This is a photograph of George Christensen MP, an elected member of Australia’s federal government. He will be featuring in an article published this week in one of the weekend newspapers, and this photograph accompanies the story, apparently.
I don’t even know…
Let’s deconstruct the picture a tiny bit, shall we?
Blue singlet = obsolete but quintessential symbol of the Australian working class man, however, Mr Christensen is a member of one of the most elite groups in the country.
Tattoo = symbol of his (oft-professed) strongly-held Orthodox Christian faith, except the Bible commands, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:28 KJV.
Whip = symbol of his role as the National party whip in parliament, but a whip coiled over the shoulder of white male who subscribes to far-right ideology has so many connotations to do with power and privilege, nationalism and imperialism, that it makes my head hurt just thinking about it.
Why is this in any way an appropriate photograph to accompany a story about a politician with aspirations to become a cabinet minister? He has expressed anti-Muslim views over a long period of time and is an advocate for immigration discrimination. Does this sound in any way familiar? (Hint: Donald J. Trump.) Clearly, this photograph is pitched to appeal to working class white men, the Australians who are feeling increasingly displaced and dispossessed in ‘their own country’. New technologies are doing them out of jobs, identity politics questions their assumed superiority, and laws are holding them to account for their misogyny, racism and sexism. A tiny diminution in their status has left many straight white men feeling angry and vindictive, and politicians such as George Christensen know exactly which buttons to push in order to unleash their rage.
And isn’t this just the way the mainstream media rolls these days? In Australia, the ‘colourful’ politicians, the ones who spout racist ideology, who divide opinion, who relentlessly self-promote, who have a recognisable ‘brand’, get all the headlines and all the coverage. Those politicians quietly doing the job they were elected to perform are totally ignored. Politics has become a ‘celebrity’ sideshow, a quasi Reality TV Show, where electors get to vote the ‘contestants’ onto the ‘island’ and vote them off again three years later. Except, while the contestants are busily jostling for media coverage and spouting their headline-grabbing ‘memorable quotes’ and tweeting their stupidity and ignorance for everyone to see, there is no leadership, no one at the helm of the government capable of guiding us through the shoals of piranhas and steering a safe path through the hatred and vitriol and ‘post-truth’ bullshit that seems to be the main cultural currency these days.
Right now, political discourse in Australia is bizarre and surreal and completely disappointing. And, if one day we wake up and find that George Christensen is our new Prime Minister, we will only have ourselves to blame, because we are complicit in this whole mess. We watch the TV shows and read the clickbait news stories and clack away on our keyboards, but what do we actually do to try to turn the tide that’s making us drift, slowly at first, and then faster and faster and inexorably into a political maelstrom that we can’t even begin to imagine.
In our complacency, we think that our established way of life will endure, of course it will. We choose not to see what is before our eyes, staring us in the face, with his coiled whip over his shoulder and a smug expression on his face.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
From ‘The Second Coming’, Yeats, 1919.