The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Ms Bishop Rode in a Helicopter!

Roughly eighty percent of my cumulative social media news feed is actually news. NPR, ASPI, FPI, BBC, ABC – the alphabet soup goes on and on. On top of this, I have my special interest feeds made up of forums and push sites for everything from hacking to design to international security. With all this heavy, worthy information, the tiny remnant that is cat pictures, dinner shots and someone’s wife in a bikini is something that I often fail to notice at all.

With this configuration, you’d think that I’d managed to scrub most of the stupid from my social media experience but, unfortunately, in a moment of conscience-pricked madness, I chose a handful of feeds relating to Australian politics. I know, I know – but I thought that, as I’m constantly banging on about the ‘informed electorate’ and the ‘engaged citizen’, it would be seriously hypocritical of me not to keep at least half an eye on the goings on in my own country’s corridors of power. Which is fine, but the result is that I have simply replaced all the angst I suffered from the ‘I have nothing to say and will say it without learning to spell’ crew with ‘Australian politics’. Let me explain…

In the rest of my news feed, the Greek PM appears to have partially won his game of hardball with Europe, but potentially lost it with his own country. A moment to go down in history on multiple levels has occurred – the Iran nuclear deal has gone through. A group of very smart people are explaining to me why China’s stock market value is predicated on money that doesn’t exist and why this is okay for now, but not for the future. Another group of very smart people is inundating me with impossible numbers relating to Pluto. Boffins from all over the world are analysing and predicting ripple effects from the Greek debt crisis and the Iranian nuclear deal. Other boffins are breaking these and other situations down for me into dot-point briefs and detailed reports. Somebody has taken a picture of his wife in a bikini. and a man in Florida has been arrested for repeatedly having revenge sex with an alligator. Okay – so it’s not all highbrow, but you’ve got to admit that it’s all mindbogglingly interesting, at least.

And in the ‘Australian politcs’ section? Breathless, blow by blow coverage of a five thousand dollar helicopter trip taken by Bronwyn Bishop to a golf course somewhere.

Leaving aside the fact that the fact that Bronwyn Bishop travelling anywhere in the general direction of away from me is good news, this is a little disturbing. It’s not as if nothing important or interesting is happening in the world of Australian politics. The efforts of the government to pretend that customs and immigration operations are military. Their breathtaking fiscal radicalism and the embarrassing backdowns and compromises that the public’s rejection of this has caused. The endless stream of ill-considered, ill-drafted and downright dangerous national security legislation that seem to have worrying amounts of support from both sides of the house. The admirable but worryingly rushed push for globalisation behind our participation in deals like the TPP. The list goes on.

So why, then, are we pre-occupied with trivialities like Ms Bishop’s logistical arrangements? I don’t know. On the one hand, we could blame the government itself. It’s no secret that their favourite tactic for offsetting their somewhat moribund record so far is to distract us with crises and trivialities, but there is another side to this depressing, tinfoil coin and that side is us. Why do we allow ourselves to be distracted in this way? Why oh why do we consent to the government’s framing of the political debate as a conversation about nothing? Well, it probably has to do with our need to be entertained.

There’s a show that ran for three series in the US called ‘The Newsroom’. It’s about a news team that made the revolutionary decision to structure their news broadcast on the radical proposition that the duty of news broadcasters is to educate and inform the electorate. In it, one of the characters points out that, currently, news organisations are in exactly the same business as the producers of Jersey Shore. This is sadly accurate. The line between news and entertainment has become so blurred that political coverage now has a similar intelligence quotient to celebrity coverage. The political narrative is nearly indistinguishable from the narrative of Masterchef. And the media themselves are only partially to blame because how on Earth can we blame for profit businesses for supplying a type of product that we lap up with such avidity? They can’t – not really.

Let’s get serious, people. If we want to be entertained, there is a planet-sized body of drama, comedy and reality programming out there ranging from the compelling to the asinine, all fictional, all sensational and all deeply satisfying in its own way. But when it comes to the news – when it comes to the information that we as voting citizens have a sacred duty to obtain and assimilate – let’s try, if we can, to refuse the clickbait trivia that we stumbled into demanding and send a message to the networks that we no longer consent to having important information ignored, sensationalised or trivialised. If we can do this, we can perhaps avoid ever again having to deal with the kind of government and political discourse we have today.

The link below is from ‘The Newsroom’, containing a fictional apology to the US public that should, in my view, be made to every audience of practically every Western media outlet. I am currently working on our apology to the networks for demanding trivia and then complaining when we receive it.



Category: Asinine, Politics


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