Gerry’s T-Shirt Wars

Hendo’s jumped on the communist t-shirt bandwagon that had the blogosphere rolling last week with posts at Troppo, Catallaxy and Quiggin. Gerry excuses Prince Harry’s wardrobe malfunction because the third in line heir to the Australian throne is “ignorant” and asks rhetorically – “If it’s OK to wear a hammer and sickle on the King’s Road, why draw the line at a swastika?”

Hendo’s all over the shop this week. He condemns the use of “fascism” as a routine term of abuse, and then in an apparent attempt to rope every recently prominent news story into his column, has a go at Germaine Greer for calling BB producers fascist, implying that she is demeaning Mussolini’s victims. It’s pretty clear that she was using the term in its everyday usage, but hey, why not fire off a cheap shot in the culture wars at someone the media’s been slagging off for a week and display a bit of conspicuous indignation?

Gerry then attacks a variety of people for comparing the West to communist and fascist regimes. He has a point – fascism is not an epithet that should be tossed around lightly – but it’s lost in his own hyperbole. Yes, people shouldn’t equate illiberal or authoritarian trends in government with fascism. No, Gerry, you’re also trivialising the horrors of the Short Twentieth Century with your scattergun, silly and sloppily reasoned attempt to harness Che t-shirts, Germaine and Prince Harry into the latest front in the never-ending culture wars. Henderson’s previous writing, like Robert Manne’s, betrays a deep and legitimate concern with the conditions for a return of the horrors of the Holocaust and fascist rule. He’s letting himself down with his own trivialisation of this concern.

Incidentally, Gerry doesn’t seem to be worried that a possible future King of Australia is so ignorant of history. But, if you want to read some sensible and measured analysis of Prince Harry’s faux-pas, give Gerry a miss and go read Rob Corr instead.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Robert
2022 years ago

Cheers, Mark. After Geoff Honnor’s sustained attack I needed that support!

The biggest problem with Henderson’s piece, as I see it, is that he conflates comparisons to Hitler/Stalin with comparisons to fascism/communism. For instance:

“Yet Greer believes it appropriate to use the same adjective [fascist] to depict a tyrant-killer [Mussolini] and the producers of an entertainment program who pay its talent good money to make fools of themselves.”

The thing is, the term fascist was applicable to Mussolini whether or not he killed people. There are any number of real, live fascists in Australia. Most of them probably haven’t murdered anyone, but that doesn’t mean they are not fascists.

Whether the term “fascism” is appropriate to describe Big Brother is debatable. But to say that “fascist” can only be used to describe mass-murderers is disingenuous. If a policy would fit into a fascist platform without much difficulty, why is it off-limits to point that out unless the proposer is a killer?

He makes some ludicrous claims along the way. For example, that Stalin never held show trials. That must be news to the Dewey Commission.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Trials

Robert
2022 years ago

I wonder what Hendo would make of Neil Clark’s comparison of so-called “political correctness” (that is, common decency) to fascism:
http://theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,11969297%255E7583,00.html

(Neil’s piece falls down because there is no evidence that Harry “At Least My Girlfriend’s Not Black” Windsor wore the costume as a joke.)

Nababov
Nababov
2022 years ago

But what about the poor Nazis? They’ve had to put up with enough bad press already, and now this – linked with the House of Windsor…again.

Cameron Riley
2022 years ago

Henderson will only persist while the “Howard Stern” syndrome exists. Those that hate him get riled up about him and link to his articles which gives Fairfax a bunch of hits which they then generate ad revenue from.

Henderson is a complete idiot and a shining example of what is wrong with mass-media. Instead of linking to him, it would be better to write to Fairfax and say get rid of Henderson – because you will not buy the SMH, nor read the SMH online or in dead tree form when Henderson is in it.

He, Devine and most of the others are just sensationalists. If we dont give them time, or funnel attention to them, they will just be writing to an ever-shrinking echo-chamber until there is not enough ad-revenue to justify Fairfax keeping them on the payroll.

Blogs, especially high volume ones, should only reward quality mass-media op-ed articles with links (and the consequent advertising revenue the primary source may get from that linking).

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

Cameron – I think you are completely wrong here. Henderson is one of the few columnists who can keep going week after week (he never seems to take a holiday) and year after year and is still worth reading most of the time, whether you agree with him or not. He has either an amazing memory or an amazing filing system in the way he recalls facts and statements from years ago (it’s not Google, he has been doing this since long before the internet). He is usually measured in his tone, even when going in for the kill. Devine is not in his class intellectually, but she too is a talented columnist in the tabloid tradition. If you can look past their politics (and your own) you should get something from them, the same way I like reading Troppo or Quiggin. I don’t share their political views, but they are intelligent, interesting and clearly written.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“Cheers, Mark. After Geoff Honnor’s sustained attack I needed that support!”

“Sustained attack”? Rob! I thought ours was a copybook example of a civilised exchange of differing viewpoints (TM):)

PS I don’t think Hendo is saying that Stalin didn’t have show trials. I think he’s saying that Stalin did have show trials but that he omitted to incorporate “justice” therein. A point upon which you, me and the Dewey commission could no doubt all agree.

Cameron Riley
2022 years ago

Andrew,

Henderson is very much a product of mass media. His articles fit the polarized nature of op-ed, it is designed to reinforce those with the same view and shock/anger those that dont. It is a double whammy intended to increase ad-revenue, so those that do not like him will read it, “to see what he will say next”. It is the same as Howard Stern.

Have a look at the op-ed pages anywhere. They have fallen into a polarized pattern. They will put “perceived” left-right leaning writers on the same page, but both write in the same manner. They reinforce the view of those agreeing with them, and shock/anger those that dont.

They double their audience in essence, and hopefully double the ad-revenues or subscriptions of the mass media outlets.

When it gets a bit too blatent you can tell you are being played. Fox News in the US is an example of that. It is statism in a phosphor box. Devine also is too blatent. Her articles devolve into internet rants.

There are a million sites I can see that kind of anti-intellectualism on. The benefit of blogs is that you can take the writer to task too – the right of reply – mass media does not have that, so is straight away inferior in the op-ed department.

The point I am making is that mass media follows a pattern, that is aimed at maximising economic returns. I have no problem with that. But one of the downsides of that has been a drop in quality of the op-ed pages and the manipulative writing manner of the op-ed writers in order to maximise their audience.

Unfortunately the manipulative manner is too extreme for me, I would rather some genuine centrist, rational, reasoned articles – from laymen or genuine experts in the field. Henderson, Devine, Kingston, Applebaum, Cohen etc etc have all exhausted themselves for me.

It isnt about politics, it is about reasoned discourse. I have rung up the WaPo and complained of the same things. It isnt unique to the SMH either. It is an emergent property of the way mass media operates at the moment. Best way to stop it is to route around it.

Part of that is by only rewarding the quality writers with links from blogging sites (and hence ad-revenue). The rest can wither on the vine, until they are sacked for lack of popularity and their inability to generate ad-revenue.

Robert
2022 years ago

Geoff, I take your point about the show trials. But Hendo must then explain how the US trials involve justice. It was only the belated interference of the judiciary — against the wishes of the Bush administration — that gave detainees recourse to any semblance of justice.

susoz
2022 years ago

I haven’t read the Hendo column but does he really not know the answer to this: “If it’s OK to wear a hammer and sickle on the King’s Road, why draw the line at a swastika?” Because planes decorated in swastikas bombed the Kings Road and killed tens of thousands of Londoners fifty years ago, just for starters.

fg
fg
2022 years ago

At least the Prince took his borrowed gear back to the hire company after conceding (sort of) that he had made an error. Whereas the likes of Hendo keep recycling their own historical howlers.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“But Hendo must then explain how the US trials involve justice.”

The obvious drawback to that Robert, is that it would presumably involve another column.

susoz
2022 years ago

Oops, in my comment above, I should have said 60 years ago, not fifty. Time’s getting away from me.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Yeah, Rob, Hendo might do better to denounce the actual fascists around in Australia at the moment (as per your and Darp’s blogs).

Cameron, on the Howard Stern syndrome, the logic of your position is that if they don’t get enough hits, then the paper would replace them with someone more outrageous and extreme.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rob, on Neil Clark’s column, it’s a good example of how you can conjure up a PC scare out of thin air.

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

I wonder whether the sensitivity about facists, but allowance for ‘left wing’ dictators, comes from:

1. the facists fought against and invaded the west, whereas we (the west) never fought against Stalin, Mao or Che (Korea is possibly the exception, but even then the invasion was ‘only’ of South Korean, not a western country. Vietnam was similar)

2. Stalin, Mao, Che etc generally killed only their own citizens (and were in countries that we didn’t know much about and had little press coverage); the fascists killed westerners and we know about it.

Thus the facists did stuff to us (the west). We have personal knowledge and experience of it. The ‘left’ did stuff to other people, so its not as touchy. Of course, the fascists lost while Mao and Stalin ‘won’ (dying in office with their legacies still largely intact at the time). History is written by the winners etc.

Also there is some sympathy for what the ‘left’ were purporting to do (create a utopia etc), even if the way it was done was incorrect. And Mao, arguably, did make some attempts at this (its hard to see Stalin as anything but a non benevolent dictator).

I do take issue with one of your comments. Fascism as a political theory is generally thought of as the same as ‘Hitlerism’ ie kill all the people you don’t like and invade everyone. You cannot say that ‘facist’ has an ‘everyday usage’ and therefore its ok to use when, to the average person, fascist means Hitlerism and, really, there is not much that can be comparied to Hitlerism (except Stalinism).

Its only if you believe people have a good understanding of what fascism as a political theory is that you can condone this usage. There may actually be times when the comparison is deserved, but Greer et al know full well their comments to the popular press are not made in the context of informed political analysis.

Australians, at least, are in general more careful and accurate about their use of left terms – eg ‘Stalinist trials’ rather than ‘communist trials’.

I once belonged to an internet forum which had a rule that, in any argument, if you accused your opposition of being nazi/fascist/gestapo etc you automatically lost the argument, no further postings allowed.

Since then, whenever I see someone like Greer or Pilger call anyone a fascist, I think ‘they have just lost the argument’.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

ctd, I do say that the epithet should not be used lightly.

However, there’s a clear difference between political analysis and everyday speech where the context doesn’t indicate that any political analogy is being drawn. There’s nothing that anyone can do about “fascist” being used as a term of abuse in everyday speech, but it’s disingenuous of Henderson to recognise this, and then pillory Greer as if she were making a serious political point.

Steve
Steve
2022 years ago

—“she too is a talented columnist in the tabloid tradition”

This is a bit guarded Andrew. Its like saying that battered savs are great cuisine….. in the junk food tradition!!!

Are you game to make the same statement without the ‘…in the tabloid tradition’ tacked on the end?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“Blogs, especially high volume ones, should only reward quality mass-media op-ed articles with links (and the consequent advertising revenue the primary source may get from that linking).”

That’s why I link to Julia Baird.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

Cameron – In the mid-1990s I was a so-so fortnightly columnist for the Courier-Mail (in my defence, I already had a full-time job and had to file copy several days before it appeared, depriving me of immediate topicality). But when they first rang me up they said that they were concerned that their opinion page lacked, er, opinion. These pages have to get people talking, and people with identifiable political views are more likely to do so. The CM did not have that at the time, or at least not enough (I did alternate Mondays with Henderson for a while).

But I see no contradiction between ‘reasoned discourse’ and people with perspectives. And there is plenty of stuff from others. I don’t know quite how I prove this, but I’d say that the last 15-20 years has been the best period for newspaper opinion pages, with more space and (partly hence) more diversity of views.

It has happened as newspapers realised that electronic media do aspects of news better than they do, so they have found other things to print that tv and radio can’t pinch so easily.

Steve – I like Bolt’s column as well! I enjoy everything from tabloid papers to low-circulation intellectual journals, but do not judge them by each other’s standards.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Harry has as much chance as me of becoming King of England/Oztrayla unless he has some Stalin type guile in him.

How old is he? didn’t we all do and wear stupid things at that age. He likes Rugby Union for petes sake!!

He went to a fancy dress party. What if he went as Genghis Khan or Stalin at al.

Get a life people.

The difference between fascism and communism?
I don’t really care given the amount od people that were killed under both regimes. It’s a stupid argument.

Gerry puts in the hard yards week in week out. He is the best opinion page columnist around. He doesn’t always write good columns. Crikey some bloggers don’t either!

Cameron Riley
2022 years ago

Mark,

on the Howard Stern syndrome, the logic of your position is that if they don’t get enough hits, then the paper would replace them with someone more outrageous and extreme.

No it isnt. Mass media chases the mass market. If a newspaper finds their numbers dwindling due to a couple of writers, those writers will get the punt quick. Especially if they see the non-sensationalist writers getting more referrals.

Andrew,

These pages have to get people talking, and people with identifiable political views are more likely to do so.

I think your insider experience only proves my point. The quality of op-ed media has identifiably dropped in the last few years IMO.

Cameron Riley
2022 years ago

Sorry for the double post, formatting didnt come out properly.

Mark,

“on the Howard Stern syndrome, the logic of your position is that if they don’t get enough hits, then the paper would replace them with someone more outrageous and extreme.”

No it isnt. Mass media chases the mass market. If a newspaper finds their numbers dwindling due to a couple of writers, those writers will get the punt quick. Especially if they see the non-sensationalist writers getting more referrals.

Andrew,

“These pages have to get people talking, and people with identifiable political views are more likely to do so.”

I think your insider experience only proves my point. The quality of op-ed media has identifiably dropped in the last few years IMO.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

What really astonishes me is that hundreds of intelligent people all around the globe are pumping out huge sticky gobs of conspicuous indignation, and hundreds of thousands of people with nothing better to do are wallowing in it in a female mud-wrestling kind of way, and all because a pale skinny kid wore an Afrika corps shirt (not tucked in) from a hire shop to a fancy dress do.

And anyway, wasn’t Rommel one of the good guys?

Steve
Steve
2022 years ago

Andrew, yeah, I read Bolts column too. But I read it and Miranda Devine for entertainment, and to get that welcome hit of ‘conspicuous indignation’, not because I think they are informative or full of insight.

Perhaps its sad that I waste my time reading tabloid journalism for fun, when i could be out in the park or something. If I had more of a life and less time, then I’d hopefully be much more selective with my reading material. :-)

Or maybe reading tabloid journalism is like trendy 20-somethings watching Buffy – just keeping up with pop culture and the general society milieu and stuff.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

” And anyway, wasn’t Rommel one of the good guys?”

No, Rommel was a committed Nazi.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

As bill clinton might say it all depends on what you mean by Nazi.

He was a very good general, alright field Marshall and he did use connections to get higher in the army but he did treat prisoners well and had to kill himself courtsey of Adolf.

I guess that is committed!!

Yobbo
Yobbo
2022 years ago

I wonder if everyone would get similarly upset if he had decided to wear a Japanese army uniform instead?

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

Mark – you commented “There’s nothing that anyone can do about “fascist” being used as a term of abuse in everyday speech, but it’s disingenuous of Henderson to recognise this, and then pillory Greer as if she were making a serious political point.”

I thought Hendo was arguing there is something you can do about it being used as an everyday term. You point out what it really means and suggest to people that they don’t use the term.

My reasoning goes like this – although I realise its not bulletproof:

1. given what the Nazis did, no one should be called a Nazi or fascist, unless you make it clear you are referring to the actual political beliefs of fascism (or, of course, the person actually is a Nazi)

2. by allowing the term to be one of everyday abuse, you are denigrating what the Nazis did to so many people by minimising the horror.

3. this is not too far removed from denigrating people by using racial or religious slurs – eg calling someone “a Jew” because they are stingy or (going back a few years) “a Polack” because they are stupid. And then arguing that such terms are just ones of everyday abuse so no one should get worked up about it.

4. yes there is a point of difference – with racial slurs you are directly denigrating a person/religion/nationality by using stereotypes; with the fascist claim you are not directly denigrating fascists but you are denigrating the people abused/killed by the Nazis by trivialising who the Nazis or fascists really were.

But in both cases you are using a term to abuse someone when the usage of that term, at the same time as you say it, is denigrating other people who have nothing to do with the person being spoken of and who do not deserve to have their beliefs/nationalities/experiences become part of the everyday language of abuse.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Yes, ctd, but Gerry then didn’t go on to point that out to Germaine helpfully but rather carried on as if she’d meant to make a meaningful comparison.

Irant
2022 years ago

*sniff* You all have Hendo to blog about and pontificate on. Alas, as I gaze with longing through the picket fence the Devine Miss M is nowhere to be seen. *sniff*

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Irant, maybe Miranda is off at a resort at Terrigal?

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Dave Ricardo,

You slur the memory of a brilliant General who simply fought for the wrong side!

“Rommel is anything but a Nazi. In fact, early on he starts to harbor “serious reservations” about the Nazi regime. (Blumenson, 297).”

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Rommel.html

“Rommel enjoyed a popularity in Germany that rivalled Hitler’s, even though he was not a member of the Nazi party.”

http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/R/real_lives/rommel_t.html

Irant
2022 years ago

Indeed she may be. It is just down to the road from me. I bet she is practicing some of that good ole hooking up right now.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

But, Irant, has she issued a statement about the Tsunami tragedy yet?