Thursday, February 21, 2013

The empty canvas ... saved by that nattering elitist of the chattering classes, Maurice Newman ...

(Above: how the pond occasionally feels. Show me the money!)

Sometimes the pond wakes in the middle of the night with an anxiety attack, uncertain about what tomorrow will bring.

Will there be someone, anyone, ready to step up to the plate, to hit the mark, to deliver the goods that deserve a place in these august pages?

Or will the pond be confronted by the horror that novelist Alberto Moravia once described as The Empty Canvas?

I know, I know, it's a silly neurosis. When has the long absent lord failed to provide, when has She fallen short, when has that ceaseless cornucopia known as the opinion pages of The Australian frefusd to deliver?

Come on down, Maurice Newman, hit us with your best shot:

What a most excellent and beguiling notion, and never mind the demeaning apostrophes.

A former chair of the ABC, which surely qualifies as some kind of intellectually elite position, lecturing us, or hectoring us about the lecturing and the hectoring we constantly endure from intellectual elites.

For those who came down in the last shower, Newman is a member of the stockbroking and investment banking elite. He was chair of the ASX, he was managing director and executive chair of Deutsche Bank Asia Pacific, and he has been an epic adviser to Australian governments, as well as serving as Chancellor of Macquarie University.

The pond can barely begin to cover and chart all of his elitist skills, so you can revert to his wiki here for more leet insights. He's the insider's insider, he's the elitist's preferred elitist, he is, to put it mildly, the quintessential elitist, an elitist of the very finest water.

So the use of the word "elites" began to sound like a dazzling example of reflexive post-modernist irony, as good as any doing the rounds, and the pond was immediately beguiled.

What for example were the odds that George Orwell would get a run?

Sure enough, if you click on All animals are equal, but some want to tell us what you can say, you get an Orwellian bazinga in the opening par.

Now of course first of all you'll have to get around The Australian's paywall - one of the features of being lectured to or hectored by, or badgered up hill and down dale, by the hectoring, lecturing, badgering intellectual elites that frequent the pages of the rag is that you have to pay to be abused. 

Fork over that gold bar, or the entrance is barred by a digital door bitch of fearsome appearance.

For free you get this blithe post-modernist, post-ironic assertion:

By deciding on allegory, George Orwell disarmingly presented his morality tale in a way that would most resonate with his readers. Orwell believed that people often see in abstract what they fail to grasp in the real world.

Which is an outrage when you think of it, because Newman starts off his column with a couple of choice pars from Animal Farm featuring that famous pig Napoleon. And yet here he is already asserting readers don't have a clue, though the header proposed that he was one of us, and fiendish others were telling us what we might or might not say.

Which is supremely funny, because it's really a short odds bet that Orwell, a life-long socialist and a disliker of bankers, and above all, a disliker of the jargon-inclined, people who throw around words like "intellectual elites" like a kind of shorthand confetti, would have hated Newman's column. 

After all, if the pond may be Orwellian for a moment, he noted in one essay, Politics and the English language, that 

Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.

The pond absolutely refuses to follow Orwell's injunction, because the surest sign of a blatherer of wind, a man wanting to make Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt sound truthful, is the use of "intellectual elites" or "elites", most usually deployed by a member of said "elites".

Sure enough, with Newman, Orwell is merely an excuse for a rant, a rant of the most predictable kind, one that's been doing the rounds long before Colonel Blimp cartoons made mockery of it.

Here's that quote in full:

Like it or not, we are accustomed to being lectured to, or hectored, by intellectual elites. Our children are conditioned to believe their country's history is dark. It is commonplace to have iconic anniversaries such as Australia Day and Anzac Day demeaned as celebrations of violence.

Because of course Australia was terra nullius and was peacefully possessed by the peace-loving British, without any fuss at all, and Australia is a peace-loving nation, which has nonetheless managed to front up to almost any war doing the rounds in the last century or so. Got a Boer to bash? Mounting a crusade against mad Mullash? Give us a call.

But do go on, hit us with every verbal cliche and stereotype you can manage:

We are urged to celebrate diversity through multiculturalism but must repress feelings of outrage when recent arrivals show contempt for our way of life. We are often reminded that Christianity, the flag and the monarchy are cultural relics. Businessmen are portrayed as class enemies, to be reined in by more regulations and stiffer penalties. The green movement is lauded as our saviour for whom the rest of us must be reined in. The list is endless, but the narrative is consistent. Our values and traditions are sadly wanting and barely worth defending. 

Where to start with that list of sullen outrage? What would Orwell make of a phrase like "contempt for our way of life"? What would he make of the notion of a British flag in the Australian flag? What would he say about Prince Chuckie, the talking tampon, being culturally relevant to Australia today, as he steps up to the throne?

What would he make of Newman using him to defend values he routinely mocked? Would he be contemptuous of Newman's slack way of phrase-making? Is Newman's invocation of "class enemies" right up there as one of Orwell's well-worn phrases and lumps of verbal refuse?

But do go on:

As in Animal Farm, on multiple fronts, these shortcomings are driven home by so-called progressive intellectuals who manipulate the language to denigrate the established order and to present the utopia they would impose on us.

Yes you can laugh now, because in his day, Orwell would have been called a progressive intellectual. He would have resisted the charge but there's any number of examples of the Newmans of the day harumphing about his socialist ways.

But let's not stop there. Let the full flow of verbiage resound throughout the land:

Little wonder that in a recent Lowy Institute poll, 60 per cent of Australians are now indifferent to democracy while only 39 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds believe democracy is preferable to other forms of government. 
 One of the remaining obstacles to the full realisation of the intelligentsia's utopian dream is obedience. If critics can be controlled through propaganda and having the law narrowly define what speech is legal, we will arrive at their promised land more quickly. 

Ah, the intelligentsia and their utopian dream and their propaganda ways. Why odds on, they'll be Stalinists or Nazis or fascists in disguise, and they'll attack noble democrats, like shock jocks and rabid right wing ratbag demagogues:

As the concerted attacks last year on Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt illustrate, progress is being made. Indeed, so ferocious was the furore over Jones's insensitive remarks, that a broadcaster with a lesser following would have been shut down by opponents who don't even listen to him. The findings against Bolt were straight out of Orwell. It is a reminder that if laws are created to limit freedom of expression, they will be used.

What's straight out of Orwell is the notion that you can defend a journalist for being woefully inaccurate, and a shock jock for routinely being offensive. It was of course the chief defect of the Weimar republic that it tolerated the likes of Maurice Newman explaining how Adolf Hitler should be listened to because he had interesting points about the Jews to make.

Oops, okay, okay, here's ten shekels for the Godwin's Law swear jar, but that's really the half the point isn't it.

When confronted by this rhetorical humbuggery, which obscures the issues and covers up what actually happened in relation to Jones and Bolt and their egregious and offensive errors, the inclination is to join in the game, and be merely abusive.

Because no, the findings against Bolt weren't straight out of Orwell, they were straight out based on the reality that he'd fucked up in terms of facts. And no amount of Orwellian double-speak should be allowed to obscure that fact.

But let's not stand in the way of Newman ranting on and on and on and on:

Determined to increase its control over the media and using the News of the World controversy as a pretext, the federal government established the Finkelstein inquiry into the media's codes of practice. The inquiry found that regulation of Australia's news media was inconsistent, fragmented and ineffective, in part, the consequence of technological change. But it was also based on the Press Council's lament that it can't do its job properly. This begs the question of how wide its remit should be? 
 Finkelstein seemed concerned by the public's loss of trust in the media. But neither he nor any future regulator can effectively deal with this. When editors and journalists do not report fairly, cover up the truth, or advocate values at odds with their market, it is unsurprising that audiences switch off. Clearly there is a large unsatisfied demand for balance and truth and, sooner or later, this will be recognised by proprietors, investors and better journalist schools. In the meantime the internet will be the default, not government. 

So things are fucked in the media world - see the Murdoch press for abundant examples, and your only choice is to switch off, or start a blog on the intertubes?

It's an amazingly childish analysis for someone who can rightly claim a prestigious place in Australia's intellectual elites.

Running through the piece is a kind of hysterical paranoia about the government:

A key Finkelstein recommendation was to replace self-regulation with a government authority. This confidence in government suggests that freedom of speech was not paramount in his deliberations. 
 The government's determination to control our lives did not stop at a media inquiry. The draft Human Rights and Anti-discrimination Bill 2012 seeks to further restrict our freedoms. While softened somewhat following strong criticisms, including from eminent retired judges, the reverse onus of proof remains, along with an expansion of victimhood. 

Ah victimhood, another evocative word and a first class Orwellian deployment, along with the notion of the guvmint restricting our freedoms.

But truth to tell right at this minute, there is no sign at all that the guvmint is intent on restricting the right of Maurice Newman and his shock jock and demagogue buddies to rant and rail interminably, assaulting whomever they like and then moaning when the assaulted don the pathetic garbs of victimhood.

It's just so unfair. Why Newman and Bolt and Jones are the only ones entitled to victimhood, they're the ones being persecuted.

What, we were wrong? Oh stop being such whining pussies, stop donning the garb of victimhood which rightly belongs to us.

But wait, we haven't yet collected all the best examples of Orwellian language that infest Newman's piece:

The government says it never intended to restrict free speech, but the fact is, while it preaches liberty, it is about coercion. The bill is an ambit claim. We may ask, to whom is the government appealing? Since when has limiting our basic freedoms been advocated in an election campaign? 
There is no popular groundswell. The government is responding to the collectivist instincts of those intellectuals who hold liberty in low regard. It isn't so long ago that an academic floated the idea that we "suspend democracy" to silence climate change sceptics. Authoritarian government appeals to these people. 

There's a few classics there. Some might love the collectivist instincts of those intellectuals who hold liberty in low regard - it really is a ripper - but the pond really treasures Authoritarian government appeals to these people.

These people! Why that's a close cousin to you people.

But who are these people? Why at that point you must just flutter your hands in the air, and say, you people, with an exasperated sight. You see, in the end, it's everybody, it's all you bloody useless people, it's the abjectly hopeless GP.

All the while, the public has been detached from the consequences of the government's actions, accepting, somewhat gullibly, the well-meaning intent of minority protection without appreciating the erosion of its own rights. 

Yes, you see, it's the public, the entire bunch of yobbos and bogans and ne'er do wells, the useless bludgers who don't have a clue.

Hapless drifters and losers. They don't seem to understand that Alan Jones inciting them to riot on Cronulla beach is in dire peril!

What they need is strong leadership, a firm hand, someone astute enough to recognise their leader-less ways.

What they need is Maurice Newman ... or perhaps Alan Jones, or Andrew Bolt or Gina Rinehart ... or Napoleon.

Yes the only way to resist the guvmint and the intellectual elites is to rise up and appoint a fearless leader, one who will take charge of everything and ensure our freedom to follow them.

Perhaps we could all sit in admiring silence at an assembly and listen to their sound advice, but without any tedious debate, hedging, finessing or disagreement. After all:

What it should know is that ceding freedom is never temporary. It simply leads to regular Sunday-morning assemblies, but without the debate. Far fetched? Believe that at your peril.

Yes, and if you have a bone to pick with Mr. Newman, don't expect access to The Australian or to the Murdoch press or to commercial radio or television.

Start your own blog, it's the only way.

Or wear in solemn silence Newman's ritual abuse of Orwell, such that the poor lad must revolve in his grave at least every other day.

Far fetched? Believe that at your peril, because look, the sky is falling in, quick run, run to the hills.

Oh and by the way, Squirrel!

And to think the pond was worried about an empty canvas, a blank page. Why Newman could fill it for days, for years ... and we haven't even mentioned climate science or wind farms or the herd mentality of the hopeless public ...

(Below: so here's a couple of images for the paywall folk. The first one is nicely Orwellian, don't you think).


  1. It says a lot about Newman (and The Australian) that he doesn't know the meaning of the phrase "beg the question" (This begs the question of how wide its remit should be?). A wordsmith who doesn't know the meaning of words. What would Orwell say?

  2. Bravo Dorothy Parker. Newman and The Australian sliced and diced,chewed up and spat into the intellectual imbecile bin of irrelevence. A lesson on how to turn a blank canvas into a masterpiece.Thank you.

  3. Yes I totally agree, you have outdone yourself and that's saying something!

  4. Why, thank you kindly, while trying to remember how the slightly mad Vivien Leigh curtsied in GWTW, and while realising that Maurice is no Brett, which made it infinitely more fun to get out the hatchet.

  5. Dear Dorothy,

    Love your work!

    Wondered if you follow these two fearless crusaders in the same line of work as yourself


  6. No I hadn't seen them Anon, but thanks for the tip. The intertubes is so full of stuff!


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