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Something I’ve been thinking about
On Saturday, the front page of The New York Times featured photographs of children from New York to Melbourne protesting global inaction against climate change.
In Australia, The Australian ran a cover of Scott Morrison standing next to Donald Trump, under the headline ‘Trump embraces mateship’.
If Trump did make a turn towards Australian fraternity, the NYT either missed it or took no notice. Morrison made an appearance in the paper, sure, but his first appearance was above a piece about the Trump/Biden Ukraine mess. There, Morrison appears in a photograph, his face in shadow, the caption neglecting to identify him. He looks like an aide, and not an important one.
Now watch this video of Paul Murray, the Australian iteration of, like, Sean Hannity.
This is the type of text that ought to be preserved with tomorrow’s historians in mind. It tells us everything we need to know about the editorial line of Australia’s most powerful media conglomerate, News Corp.
Perhaps it is appropriate. Presented with the opportunity to engage with the Swiss-cheese-brained mind of the US President, Sky News send in a man with the affect of a particularly vacant Maltese Terrier. In this video, Murray is not so much like a man whose brain has been left on factory settings as a man whose brain has been reset, wiped, so all that is left is a big dumb grin and the ability to clap like a well-trained seal. He is a sycophant and a coward. He is outwardly, expressively proud of himself, and we can only hope that he was able to call his mother immediately afterwards to squeal with glee.
Consider the way he performs his Australianness like a monkey in a top hat. “G’day”, he leads. “Have you had a good day with your Aussie mate?” It is as though he knows the truth – that his only value to a man like Trump is as a source of momentary amusement. This, for the affection of a man with a mind with the consistency of loose stool water.
“What do you want to say to your many Australian supporters who wish you nothing but the best in November 2020?” asks Murray, practically erotic with enthusiasm for a man who openly defended white supremacists days after one of them killed a woman in the street.
At last count, something like 20% of Australians have something good to say about Donald Trump. But Murray lacks the gumption (and the inclination) to ask the more relevant question: “What do you want to say to the nearly 80% of Australians who associate with you words like racist; cruel; syphilitic?”
There’s another reason, as you know, that Murray does not ask that question: access. Murray, like reporters across the United States, is ready and willing to barter his principles away if it means pleasing the Golden Goose. (And think of how little he needs that Goose! It cannot be that this minute-long interview was worth very much. Murray is a man ready to debase himself and his country for the most meager of rewards – the attention of a man who has already forgotten his name.)
If journalists had anything like the ethics they love to talk about, not one of them would interview Trump until their colleagues could, too. This might be possible in the UK. But, as Mehdi Hasan told me earlier this year, American journalists lack the solidarity to uphold any type of collective journalistic integrity.
Comparing The Australian to The New York Times is a bit like comparing Fox News to The Guardian.
Even so, their contrasting approaches betray a power dynamic reminiscent of high school. The conservative Australian media remain desperate for the approval of the United States – they have since John Howard rewrote Australia’s foreign policy so that we became America’s lapdog.
But they also reveal just how far The Australian will go to avoid reporting on civic action for progressive causes.
The NYT’s front page reported a story about collective, synchronised behaviour between millions of people who otherwise would have no connection to each other. We forget that it is a remarkable thing for even two people to come together and coordinate to express a shared view. But on Friday, millions of people across the planet did this. In Australia, for example, three hundred thousand atomic individuals cooperated and cohered into a single great social organism. Any one of them connected, first, with just one other person, and then with another, and another, and suddenly into a cluster, and finally into one mass among hundreds of masses across the planet operating and cooperating under a shared vision. It is a miraculous thing.
It is a phenomenon wholly un-understood. Yet it is the determining phenomenon of our lives.
Even if Scott Morrison had not met Donald Trump, the editors at The Australian would have found some other way to minimise the miracle that is mass civic action. It’s not because they don’t believe in climate change (though many of them do not). It is because they cannot stand the idea that they are obliged, morally, to other people. They are affronted by the idea that they owe anyone anything. And when they are called to moral attention, as they were by children around the planet on Friday, they feel within themselves a repugnance and a disdain and an unnamed negative urge to kick back.
This is the psychology of mere reaction. It is a resentment, or a ressentiment, that inhabits the souls of any unreflective person whose interests align with a maintenance of the status quo. It is a resentment felt every day in the hearts of boomers across Australia, whose self-interest demands negative gearing but not a carbon tax. It is a resentment felt by men, terrified of the upswell of female power, who insist that #MeToo has ‘gone too far.’ And it is a resentment felt by the editors of The Australian, whose living depends on a loyal herd of readers who applaud the paper’s moves to kick back, ignore, or pull the ladder up from those of us who desperately, urgently, need things to change.
Something I just read
This book, written in 1994 but translated to English for the first time in 2019, guides us through a disquieting dreamworld in which we feel, alongside the characters, an utter loss of control, at the whim of forces un-understood and barely perceived. It’s no surprise, then, that The Memory Police is selling so well in English-language book stores today. Ogawa’s characters cling to those relationships they have, but, for the most part, remain alienated from each other. They are barely able to conceive of the social coordination that would be required to resist the slow, tyrannical apocalypse around them.
In this way, it reminds me of Ling Ma’s Severance. That book, too, features an alienated female narrator receiving armageddon without much protest. I think both authors acknowledge the same fact: resistance requires power, and the final wellspring of power is community. Without our social relations, the individual, too, disappears.
Something to read
This piece from Tom Breihan is a kind of dirge for Album, the first album from Girls.
Album, like its follow-up, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, is Great. That’s rare. Most albums are Good, and very many are Bad, and every now and then an album is Incredible. But I think we hold the Great ones closest because they are special without being ubiquitous. OK Computer is Incredible, sure. To Pimp A Butterfly is Incredible. But Album is only Great, which means you can still surprise someone with it, making their life a little deeper, and a little richer. It’s like a gift.
When Girls broke up, I remember feeling utterly bereft. This band had so much promise! But “promise” is a meaningless concept. Girls made two great albums, which is two more than most bands. Then they ended. They never lost their way. They never hit an uninspired stretch. They never teased a festival reunion on Instagram. And they still haven’t become a nostalgic totem. That’s fine. Sometimes, a great album can just be a great album, and that’s what Album is.