Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The last refuge (e)

Last week I signed the on-line petition calling on Alan Jones' advertisers to account for their continued support of one of the most bellicose and least-informed public figures in this country. And while not completely regretting my decision to do so, I see now that the 100,000-odd of us who signed the petition have been complicit in one of the classic fall-back positions of the venal.

For those not fortunate enough to count themselves amongst this island's sun-kissed 23 million, Alan Jones is an ex-Rugby coach, failed Liberal (conservative) candidate for a safe northern Sydney seat and now dominant (or domineering?) mouthpiece for Sydney talk-back AM station, 2GB. The call sign owes its provenance to the great Renaissance martyr to freedom of thought, Giodarno Bruno, and Alan Jones wears it like a flag, although I would argue that his particular preoccupation lies more in freedom of speech than freedom of thought, an important distinction too often glossed over in the interminable debate about the effect such "shock jocks" are having on our fragile democracy.

Such public figures assume a position (always on the high ground and well-entrenched) and await the serried ranks of ill-disciplined "bleaters" to come. They, like much of their audience, see themselves as a fixed point on the moral compass, and their opponents as the sorry remnants of some lost tribe of moral equivocators. It is, largely, a battle between the surviving members of the boomer generation that has been spilling over from their campus days these past 40 years. None of it has been particularly fruitful. Quite the contrary. And yet it has continued to dominate public discourse in both Australia and the United States. 

Some weeks ago Alan Jones, at a private function, quipped that the Australian Prime Minister's recently deceased father, John Gillard, had "died of shame" over his daughter's lies in parliament. Whether he went on to itemise these "deathly lies" seems to have been lost in the ether of outrage and invective that followed. His public apology for this thoughtless, heartless comment was a loathsome piece of bus stop sophistry. And yet he is still on air and still ranting against those who would dare to call him to account, espousing the cause of free speech while undermining the cause of freedom of thought and expression by denigrating anyone who dares to part from the dominant paradigm of his target audience.

But it behoves Bluepepper to acknowledge the enduring grievance of this sizeable demographic of older, well-heeled Australians against the perceived dominance of a progressive slant in public discourse that in one way or another appears to threaten, not only their future prosperity, but the legitimacy of their collective past. The carbon tax is merely the latest and most salient example of a trend amongst Western democracies to unsettle those who thought they had bought sole rights to the apple cart. 

The American Tea Party movement has played on this, although inevitably the movement has devolved into a last gasp for the GOP as the party of the "white", rather than as the guardian of the values that made the US the astonishing melting pot it is today. It has been just as difficult, nigh on impossible, for Barack Obama to list his successes in this wind tunnel of invective as it has been for the federal Labor Party of Australia, the "wonder downunder". And yet the far right are able to play the victim card with impunity because they are able to project themselves as the mouthpiece of the "forgotten people", the "silent majority", that Thylazine otherwise known as the middle class.

And I blithely signed a petition confirming them in their victim hood, dear reader, oblivious to their tragic destiny as "fringe dwellers" of the cultural paradigm for the steadier part of a roiling century. Forget, if you can, Celine, Malaparte, Bukowski, Pound, Larkin, Lowell et al. Alan Jones and his ilk do not favour the nuanced thinker, whether right or left. Nor, dare I say, do his more vocal protractors who have once again played politics with my conscience. But I guess that's the point. 

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