Tarts, floozies and endless holes

At risk of piling on to an already quivering heap of sanctimony and outrage, there are some things that need to be said about last night’s Q&A.

First, the absence of serving politicians makes the show considerably more watchable. No one really wants to see Mark Dreyfus and Sophie Mirabella do their level best* to avoid hurling voluminous epithets at one another across the bench in between recited talking points.

The presence of smart, urbane people on the panel makes it immediately better. To paraphrase one of Mr Denmore‘s tweets that night, the show works best when it feels like you’re watching a particularly sprightly and animated dinner party, attended by witty, well informed people from various political stripes. Last night was close to that.

However (and you just knew the ‘however’ was coming), there was a great deal to be deeply worried about.

Barry Humphries may be a living treasure and all, but it’s probably past the decade when you can refer to someone’s skin colour being dark because he was ‘poorly lit’, and have that be the joke. Not the setup to some witty play on racial politics, but The Joke.

It’s probably past time that you can refer to a sex worker as a ‘tart’ purely because she’s a sex worker. In particular, coming from David Marr, it was deeply disappointing. Then, rounding on Gina Rinehart, calling her ‘fat and ugly’, and referring to her mine being and ‘endless hole’ (to the self-satisfied chortling of the audience) began to point to a ‘casual misogyny‘, which is far better covered in this piece by News With Nipples.

Worst of all, perhaps, was the open and willing hypocrisy of pretty much the entire panel when, after tearing into Gina Rinehart’s personal appearance because of her temerity to make money and speak out on mining taxes and carbon prices, they then rapidly sprung to the defence of Cate Blanchett and her right to speak out on carbon prices.

They were appalled – appalled – at the way Ms Blanchett was treated by the media when she poked her head up, seemingly unaware that they sat at a desk being beamed live across the country by the national broadcaster while calling Australia’s richest woman fat and ugly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Rinehart fan, and I can’t stand her (and her ilk’s) effectiveness at dominating the national conversation on the Importance Of Mining To Australia. In fact, it was pretty depressing to see Tony Jones leap to Rinehart’s defence by trotting out the tired (and measurably wrong) line that she was an innovator and job creator whose industry single-handedly saved the Australian economy. The fact that one of the most august presenters on one of the most august programmes was buying into that particular piece of garbage justifies attacks on Rinehart’s bullshit advocacy for her own interests. But it doesn’t justify politically slanted misogyny.

Which raises the question why Jones saw fit to defend Rinehart’s economic importance, but not her simple human dignity? Why did he not quietly pull up Marr (who, I will give the benefit of the doubt and was simply on a bit of a verbal tear) when he started smearing a sex worker whose ACA interview had yet to air? Why did he not tell Ms Margolyes that calling a woman ‘fat and ugly’ is probably inappropriate on a high-minded national TV show (which raises the question of why he didn’t correct Germaine Greer for her ‘you’ve got a big arse, Julia’ crack a few months back)?

While it’s great to have entertainers, with their carefree willingness to be, you know, entertaining, on the show, the fact that they are less accountable than politicians means they are often less careful with their words. And that can lead to trouble.

The biggest problem behind all of this was the fact that those delivering on the hypocrisy and sexism were, by and large, hugely charming and funny, with impeccable comic timing. The old adage that you can get away with saying or doing anything if its funny tends to stand true. Last night’s panel was, by and large, stocked with professional entertainers, well-versed in the art of bringing the crowd along with them. And bring the crowd along they did, all the way to ‘Gina’s endless hole’. I’ll happily admit to catching myself chuckling at some of the gags before realising their substance.

Q&A is a hugely important part of Australia’s social, political and cultural scene, and the willingness of the producers to forgo the easy option of commissioning a shouting match between opposing politicians should be commended. But please, please, let’s just try to remember that if even a show like Q&A can’t keep its head out of the muck, what can we possibly expect from this?

*not very good

Pining for “Macavaney”

Whatever the field of endeavour, you don’t need to look particularly far to find some entirely unqualified prognosticator making a declinist argument about its inevitable doom.

Oftentimes, these are not founded in a genuine belief, but are a writer taking a brief moment of pessimism, caused by seeing something even more egregiously stupid than ordinarily visible (like accidentally reading an Andrew Bolt column) and extending the existence of that thing to its logical endgame.

Today: sport. More specifically, AFL. More specifically still, the coverage thereof. It’s hardly a trailblazing notion that the world of those who are paid to prognosticate about footy tend towards the ‘no sharp objects’ end of the IQ spectrum, but the undergraduate misogyny of those reprobates on The Footy Show isn’t where the problem is.

That august Thursday night institution, approaching its twentieth anniversary, is so mired in the grit of its own faux-controversial navel that it is easily forgotten that it was in 1999 that Sam Newman went blackface to attract the maxlols of the suburban intelligentsia. In fact, a little known fact is that ‘Sam Newman Controversies’ has managed to score its own Wikipedia page.

Likewise, the increasing level of exposure that the show has given us to footballers, along with the wider media’s obsession with the foibles of its players off the field, has left the world with a vanishingly small amount of respect for those who play the game.

Frankly, this sucks. I love footy. It is, even after the AFL rules committee have spent several years sodomising it with a broomstick, still one of the most wonderfully thrilling sports in the world. Fast, free-flowing, skillful, tough, graceful, it has everything. Including a bunch of heavily tattooed mouth-breathers making the watching all the harder.

When a sport is diminished by knowledge of the personalities of its players, trouble be brewing.

But this is not about trudging through the vapid sinkhole of scatology and shame that channel nine wheels out every year around March. Nor is it about meatheads who cross-dress while sporting giant phalluses from their skirts. Rather, the problem is the steep, worrying decline of what is ostensibly ‘intelligent’ football coverage.

Footy Classified is channel nine’s attempt at ‘thinky’ television. That sentence alone should be deeply intimidating. But in search of some sanity in the realm of football commentary, and with the rapidly fading memory of ‘Talking Footy’ dwindling in the rear-view mirror, I decided recently to dive in, in the vain hope of hearing someone say something smart about football.

What I was subjected to was an hour of three ostensibly smart men beating their heads against one another while seeing who could most insidiously belittle Caroline Wilson. Wilson, while not exactly Australia’s foremost sportswriter, at least knows how to leverage her Richmond pedigree into access into various footy nooks, and couples it with an ability to couch gossip with a decent veneer of ‘newsworthiness’. Craig Hutchison, Garry Lyon and Grant Thomas, on the other hand, are quite simply an inexplicable presence on our screens.

With segment names like ‘Good Call, Bad Call’ (where panelists are asked to provide two-word assessments of decisions by various players and coaches) and ‘Caro’s Arrow’ (seriously, I don’t even), Footy Classified has managed to take the dumbing down of sports to entirely new pits of despair.

Talking Footy was hardly Walkley Award-winning stuff, but at least it was a sensible conversation about footy between people who simply wanted to have a smart conversation about footy (and Malcolm Blight), and not a collection of fiercely stupid egomaniacs desperately seeking a new way to score points against one another.

It’s a damn shame. And I haven’t even written about channel seven’s actual coverage yet.

Bettina aren’t

If you don’t know who Bettina Arndt is, you’re probably better for it. Under the guise of being a ‘sex therapist’, she has spent the last several years telling women that they are obligated to lie down and think of England in order to save their marriages. Because she asked men about it.

Her thesis, in short, is that in long-lasting, monogamous relationships tend to lapse into sexless, miserable affairs, a situation caused entirely by women’s flagging libidos. Arndt has allegedly spent years interviewing thousands of red-blooded Australian men, and has found that serious relationships are populated by greying, disengorged automatons, grinding through the minutiae of life without any verve or élan in their sex lives.

Today, she was speaker at the Wheeler Centre, running her familiar line. Here are some of the killer quotes from the presentation:

“Life as a hot blooded heterosexual man isn’t much fun these days!”

“It means men are stuck with this endless negotiation.”

“The experience of many men is the experience of being ‘up against it’.”

“Many (non single) women go for years without spontaneous desire.”

“A ten minute bonk every now and again would be better than keeping the kitchen floor perfectly clean for him!”

“The world is full of women who feel absolutely entitled to shut up shop of they’re not interested.”

Notwithstanding the idea that women should be mopping floors if not kneeling on them, and that she persists in using the word ‘bonk’, getting stuck into this kind of retrograde nonsense is pretty low-hanging fruit, and to counter it is to dignify it beyond any merit it may earn.

Rather, there is a deeper problem, and it stems from the response to her (regular) statements, mainly in the Fairfax papers, that women owe it to their men, and themselves, to regularly perform the duty with no onus on the man to engage with her on an appropriate level.

The problem with all of this is that the stupidity of Arndt’s prescriptions makes it all too easy to be unthinkingly scornful. Just because her cure is ludicrous doesn’t mean her diagnosis is wrong. Of course the reprobates among us laud her suggestions that men simply DESERVE a nightly wristy. But she IS speaking with a great many men, and no doubt they ARE telling her that they feel dissatisfied. By bluntly mocking her ideas that it is entirely the woman’s fault makes no effort to interrogate the larger question of why she is hearing what she is hearing, and whether there is a need for a discussion around this.

I don’t find it hard to believe that many couples exist in relatively unfulfilling relationships. I do find it hard to believe that the male halves are doing everything right and simply deserve recompense. That said, I also reject the notion that there should be no negotiation in a relationship. I reject the notion that the woman’s desire for sex be the sole determining factor in that negotiation, just like Arndt’s critics claim that it should not be solely the man’s.

There is a drastically shifting sexual culture. Arndt’s generation barely knew what sex was when they married, based on the kind of taboo applied to it in post-war Australia. Since their children hit pubescence, there has been an explosion in the availability of sex, yet we still seem incapable of engaging in a sensible discussion about it on a large scale.

Arndt’s retrograde ramblings deserve a great deal of the opprobrium levelled at it, and her. But writing her off as a doddering, misogynistic crank is simply failing to think about what is certainly a serious social issue, and does no justice to those whom she genuinely, if misguidedly, wants to help.