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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Please explain, Pete

When Peter Garrett first entered politics way back when, it was contesting a seat in the Senate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party. With his profile, he was a god-send for their fledgling cause. For my friends outside Australia, Garrett was better known as the enigmatic singer of the band, Midnight Oil.

Come 2007, Garrett was now a high-profile recruit for the Australian Labour Party, although it was former Labour leader, Mark Latham, who originally recruited Garrett to the cause back in 2004 during Latham’s failed leadership. Perhaps not surprisingly, given his prior public vocal stances on green issues, Garrett was given environmental issues as his portfolio after the Labour Party won office in November 2007. However, being a minor Senator without portfolio interests was a very different kettle of fish to being placed in a Cabinet portfolio role that while not necessarily the most senior, was always going to be one in the public spotlight. There were plenty of pundits who wondered if he was up to it. I was one of them but was more than happy to be proven wrong.

Regrettably, history has proven the doubters right. Normally I am only too happy to win an argument. However this time, I wish I hadn’t.

The question has to be asked, why was he permitted to continue to hold any portfolio interests after his repeated bungling and failures in a Cabinet post? On that track record, others would have been long before dumped from such interests entirely, yet Garrett was permitted to stay.

That Garrett is a principled person who has gone into politics for all the right reasons – to make Australia and the world a better place – is beyond question. But he, at the minimum, needed a damn sight more experience in the game before being given such responsibilities. Instead, the deaths of four Australians are now on his conscience for what may only be described as a staggering display of ineptitude over the government's housing insulation scheme. Ultimately, the blame for those deaths has to be shared by those who left him in that role where he continued to be damaging.

The question also has to be asked, just how much real damage has Garrett unintentionally done to the Rudd government’s re-election chances? Quite a bit, I fancy.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Party politics will kill any solutions to whaling

And so the whaling debate between Australia and Japan continues.

Japan continues to hunt whales and Australia continues to talk about trying to stop them. Lots of talk but nothing beyond that.

Joe Hockey has come out firing, claiming the Rudd government does not know how to stop the Japanese whaling. Now hold on there Joe - while Kevin Anderson succeeded in getting matters on the table before the International Whaling Commission, the Howard government didn't seem to have much success in stopping them either, did you?

The Greens have criticised the Rudd government for failing to back the proposed laws to ban Australian businesses from supplying aeroplanes in support of Japanese whaling. The government has taken advice that the proposed laws may be unconsititional. The complaints by the Greens have some standing. The complaints by the Opposition however seem nothing more than the standard objections - the government says 'this', so we must therefore say 'that'.

Japanese authorities finally made a statement that strongly implied that the real reason for their whaling is just what everyone else already knows it is about - meat for the table and not a damned thing to do with 'scientific research'. How about they take a leaf out of the book the Chinese are using - and start eating our damned Cane Toads.

I doubt anyone can argue that Australian society as a whole is opposed to continued whaling. Just this once, just once, can't we get a bipartisan approach that gets above party politics and take some real action? It greatly saddens me that the answer is almost certainly no. And the gentle giants of the deep will continue to be slaughtered in our southern oceans.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Going too far

Comedy often pushes the boundaries, forcing us to look at ourselves and society. When that is successful, there is an underlying truth to the gag itself. Take for example the classic and phenomenally successful Golden Girls. One of the things that made that show work so well was the underlying truth of a fear of dying alone, hence the four women banding together.

When things go too far, it is usually a case of a poor joke, made in worse taste, that doesn't have that underlying truth. This was never more evident than with The Chasers' frankly appalling gag about not bothering to give dieing children decent gifts because they are only going to die anyway. The only truth underlying that was that there are seriously ill children out there, dieing from terrible disease. That was not a reflective truth, merely an awful and unfunny truth that The Chaser crew made a shocking error in judgement in even coming up with a gag to exploit it. Matters became worse with an evident degree of butt-covering and buck-passing within the internal politics of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park, did an episode which reflected on the often nonsensical media and public obsession with celebrities. Why that obsession exists is hard to pin down. The effect on the celebrities themselves can be harsh. A case in point - how many 'child stars' end up basketcases? The episode in question revolved around Britney Spears. Where Stone and Parker pushed the envelope too far in my opinion, was with the set-up. The Southpark kids trick their way into Spears's dressing room by pretending to be her children. A depressed Spears, hearing that her children had arrived, cheers up, only to be crestfallen when she realises that it is not her children at all, but just more people wanting something from her. The depressed Spears then blows most of her head off with a shotgun.

That aspect of the Southpark episode was essentially making fun of depression, the underlying truth being that depressed people can kill themselves. For me, that unfunny truth overwhelmed the remainder of the overall truth underlying the episode – that of unfathomable obsession with celebrities and celebrity status. Perhaps I am more sensitive on the issue than others because of my own past with depression and the phsycial scars from a failed suicide attempt.

It is Family Guy however that are really incurring my wrath. This is a show that also often really pushes the boundaries. It has some very clever characterisation, particular with Brian, the talking family dog, and Stewie, the baby. However a recent episode used as its comedic line, making fun of Down's Syndrome and former US Vice-President hopeful, Sarah Palin. Now I am not a huge fan of Palin and what she stood for during the last presidential campaign. But, making fun of the fact that Palin has a child with Down's Syndrome is going too far. What underlying truth is there in making fun of something like that? I was left with a distinct impression that the creator simply doesn't like Palin and the Republicans and decided this was a way to express little more than hate.

Politics and political characters are things that are the staple of a lot of comedy. They all too often simply beg to be made fun of. But this stunt by Family Guy was nothing short of nasty and entirely unjustified.

There are times when I am made to feel ashamed of both being a writer, including my comedic writing. This was one of them. Pushing boundaries is one thing but simple cruelty as point-scoring is another and not acceptable.

Kids make cruel fun of people who are different. Where I grew up, people of other than generally Anglo-Saxon ethnicity was a rarity. They were different so they often became targets. There is one girl in particular that I hope to meet again one day so that I may apologise for my role in her regular humiliation. Lord knows, my parents would have had several layers of skin off my bum if they had ever found out the things we were saying and doing to the poor girl. Part of me knew it was wrong but I kept laughing at it anyway, which just encouraged the worst perpetrators even more. Another child who was at my primary school briefly, was of considerably lower intellect than whatever passes for average. I sometimes laughed at others who were making fun of that poor kid as well. At least I had the decency to feel guilty about it afterwards and stopped.

What I have just related was the stunts of pre-teen kids, thirty-five years ago. This controversial episode of Family Guy had about as much depth as those childhood cruelties. Surely as 'adults' they should know better by now?