ANZAC Day this year had its predictabilities. Much of it showing lacking an understanding of history and context. Catherine Deveny firing off her contrarian fireballs, tweeps getting fired up about people typing “Less We Forget” on their social media posts, declaring the death of education, football becoming the focus on more debate on whether football is grabbing the goodwill created by ANZAC Day and making it into some kind of commercial gain. Debates like this lose a touch of context and we, as a population, seem to choose to invest all sorts of wider, deeper meaning into these things for fervent analysis on Twitter and in blogs, only to forget them all the next day – or worse still, hang onto the memory until it becomes more and more bitter.
Also predictable, symbolic and as ephemeral was the reaction to an interview conducted the night before by Leigh Sales of the aspirant Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Abbott seemed to be much better prepared with his asinine talking points and circular logic than previously, and being in a studio where he didn’t have to look Sales in the eye seemed to also help his ability to appear to deflect close scrutiny. The interview made him look like a robot who was barely remembering his purpose and come out with the absurd line “I’m growing” – even though he has spent more than three years in his current role. It was Abbott as his most Lathamesque – I’m talking the sanitised “no crudity” Latham. The Latham who seemed to have been force fed a diet of an electronic Beethoven’s 9th before he was put on stage. The reaction was predictable in that the crowd of Labor megaphones crashed in on Sales for not eviscerating Abbott. One of the more dignified variations of this criticism came in the Labor leaning Australians For Honest Politics blog project, where Peter Clarke, after a fairly thorough deconstruction of every question Sales gave, concluded with questions such as these :
In short, what is actually happening behind the scenes at 730 to leech this program of its effectiveness just when we need it most to do its fourth estate job effectively without fear or favour?
Has the constant drumbeat of partisan attack on the ABC generally and Sales personally ultimately had the “desired effect”?
Like a lot of what we are seeing as media scrutiny from the Labor leaning news sites, these loaded rhetorical questions and the conclusion of the piece featured more than a whiff of conspiracy theories about the downfall of the ABC as a bastion of truth, justice and the progressive way. Who is “we”? How did Sales “let down” “we” with her questions. The “we”, I suspect, are those who wish Abbott to be taken down by the likes of Sales. As for the concept of “partisan attack”, I am assuming Clarke is referring to the conservative attacks by the likes of Chris Kenny and Gerard Henderson. Reading Twitter, however, that concept of “partisan attack” is a two way street. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t. As for “desired effect” – again, I assume Clarke is referring to a conservative desire. It sounds more like conspiracy than based on known evidence of any kind of actual instructions issued to Sales.
This agonising examination of the ABC by progressive commentators is painful and self defeating – as is covered so well in this blog post. It misses a wider point – that obsessively analysing single interviews misses wider shifts and movements in the election. Most people from the areas in which I have lived and worked – where this election is being fought – especially a lot of swinging voters, don’t watch the ABC very much. My Kitchen Rules would have been where a lot of them would be watching TV at the time of the Abbottbot interview. Or maybe, earlier on, they were The Project, if they were interested in politics. If they are to watch the ABC at all, it wouldn’t be this far out from an election.
These things pass. Less We Forget was more evidence of the fact we as a community don’t use the word “Lest” in everyday conversation and in our media – it usually only exists for most people in the phrase “Lest We Forget”. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that people have misheard the word and are getting it wrong – I dare say most of those people have now learnt their lesson or will do so soon enough. It doesn’t, however, show the downfall of civilisation, as much as misplaced apostrophes doesn’t show the incompetence of our education system. Anyone expressing genuine outrage and judgmental attitudes towards “Less We Forget”, revealed quite a bit about the people getting outraged at something so trivial.
Catherine Deveny, too, exists as an outrage lightning rod – she’s not unique in having an outrageous opinion – but she does like to speak what is often unspoken and is uncompromising in asserting her right to express them. Deveny’s tweets are to ANZAC Day what the Queen’s Message is to Christmas. People don’t have to watch. The chief difference is that people these days don’t put themselves through the act of watching the Queen, just to be outraged by what she says.
As for the idea of football on ANZAC Day, which Wednesday night’s Mad As Hell (it’s at the start of the episode) lampooned so beautifully, the ANZAC Day game was just an idea Kevin Sheedy had in his garden – thinking that an ANZAC Day match might be a nice way to commemorate soldiers who fought at war and Bruce Ruxton, the Collingwood loving RSL head, agreed. A way for people to enjoy some football after the commemoration of war. It’s not a hijack of the ANZAC legend for a football game – though the awarding of the best on ground for “best exhibiting the ANZAC spirit” is fairly absurd. That is unless someone has shot some Turkish soldiers, been shot at, has contracted trench foot or has devised an ingenious retreat whilst playing the game.
Sometimes it’s good to just forget and move on from obsessions. I understand why the Labor megaphones both on Twitter and in blogs get frustrated. The ALP have not had a great run from various media outlets, especially News Ltd. That’s why there’s been the need to establish “Independent” media outlets that act as anti- News Ltd. They are good pressure valves. I understand the excitement that a 730 report appearance by Abbott instils in people. But they forget the long game and the hectoring, blatantly partisan nature of the tweets and blogs have the effect of turning off a number of people in the same way as The Australian has to non rusted on Liberal supporters. It should be reassuring for them that there will be more TV appearances for Tony Abbott. More importantly, he will also have to appear on commercial TV, where he has been less than convincing at times. Plus, if he wins the election, there will be three years of having to step around the landmines that Abbott perceives every time he appears on TV.
In the end, there will also be more occasions for daily, largely impotent outrage. We should be forgetting about the ephemeral and trivial nonsense arguments that are so easy to fall into on Twitter. The less we forget about what is truly important, however, is something we should consider.