Men Without Facts. The Milo Tour.

There has been a lot of anger in the past couple of weeks expressed about the tour of one time alt-right celebrity and bad Gucci devotee Milo Yiannopoulos.  But that anger is fruitless and pointless in the face of what our commercial media seek on a daily basis – colour and movement.

Milo fits into the same media space as Pauline Hanson – a “what crazy / outrageous thing did he / she say today?”  Both also share a predilection for shirking from hard work and just drifting from media opportunity to media opportunity. And both are abject failures at all things other than gaining media mentions.   Milo, however, is an overseas version, therefore more exciting than our home grown racist troll. Hence, why there was an Opera House visit, but with a “difference”. It’s surprising he wasn’t photographed ripping the head off a koala.

There were fair few photos that summed up Milo’s schtick and the reason why he received so much coverage from sections of our media.

  1. Milo, Leyonhjelm and One Nation

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This photo neatly sums up the connection between Milo, Leyonhjelm and Hanson’s One Nation – all of them thrive from making loud, trolling responsibility free commentary on various issues, but almost always supports the Coalition in the Senate.  This shouldn’t have happened event in parliament was organised by David Leyonhjelm, who is closer to being Our Milo in sheer nastiness, but would love to have One Nation’s media pull.  Also of note – here is the memorably tinfoil Malcolm Roberts asking Milo whether there’s similarities between the Koran and Mein Kampf, from which even Milo recoiled. Little wonder Hanson encouraged Roberts to lose Ipswich so badly in the state election – even Roberts is too fringe for the Hanson Brand.

       2.  Milo and Daisy

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There is no good reason why former tennis blogger Daisy Cousens receives any attention or space in our media. In terms of her intellectually dishonest approach to argument, she picks more cherries than a backpacker in Young.   Hence why she and Milo are perfect together. Both have built for themselves a brand of ranting about “the left” that has fitted nicely into the business model of reactionary men wanting to stop social change.  The main difference is that Daisy is largely harmless and the main thing that feeds her brand are her appearances on the ABC and arguing with people on Twitter. Her other appearances, on the 3 Hours of Hate on Sky and Mark Latham’s Facebook show, barely exist on the radar. Milo, however, has done damage to many.

      3. Milo and Jonesy

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Alan Jones has built a career out of saying outrageous, responsibility-free things and being rewarded for it. Not a bad outcome for an ordinary English and History teacher.  He is the Milo of a previous age. I can envisage Milo having a radio show one day where he mixes mad, unhinged talkback with playing the hits of many decades ago, but on FM, not AM. He is already dressed for it.

       4.  Men Without Facts

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This really bad New Wave revival band shows us how Australian media gives space to mendacious people who make the deliberate choice to make comments that almost never cause any pain to them, but are designed to cause maximum pain to others.  I thank my wife, Claire for the name of this new wave band, though I also like the @madcatjo2point0 name Daftwerk.  

Why “Men Without Facts” works best is because such people dominate our commentary space, and this is why Milo was so attractive to them.  Who needs facts when you have racist, reactionary feelpinions?

      5.  Milo and Latho

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It’s hard to tell whose career has hit rock bottom in this photograph. Latham is desperate to build a brand of ranty outrage to get on the same gravy train as Bolt, Cousens, et al, as well as Milo, but is failing miserably.   He made the mistake of not realising that Milo built his brand in a land where defamation laws are not a barrier to making responsibility free comment.  As a result, the Mt Hunter Hermit is getting caught instead in legal action as a result of his tweets.  This has seen him start to beg for people to give him money to fight the legal battle as well as keep his very strange Zeg Tribute Show on Facebook afloat.  Milo, on the other hand, might just be wondering who he is.

       6. Milo the Pole Dancer

The whole Latham / Milo connection also helps us to further understand the absurdity of Latham’s pretence that he speaks for the marginalised and people in the outer suburbs.  They only know Milo the malted milk drink. This is why I laughed when I saw these ads posted on light poles next to Parramatta Rd in Concord, pasted over ads for dodgy nightclubs promotions, the poor old Sydney Kings basketball team and obscure overseas acts playing at the local RSL.

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On the face of it, this could be seen as a considerable difference between Milo and Pauline. None of us can imagine her attracting much of a paying crowd at a club.  But it neatly sums up how they are very similar.  Hanson doesn’t need a pole or a tour to promote her repetitive, rationality-free tripe. She has our reliable commercial media, always up for a Pauline quote.  In addition, her party seem to have little trouble getting people to pay to be associated with her brand, having found replacements for these people.  And apparently, Milo’s tour gathered $1 million in sales. It seems that there’s enough reactionary men and women ready to bask in Milo’s abusive ejaculations that even Andrew Bolt found distasteful.  Milo will forget the people he met here but will enjoy the cash he has gathered from being yet another overseas failure who was inexplicably lauded here.

Or maybe he won’t forget this moment with T’ziporah Malkah, whose time as Kate Fischer was, like Milo’s, was dedicated to obtaining as many media mentions as possible. And got them they did. Because our commercial media never learns.

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We Need to Expel Our Bullies – Our Toxic Marriage Equality Discourse

Teachers who deal with daily in-school pastoral issues know what Tony Abbott is. A bully. The sneering bloke who hates all change instinctively and will do anything to stop that change.  In a school, bullies have their victories, their moments in the sun.  But in the end, for the most part, they run out of energy, the surge of a year group leaves them without friends and power.  Schools have to initially provide a forum for their confected reasons, their raison d’etre for being what they are. One such tactic is for a bully to wind up their victim for so long that the victim retaliates, leaving the victim to suffer the consequences, not the bully. Eventually, though, good schools see through such facades and either expel the bully or blunt their effectiveness over the long term.

What schools can’t prevent, however, is the after effect. Bullies usually end up causing localised pain – the bullied, the marginalised, the convergent thinker, carrying the pain of the bullying and of the disinterest of most of the year group, long into their post-school life.  So it has come to pass, however, that our mediocre political system and media have allowed such a toxic, destructive bully get a lot further than most bullies. And the patterns are continuing.

Abbott is just a backbencher. Member for Warringah, that sleepy hollow peninsula marked by surf, bush, terrible traffic and worse public transport. It has been proven again and again that the Onion Man Gang, the bully’s hanger on supporters, are a small group that pose no material threat of regaining the PM’s position. Yet here we are, media outlets – including the ABC, who should know better – continuing to pump out Abbott’s views on EVERYTHING. Renewable energy, marriage equality – things that have nothing to do with his role as the MP for Warringah.  Not a day goes past when we don’t hear the phrase “Tony Abb…”

No.  This should not be happening.  Yet our editors and journalists hang onto repeating Abbott’s views because he’s “good theatre”, “good yarns” and so on. It’s a bit like if a school principal said “we need to hear the bully’s side, because he’s entertaining”.  The man himself also loves the attention. That’s why he coughed up to Annabel Crabb his ho-hum story of being drunk and passed out during the vote for the Stimulus Package bill.  Attention. Why he continues to say the most ignorant things possible about energy.  Why he called the media before the police with his “A Yes campaigner headbutted me” story. Abbott’s bully instincts would have hoped for such a moment for him to gain the upper hand, the “win” against the opponents.

What these editors and journalists don’t get, though, is that their audience doesn’t care.  Most people don’t care one iota what Tony Abbott thinks about anything. He was an unambiguous failure as a PM, one of the most unpopular in our history.  We are the bulk of the school, sick of the bully, sick of having to think about him. But someone, somewhere, needs to stop this bully in his tracks, because the LGBTIQ community, his latest target is hurting.

We all know that Abbott and his crew of “No” campaigners would have been rampant homophobes at their schools, at their universities, at workplaces. They would have used the word “pooftas” or something like it in their private – or maybe public – conversations. Gay people were always the marginalised when these tragically mediocre men were making their way through the privilege laden road.  They were the people who stayed firmly in their closet, in fear of the reaction of the likes of Abbott, Abetz, Bernardi and Shelton.  For those four to now cry that they are marginalised by “political correctness” is craven mendacity, enabled by a media too poor at calling out their sophistry.  All the while, those in the LGBTIQ community know all too well that they can’t call this out to society, shout to the world that these homophobic bullies are just continuing to do what they like because they would be seen as “too biased”,  or that they are “bullying people into voting Yes”, which is one of the more cruel ironies of this discourse.  The bullied are still the bullied because they have been called bullies by the bullies.

It’s disgusting and there’s not a thing we can do about it.

Part of the reason why is the media industry’s inability to discern real news from the lies.  Sure, there’s the progressive, young media outlets like Junkee and Buzzfeed are doing their best to do it, but at craven, “centrist” Fairfax, they are publishing outrageous assertions from the “No” camp because they have lost what little sense they had of what is sound and reasoned.  (Otherwise, they wouldn’t be still publishing Elizabeth Farrelly.) Commercial TV has their formula of pitting a reasonable Yes supporter against Prue MacSween / Shelton / Hanson. The ABC have a similar process, even if the No argument is a farrago of lies about Safe Schools.  Q and A is particular egregious at presenting out and out misrepresentations and lies as something to be taken seriously.

As a part of this, Abbott’s ability to attract media outlets who just repeat his Trumpist drivel means that we are being regaled with daily reminders during the marriage equality “campaign”, (though it begs the question, is it right for taxpayers to be funding the Member for Warringah’s “Headbutts of Tasmania” tour?). The same goes for the spokesman of the questionable “Australian Christian Lobby” (as in, they don’t speak for all denominations, so it’s questionable as to who exactly they do lobby for).  Liar Shelton is continually repeating outrageous untruths and misrepresentations about the possible outcomes for the change in the marriage act, and they are repeated, time and time again. For “balance”.  And Eric Abetz says things that Lewis Carroll would think too bizarre for Through the Looking Glass.  The last of this quartet of homophobic bullies getting a continuing media run is Cory Bernardi, aka Mr. 1% in the 2022 election, who is now one of the most unrepresentative politicians in Canberra.

It’s depressing for anyone still seeking a political landscape with decorum and class to see the domination by this unrepresentative rump of reactionaries who can provide some drama, colour and movement to news bulletins.  And don’t try to communicate a dissatisfaction with the situation to news people with a Twitter presence. They will always respond with a mealy mouthed / snarky response saying Abbott “represents a view that needs to be aired”. No, he doesn’t. We know Abbott’s views on everything. We have since 2011.

So, enough. We need to expel Tony Abbott, the bully in chief, from our media, ready for the time his branches in Warringah finally have enough of him not serving their interests, instead flying around the country, serving his.  His time is done. He is just a backbencher with a few mates. He needs to feature as much on our televisions as say, Chris Crewther.  No, I’d never heard of him either before writing this, but surely it would be good to have some variety.

After that the important stuff needs to happen. After Abbott is expelled, Shelton’s “Australian Christian Lobby” actually find some of Jesus’ teachings and lobby about them, (Social justice anyone?) Tasmania’s Liberals wave Abetz off to the Henry Parkes Home for Bigoted Old White Men and Bernardi is finally tossed out and ends up hosting Aerobics, Far Right Style on Sky.   The healing will need to begin for all of those in the LGBTIQ community currently being bullied and made to feel worthless by this extended, public humiliation being inflicted by these mediocre men enabled by a craven Prime Minister.

 

Why I Need To Leave

Twitter is eating away at me in ways I never thought possible.   This is why I have to leave the pseudonyms and this blog.

To me, Twitter is almost to me what the Secret Service was to John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.  A beautiful and soul-eating obsession. If you have not seen the film, Nash was fed by a small piece of praise from the secret service, but then blew it up into full blown obsession. He threw himself into coding every newspaper and magazine story imaginable, believing that he was doing vital work to help the Government.

This is what Twitter did to me, to an extent. I played a minor role on Twitter, providing bits of news and information about the outer west of Sydney, writing blog posts for enthusiastic amateur political sites , even the occasional Guardian piece.  This, however, fed my ego and I blew it up to believe that I was doing vital work, speaking for the outer west, providing vital info to be tweeted out to the people who followed me. (On that note, I sincerely hope that this blog gets as many views as my posts about classical music. The largely read posts fed my ego far too much.  The numbers that read my thoughts on classical music confirmed how obscure I am in real life.)

This is not to say that I was making up fake agents and completely neglecting my real life and family to serve the Mighty Twitter Purpose.  But it has occurred to me that I was getting dangerously close at times.   I know I am not the only one in this category – think of the poor whacky ibises, vuvuzelas and megaphones, who will never come to the realisation that all their vital “work” actually means nothing.  This is the realisation I have come to.  That all my delusions are just that. People really won’t miss my contributions, and will get their info from other people on Twitter.

The other thing eating away at me right now are the memories of the connections, the fights, the problems, the harassment, the hypocrisies. I see friends on Twitter following, referring to and RTing people who I can’t stand – people who have targeted, harassed, bullied me and others. I see yet others suddenly RTing and buddying up to people they previous moaned about on DM.  It’s revolting and fake.  There are, of course, many exceptions to this –  but it’s really pointless to object when you see it happening.  After all, people can use Twitter however they like.  I don’t have to like it – and it does eat away at me and that’s where it should stop.  One day, it won’t matter to me at all.

There was a time some time ago when I mused on quitting this pseudonym life and I was deluded enough to be think of Turlough’s comments during the regeneration of Doctor Who from No. 5 to No. 6 – that “my many enemies would delight in my death”.  (BTW, this is still my favourite regeneration scene, largely because of Colin Baker’s first lines).  This was the time when I did have a number of people who hated me for what I was tweeting and writing about.   Yes, I was that deluded.

Those people probably still do hate me.  But my departure from Twitter as Preston and Capper Towers won’t change anything for the news you get and the comments floating around.  Besides, what changes in news? Nothing much. What changes in politics? Nothing much. I can still gather news via a news gathering account.  And what I have discovered on the sport account is the same cycle of bullying, harassment and moronic banter I hated at school and have hated on Twitter. I probably should not have expected anything else.

There are people who will miss me, but there are people in that category who would not like to hear what I really think of the hypocrisy and facades being put up every day.   The reactions to my Sydney Push piece told me that what I write has its consequences.  And I can see some on that list hurtling towards becoming the Wendy Bacon and Elizabeth Farrelly of the future, ranting about the Others destructing their insular, comfortable inner city lifestyles.  Indeed, loads of people on Sydney Twitter are doing that already.  So one day their house will easily be haunt.  But this post isn’t about them.  The reactions to that post amused me because it fell into what I already knew about Sydney – it surges and falls on Who is Who.  It also amused me because by naming them, it made me suddenly important – which confirmed for me that this time around, unlike when I was at uni, I didn’t want any of that affirmation.

What will change? I will get some piece of mind.  I probably need to go back to trying to just enjoy it, but I can’t see that happening with all the baggage I bring each time I log on.

But as I am addicted, I will probably come back, like the hopeless addict I am. And it will continue to eat away at me.

What’s all that about?

I have read my final Preston Institute post and decided it needs to be deconstructed and critiqued, like I usually do to others.  That voice I will do in italics.

Firstly – Apologies for the overly earnest opening. Really, this is a pretty self indulgent opening.

As I read news and retweet it out there into the ether as Preston Towers, I realise I don’t have the passion for the news and politics of Australia that I once possessed. Preston remains as a conduit of news for others, but the me behind it is just meh.  The same goes for this blog.

What is a blog anyway? Just a bunch of thoughts. It still blows my mind that thousands would read one of my posts. Thousands.  But honestly, I can’t think of anything else to say on this blog, which started off as a bad joke related to the activities of Gerard “Gringotts” Henderson.

This is why I have gone back to my first ever post, which was a firestorm of responses to contemporary, mundane, mediocre politics.

Geez that was woeful.  So much energy wasted on talking about Queensland. Queensland! That place that actually cares about rugby league.

I’ve also gone back to the way I introduced the blog, which was as follows:

By the way… Why The Preston Institute?

People of the outer suburbs have had many people talking about us – even Gerard Henderson in the Herald purports to speak about “Western Sydney” (here’s a quick precis from Loon Pond ), he speaks as someone who would be much too scared to walk through Penrith Plaza or sit on the beanbags at the Mt. Druitt Halfpipe Cinema.  Gerard, of course, for those who don’t know, is the Executive Director of the Sydney Institute.

Hence, I speak to you as Preston Towers, Executive Director of the Preston Institute. The Preston Institute will sit somewhere between the Sydney Institute, which appears to be a supper club for rich and powerful people listen to a revolving list of reactionary conservatives railing against the “elites” while tucking into their Confit of Suffolk lamb loin with smoked white carrot cream, fennel infused milk curd, Pantelleria capers, nasturtiums, green almonds and fennel pollen; and the Ponds Institute, which is a secretive place dedicated to keeping us all clean and young looking.  Hence, I will rail against elites while cleaning up things – all of which is dedicated to making you all young looking.

Looking back at it now, the shapes of this blog were all there. Bad Dad jokes, references to Gerard Henderson, Western Sydney.

That dinner sounds delicious, by the way.  Imagine being up yourself that much to accept an invite to the Sydney Institute. I would just laugh the whole night. But then I’d think of my father and realise that I was just being a wanker.

After all this time, nothing much has changed in the relationship between the outer and the inner of our cities.  To this day, the young and the funky of Sydney dream of a mention by that sour old irrelevancy in his Friday Rant.

This is true. New Sydney Push members on Twitter celebrating being published in that thing. I bet they crowed long and loud down at their pubs that Friday night.  Thing is, those specific members of the Push will never be as well known as Henderson.  That irony is quite the thing.

This is because, despite his mediocrity and faux intellectual chatter and approach to politics, Henderson is still an undeserved fixture in our media. Plus, his weird, anachronistic Institute stands as a symbol of Sydney, a rotten, conservative rathole of a place filled with old white people concerned about their investment portfolios and property values.

My dislike for Sydney is a constant theme in the blog and on Twitter. But I like the pretty and grungy bits of that dysfunctional dystopian hellscape. And there’s beautiful people in it. And then there’s completely selfish bastards who are obsessed with money.

My level of interest in politics now is summed up when I read Laurie Oakes and his ilk praising Pauline Hanson as a “sophisticated political operator”. I just roll my eyes these days, they still don’t get it.

Can’t blame them, I guess. Can’t be easy to work for commercial media organisations. So many compromises and silences to be done in the face of corporate owners and lawyers. Worse still, there’s us nobodies on Twitter and blogging, sniping at them for their mistakes. Didn’t happen in the good old days. 

Hanson is no different, just perhaps more cunning and has hired cynical deal makers like James Ashby.  Hanson and her type are already well known in the outer suburbs. They are the ignorant, the fearful and the troubled, people confused by today and see election days as a chance to register their protest vote.  Included in their number are the racists, the bigots and all the rest.

Back to the earnest prognostications. Truth is, I mostly encounter Hansonites during election campaigns, on the pages of local papers, election days or briefly as FB friends. Or, bizarrely, at a super expensive wine tasting day, where uber rich white bastards were saying how wonderful Hanson was for “speaking her mind” about Muslims. I’m glad I was rotten drunk at the time, because getting into a fight was probably not advisable. 

Add to that the uncritical breakfast TV watcher, who saw all the free TV time given to her by producers who like to snigger after she’s on, especially after having read the snarky tweets and Buzzfeed posts about “You won’t believe what Pauline said today”.

And why wouldn’t you.  Australian politics is damn boring to the average TV watcher. Just watch Insiders through the eyes of the average punter. They wouldn’t last a minute – except maybe in Talking Pictures, which is the best 5 minutes of political TV any given week. Also, Mike Bowers is one bloke I have met in the journo sphere, and is one of its best people. Jack the Insider is also a good bloke for a Carlton supporter.

But the views have gone out there. In that, it is fair to compare the rise of Hanson, TV celebrity as a small scale version of Trump.  On that same account, it is also fair to equate the rise of Facebook and its creation of echo chambers with the increased exposure of Hanson’s “whinge of the week”.

Fair, but also a pretty long bow. But hey, why not do the take that throws Trump into things. It should be easy to write a decent Trump Take.  People voted Trump because loads of Americans are stupid enough to be sucked into the greatest scam of the modern age. 

The thing about Hanson’s supporters, though, is that they crave being accepted and “listened to” by the mainstream, those in power.  And they continue to be shunned and ignored in almost every single thing written and said about them.  The only pieces I have seen that in any way get Hanson’s appeal is this superb piece by Bridie Jabour, as opposed to Margo Kingston’s piece, which starts promisingly, but then lapses into poor journo generalisations about “most ordinary Australians”.  But that’s it.

One of the best things about my blogging / tweeting is meeting some lovely, warm, genuine people. Bridie is one of them.  With Bridie, I can say I’m pretty biased about her work – but she is definitely one of those who get regional Australia. Margo, however, is one of the most patronising people I’ve encountered on Twitter. 

But also, this thing about being craved and listened to is something I share. I was flattered to get noticed for a brief time there. Who wouldn’t be? I’m just some teacher in a suburban school. But I know it’s time I returned to being That Bloke again.

The reality of Hanson is that she does what she has always done – scream about inequality and then beam when she is welcomed into the rooms of power.  That isn’t sophistication, what gets her into that room is the fear engendered in the Coalition by having so many One Nation Senators.  In addition, she will get played by the Government, who will give ground on minor things in order to get through legislation that will hurt Hanson’s voters and long term, Hanson’s popularity with those voters.   And because most press gallery journalists have next to no idea or genuine interest about people in regional areas and their concerns, they will continue to misread Hanson and her inability to think strategically daily.

Meh. Let’s see. This is more earnest bullshit I’m not sure even I fully believe. 

But none of that matters all that much, in the collection of molehills that is our political landscape.  In the landscape, the press gallery are the stenographers of our daily miasma.  They seem to me to resemble Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern endlessly discussing the flipping of a coin.

Bloody English teacher, putting in a Stoppard reference. And I’m possibly being a bit rough on the journalists. I’m not Andrew Elder, who does get genuinely white hot in his loathing of them. I just see people trying to do their best and being in a profession where now punters get to throw rotten fruit at them in the public square. Some deserve it, others don’t.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of thing as a profession – we don’t need the looming treacherous mountain ranges that have now appeared in the US.

Bloody English teacher, damn metaphors.

There’s also nothing overly wrong with the coverage from a number of the journalists working on politics. They are in the bubble, gatekeepers looking in, not out. It’s hard to get in and most don’t show any interest in leaving that – and why would they. Speaking as someone who works in one of the most insular and bubblicious professions – teaching -I deal with such attitudes daily. It’s the compromise people undertake who want to make a decent living.

And blogging / tweeting provided a bit of escape from those binds. But that’s wearing thin after this many years.  A bit like this self critique, which is boring me now.

But in all honesty, I have given up caring about the advocacy of outer suburban voices in the media space.  The illusion of access to the media by Twitter and blogging was seductive, pointless and has distracted me – and honestly, inflated my ego – for far too long.   That’s why this possible probable final post is needed, no matter how much of a conflict I will feel as I walk away from blogging.

This has been, despite a fair few disappointments, an excellent experience for the most part – I was flattered by the lovely things said about my posts – when people read them – as well as my experience with Ausvotes / Ausopinion. Its founder, Paula Matthewson still daunts me with her volume of work in the opinion stakes.

And I’ve still not met Paula – she still owes me a beer or three. And, oh wait, here’s some more self indulgent quoting from Stoppard.  It’s been fun talking in this meta way. Laters.

But… I have found after all this time that I really should be doing other things. Perhaps write more about sport – more Footy Almanac things, rekindling my interest in writing about education, maybe a classical music blog.  Or maybe just… silence.

GUIL (retiring): I’m relieved. At least we can still count on self-interest as a predictable factor… I suppose it’s the last to go. Your capacity for trust made me wonder if perhaps… you, alone…(He turns on ROS suddenly, reaches out a hand.) Touch.

(ROS claps his hand. GUIL pulls him up to him.)

GUIL: (More intensely): We have been spinning coins together since – (He releases him almost as violently.) This is not the first time we spun coins!

ROS: Oh no – we’ve been spinning coins for as long as I remember.

GUIL: How long is that?

ROS: I forget. Mind you – eighty-five times!

GUIL: Yes?

ROS: It’ll take some time beating, I imagine.

GUIL: Is that what you imagine? Is that it? No fear?

ROS: Fear?

GUIL (in fury – flings a coin on the ground): Fear! The crack that might flood your brain with light!

ROS: Heads… (He puts it in his bag.)

Why is it so hard to understand Trump?

There’s been a lot of stuff said about the victory of Donald Trump.

A Lot. Of Stuff.  Here’s more. I promise it’s gunna be short.

But – this wasn’t a win for “Anti-Politics” or whatever shitpuffin expression used by people pretending to be outside the “political class”. We have seen this before.  Trump was just a front man with a new way of selling old manure.

I was surprised like most people that Trump won. I trusted the polls, the media coverage, the “surely no-one sensible would vote for that loon”, but didn’t realise that the media in the US have as little to no idea of how people think and act outside inner city zones as most Australian media.

The whole “surely people won’t vote Trump” sounded a bit familiar. Like it was 2013 and an onion eating fool with little to offer but negativity and “I’m not those guys who have done little for you” in a campaign.

Also familiar was this piece of advertising that was not commented on all that much in the lead up to the election. Maybe because it wasn’t weird enough, not filled with the anti-bank conspiracy guff that also emerged.

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Pretty simple messaging. There’s no “heat of the moment” Trump here, no racist Twitter frog megaphones abusing journalists, just a simple message to those people hurting in the states clinging to an industrial and mining past that the Democrats and Republicans largely ignored in previous campaigns.  There’s little difference between such an ad and this one from 2013. cwjgq4wvyaeq3z4

And this simple, negative campaign stuff works if there’s some kind of dissatisfaction. If the political system is perceived to have not helped those outside the inner suburban areas of their nations, people get pissed off and they tip out the incumbents.  Also, American voters have this strange instinct to not help a President change things by voting for their opposition two years later.   There’s also the tradition of voters rarely granting the Democrats another president after they have had two terms to fix things. This is a political cycle in action.

Sure, Trump dogwhistled (and frankly, just whistled) to racists throughout the campaign, gained the support of a bunch of deplorable cockroaches from under the floorboards of the rickety American house of civil debate. And we saw his other disgusting personal qualities also came to the surface. All of that happened with Abbott too, all the way through from the time he took over as opposition leader.

But putting aside personal weirdness and disgraceful behaviour towards women – as voters have managed to do with both men, to the lasting disgust of many of us – both managed one big “success” – to undermine the way politics used to be done in their countries – Abbott with his relentless lies, negativity and lack of respect for the way politics was done in Canberra.  Trump did pretty much that same job – and it was easy to do against such an establishment candidate like Clinton.  It wasn’t hard to characterise her as “part of the problem”.

However, all these points seem to evade people who seem to think that West Wing isn’t as fanciful as a Doctor Who episode.

Yes, this will be a dreadful time for so many people. But right now it doesn’t seem massively different to my childhood, which was filled with the image of a completely clueless buffoon in Ronald Reagan lumbering around the White House, seemingly hanging out for his next nap while it seemed George H.W. Bush and various other murky characters ran things. It was that time where my general disinterest in daily US Politics took hold.  Studying the history of US and the world at uni just made me see even more clearly how the US prized their isolationism at a primal level.   And now that instinct has a vocal champion.

Trump is going to be awful and is bringing in awful people in a variety of positions. But this isn’t “anti-politics”. As we can see with the early cabinet appointments, it’s politics as usual, with the frontman bringing in new voters for the Republican machine. Trump sold the message that he’s different, but that was pure image bullshit, like Malcolm Turnbull’s Q and A leather jacket.  Sure, he’s also brought in a few loose wingnuts like Bannon inside, but if Bannon wants to bring in his weird Lenin style beliefs, he will quickly find the hard heads shutting that down. They will be saying “hmmmmm” to Bannon whilst they bring back all their machinery dedicated to repression and bringing their reactionary hammers to all sorts of progressive reforms. Cause that’s what the Republicans do.

Say Hello to the Fratercula Australis Stercus (the Australian Shitpuffin)

Origins

Welcome to puffins.  They are cute.  They don’t move much.

In Australia, we have a mutation of the puffin. The Shitpuffin. But just what is a shitpuffin?

In order to define just what the The Australian Shitpuffin (Fratercula Stercus Australis) is and does, we need to understand the behaviour of its originator.  Puffins (Fratercula) tend to gather around and not move all that much. They are known to squawk a bit. They seem to like to potter around and that’s pretty much it. They are generally inoffensive – and there’s many admirers, because they are generally cute and inoffensive.  The question we need to ask is, most of us like shitpuffins, but what purpose do they really serve, evolutionarily speaking?

Habitat

  • Seen most behind a computer or phone screen
  • Often witnessed pursuing high paying careers
  • During weekends, pottering around the house, online or perhaps a rally
  • Rarely seen venturing beyond their community into poorer areas

Behaviour

We experience the Stercus Australis mostly as an online based entity. They are generally professionals, or casuals who want to be professionals with some time on their hands to scour things online. Or sit down on a Monday night and watch the ABC. They like to think of themselves as being progressive and making a difference, to the extent of undertaking the following behaviour:

  • Building a Social Media Brand focused on being Progressive, Edgy, Passionate or being gripped by the daily commentary by those who are
  • Going online and expressing outrage about the latest progressive issue
  • Watching Q and A and grumbling about its guests online, thinking that the discussion does actually sum up “the national conversation”
  • Using phrases like “the national conversation”
  • Watching Insiders, hoping it may become relevant and sensitive to everyday lives -despite it never happening
  • Tweeting about Question Time as if Question Time shenanigans actually mean anything
  • Going to rallies
  • Going on Facebook and ranting about the media ignoring rallies
  • Go to the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” hosted in the plush surrounds of the Sydney Opera House, to be aroused about Dangerous Ideas like Andrew Bolt speaking
  • Say they care about the environment, about social issues. But the extent of their support is generally “awareness”, tweets and Facebook posts.
  • Read particular columns in Fairfax papers and the Guardian if an older variety; Junkee, BuzzFeed and Pedestrian if younger.
  • Watch The Project and is happy when Waleed Aly “Nails It” – retweeting the video of it
  • Hand out how-to-vote sheets at elections, in order to show support, “wave the flag”
  • Can be passive aggressive if challenged on their views
  • Make / share bad memes (like this one)

puffins

The Stercus Australis are generally friendly, inoffensive and harmless.  They are much preferable, for example to creatures such as the Aegypius Monachus Stercus Hildebrandia, whose entire existence is spent writing bad columns about the Fratercula Stercus Australis. Their intentions are good.  Many of us exhibit their tendencies from time to time.  It is also possible to see other examples of Fratercula Stercus in other wealthy first world nations.   For things to happen in society to bring progressive change, however, the Fratercula Stercus needs to evolve from being an ineffective, slow moving puffin to being able to affect change in the environment around them.  Otherwise, they may suffer the same fate as their cousins in Iceland.

6a00d8341c643353ef015393ce97ee970b-600wi.jpg

 

Knott Getting It Right – Why the Media Got the Election Wrong

I am annoyed at myself. Long ago, long before this election was even called, I was convinced that two of my local seats – Macquarie and Macarthur – were going to be Labor once again. That was my instinct based local knowledge. For Macquarie, it was because of the long term campaigning in the Blue Mountains of Labor’s Susan Templeman whilst her opponent, Louise Markus, was a poor campaigner and local member. In Macarthur, because local candidate Dr. Michael Freelander was a very well known local paediatrician against the slightly clownish former mayor Russell Matheson. That and a general dislike for a government that had been tinkering with welfare payments and Medicare.  Lindsay, I wasn’t so sure about. That area keeps increasing in gentrification and wealth, which usually leads to a higher Liberal vote. But it did have state election candidate, Emma Husar, who simply needed to continue her doorknocking.

I am annoyed about myself because as the election campaign started, I lost that local instinct and bought the national media’s line about the western suburbs hook, line and myopic sinker.  The western suburbs weren’t shifting, they said. Liberal Party strategists said Lindsay was in the bag, even with both party leaders visiting the place very often.  And NO-ONE was talking about Macarthur and Macquarie.  We had lots of articles and thinkpieces about Batman and Grayndler, though.

Why? Because the media circus who report on elections don’t seem to care about such areas unless they are told to be by media and political insiders.  It was the same in 2010, when I started this blog. It was the same in 2013. And now we are here, in 2016.

What we did see what rubbish like bookies’ odds, bus selfies, Fake Tradie hunts and journalists on Twitter tweeting back and forward lols at each other.

No wonder they were surprised at the result. There was a lot of evidence available showing that they were out of touch and unwilling to accept feedback to that effect.

Maybe, however, they may be willing to listen. Today, Matthew Knott of the Herald has come out with this piece, positing the idea that maybe they did get it wrong.  It’s a good piece, despite still mostly relying on insider analysis.  His words in the boxes.

It’s not just politicians searching their souls after Saturday night’s surprisingly close election result.

Those political reporters not too hubristic to engage in self doubt are asking: did we get it wrong? Did we, as a collective, miss the story?

The consensus, speaking to colleagues in the Canberra press gallery, is a reluctant yes. Some insist they got it spot on. But many admit they expected a more decisive Coalition victory than occurred. And they concede this influenced the way the media covered the campaign.

Those who insist they got it spot on are fooling themselves.  There was a consensus that this was a long, boring campaign where there was some improvement from Labor, but that was it.

One gallery veteran put it simply: “We didn’t believe the polls.”

This election campaign rained polls. Week after week, media outlets published national polls showing a 50-50 tie or at best a 51-49 Coalition lead.

The results barely shifted from week one to eight. Yet, as the campaign progressed, a view solidified that the Coalition was on track for a relatively comfortable victory.

Yet the Coalition suffered a sizeable swing against it on election night and is struggling to hit the 76 seats needed to govern in its own right.

So what happened?

One thing – there should be much more to media coverage of elections than polls. Detailed knowledge of the regional areas that are more likely to swing is much more valuable than just looking at various poll results and making lofty pronouncements.  It turns out that the one poll that was discounted more than the others – a ReachTel seat poll commissioned by the NSW Teachers’ Federation, was actually the most accurate poll of the lot – and was wildly different from national polls.  But because the consensus was to listen to Liberal strategists and to each other, reportage of that poll disappeared.   Again, I was convinced that those ReachTel numbers were out of whack, because media coverage was spun that way.
Stupid, really.

“No one believed us!” a senior Labor Party strategist says, insisting he warned journalists they were writing off Bill Shorten too soon.

“We were projecting a confidence that many people thought was bravado.

“The commentariat fell into a bubble and were reflecting what each other thought.

“A narrative caught hold and everyone started reporting it.”

With hindsight, there’s much to support this .

As Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Don Cobb says in the film Inception: “What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?”

No. It’s an idea.

“Once an idea has taken hold of the brain,” he says, “it’s almost impossible to eradicate”.

Yes it is. And no matter how much people outside the bubble talk about the contrary, it’s common amongst those inside the bubble to ignore and / or dismiss contrary evidence, views and opinions expressed on mediums like Twitter and the various commentary blogs. This was partially because most of the journalists were on the same bus, literally in a bubble. That was also because many were committed to gotcha moments in inner city seats, such as trivial stuff like David Feeney’s property portfolio and Richard Di Natale’s au pair arrangements. But it was, as ever, a complete waste of time to offer this critique on Twitter, unless you are one of them. This deliberate cutting off from the world outside the bubble definitely led to various ideas.

 

Several ideas took hold quickly in the gallery’s collective brain. That Australians don’t kick out a first term governments (despite this happening recently at a state level). And that Malcolm Turnbull’s personal popularity was a decisive advantage against the less prime ministerial Shorten.

During the campaign, several events became seen as “turning points” for the Coalition despite the polls never really budging. Labor’s admission it would increase the budget deficit over the next four years was one. So was the UK’s departure from the European Union.

The Australian Financial Review‘s Laura Tingle spoke for many in the gallery in mid-June when she wrote that “the sense that Labor is a serious challenger has faded”.

And The Australian‘s Dennis Shanahan on the day before election day: “Malcolm Turnbull is coming home with the wind in his sails, Bill Shorten is running out of puff.

The Daily Telegraph, already foreshadowing a challenge to Shorten’s leadership, reported on Friday that Malcolm Turnbull was on the “brink of victory”. Fairfax Media highlighted a 50-50 poll result but with an unusually strong emphasis on voter expectations that Turnbull would win.

Leading commentators on Sky News predicted between 80 to 85 seats for the Coalition, with Peter van Onselen saying he would quit in the event of a hung parliament.

Many had picked up a “vibe” in the community that voters were disappointed in Turnbull, but not sufficiently angry to remove him. There was also the confidence exuded by Turnbull and his advisers.

Many of us even convinced ourselves that the low-energy, small-target campaign was a clever way of “boring” voters into backing the Coalition.

There’s an inherent issue here. The Australian and the Daily Telegraph have been anti Labor for as long as anyone can remember, so looking for any direction from them raises considerable questions.  In addition, all of these are vague feels, rather than concrete knowledge or understanding of public perception or belief.

One such issue that exposed this gap between the media coverage and voters was that of Medicare (which is now, quite vapidly, being referred to by the Coalition’s word for it, “Mediscare”). Two elements made that particular campaign work for Labor. One was that the Coalition did fiddle with Medicare. It flirted with a co-payment. It put bulk billing at risk – most doctors in the outer suburbs bulk bill, so that was important.  Journalists may have been distracted by inner city people on Twitter saying “who bulk bills anymore?”.  That, like much of Twitter’s daily chatter, was irrelevant to the experience of those in swing seats.  The Government did look at the privatising of elements of Medicare’s operation, so that wasn’t made up. The other element was Abbott’s last minute “there will be no cuts…” speech, which was perceived by many in the same way as Gillard’s “No carbon tax” promise – proof that the Government couldn’t be trusted. It may have been a new man in the chair, but it was the same government. So the Medicare attack line worked because it was based on a grain of truth and a whole lot of perception.  But we didn’t hear that type of analysis during the campaign. It was mostly verbatim repeats of what politicians said and trivia.  Back to Knott, quoting from Jonathan Holmes.

“You got the impression they were confident and confident for a reason,” former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes says of the coverage. “There was very little scepticism of what was behind that”.

But if the media were wrong they were hardly alone. Two days before election day the bookmakers – often hailed as more accurate than pollsters – had Labor at $8 and the Coalition narrowing to a near guarantee of $1.08.

Many political insiders, too, were surprised by the scale of the swing.

Strategists from both sides agreed early on that Labor would pick up 12 seats at best. A week before polling day Labor strategists were telling reporters they expected to pick up eight to 10 seats. They picked up 14 seats, and may win up to 16.

Bookies. Journalists love repeating bookie odds, even though bookies would be basing their info on media reports, rather than detailed knowledge of areas and seats.  It’s a silly echo loop, perpetuated by people like Stephen Koukoulas, who on Twitter is part Tom Waterhouse, part Angry Boomer complaining about The Young People.  These kinds of people should be seen as the Twitter carnival acts they have become, rather than serious analysts, until such time as bookie odds and fights with other Twitter carnival acts become a thing of the past.

Plus, which strategists were they talking to? I talked to many who were confident of a shift to Templeman in Macquarie, for example – yet we never heard that from any source.

For me, the dumbest moment of the campaign was this –

Meanwhile, the Coalition was talking up gains in seats such as Werriwa (easily held by Labor).

As. If.  Not in Green Valley, which has some of the poorest people – including a number of former refugees – in Sydney.  I doubt most journalists would even know how to get to Werriwa.  Back to Knott, quoting from Barrie Cassidy, who is perhaps not the best at knowing what happens outside the journalistic bubble.

So, as Insiders host Barrie Cassidy asked, were journalists shown to be “gullible”? Or were they being lied to?

Neither, a Coalition strategist says.

“Everything I heard indicated the swings for Labor were not happening where they needed to be,” the insider says.

Serious questions are now being asked in the Liberal Party about the accuracy of its polling and who had access to it.

But Holmes says the media shouldn’t let themselves off too easily.

“There is certainly a lesson for the gallery about whether they should be less credulous when it comes to internal polling,” he says. Particularly when it is being briefed anonymously.

“Everything I heard”. That’s what comes of listening to strategists and not having detailed knowledge and understanding of the areas in which the votes may well change.  And that doesn’t mean endless articles and stories talking about Western Sydney or Regional Queensland. That means talking about specific areas and specific issues, which didn’t happen.

Blaming Liberal strategists for getting things wrong is an absurd excuse for journalists who needed to do their job properly – which means being less credulous and resisting the urge to just report what they are told by insiders. They should have been doing stories and investigations of possible swing seats during the last three years, so such stories and research could have been used during the campaign. The shallowness of the stories that came thick and fast during the campaign was mind boggling.

That shallowness, however, was not present in the many pieces we saw about Batman, which was a largely irrelevant seat when seen in the national picture.  Whether Batman is Green or Labor won’t have an impact on the direction of the nation when compared to the possible swing of seats in WA, Qld and NSW from the Coalition to Labor. Yet that seat received a disproportionate amount of coverage.  I say this as someone who likes Alex Bhathal and thinks would make a good MP. But Batman should not have been covered as much as it was.

One of the good features of Knott’s piece was quoting Margaret Simons, who had the best insights to share.

 

Margaret Simons, Director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism at University of Melbourne, says: “I was struck by how everyone was so wise after the event and so all-knowing.

“It’s easy to write in retrospect where everything went wrong but I didn’t see many people pointing it out as the campaign was happening.”

Simons offers the example of the eight-week long election double dissolution election campaign itself. Originally hailed as a political masterstroke, it was only after Saturday that many commentators started questioning how wise the decision was.

“Journalists,” Simons concludes, “were too quick to become part of Malcolm’s fan club.”

Leather Jacket Syndrome is a very real phenomenon amongst the press pack, with Peter Hartcher suffering with one of the worst cases of it.  “How could anyone still like Tony?” was the consensus amongst the press pack. Yet stand with Fiona Scott more than a minute at pre poll, like I did in the last week and they would have seen angry people saying to her “I didn’t like what you did to Tony”.   There was even an Onion Man loving (and Mosque hating) candidate in the seat, Marcus Cornish, who stood as an ex Liberal purely so he could exact revenge on Scott by taking volunteers away from Scott’s campaign, as well as direct preferences to Labor. His 2.4% was enough to put Labor’s Emma Husar over the line.  This kind of detail was missing from any analysis of seats in those marginal swing areas.

Finally, in an interesting and refreshing new twist, Knott listened to people on Twitter, which does have its pluses and minuses.

In preparing this piece, I asked readers on Twitter and on Facebook for their views of the coverage.

Some dominant criticisms emerged:

  • An insistence the Coalition was on track to win (despite the polls predicting a tight result) and a consistent under-estimation of Shorten’s performance;
  • Overly “insular” coverage dominated by conversations with political insiders and other journalists rather than voters
  • Coverage that was too “presidential”, with an intense focus on daily movements of both leaders;
  • Too much focus on the colour and movement of campaigning rather than the policy offerings of the two main parties;
  • A lack of co-ordination by journalists, especially in the travelling media pack, to demand answers from the leaders;
  • More focus on campaigning techniques by third-party groups such as GetUp!

Journalists may quibble with some points. If the campaign is light on policy, blame the politicians’ and not us. Others might argue that, despite what readers say they want to read, many more will click on a story about a “fake” tradie than a plan to save the Murray Darling Basin.

Still, that doesn’t mean those in the media shouldn’t listen – and reflect.

Yes, all of these critiques hold true.  The political media need to have that list pasted somewhere to remind them in future elections.  Yet there’s also the idea posited at the same time that the reason why policy is trumped by fake tradie garbage shows a problem for that media – the idea of clicks driving the media.

Their readers may be inner city political tragics who enjoy clicking on trivia, but where the media get this stuff wrong was in being focused on entertaining those clickers, rather than on the issues and the people who actually swing elections.   People in such seats make a judgement call based on service delivery and hence swing hard.  In the inner city seats lived in by most consumers of the news, those swings are small in regards to conservative / progressive changes.  Yet such minor swings get blanket coverage.

Even now in the wash up, there’s a proliferation of articles that ask “what does this means for the Greens”,  which should be of minor interest in terms of the ramifications of the election.  The Greens as a party did well in this election at holding on – and in same cases growing – their vote in an election that was again about shifting from one major to another. However, they remain largely irrelevant to marginal swing seats, except as a help to Labor in terms of preferences.  Richard Di Natale’s pragmatic approach to building the credibility of the Greens may have long term benefits in those seats, certainly more so than in the recent past. The party needs to stick to that long term plan of gaining economic and social credibility, rather than be distracted by critiques from activists who continue to validate and push the affluent Sydney baby boomer belief that the party isn’t socialist enough.  But right now, the relevant and vital story that needs to be told is that of Liberal and Labor and their appealing to the working class and middle class of the swing seats.

It’s encouraging to have journalists such as Matthew Knott to want to genuinely seek feedback from people in regards journalists and reportage. They can’t say it hasn’t been available – Andrew Elder has been talking about this issue for years, and has been largely rebuffed, partially due to his (understandably) furiously frustrated tone, but the substance of his critique generally holds true.  I used to do that as well, before I gave up.  Being responded to in a snarky and dismissive style tends to make people discouraged from offering critiques.  There’s a fair few on Twitter who have experienced the same.  I don’t mean the Whacky Ibises in that, who often drown out rational voices.

As the last quote in Knott’s piece says,

As Simons says: “A little humility goes a long way.”

Yes. I hope there is a touch more of that shown and felt by people wanting to provide a full and comprehensive view of Australia in their coverage.   This may surprise some, but I believe one of the best journalists through this campaign was Buzzfeed’s Alice Workman, who listened to feedback as well as did some very good live interviews with politicians during the campaign – while using an engaging and non self important tone. More of Workman’s style of coverage, focused in certain regions, would have worked well. Because out there, beyond the bubble, there’s still people after detailed and well researched journalism, no matter the outlet.