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Cultural Comment Politics Uncategorized

The (Tread)Mill of Content

I see a mill gleaming amid the alders

the roar of mill – wheels

cuts through the babbling and singing.

Welcome, welcome, sweet song of the mill!

How inviting the house looks, how sparkling its windows!

And how brightly the sun shines from the sky. 

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

Halt! from Die Schöne Müllerin, by Johann Müller

The Ever-Pumping Mill of Content

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

Turning People into Performative Products

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

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

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

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

The Process of Content Production

Step One – The Initial Content

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

Minor Media Figures / Twitter Famous

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

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

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

Journalists Making Their Reputation

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

The Gruen Principle

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

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

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

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

Media Famous

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

The Professional Content Harnessers

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

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

The Experts and Specialists

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

The Socially Popular

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

The Socially Popular – CONtent or conTENT?

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

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

Hashtag Heroes

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

Step Two – The Feedback Loop

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

Dunkers

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

The Political Dunkers

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

Affirmation Seeking

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

The Shunners

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convo Twitter v Broadcast Twitter

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

The Audience

What is “Good” Content?

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

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

Audience as Wannabe Content Producers

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

It doesn’t, and it isn’t.

The Impotent Cold Call Fury of the Waterdrops

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

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

Likes – The Rorschach Inkblot of Audiences

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

Getting On or Off the (Tread)Mill of Content

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

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

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

O wandering!

Master and mistress,

let me go my way in peace,

and wander.

Wandering, from Die Schöne Müllerin, by Johann Müller

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

Categories
Cultural Comment Politics

Lebensraum and the Giant Rat – Bolt’s Farewell Letter

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

Here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The city seemed sedate, too. Ordered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Bolt clearly needs is some lebensraum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Politics Uncategorized

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

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

The Miasma of Quiet Despair

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

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

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

Elsworth and Associates

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

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

Here Come the Media Troops from Canberra and Sydney

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

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

“I Stand with Dan” – Stage Four Rage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Roadmap for Melbourne Media Responders – Stage Three Calm

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

1. Be Happy with the NumbersKeep Perspective

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

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

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

3. Remember the Bad Faith and Keep the Receipts

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

4. Don’t Respond to Journalists on Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Remember the Start

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

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

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

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

Categories
Cultural Comment Politics

Snarky Jordies – The Taste of a New Generation

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

Who is Friendly Jordies? What is this all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pascal Principle and the pitfalls of twitter crap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I am a Gen X Teacher

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

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

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

Categories
Politics

The Unfixers – Battling against the Howardised Liberals

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.

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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.

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This one.

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This one.

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And this one.

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Categories
Politics

Backdoors, Mobiles, Wedges and the AA Bill – Labor’s Core and Non Core Priorities

The Terrible AA Bill

In amongst the craziness of the final sitting week of Parliament, we had the rushing through of a bill designed to force tech companies to allow Government agencies to monitor communications via phones. The Coalition rushed the bill through, and Labor decided to vote for it, despite its flaws.  This by Paul Karp in the Guardian outlines exactly why the bill is bad and has many serious implications.  Labor has decided that this issue is for them a Non Core Issue and therefore they needed to neutralise it.

Cue Twitter outrage ever since. More specifically, cue outrage from tech experts, who know about the dangers of this ham fisted, clumsily assembled bill. It’s an understandable response.  This is, after all, a government that told us all to “wait until other nations act” about climate change – and then didn’t when those other nations did act. Yet on this bill, we are now a guinea pig in cracking encryption, a nation others are looking towards.   There’s no guarantee that our phones would be secure from attacks allowed by the forced creation of security backdoors.  A New Coalition motto could be – Hard on climate, soft on giving into law enforcement agencies with crazy ideas. But the main focus in the discourse afterwards has been on Labor’s capitulation, as captured so beautifully by Dave Pope.

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Labor’s Sophie’s Choice and the Media

Yes, it was a craven crumbling in the face of a terrible policy – but the question remains – what choice did Labor have?

One thing that has been consistent since the Tampa incident in 2001 is that the Coalition have been very good at grasping the high road when it comes to triggering moral panic around the abstract concept of toughening “National Security”. That machine is well oiled, as even the mild mannered Christopher Pyne was keen to make this absurd suggestion, which was deleted afterwards, but still, the tactic is again revealed :

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The reaction from tech experts Labor is vulnerable on this, especially if a random “terrorist” attack occurs over Christmas.  Mainstream media outlets – Channels 7 and 9, to a lesser extent 10, News Limited, Fairfax and even the ABC would be easily swayed by Coalition politicians and by various media commentators to connect such an attack to the “need” for ways of monitoring the communication tools used.

Imagine, in such a scenario, Bill Shorten having to explain to Kochie why it is Labor is opposed to “checking the phone of a terrorist”.

Not that this notion has much currency in the discourse on Twitter about this bill. The discussion has been surrounding the concept that people must not vote Labor first because of their capitulation, just as with offshore asylum seeker detention and the human tragedy that is ongoing on Nauru.   As such, there are some who claim that Labor would suffer a huge backlash. That might be too large a claim, however, because while this issue is big on Twitter and amongst tech experts, there’s little evidence of it hitting the mainstream – ie. popular commercial media – unless, as the last comment here suggests that iPhones and Facebook are directly affected.  Even then, there has been so much suspicion and dislike cast on Apple, Google and Facebook that perhaps it would be difficult to whip up sympathy for multi-billion dollar companies.

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Core and Non Core Priorities

The idea of voting Green or other parties that oppose ridiculous capitulations like this is a reasonable idea, but it’s not going to change Labor policy on things like this bill at this stage.  The reason it won’t is because Labor has shown over the years that they have core and non core priorities. Its core priorities have not changed much over the decades – workers’ rights, pay, providing public services such as transport, schools and hospitals. They are the Labor Party – their core is about people who work and providing a better life for them.  They have added some issues to their roster, such as marriage equality and injecting rooms  – but usually only due to pressure brought to bear by the Greens vote, such as in Melbourne.  Those policies, however, are only adopted when the electoral calculus shows that they won’t lose many votes, but would gain votes for taking such a stand.

There are, however, the Non Core issues where the ALP realise that they gain no votes by having an alternative policy to the Other Major Party – and would only lose votes. This is supported by multiple polls that show voters have been sucked in my mainstream (ie. widely read) media’s representations of National Security. That the two parties need to be in lockstep.  That the ALP must neutralise these Non Core issues, in order to have clear air on that same media in regards their Core issues.   We have seen that with asylum seekers, we have seen that in Victoria, where the Andrews Government is pretty “tough on crime”, as outlined in this pre-election piece.

The AA Bill, right now, seems to have deemed to be a Non Core Priority.  After all, Labor can afford to abandon those people who may now vote Green or Pirate due to such an action – but they know those people will most likely vote Labor via preferences anyway. 

To suggest that Labor abandon such a Core / Non Core approach to the next election is to deny the dangers that could occur if they do. Yes, the current Liberal Government is possibly in a death spiral and the last week, and the last week looked a mess to those who closely watch politics.  But to DIDO media users – those who dip in and dip out, stuff like that means little to them.  They may be confused as who the PM is, but by next year, the election will focus on jobs, the economy, infrastructure, hospitals, schools, like they always do.

The election next year may well be closer than people on Twitter may think. Labor can’t afford to take risks. It sucks, and their support on this issue is bad.  It’s difficult to see how we can get out of such a cycle.

 

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Politics

Ausopinion Reblogged – Hold the Phonics, Roast the Robustness – Donnelly the Columnist Responds to his Critics

This was the follow-up to my piece on education and Kevin Donnelly. Not quite as strong, like all my follow-ups to the big, popular posts.  There is, however, a postscript that highlights a curious side to the personality of Dr. Donnelly. 
Posted by prestontowers on January 14, 2014

The response to the appointment of Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire to a review panel for the National Curriculum has been energetic as it has been enlightening.  One of the more telling factors has been that in Donnelly’s case, his responses reveal that he is more a commentator with a populist media sensibility and less a curriculum expert.  But first the responses from curriculum and education professionals.  There has been:– An open letter by a range of academics and current teachers in school systems, pointing out in detail that the original drafting of the National Curriculum was without partisan involvement and was undertaken by experienced professionals and academics from a range of backgrounds; that the timing of the review is unworkable and placing a question around the people involved. It also features the word “robust” (whenever I hear that word – and it’s a lot recently, I think of this…)

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– Bafflement amongst experts in Victoria (though, as we already know, “everyone” is an expert in education.  This article also includes key statements by the head of ACARA, Barry McGaw, who is hardly a partisan figure to anyone who has read his work or heard him speak at conferences (I remember vividly his speech about quantitative analysis at my Dip Ed graduation)

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s board chairman, Barry McGaw, said he welcomed the review. But he also said the authority had used a ”rigorous, national process” that had produced a high-quality curriculum.

”The Australian curriculum is setting higher standards across the country, perhaps most notably in mathematics and science at the primary school level,” he said.

Professor McGaw said the ACT began introducing the curriculum’s first subjects in 2011. Five other jurisdictions followed, including Victoria in 2013. He said each learning area was developed by experts over two to three years.

This is McGaw’s way of responding to the suggestion that the original curriculum is biased, “left wing”, not rigorous, and not “robust”.

– This comment piece that reveals a bit about Donnelly’s comments in the media, as well as not holding back in the author’s opinion of the motives behind the appointment.

– This fiery piece by Jenna Price that includes this choice quote about Donnelly from the former Director of the NSW Education Department Ken Boston:

”He doesn’t engage with reasoned argument or evidence … [his] publications are regarded as specious nonsense.”

– This excellent and concise piece showing that this review is part of a continuing battle over the teaching of history.

– I was also pointed towards this weightier read about the push by conservatives to have a particular history taught in schools.

Donnelly’s responses, though, have revealed that his instincts are more as a columnist / commentator.  It is for this reason that, on his interview on the ABC, where he advocated, amongst other things, that more religious history should be taught in the compulsory years of schooling. For someone charged with making the National Curriculum “stronger” and “more robust”, it seems odd to be talking about teaching about religions, which has little to nothing to do with either concept.  It does, though, make sense when you realise that he is a senior research fellow for the Australian Catholic University. He has religion on his mind – though, as he was at pains to point out in the interview, also religions other than Christianity.

“I’m not saying we should preach to everyone, but I would argue that the great religions of the world – whether it’s Islam, whether it’s Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism – they should be taught over the compulsory years of school,” he said.

“When you look at Parliaments around Australia – they all begin with the Lord’s prayer. If you look at our constitution, the preamble is about God.

“You can’t airbrush that from history – it has to be recognised.”

In one breath, mentioning the “great religions”, but then focusing on one religion – the one that has ensured that the Lord’s Prayer in read in parliament – a strange thing to mention, especially considering many things are said parliaments that school students don’t study.  The other startling quote from this is the one that claims that religion is being “airbrushed” from history.  It’s not only extraordinary, but wrong.   It’s not even “airbrushed” from the National Curriculum, as you can see with a simple search of the document.  The use of the term “airbrush” suggests that Dr. Donnelly has been working with the conservative commentariat for a long time – they are very used to using populist phrases like “airbrushed”, “politically correct” and “nanny state”.

A further question in this regard is, however, where would students be educated about religions and in what way?  Almost every non-government school teach a compulsory religion subject which reflects the doctrine of the school. For example, Catholic schools in Victoria and NSW have a Catholic Studies course centred around a set of textbooks – “To Know, Worship and Love”, Christian schools have self developed, non Board of Studies courses called usually “Christian Studies” or “Bible Studies”.   Is he suggesting adding more to history? Creating a new religions course for government schools?  In either case, it would be vastly unpopular and making a mockery of the idea that this review is about a “stronger” and “more robust” curriculum.

Dr. Donnelly had decided also to experiment further with social media – searching for mentions of his name and responding to them.

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The latter comment points to another trait conservative commentators for newspapers use for populist purposes – find an extreme example of something you think will create a negative connotation in the readers’ minds.  After you have done that, refuse to comment further.  That’s why he didn’t respond to many of the tweets thrown in his direction this past weekend.  He has, however, composed another opinion piece – in Fairfax this time.  Unsurprisingly, it is entitled “Coalition’s call to review school curriculum based on sound reasons”

The Commonwealth government, while being a key stakeholder in school education in terms of money, resources and programs, does not employ any classroom teachers or manage any schools.

As a result – and as signalled by Education Minister Christopher Pyne when announcing the review of the national curriculum – the review will be a consultative one involving schools, parents, professional associations, academics, and state and territory education authorities.

While critics argue that the review’s outcomes are predetermined, it’s also the case that nothing has been decided, and the fact that public submissions are being called for suggests that the process will be open and transparent.

We have again a reassurance of this “open and transparent” process. and that nothing is “predetermined” and that submissions will be asked for. Exactly the same way submissions were asked for during the actual National Curriculum consultative phase.  The questions are many – such as:

– Are they going to read the same submissions that were made before?

–  What weight will be given to various submissions from experts and professionals in the field, as opposed to submissions about the history curriculum like this from the BA graduate and PhD (in economics) student Chris Berg, who, like Donnelly, is associated with the IPA?

–  What is this “transparency” that will be used?

But let’s go on…

The reasons for establishing a review are manifold.

The Coalition’s election policy promised, if elected, that an Abbott-led government would review the national curriculum to ensure its robustness, that it represented international best-practice and that it was free of bias.

The need to benchmark the national curriculum against the curriculum of more successful, stronger-performing countries as measured by mathematics, science and literacy tests – such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and Program for International Student Assessment – should be beyond debate.

“Robustness” – not sure that’s a word that is used out of newspaper columnist land and “International best practice” is not something that can be ensured by 2 men doing a 4 – 6 month review.  And “free of bias” infers that it Curriculum has bias.   In other words, Donnelly is already revealing his bias by simply repeating a political party’s dogma as justification for a review.   In addition, how does one “benchmark” a curriculum against those of other nations with different educational contexts and backgrounds?   It will be fascinating to discover how that is achieved.  The tables will be staggering in their complexity.

While Australian students perform reasonably well in international mathematics and science tests, there are always a handful of countries, mostly in the Asian region, that do better.

As noted by the Australian Industry Group, a significant number of employers are complaining about the inadequate literacy and numeracy standards of employees.

While there are no magic solutions, there is much that we can learn in Australia by analysing and evaluating successful overseas curriculums in terms of content, design, styles of teaching, classroom interaction and theories of knowledge.

If, for example, so-called best-practice curriculums are succinct, teacher-friendly, academically rigorous and involve a range of teaching styles, from teacher-directed to learner-centred, then why not evaluate the extent to which our national curriculum compares?

More comment that Asian nations do better in some subjects, in international tests that are being held as sacrosanct in terms of what they measure.  This is shown in every newspaper article written about education, where these tests are never criticised or even analysed in terms of educational relevance or worth.  Here though, because Donnelly has the mind of a columnist, nor an curriculum specialist, he is showing that these tests should be the measure of the success of a curriculum. A questionable assumption.

One of the criticisms made by primary teachers is that the curriculum they are being asked to teach covers too much territory, is overly prescriptive and that it is stifling flexibility and choice at the local level. It’s also important to analyse our approach to the curriculum in light of what the research suggests is most effective in raising standards and strengthening learning outcomes.

We finally get a reference to research. And “one of the criticisms” is that the curriculum “covers too much territory” – yet one of the first things Donnelly claimed was that not enough religion is covered. Seems to be a touch contradictory in that idea.

Countries around the world, including South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Britain and the US are continually evaluating what works and what does not in the classroom, and ensuring the training and professional development of teachers are evidence-based.

Increasingly, across the English-speaking world for example, the consensus is that phonics and phonemic awareness are a critical part of teaching young children how to read. The research also suggests, especially in the early years, that automaticity, involving memorisation and rote learning, are important elements in allowing children to go on to higher order, more creative learning.

Ethnographic research examining Asian classrooms also suggests that lessons need to be highly structured, where students have a clear understanding of what is expected, and what constitutes success or failure, and there is adequate time for interaction and feedback.

Teachers in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong also have the time and resources to mentor one another, to work collaboratively, and are highly respected by parents and students.

And here we have a regular hobby horse of conservative education columnists – phonics and rote learning.  That what our children need is phonics and rote learning.  Miranda Devine, holder of a degree in Mathematics, is particularly fond of it (I could link to many more pieces by Devine about phonics, but they aren’t hard to find).  Donnelly even goes so far as to say there is a “consensus” on phonics.  Quite a large statement, really.

Problem is for Dr. Donnelly is that the National Curriculum doesn’t reach into the areas of phonics and rote learning. It’s a curriculum document. It mandates what is taught in content and skills – but not how it is taught.  There isn’t a pedagogical approach being pushed nationally – that would be a near impossible task.  Therefore, it can’t tell teachers “you must teach this concept by rote, it’s the only way to communicate content” no matter how much people like Donnelly would like it to.   The other problem for newspaper columnists Donnelly and Devine is that phonics instruction is already a part of a range of teaching strategies used in primary schools.  A range.  It’s more than likely already in the teaching programs designed in incorporate the National Curriculum’s outcomes.  If Dr. Donnelly had stepped into any number of classrooms recently, he would already find teachers providing the kind structure he mentions, as well as deep and meaningful feedback that is endorsed by oft quoted researchers such as John Hattie (and when I mean oft quoted – I mean someone whose research is mentioned frequently at teacher conferences and inservices).

Donnelly also making reference to other systems, where teachers are given time and resources to mentor each other. That is true and a great thing. It is – like his comments on pedagogical approaches – irrelevant to the scope of this curriculum review.  It is not, however, irrelevant to the other fact that is evident from this column – that he is a newspaper columnist wanting to make sweeping and expensive changes to education through the power of Imagen This.   It’s an instinct he can’t resist.  This column, though, goes back to justifying his review with relevant references to a review process.

It is also important to evaluate whether Australia’s national curriculum is balanced and objective.

As suggested by Pyne, the fact that the national curriculum stipulates that every subject must be interpreted through a prism involving indigenous, Asian and sustainability perspectives needs to be revisited.

While there is no doubt that Australia is geographically a part of Asia, that sustainability is a significant and continuing issue, and that giving the curriculum an indigenous perspective is important, there are other equally important things to consider.

Australia is a liberal, democratic nation, and our political and legal institutions, and way of life owe much to Western civilisation. As such, it is important that students have a sound understanding and appreciation of the values, beliefs and institutions that enable Australia to be such a peaceful, tolerant and open society.

The National Curriculum was written by people outside Government who had not been just two men, one of whom was the Chief of Staff for a minister and the other a columnist who told independent politicians to side with the Liberal Party.  Yet here Donnelly is inferring that the existing National Curriculum might be biased, but that he and Wiltshire will make it objective. It’s a frankly bizarre suggestion.

The comment that “Australia is geographically a part of Asia” tends to suggest that we aren’t connected in any other way and that we should think of ourselves as outsiders in this geographic region – a notion that goes back to our Anglocentric past, rather than to the modern day.  Donnelly also suggests that there needs to be other focuses in the curriculum- which suggests that the future curriculum would be loaded up with more content, not less, or that great chunks of material about our Indigenous heritage and sustainability will be excised. In 4 -6 months, for implementation in 2015.  Without bias.  But what is “equally important”?  Western Civilisation, which is already in the National Curriculum for History.

Note at this point that Dr. Donnelly makes little reference to English and Mathematics and none to science in this piece. They must not be terribly important – it’s history that seems to be the main battlefield here. That’s because it is.  That is what you get when you employ a newspaper columnist and not a experienced curriculum expert to undertake your “review” of something.  It will be intriguing to see what comes about after this exercise in robustness.

Postscript

It turns out that Kevin Donnelly still likes to muscle in on people who talk about him on social media, as we can see from this post by my uni peer, Corinne Campbell.  Note his comments here, especially the snarky tone and the use of the hackneyed phrase “group think”.

 

 

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Categories
Politics

AusOpinion Reblogged – “Everyone’s an Expert on Education” – Pyne’s Education Revolution of Two Men

This is probably my best blog post, thinking about it. It was certainly the most exhaustive examination of an issue I had undertaken and featured deconstruction based on my own knowledge of education.  It was also my most widely read piece of all on Ausvotes / Ausopinion. Sad thing is that the “findings” of this farrago of a committee still haunts the teaching profession with a whole lot of feelpinions flooding from the out of touch Donnelly to this day.

There’s going to be a bit of talk about Christopher Pyne’s attempt to redirect the shape of the Australian Curriculum and the way it is taught.  There’s also going to be a fair amount of talk about Kevin Donnelly, the next in a line of columnists for The Australian who have provided with a position to help shape the ideological direction of the decisions to be made by this new government, following on from Henry Ergas and Tim Wilson.  On that note, I wonder if we will see Chris Kenny involved in a review of the ABC on some level.

There are also going to be a fair amount of the public who will wonder who Kevin Donnelly is.  The Australian isn’t widely read and in my experience, most teachers outside Victoria have never heard of Mr. Donnelly and his “Education Standards Institute”.  Nor would they know about his employment by cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in order to promote something called “I’ve Got the Power” – an anti-smoking program that had fairly significant inclusions and exclusions.  (edit – there’s more here about the program, with thanks to @abissicus) Something that is left off many biographies for Dr. Donnelly is that he was the Chief of Staff for Kevin Andrews during the Howard Government. It is, for example, omitted from his Punch biography, which incidentally names him as “one of Australia’s leading education commentators” – an unverifiable assertion.  That fact, however, is on his biography on The Drum, which also handily provides a link to all of his views about education and teaching.  There is plenty to chew on there in terms of views contrary to Donnelly’s – such as here and here – and I think there will be a number of teachers who would be preparing fact based, peer reviewed material in rebuttal to Dr. Donnelly’s opinions over the next few weeks.  That is not the focus of this post.  The focus is on the way the announcement was handled. It was fairly telling in terms of how the Minister and the current Government thinks how education is done.

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CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Good morning everyone, and thank you for coming to the circulating library here at the State Library, this beautiful setting.

Today I’m announcing that the Federal Government is appointing Professor Ken Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly to review the National Curriculum.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the Government is concerned about the results for our students over a long period of time. For 10 years, whether it’s OECD statements, PISA reports, the NAPLAN data, TIMSS documents, and all the international and domestic studies of our students’ results indicate that we’ve been going backwards for a good decade.

A good decade – so that includes the last few years of the Howard government, I’m assuming. Plus, in regards testing – PISA reports and OECD statements haven’t told us that education results have been going backwards for an entire decade.  Nor do NAPLAN results, which are nowhere near 10 years old.  But anyway…

Students are our first priority for this Government. And therefore, during the election campaign, we talked about four pillars that would form the centrepiece of our approach to school education. It was teacher quality, parental engagement, school autonomy, and the National Curriculum.

Note there are no students mentioned in the four pillars – and it will be interesting to see how they deal with the other three “pillars”.

We said we wanted to have a robust curriculum that was going to serve our students well. And today we are keeping that election promise by addressing that pillar of our approach to school education by announcing a national review of the National Curriculum.

“Robust”. It’s one these deadly buzzwords so beloved of all Governments. Robust in what sense? In being able to be defended?

Of course, the states and territories own and operate all the schools. So we’ll be working very closely with our state and territory ministerial counterparts to ensure that, whatever the national review comes up with, the recommendations of that review are implemented by the states and territories in concert with the Commonwealth.

So this is a cooperative approach to school education. I want to make sure that our students are put first, and I’m sure every state and territory education minister would accept and agree with that priority.

This appears to be a signal to the states that they had better co-operate with this new review of the National Curriculum, plus an acknowledgement of their power in this arrangement, which was more than appeared to have happened with Pyne’s double somersault on the Gonski funding announcement.  Glad to see the Minister is “sure” that everyone will agree – plus will always attempt to use “for the students” as a way of asserting his point of view.

I’m not going to pre-judge the outcome of the National Curriculum. But suffice to say there has been criticism of the National Curriculum over a lengthy period of time.

The criticisms have ranged from it being overcrowded and heavily prescriptive and rigid through to the necessity to have themes that form the National Curriculum at the moment.

If Pyne isn’t “pre-judging the outcome”, why does it need a view – it is clear from this that he is actually pre-judging it.

The current three themes are Australia’s place in Asia, Indigenous Australia and sustainability.

Now there’s some question about whether those themes fit with maths and science for example. So these are some of the things that I am going to ask the national review of the curriculum to look at and I’m sure they will do an excellent job.

Interestingly, it might be very difficult to sell an attack on the first two themes as they are issues the Government has suggested they support in principle – even if our place in Asia seems to be clouded currently with the desire to Stop the Boats.  But let’s meet the reviewers.

Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire are both highly intelligent and well considered very experienced educators—over a long period of time and in broadly similar, but also different fields.

So while Kevin Donnelly has been a teacher for 18 years and since that time become an academic, a researcher a commentator, a writer about education and curriculum. He brings that particular perspective to a review of the National Curriculum.

Ken Wiltshire is a professor at the University of Queensland. He has been a longstanding academic involved in the development of curriculum in Queensland and internationally, and both men will bring a real perspective to this review that I think will make a difference for our students in achieving a better curriculum—a curriculum that is robust and worthwhile and sets up our students for the 21st Century.

Note that the employment of Dr. Donnelly by Kevin Andrews is not mentioned. Nor, obviously, his work for Philip Morris.  Nor is Ken Wiltshire’s partisan beliefs mentioned – for example, he stated in a 2010 Australian column that the independents should have supported the Coalition – using language such as this:

It might also be reasonably conjectured that the citizens of these three country electorates would be further alienated from Labor now that Julia Gillard has entered her Faustian pact with the Greens.

In this interpretation, the Greens must be Mephistopheles.  Hardly a non-partisan commentator.  The problem here is that these two people seem to have been employed not due to any long standing position in education, more as outsiders who have written columns that either support the Liberal Party or believe that education administrators have some kind of “leftist” bias.  And now we have Kevin’s contribution.

So I might ask Kevin to make a few comments and then I’m happy to take any questions.

KEVIN DONNELLY:

Thank you very much Minister. Welcome to all of you here today. It’s a great honour and privilege to be involved in this review.

My background as some of you might know, I was a teacher for 18 years as the Minister has said. I suppose I’m a “curriculum nerd” if you like, I actually wake up in the morning and my wife gets a bit distressed (laughs) I always sort of read the papers and see what’s happening with education.

He reads what newspapers say about education. Note that contemporary research and conferences aren’t mentioned.

While I was a teacher I did postgraduate work in curriculum and I’ve actually been involved in three significant benchmarking projects over the last 20 years or so—one in Victoria when Phil Gude was the Minister, one federally, when Brendan Nelson was the Minister, and also one in New Zealand for the Business Roundtable.

Most teachers do some kind of postgraduate work in curriculum, so nothing remarkable there.  But his involvement in “benchmarking projects” is an interesting phrase that would need some follow up in the future.

And one of the things that fascinates me and I think is critical as the Minister has suggested, is to try and look at those better performing systems—those education systems overseas. Now whether it’s in Europe, most of them are in Asia–Pacific actually, so Singapore, Japan, Korea, but also Finland.

To look at those education systems and to try and learn as much as possible that we can in Australia, at the state and territory level what can be done, to improve, strengthen the curriculum.

So, Dr. Donnelly is about to review how other nations do education, in order to “strengthen” – that very loaded word – in entirely different social, economic and funding contexts. Finland, for example, have a GST of 24%, few private schools, as well as recent PISA results that are not vastly different from Australia’s.  One could extrapolate from that sudden fall for Finland is it less about the success of their system and more about the vagaries of blunt, common tests like PISA – but that’s for another day.  Donnelly might be disappointed when he lands in Helsinki as a part of the review.  Let’s go back.

Now, it will be consultative. I was on the Board of Studies in Victoria for a couple of years. I know the states and territories have ownership, if you like, they employ the teachers, they manage the schools. So it will be consultative. Many of the people who I will be talking to are friends who I’ve known for many years. Australia is quite a small education community in some ways.

“Consultative” – so it appears from this language that this panel will consult with a range of people. This seems to be a signal that he wants some kind of opened doors across Australia – his “couple of years” at the Victorian Board of Studies being enough in order to understand how every education administrator operates.  It’s also telling that he will be “talking to… friends” – that’s possibly a narrow scope for a serious, wide ranging review. You would hope that there would be a few more people consulted than that.

So, as I said I’m very eager to get involved, I’m very happy to be involved, it’s a great privilege, and it’s something that is critically important for young Australians, and for teachers.

I mean, my daughter’s a teacher, my wife was a teacher, I was a teacher. We need to look at a curriculum that is teacher-friendly. We need to look at a curriculum that is world’s-best to use that cliché, and we need to look at what will be, frankly, cost-effective, because a great deal of money goes into education, a great deal of innovation has occurred, and sometimes I wonder what the outcomes are in terms of, has it actually worked or not. So it’s a good time to be doing this, and thank you very much.

This sounds a bit like “Hi, I’m Kevin, I’m from Victoria and I’m happy to help”.  And having relatives as teachers is a help too, it appears.  Not sure that this comment will improve his credibility with many of the educators he has to deal with.  What would have provided more credibility is mention of “research”, “evidence based inquiry” instead of “I know a lot of teachers”.

Then the key phrase comes – “teacher friendly”. Donnelly and those in education circles like him is known to have long criticised the student-centric method of teaching, wanting instead a return to the sage on the stage, “teacher friendly” methods of old. For most, the disengaging, ineffective teaching method of old.  There’s a weight of evidence based research that has shown this.

So, we have gathered from Dr. Donnelly’s answers that it’s going to a wide ranging review, consultative, studying systems of many other nations in an exhaustive manner. However, also “cost effective”.  Sounds like a lot of work for a group of dedicated professionals helping them.  So, let’s look at the Minister’s answers.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Thank you Kevin…any questions?

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] …it won’t produce obviously a curriculum as such can you run us through what happens next up until to the point where we actually get a new curriculum?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well I wouldn’t say we’re going to get a new curriculum.

What we’ve got at the moment is a National Curriculum in English, science, maths and history, and a proposed curriculum in another four or five subjects which have been completed by the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority but hasn’t yet been adopted by all the states and territories as an extension of the National Curriculum.

This process of writing and adopting the National Curriculum in schools started with the adoption of the Melbourne Charter in 2007, onto the creation of ACARA in 2009 and countless hours of teachers writing new programs incorporating the new outcomes, ready for teaching all Year 7 and 9 students in English, Science, Maths and History across Australia in a month from now, Year 8 and 10 students in 2015.  The adoption is well and truly underway.  Five years from the creation of ACARA to implementation.  Next is Pyne’s timeline for change:

But what I’m hoping this review will do is look at all of those subjects, ensure that they are robust and useful and worthwhile, that they’re likely to achieve good results for our students. That will report to me, I’m hoping in May, possibly June, and then we’ll have six months to look at the recommendations of this review, being done by Ken and Kevin, and then I’ll work with the states and territories through the ministerial council process to ask them how they view the recommendations of the review of the curriculum, with a view to implementing changes in 2015.

So yes, I would like to see improvements to the curriculum in 2015. I’d like to see an extension of the National Curriculum into those four, five extra subjects down the track. But each of those new subjects, and the ones we’ve already accepted, need to be as good as possible and I’m hoping that in 2015 we’ll be able to implement changes that this review suggests should the state and territory ministers agree with me that we need to make those changes.

An extraordinary timeline. First of all – the review by Donnelly and Wiltshire is supposed to take 4 months. 4 months to consult educators, administrators and legislators in every state and territory, analyse the education system of other countries. That sounds like they’ll only have time for “talking to a few friends”, rather than broadly consulting.  Next, that the changes recommended will be implemented in 2015.  How Pyne suggests schools will be able to get time for teachers to rewrite programs is not mentioned, nor is how the review from Donnelly and Wiltshire will be converted to outcomes that could be easily integrated.  Programs for 2015 in Years 8 and 10 will start to be written in Term 1 this year – many schools would have already finished them. It’s been one of the largely program rewrites in the past decades of teaching and Pyne wants schools to change the programs within six months?  I would suggest school systems – not just public ones – may have a problem with this.  A point a journalist raises:

JOURNALIST: Is that pretty ambitious given you’ve got to get it past the state and territories [inaudible]…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well I’m very hopeful the states and territories will want to work with us to have the best curriculum possible. And this is a very objective process. We have a national review, it’s for people that are outside the current system, and I think having fresh eyes is always a good approach.

I’ll be very surprised if state and territory ministers didn’t want to work to have the best curriculum possible. And I’m very willing to work with them and I’m sure they’ll be willing to work with me. 2015 is ambitious but we have to put our students first, and it is ambitious to want to have the best curriculum possible for our students but it’s too important to delay, so we don’t want any political bickering over this issue because that will slow down the process of getting the best curriculum possible for our students.

“Ambitious” is one of the the understatement of the week – it’s impossible – especially if it’s to be “national”. Then there’s the word “objective”, which is undermined by the partisan past of the two reviewers. Note that the “put the students first” line is there again, as I would suggest will be at every one of these conferences – even if the entire focus is on curriculum reform, not the actual teaching of the curriculum.

On the issue of “ambitious”, though – a proper review of anything should take a considerable amount of time and undertaken by a range of professionals working with the two chief reviewers. This is how Governments usually work.  A relatively expensive operation.  It is at this point we discover how this ambitious job is to be done.

JOURNALIST: How much is that going to cost and where is that money coming from?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well the review won’t cost very much at all, because there’s just Ken and Kevin. The whole process won’t cost a great deal and that money will be found within the current budget of the Department of Education federally. The Australian Government will pay for the entire process but this won’t run into large amounts of money at all.

Just Ken and Kevin. No-one else.  The absurdity of that idea – that a serious, wide ranging review of a curriculum the size and scope of the National Curriculum can be undertaken in 4 months by two men – is not questioned, not examined by the journalists present. It’s the cost that grips them.

JOURNALIST: So we’re not going to see any cuts…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

No, no, this is administrative support for Professor Wiltshire and Dr Donnelly. That won’t cost very much, that’s within the Department of Education and Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire are being paid according to the remuneration that’s appropriate according to the department, and that is not exactly a king’s ransom, but it’s a little bit of money.

So, not only are the two reviewers it, there will be people within the Department to help them with the review, taking staff away from important work they would be otherwise doing.   However, as we will see, this point is left untested as well – with the money STILL being discussed.  Forget the actual policy implications of Pyne’s answers – that such a crucial thing as the future of the way students will be taught will be decided by two men and a few staff in 4-5 months.  It shows that the room of journalists don’t seem to know all that much about education or education policy – or were unable to research it before going to this press conference. But let’s go on.

JOURNALIST: But as far as any changes that they make, to get to the point where kids are learning what you want them to learn, are we talking about, like, how much money are we talking about there, and where’s that funding coming from?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Should there be changes to the curriculum arising out of this review that will be managed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. They already have a budget, and of course they have an ongoing process, of making sure the curriculum is not a static document, and any costs about changing the curriculum will be met within the current budgets of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

Changes that are made by the states and territories will be met within the states’ and territories’ budgets, if they roll out changes to the National Curriculum, but they each would already have in their budgets for education a line item for the curriculum because they fully expect that there will be new subjects coming on stream on a regular basis over the coming years.

On the issue of budgets – the changing of the curriculum is to be undertaken by ACARA – a body whose budget was reduced by $20 million in the MYEFO statement.  In addition, it appears that Pyne expects the states to stump up implementation costs – again, an interesting assumption. These points, about ACARA’s budget cut and the state implementation cost, is now left for others to ponder as the conference goes to the ideology of the panellists.

JOURNALIST: Minister. I’d like to ask you about the appointment of Kevin and the decision behind that. It’s no secret that Mr Donnelly’s opinions and critiques of the education system, things like Australia party Anglo sphere, equal funding for Catholic and independent schools, class envy, the cultural left likes to bang on about equity in education socialist utopia, the bible deserves a place etc. Are you getting people to objectively review the system or just tell you what you want to hear?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

I’m getting people to objectively review the National Curriculum to ensure that it is robust, and to ensure that it puts students’ results first, that the priority is on outcomes and everyone in education, well everyone has been to school, everyone is an expert on education in one way or another, almost 40 per cent of many of the populations in capital cities have been to school, have been to universities, and they’re also experts on university education.

Everyone is an expert on education in one way or another.  Pyne is redefining the word “expert”. Under this definition the businessman, the politician, the journalist, is an expert in education because they went to school.  If we are to apply this new definition to other fields, that means that anyone who has been to a hospital in an expert on health care, anyone who has had interaction with the police and the law is an expert on the law, anyone who experiences climate is an expert on climate change.  I suspect many educators may feel very insulted that their expertise and experience in education has the same worth and “expert” status as anyone who has been in their classrooms.  That all students understand exactly how classes of 20 – 30 students are all taught with an approach that is concurrently collaborative and individualised.  This statement shows scant respect for teachers – hardly “teacher friendly”.

In addition, Pyne ignores the question as to Donnelly’s past comments and actions and asserts that it’s an “objective” review.  That appears part of a pattern for the Government – just ignore a question and hope a journalist will drop it.  Which they did.  But onwards with Pyne –

So, it’s not possible to appoint anybody to review the National Curriculum who doesn’t have a view on education. The important point is to appoint people who are going to bring an intelligent, considered approach to the review. And both Kevin and Ken have a long history, and experience in education. Not everyone will agree with my views about education, or anybody that I would have appointed. I am very confident that Ken and Kevin will bring a considered approach.

Yes, people have a view on education. Listen to or read any of the “Your Say” sections of newspapers or radio shows (I’ve started to call them “Yoru Say” in honour of the Cricket Australia Twitter account, which has such a fondness to ask for Your Say – that they sometimes mistype it as “Yoru Say”). They have views on education. It doesn’t mean that they are informed by research, contemporary practice or contextual understanding of results.  As for the “intelligent, considered” approach – it’s hard to see that a four – five month review by two partisan reviews will produce anything but a set of prejudices supported by cherry picked evidence. And speaking of that…

One of the criticisms of course, of the curriculum, has been that it has not sold or talked about the benefits of western civilisation in our society so I would be surprised if there weren’t people who disagreed with the need to have the benefits of western civilisation as part of our curriculum. I’m sure they will criticise people who share the other view.

But we’re part of a robust democracy. I’m quite prepared to have people put their opinions one way or the other about this review. But I’m very confident that its outcome will be objective and fair.

Western Civilisation IS on the National Curriculum, especially in history, which appears to be the chief concern of Pyne. It’s all over it (note, I have set the filters on Years 7 – 10 – these can be changed). Let’s go onto the real concern for Pyne in all this – the way history is taught.

JOURNALIST: Is it your opinion that the curriculum is currently too left leaning?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

I don’t think it’s worthwhile getting into the particular views about whether the curriculum is one kind of curriculum or another. What I want the curriculum to be is a robust and worthwhile document that embraces knowledge and doesn’t try and be all things to all people, that isn’t too rigid, that doesn’t try and be prescriptive about every aspect of maths, science, history and English.

I also want the curriculum to celebrate Australia, and for students, when they have finished school, to know where we’ve come from as a nation. Because unless we know why we are the kind of nation we are today, we can’t possibly know where we want to go in the future.

There are two aspects to Australia’s history that are paramount. The first, of course, is our Indigenous history, because for thousands of years Indigenous Australians have lived on this continent. The second aspect of our history is our beginnings as a colony and, therefore, our Western civilisation, which is why we are the kind of country we are today.

It’s very important the curriculum is balanced in its approach to that. It’s very important the truth be told in our history. So, yes, the truth of the way we’ve treated Indigenous Australians should be told in our curriculum. But also the truth about the benefits of Western civilisation should be taught in our curriculum. And I think that there is some fair criticism that the curriculum is balanced one way rather than the other.

The National Curriculum already largely does this.  What Pyne seemingly wants is that the word “happy” is put into the syllabus. That we people are taught the “benefits” of Western Civilisation – and then students will leave every history class, thinking of the greatness of the Menzies era and singing this:

But it’s hard to see where the curriculum documents actually say that Western Civilisation has been a disaster – rather, it outlines that there are facts of our history and they have made our nation what it is today.  The document also shows that we study the civilisation of other nations, which is a crucial part of what we should be doing. Otherwise, we would start resembling the United States, with their narrow focus on their own history.  But back to the interview, where the next question is a good one.

JOURNALIST: You’ve said that you want to take politics out of the curriculum. But just going on from a previous question do you think you could have appointed people to take part in this review that come from more varied sides of things and opinions if you’re looking to take politics out of education?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well I don’t believe you gain a great deal by appointing a committee, which will often come up with, if it’s a large committee, will tend to be harder to manage and come up with a report that tries to please everyone.

That isn’t the objective of this review. The objective of this review is to turn out a robust curriculum, a good curriculum that improves the results of our students. It’s not a political exercise so everybody ends up having a piece of the curriculum.

That’s not the purpose of the curriculum. Therefore, I’m quite unabashed that I’ve appointed people that I think would do a good job at creating a robust curriculum. I haven’t appointed a committee that tries to please everybody and therefore does not produce a robust result.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that here a “Robust result” actually refers to the one you want by appointing people who support your ideology.

JOURNALIST: Do you think you gave the Gillard Government’s changes enough time to take effect?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well the Gillard Government hasn’t made any changes to the National Curriculum. The Howard Government initiated the National Curriculum. Then the Gillard Government and Rudd Government got elected and they implemented the National Curriculum that the Howard Government had begun.

If Gillard and Rudd made no changes, then why review it?  Is Pyne here is saying that the current documents weren’t changed by the Labor Government, is he saying that the fault that needs to be corrected made by the  teachers, academics and administrators who worked on it?  A startling accusation. This is where Pyne is attempting vainly to walk away from the idea of this being a Liberal Party partisan activity.

That started in 2010. There have been no changes to the National Curriculum since it started being introduced into schools and I think it’s timely to review it.

I don’t think the National Curriculum is a static document. I think it should always be being tested and questioned and argued about because that is the nature of education and a good curriculum. Maths is often changing. Science is changing. The way we view history and English changes, the emphasis changes on what we think students might need.

So, the document should always be a living, exciting document. So it’s because the National Curriculum was introduced by a particular Government doesn’t mean it then stays that way forever. It is not a political document. It should be a document that is designed to bring about the best outcomes for our students.

Again, to be achieved in 4 – 5 months. If this wasn’t a partisan document, why such a rush?

JOURNALIST: How do you think teachers will respond to this review? Do you think that they will be welcoming of it? Are they unhappy with the way things currently are?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

I think teachers like certainty. And I think that they have embraced the National Curriculum. In many states and territories, the National Curriculum is better than the offerings that were in place before. And I think that a lot of the teachers have invested their own personal time and money into embracing these, for subjects and doing them well, and I welcome that. And I think that they will also welcome improvements to it to make it a better curriculum.

We’re not suggesting that the curriculum be thrown out and started again. So teachers won’t have to re-learn a whole new way of teaching, or a whole new curriculum. We’re talking about improving a good document. And I think teachers will embrace that.

Yes, a lot of teachers HAVE invested a lot of personal time and money into creating material for the National Curriculum implementation.  As for the “teachers like certainty” line, by announcing this change near the start of the school year, Pyne has introduced the opposite of certainty. Instead of confidently implementing the curriculum and writing new programs for 2015, teachers and school systems will be waiting to see what the expert panel of two have to say about it and what changes need to be made.

Despite the fact there are so many good questions to be asked, so much left unanswered, the gathered journalists showed their lack of interest in education policy and asked the usual dreck about ephemeral issues that they consider exciting and sexy.

JOURNALIST: Speaking about education, do you believe that the Australian public deserves to be better educated about border security?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

(Laughs) I’ll leave answers to questions about Operation Sovereign Borders to the Minister for Immigration, and Tony Abbott.

JOURNALIST: And what about Cory Bernardi’s comments, do you agree with what’s been said in the media, from him?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well, Senator Bernardi’s entitled to his own opinions, and to be able to write about his views. And similarly I think he’s probably best to respond to questions about his own opinions.

JOURNALIST: But does he represent the Liberal Party?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well, the great thing about the Liberal Party is that we are a very broad church. It’s a hackneyed term, but it’s true. We don’t take a Stalinist approach to the views of our members. We represent the whole cross section, the broad spectrum of Australian thinking.

In many respects, the Liberal Party is the only true national party, because we don’t represent a section or interest. That’s been our history since 1944. So you would expect there to be a broad spectrum of views in the Liberal Party. Cory represents his view, and I represent my own, and I don’t seek to try and lecture anybody in the Liberal Party that they should change their views.

JOURNALIST: Do you share any of his views?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

On some things, I’m sure I do. Yes.

JOURNALIST: And what are those?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

(Laughs) Look, today is about a positive announcement about the National Curriculum, I’m not going to let it be railroaded by a minor debate about something that is many days old.

And that’s the end. There would be some that would point out that the gathered journalists were not of the Canberra Press Gallery, but were instead from Adelaide, where the announcement was made. What is fairly astonishing, though, is that the journalists gathered didn’t do a bit more research about education policy before the interview, instead asking questions about “how much will it cost” and “what do you think of Cory Bernardi”. Maybe not so astonishing.  But then again, I am no expert on journalism, despite Pyne’s new definition of the term “expert”.

Categories
Cultural Comment Politics

The Selling of Preston Towers

At the moment, there’s two fairly momentous things happening in my life. One is the end of the US cable show Mad Men and the other is that I am selling the flat that provided me with this name – Preston Towers.  The end of both eras have provided me pause for contemplation on what exactly is Mad Men and what has been the whole point of being Preston Towers.

At the core of Mad Men has been the enigma of Don Draper – the prodigiously talented man who doesn’t seem to care all that much about what his talent means to others. Instead, he seems gripped by a wanderlust, searching for whatever it is that might actually make him happy.  Or resolved.  This was a powerful show to be watching for the first time as a man living in an apartment alone.  The man who didn’t quite know why he was where he was.  It was at this same time I was familiarising myself with the UK version (the only one!) of Life on Mars, also featuring a man – Sam – who didn’t quite understand where he was or what it was that was happening.  This feeling was expressed most strongly in Lost Horizon, the third last episode – and one of the best of the show’s existence.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

Not that I associated all that strongly with either protagonist – I am not as handsome, talented or as well paid as Don Draper (nor had his outside office life…). Nor was I as disconnected with reality as Sam.  They did, however, feed my questioning of what it was that I was doing and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

All very self centred and self indulgent, indeed. As is this post (though, there are a fair few detractors out there who would say that’s not all that unusual for me).  It was, however, a counterpoint to my previous existence where I was really feeling the stress of being the only income winner for a family, paying rent, struggling through. Yes, I know we weren’t as close to poverty as many around us in the Campbelltown area, but the knowledge that changing anything about our lives would result in disaster gave me a purpose in life, even if I was miserable throughout.

The flat didn’t really help with my feelings of misery, however. It was a ground floor, anonymous concrete cave in the middle of a part of Penrith where there’s whole blocks full of similar anonymous apartments. Standing at the backyard, putting washing on the communal line emphasised the imposing nature of the surrounding mid 80s era apartment blocks.  The only thing that made the experience interesting was one day hearing very loud pleasurable moaning emanating from one of the apartment blocks.  Otherwise, not so much.  Seeing how hard my housing commission subsidised neighbour and her family was doing was a frequent heartbreak.

The dangers posed by my solo life in Preston Towers was brought home to me recently through a visit to the Wayside Chapel, where one of its employees spoke of the breaking of his comfortable middle class existence and how the break up of his marriage led him to complete self indulgence, arrogance, violence, drugs and then homelessness. In retrospect, I knew I didn’t have any of that drive in me to be that self indulgent and thoughtless, but it could have happened. The main point he made was that the central thing about his self destruction was the overwhelming loneliness. And I remembered that intense feeling when surrounded by the cold concrete walls of the apartment.  Being sick and at home was the worst. I felt disconnected with the kind of warm bubble work had provided.

I was saved, however, by my Claire, as well as my children and a continuing pride in my job.  There were many positives around and I needed to still be helpful.  Plus, I could see a more positive life beyond the horizon in my moments of optimism.

Eventually, there were two people living in Preston Towers and it wasn’t long before we both escaped.  It was during that time before the escape that I started to tweet and blog using that name.  It strikes me in retrospect that the name I chose was significant in many ways.

  • I was living in a place in which I didn’t feel I fit into – Penrith, so I felt voiceless in my region
  • I could see that Penrith and the western suburbs in general didn’t seem to have that many voices, so why not start something with a name from that area
  • It sounded rather old school British
  • The flat was just some anonymous cave – I had intended to just be some anonymous voice out there in the wilderness

No-one is more surprised than me that I have gone from creating that persona to what has happened since. The articles, the followers, all of it still staggers me if I stop to think about it.  With that kind of voice has come many detractors who hate follow me on Twitter or make stabs about my tastes – but after all, if I was just as anonymous and voiceless as the other people of Preston St, they wouldn’t be making their small minded comments that show little understanding of what I’m really like.  I also have the thought that sometimes this persona is as much an creation as is “Don Draper” – someone not quite real, someone based on an illusion and really just all about the art of using words in a convincing fashion. In my more reasoned moments, I realise that this is an absurd comparison, that I am just a person who had to use a pseudonym and say stuff that comes into my head and some people seem to like, for whatever reason and that I am way overthinking this.  In that way, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Getting back to Don Draper, however, it could be argued that he deserves his detractors because of his self destruction and inability to care for people. That’s a fair point. I sometimes look at his actions and shake my head. I then realise that there’s a self destructive streak within some men that isn’t just Don’s.  It could also be argued that he never asked to be as successful and vital as he was to the world of advertising.  These questions, however, are asked and answered by far better voices than mine in the recaps that I have only recently started to read.  I was struck, however, by this image from Lost Horizon.  This is something many of us in the world of offices fear. Being just another face.

mad-men-lost-horizon-712

Yes, I know this is classic #firstworldproblem stuff and that there’s people out there with real problems. I know, I used to live amongst that and teach in areas with big issues with the impact of poverty. It doesn’t make it any easier to cope with such questions and issues on a daily basis, living one’s life.  Whether one’s life is to be fulfilled through being successful at one’s job while on the inside, a soul is being withered, despite the efforts of yourself and others.  That, I have long surmised, is Don Draper’s problem. That’s because that was my problem, especially when I lived in Preston Towers. It still plagues me now from time to time. Difficulty is, sometimes that is played out on social media.  My cringeworthy comments and times of striking out at people when I shouldn’t have is out there for all to see – and it’s nigh impossible to take it all back.

However, there has been one thing I can do in order to walk on from the years where these feelings were at their most chronic and crippling. So it has come to pass that I am now selling the apartment.  It’s become, amazingly to my eyes, a valuable commodity. What it also became, more importantly, was a family home.  Those first tenants of the flat have lived happily there for nearly 4 years now and have made it into a neat, cosy and warm place. It is for this reason that I asked that the people who bought it were investors, which was the case (people buying flats in Penrith at the moment are Baby Boomer superannuants looking for a safe growth investment).  I hope that the tenants continue to have a happy life in there, in contrast with my loneliness.

Another shift in my life recently has come from me no longer being a member of any political party. Along with this blog, I started being involved with politics as a hobby and I’m not enjoying the mind numbing mediocrity of being part of partisan, narrowcasting politics.  I still want to keep close to the many good friends I made in the process, however. I have realised that I struggle at personally conforming to a particular set of strictures and keeping quiet about those strictures, especially if it doesn’t affect my employment possibilities.  My mix of a wish for pragmatic outcomes and desire to have disputes brought out into the open doesn’t fit with the vision and operation of the political party of which I was a part.  I’m not particularly bitter about the experience and I sincerely wish the people inside all the best, but I did realise that I am not built for large party membership.

I continue to wonder what I will do next, and part of that contemplation is whether the end of this chapter of my life should also result in the end of this blog and the Twitter persona. I think this is an end to the way the blog has been.  My days of writing about the day to day of the political cycle, I suspect, have come to an end.   Frankly, I think people like Andrew Elder do a good job and is more committed to analysing it than I, even if he’s far more long winded and detailed than I would ever attempt to be.  I don’t have the interest to throw my voice in that sphere anymore, because I also know I would be repeating what I have said in the past.  Repetition for me is something I am very keen to avoid. I may, however, resurrect my long held desire to write longer form pieces about Australian political history and stuff about long term shifts.  If that happens, however, it wouldn’t be very regular.

Amongst all the things I am walking away from, however, I will keep this blog as a personal thing and cultural thing. Do some music stuff, perhaps.  Local Penrith and Lower Blue Mountains stuff.  In that, I will hopefully feel a little bit more like these two, who have that carefree moment of happiness one can get, moving on and vacating a past part of one’s life.

John Slattery as Roger Sterling and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

Categories
Politics

AusOpinion Reblogged 20 – What Will Journalism Look Like in Abbott’s Australia?

Yeah, ok, I was inspired by those posts emerging that used animated gifs. So that’s what this is. But in my defence, I love these gifs. 

In Part One of what now is a series, I outlined what I thought an Abbott Australia might look like. In this post, I will speculate what the journalism landscape will be like after the Abbott victory on September 7.

Firstly, at News Corp papers, one can imagine Col Allan being something like this:

enthusiasm

And the political writers being like this at first:

dance_party

One can imagine they would happy that their job is done and that “this mob” is kicked out. Long term, however, one can’t imagine that they would be presenting Abbott in an entirely positive light the entire time, much like the Courier Mail in Brisbane with the Newman Government. There will probably be, however, an air of this for many of those journalists in News Corp:

cosgrove-dance

Especially those not involved in the commentary side of the newspapers, who will probably provide a largely uncritical pathway for an Abbott Government, especially those at the Australian (other than Peter van Onselen) who have been stridently partisan during the period of the minority government. That is hardly surprising when former Liberal Party staffers are a part of the writing staff. In addition to them, there’s the commentariat in the capital city News Corp papers, who enjoy writing partisan stuff like this:

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 12.39.15 PM

What of the others? I can imagine down at Independent Australia and their coterie of Labor megaphones, it would be a combination of:

angry-eyes

And getting mad at the internet for not “allowing” the message to get out there to blot out the MSM:

mad-at-theinternet

They will be moving to full “gotcha” mode, looking for moments and scandals to bring down the Government for the entire 3 years of the first term – replete with crowd sourced funding for their continuous campaign. And really, good luck to them – there’s nothing wrong with partisan ratbag publications seeking to do such work. I suspect they will have some material to work with soon enough.

The ABC, meanwhile, will be going back to their careful, watchful mode as Senator Abetz will have some power and an office to sit in, waiting for explanations from Mark Scott.

waiting

The ABC should not have to worry, though, as their activities have been pretty impartial these past three years – well, impartial to all but the most partisan commentator, such as Chris Kenny, who has been a little bit like this for the past three years about “their ABC”:

ALittleAngry

The same thing can be said at Fairfax, where their struggles will be for relevance and keeping an audience – especially if they keep employing Paul Sheehan.

conan_spaz

Meanwhile, their online competition, the Guardian can feel as though they will have an audience ready to read their analysis and deconstructions of the Abbott Government and their mistakes.  Even if their journalists might feel a bit like this about having to get up each morning to be at a Peter Dutton or Scott Morrison press conference:

shivers

marilyn-monroe-yuck-

Ultimately, what a number of journalists will be waiting for is the verbal equivalent of various Abbott Coalition Ministers doing this (I would guess for many Christopher Pyne would top that list):

pete-cambell-stairs1

Personally, I can visualise my reaction already to any appearance of Abbott on the TV over the next three years or so.

nope