Clowns in politics, the Victorian state election and its coverage.


Victorian State Election, yawn! That’s how TV, our medium of choice, packages the campaign. It’s how it packages our participation in our future. ‘Journalists’ jostle with each other to deplore the lack of anything interesting in the Victorian election. That’s how most see their role. It’s a derivative, generic and seductive interpretation. But does it do any of us a real service? Or is it self-fulfilling?

“Media commentators” mimic the judges’ panel on reality TV singing, dancing or cooking shows. Must be a whole cross-over thing going on. They scold candidates, obsess over performance and appearance, skim over substance then bag the whole shebang for not entertaining us. ‘Lighten up’ is the ever present subtext. Sex it up is another. Depth, detail, or even accuracy are for party-poopers. In an era of contracting worldwide attention spans, the trivial is king.

Sheesh! Listen up candidates. WOTF? What is wrong with you? Don’t you know you are in show business? Show business for ugly people? Like the commentariat, itself, only less powerful, less prolific and harder to photograph? Get your act together! Entertain us. For God’s sake don’t challenge us, make us think or expect us to do or know anything.

It’s a disturbing trend. And it is widespread. Is this how we kid ourselves our apathy is OK? Is this how we assuage our guilt for our lack of attention, interest or involvement? Are we really so ignorant or so confused that we believe that politics, our chance to have some say in our increasingly more powerful and intrusive government, is really only a form of show business?

Whatever the case, the results are bad news for democracy. It’s the kiss of death to reporting and it’s the kiss of death to effective representation. Yet we must not over-simplify causality. In the end, we get the politicians we deserve. That’s how it works. Almost. We get by with a little help from our friends. Participation in politics is mediated and massaged by an ever expanding, ever-present digital media. And, for a decreasing few, by an endangered popular press.

Print media is in extremis, an increasingly unprofitable atavism in an era where consumers have been colonised by the Digital Empire. Our major papers have, perhaps, two years’ life before they, too are forced to fold, driven into extinction by their digital competitors. Internet killed the video star and then went on to massacre print media. The first step was to rip its heart out.

A beleaguered media, is increasingly side-tracked into distraction and diversion instead of investigating and reporting facts. Murdoch media goes a stage further towards complete surrender. It combines diversion and distraction with dutiful distortion; abandoning objective investigation or reporting for brazen partisan support; a cheer squad for the interests of the Murdoch empire. Or something more sinister.

In the 2013 election of the Abbott government, the Murdoch Press became a death squad for its opponents, the Labor Government(s) of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Given its dwindling circulation and rising unprofitability, it was probably its last gasp effort. But you don’t have to be openly partisan or in print to offer another kiss of death, the kiss of irrelevancy.

Josie Taylor, last night on local ABC 7:30 report, a show which will be axed as part of Abbott’s ‘efficiency dividend’, asked a random grab of light-weights for some superficial election eve fluff. They obliged with a consensus that the campaign had been dull and boring. Josie commiserated: “I thought that’s what you would say.”

The subtext was motivational in a way. Well, we have to vote. These clowns are forcing us to do something we resent. So let’s save face by dismissing them. We know diddly-squat about the campaign because we haven’t been paying attention. But, hey, that’s all their fault for being boring. Their fault for being politicians.

The morphing of information into infotainment with a fair dollop of ridicule is aided by choosing crossover commentators. Waleed Aly is an intelligent, scholarly, thoughtful and perceptive person. His choice of stand-up comedian, Claire Hooper on his election eve ABC radio show may have been to redress listeners’ boredom. His station’s attempt to lighten up may also be enlightened. Commentators can come from any walk of life. But the exercise is fraught with peril when it panders to our prejudices and reinforces our rejection of politics in the guise of light entertainment.

A night ago, called to give her views on the state election, Ms Hooper replied with an anecdote to the effect that a mate of hers didn’t even know the Labor candidate’s name. Came up, she said, with “Dennis Andrews”, an amalgam of both Dennis Napthine and Andrew Daniels. On one level this says a lot about what’s in the popular mind about State Politics. Boring! Like a Maths lesson. On the other hand its relentless negativity reinforces and legitimises our own abdication of responsibility.

Deploring dullness in politics may be an excuse for opting out of something we vaguely sense we ought to take an interest in. Ceding the field of participation in politics to entertainment; to show business is, however, no solution. Unless, of course we relish having clowns in politics. 

andews on guitar