I didn’t watch much of Q and A last night, simply because I could predict its contents. Sydney Writers Festival = Earnestness and outrageous comments from people whose lives are lived outside the pragmatic paradigms of our day. And the largely earnest baby boomer + “White” audience lap it up and as soon as they are done, are ready to part with the oodles of cash down at the Gleebooks stall. I’m quite sure Gleebooks would be insolvent these days if it wasn’t for the Writers’ Festival. I have been part of that scene, though one of my favourite memories was meeting Jodi Picoult, who is a totally charming, self effacing and lovely person. And Bob Ellis, who isn’t.
But the bits I did see of Q and A confirmed the pattern the program has fallen into. It is now reminiscent of the Thunderdome, that awesome creation from Mad Max 3 – especially with the seats behind the panel.
In the centre is the white haired master of ceremonies, Tony “Tina Turner” Jones, making sure the crowds are entertained with intellectual fights, trolling, biting, snarling. The producers help with a rolling schedule of such figures that are guaranteed to provide such provocation – Deveny, Devine, Albrechtsen, Pilger, Minchin, Joyce, Mirabella, et al. The tweets add to the Thunderdome feel. It all adds very little to the “National Conversation” except repetition of the party line barking we already see played out on our narrow, provincial media playing field.
The addition of international guests either reveal just how narrow our media representation of issues has become; or reveal that other places have similarly polarised, stultified ideas about our world and how we are living in it. Or there’s writers, who live outside a place where decisions have to be made, compromises done.
These novelists live a world in which a lot of us – a majority of Q and A viewers especially – would like to live. Just reading the tweets shows us just how many active tweeters would like us to live in that utopia where we don’t have bogans demanding more tax cuts and less refugees and no commercial media that pins political parties to policies that has scant respect for “others”. It’s a world where idealists like Malcolm Turnbull is the opposition leader and the ALP doesn’t have mealy mouthed machine men like Arbib and Shorten. It’s a world where the Greens can get a level playing field and respect from a media organisation.
In other words, Q and A is just a show. The Intellectual Thunderdome. One which hasn’t had Angry Anderson or Mel Gibson, ironically enough. Maybe the producers can use either of them next. Though, there is a case to be made that the Q and A warm-up man, Tommy Dean, is the equivalent of Anderson.
But go on – just watch this section and tell me that the similarities between Q and A and the Thunderdome aren’t uncanny. Just think of the following video as Deveny v Devine or Pilger v Henderson.