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.
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.
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.
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 TheirReputation
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ofContent
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 Müllerin 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,
Master and mistress,
let me go my way in peace,
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)
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 Siécles, 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.
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 Troopsfrom 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 Numbers – Keep 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.
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.
There is a new series of small books that Hachette have been publishing called “On………..”. There’s a ripe line of suggestions that could be made for titles in that ongoing series, but this is not what I’m doing here. I am writing a set of posts about things that are noticeable if you use social media for your news source. This first one is about the reliability of sources and the crucial process of building a reliability filter. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made the process of building that filter more necessary. The phases of the coverage have fallen into the usual lines, but more hyped and hyper-divisive than before.
1. The Context Isn’t Important, Division is All
When the COVID-19 pandemic was started, the stories abounded of who wasn’t social distancing, and demanding why there could not be more done to have that happen. Rather than dig into reasons as to why society had difficulty with changing habits, the stories placed a spotlight on the divisions occurring between the Federal approach and that of the states. That was, inevitably turned into “What is the Government saying? What is the Opposition saying? What is the Labor Government in Victoria saying? What is the Liberal Government in NSW saying?” Hyping the divisions was the main focus. That division, however, isn’t a new thing, Australia has had that for as long as there has been a Federation. The states process the every day needs, issues, plans, police, schools, health procedures. The Feds have the overview and cash. It was clear the states – especially NSW and Victoria – had a more immediate concern over necessary measures. That wasn’t really taken into account or explained by media people just looking for The Angle. They just wanted to highlight divisions.
One such division was between the ways schools were being treated in discussion of a shutdown. It was done poorly, mostly due to a lack of education experts – or even journalists interested in education. Victoria was in a position to enact a shutdown more readily than every other state, due to a difference in school holidays in those other states. Why was that important? Because education systems are not all that flexible and able to communicate to their stakeholders in an easy fashion. NSW was not ready for mass online education – I know that from former colleagues – so it wasn’t that easy to just flick a switch, as it was in Victoria, which could call their holidays four days early. Right now, NSW and the other states are still effectively in term, with all of the Year 12 implications that brings.
What was reported and said on twitter? Most of the coverage centred on supporting the unusual position of the Chief Medical Officer suggesting that Australian students had to stay at school, like they were in Singapore and pretty much nowhere else. The natural question should have been – in what way can we draw a comparison between Australia’s and Singapore’s education system. We didn’t get any of those, unsurprisingly. One thing we did get was the Concerned Parent approach from Andrew Probyn – Why the experiment, which was pilloried by many. Forgotten in all of this – the teachers having to risk themselves by going to work.
2. Ermagherd, This Is So Confusing to Us
Once the “why aren’t there rules” phase was over, and rules and laws were brought into the equation, the pivot by media people was to outrage about those rules. The “Ermagherd, This is So Confusing” trope. This included highlighting confusing messaging coming from Scott Morrison originally, then to any edict or laws issued from states (NSW and Victoria mostly, because they are Australia, aren’t they?). It was inevitable that there would be confusion, because these are complex arrangements, being organised in a huge rush across a nation with different states and territories.
Where it has become very revealing of the background and position of journalists is what “confusions” have captured their imagination and stories. Hence, that middle class need for long and detailed haircuts; whether partners who don’t live with each other could visit. Things that could affect the journalists specifically. This latter, which came from a lack of clarity over what is considered a family “partnership”, was characterised as a “Bonk Ban”, with all of its Puritan overtones. It was easily clarified later by Victoria’s CMO, much to the mirth and happiness of twitter.
3. The Police State
Another trope that emerged is that the new rules and laws have turned our states into Police States. This has led to these lines of comment and coverage –
The Police will abuse these laws! They cannot be trusted on any level!
This line comes from politicians and media people whose brands have been built on highlighting cases of police brutality and malfeasance over the years. Yes, these cases are true, there has been problems with our police forces. Many of those problems have also occurred in regards their treatment of people from ethnic minorities. There is, however, also a case to be built for the police being reasonable in its use of laws. This latter case is near impossible to be built on twitter, however, because of the propensity for it to shut down discourse around areas of grey. In addition, these critics don’t seem to offer much of an alternative plan to stop the very things these same people were highlighting and discussing two weeks before.
Let’s Take Photos Of The Police Stopping People Like Us!
The next phase of this Police State confection is photos and video taken by journalists near where they live, of people Just Like Them in places like Coogee, being stopped or talked to. The Police! Talking to People! Proof of the Police State! Not that we hear what is being said, or whether fines have been issued in those circumstances. Just the images are enough to provoke comfortable middle class outrage, and twitter the ideal medium to spread it. Twitter has shown an unusual consensus between twitter leftist journalists, commercial outrage spinners and libertarians from the IPA in regards this issue of “Freedom From the Police / Nanny State!”, due to their shared place in society.
The irony is that these same leftist journalists won’t be taking photos of areas where people from a range of ethnic minorities live, such as the outer suburbs. Most like to talk about disadvantage, but aren’t in touch with actual disadvantage. They will therefore miss out on their particular trophy photos of the Police State In Action.
It is hard to trust the reliability of twitter for stories of what is happening in broader society, especially as the journalists in question become more even more isolated and cut off than usual. It is in this atmosphere where hope is replacing verifiable, accurate news about what is happening away from comfortable middle class areas. I hope that in those places, these new laws are not abused. I hope people can be allowed to connect with families and other people in a way that is safe. I hope that governments can continue to refine these laws and regulations in a way that takes public health and consideration of how people live their lives into account. That might be too optimistic from me, but we need to have that hope, because there’s not much out there that can hold these authorities to account in a time where decisive action has been necessary.
These are very sudden and rushed changes that have never been attempted in our current context. There will be things that cause outrage and anger – rightfully. There may be abuses of power – there probably will be. But the question remains – what alternatives are there? What stops Australians from ignoring social distancing requests other than laws? We have proof that draconian traffic laws and cameras cut down traffic infringements, we have proof that fare evasion is cut down through law enforcement. In addition, it will be important to discover and research just how police use these laws as they are intended to be used – as a deterrent, not a way to raise revenue, not just issue them without discussion. Those areas of grey will be vital for public trust of our police. Otherwise, the other pathway could lead towards greater, justified paranoia for those people who are isolated and threatened.
But the current noise on twitter, dominated by frivolous and sensationalist hyperbole about minor issues is not helpful. As ever. The trick? Mute, soft block and filter. Be critical and questioning of most journalists – no matter their political leaning and past. Consider their contextual positionality through reflecting on their experience, position in society and what they discuss with their journalist friends. Also be discerning about who are their welded on cheer squads. As ever, if you see me on twitter, you’ll continue to know that I don’t know any of these people in the political reporting game socially or personally and don’t intend to change that. In my life, I prefer people who share cat videos, talk Eurovision, classical music, sport, literature and all the things that make society bearable.
But, amongst the media dross of this last little bit, I did find this video hilarious.
My daughter went for her P plates the other day. It was nerve-wracking for her, and a bit for me – I hoped she’d pass and have a bit of freedom. But the day threw me back to my own past post-P plates times in ways I did not expect.
Waiting for her pre-test lesson and test, I had time to kill in Springwood Library, a place I had not visited for more than 20 years. It’s changed a bit in the intervening years. The local council and various other governments have pumped money into the previously under-funded Springwood town centre, and the new library is nice and serviceable. There was also a poster for an orchestra of which I was a member – the Blue Mountains Orchestra, who have an upcoming concert. The orchestra was for me a place of many musical semi-triumphs and many moments of late teenage awkwardness.
Lots of memories.
In my time there I got into a book – it was Richard Davis’ recent biography of Stuart Challender, Close to the Flame. I would be in a mood to review it properly – and one day, I will. But this post is not really a detailed review of the book. It is more about what the book was doing to my soul.
For those who don’t know who Stuart Challender is, he was the Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for 4 years, 1987 – 1991. His life is a tragedy in so many ways. He passed away from a condition related to AIDS, just as he was hitting his stride as an Australian born conductor of the SSO who was putting in the hard yards with the orchestra, as opposed to being an overseas based chief conductor coming here sporadically.
His early life struck a distant chord with me, in that he was born into a life and context as far removed from Sydney as could be imagined, to working class parents in Hobart in a time when Hobart was not the hipster haven it is these days. Reading of a time when he was being bullied at school for being different, and then his stories of a tearaway, ambitious conductor who was organising his own concerts at the age of 15 and then heading off to Europe in his early 20s, it threw me into a swirl of jealousy.
I was into classical music at school and was considered a freak, but I wasn’t organising my own concerts and getting scholarships. In my 20s, I was writing my honours history thesis on the Sydney Symphony, two years after Challender’s death, having never heard him in concert. I was desperately trying to find out at that time why I was so alone, without connection to others my age in Sydney. I didn’t have the scholarship and dedication to living a big social life that Challender possessed in his 20s. That’s why I wrote my thesis. As I was reading the book, I realised that a tragedy of Challender’s death is the notion of unfinished business. If had lived on, if there was no AIDS, I would have loved to have interviewed him. Talk about a way forward for the orchestra, how to connect with the new audience members.
My thesis was driven by that isolation from my peers at uni, and was that same loneliness that was at the heart of my notorious blog posts about the “Sydney Push”. When I feel low and disconnected to Sydney, that’s how I get thrown back to my own early 20s. As I read, I remember the attention I got for those.
Knowing that my attention was slipping, and that I was getting a touch morose, I skipped and jumped around this well constructed biography of Challender, I could see where it was going. The arrival in Sydney, and his ability – due purely because of his experiences in Europe – to climb to the top of the Sydney cultural tree. It will be an awe inspiring and tragic tale when I eventually read it properly.
For me, though, I could see where it was going, and where it intersected and dovetailed with my own work about the Sydney Symphony. Here was one rare time when an Australian was being respected for work in Australia, unlike for the original Sydney Push in the 60s, who needed to leave Sydney to gain respect. And then he passed on, and the Sydney Symphony slid back into seeking and revering conductors from Europe and the US. Understandable, considering the nature of the demanding European born Sydney audiences, characterised as the “Schnitzel Squad” in the biography. I am looking forward to digging into the book, as I suspect that it will glean many nuggets of Sydney’s musical and cultural context that are largely missing from other accounts of our orchestra.
“Our” orchestra. This is where the complication comes in for me. Reading the biography threw me back into reflecting on my hate / love relationship with Sydney for decades now, ever since going to Sydney Uni. I was always an outsider and always will be. It was that complicated relationship with Sydney which drove my Sydney Push blog posts. I regret writing them these days, in that many have used them to insult me on Twitter. Yet, I needed to write them at the time, as a way of articulating my own anxiety issues, as well as seeking to observe cycles of behaviour, which is an abiding interest of mine.
Now, though, these years down the track, I realise the posts have done me good. They purged me of jealousy and anxiety about such a silly thing as a clique. I have now moved on, and am much more settled in who I am and in my identity. The people I characterised as the new push have gone onto do a variety of things and have splintered onto various pathways, even though apparently some of their connectedness lives in on Whatsapp chat group form. Good on them.
Back to the biography of Challender, however, his life had substance and abiding interest for anyone wanting to see how culture and psychology meet. The book will bring me sustained interest and food for thoughts. I look forward to seeing how he conquered Sydney, but more importantly, how he was able to bring to this place a heart and soul for music, even though it was all too brief an exposure.
Christopher Pyne has gone. No-one should have been surprised, as the project that had been worked on by him, Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull has been an almost total failure. That project – to take the Liberal Party back to the version before the current mutated version created by John Howard.
Annabel Crabb’s piece on Pyne was the most revealing – her light touch matching well with the light touch Pyne liked to think he applied to politics. In amongst that light touch, though, were some stabbing zingers. The biggest one – served to John Howard upon Pyne’s arrival in Canberra after the 1993 election.
“You’ve had your time. We’ll never go back to you,” was the youthful Mr Pyne’s confident and career-limiting response.
This gives us a clue to the project that Pyne, along with another person spurned by Howard, Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull, had been assiduously working on. To Fix the Liberal Party, to turf out the influences woven into the party by Howard in his years at the helm of the party. To battle against the mendacious hard right reactionary moral vacuums like Minchin, Ciobo, Dutton, Morrison, Hunt and Abbott.
But, honestly, little has been fixed. They are the Unfixers. Their trajectories have been so flat, their achievements in reforming the Liberal Party so meagre, it’s as if The Thick Of It‘s Armando Iannucci has written the script of their parliamentary lives. This image from Crabb’s article, by Lukas Coch, summarises so neatly their times and demise.
This is not to say they did not achieve anything at all – there’s been comment made about achievements made here and there – Headspace being one – these can be easily outweighed with the many examples where their policies have been replaced or defeated by reactionary ones put in place by the hard right Sons of Howard.
Ultimately, though, despite all of Pyne’s work at deception, whispers and plots – being the underside of the duck – while Bishop and Turnbull would attempt to show themselves as gliding effortlessly above the water, what is the legacy of these three?
It’s the photos. It’s only the photos. Like this one by Alex Ellinghausen.