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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)

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Classical Music Uncategorized

Confronting Assumptions in Classical Music Recording – The Videos of David Hurwitz

When you practice a piece of music, something I have not done in some time, there’s a necessity to find the section in the music that is giving you the most trouble and working on it, so it gives you less trouble. The problem was always for me – I was never persistent enough to entirely iron out the mistakes. The troublesome section would continue to bite me – especially if I stopped playing it for a while.

Normally, this blog has been about politics, and ordinarily I would make some point about most of our politicians being similar – not persistent enough to iron out mistakes. Or, in their case, lacking the reflective ability to know about their deficiencies.

And yet, I won’t be extending that metaphor, largely because I am disgusted by most of politics and by most politicians. Thinking about politics makes me exhausted, quite frankly. So, I am writing about something that has been consuming me this past couple of months – assumptions and beliefs I had made about “classical” music performance. And having them confronted, forcing me to be persistent and iron out the mistakes I had been making. Most of our male politicians in Canberra are incapable of any of that kind of thing.

2021 and David Hurwitz

I wrote about my classical CD collection last year in this post – which spells out how the recordings of Roger Norrington came to dominate my single version of most repertoire collection. It also shows how my 2020 rediscovery was based mostly on my opinions from my 20s. I even started to buy the recordings of the 2010s answer to Roger Norrington, Francois-Xavier Roth and his Les Siecles group. But as I have continued to look for multiple versions, I discovered the videos of David Hurwitz.

David Hurwitz is a finance and real estate bloke in New York which is just a way to fund his true love – classical music. He plays percussion for community orchestras and is the executive editor of ClassicsToday.com, an American classical music review website that comes up a lot when you search for reviews of specific CDs. Lockdown for him has meant that he has taken to Youtube and spilling out all of his knowledge, wisdom, anecdotes and feelings about classical music. A LOT of all of those things.

Hurwitz has pumped out more than 500 videos in this last year, and I have watched a fair few of them. They have jolted me. Led me down an entirely different listening path, and forced me to confront my own prejudices and judgements about classical music performance. Thing is, after watched these videos, I have developed a large respect for his opinions, because they clearly come from a place of great, detailed knowledge of the works, conversations with other experts, musicians and conductors. Above all, his love for music is what drives him, but it’s a love based on research and detailed reflection. It is also admirable that Hurwitz’s anecdotes and opinions reveal that he has no time for marketing hype and grand statements. He is also very, very funny. Using a Karajan CD box in a workout video is one of the funniest things I have seen on Youtube.

Confrontations and “Howevers”

Over the time of watching the videos, I have been confronted by his contention that Roger Norrington may well be the worst conductor of modern times ; that Francois-Xavier Roth and Les Siecles were just more HIP hype ; that the (cheap, but widely praised) Riccardo Chailly cycles of Brahms and Beethoven that I had bought in 2020 were “boring”; that Gramophone and its reviews may just be mostly bullshit. He also places a lot more emphasis on respecting US orchestras and the conductors who worked there – especially in the 50s and 60s – than most of what I read before. In addition, a very large proportion of recordings in my shelves didn’t even made it to his “good” section of his videos (with a few exceptions). As I said, very confronting, especially to my mid 20s self.

There’s two ways to respond to confrontations. Be like a lot of men on the internet and shut down and stay with the views you formulate in your 20s, or really try to understand how you reached those views. Also, do the research. This last point made me dive back into the Maestro Myth of Lebrecht and realise great chunks of it is complete half arsed bullshit, even if Karajan still was a bit of a tyrant with bizarre ideas about cars.

I think this is still my favourite bonkers conductor moment

One of the features of many of Hurwitz’s videos is that he will suggest a range of good, very good and excellent recordings of any particular work, with the climax being his “However” recommendations for what he believes is the best recording of pieces. I started by listening to some of them on Apple Music – if I could find them – and then, if I loved them, I would scraping through Amazon and Ebay for them. That has not been all that easy from Australia, due to sky high postage costs from the US and Japan. However… I have managed to get a fair few. What I have discovered is that indeed, pretty much all of them have been absolute bangers of recordings (I know that term is probably not age appropriate, but I think it’s apt) and better than the ones I had.

That’s not to say that I have become a Hurwitz disciple in the way I was a slave to the trends that abounded in my 20s. I don’t agree with him on everything. For example, I still prefer Stephen Hough’s Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto recordings to the Lortie ones he recommends – partially because I have long adored the music of Saint-Saens and have my own ideas about how it should sound, which is not based on the opinions of others in the way many of my opinions were formed about other composers’ works. An example of this would be that I have almost no opinion of Bruckner or Sibelius, because I have not really heard much of their music. Also in terms of differing from Hurwitz, I also still like a lot of what Roth is doing, because I don’t think he’s a slave to his research in the way Norrington, Gardiner and some others in the HIP movement tended to be in the past. I think a lot of HIP people who are recording now are very good. I also still like Norrington in a couple of recordings. I will admit, however, in regards Norrington, that I had stopped listening to most of his recordings some years ago, which I thought was due to me losing interest in music. Listening to them now up against other recordings, I realise that most of them really aren’t that good.

Where Hurwitz’s videos have been of most help to me is to understand the distinctive features of the music, conductors, orchestra, sonics of the recording and the sound that arrives as a combination of all of those features. He provides a system upon which I can base any future judgements. Having the reference editions can help triangulate where your tastes are. The problem for me previously was working out which “reference” ones to get. And Hurwitz’s recommendations have reached into all sorts of unexpected areas, such as Naxos and the super cheap Brilliant Classics recordings from East German state orchestras. Plus, I know which super cheap Warner or Universal boxes to look for. I also will go down the Czech Supraphon rabbit hole at some stage, because I have long admired the music of Martinu (I think of him as one of the best composers of the 20th Century) , but have found it hard to find recordings.

The other thing Hurwitz’s videos do is show the features of repertoire that is largely unfamiliar – such as Martinu’s – in a detailed and entertaining way. There’s corners of the repertoire I have not experienced in a lot of detail, but look forward to doing so, having bought the However version of them, or finding them on Apple Music to listen to in the car first. (I need to stop buying CDs, even if they are mostly cheap!) He has, for example, has shown me how to approach Dvorak in a way I had not before. I have been blown away by the recordings I have been buying of his music.

A New Way of Listening

The result of all of this reflection and self confrontation is that I feel much better about my choices and listening to music these days. I have a sense of connection to a wider world of music listening that I had before, that my listening can have a focus and purpose. That my classical connection isn’t just a very extensive musak soundtrack. This feeds to a wider sense of who I am as a person. That in my late 40s, I have needed to do a close zoom into my belief systems and realise what is received wisdom and what is genuinely my own, or what can be genuinely my own into the future.

Watching the videos en masse have also shown me in a profound fashion the worth of respecting tradition. In other words, music performance should not be based purely on the printed notes and written research – in this analogy, some in the HIP crew were like fundamentalists using the Bible for their purposes. Music should really be a thing where traditions passed over time should be more respected, which is a good philosophy in life. We can’t just throw out everything that has happened between the time the music was written and now and start anew. That philosophy of life should not be applied just to music.

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Uncategorized

Megaphoning Angrily Grates Always – But No, DanStans aren’t Trumpian

There has been an emerging genre for journalists with some kind of twitter presence. Sledging the #IStandWithDan DanStans. This week, it was Phil Coorey’s turn. Journalists like Coorey are the gatekeepers, they shape how most media consumers see Twitter, because most people don’t know how it works, and don’t use it. So the images of the “extremely online” on twitter are there for the likes of Coorey to present and manipulate. So, deconstructing its premise and examples provides a neat summary of the tricks such pieces have used is important.

For those who are or aren’t extremely online, however, there needs to be a quick revisiting of the notion of the Twitter Megaphone. They are like people at a union picket line or at a process, saying the same lines, gaining comfort and power from being part of a movement, with an amplified voice. I have written about them twice – in 2013 and 2015. Their megaphoning is focused generally on repeating the same lines about the Liberal Party and media bias. They aren’t bots, they aren’t paid, they are enthusiastic amateurs. They get particularly excited when small matters of possible corruption are not grabbing headlines, more skating around the margins of media coverage. Hence, James Ashby’s interactions with Peter Slipper (remember that?) and recently, Angus Taylor’s shambolic activities relating to water. Hence these megaphones have more recently put waterdrops in their names.

My argument about these megaphones hasn’t changed. They are largely harmless. Plus, it’s possible to see where their frustration comes from – because there’s a grain of truth in a lot of what they say, especially about News Ltd media and Sky “News”. They are members of a tribe, angry about biased media coverage. However, as a group, they quickly become too hardline and inflexible, meaning that they lose credibility with each strident tweet. The leaders of these megaphones on twitter – especially Vic Rollison and lately “PR Guy 17”, have used megaphonics this time around to defend the Andrews government. And it’s these people to whom Coorey is referring throughout most of his piece.

Let’s Say Trump! The New Godwin’s Law

Getting back to Coorey, his piece this week attracted a polarised response, and it’s little wonder – that’s what he wanted. His “prediction” at the end of it was laughable especially considering that the title of the piece is “Dan’s fans and Trump’s base: spot the difference”.

“The very publication of this column will invite a similar barrage of invective and apoplexy. Most won’t even read it before reacting.”

No, really? People might be offended by that? That’s performative prediction, invoking Trump, is another example of the lazy new trope infecting opinion pieces: As Bad As Trump.

So, Coorey is asking people to compare a bunch of well meaning Victorians with the lunatics supporting Trump and expect them to accept it. Sure, that’s a rational, reasonable thing to be doing. It was just part of Coorey’s act to gaslight all of the critics of his piece to suggest that anyone wanting to criticise won’t have read all of it. But in reality, the piece is so vacuous that it doesn’t take long to take it apart.

It should almost go without saying that the headline suggestion is a dumb comparison. Even Coorey seems to know that it’s a dumb comparison, as can be seen with this credibility-stretching argument –

Premier Daniel Andrews is not Trump. In terms of character, beliefs, values or performance, he’s not even in the same universe.

But his cult-like followers, who rally around a Twitter hashtag of #IstandwithDan and refuse to countenance any possibility that he is capable of error, are in the same orbit as the Trump legions.

“Same orbit”. It raises the question – which planet are they orbiting? Which planet is Coorey on, witnessing these orbits? But getting away from Coorey’s bad metaphorical gymnastics, no, they are not in “the same orbit”. Trump’s supporters are actively seeking to undermine every single media outlet’s right to report everything, as well as promote conspiracy theories that are dangerous for the future of the US. That is nothing like a group of Victorians clinging to the hope that the Victorian Government’s roadmaps and strategies will work to bring down COVID numbers, even if some of them are repetitive, narrowcasting megaphones.

It is reasonable to suggest that there have been mistakes made by the Victorian government in their pandemic response. I said as much in my previous post about the coverage. Coorey makes these same points, but with a heavily weighted, simplistic take, so he can butcher all critics of the media’s coverage. Here’s some examples.

  • In Victoria, however, there were errors made. Quarantine was contracted to a security company not up to the job. Consequently there was an outbreak. That has not been confirmed – there is an inquiry in place to discern exactly what happened and who was “to blame”. But even if it emerges that private security firms were not suitable for that purpose, the AFR, amongst other media outlets, have actively supported outsourcing public sector activities to the private sector for some years. We shall see if they change this stance if the inquiry has shown that the private sector is not up to doing certain jobs.
  • Even today, with numbers in Victoria very low, the Premier remains reluctant to reopen, indicating the government still does not have faith in its testing and tracing regimes. This is pure speculation, based on no provided evidence. Today’s announcements about the next stage of the roadmap provides a contradiction to that speculation.
  • Moreover, after all these months and hardship, no one in government – including the Premier, his now departed health minister and the public sector chief – claims to know who was responsible for the quarantine contract. There is an inquiry on, we are told, and we must wait for that. Yes, that is how an inquiry works. Coorey would know that, but is performatively suggesting that it’s a smokescreen.
  • But Andrews, in the eyes of his supporters, is beyond criticism or scrutiny. This suggests all supporters. Plenty of the supporters of the government’s actions have been critical of elements of the response. They, however, don’t exist in the false premise behind the piece.

Coorey, like every other writer in this genre, cherry picks examples of random critics, implying that they represent the whole. Cherry picking is the first resort of the desperate columnist – and twitter makes it so easy to do. It’s easy to find these examples:

When an email emerged recently that further suggested he was less than honest in his denials about rejecting offers from Canberra of army assistance, one supporter attacked the journalist who reported it: “Didn’t you hear the Premier’s denial? Stick to the facts.”

That is, a politician’s denial carries more weight than documentary evidence.

“Blah blah – apparently the more you sink the boots into Andrews, the more popular he becomes,” taunted another.

Same with Trump.

Two responses from angry megaphones = Same as Trump.

And then comes the expected reference to the waterdrop megaphones –

Many of the Premier’s supporters incorporate in their Twitter handle a blue water drop, which is a protest against what they believe was a lack of scrutiny of federal minister Angus Taylor over a water deal. Yet they resist any scrutiny of Andrews.”

So, these Trumpian Andrews supporters are now many. There’s a reduction of the contention about Andrews supporters. The reduction becomes even more through the invocation – again – of the trivial Baxendale press conference mistake, which is an issue that was a blip on the landscape of this pandemic.

“A few weeks back, Andrews verballed The Australian’s Rachel Baxendale by insisting she had included a false premise in her question, when she had not. Regardless, his supporters piled on.”

Coorey, aside from raising a non-issue, is just plain wrong. As can be seen in this video, Baxendale asked about findings from the inquiry as if they had been released. In transcript she produced on Twitter, a pair of brackets emerged around a phrase she had intended to include, but didn’t. Andrews wasn’t “verballing” Baxendale, he was correct in his critique of the premise of Baxendale’s question. Coorey is just wrong in his defence of Baxendale. More to the point though, it’s still remarkable how this minor incident is continually referred to by journalists wishing to gaslight the critics.

It’s an irony that this Baxendale incident was the last case Coorey uses against the DanStans – because he ends with this phrase:

“That’s increasingly a consequence of an era in which people can choose their own facts and everyone is expected to be a polemicist, making the middle line the hardest to hold.”

It’s almost as if he has never read The Australian. Coorey seems to have missed the parts where Rachel Baxendale was front and centre in the campaign to hound and harass Yassmin Abdel-Magied so much that she felt as though she needed to leave the country. There is nothing “middle line” about Baxendale and her employer. There is also nothing “middle line” about this piece.

Coorey’s gaslighting hatchet job got support from what has become the usual supporters for this genre – people who have trouble responding to critics on twitter, and just like to place them in the “mad left winger” bucket.

No, it’s not. It’s yet another example of journalists playing the “we are the only sensible centrists” card, trying to point at parallels about online supporters in Victoria and the US that aren’t there. A bit like this tweet, about Joe Biden suggesting that a journalist continually asks the same style of questions makes Biden Just like Trump. No, it doesn’t. It makes him someone with a genuine point to make about the way certain journalists always pursue the same agenda.

Megaphones Do Grate

There is a cautionary note to add at the end of this piece. There are people on the fringes of any campaign that do what Coorey refers to here

“I don’t really want to dwell on the gory details, but there’ve been death threats and rape threats and photos of me circulated on the internet for weeks,” Baxendale told Guardian Australia in a recent article on the dangers of questioning Andrews.

It’s become a boring trope, suggesting that this represents the bulk of Andrews’ supporters, as is inferred in this piece.

It does need to be acknowledged that there are some people who are feeding this perception that all defenders of Andrews are mendacious trolls. An example – these pathetic comments about wanting NSW to have increasing COVID case numbers.

It is clear that this kind of garbage needs to stop. And there’s megaphones that need to realise how their tweets are providing evidence to bad faith operators wanting to gaslight all supporters of the Victorian Government. PR Guy, in particular, provides a double edged sword. His tweets are classic megaphoning, providing comfort to a group of people wanting an optimistic view to the horizon. Many of his tweets raise reasonable points about the agendas of some media outlets in their reporting of the pandemic response in Victoria. But it lacks nuance and relevance. Neither of these things are true – the Ruby Princess matter was given exhaustive coverage, and aged care shortfalls have also been covered for a long time.

Yes, we know there are megaphones. Yes, they can be aggravating. And yet, Phillip Coorey’s suggestion that somehow these megaphones are as bad as Trump’s boosters is offensive. They are, for the most part, Victorians wanting to support a government that has had to learn difficult lessons and work on a response to a pandemic that has resulted in a drop in COVID cases and spread. They might be too enthusiastic in that response. They might be too easily triggered by questions posed at press conferences. Especially by questions about hotel quarantine. Of greater interest is whether Melbourne as a city is ready for the next stage, not who texted who about security guards in March. Plus, there are substantial questions to be asked about the agenda of journalists who work for News Ltd – the same organisation that run anti-ALP campaigns every election, Federally and in Victoria. Twitter is one of those places to ask such questions. Maybe not as much as some do it. Maybe there needs to be more nuance. It doesn’t matter – bad faith columists like Coorey, using the same template as Joe Hildebrand, will continue to find the outliers.

Bad Faith – It Never Ends

Ultimately this comes down to a question of how Australian political journalists use Twitter. It is becoming clear that there are two conclusions to reach about that usage.

Conclusion 1 – They do not know how to filter out the megaphones, the trolls, the disgusting, the clowns. It’s easy to do – blocking and muting tools are there.

Conclusion 2 – They know very well how to filter out the megaphones and the fringe dwellers. They just choose to draw upon them for fodder for their columns. For most media consumers, they don’t know how to use twitter, so it’s really easy to sell that image of the extremely online. They are using them in order to be performatively offended, as well as to protect them against substantive and substantial critiques of their work.

There has been so many pieces like this over the years that the second conclusion is becoming inescapable.

In the next couple of weeks, Trump’s supporters might be rioting and killing people if Trump doesn’t win the election. In Victoria, the megaphones will dash off an angry tweet to a journalist asking a question at a press conference. A bit like a fan of a sporting team tweeting in a frustrated fashion.

People get angry reading the media, Phil. That doesn’t make them Trumpian.

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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.

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Uncategorized

On Reliability – COVID-19, Confusion and Division

There is a new series of small books that Hachette have been publishing called “On………..”. There’s a ripe line of suggestions that could be made for titles in that ongoing series, but this is not what I’m doing here. I am writing a set of posts about things that are noticeable if you use social media for your news source.  This first one is about the reliability of sources and the crucial process of building a reliability filter. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made the process of building that filter more necessary. The phases of the coverage have fallen into the usual lines, but more hyped and hyper-divisive than before.

1. The Context Isn’t Important, Division is All

When the COVID-19 pandemic was started, the stories abounded of who wasn’t social distancing, and demanding why there could not be more done to have that happen. Rather than dig into reasons as to why society had difficulty with changing habits, the stories placed a spotlight on the divisions occurring between the Federal approach and that of the states. That was, inevitably turned into “What is the Government saying? What is the Opposition saying? What is the Labor Government in Victoria saying? What is the Liberal Government in NSW saying?” Hyping the divisions was the main focus. That division, however, isn’t a new thing, Australia has had that for as long as there has been a Federation. The states process the every day needs, issues, plans, police, schools, health procedures.  The Feds have the overview and cash. It was clear the states – especially NSW and Victoria – had a more immediate concern over necessary measures. That wasn’t really taken into account or explained by media people just looking for The Angle. They just wanted to highlight divisions.

One such division was between the ways schools were being treated in discussion of a shutdown. It was done poorly, mostly due to a lack of education experts – or even journalists interested in education. Victoria was in a position to enact a shutdown more readily than every other state, due to a difference in school holidays in those other states. Why was that important? Because education systems are not all that flexible and able to communicate to their stakeholders in an easy fashion. NSW was not ready for mass online education – I know that from former colleagues – so it wasn’t that easy to just flick a switch, as it was in Victoria, which could call their holidays four days early. Right now, NSW and the other states are still effectively in term, with all of the Year 12 implications that brings.

What was reported and said on twitter?  Most of the coverage centred on supporting the unusual position of the Chief Medical Officer suggesting that Australian students had to stay at school, like they were in Singapore and pretty much nowhere else.  The natural question should have been – in what way can we draw a comparison between Australia’s and Singapore’s education system.  We didn’t get any of those, unsurprisingly. One thing we did get was the Concerned Parent approach from Andrew Probyn – Why the experiment, which was pilloried by many. Forgotten in all of this – the teachers having to risk themselves by going to work.

2. Ermagherd, This Is So Confusing to Us

Once the “why aren’t there rules” phase was over, and rules and laws were brought into the equation, the pivot by media people was to outrage about those rules. The “Ermagherd, This is So Confusing” trope. This included highlighting confusing messaging coming from Scott Morrison originally, then to any edict or laws issued from states (NSW and Victoria mostly, because they are Australia, aren’t they?). It was inevitable that there would be confusion, because these are complex arrangements, being organised in a huge rush across a nation with different states and territories.

Where it has become very revealing of the background and position of journalists is what “confusions” have captured their imagination and stories. Hence, that middle class need for long and detailed haircuts; whether partners who don’t live with each other could visit. Things that could affect the journalists specifically. This latter, which came from a lack of clarity over what is considered a family “partnership”, was characterised as a “Bonk Ban”, with all of its Puritan overtones. It was easily clarified later by Victoria’s CMO, much to the mirth and happiness of twitter.

3. The Police State

Another trope that emerged is that the new rules and laws have turned our states into Police States. This has led to these lines of comment and coverage –

The Police will abuse these laws! They cannot be trusted on any level!

This line comes from politicians and media people whose brands have been built on highlighting cases of police brutality and malfeasance over the years. Yes, these cases are true, there has been problems with our police forces. Many of those problems have also occurred in regards their treatment of people from ethnic minorities. There is, however, also a case to be built for the police being reasonable in its use of laws. This latter case is near impossible to be built on twitter, however, because of the propensity for it to shut down discourse around areas of grey. In addition, these critics don’t seem to offer much of an alternative plan to stop the very things these same people were highlighting and discussing two weeks before.

Let’s Take Photos Of The Police Stopping People Like Us!

The next phase of this Police State confection is photos and video taken by journalists near where they live, of people Just Like Them in places like Coogee, being stopped or talked to.  The Police! Talking to People! Proof of the Police State! Not that we hear what is being said, or whether fines have been issued in those circumstances. Just the images are enough to provoke comfortable middle class outrage, and twitter the ideal medium to spread it. Twitter has shown an unusual consensus between twitter leftist journalists, commercial outrage spinners and libertarians from the IPA in regards this issue of “Freedom From the Police / Nanny State!”, due to their shared place in society.

The irony is that these same leftist journalists won’t be taking photos of areas where people from a range of ethnic minorities live, such as the outer suburbs. Most like to talk about disadvantage, but aren’t in touch with actual disadvantage.  They will therefore miss out on their particular trophy photos of the Police State In Action.

Reliability?

It is hard to trust the reliability of twitter for stories of what is happening in broader society, especially as the journalists in question become more even more isolated and cut off than usual. It is in this atmosphere where hope is replacing verifiable, accurate news about what is happening away from comfortable middle class areas. I hope that in those places, these new laws are not abused. I hope people can be allowed to connect with families and other people in a way that is safe. I hope that governments can continue to refine these laws and regulations in a way that takes public health and consideration of how people live their lives into account. That might be too optimistic from me, but we need to have that hope, because there’s not much out there that can hold these authorities to account in a time where decisive action has been necessary.

These are very sudden and rushed changes that have never been attempted in our current context. There will be things that cause outrage and anger – rightfully. There may be abuses of power – there probably will be. But the question remains – what alternatives are there? What stops Australians from ignoring social distancing requests other than laws? We have proof that draconian traffic laws and cameras cut down traffic infringements, we have proof that fare evasion is cut down through law enforcement. In addition, it will be important to discover and research just how police use these laws as they are intended to be used – as a deterrent, not a way to raise revenue, not just issue them without discussion. Those areas of grey will be vital for public trust of our police. Otherwise, the other pathway could lead towards greater, justified paranoia for those people who are isolated and threatened.

But the current noise on twitter, dominated by frivolous and sensationalist hyperbole about minor issues is not helpful. As ever. The trick? Mute, soft block and filter. Be critical and questioning of most journalists – no matter their political leaning and past. Consider their contextual positionality through reflecting on their experience, position in society and what they discuss with their journalist friends. Also be discerning about who are their welded on cheer squads. As ever, if you see me on twitter, you’ll continue to know that I don’t know any of these people in the political reporting game socially or personally and don’t intend to change that. In my life, I prefer people who share cat videos, talk Eurovision, classical music, sport, literature and all the things that make society bearable.

But, amongst the media dross of this last little bit, I did find this video hilarious.

 

 

 

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Close to the Flame – Stuart Challender’s Biography – Review Part 1

My daughter went for her P plates the other day. It was nerve-wracking for her, and a bit for me – I hoped she’d pass and have a bit of freedom.  But the day threw me back to my own past post-P plates times in ways I did not expect.

Waiting for her pre-test lesson and test, I had time to kill in Springwood Library, a place I had not visited for more than 20 years. It’s changed a bit in the intervening years. The local council and various other governments have pumped money into the previously under-funded Springwood town centre, and the new library is nice and serviceable.  There was also a poster for an orchestra of which I was a member – the Blue Mountains Orchestra, who have an upcoming concert. The orchestra was for me a place of many musical semi-triumphs and many moments of late teenage awkwardness.

Lots of memories.

In my time there I got into a book – it was Richard Davis’ recent biography of Stuart Challender, Close to the Flame.  I would be in a mood to review it properly – and one day, I will. But this post is not really a detailed review of the book. It is more about what the book was doing to my soul.

For those who don’t know who Stuart Challender is, he was the Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for 4 years, 1987 – 1991. His life is a tragedy in so many ways. He passed away from a condition related to AIDS, just as he was hitting his stride as an Australian born conductor of the SSO who was putting in the hard yards with the orchestra, as opposed to being an overseas based chief conductor coming here sporadically.

His early life struck a distant chord with me, in that he was born into a life and context as far removed from Sydney as could be imagined, to working class parents in Hobart in a time when Hobart was not the hipster haven it is these days.  Reading of a time when he was being bullied at school for being different, and then his stories of a tearaway, ambitious conductor who was organising his own concerts at the age of 15 and then heading off to Europe in his early 20s, it threw me into a swirl of jealousy.

I was into classical music at school and was considered a freak, but I wasn’t organising my own concerts and getting scholarships. In my 20s, I was writing my honours history thesis on the Sydney Symphony, two years after Challender’s death, having never heard him in concert. I was desperately trying to find out at that time why I was so alone, without connection to others my age in Sydney.  I didn’t have the scholarship and dedication to living a big social life that Challender possessed in his 20s.  That’s why I wrote my thesis. As I was reading the book, I realised that a tragedy of Challender’s death is the notion of unfinished business. If had lived on, if there was no AIDS, I would have loved to have interviewed him. Talk about a way forward for the orchestra, how to connect with the new audience members.

My thesis was driven by that isolation from my peers at uni, and was that same loneliness that was at the heart of my notorious blog posts about the “Sydney Push”.  When I feel low and disconnected to Sydney, that’s how I get thrown back to my own early 20s. As I read, I remember the attention I got for those.

Knowing that my attention was slipping, and that I was getting a touch morose, I skipped and jumped around this well constructed biography of Challender, I could see where it was going.  The arrival in Sydney, and his ability – due purely because of his experiences in Europe –  to climb to the top of the Sydney cultural tree. It will be an awe inspiring and tragic tale when I eventually read it properly.

For me, though, I could see where it was going, and where it intersected and dovetailed with my own work about the Sydney Symphony. Here was one rare time when an Australian was being respected for work in Australia, unlike for the original Sydney Push in the 60s, who needed to leave Sydney to gain respect. And then he passed on, and the Sydney Symphony slid back into seeking and revering conductors from Europe and the US. Understandable, considering the nature of the demanding European born Sydney audiences, characterised as the “Schnitzel Squad” in the biography. I am looking forward to digging into the book, as I suspect that it will glean many nuggets of Sydney’s musical and cultural context that are largely missing from other accounts of our orchestra.

“Our” orchestra. This is where the complication comes in for me. Reading the biography threw me back into reflecting on my hate / love relationship with Sydney for decades now, ever since going to Sydney Uni.  I was always an outsider and always will be.  It was that complicated relationship with Sydney which drove my Sydney Push blog posts. I regret writing them these days, in that many have used them to insult me on Twitter. Yet, I needed to write them at the time, as a way of articulating my own anxiety issues, as well as seeking to observe cycles of behaviour, which is an abiding interest of mine.

Now, though, these years down the track, I realise the posts have done me good. They purged me of jealousy and anxiety about such a silly thing as a clique.  I have now moved on, and am much more settled in who I am and in my identity.   The people I characterised as the new push have gone onto do a variety of things and have splintered onto various pathways, even though apparently some of their connectedness lives in on Whatsapp chat group form. Good on them.

Back to the biography of Challender, however, his life had substance and abiding interest for anyone wanting to see how culture and psychology meet.  The book will bring me sustained interest and food for thoughts.  I look forward to seeing how he conquered Sydney, but more importantly, how he was able to bring to this place a heart and soul for music, even though it was all too brief an exposure.

 

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Twitaddiction – from 2012

This post, from a now repurposed site, is from 2012. My struggles are not new.
 
Hello, I’m Preston Towers and I am a Twitter addict. I check it several times a day and at night, I scroll down, watching the faces and words swim past my face. When I see a mention or DM, I seize upon it immediately, my heart leaping a tiny bit at being noticed and responded to.  I always feel a twinge of regret if I can’t think of some kind of response – I feel like I’ve let people down if I don’t.
My evenings are filled with me and the social network, socialising, sharing, conversing. Me on my couch while my partner is doing likewise or looking at other websites. Watching television with half an eye on the screen and the other on my pad, seeing the reactions of others to the same show.  When crap TV is on, I am watching it, commenting on, hashtagging my attempts at witticisms. When the football is on, I am shouting and pleading on the pad what I used to do to the TV. I am connected and I am addicted.
Whenever I see things that are interesting, I want to photograph them and tweet them. When I see an article about something irrelevant or relevant, I want to tweet it with my reaction.  In that, I am addicted to being a Twitbroadcaster.  The follower numbers feed that little addiction.
I want to tear myself away from my Twitter addiction – I am becoming increasingly disconnected from the world around me and tasks I need to do.  The connections I have developed with the people sitting behind their keyboards and pads keeps me in Twitland.  Such a great group of people.  I don’t want to appear rude if I disappear for days and weeks at a time.   I really do want to respond, engage, chat.  But I know I can’t in the long term.  This is the bind of Twitaddiction.
Having torn myself away from my blogging addiction and shutting down the Institute (for now), I still have pangs, especially if something Stupid is said about the Greens (which is often) or by the Liberals (which is almost always). I have managed, however, to stop myself via Twitter engagement. Now, however, I have to take a break from that as well. Or at least a better managed engagement.
I probably won’t succeed because I am generally an all or nothing bloke – balance is not something I have been good at achieving in my life.  I do, however, need to try. Hopefully the good people of Twitistan will understand.

No, I’ve never achieved this. *sigh*

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That Sunday Evening Feeling

I am changing around my blog sites for professional reasons. I found this on a small personal blog from 2012. It’s interesting how similarly / different I feel now.
It starts to happen late on Sunday afternoons each time my children are over on their “access weekends” (such a cold expression) – I realise that I have drive off for an hour to take them back to their home, away from their temporary home. They are sad for a little time, but they know that they are, for the most part, happy with both of their places and their parents are better for being in separate lives.  That rationality, that reason, doesn’t make the leaving any easier or the time after any less gut wrenching.

It was a great deal harder when I didn’t live with my current peaceful and lovely life with my partner.  I felt like a man without a reason or purpose for a while, going back to my two bedroom man cave, wondering why I was continuing to work and see children once a fortnight.  Those weekends were a great deal more active than the current ones. I was determined to take them out to places that I never got an opportunity to do when we all lived together.  I was driven by an almost manic desire to do things, build a new form of relationship.

My “Preston Towers” years were a crazy, intense, rudderless time.

Those times have been replaced by a more easy, relaxed, lazy time. There is netball and the occasional journey somewhere interesting. However, most of the weekends are spent how the kids like to do it – plugging themselves into the iview on their ipads or half watching TV. Some of that is watching AFL with their newly obsessed dad.  Now Sydney has two teams, double the games. My son, who is on the autism spectrum, likes spending most of the weekend by himself. There was a time when he liked doing things and playing Wii with his sister and dad. Those times have slipped away as he becomes more assertive and stubborn about not wanting to go anywhere where there are a lot of people and things to disturb him.

We are all bound together, however, by church. Their mother is pretty hot about going to church, so we go – though none of us are particularly jumping out of our skins to be there. Hence, we lope in late, sit up the back and and bonded by a universal boredom. My son actually wants me to hold him at such times, and my daughter works hard at trying to make me laugh. She usually succeeds – though that laugh can be seen in my eyes, sometimes my body, my mouth, but rarely audibly. Though, after church, in the car, such times are remembered with distinct, audible sounds.

Bound by boredom – that has gone by the wayside as their mum started to drift away from church attendance – so we have as well.

We also insist on eating a big lunch together on Sunday – a lunch usually prepared by my partner, who actually enjoys cooking a lunch with a big variety of tastes – even if it sometimes takes an hour longer than initial predictions.  She has learnt, like me, that it is easier to cook a meal with a child and adult variation at such occasions.  (Indeed, when I cook on the Friday and most Saturday nights, it is strictly what I and they are used to – bland and with few surprises.) Sunday lunch is a nice time for us.

My daughter still does not like eating anything “different”.

But then the inevitable Sunday evening comes. And the sadness. Yes, it helps to come home to a friendly, welcoming hug.  Yes, you remember that everyone is happier every other day of the fortnight and that the kids are really better off with having two parents who care about them.  Nothing, however, entirely takes away the Sunday evening feeling.

And no, nothing does. That will all be a thing of the past when the kids are both 18 and they can do whatever they want to do with their lives.

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Play On, Earnest People – Politics online and ignoring the Circles of Jerks

To Be Earnest or Not to Be Earnest

There’s a lot of earnest people online. People who want answers, people who respond to journalists and others who post declamations and statements. What these earnest people don’t realise is that there are few things considered to be a weakness on social media – being earnest.

I have written extensively about online “megaphones”, pushing the same message again and again, and their lack of impact on the way news is reported and the way emphasis is placed.  They are amongst the most earnest people around.  I once criticised this approach to social media, because of that lack of impact.  But my attitude towards them and their posting has changed.  It does make an impact – but just not on journalists online. There’s a solid set of reasons for that.

The Greater Importance to be a Cool Shitposter

Twitter, for a number of journalists, political staffers and their extremely online circle of adoring fans is place to do some shitposting.  Posting snarky, humorous stuff on twitter that is mostly inconsequential to anyone other than the circle.  Escalating competitions of how funny people can make situations and events seem.  Insults, “burns”, “owns”, inside jokes and the like.  Just Jokes, as two Year 9 boys would say after being caught “playfully” scuffling on the playground.  Mystifying to most people.

It’s become a thing that detachment, sarcasm and being perceived to be cool in these circles is paramount to most of those journalists – especially those who work for more right wing publications. It’s quite the contortion to appear cool whilst working for publications that employ Andrew Bolt and Chris Kenny.

It is within this circlejerk of shitposting that has led to a dismissive tone of responses to the earnest on twitter.  It goes generally along the lines of “don’t @ me” or “cool story, bro” – as in, leave me alone earnest person, I want to do some shitposting with my mates.

This shift has meant that in political and journalist twitter, social media is now part platform for advertising articles and part visible private club (think the Pool Bar at Ivy than the Melbourne Club). It is in this environment that these same journalists and staffers have little trouble gaslighting critics of their work, accusing them of harassment and other things – even if there are reasonable critiques being offered. It’s much simpler and cooler to gaslight nobodies and getting laughs from their fan club than to engage in a reasoned discussion with the earnest.

The Importance of Being Earnest

To see the gap between the shitposters and the earnest on Twitter, we can examine one of the more recent repeating Australian political memes, that of the ScoMo Bus. The original photoshops did the rounds for a couple of days, but then we saw the split between cool shitposting twitter and earnest twitter. Earnest twitter continued with them, maybe not doing “quality”, but continuing to laugh at the hubris of the bus, ensuring that the image did the rounds of Facebook for their non twitter friends.

I will admit that I fell into the same pattern of being too cool to continue to like the bad photoshops. But then I decided to throw myself into the activity (as shown below) and realised it’s just so much fun. I got over myself and realised that people engage and interact in whatever way gives them happiness and connectedness, in a way that respects earnestness as well as being out of touch from the nuances of insider, all-knowing shitposting.

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This is why I have changed in my attitude towards what I have called megaphones in the past.

It is important to be earnest about things that matter – we need to stay true to ourselves in a time when it’s too easy to fall into despair and an existential malaise. There’s a lot of things that matter in society and there’s too many people who detach themselves from having emotions and passion about such important things.

Ultimately, it’s better for everyone who wants to be earnest and seek answers to ignore those journalists who just want to shitpost with their mates. Responding to them is pointless. They will never respect you, so why respect them.  Continue to push for change and have fun doing it.

 

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Human Agro and MacDutton – The Incantations of the Weird Brothers and Sisters of Sky After Dark

Shakespeare never goes away. Ask any English teacher. And he’s appeared again this week, in the ongoing drama of the leadership wild winds in Canberra. Laura Tingle on her first report in the ScoMo Era used lines from Macbeth, mixed with Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet music. The Australian likened Julie Bishop to Lady Macbeth, which showed a deficiency in their understanding of the play – Lady Macbeth egged on Macbeth and then couldn’t cope with the fallout, which is nothing like Bishop’s role. The Oz just seems to like to repeat the same sexist lines as ever. Julia Gillard was also called that, even though she too acted nothing like Lady M.

There is another Macbeth parallel that has been brought to mind by the events this week. I have been watching Paul Murray Live over Thursday and Friday, to see the reactions to the events. My live tweets of Part One is here, Part Two is here. It’s a strange and swirling mist that blows inside that cave of aggrieved ex-insiders, far right axe grinders and Bronwyn Bishop, all led by their host, Human Agro (a nickname invented by the members of The Chaser).

From that cave, and from the other caves of Sky After Dark – Bolt’s, Credlin’s and the rest – there’s been a range of strange incantations, all aimed at the restoration of Their Man, Abbott, or his proxy, Dutton. This week, they played the role of the Weird Sisters from Macbeth, telling MacDutton that he would be King. They frothed and bubbled and boiled with tales of the evils of Malcolm. He was a bully, he was not a Liberal, and the rest. The content is in the live tweetage. The mood of these weird units was of letting the blood of Malcolm at any cost, continuing a theme that has been a key obsession with Murray, including the “That Man” moment from the night of the 2016 election.

The extraordinary feature of this Weird Shouty Ghost Show is that it seems to have influence well beyond its paltry viewer numbers. The ghostly presences on it should have passed into irrelevance years ago – people like Gary “Mr Magoo” Hardgrave from the Howard years, Bronwyn “Gold Helicopter” Bishop, ex ad man Roman Dean, Ross Cameron, Chris “Godwin Grech” Kenny and the like. Yet here they were, suggesting that the Liberals hang on their every word.

Chief among those exhibiting such a “player” attitude is Human Agro himself. His style seems to be taken straight from Phil Gould at the State of Origin broadcasts, striding down the field, speaking slowly, invoking some kind of grand oratory with what is intoned. Seeing him rail and broil, however, reminded us of more of our cat Leopold, who regularly walks into our kitchen at 9pm and starts meowing loudly for no discernible reason. We don’t pay him any attention, just as any serious political party should not be paying attention to these people.

It appears on one level that the party didn’t listen to them, not voting in MacDutton, instead in this version we saw Macduff rise, thankfully with his family alive and smiling in new photos. The would-be Lady Macbeths, Cormann and Cash, seem to have possibly overestimated the force and power of these weird brothers and sisters, though it’s hard to see how they will be damaged. However, it also appears that the crew were more obsessed with vengeance against Malcolm than necessarily pinned entirely with Dutton. Hence, the unusually calm demeanour of Murray (who made two references to him disappointing viewers in depriving them of a meltdown). Also of interest was the appearance of Michael Kroger from his velvet lined coffin, who expressed a business as usual message with ScoMo in charge.

Maybe it was all just about being rid of “That Man” after all. It would not surprise anyone if That Man was relieved to be gone from this place.