Jeff Sparrow on our latest little episode in dehumanising people

From Today’s Crikey

Trashing Pauline Hanson was a class act

Jeff Sparrow, editor of Overland writes:

Yesterday, Jonathan Green asked the excellent question: if photos of a youthful Peter Costello mugging in his Speedos found their way to a newspaper editor, would the images turn up in your Sunday paper?

Obviously not. But theres another, perhaps even more interesting, hypothetical. What if the flesh being flashed belonged to another female politician? Say, for example, the nudie holiday snaps purported to show a teenage Quentin Bryce or a young Julie Bishop. Would the Sunday Telegraph have published then? Would, a couple of days later, the so-called quality press have been speculating furiously about belly-buttons and hair cuts?

If s-xism remains one of the great unmentionables in Australian politics, class is even more so. Why did Sunday Telegraph editor Neil Breen press ahead with a story that now seems to have been based upon the word of a man who remembers nothing? Was it not at least partly because Hansons background (a bit of a scrubber, probably been around the block a few times, etc, etc) made her fair game?

Back in the day, the tabloids pushed Hansonism to the hilt, but despite all the newspapers she sold for them, they, like most of the media, still see her as white trash, the kind of person to whom you can do absolutely anything you want.

In 1997, at the height of her popularity, Hanson published a volume entitled Pauline Hansons The Truth, a strange title, since she didnt actually write it and it wasnt exactly true: you might recall the warning about how an Asianised Australia would soon be ruled by a lesbian cyborg called Poona Li Hung. But beneath all its craziness, the books sentiment was entirely genuine: it expressed, in distilled form, the rage and confusion of those left behind by the economic reforms of the Hawke-Keating years, people whose lives had been transformed without their consent, and by forces they didnt understand.

That was Hansons support base, men and women who werent simply outside the polite circle of respectable politics but were actively hostile to it, who identified ABC journalists and university-educated parliamentarians as the kinds of snooty elitists who had always patronized and belittled them and taken them for granted. Thus every time a perfectly enunciating interviewer humiliated Hanson on the TV her popularity grew, since those who voted One Nation knew exactly how it felt to be asked unanswerable questions by some sneering know-it-all, whether at the DSS or in the bank managers office. Naturally, most Hanson voters will, quite correctly, draw a simple lesson from these photos: if youve got an accent like Pauline Hanson, then youre fair game for any kind of smear.

None of which is to whitewash the underlying viciousness of Hansonism, a phenomenon in which the relatively powerless found psychological comfort from attacking the absolutely powerless. After all, if you wanted to think of others whom newspaper editors treat with utter contempt, you need look no further than Paulines favourite scapegoats, Aborigines and migrants. Hanson will presumably sue the Telegraph; the refugees accused of throwing their kids overboard — what redress did they ever get?

Still, this grubby little affair with the Sunday Telegraph shows that 13 years after Hansons maiden speech, nothing much has changed. In Australia, if you come from the wrong side of the tracks, no-one will ever let you forget it.

The only bit I disagree with is that Hanson’s supporters were the ‘victims’ of Hawke and Keating’s policies. To the extent that they were victims (some were not victims, they were just troglodytes who still had their jobs) they were the victims of a changing economy – as a result of globalisation and technology – and there would have been more of them without economic management which tried to integrate the economy with those developments at the same time as building a better safety net.

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15 years ago

Pauline is ordinary but we need ordinary people running this joint. It strengthens our democratic and civil society. Our pollies are mostly suit-wearing wonks and/or failed celebs.

A strong and prosperous society is built upon a strong democracy. It tolerates the outrageous margins such as Pauline’s wacky policies. It’s inclusive and human. It would allow Peter Garrett a public voice. It would not jail Pauline Hanson.

Prosperity is not built upon ill-defined concepts such as technology and globalisation. These are mere levers; we can choose how we use them!

15 years ago

I despise what Hanson stood for but the main issue here isn’t about Hanson- it is about the need to give some form of privacy protection to people who enter public life. If democracy is to flourish we need people from the ranks of the best and the brightest to throw their hat into the ring and we also need mass membership political parties. We don’t have this now and the repeat of episodes like this one with Hanson (it doesn’t matter if the photos are genuine or not) is yet another deterrent to entering politics. After all most people probably have a skeleton or two in the closet from their youth that they don’t want to see on the front page of the tabloids, or at the very least a couple of embarrassing relatives.

Sparrow, the author of the piece, is an unreformed Marxist who has tried to shoehorn this story into a predictable and simplistic class, race and gender narrative. How boring.

15 years ago

I don’t agree, Nick. The newspapers are in desperate financial straights and they know that publishing this type of trash will temporarily boost their sales.

Do you seriously think tabloids wouldn’t publish nudey pics featuring Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard?

Besides, Hanson was a fish n’ chip shop owner and hence part of the petty bourgeoisie rather than “poor white trash”, which corresponds more closely to the lumpen proletariat.

15 years ago

Funnily enough, I find myself agreeing with both Jeff Sparrow & melaleuca — even though they disagree with each other! I do think this is class inflected, but class isn’t the only prism through which someone can view it. Mel is right to flag the privacy issue, and as Margaret Simons speculated over at her place, this could well be the incident that sees Australian law develop a tort of ‘invasion of privacy’. Simons — as you would expect — frets about what this will do to freedom of the press, but she’s also woman enough to admit that the media have kicked a colossal own goal.

Legal Eagle
15 years ago

I also thought there were class aspects to this. Someone of my acquaintance said about the photos, “Just shows she’s always been white trash, doesn’t it?”: the implication being that it’s okay to invade this woman’s privacy because she’s white trash and she has no finer feelings… Hey, let’s add to the mix that she’s a sl*t too.

I was reading The Undercover Economist (as recommended by SL) which has an analysis of why anti-immigration policies appeal to unskilled labourers in the US. Skilled workers welcome immigration and diversity because a new unskilled workforce doesn’t threaten their livelihood. By contrast, once the pool of unskilled labourers is increased, the wages of these workers goes down because they are no longer as scarce.

So it’s all very well for someone like me to sit here and say that I find Hanson’s policies repellent (and I do), but hey, it’s not my job which is at risk. Rather than just dismissing Hanson supporters as racist, I think it’s important to acknowledge reasons why her views might be attractive to a certain group of people. As Sparrow notes, a certain amount of the attraction is rank bigotry, and an unpleasant desire to kick those who are already down, but her views also tapped into fears about jobs.

15 years ago

The revolutionary left was never able to decide whether Hanson’s supporters were Nazis time transported from 1932 Germany or people who got lost on the way to a anti-globalization meeting. Hanson drew her core support from people with wrong & often outright crazy views: biological racism, the denial of indigenous land ownership etc. etc. Hanson’s support wasn’t just due to economic factors and actually it is patronising to claim this, Jhadism is a similar example. But the fact that people have mad and crazy views doesn’t destroy their rights consider the debate about sedition legislation.

15 years ago

I think Mel is right. I don’t really know, but I find it hard to imagine that any other woman would get off in similar circumstances.

I think GeoffR has accurately described Hanson’s followers, or a couple percent of them at least. I think Nick is closer to the mark on the rest of them, however, I am not sure about them being victims. To a larger extent, I would have thought they were mainly just people. People with different cultural contexts to some of us and people with different history to some of us, but not fundamentally victims of anything or one.

Hanson, or Howard’s handling of her, was an amazingly positive thing for Australia. Idealists might think otherwise but how many countries have had such civilised race relations (leaving to one side Aborigines for the moment, but the point is probably valid even with them)?

Consider Europe and the massive support there of the far right. Can you imagine Hanson getting 20% of the vote? GeoffR, do you think that 20% of Western Europe fits the description you offered?

15 years ago

Is it fair to call this “dehumanising”? I thought that every human was naked under their clothes. Politics should not be about the humans in government, it should be about the policies of government. Newspaper articles showing John Howard going to the cricket are every bit as damaging as digging up ancient nude photos (or going wild with photoshop, depending on who you believe).

So its all very well for someone like me to sit here and say that I find Hansons policies repellent (and I do), but hey, its not my job which is at risk. Rather than just dismissing Hanson supporters as racist, I think its important to acknowledge reasons why her views might be attractive to a certain group of people.

And equally valid to understand why trashing her is of benefit to a certain different group of people who don’t like the idea of anyone speaking up and forming a focal point for the dissatisfaction of the less educated classes. Politics is a dirty business, and that isn’t likely to change soon. Do we want to run a few side bets on whether Rudd will increase or decrease the immigration quotas now that recession has hit? It doesn’t get mentioned much but while Howard was throwing children overboard he was also supervising a relatively high rate of immigration.

I dont agree, Nick. The newspapers are in desperate financial straights and they know that publishing this type of trash will temporarily boost their sales.

True enough, when the papers are gone there will always be anon accounts on youtube and the Internet viral email trashing. Maybe we will be hiring Chinese experts to help us deal with such threats.

15 years ago

I’m a bit confused by your two points Nick, I think the formatting got out of control!

If you are responding to me then I think they are reasonable points I agree with the second. I don’t know the answer to the first and certainly the European example sheds no light on what effect someone like Hawke might have done!! So I will accept that you might be right, but with the comparative material I have, Howard did a magnificent job, even if inadvertently.

In essence he resisted the urge (whether or not he personally was so urged) to disenfranchise her supporters, but instead gave them a hearing and a response. Probably the only mainstream Western government to do so, with the possible exception of the US (where some parts did and others did not).

Ironically some of the Western European governments were actually pursuing plenty of impeccably racist policies which had they dared admit them probably would have encouraged a great number of Le Pen/Haider/etc supporters.

15 years ago

Hey Jacques, speaking of that, I’ve tried lists before – can we have support for them?