatshops of multinational corporations in ‘faraway lands’, a possible step forward could be to firstly begin acknowledging the unfair working conditions of low wage earners in the developed world.

In the US, the debates surrounding the minimum rage are ongoing, with thousands of McDonald’s workers staging large-scale protests against their highly exploitative pay conditions just yesterday. While the situation isn’t quite as dire here in the ‘lucky country’, the fast-food chain still retains some degree of infamy for its low wages. We’ve all joked about the paltry $11 an hour our Maccas friends earned as teenagers, but at the same time, fail to realise just how sad of a joke it is. In the process, we fail to acknowledge the culture of convenience, profit-making and blatant exploitation that this is based upon.

Call it a first-world problem if you will, but it is not until we realise the destructive nature of this culture in our own country that we will ever stand a chance of facing up to it on a broader, global level. For as long as it remains convenient for us to ignore the power these multinational corporations exert over the common worker, this behaviour will be deemed ‘acceptable’ and in a sense, encouraged. We’ll continue to buy the McDonald’s burger made by a grossly underpaid yet willing teen in a restaurant down the road and we’ll also continue to wear the jeans made by a poverty stricken worker in a sweatshop overseas. But while we justify these actions as harmless and convenient, we’ll only further justify our very own exploitation.

I don’t wish to sound high and mighty here, though, it’s just some food for thought.

Woolworths Controversy: Commercialisation Gone Too Far?

Even the ANZAC digger is not immune to modern commercialism

Even the ANZAC digger is not immune to modern commercialism

For anyone living in the 21st Century, commercialisation, branding and cross-promotion are part and parcel of our capitalist driven society.

All aspects of our existence, including our very selves, have become commodified. We are branded, sponsored, marketed. With the increasing intensification of this consumer culture, the growing commercialisation of national holidays has also been witnessed. Religious holidays, especially Christmas and Easter, have become prime marketing opportunities for commercial organisations. Increasingly, non-religious days of national observance, such as Australia Day and now ANZAC Day, have become the commercial targets of organisations wishing to cash in on the occasions.

Today, national supermarket chain Woolworths, was heavily criticised for its ANZAC Day themed promotion. The most disturbing element of the promotion, which featured a photograph of a WWI digger, has been denounced for its incorporation of the Woolworths ‘fresh’ slogan in the line “Fresh in our Memories.” Woolworths’ usage and exploitation of the ANZAC legend in this campaign, while not only being considered a grave act of irreverence, has caused additional controversy for Woolworths since the term was used in an unauthorised manner.

With the ANZAC legend held close to the hearts of many Australians, it is not hard to see why the campaign left behind a sour taste. The campaign showcases the ‘nothing is sacred’ mentality of modern business and capitalism. In this case, the long-deceased, but not forgotten, ANZAC digger is not even immune to 21st Century commercialism. The legend of the ANZAC becomes a brand story used by organisations to further their organisation’s image. While the use of brand stories, such as those especially evidenced in the marketing of Coca-Cola and Rio Tinto, is nothing new in the marketing world, perhaps this time, the use of the ANZAC Legend for commercial imperatives, strikes a little too close to the bone.

Regardless of your philosophical or political stance on war and Australia’s involvement in military campaigns, in this case, it is the sheer trivialisation of war and personal history that is most troubling. With the entire foundations of war established on the efforts of the working class ‘little-man’ doing the dirty work of the bourgeois leaders (OK, I do sound a little Marxist here, but it’s hard to disagree with this notion, hey?), the seemingly harmless commercial campaign serves to uphold capitalism’s stronghold on our contemporary society. In Woolworth’s attempt to consolidate their standing as an iconic brand within our national landscape they have sought to draw upon the similarly nationalistic orientation of the ANZAC legend, and produce a commercial brand story.

Although the public reaction to the campaign is encouraging in the wider scheme of things, it seems unlikely that this will form part of a wider movement against the commercialisation of our collective histories, values and even our very selves.

Madonna-on-Drake Action: Women, Ageing and Sexuality

Just when is the cut-off point for the expression of women's sexuality?

Just when is the cut-off point for the expression of women’s sexuality?

Over the past 24 hours, social media has been abuzz with interpretations of the infamous Madonna/ Drake kiss which took place at Coachella on Sunday evening. The on-stage lip-locking, which is not a first for Madonna (Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, anyone?) has resulted in a fair amount of public backlash, mainly due to the repulsed reaction of Canadian rapper, Drake. The 28-year-old, who was on the receiving end of the intimate moment, appears noticeably disgusted by the 56-year-old’s actions, and seemingly caught by much surprise.

In witnessing the various memes and responses that have circulated in the media following the incident, I can’t help but notice the sexism and ageism underpinning these reactions. Despite the age difference between Drake and Madonna, what has become perceptible in much of the public reaction to the kiss is the underlying disgust surrounding older women’s sexuality more generally. As a 56-year-old woman engaging in an overtly sexual act with a younger man, Madonna has received much criticism. In this case one must ask: at what point does the display of women’s sexuality become taboo, or, moreover, at what age do women become asexual beings? One only has to look at men such as Hugh Hefner, who is lauded for his accumulation of younger, beautiful women, to see the inconsistencies inherent in this attitude.

For decades, Madonna has built upon and exploited her image as a prominent sex symbol in popular culture, one for which she can attribute a degree of her success. So at what stage did Madonna become ‘too old’ for this sexualisation and worthy of condemnation for ‘not acting her age’? The interconnection of sexuality and age here is a curious thing, with older, self-sexualising women often labelled rather derogatorily as ‘cougars’ or ‘MILFs’. Are we able to draw a line in the sand, a universal ‘cut-off’ point for sexual behaviour in women’s lives? If so, what age is most suitable and how do we, as a society, determine such an age?

While there have been great gains for women regarding their sexuality since the second-wave feminist movement, this rather candid on-stage moment (and blatant publicity stunt) brings to the fore the remaining gaps in our society’s acceptance and understanding of female sexuality. Although I pray for Drake’s full recovery after such an onslaught of impromptu intimacy, I can’t help but applaud Madonna for challenging the lingering traces of sexism that continue to overshadow older women’s sexuality. After all, sex and ageing are natural facets of the human condition. If a 54-year-old Kim Kardashian decides to do a 20 year anniversary photo shoot of her renowned ‘champagne glass on ass balancing act’, I’ll be the first to support it, on principle alone.