Friday, March 22, 2013

The pond's in the mood for banning someone, anyone will do ...

(Above: banned covers from Censor nostalgia, found here, because they're more amusing than the Daily Terror and Cassandra Wilkinson)

Thanks to yesterday's proceedings, the pond now has a deeper and richer understanding of the meaning of Harmony Day.

Now on to other business.

The pond has only two very firm rules when it comes to rock ' roll, and here they are:

1. Never ever go to a stadium to endure distorted sound surrounded by a jabbering pack of noisy hyenas;
2. Never ever go to hear an artist enjoyed in youth, and now, voice fading and limbs aging, trotted out for a farewell tour and a last big score.

Now you might wonder why the pond is breaking both, in one go, to wander off to see Bruce "the Boss' Springsteen.

Two words.

George Brandis.

The moment Brandis wrote these dickhead words, the pond knew it was doomed:

Exciting interest in cultural policy in the Gillard government is a task of almost Sisyphean hopelessness. The Treasurer's idea of high culture is Bruce Springsteen. Among the rest of the hatchet-faced ex-trade union officials and dodgy union lawyers, indifference is as good as it gets. Better that than hostility - for many the default position. Crean is surrounded by colleagues to whom the arts sector has the whiff of dangerous elitism - yet another set of enemies in the class war. (Our Philistine Treasurer and the art of shelving culture, behind the paywall because Brandis needs to be hidden).

What a dickhead, a dickhead non pareil, a dickhead of the first water, a pompous pretentious git, and a fool to boot.

The pond just had to show solidarity with the Boss. Oh sure next week it'll be back to the Wittgenstein and the Shostakovich and the New York Review of Books, but right now, the Boss is hurting, he's bleeding, and he needs a little love, not dickhead class warfare hate.

Oh sure getting really cheap good tickets made the gesture a little easier, but it's not the money, it's the dickhead principle of the thing.

So tomorrow morning the pond might be rising a little late, the tinnitus still ringing in the ears. But it's worth it, just to shove it up that hopeless ass George Brandis.

Put it another way, there's more to life than politics, and there's way more than a media obsessed with the Labor party leadership, and the triumphalism of the Greens, the nattering negativity of Tony Abbott, and the shattering of dreams with an emperor who refused to don any clothes at all, or bung on a do ...

Was there any a more tragic header than Rudd support was just 'an illusion'?

The implication? Why reading the Fairfax rags this past week has been reading 'just an illusion' ...

Meanwhile, two actual events took place yesterday - the NBN figures for its rollout were announced yesterday, and they are a disgrace.

And Tony Abbott disgraced himself in relationship to an audience where all he had to do was roll out an apology.

Now it might have seen like a technical breach, but once again it reflects Abbott's boofhead nature, and suspicion of his links to the Catholic church might well have been bubbling beneath the surface. 

You don't have to look far to learn that one of the chief arms of the church has refused to apologise for its role in the cruelty, though St Vincent de Paul assisted in adoptions, a nice wording for an organisation which cruelly defrauded mothers and stole their children ...

Like many others in the country, the pond has had an inexcusably badly treated bastard in its family ranks, but the real bastardry was the treatment of the forced adoption by bastard organisations using a bastard concept of bastardry as an excuse for emotional cruelty of an exceptional kind. That Abbott or his writer didn't get it, and would use words like "relinquishment" is bizarre

But enough of this, let's return to lighthearted themes, there ought to be loons, where are the loons, send in the loons, come on down Cassandra Wilkinson, and scribble for us Left champions freedom for art, not for tabloid (behind the paywall, because some things should be limited, if not banned outright).

Yes, it's time to go round the mulberry bush one more time with the paranoid Murdoch line.

The funny thing is that Wilkinson's piece shows signs of a hasty re-tread:

Although the Gillard government's proposed Public Interest Media Advocate has been shelved for now, the debate about the bill exposed the Left's increasingly uncomfortable relationship with censorship.

Uh huh. Conroy's media bills were shelved, but I've already written the piece, so let's do that opening line, and then let's trawl through history and pretend that it was progressives and the left that were the dynamic behind the battle against censorship in Australia.

It's a most egregious version of the story, and it uses a word the pond loathes, "progressive", as a catch-all, as in:

Progressive Australians and the political Left spent the 20th century arguing to be allowed to read Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, Frank Hardy's Power Without Glory, JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch, along with works by Norman Lindsay, Gore Vidal and Mickey Spillane.

That entirely misinterprets what happened. Throughout the twentieth century there might have been some on the left who resented political censorship, but a fair number of them were also prudes and quite content with censorship when it came to sexual matters.

It was, for example, the Scullin Labor government that gave Norman Lindsay a hard time, and banned Lindsay's novel "Redheap", along with another 174 "indecent" books out of a total of 294 books that had been banned up to the end of 1931 (see the interesting article by Patricia Holt on Censorship, citizenship and democracy c 1930-1960).

And without wanting to sound too Gerard Henderson about it, it was Arthur Calwell who was the wartime minister for censorship, and it was Calwell who bunged on a do with newspapers:

Calwell brought to this post an ingrained distrust of the press, sharpened by his capacity for splendid invective and his delight in provocation—'stirring the possum' as he put it. He gave his opinion of the Australian press in parliament in November 1941: 'It is owned for the most part by financial crooks and is edited for the most part by mental harlots'. Mounting antagonism between Calwell and the newspaper proprietors came to a climax on 16 April 1944 with the seizure of copies of the Sydney Sunday Telegraph for flouting censorship rules. Next morning the Sydney dailies published a common statement challenging the powers of the censors. Calwell endorsed action by Commonwealth peace officers to confiscate all copies of the offending editions. The High Court of Australia granted an injunction against the suppression. It was at this time that Australian newspaper cartoonists began to caricature Calwell as a cockatoo, seizing on the most obvious aspects of a physiognomy which he himself wryly conceded had 'a kind of rugged grandeur'. (see Graham Freudenberg's witty profile of Calwell for the ADB here).

The point, and it's a banal one, is that wowsers, banners and censors lurk in both parties and have always done so, and the history of censorship is no simple-minded history of nobel progressive Australians and the political Left doing the right thing, and evil conservatives being wrong.

What's more, this kind of narrative leaves out the work of people like liberal-minded Don Chipp chipping away at the censorship structure.

Wilkinson really doesn't have a clue, and here's the way that shows she's clueless, as she yabbers on about Piss Christ, Ken Park, David and Margaret:

Through the years the cultural elite has rallied around hundreds of works, from Salo and Kids to this year's banned favourite, I Want Your Love by Travis Mathews.

Yep, suddenly we've jumped from progressives and leftists to cultural elitists, in the standard Murdoch way, and the inevitable conclusion follows:

It is not wrong or surprising that culturally sophisticated people defended art from the censors. It is only surprising that the same people can't bring themselves to rebuke the proposed censorship of "tabloid media". 

At no time in Wilkinson's piece does she produce evidence that the proposal for a Public Interest Media Advocate was directed at the "tabloid media". At no time does she explain what the proposed censorship would have involved.

The proposed new regulations were exceptionally mild and feeble and ultimately involved a form of self-reulgation. The model  was a very different notion to Conroy's useless notion of a vast internet filter for the intertubes (which Wilkinson proposes was just a website blacklist).

And it's around this point that Wilkinson jumps the shark, nukes the fridge and shows she's imbibed way too much of the News Ltd kool aid:

It is odd, to say the least, that freedom to report the news as we see fit attracts less support from the Left than freedom to blaspheme or freedom to watch pornography. 

Funnily enough, there was absolutely nothing in Conroy's proposal that would have seen the Daily Terror censored or banned for proposing that he was a sociopath up there with Stalin and Chairman Mao.

But to present that sort of monstrous stupidity - it's too dumb to pass as satire, and way too far over the top to defend itself as irony - as reporting the news "as we see fit" is comedy of the first water.

Which brings us full circle:

Given the progressive Left's history of supporting freedom from censorship as a minimum condition of political freedom, it is startling that a Labor government would propose greater restrictions on freedom of speech. That the "progressive" Greens committed to support these measures made the hypocrisy complete. 

Except of course that this is a distorted view of the progressive Left's history, just as you might hunt in vain down the decades of the twentieth century evidence that a progressive Right simply didn't exist.

Censorship in Australia has a complex history, one worth looking at in detail, especially the way that conservative members of the Left co-joined with conservative members of the Right to form a league of wowsers that dominated censorship activities for a century (the censorship of political literature a different activity but also had its share of cross-party banners).

Instead Wilkinson offers up this as a concluding par:

Of all the forms of speech that protect us from tyranny, the freedom to write about society with a critical mind is fundamental. Stead knew this truth in 1935 and it remains as true today - even if The Daily Telegraph thinks so too.

Well may we all conclude that the freedom to write about society with a critical mind is fundamental, which is why it's an even greater tragedy that the incoherent, conflating and confused Wilkinson can't seem to write about the history of censorship - despite the freedom offered to her - with a critical, considered mind.

And if she's going to offer critical minds worth defending, why on earth does she hoist her petard above the Daily Terror, as unlike a critical mind as Genghis Khan.

Happily there are alternatives available online. You can now get a thumbnail chronology of Australian Censorship History here, along with a lot of other information.

An interesting complement is Peter Coleman's - hardly a leftist's - dated Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition, reviewed here, which notes how both sides of the aisle were active in the game, and which was re-released by poor old Duffy & Snellgrove here. There's also an excellent overview of banned books, a bibliography presented by way of introduction at Austlit here.

Sadly if you track back from the titles and the actions, it's not just the likes of Lyons' government Minister for Trade and Customs Thomas White who were in the banning game. Alleged leftists were just as keen, and you will find leftists  right here, right now, willing to cluck and tut about video games and violence and comic books and television.

There is an argument, and the pond buys it, that Australia adopted a system of censorship more stringent than Britain simply to show it was more pure than the motherland. While you're thinking about it, why not have a listen to Prudes, Pervs, and Paper Tigers, downloadable from RN.

What's most irritating in this context is the way the Murdoch press has conflated the latest Conroy episode with an attack on freedom of the press.

There has never been a right in Australia to defame, distort, lie, mislead, misrepresent, or abuse the truth in the media, especially in relation to individuals. The problem has always been what to do when the press or the media more generally gets it wrong, or a Bolter rarely in possession of the facts, or an Alan Jones makes an inflammatory or defamatory remark.

When this happens, the problem has been that defamation law is effectively the province of the rich, and the right to take action against the media has always been the reserve of the rich, such as Gina Rinehart, who can take action against the press and journalists in a cavalier fashion in pursuit of a mere family feud, involving mere money.

Right now the best ACMA can offer is a whipping with a lettuce leaf, and the Press Council is a joke attempting to reform itself so it sounds and seems less pathetic.

To dress all this up as reporting the news as we see fit - which is to say fuck you and fuck the truth and let the courts and the devil take the hindmost - is sophistry of the worst kind.

If Conroy is so bad, why hasn't the media come up with its own decent and effective method of self-regulation, to prevent the onanism we so regularly see in public? (not that there's anything wrong with onanism, the pond has no biblical banning tendencies, but surely the spilling of seeds is best done in private).

Anyway, roll on the Boss, as a way of shoving it up Brandis, and come to think of it, as a way to avoid the desire to ban Cassandra Wilkinson for silliness, and abject ignorance of Australian cultural history, and tabloidism in an alleged broadsheet.

Stop it Ms Wilkinson, or you might well go blind ...

(Below: more banned covers from Censor nostalgia, found here. Oh dear, that looks confronting. Can someone call the Australian Catholic Labor Liberal party for human decency? Can someone organise a joint press conference so Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard can explain why they've banned gay marriage? And the Murdoch press approves?)

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