Controversial and challenging, The Slap, has gathered as much criticism as it has awards. It is hailed as a modern Australian classic, an “unflinching interrogation of the life of the modern family.” Tsiolkas’ critical eye offers an insight into Australian suburbia as it is today, shattering the sentimental myths surrounding our suburban and multicultural Australian identity. In discussing the ABC television adaptation of his novel, Tsiolkas expresses his relief at a depiction of an “urban Australia that actually looks and sounds like the Australia we live in, and not some kind of fantasy,” (BBC Hard Talk, 2011). Debating this concept will be the theme for this unit.
Please note that this novel contains graphic depictions of sexual behaviour and frequent very coarse language.
Modern Australian cultural identity
What is “modern Australia”? Historically, we have romanticised an image of Australian cultural identity that was based on a white colonial heritage. More recently, that image has become blended with one of successful multiculturalism, a peaceful melange of cultures and traditions that make up modern Australia, and correlates with the shift in our archetypal identity from a rural to a suburban one. Have students create a mind-map of their impressions of modern Australian cultural identity and then collect images that represent these ideas. In groups, students should then create a joint collage using their images, negotiating their inclusion. Students will have to discuss and justify their impressions of contemporary Australian cultural identity. Presenting each group’s work to the rest of the class allows further opportunity to discuss and compare understandings of contemporary Australia.
View this interview with Tsiolkas, in which he offers his view of Australian cultural identity. As students watch, ask them to make notes on:
- the qualities and values Australians like to believe embody contemporary Australian identity,
- what Tsiolkas believes is the reality of contemporary Australian identity,
- Tsiolkas’ view of his own relationship with contemporary Australian identity,
- Tsiolkas’ experiences reconciling his Greek heritage and his identity as an Australian.
For homework, students could watch this additional interview, where Tsiolkas further discusses race politics in Australia, and add to their notes.
Compare Tsiolkas’ view their own views as represented by their collages. Do we romanticise suburban Australia as a multicultural, middle-class haven?
Generate a discussion of other texts, such as TV soap operas or dramas, that represent suburban Australian life. In particular, focus on the representation of the migrant experience. For homework, students may wish to view an episode of such a television show and make notes on the ethnicities represented and the roles ethnic characters play within the show. Use this to create a survey of multiculturalism in mainstream Australian television in class. Discuss the implications that arise from your class’ findings.
Understanding the migrant context
Survey the students in your class to ascertain those who have migrant backgrounds. Ask them to share their personal and/or family experiences with migrating to Australia, particularly in relation to discussing cultural differences. Pose questions that encourage students to reflect on their conceptions of family from a cultural perspective, as well as their place within multicultural Australia. Invite comparison and discussion between students of immigrant and non-immigrant backgrounds.
This discussion could be followed up with research using the resources listed in the ‘digital resources’ section. In particular, students should research:
- the ethnic make up of contemporary Australian society;
- the circumstances in which the majority of post-war migrants came to Australia;
- the lives and experiences of migrants once in Australia;
- social, class and ethnic differences between migrant and non-migrant Australians.
Students should make notes under these headings prior to reading the novel. They might write a personal reflection exploring what Australia may look like to a new migrant.
Meet the author
Building on their viewing of the above interviews, explore the life of Christos Tsiolkas using the biographical resources provided under the ‘additional resources’ tab. Students should prepare a short bio on Tsiolkas. If time permits, students may wish to consolidate their understanding of Tsiolkas and Australian cultural identity by scripting and role-playing a mock interview with the author.
A moral minefield
Present the students with the scenario from the exposition of the novel. An unruly child is slapped at a family barbecue by a man who is not the child’s father. The child was slapped – ostensibly – because he was going to hit the man’s son with a cricket bat as he did not want to be ‘out’ from the game of cricket they were playing. Ask for students’ reactions, prompting them with questions such as:
- Is it acceptable to discipline a child by slapping or smacking them?
- Is it acceptable to discipline another person’s child, by slapping or otherwise?
- Who has the right to discipline children – only the parents? Other family members? Close family friends? Where do we draw the line?
- Did the father have a right to defend his own child?
- The father initially grabbed the child and did not hit him until the boy kicked him. Does this change your opinion?
- Does the young age of the child matter?
- Does the fact that the unruly child had already misbehaved prior to the cricket incident matter?
- The father of the boy who was slapped calls the police. Do you think this is a police matter?
- Is a situation like this, where a child slapped by an adult, a ‘black and white’ moral issue or is it a grey area?
After the discussion, have students align themselves along a continuum. Designate one side of the room as ‘Yes’ and one as ‘No’. Pose the question “Were the man’s actions in slapping the child justified?” and have students position themselves accordingly. Ask a selection of students along the continuum to justify their stance. Students should then compose a personal statement outlining their views on the smacking of children.
Personal response on reading the text
Maintain a journal
Students should keep a journal as they read the novel, organised into sections for each of the eight characters. As they read, students should note:
- what they admire and/or are confronted by within each character, as well as explaining why;
- aspects of each character and their relationships with which they can relate;
- personal response to the characters’ actions and attitudes, explaining why their own values are challenged or endorsed;
- what the character reveals about migrant and/or Australian cultural identity.
After reading, students should write an initial reflection on the novel, considering their response to the novel’s ideas, character and depiction of Australian suburbia. In particular, revisit their earlier reflections on contemporary Australian cultural identity and reflect on whether they have had their views challenged, reinforced or subverted. Does Tsiolkas’ novel look and sound like the Australia we live in?
Responding to the author
After reading, students could compose three questions they would like to ask Tsiolkas in an interview, questioning or challenging his depiction of Australia. Share these questions with classmates in small group discussions to generate Tsiolkas’ likely responses.
Reflect on your response
Using the continuum activity from earlier, have students position themselves according to their response to the novel. Many will dislike or be uncomfortable with the novel as a result of its critical depiction of families, individuals and Australia as a culture. Again ask a selection of students to justify their stance. Follow this up with focus questions such as:
- are there any likeable characters?
- who is the least unlikeable and why?
- does this novel offer a bleak depiction of Australian culture or are there some redeeming elements?
- the novel only offers a snapshot of each character’s life. Do any have hope for their future?
- the novel ends with the youngest narrator and one who, arguably, ends on the most positive note. Is there significance in this?
Ranking the eight narrators will lead to an interesting a fruitful conversation on values. Use the ‘think-pair-share’ model to have students collaborate and rank the characters according to their flaws. Who is ‘the worst’ and why? Establish the values the characters seem to hold and those they seem to transgress against in the students’ eyes. From this, attempt to create a list of the values of modern Australia – according to Tsiolkas and according to the class. Is Tsiolkas’ depiction the reality of modern Australia?
Outline of key elements of the text
Plot, character and theme
Students should construct a character map; a web diagram where they show the names of the various characters and the nature of the relationships between them. See here (PDF, 344KB) for an example to get started. Teachers can find a completed example here.
A more complex task, perhaps as a group activity, would be to construct a chronological timeline of the entire narrative arc, beginning with the events revealed from the characters’ histories, such as Manolis and Koula’s meeting, and the early friendship of Aisha, Anouk and Rosie. From this, students could explore the commonalities in experiences across the characters, such as love, loss, friendship, making mistakes, compromises, uncertainty, taking risks, relationships with families, responsibility, sex, seeking connection or community and so on. Although the characters may seem vastly different, consider whether Tsiolkas identifies a common human condition that actually unites all of them.
As a class, brainstorm initial ideas of broad themes dealt with by the novel. From this initial brainstorm, condense to an agreed-upon definition of thematic ideas to explore further. These may include: morality, Australian identity, multiculturalism, gender, family relationships, friendships, suburban life. Create a table (see sample [PDF, 88KB]) that lists the novel’s eight sections and students can fill in the themes they believe are explored in each.
The link to the eNotes study guide in the ‘digital resources’ section contains a simple overview of characters and plot for teacher reference. NB: this requires purchase.
Discuss with students how this novel differs in structure to ‘typical’ novels. One of the most significant differences is that it is, of course, narrated by eight different characters, and although the narratives overlap and are connected via the titular incident, each character does have an individual narrative. Question students on their initial impressions of Tsiolkas’ decision to construct his novel this way.
Creative plot overviews
The novel revolves around the incident of Hugo being slapped and its repercussions. The story of each character, however, is developed independently of this event. Assign pairs of students a particular character. Have them prepare a summary of their section presented in a creative way; one that is appropriate to the nature of the character. For example, Anouk’s summary could be in the form of a letter she writes to Rhys explaining the events leading to her decision to terminate her pregnancy, Rosie’s could be in the form of a conversation she has with her lawyer recounting the recent events as well as her history with the other characters. These could be copied and shared with the remaining students, so that each has a summary of each character’s story.
The Cybrans are a faction that use fast hitting units that usually have the highest firing rate. Cybran units often favor stealth and speed rather than raw power, eschewing mobile shields entirely in favor of mobile stealth. This goes perfectly with their weapons and units. Their T3 air units have stealth, with the exception of their T3 Gunship. The Cybran T3 Air Superiority Fighter has the highest accuracy (and subsequently, the most consistent DPS) since their Nanite Missile System can't miss, unlike the UEF Ginsu Pulse Beam and the Aeon Displacement Cannon. The Revenant also supports the Cybran strategy. Their bombs do less damage than the other T3 strategic bombers but the damage radius can hit more units and is more accurate. This also applies to the Wailer. Although it lacks stealth, it has Radar jamming which can confuse the opponent about its position and draw fire to virtual decoys. The Wailer also has a decent Nanite Missile System that allows it to destroy anything up to an interceptor. Cybrans are also considered to have the best Air force with the Soul Ripper and the Gemini. The Soul Ripper is a great unit; a heavily armored experimental with heavy air-to-ground weaponry and reasonable anti-air.
Their land units are also very fast and very accurate. Loyalists have a Disintegrator Pulse Laser to destroy heavy units and Heavy Electron Bolters to destroy the fast moving ones. Also, their missile Deflection is very useful to counter TML. The Brick is the unit that opposes the conventional Cybran strategy. It doesn't rely on stealth, instead relying on raw power. The Monkeylord is a unit optimized for storming enemy bases. Although one of the lightest land-based experimentals, it is also one of the cheapest. Its Heavy Microwave Laser is devastating and it packs basic anti-air. It can be even more effective as a stealth weapon, being both amphibious and possessing a stealth field, making it one of the most versatile experimentals in-game. On the other end of the scale, the Megalith is very expensive but ridiculously tough and destructive but can produce units underneath it, is amphibious and can generally destroy any other Experimental in a 1 on 1.
Cybran navy is considered the weakest of all 4 factions. The Galaxy Class is a good battleship with AA. Also the Nanite Torpedo can defeat a large group of submarines. But the most effective and most expensive of all sea units is the Megalith. Although it can be pelted by the other battleships, the Megalith can defeat them once it gets near. A Megalith can even defeat an Atlantis. Also it can defeat most units while it is close. The Barracuda submarine killer is another effective unit. A Megalith accompanied with a Galaxy and a Barracuda will ensure you a useful fleet. The Cybrans also possess the unique Salem Classdestroyer, capable of leaving the water to assault land units, although it moves very slowly on land and is quite vulnerable to units hidden outside its field of view so always bring some scouts with them. They also have one of the most versatile and damaging Cruisers, the Siren class, which posseses incredible AA value and regeneration. In enough numbers the Siren can make some bases essentialy invulnerable to air.
Air Forces Edit
Cybran Air is often considered the best of the 4 faction's air forces, and while this may not be too apparent at first, it begins to show more and more as Cybran air units alone end up destroying entire bases.
Air Superiority is the name of the game with Cybrans. Their T1 and T2 air units aren't all that spectacular (except for the gunships), the Corsair doing only 1/3 of the AA damage of other faction's, but in T3 is where Cybran air units shine. The Cybran ASF is by far the most effective ASF in the entire game. It not only includes a STEALTH SYSTEM, but also has target-lock missiles which can decimate any air unit, no matter how fast. A single Gemini is capable of defeating other ASFs in pitched combat with micro, and in a dogfight, they fare better than other ASFs.
To add to this, not only does the Gemini have stealth, but so does every other T3 air unit of the Cybran's (aside from the Wailer), allowing Strategic Bombers to wreak havoc on a base without Omni Radar, Spy Planes to gather intelligence without much worry about being shot down, and ASF's to tear holes in unsuspecting enemy air.
The Gunship Family Edit
The Cybrans are the only faction which have gunships for every tech level, including T4.
The Jester acts not only as an excellent early-on base defense, but can put an effective stop to an enemy's expansion efforts. It is just as fast as a T2 gunship, and has decent damage for a T1 unit. Its primary effectiveness is in its unique-ness, however. It is the only T1 gunship, which already puts Cybran commanders at an advantage. In groups of 5, they will stop groups of T1 units in their tracks, even if they have Mobile Anti-air. The only thing Jesters have to worry about are T1 interceptors, which should be countered with interceptors of your own, which you should have an abundance of.
Next in line is the Renegade, a truly punishing unit at the least. The Renegade's effectiveness does not lie in arbitrary abilities, such as a transport clamp, or even rapid fire by the Cybran's standards. The Renegade's effectiveness is in its excessive splash damage. While it may not look like it in combat, the Renegade's missiles have a similar splash radius to Cybran artillery. This allows them to literally tear down ANY tight group of ANYTHING within a matter of seconds. Renegades will annihilate an unshielded base, just as easily as they will bury a force of land units of any size or tech level.
The Wailer is less spectacular than the previous units, but is still a fearsome sight on the battlefield. This is especially true if you can't see one. Wailers go by the classic saying about Cybrans: "Don't be worried if you can see Cybran units on the battlefield. Be worried if you don't see them." The Radar Jamming of these units is incredibly useful, and will easily render AA of any sort useless in large numbers. Further, a group composed of both Wailers and Renegades working in tandem allows you to capitalize on their strengths - the Wailer's jamming provides limited cover for the Renegades. Since Renegades are superior for base assaults, mixing them allows for considerably less costly base assaults against bases with T3 AA. Keep in mind that both remain somewhat vulnerably to the AoE flak of T2 AA, however.
And finally, the mighty Soul Ripper. The Soul Ripper strays from the standard Cybran philosophy, being more similar to UEF units in that it is built for one thing, and one thing only: annihilating anything near, around, or under it. It still includes decent AA, and multitudes of weapons for dealing with different threats, as do other Cybran T4 units. It isn't all that spectacular in terms of strategy, it will easily stem any attempts to attack with regular units, and will quickly take down any lone land experimentals. Its true weakness is a well defended base, especially one with SAM AA.
Cybran Land forces are often considered the weakest of all the land forces in a direct confrontation.
It's their secondary abilities which will augment a Cybran commander the most though. Mantis' have engineering suites, allowing them to both defend early exploring engineers as well as assist them in construction. The Sky Slammer utilizes nanodart missiles, which while slower than other AA, is copiously more effective due to the fact that it will ALWAYS hit air units within its range. Sky Slammers can also be modified at will to shoot at ground units, turning them into impromptu siege weapons.
In T2, Cybrans gain the advantage of the Rocket Bot, as well as the ever-useful Deceiver. The Hoplite isn't just useful due to its extended range and ever-present Cybran AOE rockets, but also it only fills a single slot on a transport. This makes Hoplites excellent hot-drop units, as well as good defenders for engineers. The Deceiver is a hallmark unit of the Cybran, capable of providing a stealth field to surrounding units. It may not sound all that useful at first, but it can be rather annoying to be uninformed of an army of Hoplites being dropped in behind your base. The Deceiver also works while hooked onto a transport, making it one of the most useful units in the Cybran arsenal.
The Cybran navy isn't the strongest navy in the game, but it is most definitely the best equipped. The Cybran Navy has a little bit of everything from all over the Cybran faction; stealth, amphibious units, nanodart AA, T2 air staging facilities... You get the point.
All of the Cybran's T2 naval units empower Cybrans on the battlefield, and their T3 Strategic Missile Submarine, as well as the T3 sonar installation are interesting as well.
The Salem class is the cornerstone of the Cybran navy, and is a destructive unit no matter how it's used. It's weaponry isn't particularly powerful, except it's torpedoes, which are famous for their higher-than-average damage levels, nor does it have powerful AA or notable Torpedo Defenses. It's strength lies in its ability to grow legs and clamber onto land, to continue the fight when other naval units would be left high-and-dry. It is noticeably slow on land, however, and does best on land when it has enough space to safely bombard the enemy base, but does not have to walk a far distance to do so.
The Barracuda is the Cybran's submarine hunter. It is argueably superior to the other factions' sub hunters due to its increased damage and stealth abilities.
The CI:18 Mermaid is usually the Cybran's first and best naval stealth unit. It is somewhat easy to pick out in a direct confrontation, but is cheap, and a few of them will allow you to move massive naval-bombardment forces into position without your enemy ever knowing.
The Cybran Cruiser is noted for it's multitude of uses on the Battlefield. It has a main cannon just as powerful as the Salem Class', as well as air staging facilities, tactical missile defenses, and a powerful nanodart AA rack which can attack both air AND naval/land units. It is the most versatile of all the cruisers, and presents an opportunity which should not be passed up.
The two unique Cybran T3 units are the Plan B, and the Flood XR stand out from the rest, quite noticeably. The Plan B is not only capable of launching strategic and tactical missiles, just like the other subs, but also has unbelievably powerful torpedo tubes. It is capable of dealing with any task force coming it's way, and with assistance can easily fend off small navies. While it doesn't have stealth, this can easily be provided by a CI:18 Mermaid... or... a Flood XR. The Flood XR is a slightly less noticeable alternative to the Mermaid, it is tiny, no larger than the average T3 sonar installation. The reason it is a practical alternative is because of it's stealth field, and the ability to move. It goes hand-in-hand with strategic missile submarines and experimentals allowing, them to be built, or build their payload in complete secrecy.
The true strength of the Cybran, aside from the Gunships, lies in the clever use of combined arms tactics. The UEF specializes in either Turtling or Steamrolling, tactics that capitalize on their strength: a ton of unmanuverable armor. The Aeon take the basic approach of "do one thing and do it well" which leads to a lot of specialized Rushing, bringing a lot of a single kind of firepower to bear in a hurry; with the risk of being met by the perfect defense against it. The Cybrans, by contrast, are a Guerilla faction. That is, their tactics all emphasize doing as much damage as they can for the lowest cost possible, and at the lowest risk of failure. To that end, the key to this is most often the use of a small number of cheaper units in very small groups with one another. To illustrate this, here's a prime example of how a small force of Cybran units can anhilate an entire enemy base, that won't work without the combined effort of all the units involved.
On Seton's Clutch, build 1 Monkeylord, 2 Sirens, 4 Gemenis, 1 Mermaid, and 2 Barracudas. Assign the Gemenis to assist the Mermaid, group all the naval units together, and move them (along with the Monkeylord) out to sea. With this group, you have multiple overlapping stealth fields, enough AA to kill multiple T3 Spy Planes, enough Stealthed naval power to destroy any single naval unit except a T3 Battleship, and yes, a Monkeylord. This small, inexpensive group can allow you to deploy the Monkeylord immediately within firing range of at least one base, and with no warning at all. Whilst this does present a small challenge in trying to deploy the group before the widespread presence of Omni, keep in mind that 1) This can be done with T2 fiighters if needed and 2) even if detected by enemy Air or Omni, the Monkeylord, and thus the true purpose for your tiny escort fleet, remains hidden from the enemy unless they have both Omni and Sonar. If executed early enough, scarce few opponents will have both online.
Inumerable examples like this readily demonstrate why the key to Cybran success is not any single force (though their Gunships are able to hold their own against anything short of hordes of ASFs) but rather the clever combination of all of them.
They lack UEF meatiness, Aeon specialisation or Seraphim devastation, but a clever Cybran player can outsmart the other sides by using their unit lineup's flexibility. Consider the Megalith, the ultimate direct-fire experimental. It works as a Mobile Factory, a powerful submarine, a battleship with legs, AND a powerful support unit. It is the Fatboy's big brother.
Or the Loyalist, the T3 Siege assault robot. It's optimised for a defence role, with disintegrator guns for heavy units and equivalents, a Heavy Bolter for swarms, a missile redirector for protection against bombardment, AND an EMP death effect for going out with a determined bang!
Or even the diminutive Sky Slammer, which can also fill a role as a weak(but unexpected) land-targeting missile truck, as well as being a very competent early AA unit.