We are supposed to see the glass as half full. Yet on reading the paper, watching the news or consuming any form of media about Australian politics it becomes clear that the glass is not simply half empty, it is empty. This glass has been hurled out the window of parliament house and now Gillard and Abbott are fighting over who threw it. And when it comes to irrelevant childish arguments, I don’t care.
A healthy media industry is vital for a healthy democracy; it provides the information from which we form our opinions on how the country is run. Perhaps it is my growing older, (theoretically) wiser and definitely more cynical but I think the state of our media industry is far from adequate. I seem to have trouble distinguishing the difference between MX, Sydney Morning Herald and The Telegraph and headlines like ‘Pilot, stewardess sacked over cockpit sex‘ and ‘Former swimsuit model turns rodeo rider ‘, it’s not hard to see why. Media reporting like this should not become the norm, although sometimes it seems it already has.
Every adult in this country has to vote, and if they are taking headlines like that to the ballot box then what is the point? People should be able to pick up the paper and have access to simple, factual, information about politics, not what politicians had for breakfast, what they do in their evenings or anything to do with their private life. I’m all for being a voyeur but leave it to trashy reality TV shows not politics. You should not have to be some media studies student or journalist to be able to sift through the crap out there and figure out details about policies, government and how our country is being run. It is the media’s job to tell us this information, but paradoxically it is getting harder and harder to find mainstream media that provides this.
The lack of interest in politics from young people cannot simply be blamed on poor media reportage. With Tony Abbott’s childlike stubbornness and Julia Gillard coming across more like a character from Kath and Kim than a politician, it’s not hard to see why young people have become increasingly apathetic. These politicians have become so caricatured they’re not even really human enough to hate. They embody that repetitive, irritating quality of a neighbour’s dog that won’t shut up- you never really hate the dog you just become adept at blocking it out, much like young people with politics.
I am a person that is interested in politics, sure I am not going and volunteering at my party of choice but I feel like I have a responsibility to know what’s going on. Lately, keeping up to date with politics has become so painful if you asked me what I would prefer to do out of watching Q&A and repeatedly bashing my head against a brick wall I wouldn’t be able to answer you.
Australian politicians have gotten lazy. As the late, great David Foster Wallace explained in his article about the 2000 McCain trail, American politicians ‘cannot afford to have the politics get ugly and negative and have voters get so bored and cynical and disgusted with the whole thing that they don’t even bother to vote’. Unlike America, in Australia it is compulsory to vote, thus Gillard and Abbott don’t have to worry about this. They have treated their relationship with voters like someone who has gotten too safe and lazy in their relationship with their boyfriend/girlfriend, they whine too much, don’t write back to texts, don’t answer questions properly, stop being ‘nice’ and in extremely ugly scenarios go to the toilet with the door open. Yes politics has gotten ugly and negative and we are bored and cynical.
When we see politicians on our televisions there is an overwhelming lack of interest and a deep disengagement that is often a defence against pain, against bashing your head against a brick wall, again and again and again. Seeing topics that we care about, like climate change, refugees, interest rates or the GFC, repeatedly pummelled with words by politicians who we don’t care about is beyond irritation. It’s down right painful, to the point that it seems masochistic to even try and engage with these issues. Current Australian politics is a breeding ground for cynicism, bitterness and a wholly anti-democratic sentiment, which is scary. I want to care, I really do but when I pick up the paper and I read about Kristina Keneally’s hair extensions, an article by Andrew Bolt or spend an hour needling myself with frustration while watching Q&A, it seems silly not to shrug in apathy.
It can be fun to look back at the likes of Churchill and Keating who were not only commanding, but downright hilarious (they were also assholes but who isn’t? Right?). They were not hilarious in the way that modern politicians are. Now we laugh at politicians, it’s a kind of gallows humour that stems from the political landscape being about as appealing and funny as a detention centre. Sure I know it’s easy to be nostalgic for the past and ignore the negatives but here is a classic Keating insult that definitely wouldn’t go astray today, “Hi Jim, Paul Keating here, just because you swallowed a f***ing dictionary when you were about fifteen doesn’t give you the right to pour a bucket of s*** over the rest of us.” I told you they were going to the toilet with the door open.
But what would happen if Gillard or Abbott let loose a Keating style slur today? More than likely it would be a media frenzy. News reports would label one sexist or elitist or any other ‘ist’ that makes a good headline. Within a day there would be hundreds of articles on the web debating the said slur, followed by groups springing up on facebook, then the politicians would go on talk shows defending whatever they said while audiences are back to the usual head-bashing-wall routine not to mention the extreme left/right wing trolling that would appear on comment boards. Maybe I am exaggerating, but the fact is that in our modern twenty-four hour news cycle, this wouldn’t be that uncommon. So can we really blame politicians for being so boring and vacuous when this is the kind of hyperbolic response that can blow up around them? It is the old chicken or the egg question. Have politicians been forced into vapid repetition in response to a gossip style twenty-four hour news cycle or is the media catering to political campaigns based on negativity and repetition? There is no simple answer, media and politics will always be intertwined and forever problematic, the real question here is whether we care about these problems. As the media churns out articles, Gillard repeats the word sustainable and Abbott yells liar, there is a nagging voice in the back of our minds that asks, why do you care at all?