Monday, February 15, 2010

Barnaby Joyce, the high wire, Q&A, and a comic strip full of Barnaby ... ...

(Above: the adventures of Barnaby and his imaginary friends).

It was supposed to happen. It was supposed to be inevitable, like one of those terminator machines rushing to crush the robotic Chairman Rudd and his minion Lindsay Tanner. Remorseless, unstoppable, a whirling dervish, an implacable grinding machine.

Everybody was excited, every one was hoping Barnaby would do an Arnold Schwarzenegger iimpression. Or at least his favourite Will Rogers riff.

Yep, last night was supposed to be like watching a man on a tight rope walking precariously poised between two high rise buildings, or a circus performer on the trapeze. Will they slip, will they fall? Will there be blood on the concrete?

Because last night Barnaby Joyce was on Q&A, and who knows what kind of devilish tricks and knavish deceits the lefties had prepared as Barnaby bravely entered the lion's den.

Why am I reminded of Crocket Johnson in all this? For years he drew a comic strip dedicated to Barnaby, a lad with an invisible friend (and there's an excellent website on Johnson and his creations, here, and well worth a visit).

The immortal original Dorothy Parker was so enamoured of Barnaby that she made all sorts of noises of love:

... I had no delight and no enjoyment and no love until Barnaby came.

Indeed, and so say all of us. Of course she's talking about the comic strip, but the message is timeless and true:

I suppose you must do it this way; I suppose you must file Barnaby under comic strips, because his biography runs along in strip form in a newspaper. I bow to convention in the matter. But, privately, if the adventures of Barnaby constitute a comic strip, then so do those of Huckleberry Finn.
I think, and I am trying to talk calmly, that Barnaby and his friends and oppressors are the most important additions to American arts and letters in Lord knows how many years. I know that they are the most important additions to my heart. I love Barnaby, I love little Jane, I love Gus, the Ghost, I hate and admire and envy Mr. O'Malley, above all I love Gorgon, the dog.

Call it Australia, and it's still the truth. Who can't love Barnaby? Who finds it in their heart to hate the original Dorothy Parker? Not when she can write this:

For a bulky segment of a century, I have been an avid follower of comic strips -- all comic strips; this is a statement made with approximately the same amount of pride with which one would say, "I've been shooting cocaine into my arm for the past 25 years." I cannot remember how the habit started, and I am presently unable to explain why it persists. I know only that I'm hooked, by now, that's all. I can't stop. I even take a certain unspeakable tabloid for its strips, though, when I am caught with it on my doorstep, I still have shame enough left to try to laugh matters off by explaining that you really ought to know what your enemies are up to. (more here)

And then they kept on building up the tension about his stellar appearance on the ABC, teasing us about Barnaby on the high wire. There was Leo Shanahan twittering on - though taking more than 140 characters to do it - comparing the first Tanner v Joyce bout to 20/20 cricket, and foreshadowing the Q&A octagon smackdown match up as a 5o over game (Tanner wins the week, Joyce wins the day).

The Herald was pushing the octagon theme too:

The federal opposition finance spokesman will have been busy sorting his millions from his billions and perhaps even reconsidering whether Australia is at risk of defaulting on its debt before tonight's appearance on ABC-TV's Q and A.

There is no doubt the live format suits Barnaby Joyce's colourful style, but more than a few members of the Coalition will be chewing their fingernails throughout, hoping he does not provide more fodder for Labor to belt them with.

There's something about Barner's look that gets the journos going, making their takedown juices salivate. Can't quite work out what it is:

So did you watch? Were you compelled?

What a total bust. What a fraud. What a rip-off.

What an extraordinarily dull and offensive format Q&A is.

First a confession. It was the first time I'd attempted to watch the show live, in real time. I did it out of love and loyalty for Barners. How easily trust and hope can be carelessly abused.

My partner headed off to the spare bedroom in protest at having to listen to the squawking of the chooks, demanding a peaceful drift in to sleep (yes, we have a television in the bedroom, which I admit is worse than wearing pyjamas).

Soon I realised I'd have been better off joining my partner, or heading off to the dentist to get a tooth extracted than endure the mind-numbing tedium orchestrated by Tony Jones. What a waste of a talent. Here's hoping it does something for the ratings of the ABC, because it does nothing for meaningful or useful debate.

The questions were frequently set-up, bland Dorothy Dixers, the fix being firmly in, and whenever a hare was let loose, it was never followed to its lair. It was like a badly organised, inchoate question time in federal parliament. Or worse still, the kind of all in political brawl we used to have around the family dinner table, when politics could become a kind of rebellious family feud, where the need for sense was always outstripped by the need to score a point.

Now I know why I only head off to the show online, for the transcript or the chance for a little selective digital viewing (here). The show's only interesting if a stumble bum makes a stumble, and while the panel was generally offensive, no one took down a hurdle in a way that got the blood pumping. No one produced an incisive or useful insight either.

The two social commentators provided as window dressing veered off into the scrub occasionally without result, pursuing their own pet peeves, while Satyajit Das was comprehensively painful whenever given a chance to preen, ponce, admonish, and make points that wanted to be incisive but ended up indecipherable.

That left the showdown between raging bull Barnaby and the unprepossessing Lindsay Tanner, and it too was a bust. To the point where I began to suspect someone had sneaked into the barn and hit him up with a dose of PCP or ketamine.

Even the pundits found it hard to wring a little juice from the show, as Mark Davis tries in Barnaby lite on Q&A but he has to spend time dragging in other matters to get up to length.

His conclusion? The show was a bust for Banraby watchers. After noting that Barners got done over early by Tanner on the subject of debt, he pinpoints the dullness of the performance:

... more problematically for the product differentiation strategy, Joyce was also clearly trying to avoid getting himself into trouble with his Liberal colleagues in the Coalition.

The convoluted syntax and off-key analogies were still there, but the Joycean fire in the belly was suppressed; responses to questions were kept safe, much like any other risk-averse frontbench politician trying to stay on message in an election year.

Thus is the maverick returning to the fold.

Well you're never too old to learn a lesson, and the lesson here is hard won. Never ever watch Q&A live, unless you either (a) want to shout at an uncaring screen; (b) nod off into somnolescent despair; (c) watch in disbelief as incoherent panellists prove intelligent, rational debate is beyond them.

Why am I reminded of my brother, who snuck himself under the tent flap, and got himself inside a strip routine at the Tamworth show? That's how he discovered the art of the shill, with the stripper doing a long, tedious strip, and then holding up a card saying "censored" when she got down to the juicy bits. Talk about a bummer. Now at last, having been lured into the Q&A tent with false promises and hope, I feel his despair.

Q&A is a shill, with plenty of peas under the three coconuts.

I see that next week they've got Malcolm Turnbull and Tanya Plibersek as the politicians, and Mungo MacCallum, John Roskam and Jane Caro as the colour and movement commentators.

Thanks, but no thanks. I've got an important engagement to have a tooth pulled, and I offered the dentist double to do it the night of the show ...

(Below: oh well never mind, back to Barnaby the comic strip where you might find hidden signs and meanings).


  1. What a long-winded rant about nothing in particular other than your apparent dislike of Q&A.

    Granted, it was made a little more interesting with the funny Barnaby pics. Interesting, though still inane.

  2. Welcome to loon pond.

    Seinfeld is a show about nothing.

    Perhaps we should go looking for something ane. To balance the inane.

    Or run more funny pictures.

    Here's some more funny pictures:

  3. love your work dorothy,just ignore him and please nothing ane.

  4. No ane?

    Right, it's back to insane as befits loon pond. Come on down daffy duck.


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