Categories
Politics

Swinging on a Shoestring – Labor’s Campaign in Aston

There has been a lot of talk about the loss for the Liberal Party of their seats in Greater Melbourne in the 2022 Federal Election. It looks as though the party will retain only three of their seats in their former heartland of the Eastern Suburbs. One of those seats is Aston, held by Alan Tudge.

Some of the post election talk, especially in Crikey, is focusing on the future of Alan Tudge, one of the three remaining Liberals who still holds his seat. Bernard Keane is suggesting that Josh Frydenberg, the former treasurer and member for Kooyong could be easily placed in Aston if Tudge wanted to go quietly. That might not be as easy as Keane (or the Liberal Party) might believe.

For the weeks of the election campaign, I was inside the Labor campaign for Aston as a volunteer. This is the story of how a under-resourced, shoestring campaign with a first time candidate managed to snip a 7.4% swing against a well known incumbent member in a seat that has been held by the Liberal Party since 1990.

Before going into the account of the campaign, there were three main motivations behind my involvement. My mother in law lives in Aston – in Wantirna South – so this would provide opportunities for popping in after volunteering ; we live in Dandenong, which is in the (relatively) safe Labor seat of Bruce ; I thought it would be good to help a woman unseat a man like Alan Tudge. I was one of the only outsiders to help with this campaign – there were a couple from Wills who knew Mary from her time with the union movement. This was a campaign made up of Aston locals. And, as it turned out, there weren’t all that many of them.

The Characters of the Campaign

Right from the start, I knew this was a shoestring budget campaign. I signed up on the website, and did not get a response. I then mentioned to the candidate, Mary Doyle on twitter that I would be coming to one of her train station street stalls at Boronia Station. She was grateful, then told me when I turned up that there was an issue with the website in terms of signing people up. I knew then that this was not going to be a campaign featuring many from outside the seat, all working to unseat Tudge. This was a campaign featuring locals, who had been fighting against Liberal incumbency since 1990.

At that station stall, I met Russell and Jacqui. Russell was a relatively new campaigner, made so by Alan Tudge’s disinterest in helping people who needed welfare support. He was a driving force of this campaign, volunteering for lots of street stalls and prepoll. It was Russell who would be driving every night from prepoll to prepoll site, collecting the kits. Jacqui was an old style, passionate Labor campaigner from the working class end of Aston who was sick of the wealthy, Rowville end determining who represented her interests at a Federal level. Boronia was in the heart of that working class stronghold. I liked both of them immediately.

The candidate, Mary Doyle herself also had a story. She had dreams of being a rock star, but soon realised that an insurance call centre paid the bills. Working in such a place, however, made her into a shop floor activist, going into the Financial Services Union as an organiser, and ending up at the ACTU. She is currently an organiser for the NTEU, and had to take unpaid leave to undertake this campaign. This was her first campaign as a candidate for any political office. It was clear from the outset that Mary was not a polished politician, especially when standing next to the State MP for Bayswater, Jackson Taylor, who has had four years to hone the craft. Taylor should go well in November, even though he is battling a redistribution that puts him behind the Liberals. He has been very busy connecting with local community groups and schools. His Facebook profile shows how much work he is doing. He reminded me of Mark Greenhill, the hard working Mayor of the Blue Mountains. Having met a fair few Labor politicians from Western Sydney, I knew the difference between polished and newbie. I like people like Greenhill and Taylor, but I also liked Mary for all her freshness and lack of polish.

The Talking Points of the Campaign

In the ensuing weeks, I went to Boronia, a street stall in Mountain Gate shopping centre in Ferntree Gully and a street stall in Rowville, the stronghold for the Liberal Party. For context, Rowville was one of the only eastern suburbs seats not to fall to Labor in the Danslide of 2018. Also for context, the Rowville shops at which we appeared has a bougie IGA that sells various expensive cheeses and sauces that you usually only see in Toorak and Cape Grim steak and dry aged steak that goes for $100 a kilo.

The street stalls revealed the scale of the campaign. For the station stalls, there were usually 4 – 6 hardy volunteers, turning up once a week in the morning, with 2 of them getting on a train, hoping that the station staff at neighbouring Bayswater wouldn’t tell them to stand well away from the entrance. The Mountain Gate one was in friendly territory for Labor. I got the chance to listen to some locals, as well as the campaigners. It was illuminating.

For all the talk of the Tudge / Rachelle Miller payout on Twitter, few were talking about the payout received by Rachelle Miller as a result of her relationship with Tudge. It was mentioned occasionally by people who were appalled by the way he had an affair and left his wife – but by rusted on Labor voters, mostly, with a few exceptions. This does not mean, however, that the issue didn’t exist in the community. Just that it wasn’t mentioned.

The main discussion points were the work that Tudge had done in the community. He was very well known for his appearances at sporting clubs, whether it be netball, footy, cricket. At local aged care facilities. At lots of community organisations. Tudge was a Well Known Local Member who Got Things Done for the community. He was clearly known in Aston as a politician who wasn’t just there for a cabinet position and then perhaps be a Prime Minister. That is what made him different from say a Josh Frydenberg or Tim Wilson. He looked comfortable at such places and events. People like Frydenberg and Wilson never did. That persona and work was also what insulated him from a backlash against his personal indiscretions.

Tudge was also the Minister for Robodebt, and the Liberals were the party that ran down the NDIS, but those were not big issues for vast swathes of Aston. They were discussed with us at street stalls, but by Labor supporters. One NDIS recipient expressed concern about the NDIS and Labor, especially after Anthony Albanese’s widely reported stumble over the issue. But she was reassured that Bill Shorten would be looking after that, and he would do a good job with that. That was reassuring – it was clear that Shorten is still respected in many circles.

Where’s Tudge?

During those first four weeks of the campaign, the man himself was missing. “Where’s Tudge”? was a popular refrain amongst the workers on the campaign, with sightings reported when they occurred. One of the few articles about the Aston campaign in the Age focused on his non appearance. Apparently he only appeared at ANZAC Day; we had a Tudge sighting at Mountain Gate in Ferntree Gully, but he was there only to briefly talk to his volunteers, and then disappeared before having to talk to anyone who might be working class. His longest appearance was at the Rowville Wellington Village shops. The Labor campaign, a week after his appearance there, booked a space inside the foyer of those shops, and the local Rowville Liberals were so shocked that they got on the phone to each other and set up outside, despite not having booked the space. By and large, though, Tudge was virtually invisible, hoping not to have to talk to people at street stalls outside the Rowville stronghold. Part of that, though, can be put down to him getting COVID-19. Mary also got COVID-19 in the fourth week of the campaign.

Volunteering and Organisation

The shoestring budget of the campaign and the stretched numbers of the volunteers was clear when rosters were put out and plans were made. Our campaign manager, Pamela Anderson (the CEO of Emily’s List, and no, I didn’t make a comment about her name, I am sure many have) was savvy, sharp and always scrambling to make things work. There was no money for a seat wide mailout of materials, so the volunteers had to pound the pavement to put material in letterboxes. Mary herself was a relatively last minute candidate, and there weren’t all that many volunteers on call, so door knocking was a challenge. Even staffing prepoll and polling booths on the day was a challenge. There were 34 polling booths across Aston, and during our last Zoom call, there were many slots still empty. I was placed on the largest booth in the seat, with 2900 voters in the last election. It was also the booth with the second largest Liberal 2PP. It was in… Rowville, near the Wellington Village shops. For a while, I was it. I managed to ask a couple of friends to help, who did. But I was going to be at the booth from 6am to 8pm. Eventually, the decision was made to put Mary there, but that symbolised the campaign. We didn’t have volunteers in shifts, multiple people handing out How To Votes. Many booths were just one person. I felt like I was working on a Western Sydney Greens campaign all over again. At least, though, we had corflutes well ahead of time and t-shirts with Mary’s name on them.

Corflute Shenanigans

One of the features of the early part of the campaign were attacks on corflutes – the election signs people plonk next to roads. Many people on Twitter decry and downplay the need for them, but they are necessary. Many were saying to me during and after the campaign that they didn’t know who the Labor candidate was for Aston, and that’s because there wasn’t much of a budget for signs, either. And in those early days, people were cutting out the face of Tudge and stealing their signs. Senator Jane Hume, and others, were blaming Tudge’s “opponents”, but people were also stealing signs of Mary. It did not help her visibility to the community. Eventually, Tudge’s signs were replaced – new ones made, plastering the community. Mary’s, however, were not as plentiful – there wasn’t the money.

Prepoll

So then it was time for prepoll. And suddenly Tudge was very visible. Labor’s campaign managed to just have enough volunteers at the three prepoll sites – Boronia, Wantirna South and Rowville. There originally was only two sites listed by the AEC – there was no Boronia listed at the start – and Tudge was annoyed at that situation changing. Little wonder, because that was the Labor stronghold. He then went onto claim that this election was the first one to have a Boronia prepoll station, which was not true – the Labor volunteers had done Boronia before. In typical Morrison style, Tudge reportedly refused to accept the truth and continue to accept his alternative fact.

A phenomenon that emerged at Rowville prepoll was the use of volunteers who spoke Mandarin – there were two. They usually stood apart from the other Liberal volunteers, who were the usual sort one would expect for the Liberal Party – older men who were Rotarians and liked golf. The Mandarin speaking ones did not have many voters to talk to, but it did show that there was a commitment to have such an approach. Labor, in contrast, had no such volunteers. We were fortunate if we had more than one volunteer on any given shift. One moment that did interest me was when a young woman of Chinese heritage approached the booth, the Mandarin speaking volunteer started speaking in Mandarin, which caused the woman to back away and say “sorry, I don’t speak Mandarin” and scuttle on past.

Tudged for the Very First Time

I was mostly at Rowville, which was also Tudge’s favourite prepoll spot. There I met Jill, who was a Rowville local and had to suffer the travails of being a Rowville resident and a Labor supporter. And it was at the Rowville prepoll, at Stud Park Shopping Centre where I met Tudge. We talked at length about various things when there was a lull in voters. We had conversations, about football – he is a North Melbourne supporter because he and his parents were immigrants and when they arrived in the 70s, North were winning a lot. We talked about his grey winter jacket (which I really liked and now want). He came across to me as an unremarkable, but affable middle manager. In the conversations we had, there was nothing overtly aggressive or arrogant about him. Just comfortable with who he is and what he had become. Tudge did not seem like a hard nosed, ideologically driven warrior, though he did suggest at one point that my Dandenong based electorate of Bruce would be in the sights of the Liberal Party next, as a “mortgage belt” seat. Labor volunteers in Aston had other stories and impressions of him from long experience, but I was assessing him as a local voter might. The same way I do whenever I meet any candidate. Fiona Scott, the one term MP for Lindsay was the same – friendly, affable, comfortable. Scott had a short connection to Sky News, but was never a good fit. I can’t imagine Tudge being a good fit there either. Though at one stage I did overhear Tudge talking about the ABC and the Guardian in a dismissive tone (I am paraphrasing here) “They wouldn’t know anything about where we are right now. They are easy to fob off – give them one line answers and they go away”.

For the most part, voters were friendly towards Tudge at prepoll. It was clear he was popular with men. Tradies, subcontractors, older men, all wishing him luck and shaking his hand. There were a lot of older women who liked him and found him polite and nice. There were yet others who self identified as Christians and therefore were supporters of the nice Christian man. Tudge himself boasted to other Labor volunteers that he had lots of volunteers from the local Pentecostal churches. The irony was not lost on any of us. But occasionally, there were people who looked with open disgust at Tudge and said “as if” as they walked straight past him to grab a Greens or Labor HTV. There was also the man who looked at Tudge and said “me wife would kill me if I voted for you”. All of us – other than Tudge – all laughed at that.

Mary Doyle’s emerging image was a a big contrast to that of Tudge. Always in red, whether a top, a dress or boots, so proudly Labor. But also clearly a mum who wasn’t going to cosplay as your Maaaate. Someone who would speak for the working class, for the vulnerable, for the underpaid. Her presence and image in the campaign was a distinct difference from Tudge that it was noticeable that a statement was being made. No more matey football holding, but standing for values and the vulnerable were the way things should be done. The fact Mary was always friendly, always positive helped give the campaigners more energy and passion. That was the direct opposite to what had happened in 2019, from all accounts.

The Anti-Vaxx UAP

One feature of this election were anti-vaxx volunteers for the UAP. This is why in this election, they had volunteers handing out for them and running actual campaigns. I was used to business grifter candidates after some free publicity for their business and paid volunteers from past federal campaigns in Lindsay. This time, though, they had ideologically driven conspiracy theorists. The candidate, Rebekah Spelman, was particularly hard driven with her hatred for mandates, vaccines and the Labor Party in particular. So much so, she wanted to call for the “hanging of Dan Andrews” at a rally. Spelman continually had a bluetooth earpiece in, which I found… curious. But she got on well with Tudge, with them chipping away at each other in a playful way. All quite chummy and nice, especially in the light of Spelman’s history.

An Internet Troll Come to Life

But a UAP volunteer was there for one of the nastier moments of the time at Rowville. There was one moment when Jacqui arrived, and there was a random woman standing at the side, talking loudly about “Labor and the Greens being in bed with each other”, to which I told her she should go to Cooper or MacNamara and see what happens in those seats. She then laughed at our volunteer – Jacqui – for wearing her mask. Jacqui was offended, mostly because she had just recovered from a bad illness, which had prevented her from campaigning for weeks. So she called this random woman an idiot. That then fired up the woman, who then started to shout at Jacqui, while the UAP volunteer backed her up by telling Jacqui she shouldn’t have called her an idiot. The situation was further inflamed by another visitor – a man who was clearly connected to the first random woman – who then decided to attack Labor with a range of comments about Dan Andrews, then Kevin Rudd getting knifed. I said to Jacqui that we weren’t engaging, and I refused to talk to either of them. That inflamed the man, who came close to me and started shouting at me. At the same time, a voter came from the carpark and was startled by the commotion. The voter looked at us confused and I said “don’t worry about him, he’s just an internet troll come to life”.

Fortunately, the aggressive man took off as soon as Jacqui went in to ask the AEC staff to intervene. However, the original woman came back, this time with a man wanting to take photos of Jacqui – getting in her face to do so – in order to make a complaint. It was messy. However, an AEC staffer told them the way to make a complaint, but also their aggressive actions towards Jacqui were inappropriate. All this time, the young Liberal volunteers were silent. But were willing to report the actions of the outsiders. The Greens volunteer was lovely and supportive, standing up to the aggressive man at one point, pointing out “that is a state issue, sir”. But the UAP volunteer was enjoying the show.

Election Day!

Then came Election Day. The end of a long time. I arrived at my booth at 6am. The Liberal volunteers had been there earlier, but this was nothing like Kooyong or Lindsay. They left space for my bunting on the fences. They were friendly and not openly ideological – honestly, like most of the Liberal volunteers. I learned a fair bit about golf, footy and the desire for a Rowville train line in my time in this campaign. So we chatted a lot about things we had in common. I told stories of Lindsay and of marginal seat campaigns in Sydney, which fascinated them. They were not used to that kind of thing.

The day itself was pretty low key all the way along. My wife did the coffee run – there is a great bougie cafe next to Wellington Village that uses Toby’s Estate beans (there are benefits to being in a wealthy Liberal suburb). Mary Doyle was placed on the booth all day, because it was the largest booth, and that’s what Labor does. Her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend also appeared for a time. Throughout the day, the Liberal volunteers chatted away with me and my friend Anne; we mostly stayed aloof from the UAP and Liberal Democrat volunteers. I also talked with the Greens people, who fit into the usual profile for Greens in the outer suburbs – friendly boomers and passionate teenagers / Gen Zs, but these ones were from Casey. The Greens candidate for Aston – Asher Cookson – was their age.

My friend Anne, though, decided to amuse herself with overhearing the conversations between the UAP and Lib Dem people, and their conspiracy theories. Voting machines, dark deals, vaccine conspiracies and ones from the UAP volunteer talking about the Illuminati controlling the weather.

And then we had a visit from a Liberal celebrity, Tim Smith, the soon to be former Member for Kew. He was distinctly different from the other volunteers. He came across as spiky, partisan, a hard nosed ideologue. He wasn’t overly impressed with my connection to the Greens, suggesting that the far left posed a huge problem in Australia. When my friend Anne suggested the far right were a problem, he demurred and suggested that they weren’t really a factor he had experienced. Smith also complained about where he lived – the seat of Kooyong, suggesting that it wasn’t his kind of place any more. It had degraded over the years, and the campaign there was a “circus”. He wasn’t going to campaign there on Election Day because “they would abuse me there”. So he chose to campaign in one of the safest booths in metropolitan Melbourne, in comfortable Rowville.

Here is Tim Smith talking to Rebekah Spelman, the UAP candidate for Aston. They didn’t discuss the possibility of having Dan Andrews hanged.

Alan Tudge also arrived, and by this stage, Mary’s daughter’s boyfriend tried to hand him a Mary flyer, having no idea who Tudge was. It was a very fine moment. Tudge also decided to have a long chat with Tim.

Our best Tim interaction, however, was when one of the Liberal volunteers, not really knowing who Tim Smith was or the fact that he was leaving politics because he crashed his car while over the limit, was talking enthusiastically about his hobby of restoring cars. He talked a solid 10 minutes about cars. So I added that my brother enjoyed restoring cars. Tim stayed completely silent during the whole conversation, knowing that he could say absolutely nothing.

The Patterns of Voting

Throughout the day, there were patterns emerging. Lots of people take all the material, in order to be polite. Especially in Rowville. But there were other patterns emerging. We had many people taking only Liberal HTVs, which was deflating – and character building – for Mary. We had Gen Zs who were clearly either voting Liberal with their parents, or voting because of their parents’ influence. Then there were the Gen Zs who were taking only the Greens’ HTVs, or Greens and Labor. And then there were occasionally the angry looking people taking the Palmer HTVs and semi growling under their breath at us in red shirts. We also had my favourite kind of voting couples. The man walking in front, taking only the Liberal HTV, then the wife, trailing behind, making sure she took a Liberal, Labor and Green HTV. There were a few like that throughout the campaign. There were also others who were delighted to meet Mary, and one took a selfie with her.

The End

The end of the day came. By the end, the emotional toll of the campaign had hit Mary like a truck and she was crying with relief and nerves – and by a voter who made some very affirming comments to her (detailed in the addendum). It was proof that she wasn’t a hardened, cynical politician, but a regular person who was doing a pretty brave thing. That was not an easy booth, it was not an affirming booth. There was no primary swing at the booth, though the Greens doubled their primary vote there, which meant that the 2PP vote for the ALP shifted 4%. Not the best result by any means. But it was good for Mary to be there and see the scale of the challenge for Labor in Aston. It was massive.

One of the things to emerge, however, was a respect the Liberal volunteers had for Mary. She had remained steadfast, positive and friendly throughout the day – as she had through the campaign. They all agreed she was a vastly better candidate than the previous one, who was aloof and ineffective. And one of them gave me some advice on how to help her do better into the future. “Get her to connect with the local sporting clubs”*. That fit into the message I had received loud and clear in my time with the campaign – that is how you get through in Aston. By being a visible local.

The Party at the End of the Day

At the end, the Liberal volunteers and I exchanged our pleasantries, and we moved to our respective lives. They were all going home, not to their function. I was heading to our function at Bayswater Soccer Club. It was a great function, where the small band of true believers watched as the results came in across the country. I learned that Labor HQ didn’t think the swing in Aston would even get near 5%. I also learned that HQ were similarly pessimistic about Menzies, which ran a similarly low budget, shoestring campaign.

The 7.4% swing to Labor in Aston was something to celebrate. There were booths that Labor had not won in decades. This was a campaign of guts, shoe leather and exhaustion. There were Labor people who had been fighting for no gains for many, many campaigns who now had something to cheer. Russell was jubilant. Jacqui was relieved and delighted. Jill was over the moon. It was wonderful to watch. Pam was ecstatic – she had managed a campaign that went wildly more successful than Labor HQ had predicted.

State MP for Bayswater, Jackson Taylor, Aston Campaign Manager Pamela Anderson and Labor Aston candidate, Mary Doyle

And then everyone had the chance to celebrate as the night wore on. There was a massive cheer – one of the biggest of the night – for the victory of Monique Ryan in Kooyong. It didn’t matter she was a teal – the fact was, the Liberals in Victoria were being routed. Tim Wilson losing in Goldstein was also cheered with derisive laughter at the former member of the IPA.

Morrison’s concession speech
Emotional times for Albanese’s speech

There were then cheers for the concession of Morrison and then later the victory speech of Albanese. By the time Albanese spoke, most of volunteers had left. A few had gone to the Trades Hall function, not knowing how they were stay awake. Most had gone home, happy with the result. But I listened to Albanese’s speech as the volunteers heard it – as a thank you to the true believers, like those in Aston who could not barely keep their eyes open at this point of the night. Mary Doyle was again in tears – happy ones this time.

The Future…?

Bernard Keane (and others) might think that Alan Tudge might disappear into the night and that the Liberal Party might try to install Josh Frydenberg into Aston. But I question the logic of that idea, based on the knowledge I accumulated during this campaign. Aston is now a marginal seat – the Labor campaign made it that way with next to no budget and a new candidate. People in Aston now know who Mary Doyle is. And Frydenberg does not have the connections and profile that Tudge has built over 12 years as the incumbent. He is of Toorak, not of Rowville. And there is a vast difference, even if they sell expensive cuts at meat at the IGA. It is hard to imagine the local Liberal volunteers being all that enthusiastic at being used in the same way as Fowler was used by the ALP in Sydney. If the Liberals did try that move, the Aston Labor volunteers would be ready for a by-election. For the first time in decades, they would be saying bring it on.

Addendum

Mary Doyle has responded to a few things that were written in the blog, and made these comments on Twitter.

a) The tears on Sat at 5:35pm were due to a convo w/ a last min voter, Ross, who wanted me to know how glad he was to be voting for someone like me and as he walked in to vote, it hit me all at once that ppl really responded to me and wanted me to represent them

b) I have had my character nicely built up already by handing out many kinds of flyers over the last two and a half decades and being told to ‘f**k off’ by ppl , so at age nearly 52, Liberal voters refusing my HTV is water off an old duck’s back by now!

c) the Lib vols @ Rowville weren’t privy to my visits to the sporting clubs around the other end of Aston… not being a particularly sporty person myself, Jackson Taylor took me along to meet many of the local sporting clubs around Boronia, Baysie & Wantirna. So there’s that 🙂

Oh and d) I still have dreams of being a rock star… so if there are any musos out there who’d like to collab with me feel free to slide into my DMs

Categories
Cultural Comment Politics

Killing Preston Towers

I decided some time ago that Preston Towers must die. But how to do it was the question. Why must he die? There’s a number of reasons why he needs to go, but I have been too gutless and weak to do it.

  1. The Era of the Pseudonym is dying. When I started Preston Towers, it was a time when there were a fair few people using pseudonyms on which to comment on politics. The most famous in Australian political twitter was Grogs Gamut, who was working in the Australian Public Service and couldn’t tweet and write about ideas under a real name. Being a teacher, there’s always similar limits (though not as draconian) to social media output under one’s own name. Having the pseudonym gave me a freedom that made fellow teachers fairly jealous. Over time, however, the pseudonyms have disappeared. Grogs Gamut was famously doxxed due to his influence, but he managed to make his hobby into a full time paid living. I was never skilled enough or interested in doing anything like that. (This is not false modesty, I really could never do the things Greg Jericho and other people in professional media do). Most of those other pseudonyms have disappeared over time
  2. Threats of Doxxing. One of the threats with using a pseudonym is that people who disagree with you can threaten to doxx you, in order to silence your voice. Van Badham and her partner, Ben Davison, tried this tactic some years ago, using my real first name in order to issue a barely veiled threat of doxxing me. There have been some other attempts over the years – always from so called “progressive” twitter. I suspect after a while that Van and Ben had realised that I posed little threat to them, so they stopped. I pose little threat to anyone, which is why no-one has never been persistent or serious about their threats to doxx me. That mildly surprised me during the 2013 election campaign, where I pissed off a lot of people with my takes about western Sydney and about the Labor Megaphones in the AusVotes / AusOpinion blog. But here I still am, 9 years later.
  3. Screenshots! My latest project has been to expose the misinformation and lies of various people with large followings with screenshots of their publicly available tweets, whether it be on PT or on the Mill of Content. Misinformation and lies really annoy me, especially when people with good intentions are influenced by people who are acting out of bad faith and mendaciousness. And that activity to be the one thing that is driving the latest threat to doxx me. There is a person (I am not naming the person, but there’s a fair few who would know who it is) has been telling her followers that I have been “stalking her” for 8 years and that she is going to ring the police, ring my place of work, and doxx me. It’s just not true that I have been “stalking her”. (I’m pretty sure we followed each other on twitter not all that long ago, for a start.) Stalking is a serious criminal offence, and I have no interest in going anywhere near that person. For a start, I have read what can happen to multiple tricycles that are near her. But more seriously, I have had, for a bit over a year now, an alt account that has been following accounts of various political influence and interests. The account follows people like Rita Panahi, Caleb Bond, and PR Guy and the like – people I wouldn’t want to follow on my usual accounts, but acts as a way to find out what’s happening in Big Opinion Land. And even though I have never followed her on that account, her tweets appear all the time, liked and retweeted by all sorts of people.
  4. It’s absolutely my own fault. Because twitter causes people to repeat dumb mistakes, I kept screenshotting and publishing her ridiculous statements and pronouncements, even though she kept repeating her lies about me “stalking her”. I just find it fascinating and a little bit galling how someone can spread misinformation at the rate she does, and have so many fawning followers. I didn’t think she was serious, though, until she found my real name professional account and possibly searched my LinkedIn one day. I realised that someone who would be serious about attacking me could do that. Plenty of people know who I am, and it wouldn’t be hard for those who loathe Preston Towers to tell someone who wanted to silence me. It’s really not that hard to do. And because that user has been laughed at and belittled by so many in the last two months, it appears that she decided that attacking me will make up for the comprehensive humiliation that she has suffered. And she can continue to defame me without correction because I can’t stop her, who am I? Just someone with a pseudonym. Mud sticks, especially amongst those who are as allergic to the truth as people who would continue to follow people like that, despite all they have done. It’s all so very twitter. But it’s not the real reason why I am Killing Preston.
  5. The mistakes live on. I have made a lot of other dumb mistakes on twitter. Lots of attacks, arguments, comments, garbage acts, mistakes of comprehension. All sorts of dumb shit. And the stain left behind by those mistakes don’t always fade away. I regret what I have said to a whole bunch of people that I respect and admire for what they say and do. I was going to name people I have wronged, but me naming people has caused problems in the past, and that’s not my intent or purpose here. My various mental health issues have all been there to see, combining with arrogance and stubbornness to leave damage to how people see me. And fair enough too. I have been an absolute fuckwit at times. I would love to have the opportunity to apologise to all sorts of people, either in real life or online, but I burnt those chances some time ago. That makes me sad, because I know that in real life, I’m a fairly laid back and affable person, and I cringe when I look back at those actions, which I would never have done in person.
  6. What else do I have to say? Aside from the mistakes, I have also realised that I probably don’t have a lot left to say with the Preston Towers account. There’s a number of middle aged, middle class white men with opinions out there. While I despise most middle aged, middle class white people (I hate golf, fishing, boats, horse racing, BBQ posing, and I love women’s sport), I know that I am forever grouped with that lot, and so my voice doesn’t carry much weight on twitter. And that’s a good thing – twitter should be a forum for the marginalised, those who haven’t got a voice on more commercialised and mainstream media sources. I am over-represented on all sorts of media. I also look at my commentary on politics and have realised for some time that I am repeating myself, and not bringing much in the way of new insights into anything very much. Compiling the Mill of Content has reinforced that fact.
  7. Western Sydney No More. When I started the account named for an apartment building in Penrith, I was different to the other Middle Class Middle Aged White Men in one key way. I was providing an insight into life and issues in Western Sydney that wasn’t around all that much in media sources. And frankly, still aren’t. But that’s a fault with the traditional and new media that will never ben fixed. The jobs and HQs are all in the inner city, the media professionals mostly come from a small pool, and even they do come from “outside”, they are quickly initiated into the cliques that reinforce the norms. It’s a self perpetuating cycle. But there’s little point in continuing to bash my metaphorical head against that wall of indifference. Besides, Western Sydney can be discussed by others on social media, especially since I haven’t lived there for more than 2 years. I will continue to comment on where I live now, but I can do that on another account in a less pushy way.
  8. Life! I love my life away from Twitter – personal and professional. Twitter has helped with the former and latter. I have met many great friends through twitter, and I will continue to talk to them on my real name accounts. Using the account has made me very adept at understanding contemporary society and language, meaning that I get what teenagers are seeing, saying, hearing and experiencing. It has made my more relatable and a better teacher. An example came this week in the VCE English Language course that I have started teaching. I ask the question – “remember blogs?”. I got a number of chuckles, especially from those who are adept and experienced users of social media. There’s even a student in that class who knows how to use Twitter – a rare person indeed in an era where Twitter is not all that popular with teens. This particular student has more followers than Preston Towers, so he knows what it’s like to have such an account. He knows that with more followers comes more fights, more annoyances. And that’s great for him. I have had enough of it all.
  9. The Mill of Content is Fun! More people like the Mill of Content than Preston Towers, that has become clear – and that’s good! Since I switched it to be an archive / media aggregator, I have realised that it provides a useful service, which is what I like to do in general. I like being helpful. I enjoy it a lot more than tweeting with constant looking over my shoulder and having to lock the account. Plus, who wants to hear my opinion any more? I don’t want to most times. With the Mill, I get the chance to produce a primary source hub. And if anyone tries to doxx that, what can they say about the account? It tweets publicly available tweets. One day, I will attach my real name to the Mill, because I still have the dream of making it a useful resource for students studying VCE English Language. And that would make me very happy. It would mean that my knowledge, insights, and memories accumulated as Preston Towers wouldn’t be for nought. However, it’s Time to Die, Preston Towers.
Categories
Classical Music Uncategorized

Confronting Assumptions in Classical Music Recording – The Videos of David Hurwitz

When you practice a piece of music, something I have not done in some time, there’s a necessity to find the section in the music that is giving you the most trouble and working on it, so it gives you less trouble. The problem was always for me – I was never persistent enough to entirely iron out the mistakes. The troublesome section would continue to bite me – especially if I stopped playing it for a while.

Normally, this blog has been about politics, and ordinarily I would make some point about most of our politicians being similar – not persistent enough to iron out mistakes. Or, in their case, lacking the reflective ability to know about their deficiencies.

And yet, I won’t be extending that metaphor, largely because I am disgusted by most of politics and by most politicians. Thinking about politics makes me exhausted, quite frankly. So, I am writing about something that has been consuming me this past couple of months – assumptions and beliefs I had made about “classical” music performance. And having them confronted, forcing me to be persistent and iron out the mistakes I had been making. Most of our male politicians in Canberra are incapable of any of that kind of thing.

2021 and David Hurwitz

I wrote about my classical CD collection last year in this post – which spells out how the recordings of Roger Norrington came to dominate my single version of most repertoire collection. It also shows how my 2020 rediscovery was based mostly on my opinions from my 20s. I even started to buy the recordings of the 2010s answer to Roger Norrington, Francois-Xavier Roth and his Les Siecles group. But as I have continued to look for multiple versions, I discovered the videos of David Hurwitz.

David Hurwitz is a finance and real estate bloke in New York which is just a way to fund his true love – classical music. He plays percussion for community orchestras and is the executive editor of ClassicsToday.com, an American classical music review website that comes up a lot when you search for reviews of specific CDs. Lockdown for him has meant that he has taken to Youtube and spilling out all of his knowledge, wisdom, anecdotes and feelings about classical music. A LOT of all of those things.

Hurwitz has pumped out more than 500 videos in this last year, and I have watched a fair few of them. They have jolted me. Led me down an entirely different listening path, and forced me to confront my own prejudices and judgements about classical music performance. Thing is, after watched these videos, I have developed a large respect for his opinions, because they clearly come from a place of great, detailed knowledge of the works, conversations with other experts, musicians and conductors. Above all, his love for music is what drives him, but it’s a love based on research and detailed reflection. It is also admirable that Hurwitz’s anecdotes and opinions reveal that he has no time for marketing hype and grand statements. He is also very, very funny. Using a Karajan CD box in a workout video is one of the funniest things I have seen on Youtube.

Confrontations and “Howevers”

Over the time of watching the videos, I have been confronted by his contention that Roger Norrington may well be the worst conductor of modern times ; that Francois-Xavier Roth and Les Siecles were just more HIP hype ; that the (cheap, but widely praised) Riccardo Chailly cycles of Brahms and Beethoven that I had bought in 2020 were “boring”; that Gramophone and its reviews may just be mostly bullshit. He also places a lot more emphasis on respecting US orchestras and the conductors who worked there – especially in the 50s and 60s – than most of what I read before. In addition, a very large proportion of recordings in my shelves didn’t even made it to his “good” section of his videos (with a few exceptions). As I said, very confronting, especially to my mid 20s self.

There’s two ways to respond to confrontations. Be like a lot of men on the internet and shut down and stay with the views you formulate in your 20s, or really try to understand how you reached those views. Also, do the research. This last point made me dive back into the Maestro Myth of Lebrecht and realise great chunks of it is complete half arsed bullshit, even if Karajan still was a bit of a tyrant with bizarre ideas about cars.

I think this is still my favourite bonkers conductor moment

One of the features of many of Hurwitz’s videos is that he will suggest a range of good, very good and excellent recordings of any particular work, with the climax being his “However” recommendations for what he believes is the best recording of pieces. I started by listening to some of them on Apple Music – if I could find them – and then, if I loved them, I would scraping through Amazon and Ebay for them. That has not been all that easy from Australia, due to sky high postage costs from the US and Japan. However… I have managed to get a fair few. What I have discovered is that indeed, pretty much all of them have been absolute bangers of recordings (I know that term is probably not age appropriate, but I think it’s apt) and better than the ones I had.

That’s not to say that I have become a Hurwitz disciple in the way I was a slave to the trends that abounded in my 20s. I don’t agree with him on everything. For example, I still prefer Stephen Hough’s Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto recordings to the Lortie ones he recommends – partially because I have long adored the music of Saint-Saens and have my own ideas about how it should sound, which is not based on the opinions of others in the way many of my opinions were formed about other composers’ works. An example of this would be that I have almost no opinion of Bruckner or Sibelius, because I have not really heard much of their music. Also in terms of differing from Hurwitz, I also still like a lot of what Roth is doing, because I don’t think he’s a slave to his research in the way Norrington, Gardiner and some others in the HIP movement tended to be in the past. I think a lot of HIP people who are recording now are very good. I also still like Norrington in a couple of recordings. I will admit, however, in regards Norrington, that I had stopped listening to most of his recordings some years ago, which I thought was due to me losing interest in music. Listening to them now up against other recordings, I realise that most of them really aren’t that good.

Where Hurwitz’s videos have been of most help to me is to understand the distinctive features of the music, conductors, orchestra, sonics of the recording and the sound that arrives as a combination of all of those features. He provides a system upon which I can base any future judgements. Having the reference editions can help triangulate where your tastes are. The problem for me previously was working out which “reference” ones to get. And Hurwitz’s recommendations have reached into all sorts of unexpected areas, such as Naxos and the super cheap Brilliant Classics recordings from East German state orchestras. Plus, I know which super cheap Warner or Universal boxes to look for. I also will go down the Czech Supraphon rabbit hole at some stage, because I have long admired the music of Martinu (I think of him as one of the best composers of the 20th Century) , but have found it hard to find recordings.

The other thing Hurwitz’s videos do is show the features of repertoire that is largely unfamiliar – such as Martinu’s – in a detailed and entertaining way. There’s corners of the repertoire I have not experienced in a lot of detail, but look forward to doing so, having bought the However version of them, or finding them on Apple Music to listen to in the car first. (I need to stop buying CDs, even if they are mostly cheap!) He has, for example, has shown me how to approach Dvorak in a way I had not before. I have been blown away by the recordings I have been buying of his music.

A New Way of Listening

The result of all of this reflection and self confrontation is that I feel much better about my choices and listening to music these days. I have a sense of connection to a wider world of music listening that I had before, that my listening can have a focus and purpose. That my classical connection isn’t just a very extensive musak soundtrack. This feeds to a wider sense of who I am as a person. That in my late 40s, I have needed to do a close zoom into my belief systems and realise what is received wisdom and what is genuinely my own, or what can be genuinely my own into the future.

Watching the videos en masse have also shown me in a profound fashion the worth of respecting tradition. In other words, music performance should not be based purely on the printed notes and written research – in this analogy, some in the HIP crew were like fundamentalists using the Bible for their purposes. Music should really be a thing where traditions passed over time should be more respected, which is a good philosophy in life. We can’t just throw out everything that has happened between the time the music was written and now and start anew. That philosophy of life should not be applied just to music.

Categories
Cultural Comment Politics

Lebensraum and the Giant Rat – Bolt’s Farewell Letter

Nationality “chooser”, Adam Goodes abuser, convicted racist Andrew Bolt has left Melbourne. Ordinarily, the tale of some rich, out of touch media columnist leaving the city that helped to build a career of deception and performative bigotry wouldn’t be worth looking at. But the farewell letter to Melbourne – from the Herald Sun of December 2 – and his desire for some living space is so funny, so crypto fascist, so swollen with pretention, that it absolutely needs to be read. I would like to thank the benefactor who sent me the whole text, so I didn’t have to pay to read it. And now, you don’t have to.

Here we go.

The house is sold and I’m heading bush, without a single tear, but I’m not alone in fleeing Melbourne after months of lockdown. That’s it. I’m out of here. Melbourne, I loved you once but it’s all over between us. So the house is sold, the boxes packed, and I’m heading bush, without a single tear.

Bolt has always thought of himself as a wordsmith, an artist. Goes back to his days of desperately trying to impress his colleagues at The Age and his wistful desire to work at the ABC. No tears! Sure there’s no tears.

Plus, so much for being a battler for the average man writing in the average man’s paper – being able to leave the city and work from outside the city, selling his $2.8 million home in Malvern East. Plus, here he is, trying to portray a love affair with Melbourne. One that was purely one sided, where one side is an abuser.

Blame maybe the coronavirus for the cold goodbye. I’m not alone in fleeing Melbourne after months of this virus lockdown. That didn’t just leave me feeling claustrophobic and wanting out before this crazy government’s next stunt. I was felt threatened by how eagerly so many Melburnians accepted home imprisonment and looked for people to dob in.

“Crazy government’s next stunt” is code for “a government using science based decision making”. Bolt has several issues with science, as in he does not believe in it. It’s a curious position for an admitted atheist being so enthusiastic in his faith that science is wrong about the world, while Bolt’s instincts are much more reliable.

The most astonishingly hypocritical part of that paragraph, however, is when he bemoans Victorians “seeking to dob each other in”, when Bolt himself has been encouraging people to vilify Indigenous people, Islamic people and others who don’t fit into Bolt’s own picture of acceptable behaviour and attitudes. He’s Melbourne’s biggest virtue signaller, and yet, he has managed to convinced himself that it’s other people’s “dobbing in” that’s the problem.

How I need more space, fewer people and a wide sky to let me dream I’m free. But, honestly, I was pretty much done with Melbourne already. I’d planned for years to bail out the moment I could. That’s now. Kids left. Savings topped up. Career optional.

What a way to build a connection with a working class / everyman audience – he’s made lots and lots of money from his act over the years. So relatable.

So part of this move is me — but part of it, Melbourne, is you. It’s more than 40 years since I moved from Murray Bridge to Melbourne, and my first real job. How I adored the capital of the Garden State. There was more green than I was used to. More flowers.

Bolt has been doing his level best to make sure Victoria is less green now and into the future with his climate change denialism. And we know about his first real job – working for the Age, a place for which he still clearly pines. Ironically, the way it is these Ninefax days, they might be ready for his brand of right wing demagogue act.

The city seemed sedate, too. Ordered.

The Germans in the build up to WW2 were also good at ordered cities.

Oh, it had flaws. The Yarra bank, across from the city centre, was an eyesore. I still remember seeing a giant rat there, before the warehouses went and restaurants and the casino came. Now the only rats are the human ones a casino inevitably attracts. Is that an improvement? Or just more “progress” to regret, like the rash of pokie machines that infected the city from the 1990s, the previous time a Labor government drove the state broke and needed cash.

The massive hypocrisy of a writer for the Herald Sun being opposed to gambling is one of the bigger guffaw generating moments. Has he read his own paper? Seen the ads? Seen the stories? Have never seen one of his beloved Liberal Governments wind any of that gambling back. Nor even seen Bolt himself write all that much about these venal places. But when you’re a fake, pretending to hate things when you have little to lose is easy to do.

The best part of this “farewell letter” is the giant rat. If that rat was still alive, it might well be the only true friend Bolt made. He would have known his kind when he met Bolt. Conversely, it could have been a different story entirely if the giant rat ate him, doing the city of Melbourne a favour, but sadly, alas, if he was still alive, he would now cut a tragic figure as a symbol of a lost opportunity.

I also remember when Melbourne boasted it was Australia’s arts capital, and few dared disagree. Back then, it had a new arts centre, and gloried in hometown playwrights like David Williamson and bred performers as wildly wonderful as Barry Humphries. But Williamson then moved to Sydney, as did others, and once-rollicking Melbourne grew so po-faced that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival last year stripped Humphries’ name from its top prize because he’d offended transgender activists. A city that swaps a Humphries for a Hannah Gadsby has had fun stamped out of it by a new elite that wants laughter to have a licence. And a city that insists it’s still an arts mecca because — look! — we have lanes coated with graffiti really needs a reality check

Old white writers is what Bolt loves and knows, and they are fading away. With Bolt, Humphries’ best character, Sandy Stone, is not a satire, it’s a life goal. There’s nothing rollicking about Williamson’s tired schtick about comfortable Melbourne middle class conversations. Bolt, though, would have got a sustained thrill being a subject of one of those scenes, even if it was criticising him. That’s because Bolt clearly loves being the villain of the professional middle class – the professional troll. He probably realised that when he was on the outer with the Age’s culture. Better to be discussed than ignored.

The commentary on Hannah Gadsby’s finely honed comedy is yet another example of Bolt’s misunderstanding that the world is no longer accepting the bigotry and aggressive apathy of a society unwilling to look at itself. And the last line is just dumb.

Then there’s the traffic. When I moved to Melbourne, it had 2.8 million people, and that already seemed plenty. But our politicians, addicted to macho-growth, doubled it to more than five million. Homes with gardens were torn down and replaced with apartments. The city spread like cancer, and Melbourne now has just too, too many people. Boy, have I noticed. Finding a break in the traffic to get out of my street got harder. Sunday went from a quiet day on the roads to jam-packed. And with so many newcomers crowding the city, you couldn’t talk any more about a “we” — people sharing the stories that turn individuals into a community. Stories? We barely share a language, now that immigrants no longer feel the pressure to integrate, as did my parents’ generation. In the virus crisis, the government translated health warnings into 53 languages, and still it wasn’t enough. Victorians born overseas were twice as likely as those born here to get sick. And have you noticed how brutal Melbourne has become? More gangs, more street violence, more home invasions.

This section is so laced with crypto fascist dogma that it can be used as a template for anyone seeking the ways racist writers position their desire for society to opposed non white immigration. It has all the ingredients.

  • Blaming traffic on the newcomers, Fiona Scott style
  • Replacing homes, that Anglo – Celtic desire, with apartments filled with foreigners, who are fine with that kind of thing
  • A city growing from immigration is “like cancer” – the analogy is clear, but even if it the connection wasn’t clear…
  • Jumping from a complaint about being trapped in “his” suburb to “newcomers crowding the city” – damn those new migrants
  • There is no community because these foreigners speak their own languages now
  • These new migrants are twice as likely to get sick. How dare they be poor people who live closer together, therefore being more susceptible to the spread of disease.
  • And clearly, by the placements of the next set of comments, these new migrants are vicious criminals

What Bolt clearly needs is some lebensraum.

Even the language is more brutal. I this week read of the “heartfelt” Instagram post of a footballer’s fiance, battling to get pregnant through IVF. “’Motherhood sounds so f..king magical,” she wrote. How that obscenity jarred next to “motherhood”.

One of the most mendacious tricks of these frauds like Bolt is a pretense to want “civilised” discourse, while they themselves preach layers of hate with civilised language. It’s also the refuge of the faux intellectual. Ben Shapiro belongs to the same vapid school of judgmental language critique.

True, Melbourne still does things well. It has the Richmond AFL club, for one. And no city can get more people to a big game so easily.

Bolta is a Richmond fan. Trust him to support a club that might make him seem like he’s connected to the “working man”. Also, can’t imagine him being all that much of a fan of the vocabulary of Dustin Martin.

PLUS, DOES ANDERS BLOT GO TO THE FOOTBALL? REALLY?

He’s fooling no-one. Blot will return to Melbourne when Wagner is on. Not to see his beloved Trent Riewoldt kick some steaks.

I’ll also miss the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Its Australian art gives me a happy outing a couple of times a year.

He would be ignoring the Indigenous art displays. And most of the modern stuff.

But the rest? What can Melbourne now offer me that compares to the joy of leaving it? You may know the feeling as you drive away. Houses finally give way to paddocks and soft hills, blue in the distance, or you crest a rise and see the great ocean at last. The horizon expands. The air freshens. The roar of cars gives way to bird calls. Breath in, tension out. Melbourne behind you, a gentler life ahead.

“Soft hills”. There he is, trying to be Les Murray again. Cringeworthy doggerel from someone seeking his gentle life of being able to produce his bigotry and hate from a safe distance, without having to run into people directly affected by his mendacious poison.

He’s found his room to live, having failed to stop the invasion of the Infidel. He’ll still write and get published, because the Hun is a vile organ, riddled with the cancer caused by this blot on the landscape.

Categories
Cultural Comment Politics

TealChoices – How people with the ability to choose did

Choices Part 1 – WorkChoices

Fifteen years ago, the word “Choice” was heavily discussed in Australian politics. In the built up to the 2007 election, WorkChoices was one policy that helped to sink John Howard. Work “Choices”, as workers knew, was no real “Choice” at all, for those people being retrenched and then re-employed on nastier, meaner employment agreements and contracts. It was one overreach by a hubristic Liberal government taking advantage of a rare majority in the Senate.

Flash forward to the recent election, and Choice was again the word that dominated the election. The choices were vastly different this time, however. This time, there was a paradigm shift and a societal momentum towards making a decisive change. Choices were made to vote for someone other than the two major political brands. More voters than ever decided to choose outside the regular two political brands – actually did it this time, instead of just thinking about it. And the big two will be worried about that shift. 

Choices Part 2 – TealChoices

Those choices – TealChoices – were provided to electorates to whom choice outside a mainstream two brand decision is a daily reality. Go to Kooyong and Wentworth and you will see people making all sorts of choices – shopping at a high end IGA (in Melbourne, often a Ritchie’s), Toscanos, Harris Farm Markets. These are the areas in which being able to choose a form of transport into work – a well appointed train, tram or bus service that offers multiple routes. Even driving is not a punishing affair as it is for those in other parts of the cities. For the people who own their own houses living in those suburbs, there are choices in life afforded to those who have accumulated resources over the years, and are not so threatened by a rise in interest rates. For those who rent, they are similarly unencumbered by the rise of interest rates and are not exposed to the emotional scarring that mortgage stress can create. That’s why these groups have choices. In the past, however, only 15 – 20% of the people in those kinds of areas have chosen to carry their choices into their votes – with a couple of exceptions. In Hobart, people in Denison chose an independent voice, Andrew Wilkie. In North Sydney, there was Ted Mack. But this time, that change. The mood changed.

Why are they Teals?

One of the driving forces behind the teal wave is Simon Holmes a Court, son of Robert Holmes a Court, who was a symbol of the old Liberal / Commerce nexus. For his grizzle about the “teal” label, it works. They are a blur of blue Liberals and the Greens. While News Ltd overstate his influence and power over the movement (massively), his money and name did help to connect and draw upon a wider community dissatisfaction with a Liberal Party that had moved further and further away from the socially progressive / economically conservative values of the Liberal Party. Communities that were continually revolted by the lazy outer suburban dog whistling of Tony Abbott, then Scott Morrison. In addition, communities that could see that their Liberal government was not the party of Menzies. It was instead more like a Calwell Labor government might have looked like – one stuck in the past, dedicated to weird, throwback socialistic actions like funding coal fired power stations and not backing environmentally sustainable future business opportunities. It was like an inverse of this famous cartoon from the 1949 election. Except this time, it was Morrison and Joyce stuck in the Chifley car and the Teals were Robert Menzies, offering the future. Except this time, the car was electric.

These people had, for the first time, a viable choice in an acceptable form – a community based, usually well educated, economically centrist “teal”. And, most importantly, someone selected by a community based process, not someone who would normally put their hand up to be independent and make the campaign about them. These were candidates responsible to the community organisations that had selected them. That model worked in those seats in Melbourne and Sydney with a sizeable cohort of older, established, but environmentally minded voters, as well as a considerable number of younger voters who might have considered voting Green, but realising that a teal candidate was worth a first or second preference, in order to bring about action on climate change and asylum seeker issues.

The Greens and Teal

The Greens could have, at one stage of their life, ridden the teal wave. Fiona Scott, the one term member for Lindsay, said to me at a prepolling booth in Lindsay in 2016 that she believed the Greens would be the part of the seats like Mackellar, Wentworth and Warringah, while the Liberals would eventually be the party of the outer suburbs – the mortgage belt. That wasn’t a random idea. There was the evidence of a teal wave buried deep in senate votes in traditional Liberal seats. There were reasons why the Greens had senators for many years in NSW and Victoria in particular – high votes in those seats. Liberals and others used to derisively call them “doctor’s wives”, but they were in reality people who were clearly tired of having just a choice between Liberal and Labor and decided that climate change action and more progressive social policies – unbound by the anchor of pragmatism that causes Labor to compromise – were important, at least in terms of senate representation. There were many within the Greens in NSW – me included – who were advocating for a more dedicated push into those seats, much like the Victorian Greens’ successful push into Prahran in the state parliament. The Greens in NSW, however, made a decided choice to be dedicated to a harder edged socialist platform – progressive socially and economically – that cost them the opportunity to take those seats. Their constant churn of HOR candidates also did not help their cause. That is not to say that their decision was necessarily a bad thing – it is good to have a party consistently challenging the status quo, and in NSW, they have consistently challenged the systems that operate in that largely flawed and in many ways corrupt state. On a side note, David Shoebridge will be a loss to that state’s parliament. But his departure to Canberra will also be welcomed by people fronting various parliamentary committees.

Younger Voters and Brisbane

However, a discussion of a teal wave becomes somewhat more complicated in Queensland, where the movement has been more Green than Teal. More an inverse of the Sydney and Melbourne model, where the younger voters had more influence than the older ones. Of the top five seats with younger populations – people under 35 – in Australia, three of them in Brisbane were ripe for the Greens. Lots of renters, lots of university students. That would be of considerable benefit to the Australian Greens’ active courting of younger people wanting decisive action on climate change, asylum seekers and social policies. It also helped the Queensland Greens that over the years they have taken a different pathway to the NSW Greens, deciding in part, especially more recently, that candidate choice and dedicated building towards victories over many years was the pathway to success. A solid ground game, lots of doorknocking and a positive environment and social policy focus led by Larissa Waters has helped the Greens in Brisbane build a solid choice for voters, especially younger voters.

For Brisbane’s three inner city seats that turned Greens, therefore, with a combination of those younger voters combining with older, wealthy, “teal” voters in their million dollar Queenslanders created the perfect storm to push the Greens over the line. This is why Brisbane’s choices need to be seen different to those taken in Sydney and Melbourne. It might also help to explain that Labor’s response to the Green rise – especially that of Terri Butler – to be negative, was perhaps not the most effective strategy. It might work for older voters, but cynicism and consideration of “pragmatism” and “compromise” is not what younger voters want. They want to choose change, not more of the same.

Rural Choices

Before considering the future of this teal wave, this is not to say that the notion of choice is limited to wealthy inner-city areas. There have also been choices made by the relatively wealthy and comfortably off in rural areas into the past, with traditional Nationals seats disappearing from their books. There was New England, where the National-minded rebel Tony Windsor won on the back of his time in state parliament. In Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, another former National, but independent thinker did the same as Windsor. In Calare, the people chose TV presenter Peter Andren as their voice. The people of Indi decided that a local, Cathy McGowan, was a better option than a political blow-in, Sophie Mirabella. In Nicholls, there was a swing to an independent. In Cowper, there was a swing to an independent. And finally, we have Kennedy, where an agrarian socialist, Bob Katter, has been charming locals with his bizarre mix of socialist, Labor, Nationals and crocodile focused doggerel for years. 

The Teal Curtain – Where does the Teal Choice Stop?

What might be forgotten, in this new era of choice, is that most Federal electorates still do not offer that choice. Never was that more stark for me than when I was standing at a prepoll booth in Aston, with just me and my red Labor How To Votes and the Liberals. No Greens, no community independents. Just the two major brands. A bit like those areas that just offer Woolworths and Coles. The areas where most people watch or listen to one of the commercial TV or radio stations, but not the ABC or SBS. For those areas, the outer suburbs, teals – community independents – would always struggle to mount a campaign. This is why people like Alan Tudge knew they were relatively safe in this election. There is a Teal Curtain, whereby people either side of it will have or won’t have a viable or realistic choice outside one of the major parties. Where those alternatives can hope for 15% or maybe 20% at most. In Melbourne, the teal curtain can be best guessed to be an Eastern Suburbs phenomenon, whereby the curtain runs along Warrigal Rd, then up to Union Road towards Bulleen. In Sydney, the curtain can be more effectively drawn around Wentworth in the eastern suburbs, and then in the northern suburbs along the Pacific Highway, even though it may head further west in time.

Bougie Shops and Teals

If you want to took for the teal curtain’s movements, look for where there’s a choice other than Woolworths of Coles. I’m not talking Aldi, which is more of a choice for working class people and is very popular in places that still have the choice only between Liberal and Labor. I am referring to wherever there are bougie IGAs that sell expensive French cheeses or Harris Farm Markets type shops (Harris Farm had a shop in Penrith for a while, which did not last long – it needed to be in Springwood…). This is completely unscientific, but hey, this is just a blog, after all.

What of their Future?

For the Greens, there is still a worth in the teal wave and their impact on younger people who are the children of wealthy parents. We cannot underestimate the appeal of the Greens to those in their 20s. In my very Liberal, very conservative booth in Aston on Election Day, I saw many people under 25 march straight to the Greens volunteers and take only their material. This is why in that booth, there was a doubling of the Greens primary from 5% in 2019 to 10% this time. One of the most Liberal booths had one of the biggest Greens swings. It was one of the biggest Greens swings in Aston. On a side note, just around the corner, there is a bougie IGA that sells the most amazing cheese and sauces. That cannot be just a one off phenomenon in seats where choices are available.

I have no idea, though, what is going to happen with the teals. As Holmes a Court says, the teal members are all community based independents, looking out for their communities. They all have a Choice. The new Greens members have fewer choices, because they belong to a party. However, as we have seen, the Greens have more choices and freedoms because they don’t have to appeal to a wide range of voters. Whatever happens, it will be much more interesting than Federal politics has been for some time. And we won’t need to be looking too closely at the Liberals’ PotatoChoice.

Categories
Cultural Comment Politics Uncategorized

The (Tread)Mill of Content

I see a mill gleaming amid the alders

the roar of mill – wheels

cuts through the babbling and singing.

Welcome, welcome, sweet song of the mill!

How inviting the house looks, how sparkling its windows!

And how brightly the sun shines from the sky. 

Now, dear little brook, is this what you meant?

Halt! from Die Schöne Müllerin, by Johann Müller

The Ever-Pumping Mill of Content

If you’re relatively new to twitter, like a friend of mine, then it’s an alluring, bright, sparkling and confusing place. I know, because that friend is now asking me a lot of questions about the layers of meaning, codes and shorthand being used by seasoned twitter users. Last year, she obtained mastery of the TikTok algorithm and went viral with excellent, funny Content. This same friend has, this year, become even more incredibly passionate about social issues, especially about the way women have been sidelined and abused by powerful men. The events around the rape of Brittany Higgins and subsequent women’s marches has been her radicalising moment. As a result of this, as well as a sense of frustration about the portrayal of Melbourne across various media outlets, she has thrown herself onto the never ending (Tread)Mill of Content and it’s difficult to hang on. So this blog post is written partially for her, and for anyone else who wants to be a successful producer of Content, or perhaps want to understand their position as an audience member.

Turning People into Performative Products

For anyone not familiar with the notion of a Mill, it has become a metonym for anything that emerged in the production of goods and pretty much the advancement of society, whether it be the dark, satanic mills of Blake or the constantly whirring mills spinning through the imagination of poet Johann Müller and composer Franz Schubert in the song cycle Die Schöne Mullerin.

In this extended metaphor, the Mill of Content is the endlessly cycling, voracious requirement social media has for content. The most brutal and unforgiving Content Platforms are TikTok and YouTube, but also possibly its most pure, in terms of the distance between everyday human interaction and a performative version of it – most with sustained success on both of those have an artifice, brand and style that helps establish their engagement and fan base.

On Twitter, however, it is considered an insult if a twitter user is accused of being “performative” and that their interactions, and Content is a product of artifice, repetition and strategy, rather than spontaneously human expression. Understandably, as many with large follower counts are spontaneous and genuine, but also naturally gifted at attracting attention with that spontaneity and genuine warmth. However, these people are rare, and the timeline and archives of most successful twitter Content producers do show evidence of some consideration and positioning in the way they craft and pitch their tweets.

The product at the end of the day is performance, of people performing in response to issues and events of any given day. In order to have sustained success with a twitter account – especially for those without other media platforms – it is the result of daily, repetitive work in producing up to date, savvy Content. After a while, it is clear to see what serves as grist for the Mill of Content.

The Process of Content Production

Step One – The Initial Content

There are many approaches to becoming a Twitter Content Producer. And many that aren’t in this post. These are the ones, however, that have become obvious over my time on twitter. This also refers to Australian political twitter, as that is my experience.

Minor Media Figures / Twitter Famous

What is remarkable about the bigger, more popular Content producers on Australian twitter is how big minor media figures are on the medium. People who have small or fringe jobs in on mainstream media, but pump out wildly popular Content. Examples are people like Tonightly writer and performer Greg Larsen, Utopia secretary Nina Oyama, sometime Chaser fringe dweller and occasional Feed sketch guest Ben Jenkins. Their roles might be small in the media outside twitter, but they really work hard on their Content, as to collect a big following. An advantage for them is that they aren’t known well enough outside twitter to attract a swarm of haters / admirers / stans which would give them more freedom to be edgy and critical of politics and the media. They aren’t being monitored by News Limited and Liberal Governments as much as people like Leigh Sales, and there is also less for them to lose if they make a mistake of tone. For the most part, these minor media figures will occasionally appear on panel shows, but mostly will stay stars of twitter.

An exception to this rule was Yasmin Abdel-Magied, who like the other popular Content producers was a largely unknown (and very happy, upbeat) presenter on a Sunday morning cultural program that sat somewhere near Offsiders and televised church programs. However, because she had worked for the ABC, and not on a comedy program, her innocuous tweet about Anzac Day meant that News Limited could feast on it for their own performative outrage purposes.

There are also those who have built their profiles with Twitter to gain larger profiles. Jan Fran and Mark Humphries are two in this category, successfully taking their relatively small roles and using twitter to make themselves and their Content better known more widely. Fran in particular is showing herself as being adept at understanding issues and repacking it as Content on the ABC’s Question Everything. Humphries has used his physical appearance of being an every(white)man figure from a John Brack painting to create extended grotesque (and accurate) presentations of the power given to such white men in Australian society.

Journalists Making Their Reputation

The same principle of minor players in media organisations being Big on Twitter also applies to media employees who are skilled Content accumulators and producers. The better ones are mostly younger reporters, making their name and reputation on the back of their twitter efforts. Eliza Barr and Josh Butler, for example, are particularly skilled at using twitter to create Content. Sophie Elsworth did the same thing with her twitter account in 2020, becoming a lightning rod for right wing dissent from the actions of the Victorian Government and thus obtaining more exposure in other News Ltd platforms. It could be said that Sharnelle Vella, Channel 7’s state political reporter, fits into this category, but her role on television was already fairly significant. Sharnelle is, however, one of the most skilled Content producers on twitter at the moment. Matilda Boseley, of the Guardian, as a contrast, is making her mark more on TikTok, perhaps recognising that it is a more attractive and accessible medium for younger media audiences.

The Gruen Principle

At this point, it would be instructive to see how the notion of minor performers using social media to make themselves as presences on Australia media are the people who appeared on Gruen / The Gruen Effect. It has proven to be one of the most successful engines for making minor media figures into players on other media platforms. Dee Madigan, Jane Caro, Rowan Dean, Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson have all managed to launch themselves in various ways. It was probably natural for each of them to be good at providing content, as they are all advertisers. (At this point, I will not quote from TISM’s Greg the Stop Sign, as tempting as that may be).

It is useful, however, to see how they have all managed to set up their own Content pathway – and Twitter’s role in it. Sampson has barely used it, and has had multi platform success. Dean used it to an extent, but realised “editing” The Spectator Australia and being on Sky is more lucrative than Twitter. Howcroft doesn’t need twitter to build his brand, but has dabbled in projects that suit his business minded content.

On twitter, however, Madigan has managed to become strategist for Labor, and uses her twitter account to provide informal and colloquial Content that is intended to boost the party’s brand and set the agenda and tone for its supporters. Caro has managed to carve herself on twitter a position as a spokesperson for public schools, progressive issues as well as a reliable, regular commentator on The Drum, which continues to be a neat showcase for the takes produced by various producers of Content. Caro’s Content, usually, is not as calculated as many. Hers is more a natural ability to attract comment and response. A recent example can be found with this tweet.

Twitter had two days with of content in response to this tweet, where Caro was raising an ages old, classist dichotomy between liking sport and not liking sport. It wasn’t original, but it was timed well.

Media Famous

The people who have well known roles on the media – Dave Hughes, Leigh Sales, etc, have a different road to travel. Almost every one of their tweets attracts comment – praise, criticism and everything in between. They don’t need to work that hard to produce Content – there’s enough people out there to take their tweets and riff from them. One or two tweets is often enough – they have bigger platforms that demand their time and skills at producing popular Content.

The Professional Content Harnessers

There’s a number of people who work in media and outside it who are very good at harnessing Content. They are able to see the issues of the day and spin their takes to the extent where their views become the focus of discourse for the day on twitter. They are also very good at timing.

News producers and editors are very good at this. I got an insight into their world when, for five years, I used to catch a train to work from 6.40 to 8.10 am and then back from 4.20pm to 6pm (never again, by the way). My twitter account became very popular for Content, because I was able to set up a good timeline on Twitter for good news sources and was able to package up information and throw in a perspective as a tweet or retweet. This is why radio / podcast producers and editors like Matthew Bevan and Osman Faruqi are very good at seeing what is news for the day and how to set off a discussion about those issues. Their jobs are to read, understand, chunk down and then write short form explanations about complex issues on broadcasts. So it goes on twitter, they know how to attract attention. The latter in particular is very skilled at stirring discussion in all sorts of directions, including with the timing of his takes, so his work attracts attention throughout the day, from fans and dunkers.

The Experts and Specialists

One group of people who have benefitted from twitter are experts and specialists in fields that usually are not provided with much exposure in media outlets, due to their relative obscurity. Their content is usually valuable and helpful. There are many experts who are very good at chunking down their messages. They are also able to be personally engaging, like the next group of Content producers.

The Socially Popular

There are people on twitter who are just good at being engaging and popular, and all of their Content is liked. They generally aren’t in the media, just ordinary people, but ones whose lives, views and interests are similar to their friends, and later, their fans. They can look at the developing consensus view about issues, can pitch their take to fit into that consensus, and time their takes well enough to accumulate more agreement for that position. After a while, with a development of their popularity, support and confidence, they also make opening pitches for a consensus view about an emerging event and / or issue. They are also, as people, generally warm, personable, respond positively to those who agree with them. These are the kinds of people that have reached the height of popularity referred to in this tweet.

The Socially Popular – CONtent or conTENT?

The personas of these socially popular Content Providers can either be genuine or performative – or, in many cases, a mix of both. Is the persona a con? Or are being allowed inside the tent of their real life? Twitter, by its nature and demands requires a level of performance on a daily and weekly basis. In addition, exaggeration and hyperbole gets more attention and cut through.

This style of Content production that brings no financial or work benefit to the ordinary people behind the accounts does come at a personal cost, however. The sheer number of mental health cries for help, breaks, deactivations and alt accounts are testament to the pressures created for those who choose to place their heart and soul (even if it is a little bit exaggerated and / or performative) onto something like Twitter. However, even that could be performative. Truth is, we don’t know as audiences whether it’s CONtent or conTENT. And mostly, audiences don’t care – they just like the Content pouring out.

Hashtag Heroes

I have written extensively about “Megaphoning”, which is to take a simple message and continually repeat it, collecting more and more voices that agree. That process continues, even if the players on the Megaphoning treadmill change in time. The latest example of this phenomenon is PR Guy 17, whose Content is constant, calculated and frequent. There is enough evidence from the tweets that the account is run by an enthusiastic Labor supporter – whoever runs it has made too many mistakes and has strayed from Labor social media policy and practice for it to be a paid Labor operation. For all of the dunking and opposition that the account has attracted, it does produce a lot of very popular Content. Whoever uses it is also not afraid to do a bit of dunking of its own. A crucial part of the tactic being employed by PR Guy is the use of Hashtags, which helps to signal to the audience where the action is in terms of whipping up collective anger. Hashtags are deeply unfashionable amongst highly experienced twitter users, but for those who don’t use it as much, they act as a very handy search tool. Whoever runs that account it is also good at engaging with and responding to supporters and the odd critic when it suits their purposes, having a touch of the Socially Popular approach.

Step Two – The Feedback Loop

After these initial tweets of Content, the Mill then kicks into action, where the feedback loop kicks in. And it’s the feedback loop that can really punt Content into the trending stratosphere.

Dunkers

This process is one of the first steps of creating a social media brand, on the back of Content produced by others. The people who do this are the dunkers. These are the people who wait for a take from anyone that has been referred to – public figure, politician, media star or other well known person on twitter – and will come up with a clever dunk, as a quote tweet in order to get a block or snarky response, or via screenshot. Nick Schadegg is one of the great masters of the dunk – the second one being a dunk on Jane Caro’s take.

The Political Dunkers

There is a a subset of dunkers who have a political agenda and social media strategy behind their dunking. They are those people who seem to sweat over the tweets of politicians such as Bill Shorten, Anthony Albanese, Daniel Andrews, Gladys Berejiklian, Scott Morrison, et al, just so to dunk on them. They will either dunk by replying, or quote tweeting, depending on their intent. The speed at which some people respond to those tweets would indicate they set up to know when those tweets are issued. Then they are used as a rallying call for the supporters of that dunker to continue to spread the negative response, building a momentum of criticism. A look at the replies and Quote Tweets for politicians will reveal all sorts of social media approaches and tactics.

Affirmation Seeking

One of the most notorious seekers of affirmation for their views was Joe Hildebrand, who relentlessly tweeted supportive tweets for his takes. So much so that “Hildebranding” was the term for it. He is not the only one to do that, however, instead authors giving out likes and the occasional quote tweet, thus providing approval for their fans, as well as satisfying a need for affirmation by the authors themselves. This is not something restricted to the socially popular, but they are more likely to be appreciative of the support.

The Shunners

Another excellent producer of Content is the process of Shunning. One thing that the socially popular Content producers have as an advantage over many is that attract a number of passionate supporters who would do anything for them. It is often the case that this shunning process happens as a part of the feedback loop.

This is the way is works. If the socially popular Content producers decide that someone needs to be shunned by their supporters and fans, they can make that happen. It’s not a difficult process – it usually requires one of the following:

  • Someone responding out of spite, aggression or jealousy to someone who is socially popular. That person can then quote tweet, or screenshot that reply, ensuring that the supporters will then set upon attacking and / or shunning that person
  • Providing a quote tweet or screenshot of a tweet that is deemed to be offensive / out of step / not “reading the room” and then making it clear why that person needs to be criticised and / or shunned
  • Selecting to get into an argument with a critic, so to raise the stakes and temperature of the situation, exposing the critic to more attention, and hence, hopefully for the socially popular person, more shunning.

In this context, the term “cancel culture” is worthless, because people are not “cancelled” by twitter campaigns. Not all that much real world power is not wielded by everyday people with twitter accounts. Johnny Depp is still winning awards and living from his royalties, as is J.K. Rowling. Graham Linehan is still living from his royalties for Father Ted and IT Crowd. Pauline Hanson continually appears on various platforms, because she produces Content that attracts audiences. PR Guy has been the target of many “cancel” campaigns, and they plough on regardless.

What the shunners do have, however, is the power to shun people on their platform, just like any religious community, school playground or in the Mean Girls universe. That doesn’t mean that it can’t hurt to be shunned, but it’s not “cancelling”. Those who are “cancelled” can still have friends and supporters, just not with a certain group of people on Twitter. If they want that support, however, it’s usually too late. Shunning, if done effectively, lasts a long time.

What the process of shunning DOES do above everything else, though, is produce great Content for the audience.

Convo Twitter v Broadcast Twitter

There is another issue, however, with feedback – that nexus between audience response and Content producers who are of good faith. As the excellent expert Dr. Emma Beckett points out in these tweets, it would be nice if twitter was about talking to people as people, not at them. Convo Twitter as opposed to Broadcast Twitter. Twitter’s algorithm does hide a lot of replies, and can distort the tone of feedback.

The Audience

What is “Good” Content?

Who are the audience for all of this? What makes “good” Content? What makes Content “good” is purely in the eye of the audience. That’s it. The Mill produces Content that appeals to all sorts of audience members. Like with radio, TV, movies, there are many demographics and interests. There’s fans of snark, fans of the earnest, fans of stirrers, fans of dunking, fans of “eating a burger!”

That is why it’s probably a bit of a waste of time complaining about people in those different demographics. Each of us pick and choose what we decide is lame and what is acceptable. For example, if people choose to cling on those outdated water drop emojis, it indicates they are still annoyed about the fact Angus Taylor is still a Minister. There are people still stung by plot line resolutions in 1990s television shows and movies. Others are still salty about the whole last season of Game of Thrones, which went to air at the same time Taylor’s water issue came to light.

Audience as Wannabe Content Producers

For most twitter users, they aren’t skilled producers of Content. Or at least, constant producers of continually high quality Content. As my opera singing mum would say to people who said they wished they had mum’s abilities, “performers need an audience”. There is a twist to this, however. For a lot of the audience of twitter, they are widely dissatisfied with the way “mainstream media” packages and features news. They sense that some stories and perspectives gain the upper hand while many stories they believe are important fall between the cracks. That is the narrative that the likes of Ronni Salt promotes, and her supporters believe. These same people also believe the illusion that Twitter is a platform that provides unfettered, unfiltered access to journalists and the famous for the ordinary person ; as well as a platform for anyone wishing to create Content.

It doesn’t, and it isn’t.

The Impotent Cold Call Fury of the Waterdrops

Most of the audience who use water drops as emojis are people angry about what they see as the unchecked corruption of the Liberal Party and go onto twitter for some sense of solidarity and support for their anger. Their @ responses to journalists they believe are biased is a misguided and attempt to have someone acknowledge that their concerns are being heeded. There are also a number of people who are the “I am just asking a question troll type” to which Dr. Beckett is referring. The combination of the anger, the Twitter algorithm, and trolls, these cold call replies to most experienced Twitter users have been rendered almost pointless.

Some media professionals, especially this year, have been annoyed (some performatively) by the flooding of their notifications of angry, powerless people. High profile people like Leigh Sales have struck back, criticising them and highlighting the numbers of people angry with her tweets and work on 730. It didn’t have the effect of stopping the criticism. It hasn’t stopped Sales from hosting 730, nor using twitter. It did, however, create more Content.

Likes – The Rorschach Inkblot of Audiences

If you want to see who the audience are for certain Content producers, one of the more reliable indicators is who likes what on twitter. While it is true that likes don’t necessarily mean approval or agreement, over time, patterns emerge of the audiences and fans of those key Content producers. And certain tweets stand out like Rorschach blots, revealing the personality of those who like them. Or, alternately, who dunk on them. That was certainly true of the Jane Caro football tweet, who flushed out supporters and opponents of her doing all kinds of rhetorical gymnastics as a response.

Getting On or Off the (Tread)Mill of Content

If new or inexperienced twitter users are frustrated or confused by twitter, it is much easier to see twitter as a constantly moving treadmill of Content, dominated in Australia by savvy, experienced users. Some people are very skilled at persisting in staying on it each day. So many of them have to be.

For the rest of us, we need to make decisions about our approach and attitude towards the Mill. Do we continue to provide Content, or are just happy to consume it? Or just drop off completely?

On this point, I don’t really want to make this post about me. The intent also is not to settle old scores. These are reflections on my observations over the years of having an account that produced Content that developed a reasonable following. I used a number of the approaches listed above. My attitude and feelings about having such a position as a Content producer might be illustrative for others. And because I love classical music, I wanted to use bits of Schubert’s Die Schöne MĂĽllerin to express that perspective.

I was once attracted to the sweet song of the Mill of Content, and encouraged to contribute to it – the dopamine hits were awesome. However, these days, I feel more like the wanderer from the opening song – seeing how the water never ceases to move, seeing how heavy the stones of the mill are. Unlike Schubert’s miller, though, I am going to now stick to my wandering. And I want to stick to Convo Twitter, rather than Broadcast Twitter. I can see, though, why being one of the Producers in the Mill of Content could continue to dazzle and fascinate.

To wander is the miller’s delight; to wander!

A poor miller he must be who never thought of wandering, of wandering.

We have learnt it from the water, from the water!

It never rests, by day or night, but is always intent on wandering, the water.

We can see it in the wheels too, the wheels!

They never care to stand still but turn tirelessly the whole day long, the wheels.

The stones themselves, heavy as they are, the stones!

They join in the merry dance and seek to move still faster, the stones.

O wandering, my delight, 

O wandering!

Master and mistress,

let me go my way in peace,

and wander.

Wandering, from Die Schöne Müllerin, by Johann Müller

N.B. Thanks to Anne, Ben and Dick for ideas and feedback for this post (and yes, I do realise they sound like characters from an Enid Blyton book)

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Uncategorized

Megaphoning Angrily Grates Always – But No, DanStans aren’t Trumpian

There has been an emerging genre for journalists with some kind of twitter presence. Sledging the #IStandWithDan DanStans. This week, it was Phil Coorey’s turn. Journalists like Coorey are the gatekeepers, they shape how most media consumers see Twitter, because most people don’t know how it works, and don’t use it. So the images of the “extremely online” on twitter are there for the likes of Coorey to present and manipulate. So, deconstructing its premise and examples provides a neat summary of the tricks such pieces have used is important.

For those who are or aren’t extremely online, however, there needs to be a quick revisiting of the notion of the Twitter Megaphone. They are like people at a union picket line or at a process, saying the same lines, gaining comfort and power from being part of a movement, with an amplified voice. I have written about them twice – in 2013 and 2015. Their megaphoning is focused generally on repeating the same lines about the Liberal Party and media bias. They aren’t bots, they aren’t paid, they are enthusiastic amateurs. They get particularly excited when small matters of possible corruption are not grabbing headlines, more skating around the margins of media coverage. Hence, James Ashby’s interactions with Peter Slipper (remember that?) and recently, Angus Taylor’s shambolic activities relating to water. Hence these megaphones have more recently put waterdrops in their names.

My argument about these megaphones hasn’t changed. They are largely harmless. Plus, it’s possible to see where their frustration comes from – because there’s a grain of truth in a lot of what they say, especially about News Ltd media and Sky “News”. They are members of a tribe, angry about biased media coverage. However, as a group, they quickly become too hardline and inflexible, meaning that they lose credibility with each strident tweet. The leaders of these megaphones on twitter – especially Vic Rollison and lately “PR Guy 17”, have used megaphonics this time around to defend the Andrews government. And it’s these people to whom Coorey is referring throughout most of his piece.

Let’s Say Trump! The New Godwin’s Law

Getting back to Coorey, his piece this week attracted a polarised response, and it’s little wonder – that’s what he wanted. His “prediction” at the end of it was laughable especially considering that the title of the piece is “Dan’s fans and Trump’s base: spot the difference”.

“The very publication of this column will invite a similar barrage of invective and apoplexy. Most won’t even read it before reacting.”

No, really? People might be offended by that? That’s performative prediction, invoking Trump, is another example of the lazy new trope infecting opinion pieces: As Bad As Trump.

So, Coorey is asking people to compare a bunch of well meaning Victorians with the lunatics supporting Trump and expect them to accept it. Sure, that’s a rational, reasonable thing to be doing. It was just part of Coorey’s act to gaslight all of the critics of his piece to suggest that anyone wanting to criticise won’t have read all of it. But in reality, the piece is so vacuous that it doesn’t take long to take it apart.

It should almost go without saying that the headline suggestion is a dumb comparison. Even Coorey seems to know that it’s a dumb comparison, as can be seen with this credibility-stretching argument –

Premier Daniel Andrews is not Trump. In terms of character, beliefs, values or performance, he’s not even in the same universe.

But his cult-like followers, who rally around a Twitter hashtag of #IstandwithDan and refuse to countenance any possibility that he is capable of error, are in the same orbit as the Trump legions.

“Same orbit”. It raises the question – which planet are they orbiting? Which planet is Coorey on, witnessing these orbits? But getting away from Coorey’s bad metaphorical gymnastics, no, they are not in “the same orbit”. Trump’s supporters are actively seeking to undermine every single media outlet’s right to report everything, as well as promote conspiracy theories that are dangerous for the future of the US. That is nothing like a group of Victorians clinging to the hope that the Victorian Government’s roadmaps and strategies will work to bring down COVID numbers, even if some of them are repetitive, narrowcasting megaphones.

It is reasonable to suggest that there have been mistakes made by the Victorian government in their pandemic response. I said as much in my previous post about the coverage. Coorey makes these same points, but with a heavily weighted, simplistic take, so he can butcher all critics of the media’s coverage. Here’s some examples.

  • In Victoria, however, there were errors made. Quarantine was contracted to a security company not up to the job. Consequently there was an outbreak. That has not been confirmed – there is an inquiry in place to discern exactly what happened and who was “to blame”. But even if it emerges that private security firms were not suitable for that purpose, the AFR, amongst other media outlets, have actively supported outsourcing public sector activities to the private sector for some years. We shall see if they change this stance if the inquiry has shown that the private sector is not up to doing certain jobs.
  • Even today, with numbers in Victoria very low, the Premier remains reluctant to reopen, indicating the government still does not have faith in its testing and tracing regimes. This is pure speculation, based on no provided evidence. Today’s announcements about the next stage of the roadmap provides a contradiction to that speculation.
  • Moreover, after all these months and hardship, no one in government – including the Premier, his now departed health minister and the public sector chief – claims to know who was responsible for the quarantine contract. There is an inquiry on, we are told, and we must wait for that. Yes, that is how an inquiry works. Coorey would know that, but is performatively suggesting that it’s a smokescreen.
  • But Andrews, in the eyes of his supporters, is beyond criticism or scrutiny. This suggests all supporters. Plenty of the supporters of the government’s actions have been critical of elements of the response. They, however, don’t exist in the false premise behind the piece.

Coorey, like every other writer in this genre, cherry picks examples of random critics, implying that they represent the whole. Cherry picking is the first resort of the desperate columnist – and twitter makes it so easy to do. It’s easy to find these examples:

When an email emerged recently that further suggested he was less than honest in his denials about rejecting offers from Canberra of army assistance, one supporter attacked the journalist who reported it: “Didn’t you hear the Premier’s denial? Stick to the facts.”

That is, a politician’s denial carries more weight than documentary evidence.

“Blah blah – apparently the more you sink the boots into Andrews, the more popular he becomes,” taunted another.

Same with Trump.

Two responses from angry megaphones = Same as Trump.

And then comes the expected reference to the waterdrop megaphones –

Many of the Premier’s supporters incorporate in their Twitter handle a blue water drop, which is a protest against what they believe was a lack of scrutiny of federal minister Angus Taylor over a water deal. Yet they resist any scrutiny of Andrews.”

So, these Trumpian Andrews supporters are now many. There’s a reduction of the contention about Andrews supporters. The reduction becomes even more through the invocation – again – of the trivial Baxendale press conference mistake, which is an issue that was a blip on the landscape of this pandemic.

“A few weeks back, Andrews verballed The Australian’s Rachel Baxendale by insisting she had included a false premise in her question, when she had not. Regardless, his supporters piled on.”

Coorey, aside from raising a non-issue, is just plain wrong. As can be seen in this video, Baxendale asked about findings from the inquiry as if they had been released. In transcript she produced on Twitter, a pair of brackets emerged around a phrase she had intended to include, but didn’t. Andrews wasn’t “verballing” Baxendale, he was correct in his critique of the premise of Baxendale’s question. Coorey is just wrong in his defence of Baxendale. More to the point though, it’s still remarkable how this minor incident is continually referred to by journalists wishing to gaslight the critics.

It’s an irony that this Baxendale incident was the last case Coorey uses against the DanStans – because he ends with this phrase:

“That’s increasingly a consequence of an era in which people can choose their own facts and everyone is expected to be a polemicist, making the middle line the hardest to hold.”

It’s almost as if he has never read The Australian. Coorey seems to have missed the parts where Rachel Baxendale was front and centre in the campaign to hound and harass Yassmin Abdel-Magied so much that she felt as though she needed to leave the country. There is nothing “middle line” about Baxendale and her employer. There is also nothing “middle line” about this piece.

Coorey’s gaslighting hatchet job got support from what has become the usual supporters for this genre – people who have trouble responding to critics on twitter, and just like to place them in the “mad left winger” bucket.

No, it’s not. It’s yet another example of journalists playing the “we are the only sensible centrists” card, trying to point at parallels about online supporters in Victoria and the US that aren’t there. A bit like this tweet, about Joe Biden suggesting that a journalist continually asks the same style of questions makes Biden Just like Trump. No, it doesn’t. It makes him someone with a genuine point to make about the way certain journalists always pursue the same agenda.

Megaphones Do Grate

There is a cautionary note to add at the end of this piece. There are people on the fringes of any campaign that do what Coorey refers to here

“I don’t really want to dwell on the gory details, but there’ve been death threats and rape threats and photos of me circulated on the internet for weeks,” Baxendale told Guardian Australia in a recent article on the dangers of questioning Andrews.

It’s become a boring trope, suggesting that this represents the bulk of Andrews’ supporters, as is inferred in this piece.

It does need to be acknowledged that there are some people who are feeding this perception that all defenders of Andrews are mendacious trolls. An example – these pathetic comments about wanting NSW to have increasing COVID case numbers.

It is clear that this kind of garbage needs to stop. And there’s megaphones that need to realise how their tweets are providing evidence to bad faith operators wanting to gaslight all supporters of the Victorian Government. PR Guy, in particular, provides a double edged sword. His tweets are classic megaphoning, providing comfort to a group of people wanting an optimistic view to the horizon. Many of his tweets raise reasonable points about the agendas of some media outlets in their reporting of the pandemic response in Victoria. But it lacks nuance and relevance. Neither of these things are true – the Ruby Princess matter was given exhaustive coverage, and aged care shortfalls have also been covered for a long time.

Yes, we know there are megaphones. Yes, they can be aggravating. And yet, Phillip Coorey’s suggestion that somehow these megaphones are as bad as Trump’s boosters is offensive. They are, for the most part, Victorians wanting to support a government that has had to learn difficult lessons and work on a response to a pandemic that has resulted in a drop in COVID cases and spread. They might be too enthusiastic in that response. They might be too easily triggered by questions posed at press conferences. Especially by questions about hotel quarantine. Of greater interest is whether Melbourne as a city is ready for the next stage, not who texted who about security guards in March. Plus, there are substantial questions to be asked about the agenda of journalists who work for News Ltd – the same organisation that run anti-ALP campaigns every election, Federally and in Victoria. Twitter is one of those places to ask such questions. Maybe not as much as some do it. Maybe there needs to be more nuance. It doesn’t matter – bad faith columists like Coorey, using the same template as Joe Hildebrand, will continue to find the outliers.

Bad Faith – It Never Ends

Ultimately this comes down to a question of how Australian political journalists use Twitter. It is becoming clear that there are two conclusions to reach about that usage.

Conclusion 1 – They do not know how to filter out the megaphones, the trolls, the disgusting, the clowns. It’s easy to do – blocking and muting tools are there.

Conclusion 2 – They know very well how to filter out the megaphones and the fringe dwellers. They just choose to draw upon them for fodder for their columns. For most media consumers, they don’t know how to use twitter, so it’s really easy to sell that image of the extremely online. They are using them in order to be performatively offended, as well as to protect them against substantive and substantial critiques of their work.

There has been so many pieces like this over the years that the second conclusion is becoming inescapable.

In the next couple of weeks, Trump’s supporters might be rioting and killing people if Trump doesn’t win the election. In Victoria, the megaphones will dash off an angry tweet to a journalist asking a question at a press conference. A bit like a fan of a sporting team tweeting in a frustrated fashion.

People get angry reading the media, Phil. That doesn’t make them Trumpian.

Categories
Classical Music Cultural Comment

The Rediscovery of CDs – Reflecting on a bygone sound

In today’s streaming world, most of us don’t buy CDs anymore, it’s true. Especially if you are a tech minded person and use twitter to get your news. CDs? They are so old. Yet during this imposed isolation in Melbourne, I have turned to my CD collection a lot more, and placed the little plastic discs into my dedicated CD player. I am no audiophile – the CD player is an “entry level” Yamaha one I bought years ago, my amplifier is also “entry level” and my speakers are from a Philips stereo setup my dad bought in the early 1990s. Part of the reason why I have been using CDs is not because I am a Luddite – it arose because the bluetooth connection from my devices to the amplifier is glitchy. The cables that connect the CD to the amp, and the cords that connect it to the speakers has proven to be more reliable. Another significant reason is that I focus more on music played from a CD than through streaming. Psychologically, streaming is for background music, pop music and for the car. Not for really immersing in the music.

So it has come to pass that I have paid a more attention to my CD collection than I have for more than 20 years. And it has revealed a lot about what forms a person in their 20s, but also what it tells me about life as it stands at the moment.

Me as a Young Classical Fan

I was 16 when my dad bought me a CD player, mini stereo system and three CDs to go with it. Classical, of course – we were a distinctly classical only household (though that didn’t stop me from buying Kate Ceberano’s Brave soon afterwards). It was a revelation – great sounding music in my own room. Being the 80s, that was a big deal. Not long after, I drowned my awkward teenage sorrows in the Big Tunes of Rachmaninov and then explored the hard core stuff – Shostakovich’s 8th Symphony at full volume (Dad was starting to regret his purchase that that stage).

That was the start of an odyssey through music that was no longer bound to just listening to the radio. Through my early 20s and to when I got my first full time job as a teacher, my focus was on building a classical music library. To find out what to listen to, what to discover, I didn’t have access to a lot of sources locally. I also didn’t have a lot of classical music loving friends at school or even at uni. So, I listened to Martin Hibble’s Just Out on ABC FM religiously – I especially liked his inability to fall into line with what record companies wanted reviewers to say. I also used my lunchtimes at Fisher Library at Sydney Uni to pore through old back issues of the UK Gramophone magazine – generally the most respected storehouse of reviews and articles. It was the early 90s, so no internet databases, subreddits or google to help me. I investigated.

I look at the collection now and it tells me a lot about mid 20s me. I was a socially awkward 20 something manchild, I developed a lot of bad opinions, influenced by all sorts of things. I decided that I liked Georg Solti because he wasn’t a severe Nazi-looking bloke like Karajan. (I had also read excerpts of Norman Lebrecht’s Maestro Myth, so was influenced by his comments about Karajan). He was also on the Channel 4 Orchestra program with Dudley Moore. So there’s a lot of Solti there. There was lots of Ashkenazy, because Dad gave me a recording of him doing the Rach 2nd and 4th Piano Concertos, so that started me off with him.

I was also on Team Norrington when it came to the battle in the early 90s between period instrument ensembles – largely fuelled by record companies – between Roger Norrington at EMI, John Eliot Gardiner at Deutsche Gramophon / Archiv and Christopher Hogwood at Decca / L’oiseau Lyre. I plumped for Norrington because he seemed to be having more fun. Plus, he was genial and friendly on the BBC programs of him conducting the Beethoven 9 (which are, these days, completely unavailable anywhere). I grew up with Karajan’s Beethoven in my head – Dad had Deutsche Gramophon box sets at home – “the best of Beethoven”, and so on. That’s why I didn’t much like Beethoven until I heard Norrington. To me, it was also a bit of a rebellion against Dad and the older generation to be enjoying the earthier interpretations of the historically informed performances. It also helped that I was studying history at university and could see the worth of doing such research. It got so that I only listened to their interpretations of classical, baroque and early romantic music. I became a rusted on ideologue, believing the modern orchestra was not right for the music from that period. (I cringe now at those views).

There were also a lot of CDs that I could get on sale at Lawson’s and Ashwood’s second hand shops on Castlereagh St, plus at the Pitt St Virgin Megastore classical sales. I had read about the recordings in Gramophone first, of course. In those days, I was dedicated to getting one recording each of a whole lot of music – so I could have a wide ranging collection, not a whole lot of recordings of the one thing. The idea of owning 6 different performances of Beethoven’s symphonies or sonatas struck me as being indulgent.

As I said, I had a lot of Opinions. A lot of them not my own, but I stuck to them like glue.

In the late 90s, I got married (as it turned out, too soon for the both of us, and in my case, it was largely because of my terrible self esteem that I married the first woman who had shown an interest in me). As teaching, children and marriage took over – as did a massive array of bills and barely keeping our heads above water financially – the CD collection sat in boxes, barely listened to. Occasionally, if I was allowed to indulge every so often, I would buy the odd CD here or there if I was in Sydney. I was barely ever in Sydney in any case – my life was firmly entrenched in the outer suburbs, where classical CDs were usually Best Ofs or featured the likes of Richard Clayderman.

That marriage ended in a heap in the late 00s, I went into a new and much better relationship, plus I was a bit more financially stable over the next 10 years. The CD collection, however, stayed largely as it was, save for the occasional purchase influenced by Hugh Robertson at Fish Fine Music – he ran the only classical CD shop left in Sydney. I would also occasionally go onto the – appropriately named for me – Presto Classical site in the UK. At least though, this time, my other half gave me the present of a custom made home for them.

The Weighty Cabinet of Ancient Artefacts

Enjoying and Enhancing the Collection

So we entered 2020 and at the end of last year we have moved to a different house, with a nice place to sit and listen to music. I need music a lot of the time – I have a streaming setup in my home office, even though Apple Music and Spotify aren’t all that great for classical music. At the end of the day, however, if I want to be freed from the restriction of that space, I go into the back room, get out a CD and sit in the middle of the sound and connect with the experience those musicians were aiming to produce. Not a playlist, not a shuffle – the CD. It has been different, as well as lovely. Though, as I discovered, a bit limited. Thing was, through all the years, it never ceases to amaze me that the full price of classical CDs is exactly the same now as it was in the 1990s. It always struck me that someone has to be suffering because of that.

Rethinking the CD collection has become my isolation hobby. There are gaps, I realised, which seems counter – intuitive for a collection of 800 CDs. That number, however, is small in comparison with people considered to be “serious” collectors. I don’t intend to be one of those, but I did want new things, different things.

One of the priorities was getting more CDs by some of the musicians I have heard in concert halls – if you want to listen to any artist with the English Hyperion company, such as Stephen Hough, Steven Osborne or iconoclastic harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, you have to buy the CDs – they don’t stream a lot of their recordings. That’s good news for their artists, if they can shift CDs to the swiftly dwindling CD purchaser – artists with companies like Hyperion (as opposed to Naxos, who pay a one off fee) receive much better royalties from CD sales than they do from streams.

Another priority has also been to find CDs of works I already have, but by different conductors and performers. Make me listen in a different way. As such, I have been able to do something I could only dream of doing in the 90s – buy whole boxed sets. That’s because, while the full price of new CDs has not changed a large amount, the cost of box sets more than 2 years old and second hand CDs has plummeted. Ebay and Amazon is a storehouse of historical gold. Plus, on physical CDs, there are some recordings that are hard to find on streams. For Apple and Spotify, it can hard to find specific recordings from specific artists – and tracks downloaded in the past can disappear. As a result, I have been able to pick up box sets of performances declared legendary by various sources. $25 for 6 – 8 new CDs sometimes. I have used Gramophone articles and reviews to lead me to get boxed sets of Beethoven and Brahms, as well as looking back over back catalogues of what I would have loved to be able to afford 25 years ago. What has also really made this process richer for me is that the research behind these purchases has been a lot of fun.

Rabbit Holes!

In these months, watching Mad Men led me to speculate which recording of Beethoven Pete Campbell would have bought. I decided Leonard Bernstein’s would be his go – the American with fashionable ideas, not the Karajan of Bert Cooper. That launched me on a journey to know more about Bernstein. I ordered cheap box sets of his Mahler and Beethoven, as well as other things he has done. I then went through the existing collection and found bits and pieces of his recordings I had forgotten I had. With the purchase of the DVD of his recording of Candide, I remember a time when I watched that performance with Mum. She loved it so much that she was driven to learn Glitter and Be Gay, one of the last songs she learnt afresh, and one that suited her style down to the ground. So that was nice. I have also now purchased books about Bernstein, and I’m sure that I will find out more about him in time. I’m looking forward to the Bradley Cooper film about his life.

My rabbit hole chasing lead me to the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics (I had no idea the Vienna orchestra uses different instruments to others), and then to Wilhelm Furtwängler, discovering his complex place in German history. It struck me as curious that Furtwängler’s place, with him protecting Jewish players, refusing to do the Nazi salute and other micro pieces of resistance saw his legacy questioned, while former party member and unapologetic rising star of the Nazi period, Karajan, is still lauded. I am happy to find out more about that – I am not the Norman Lebrecht fan that I was in the 90s – but it was a question that continually arose. It is important to me who is behind the CD. That’s why, for example, I have binned my Charles Dutoit and James Levine CDs. Aside from that, however, it also struck me how different Furtwängler’s approach to Beethoven was to Karajan’s. There was something plastic, shiny, empty and a bit dead to my ears in Karajan’s. And that was before I knew about his past. Or this garish car he asked Porsche to build for him.

With Furtwangler, while his sound was nowhere near as good as Karajan’s, there’s something spontaneous and human about his performances – flawed note wise, but a fascinating glimpse to another time when being right, disciplined and consistent wasn’t the be all and end all. His recording of Beethoven 9 done at Bayreuth, and the stories behind it, provides a glimpse of music that historically and psychologically is so different from today’s. Plus, it’s at variance with the historically informed performances that I was welded to in my 20s. Beethoven and Brahms are great enough to be played in all sorts of different ways and be enjoyed.

My current rabbit hole is a more joyful one – a rediscovery of French music. Inspired by watching Tour de France, I have discovered Les SiĂ©cles, a contemporary French orchestra who are playing uniquely French instruments from various eras and playing them to breathe new life into French music, as well as music from other nations. It is in their recordings of French music that I am finding new delights into the sound world and panache that their composers bring us. And then comparing them to other recordings that bring different insights. I am no longer a period instrument ideologue. As spring has started, the light, transparent and breezy glories of the French are wafting through the house.

As I sit in my lounge chair, with the music playing – sometimes with the CD booklet in my hands, learning more about the music – or being reminded about it – it is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon after work or have blasting when doing chores around the kitchen. Music becomes an immersing experience, helping me focus, helping me relax. No longer a background. So putting on a CD is quite a nice thing.

Categories
Politics Uncategorized

To DanStan or Not to DanStan – That is Not the Question or the Answer

It has been a long time since people living in Melbourne’s metropolitan zone were told to stay at home. We have seen a lot of content. All of it made for consumption in and out of Australia’s second largest metropolis – but most of it consumed by those within it. The nature of that content has taken various forms, that can be organised in a range of categories. So I’ll start with that.

The Miasma of Quiet Despair

There have been beautifully crafted pieces floating from various media outlets catering to middle class professionals like the ABC, Age and Guardian, telling of the despair that rises from being locked down. One of the most haunting versions of this came from Anna Spargo-Ryan in July. One of the most stirring examples of the video form of this content was a video that came from the ABC 730 program, which were designed to galvanise a unified sigh from those of us who are losing their connections with the wider community and other intangible things that data, roadmaps and projections don’t take into account.

We’ve Got This – The Power of Resetting Your Rhythms

The flipside of the miasma of despair in those same media outlets have been the positive pieces telling of the power that having a new hobby or set of goals can have on mental health. The “We’ve Got This” attitude. This started with articles about the rise of hobbies. And then how knitting took hold, how people were “resetting their rhythms“. In these pieces, there was a tone of encouragement – aimed designed to unite and inspire. As the months have dragged on, however, it has been hard to sustain that kind of optimism. Again, Spargo-Ryan captured the flagging spirit of many in September.

Elsworth and Associates

Before March, most people would have struggled to recognise or remember the work and presence of Sophie Elsworth, financial reporter for News, the Herald Sun and occasional contributor to Sky News. During the last few months, however, she has outstripped most people with her outraged takes on the Andrews government. Her twitter feed has become the lightning rod of dissent for those who believe the Victorian Government’s response to COVID 19 has been wrong and dangerous every step of the way. Due to her disingenous and hyperbolic demagoguery, hers has been the biggest rise from obscurity seen on Twitter since Latika Bourke’s. With Elsworth, however, her trajectory isn’t London, it is more the Rita Panahi route, either as a more prominent columnist in the Herald Sun, or more regularly on Sky News. Or, maybe as a media staffer for the Liberal Party, considering how similar her online rhetoric is to that of Tim Smith, James Newsbury and Michael O’Brien.

There have been others who have used twitter to build a questioning tone of the actions of the Andrews government, as well as build their own profile. Most of them aren’t like Elsworth, in that their queries aren’t built on bad faith and strident hyperbole. They also aren’t as obvious Liberal friendly as Elsworth. One such example is recent arrival (like me) in Melbourne, Osman Faruqi, who has from the start of lockdown has sought to question all of the decisions of the government, as well as make suggestions about Victoria becoming a racist police state. It’s been an popular position to take on social media, considering that there has been overreach by the police and mistakes made by the government – so to express dissent is not a difficult act on political twitter, with its critical mass of middle class students and professionals who do like to question government, no matter the side. It has been a fruitful road for Faruqi, whose position as a lightning rod for progressive dissent, as well as having the energy of a skilled dissenter has led to him producing instructive and useful investigations into the mistakes made by the Department of Health and the Victorian Government at large in the Saturday Paper.

Here Come the Media Troops from Canberra and Sydney

That dissent has grown louder as lockdown has continued, with the addition of the hotel quarantine inquiry bringing out revelations of the mistakes made by the government in the early days of this pandemic. The mistakes of hiring private security guards, the mistakes of not making adequate safeguards within aged care facilities, various other mistakes. These mistakes, made under the the pressure of time and included various assumptions, have looked worse with each passing day. Time and microscopic analysis by angry, locked down journalists has exposed the dangers of outsourcing important activities to profit based private companies – the hotel quarantine and private aged care sectors have shown that. This has meant the addition of national news figures and organisations coming in to examine the issue and use their usual tactics of creating an energy of crisis around the issues relating to lockdown. An example of this is the tweet made by 730 host Leigh Sales (shown below). It has all of the hallmarks of any tabloid style sizzle for an upcoming set of stories. The problem, however, with this tweet is in the context of when it was made. At that time, there were demonstrated examples of an improvement in the contact tracing procedures undertaken, as seen with the control of the Casey cluster (which was 10 – 15 kms from our home). Plus, it was explicitly stated that the inquiry into the hotel quarantine structures was designed to help the government make better choices before the system would be allowed to restart. So, the hyperbole here was not all that helpful or relevant to September 23.

It was therefore not a surprise to see this week a spike in “calls” for Daniel Andrews to resign as Premier. At least, calls from the media, couched in “just asking questions” that he was “staring down” those calls. Those calls that essentially came from the media, Sophie Elsworth, the Liberal Party and Sam Newman. At such time, it’s always useful to follow the twitter feed of David Speers – he always knows when to tweet when media energy against a politician is at its height.

“I Stand with Dan” – Stage Four Rage

The problem throughout all of this for Victorians (me included, even though I am new at it), is that all of these types of dissenting voices can elicit the same defensive response. Many people in Melbourne clearly hate the fact we are in lockdown, but also have a trust that governments – especially ones that have a progressive reputation – have our best interests at heart. The combination of Andrews, with the Chief Medical Officer, Brett Sutton, at press conferences, explaining the modelling and justifications for lockdowns has had the effect of reassuring people that the measures do have benefits. The continuing high polling numbers for Andrews, combined with the falling infection numbers backs this up. From what I have seen, what so many want right now is good news about now, and the future. People want to see Andrews say good things, have positive changes in the curve. Not a building of media energy relating to political inquiries and what happened in June. It’s really hard to be in this situation, and optimism and hope is what so many people need.

That’s why it’s been hard at times for people to keep their cool (again, me included), when we see the negative reports pile in on twitter. Over time, it becomes challenging to discern the difference between Sophie Elsworth’s posts decrying the “police state” activities of Andrews with Osman Faruqi’s similar comments. This is absurd, of course, as Elsworth’s intent is to build her own persona, while Faruqi’s comes from a position of concern for members of cultural minorities and the financially worse off who do suffer more in such times. The latter is also not after a profile on the Herald Sun. The responses to both of them, have been similar – which is understandable, but not useful.

It is also not useful for media people with twitter accounts to be gaslighting all of their critics as being #IStandWithDan megaphones. There is a place for critics of media coverage of the pandemic as it applies in Melbourne, just as there is a place for those same journalists to be asking good faith questions. Where we also have a problem is suggesting that, in a blind partisan fashion, that nothing Andrews does is wrong, and that everyone has to #Stand by him at all times. Both are examples of simplistic sloganeering, not mature, reasoned discourse.

The same philosophy to avoid sloganeering and selective cherry picking should apply to online reaction to media reports about Andrews and the hotel quarantine inquiry. Being a #DanStan, angrily responding to everything is a current feature of twitter. It is in the interests of the ABC, the Age, Guardian, Saturday Paper and especially the Herald Sun to generate questions about the mistakes that have led to this terrible second wave. And there is nothing inherently bad about asking those questions. Plus, yes, there is current obfuscation happening from Andrews, just as we see pretty much every time there is any kind of inquiry. Inquiries are set up for governments to be seen to be fixing problems, but they are also convenient because they allow for politicians to deflect questions. Yes Minister, as ever, shows how all governments in the Anglosphere work. The first clip here usefully shows how this was done through the Abbott era of government. There has been little evidence that Morrison’s government has been little different.

This second one outlines the types of excuses given for mistakes. Rarely do we see Anglosphere governments waver from this pattern.

The point here is that the Andrews government is doing the same thing as any number of governments do when at times when there has been mistakes made – they deflect and obfuscate. There have been many supporters of the Victorian government online who point this out whenever there is a criticism of Andrews. They raise the Ruby Princess debacle – which the NSW Government deflected and obfuscated about until they had a report made about it. They raise various mistakes – such as Alan Tudge committing “criminal” conduct in relation to a refugee case.

The problem with doing that is a pointless activity making that deflection. With the Ruby Princess, there was a report in which mistakes were admitted – as seen in the ABC article, language like “serious”, “inexcusable” and “inexplicable” were made about the actions of NSW Health. For all of the online noise about the inquiry, the report did little except saying “health authorities had recognised mistakes made”, and would “do things differently if they had their time again”. It would be surprising if the report into the hotel quarantine system will be much different. With the Tudge issue, it is a legally complex issue, and difficult with which to make a collective media energy. Our national media generally find it easier to pick low hanging fruit than to get out a ladder and some kind of device to obtain fruit that is harder to pick. The bigger reason, however, is that the hotel quarantine mistakes – no matter the intent and the mitigating factors – have led to more material and financial destruction than the actions of Tudge. Hotel quarantine is a much bigger story with more relevance to more people.

The Roadmap for Melbourne Media Responders – Stage Three Calm

What is next for people in Melbourne? How can we act? How can we respond as the restrictions become ever slightly loosened? Because Victorians love a roadmap (I am new to Victorian education, and it amuses me how teaching programs are called roadmaps here), here’s one from me.

1. Be Happy with the NumbersKeep Perspective

The numbers of infections are coming down, due to the efforts and sacrifices of everyone. And they are efforts and sacrifices. The science is telling us that Metro Melbourne needs to stick to the course for the next three weeks, so that needs to be a guide. Media stories about hotel quarantine and calls for Andrews to resign is going to make no difference to our material and temporal lives – so, don’t read them, unless they are useful. This piece in the Conversation outlines why the government needs to stay the course.

2. Keep an Open, Critical Mind – See the Long Game

If you want any credibility as a critic or as a supporter, there needs to be an acknowledgment of fault, as well as an understanding of context. Victoria’s health system does need an overhaul and to be better run after this, as outlined in this piece. We also need to move away from the outsourcing of essential services to for-profit operators that Liberal and Labor Governments have been doing for decades. There does need to be perspective as well – the size and magnitude of this second wave, while large in the context of Australia, is small in terms of most equivalent situations overseas. The public goodwill created by Andrews and Sutton in their messaging has led to good, empirical outcomes for society. Whatever is said at the upcoming inquiries and the fallout from them, the scale of that achievement cannot be seriously challenged.

3. Remember the Bad Faith and Keep the Receipts

There have been a lot of things said by critics of the Victorian Government that has been in bad faith. Same with many who have defended them. The key is – don’t forget the more egregious examples. One of the standouts is the continual Liberal Party criticism of the “police state mentality” of the Andrews government. This from a party that at the last state election lost blue ribbon seats, partially due to a hyperbolic law and order campaign. You really can’t have both. It’s only cool when the likes of Faruqi puts on that jacket. Fortunately, people can now have receipts of the Libs showing that hypocrisy. Take screenshots of their mednacious sloganeering. Use it when they attempt a Laura Norder campaign in the future.

4. Don’t Respond to Journalists on Twitter

One of the continuing phenonmenons that does not change is the angry responses to journalists on Twitter. It may be a great release to be angrily respond to tweets that are designed to sizzle up a story or breathlessly report an #exclusive. But what it does is continue to erode people’s credibility – and at times, gives bad faith journalists material so they can gaslight all of their critics, as well as pose an unspoken danger. If you want to provide a critique, take a screenshot. Plus, swearing at or about a verified account is never a good idea with the way Twitter’s algorithm works. Here’s an object lesson in what not to do.

5. The Rollo Principle – Don’t Put on a Tinfoil Hat

From a place at fury towards the media, there can be a development that steers people towards adopting conspiracy theories about issues such as COVID. For another lesson in what not to do, the Rollison sisters – Victoria and Catherine – are Labor activists from Adelaide, and have been attacking twitter people from NSW about the policies and actions in that state. Having seen their behaviour before, it is entirely reasonable to suggest that the attacks are mostly due to NSW being a Liberal state. To look at their twitter feed, there has been demands about NSW’s sewage system, attacks on Casey Briggs, the ABC’s COVID 19 reporter who has used data as the basis of his reports, and attacks on Anthony Macali, a Victorian who provides the Covid Live service on Twitter, as well as providing a detailed, data based commentary on how information from the Victorian Health Department could improve. Attacking people for tweeting about data and facts and accusing them of having an agenda is not helpful. It casts yourself as a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist, rather than a reputable source of information.

This is not to suggest that the Rollisons don’t have anything reasonable to say – their passionate support for Melbourne and Victorians is clearly in evidence. There is also an understandable frustration with the way the story of the Victorian Government is being reported. They are a lightning rod for frustration in Melbourne, hence the influence they do have. Plus, one point Rollison has made which perhaps does deserve some attention is in the fact that the original source of the virus in the hotel at the heart of the quarantine case was the night desk operator, not the security guards. Not sure how that affects the situation for the government, except that it does underline just how infectious COVID is.

The problem is with this approach is that any questions that may be of interest or are relevant are obliterated by a partisan approach that erodes the credibility of anything else. Their public attack on NSW and its approach, undermining its data collection and reporting has been shown to be without foundation, rendering the questions to be embarrassing.

So – the Rollo Principle? Check yourself before you go full Rollo.

6. Remember the Start

The final point – if the course is stayed, there isn’t (hopefully) long to go. We could perhaps remember the optimism of the start. I personally like to keep upbeat as much as possible. An example is when I couldn’t help but have a little bit of fun with 730’s “empty Melbourne” video, thinking back to the Late Show. I can’t help but see this in a wider context. It is awful to see the social media feeds of friends in other states, outside, in groups, having fun. But a short time of continuing, and that will be Melbourne as well. I’m also looking forward to reading the creative output of people in this city in a new context.

Ultimately, it’s the best to do whatever it takes to keep staying on a positive mindset. That doesn’t involve arguing with journalists and data reporters on Twitter. Or even reading pieces about hotel quarantine. It’s about connecting with people of good faith on social media, to maintain and treasure friendships. That’s because, if nothing else, we as people have probably discovered these things:

  • Who are building their own careers through this
  • Who are the people to turn off and ignore
  • Who and what outlets are reputable
  • Rabbit holes of new interests, such as my current obsession with the conducting and life of Leonard Bernstein
  • New skills with technology

After all this, there will be a lot of repair that is needed across the community. I feel especially sorry for the secondary students who face an uncertain future. There are a lot of people who will need our collective love, skills and support. And getting angry about what the media are doing won’t help with that important work. They will eventually get bored and switch their attack to something else. That’s what our media do.

Categories
Cultural Comment Politics

Snarky Jordies – The Taste of a New Generation

Every few months or so, a story that bubbles and spits around Twitter rises to the surface and reaches legacy media outlets. Like a fart in a bath. The most recent fart has risen from the work of Friendly Jordies, aka Jordan Shanks. It was decided at both at the Daily Telegraph and the Herald that his work was important enough to feature in stories. His presence, image and popularity are both explicable and understandable. His style and substance may need to be discussed and analysed, but perhaps not in the gotcha way both of those pieces attempted.

Who is Friendly Jordies? What is this all about?

When I have mentioned Shanks’ work on twitter in the recent past, I frequently receive responses of “who”, which probably is not a surprise, considering that most of my followers are Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. They are not Shanks’ audience. So, before I start, I will give a short summary of who he is and why he his bubble has risen. (For those who know he is, jump to the next bit).

Jordan Shanks is a graduate of Newtown Performing Arts High School and former model (for a fascinating and revealing read, here is an interview with him from those days) who decided, like a lot of people in their 20s, decided that podcasting and making youtubes might be fun. His thing – to belittle conservatives. To laugh at them, point fingers, giggle about their dress sense, personal style, physical features, accents. It probably helps that he looks like he could be one – such as in the video screenshot at the start of this. The big moments of a rise in his fame has come from being sued by Clive Palmer. Shanks’ gambit – that Clive Palmer was fat – was a door to open to wider critiques by Shanks of Palmer’s politics. He gained more fame recently by doing videos calling NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian “koala killer” in relation to land protection policies. More significantly, he added NSW Nationals’ leader John Barilaro to that criticism, but also being on brand by calling him Super Mario because of his Italian heritage.

These rises to fame is the main clue to understanding Shanks’ style and his popularity. He uses immature belittling tactics – teasing people for their looks, accents and personal style – to appeal to teens and their twenties who think that schtick is funny. His use of “funny” voices and bringing in assistants in pile-ons increases that appeal. His stuff, though, does have substance. It is often well researched and hits many targets successfully.

Ok, why is he appearing on the front page of the Sun Herald? Not a Twitter Thing.

Ordinarily, Shanks’ activities would assign him to the area of that of yet another youtuber, but why Shanks is important is why he is doing it and the impact of what he does. He uses these tactics to bring an audience in, so he can pursue a wider agenda – to promote the values and actions of the ALP to that young audience. His critiques of Palmer, Berejiklian and Barilaro are long and detailed – they show dedicated research and a plan to bring often politically neutral or disinterested people onboard. Hence why there has been support from within the ALP for Shanks and his continuing project – he has had a number of ALP figures as guests over the years. His style, however, has raised questions from within the ALP and elsewhere as to whether the party should be condoning and supporting what he does. Mostly though, I’m guessing, from people my age and older.

Shanks provides a dilemma. He is both a success and a problem. He is a loose cannon. As pointed out in the Herald piece, he recently spoke out against the treatment of former Labor leader Luke Foley, suggesting that his alleged assault wasn’t worth the punishment, showing a questionable attitude about sexual assault. He also tweeted a photo taken outside a journalist’s house, which caused unnecessary anxiety for that journalist. The sort of thing that makes him into a problematic figure for the party. And yet, his videos attract a lot of views, and the possibility for new Labor recruits. And that is why he we don’t see Labor people publicly distance themselves from him. The numbers.

Shanks’ most recent video, where he belittles Daily Telegraph journalist James O’Doherty, provides a comprehensive window on his agenda and style. Most of his audience – not only his usual ones, but the waterdrops on twitter who hate everything Murdoch – would enjoy the sight of Shanks and his assistant taunting and teasing O’Doherty as if they are in a schoolyard. To them, O’Doherty is a little short kid who deserves it because he works for Murdoch. For those of us who see and hear about this on school playgrounds won’t enjoy any of it. It’s unnecessarily nasty and cruel. That critique, however, does not hold up in a place where there’s no limits to what is seen to be necessary for the fight against the Murdoch media. I’m just an old uncool teacher.

But those people – like me – aren’t Shanks’ audience. Our comments are irrelevant. And the Herald piece seems to put him more in the limelight as someone of interest rather than anything else – no wonder Shanks’ spoke of it admiringly on his twitter feed. If the Herald authors were thinking that this would “get” Shanks with that piece, then they were wrong. He speaks glowingly of anything negative that is said about him in legacy media. He even did an accurate bingo card of what was going to be said in the piece before it was published. That’s the point with Shanks – he makes his reputation on being a critic of such media, and criticism of him in it just increases his popularity and makes him look even more credible.

The thing between him and the AUWU – A Twitter Thing continuing a wider agenda

The thing that has made Shanks more of a topic on twitter is his recent attack on the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union – the AUWU. It seemingly sparked from an unusual moment – Bill Shorten calling Scott Morrison a “simp” in terms of his relationship to the Trump administration. Shorten’s was a clunky moment, one which was laughed at by various Gen Y twitter people, who tend to be gatekeepers for words usually used by them. (I personally think Bill, like most Gen Xers, should never try to appear cool by using words like that unironically). Shanks, however, was having none of that – showing that he will go into the trenches to support Labor figures. One of the people responding to Shanks was Thomas Studans, one of the organisers for the AUWU. This fairly minor and pointless spat then prompted a rabbit hole of excrement being flung for the best part of two weeks.

That’s what twitter can do – but what it brought has become part of a wider campaign of Labor adjacent campaigners against the AUWU and other Greens adjacent campaigners.

Shanks seemingly decided to use this moment as an inspiration for a video outlining flaws, faults and problems in the AUWU – bringing up old arguments with previous organisers, issues of funding, the spending of small amounts of money. Trivial stuff. He said / she said petty stuff. I watched it, out of curiosity, and it featured Shanks’ tools usually used against Liberals and conservatives – his hectoring style, use of some facts to hammer home points and images scoured from the net designed to belittle and tease his targets. A video, though, that had 220k views. That’s some deep gaslighting made for a big audience.

Why the video was seemingly one of Shanks’ most pointless was that it was based purely on twitter. The whole issue appeared to come from pure Twitter – pettiness, trivial stuff that most people would not care anything about, childish name calling and voices.

That’s not a flaw, though, it’s probably the main point of the video. It seems to have hidden one of Shanks’ main agendas in targeting the AUWU – that its own social media activities is muscling into his own turf – making content that is attractive and significant to Gen Ys and younger. The AUWU is raising awareness of the problems faced by the unemployed, with mutual obligation requirements and with job agencies. The AUWUs campaign and agenda, however, is critical of Labor and its lack of support in the run up to the the 2019 election for issues such as raising the Newstart allowance. Its supporters on twitter are largely Greens and Greens adjacent supporters. There is also criticism from its campaigners of areas of the ACTU’s activities.

What Shanks has done with his video is now give ammunition for Labor supporters and members on twitter to fight back against the AUWU’s commentary on Labor policies. It’s become a proxy for the continuing battle between Labor and Greens supporters. What is has revealed is that in this battle, though, select members of the AUWU and their supporters, however, have not been their own best allies.

The Pascal Principle and the pitfalls of twitter crap

This is where we revisit a bigger issue about the way twitter is used and the bullying tone that continues to be used by mostly men in their 20s – and why it’s a problem. One point raised by Shanks on the AUWU video with which I agreed was his comments regarding the way people are personally bullied. Yes, it was highly ironic for Jordan Shanks of all people to be criticising how others are treated on social media. He did raise, though, the way minor people are dragged into the limelight and picked on – yes, another irony. As a part of this, he put up screenshots of tweets made by Thomas Studans relating to a Labor waterdrop called Pascal Grosvenor that cast a bad light on Thomas Studans of the AUWU and therefore cast a bad light on what the rest are doing on social media.

As a side note, I could do a whole blog post about Pascal – I know too much about him and his twitter existence, from what others have said about him. In the grand scheme of things, he isn’t all that important. However, what has been done to him and by him should show people on twitter how not to act.

Pascal – for those unaware of the thousands of tweets made to, from and about him – is:

  • An enthusiastic Labor supporter who used to live in Pendle Hill in Western Sydney, then moved to the mid Blue Mountains.
  • Was especially supportive of the NBN and was understandably angry about the way it was sidelined and treated after 2013.
  • Just another Labor supporter who stays under the radar, is not widely known in the Labor Party – even in the Blue Mountains – but turns up to branch meetings and will occasionally get out to hand out HTVs on election day.
  • Someone whose experience of the Greens is shared by a number of Labor supporters in that part of Sydney – that it is a inner city focused party that has appeared largely unconcerned with outer suburban issues.
  • He lives in an area where having a Labor controlled council has brought more tangible benefit to the area than a fractious, disorganised Greens presence on council ever brought.

I know these things because I share views with Pascal, and have also handed out HTVs for the ALP in the Blue Mountains. I, however, see him as a warning of what not to do on twitter. Pascal is an example of a well meaning campaigner that has become someone dragged into the whirlpool of excrement that auspol twitter started to become from 2013 onwards and has become a frequent target of Greens and Greens-adjacent supporters. Pascal has responded in kind – neither side is ever covered in glory. Stalking people’s Linked In accounts, for example, is not cool.

Pascal and his critics need to ignore each other, but they never will – just like kids in a schoolyard who are permanently stuck in Year 9. The problem, however, is that the silly schoolyard stuff that flies around leaves receipts. And this set of screenshots from Shanks’ video is pretty damning. If you are a fighter for progressive rights, you should never do stuff like this, no matter how aggravating a megaphone is. And I have seen worse said about Pascal by various progressives. It doesn’t stop and really, it needs to, because to the uninitiated and those out of the loop, it looks damning, because it is.

Yes, I am a Gen X Teacher

Twitter doesn’t have an office where bullies and children who fight in bad faith can be brought together and reconciled. Teachers like me know that – even though we try to create those offices on twitter, stupidly. Gen Y men on twitter and other social media do not care how they look to the rest of us. But I will still say – I can’t stomach any of it. Not the childish crap on Shanks’ videos, the memes, the sniggering. “It’s just bants” is never an excuse for being a dickhead towards people.

Most of this is not great. Jordan Shanks doing Super Mario impressions and laughing at people because they are short, fat or wearing stupid clothes is boring and puerile. As are most of the abusive memes and jokes that fly around on twitter from anyone who is professing to support those who are living in poverty. There does need to be some dignity, some respect around. Sad thing is, that there is some good substance. I like most of what the AUWU do, and have been happily retweeting things as a part of their campaigns – I worry about the way the unemployed are threatened by the way our welfare system works. I have also watched a few videos from Shanks in the recent past, and there’s good nuggets of insight. A bit like Mark Latham back in the days before he turned into what he is today. And if Shanks remains stuck in his snarky bully boy persona, that’s what may well become of him in his 50s. Running for One Nation, but doing impersonations of his opponents.

But, as I say, none of this stuff is for me. I’m not the audience, so what I say doesn’t matter much. But nor does what is written in the Herald or Telegraph. But at least if you were confused as to what this was all about, at least you now know. And can happily ignore it.