As the latest round in the War Against Jihadi Death Cult Zombies weaves its inevitable way into the mill of sensationalist television news promos, and the ever-escalating one-upmanship of competing media organizations churns out “City Under Siege” headlines and the like, we need to pause and wonder just where we are headed after the first year of Abbott Reality Television.
It is becoming almost impossible to tell the difference between promotional material for Dancing With The Stars or The Block and the latest cynical attempt by the Abbott “government” (I use the word advisedly) to claw back some credibility in the polls. Could it be that petty? Just polls? With this mob, you have to go for the lowest common denominator. Of course it can.
What was, just a few months ago, the highly unpleasant but distant beat of a fanatical jihadist drum, has morphed into an existential Threat To The Homeland. In the words of a 10 News promo on Friday night, Australia now faces “the greatest threat to its national security in history”. If you’re going to go the hog, you may as well go the whole hog. Beat that, ABC, 7, 9 and SBS!
The same in-house promotions units who produce, edit and present titillating commercials for “unmissable”, “must see” episodes of dreary soap operas and second rate cooking shows, are now at work beating-up the latest half-dozen arrests of some religious crazies into a Threat To Our Way Of Life. The more ridiculous, the better.
As we watch men of the Press Gallery in suits with carefully coiffed hair looking staunchly into camera telling of how they are bearing up to the latest threat against their workplace, Parliament House, and vulnerable women (equally coiffed and made-up) delivering breathless on-the-spot reports from suburban streets seething with police in paramilitary jackboots and baseball hats, the Prime Minister deprecatingly tells us that he is not afraid for himself, but for his people.
Journalists love a war. The real ones go to battlefields and take their chances. The pretenders do stand-ups for local TV news bulletins, or beaver away Photoshopping front page newspaper graphics to scare the bejesus out of their suggestible readers.
The boundary between fake reality and Real Reality has blurred to the point of disappearance. It’s hard to tell the difference nowadays, and that is precisely the object of the exercise.
Meanwhile the Budget lies in tatters. Consumer and business confidence is approaching all-time lows. Unemployment is soaring. Indigenous Australians have been deserted again… for a photo op with the SAS. Renewable Energy, surely a growth industry if ever there was one, is under threat. Manufacturing industries are closing down, one after the other, dominoes in some ideological game. Prices for commodities that are actually in glut – electricity and gas – are soaring, not falling. Science is on the skids. Politicians are being sin-binned in lots of a dozen. Memories are failing. Debt is soaring. The dollar is tanking. Promises are discarded like used bus tickets. The government that told us “No surprises, no excuses” blames the previous government for everything instead of facing up to the fact that the people elected them to run the country.
When will the Abbott government start governing and stop spinning? The nation really does need to know when they can expect confidence and governance to return, not when the next fanciful beheading is about to take place. Let the regular authorities look after that in the normal way.
Each step along the way from the first announcement of the “Caliphate” to today, with “terror in our midst”, has both fed off the previous step and provides a platform for the next. Instead of attending to the important and pressing matters of state that affect real millions of peoples’ lives, livelihoods and businesses, a cynical promotional campaign is dumped in our laps, willingly propagated by a media obsessed with outdoing its rivals, using trumped-up drama, and narcissistic over-concentration on its own role in the process.
A Prime Minister who, in train with media finger-waggers and tut-tutters, rebuked his predecessors for junketeering has racked up more miles in the air and dollars in jet fuel attending pointless meetings and ingratiating himself with foreign dignitaries than either of the people he criticised. A couple of fawning op-eds declaring him to be “statesmanlike” seem to be the reason for this. That, and 1 or 2 points in the polls. As Abbott realizes that there are virtually no restraints on the treasure he can waste and the photo-ops he can manufacture, his swaggering, testosterone-pumped ego swells to fill the vacuum.
Meanwhile, the nation drifts, rudderless, drunk with hatred for jihadist nonsense that gets its kicks by baiting fools like Abbott. Abbott and ISIS we made for each other. The viewers watch on, hugely entertained. There’s a new thrill every episode.
Behind it all is the certain knowledge that Reality TV rates. What else would the media do but use the same techniques they use in confecting phoney reality, all the better to cheapen actual reality? Somewhere in the middle the two streams meet and the nation, while remaining essentially ungoverned, is gamed instead.
Once upon a time it used to be called “bread and circuses”. The Abbott government has invented a new twist: “bread and circuses… without the bread”… directionless, spin-obsessed, blame-rich posturing, anchored in the grammar and language of Reality TV, run by a media increasingly relevance-deprived, shrinking in size and dumbing-down in intellect (yes, it’s possible).
All the while the nation sinks further into random aimlessness with no-one at the tiller, except the preening Prime Minister and his hapless sidekicks, urgers and sleeve-tuggers..
We cannot keep indulging in this orgy of spin over substance. You can’t run a country on terrorism for another two years. Someone’s got to do some work. Political commentators routinely emphasize the techniques and tricks of politics as indicators of good governance, ignoring reality. Tricks are an amusement, not the main game. Opinionistas tick-off “promises kept” without the slightest consideration of ramifications suffered. Barrie Cassidy nominates Christopher Pyne as “politician of the week” because his wife finally got her B.A. This has something to do with Pyne being education minister. You figure it out. I couldn’t.
Cassidy also cheer-leads for Scott Morrison to take over Homeland defence in one of the most fawning, embarrassing pieces of political analysis written in living memory. In writing this rubbish, fool Cassidy automatically disqualifies himself from further recognition as a serious commentator. After the Old Parliament House scare and the months off from Insiders to ponder his future, Barrie seems to have said, “Yes please” to the political lobotomy option.
Saturday’s Daily Telegraph urged governments to “CAGE THE COWARDS”, meaning lock up anyone arrested in the last day or so by the “terrorism” circus, without further ado.
The Tele’s logic? Some of the people arrested yesterday had been released without charge. The reason? Police didn’t have any evidence against them. Seems reasonable to release prisoners for that, but not to the Tele.
Months of surveillance by “strike forces” and “task groups”, hundreds of police, helicopters in the wee small hours, searchlights, raised terror threat levels, Glock-toting SWAT teams… and it turns out they didn’t have any evidence against most of the rounded-up. It was a stunt, an expensive, overblown one, but a stunt nevertheless. The Tele’s bluster, urging the abandonment of habeas corpus and the rules of natural justice can’t paper that over. They were arrested, so they must be guilty of something, It’s the oldest copper trick in the world. m’lud. The Tele enthusiastically agrees.
The Daily Telegraph is the same newspaper that has been running an anti-Muslim campaign for the past two months. They sent intrepid investigative war journalist and heroic blogger Tim Blair out to the wilds of… Lakemba. While there, Tim discovered that the non-drinking Muslim community didn’t patronize the local pub. They walked around in funny clothes. The men had scary beards. Some of the shops had… gulp… political and religious books in their window displays. You could hear different languages being spoken. There’s none of your “most Muslims are law-abiding” multicultural subtlety in Blair’s two pieces. It’s racial and cultural mockery all the way down to the Tim’s cave, located below a fetid gutter near you. One can’t help but wonder whether it wasn’t all part of a tawdry pre-promotion designed to soften up their readership before the quasi-military early morning raids began a few weeks later. But they wouldn’t do that would they?
Abbott, said to be “running the country” from his undisclosed, tented location in Arnhem Land, pauses only to incongruously put on a suit in the midst of the red dust to sombrely intone that “chatter” (a favourite word of intelligence agencies in circumstances like this, as it implies both sinister communication and reminds us that Muslims talk funny) has been overheard. He gives a blow-by-blow commentary on operational matters, in stark contrast to the object of Cassidy’s political man-love, Morrison, and his ventriloquist’s dummy, a forgettable and forgotten “3-Star General”.
We have F-18s being fuelled up. SAS boots on the ground at the ready. Muslims vilified and caricatured. Screaming headlines urging the abrogation of Magna Carta. Severed heads. Executioner’s swords unearthed from under backyard lawns. Police, lots of them. Uniforms and braid everywhere. Death cults. Pure Evil. The UN Security Council. Po-faced commentary about “leadership”. Arrests. Move over. I wanna be on TV.
In the lingua franca of Reality TV, it’s an “unmissable” episode of Abbott In Power indistinguishable from the spruiking excess of a promo for Big Brother. As he has always done, Abbott relies on standover tactics, threats of violence and intimidation, spin and deception. He gets others, like the Murdoch press and the truly malignant Ray Hadley to megaphone the really nasty stuff while he tells Australian Muslims he’s their friend. The field is strewn with the political and social corpses of Abbott’s “friends”. Start running if he wants to shake your hand (this means you, Warren Mundine). Abbott cannot lie straight in bed. He’s the Whirling Dervish, seeking to bring those around him down so that he might stand a little taller by comparison. It’s pathetic, but Abbott has always been a small man, obsessed by small things. He’d make sure he got a receipt for a slice of banana cake at the local school fete. He did so for a sliver of Peter Slipper’s wedding cake, then stabbed his friend in the back.
Meanwhile the country wanders aimlessly, stressed, terrorised, depressed, under-employed and essentially ungoverned, too full of intolerance and jingoism to realise how egregiously it has been gamed. Businesses fail, jobs are lost, industries wind up… but Tony, the War Prime Minister, will protect them from street-corner beheadings and jihadis at the gate.
The indigenous Australians he abandoned for a photo op with the SAS sit there in their corrugated lean-tos, puzzled. This was supposed to be their week, but the cameras, microphones and strutting ministers have disappeared. The old tribal men and women mutter to themselves, “Poor fella, my country.”
And they are right.
We are going to a war we cannot win, against an ideology we cannot defeat, for a purpose we cannot explain. There will even be an audience vote this weekend. Sound familar? It is self-justifying and pointless, but hugely distracting and entertaining. Government as Reality TV has arrived.