In the 1990’s Simon Hunt shot to prominence in the Australian consciousness with his surprise Pauline Hanson parody hit ‘Backdoor Man’. What followed was a whirlwind of infamy, court cases and musical parody. His drag character, Pauline Pantsdown took on a life of her own and through music countered the boiling pot of anger, racism and ignorance that had taken over the media. After a 15 year hiatus Pauline Pantsdown reappeared to shake up the online media dialogue and as her rival Hanson has also re-emerged, back to social prominence.
Why did you choose to use humour to combat Pauline Hanson?
We were in a time where there hadn’t been a lot of racist discourse in the media and in the public for quite some time. So she seemed to sort of appear out of nowhere, and particularly for the groups she was targeting, it was very painful. A choreographer who I worked with, who was from Malaysia, said to me, “Look I’ve been here for fifteen years, but for the last year I’ve started to wonder if I belong here, if I’m welcome here.” It was sort of like she allowed racist speech in public. I was angry, but I’ve always responded with humour. It allows me to speak more pointedly and come at the issue sideways. A lot of people have said it allowed them a conduit to laugh back at her, and to get rid of that feeling of powerlessness.
What made you create the song ‘I don’t like it’?
Over that year [Hanson’s] popularity had grown, and so had her public profile. She won nearly a third of the vote in the Queensland election. So the stakes had risen in terms of how dangerous she was. I said, “she’s not going to stop me.” Back then a small number of people had internet; people still relied on radio, television and newspapers. I knew that I needed to compete with her in the same media, to be seen as an alternate Pauline. I needed a pop song hit. I spent about 6 months making it. I gave it an 80’s sound because the djs at that time were all in their 40’s and I wanted to tap into their longing for their youth. I aimed it at both kids and adults. Adults would get the, “Please explain why I can’t have my blood be coloured white”, but for the kids, it was the chants, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, racist rubbish, racist hate.” Afterwards people would tell me their kids had sung it at end of year concerts.
Did you originally think the song was important enough to risk any consequences, or did you think it would never go anywhere?
I actually made it to be performed at an underground queer party in front of all my friends, and we had given a copy to Triple J to promote the party. My friend who organised the party was a drag queen friend, Vanessa Wagner, who did some work for Triple J at the time. He basically just took it in and said, “Look we’re doing a party on the weekend can I do a little interview about it? Here’s the song we’re going to perform,” and that was day one. Everybody called the station and it was the number one request every day after that.
How do you feel now that Pauline Hanson is back?
It’s worse that she has more power now, even though she hasn’t done anything yet. At some point the government will try to get a legislation through, and will really need her vote, and it remains to be seen what things they will compromise on. The reason I’m not rushing out right now is because it’s not 1998 anymore. She’s not the most racist person in parliament anymore. I think that some liberal party members, like Cori Bernardi and George Christensen, have much more extreme views. Now she’s having cups of tea with Tony Abbott, when he was once part of a scheme to have her thrown in jail. I’m more focused these days on defending people who can’t fight back, people who are ignored by the media. I have this position as a B celebrity, and I’m going to use it.
What forms the basis of your values and beliefs, and your social activism?
I don’t have any religious beliefs and don’t define myself within any particular value system. So it’s something I’ve formed myself. For any sort of minority group, for me, being a gay man, there comes a time when you realise you don’t have the same rights as everyone else. Homosexuality had a fourteen-year jail sentence in New South Wales until I was twenty-two years old – so I was facing fourteen years in jail every time I had sex until then, if you can imagine that. In a situation like that, you tend to realise that society is not always treating everybody equally, and that gives you a particular interest in how people have fought against it – in my teens I was fascinated by the American Civil Rights movement of the 60’s, and I kept following activism from there.