An arsehole but a talented one

He’s a funny old fellow … ?

I’ve never subscribed to my colleague Nicholas Gruen’s high opinion of SMH journo and “blogger” Jack Marx.  Marx’s 2006 article on his dealings with actor Russell Crowe, which so impressed Nicholas, was in my view not only undisciplined writing that badly needed ruthless editing, but also thoroughly unethical.  Like Marx’s earlier book about heroin addict and ex-pop star Little Stevie Wright, his article about Crowe was an exercise in manipulative, calculating tabloid journalism.  Marx’s schtick is trivial celebrity goss dressed up as serious journalism with a daring gonzo edge.  Although his cynical exploitation of the pathetic Wright was even more radically unprincipled, Marx’s dealings with Crowe were almost as unethical.

Nevertheless, Marx’s journalistic colleagues seem to share Nicholas’s high opinion, because they gave him a Walkley Award for the Crowe article shortly before Christmas, describing it in these glowing terms:

Marxâs disarming honesty about his professional seduction by Russell Crowe reveals the dangers of celebrity journalism. Brave, highly original journalism made possible by its publication on the internet.

Like Nicholas, the Walkley judges seem to have accepted unquestioningly the bona fides of Marx’s authorial premise that he was “seduced” by Crowe, whereas even a moment’s analysis of his modus operandi with Wright would indicate the fallacy of any such assumption.  Marx is a celebrity muckraker journalist who will stop at nothing to get a salacious story: a paparazzo without a camera.  There’s nothing brave or honest about what he does, and if Marx reveals the dangers of celebrity journalism he does so inadvertently.* 

However, believe it or not, I didn’t actually embark on this post in order to vent my spleen on Sleazy Jack (well, it’s not my only motive anyway).  My initial purpose was simply to observe that, despite his shortcomings, Marx really is a very talented writer.  Unlike the Crowe article, this morning’s Valentine’s Day post “Just another love story” is a fine and moving piece of writing.  Go and read it.

Marx’s post of yesterday, about a derailed night of passion with Humphrey B. Bear, is also good and very funny indeed, as are many of the comment thread contributions that follow it. (For example: “Anyway, big deal. I rooted the Paddle Pop Lion. He came 17 times and wept like an angel” and “I married the woman who worked as Mr Do Bee on Romper Room.”)

*Of course, any author who writes about life and human relationships faces an inherent ethical dilemma, by writing material that some subjects inevitably experience as a violation of privacy or even a betrayal.  The dilemma exists even with novels or short stories, because at least some of the author’s friends and family may identify themselves as the source of fictionalised characters and events and feel just as violated as if they’d been named.  Christina Stead’s scathing portrait of ‘Jonathon Crow’ in For Love Alone is a classic example. I suspect most authors manage to draw some sort of (arguably) tenable ethical line by disguising character and incident so that ordinary readers at least simply accept them on their own fictionalised terms.  My major problem with Marx is that he doesn’t appear to recognise any ethical dilemma at all.  Any dealings with a celebrity, no matter how faded and drug-addled, are regarded as fair game for publication. 

In the celebrity journalism genre, the boundary between unethical breach of privacy and mutually beneficial/symbiotic relationship may become blurred.  Celebrities (including politicians) seek out journalists and cynically exploit them for self-serving publicity purposes; a considerable degree of mutual exploitation is inherent in any such relationship.  However that doesn’t mean anything goes and that there are no boundaries at all between public and private, yet that appears to be Marx’s default assumption. 

 By contrast, today’s Valentine’s Day post doesn’t reveal the identities of Elsa, Ian or Andrea.  Moreover, Elsa clearly consents to having her story told. For me at least, those factors make all the difference.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Phil
14 years ago

However, believe it or not, I didn

Phil
14 years ago

Snide and silly works for me Ken. Just as calling Marx a cowardly, sleazy, unethical, undisciplined, manipulative, muckraker works for you Ken. Something that took up half of your post. Now that’s a hit and run piece that damns with faint praise.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
14 years ago

Well, apart from a tendency to bang on the, “fedora tipped back in an emptyish late night bar while a faded torch singer sings “One For My Baby and One More For The Road ” with all the pain of the world in her every note, ” preferred persona a bit much, I like him.

He’s a blindingly good writer – without peer in his specialist niche – and I thought his piece on Crowe was very deserving of the Walkley. It was an interesting insight into Crowe (whose almost sociopathic self-importance wasn’t really news). More importantly, it was an interesting insight into the seduction of those who would seek to be “objective” in interpreting the star phenomenon. That this involved Marx revealing that he could be just as grovelling as the next PR flack was, I thought, quite gutsy and it made for a fascinating read.

I remember the piece on Stevie Wright but I guess I have a different take on it than you do, Ken.

His Valentine’s Day piece is bloody beautiful.

He was though – I concede – a total arsehole about poor Steve Irwin :)

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
14 years ago

I agree with Geoff. I don’t think I said I had a high opinion of him – so much as some of the articles I read – as for him, rather the opposite – though that’s a compliment to his writing which takes some of its force from his transparency about his own transgressions.

I also agree Ken that the Crowe piece could have done with a fairly strong edit job, but I still found it an interesting read – and others it appears couldn’t get enough.

david tiley
14 years ago

For me, those pieces don’t have the feel of verisimilitude, rather of Henry Lawson a century later and not so clear.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
14 years ago

“rather of Henry Lawson a century later and not so clear”

Good point, David. Henry would definitely have identified with the Marx persona propensity for [too obviously] hanging out in late night bars on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams…

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
14 years ago

…even a moment

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
14 years ago

Thanks for the clarification, Ken.

In the meantime I read Marx on Steve Irwin. That seemed fair enough too, but it would have been better to hold off for a month or two rather than say it in the middle of the funeral.

Caitlin
Caitlin
14 years ago

I agree with some of the other comments – I think the article was great. The piece is clearly entirely different to most tabloid journalism regarding celebrity and to me (someone who never concerns herself with that kind of thing) it was an interesting look at the dynamics of a relationship that plays out in the midst of an enormous difference in wealth, fame and maybe power. In some of Marx’s articles I really notice the clever writing – but I just read this particular article interested in the content, never really noticing the writing, which in this case I think is a good thing. I can’t really see anything unethical about it either, I guess because I am generally in favour information being free…

And finally, regarding whether or not we accept the “seduction” premise, well – so what? The piece is basically a personal essay – of course it’s simply the author’s take on the situation. It doesn’t claim to be anything else. The whole style of the article is so clearly personal – it’s hardly as though Marx is trying to pass himself off as anything but subjective. It’s an article, something put into the public arena for people to interpret and evaluate as they will. Marx isn’t, by publishing his take on the situation, somehow forcing you to accept it at face-value as a “bona fide”, objective tale.

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
14 years ago

I’ve just read Jack Marx’s column (post?) on Steve Irwin. It’s good – and fresher than most of the columns you read.