The Sentinel considers whether it’s becoming harder for our poor politicians to effectively spin, obfuscate and distract – or if they’re just getting worse at it. By Richie Black.
The men’s Ashes cricket test held in Sydney last week had taken on a surreal quality of otherness even before the Prime Minister turned up.
In the midst of a pandemic, we watched replays of the traditional early-morning scramble of SCG members for prime position in the hallowed stands. Meanwhile, into the drunken haze of the afternoon sessions, the unmasked Barmy Army spread airborne particles amongst their brethren with each ritualised bellow.
With Omicron rife and the health system buckling, there were justifiable arguments that large crowds in attendance were being insensitive and reckless.
But there was also relief to be found in sport, the rules and achievements of which contrasted with the much larger disorder, despair and failures of the surrounding pandemic. This seemed to extend to the game itself, played – for once – in a largely collegial, joyful and sportsmanlike manner.
It was an alternate world, superficially, for five days. And who doesn’t like a bit of trivial fantasy?
But then Morrison horned in. Morrison, with his intrinsic quality of artifice, is no more convincing a cricket tragic a la Hawke or Howard than a Sharkies supporter. Nevertheless, as is another Sydney Test tradition, our leader made the rounds of each comm box – notably that of Fox Sports.
It was here he made his now infamous pseudo witticism, “Australia is taking wickets in the pandemic,” sending Adam Gilchrist’s eyebrows skyrocketing and eliciting the dead-eye from his co-commentator Isa Guha.
It only half made sense, but we got the gist of it. And the disjunct between his phoney ‘daggy dad at the cricket’ act and the reality of the pandemic (the latter you might reasonably think he’d be focussed on) was disturbing, if not infuriating.
Not only that, but Morrison had managed to take the comforting alternate reality of the game and sully it with his personal whiff of politicised bullshit.
Morrison did for test cricket what he did for barramundi – gaslighting us with the huckster grin and “how good is it” routine. “Fuck you for caring,” he seemed to be saying implicitly, about the pandemic. And yet, somehow, it was also a fuck you to those caring about the cricket, too.
Morrison, you felt, was so inept he couldn’t even properly co-opt our own delusions, which were already struggling. Collectively, we screamed, “Please find your own, buddy!”
And there he goes: strutting away to create an imaginary world where he wields supreme authority over the visa issues of a Serbian tennis player. What could possibly go wrong for a guy who so effortlessly evokes a can-do, she’ll-be-right attitude?
If it isn’t true – can it at least be believable?
But then, there is a distinct sense of political alternate realities collapsing under the sheer weight of ridiculousness.
Perhaps emboldened by the season of celebration, the humidity or reflux from too much cheese and wine, a lot of the messaging from politicians takes gaslighting to bizarre and inept new levels.
In a flatulent spirit of confidence and bonhomie, for example, we were recently told by Barnaby Joyce we’re essentially wasting too much time fretting over Omicron, which he claimed was “not a big issue”.
Within this cheery narrative, we are at fault for inconveniently dying. You suspect that behind NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s slightly panicked, bespectacled stare is the fury of someone who thinks he could run the state perfectly well if it wasn’t for these pesky humans.
Wednesday’s announcement, that we were going to be fined for not reporting positive results – according to RATs which aren’t actually available – seems to speak to this overall frustration: a show pony law designed to imply the premier knows what’s going on.
Pandemic aside, the gaslighting takes on the appearance of a meta-joke – $3.5b worth of tanks, anyone? Or how about Peter Dutton’s almost self-parodic complaint that celebrities should be speaking out more against the Chinese Government’s suppression of women’s allegations of sexual assault? Ridiculous plot-lines and dialogue from a cheap paperback. Or Hansard.
Reality – an outdated concept?
For now, these realities – crumbling like the grinding teeth of a Morrison media adviser – are being buttressed by the obliging Murdoch media. But for how long?
Yet ScoMo only has to look to his UK counterpart to see the dangers of losing control of the (fake) narrative.
As with various types of burrowing insect, Australian politicians aren’t unique – Boris Johnson is of course an outsized, hairier Morrison, a man who’s turned lying into performance art.
The British Prime Minister, we all know, is currently dealing with accusations he attended a May 2020 “Bring Your Own Booze” party. This piss-up, to which 100 people were originally invited via email, kicked off the same day Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, had lectured the public at a press conference, “You can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two metres apart.”
Under pressure and threat of losing his job, BoJo first said he was not at the party … then said when he went to the party he thought it was a “work function”. Mate, Fiction relies on some kind of internal consistency, you know that.
Meanwhile, one of his chief advocates is a guy who seems to have won temporary custody of hair from a different dimensional plane – and whose name, Fabricant, literally means “maker or manufacturer”. At least he’s committing a certain bizarreness to the fantasy – Boris seems to have stopped trying.
How good is delusion?
One of Johnson’s problems, like a lot of these old white dudes, is that he’s a victim of his own entitlement and complacency, poor chap. He’s got away with all of this too many times because he’s got a posh voice and a zany, distracting persona.
Living a lie can become disorientating – a bit like being drunk at one of BoJo’s work functions. “Is this real?” one staffer apparently replied to the email invite. Yes, it’s definitely a real alternative reality.
Getting lost in it might be a pleasant holiday. But when it spits you out and reality knees you in the balls, it’s kind of a bummer. Boris, for example, didn’t seem to consider the possibility that an email inviting 100 people to a party during lockdown might, sooner or later, have a reckoning with the public.
Meanwhile, the Australian Prime Minister was so complacent about gaslighting us about ‘border protection’ over Djokovic (and make us forget about the failure to supply RATs) that he didn’t seem to consider the possibility that he’d inevitably screw the whole thing up. Oh and then there’s the issue of inadvertently highlighting the plight of the refugees that have been held in the same hotel Novak was staying in, in their case for years – including Adnan Choopani, who has been held there for 29 months.
Still, ScoMo – and the beleaguered immigration minister Alex Hawke – will probably be fine. In all likelihood, they’ll carry on for a couple of months pretending whatever eventuates didn’t happen – by which point the focus will have moved on to the next crisis (floods or bushfires).
Perhaps our delusion is the saddest of them all, in believing – time and again – these powerful men will be held to account.
With that in mind, it’s probably best to fool ourselves that everything’s fine, using something else. Luckily, the cricket starts tomorrow.