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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

a soap opera « Previous | |Next »
August 9, 2010

Everybody has been hanging during the election campaign out waiting for that unscripted moment of excess that bursts the boundaries of the tightly controlled election campaigning, with its set pieces, talking points, controlled glossy appearances and media commentary concerned with the candy floss surfaces and the the repetition compulsion of politics as soap opera.

An excess in the form of a touch of wildness that ruptures the surfaces and shows the tensions and seething passion that indicated the political unconscious of politics. This tension threatens politics as soap opera and by exceeding it, pushes politics beyond itself thereby opening politics up.

Bill Leak has made a couple of attempts at representing a transgressive excess to a politics as a carefully manufactured marketing reality. He highlights the madness and violence that gestures towards sacrifice as a central social gesture:

LeaakBAbbotrealaction.jpg Bill Leak

The postmodern moment of excess for me is Mark Latham's stage managed intervention as a journalist for Channel Nine. Insignificant in itself, that moment of physicality or bodily intrusion has opened up the expression of the fear and loathing of politics for us to see.

We need to historicize the narrative constructed around Latham, because Latham is a creative/destructive energy force in Australian politics. The texts about Latham and his outrage to common sense come to us as already read and interpretation weaves between previous interpretations in the public sphere. This narrative is one in which the Canberra Press Gallery has little love for Latham after he bagged them in Latham's Diaries.

Latham called Laurie Oaks (Jabba) a kindergarten commentator whose primary role as a conservative commentator was to bag the ALP on Channel Nine for Kerry Packer. His criticism was that Oakes was a Packer company man who was the most biased television reporter in favour of John Howard. Latham also exposed how Rudd ( 'Heavy Kevvie' ) consistently used Oakes as a feed when the ALP was in opposition during the Howard regime.

What Latham highlighted in the Diaries, which were part of a larger body of work, was a cracking open of an inner sanctum of the political realm to revel that the Australian political system has been reduced to falsity, treachery and showmanship - and that the media interface between that system and the Australian people, supposed to serve each of those, is even worse. The response from those in the politics/media club was that Latham was merely unloaded his bile from the bitterment of losing the election.

Their revenge narrative is that Latham had lost it (afflicted by the violence of madness), and the Canberra Club's strategy has been to demonise Latham. Oakes, for instance, in his review of Latham's Diaries used descriptions such as "poisonous," "bucket of bile," "weird and ugly mind," and "vulgarity" and "horrible". Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald describes The Latham Diaries as the most vicious piece of political filth and sociopathic slander ever written in Australia.

Now that's an "unconscious" eruption that shows the political unconscious of the Canberra Club to be a teeming, active violent space of discontent. Latham has to be sacrificed to ensure the logic of a manufactured politics in the neo-liberal market place.

Few will embrace Leak's reference to the persistence of sacrificial elements at the centre of culture--let alone acknowledge their desre to to seek out and savour the disgorging of a force that threatens to consume. It is too disconcerting to acknowledge the desire for sacrifice as part of the sacred. Some may be more willing to accept politics as a sublimated form of sacrificial violence.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:37 AM | | Comments (17)


You have no idea the relief, following initial anger, this writer felt when tabloid Nine and Latham did that intrusive humiliating, sickening attack on Gillard.
Shades of the notorious Howard Latham handshake of 2004, but this was far more base-leve putrid. What a waste of an individual Latham has become, from such a promising start.
For it appears that Rudd and Gillard were canny enough to exploit the gaffe, using ht smoke to "escape"; to patch up their own quarrel, finally having apparently realised what the electorate is telling them re cooperation and the right mindset for supposedly adult, responsible government leaders, in the polls.
Other wise they are "out", even if it means Abbott.
Labor can't blame the electorate, after the treachary of Bligh and Iemma over privatisation and no doubt the dagger will end up in our backs any way, but I can't imagine that Abbott can be any better for our country, even than Rudd or Gillard.

Latham is the bad object of Australia politics--the Other of politics as normal--who evokes violent emotions amongst us.

The dominant political culture of the twentieth century trained citizens not to bother with matters of widespread, common concern. Their officials would take care of it. If their officials didn’t, well then just bitch and moan until they did.

Rarely was there a message that common problems call for common deliberation and action. So the problems were delegated to officialdom. The voices of many who had big problems were silent and these voices (eg., those of indigenous people, or conservative populists) occasionally irrupted into the public sphere.

The Liberals are now selling themselves as the Howard Government reincarnated. That is the message from the Coalition's campaign launch in Brisbane on Sunday.

The blather and fluff of this election has worked in the Libs favour. No way would Tony Abbott be looking remotely like a contender if we were seeing the usual policy, politics, media mix. Latham was just the icing on an already ridiculous cake. But it will be interesting to see whether his performance was some kind of tipping point. He was, after all, acting in his capacity as a "journalist". Was his behaviour so disgraceful because he was doing what so many other journalists have been doing during this campaign, being stupid, or because he's an ex Labor man?

Lyn asks:

' Was his behaviour so disgraceful because he was doing what so many other journalists have been doing during this campaign, being stupid, or because he's an ex Labor man?'

It was revenge and payback on Latham by the Canberra Gallery.

In the Age Katherine Murphy comments on the Latham moment of excess in campaign politics:

There has been much criticism within the blogosphere about the Canberra press gallery's coverage of this campaign. This is a legitimate debate and consumers have a right to express their opinions about journalism's role in the public discourse. The debate is healthy.

Well this may be a healthy debate, but Murphy misses a fundamental point. We bloggers are citizens creating user generated content, not consumers who passively consume what professional journalists ( ie., the pliant press pack) transmit to us.

Murphy goes on to comment that:

This correspondent though would also urge the critics to engage constructively with the values exhibited by a professional such as Oakes. What he has done in this campaign is show leadership and aggressive independence.These are old fashioned journalistic values....what Oakes has done in this campaign is lead at a time where it is increasingly hard to lead, and to remind his viewers, our critics, the politicians and the public, that a bit of new fashioned, old fashioned journalism can still matter; that it can still be worth the time you invest to read and watch and listen and then debate the merits of what the profession has delivered.

If Oakes has indeed changed from being a Packer company man who was the most biased television reporter in favour of John Howard to an independent journalist, then that is a big improvement for sure.

Funny though, I thought many political bloggers are independent; more so than many Canberra Press Gallery journalists who, as a pliant press pack, are on the drip feed and are content to recycle media releases.

It's been a very, very sad thing to witness the self harming, self mutilating, self castrating propensities for the Fairfax news papers group and to watch the death spiral of these hooked up to and dragged down with public broadcasting.
Ten, even five years ago, the Age and the SMH were good papers. Maybe even last election not totally lobotomised.
But the Kathleen Murphy thing epitomises the just about absolute flatline of Fairfax since neanderthals John Fairfax and henchman McCarthy butchered it.
I noted that the Age had the cheek to headline it, "Oakes shows up pretenders", which is schoolchild at the level of mentality.

Jeff Sparrow comments about political journalism in his Manufacturing political reality at the ABC's The Drum He says:

Certainly, the campaign to date has not displayed political journalism in a tremendously flattering light, with the reporters comporting themselves like the cool kids from high school, bitchily judging who's in and who's out.Yet it's wrong to simply blame individual journalists... politicians now compete in an entertainment market in which 'reality' is its own distinct niche, and an episode of MasterChef has been expertly designed to fulfil the generic expectations of that niche.The commodity called 'politics' can only compete by adopting the forms used by the TV producers who specialise in reality programming.

The problem, he says, is not about the media so much as about the market into which media is sold; a market in which the slogan is the substance as illustrated by x contemporary advertising. The commodification of politics has been largely normalised.

He adds that or most of us, there's no essential difference between how we relate to MasterChef and how we relate to a federal election. In both cases, they are events that happen out there, in TV-land somewhere, and we simply absorb them as entertainment products.

I thought that Julie Gillard presented herself very well on Q+A last night in Adelaide. There was the manufactured stylized image with a touch of authethicity (Julie the person) and the policy Julie. It was delivered with charm and humour whilst engaging with the audience.

it was one of the better Q+ A's.

Latham has increased the excess by enacting a kind of violence by saying that Gillard had "touched him up" in public. Gillard had made their meeting physical with:

a patronising, condescending stroke down the front. I haven't been stroked down the front from a woman other than my wife for quite some time actually...I didn't swear at her, I didn't raise my voice....The physicality of it was all on her side, and you know, she gave me an answer that was true to form, a non-answer.

The carnal body makes its appearance. He is sexualizing the gaze of politics by turning the encounter with Gillard into an erotic spectacle.

Latham is doing his job to increase ratings for Channel Nine and Sixty Minutes. So he had a go at Laurie Oakes as well:
Oakes has been absolutely devastated by the fact that in my Latham Diaries, I listed the nickname that he was given by the Labor Party, Jabba the Hutt, you know the grotesque character from Star Wars. He's got a real sensitivity about his morbid obesity and he's highly, highly sensitive about it.

That is twisting the knife.

With this excess we are entering into the world of Bataille ---transgression (of taboos), unseemly eroticism, violence, the obscene--- that takes us beyond the world of utility. The excess represents a freeing of oneself from the regulatory structures of the law and convention.

Will orgiastic recycling be next? Will Latham sacrifice himself?

Agreed Nan. Julia was very good on Q&A last night. When she's allowed she does a good job of explaining how different bits of policy work together to achieve a purpose. And her "some things can't be measured" remark about Latham was a nice, cool headed response.

Looking forward to Abbott doing the show next week. If the ABC select a similarly sensible audience it should be interesting.

Nan + Lyn,
There is still a big gap between Gillard's courageous and winning performance, and her impressive ability to link the policy dots into a coherent policy framework, and the actual policies themselves.

The gap is most evident around climate change. What the ALP proposes to do with their policies here does not take us very far-eg., its only a few steps in connecting the isolated renewable wind energy to the national grid; or the limits to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power stations.

It was a strong performance by Gillard as PM on Q+ A last night. It will create a lot of ripples and buzz over the next couple of days. Adelaide provided a supportive audience as it claimed her as their own.

It will help to change the atmospherics of the campaign.

Gillard on Q+A shows the presence of the social media platform. It has its own colourful space.


Like Rudd before her, she's weak on the progressive stuff, although it's reasonable to argue that climate change isn't just a progressive issue.

The Age this morning runs a star article with Jabba again venting all that suppressed rage down on the villain Latham.
If there is a murder, do you blame the hitman, the contractor (Oaks) or the anonymous godfathers who operate these sock puppets from the seclusion of their thirtieth story office block suites?