Interview: Geoff Lemon

If you haven’t heard of Geoff Lemon until now then you are in for a treat!

Acerbic by name and nature, Lemon punched his way into the Australian political conversation earlier this year with his viciously eloquent article titled “You shut your goddamn carbon-taxin’ mouth”. Since then, that piece and many of his subsequent articles, all of which are posted on his blog Heathen Scripture, have been run on The Drum and The Punch, but not before they pixelated their way across Australia via facebook. At a time where our current political commentary is being inundated by the suffocating conservatism of the Divines and Bolts as they champion a crusade of stagnation on issues such as gay rights and climate change, Lemon has become a popular voice of reason, ruthless hilarity and vitriolic smuttery. If you are not reading this guy, you should be. Right now. Well, after you read Woroni’s interview with him.

How did you first get involved in the writing game?

I actually started out writing poetry, believe it or not. Even that I didn’t get into until I was in my 20s. In my last year of uni I started getting interested in writing and reading at open mics and doing performances. From that I started writing stuff that was trying to entertain people – there’s all these poets out there writing boring, shitty poetry and I felt like it could be much more entertaining and it could be the kind of thing that could have jokes in it. People could enjoy it! So I started writing with the intent to entertain people and I guess the same sort of idea has spilled over into the political writing I do now.

Your blog, the Heathen Scripture, has an overwhelming political focus. You’ve tackled the topics of gay marriage, religion in public schools and the carbon tax. Just how popular has your blog become in recent months?

The carbon tax article was the turning point. Before that it was a pretty modest readership. The carbon tax piece got 250,000 hits in 3 days – so thatís what you might call a spike on the graph! Since then all my subsequent work has been getting a lot more traffic coming through. It actually wasn’t a political blog and I still don’t think of it as being a political blog. I started it less than 2 years ago as a travel blog – writing about things that happened in Argentina. I tend to drink a lot and have a pretty terrible memory so when I went to Argentina I thought that I’d have to record it all somehow or all these interesting things that happened would disappear. I read some other travel blogs that were so fucking excruciatingly dull, where you have some boring middle age couple, and I thought, I can write something more entertaining than that.

When I came home from Argentina, I kept writing whatever was on my mind for that particular day. The way I think about Heathen Scripture is that it’s the blog version of what I would be talking about if me and a friend sat down with a couple of drinks at the end of the day. So it could be a bunch of hilarious dick jokes that I thought the world needed to know…or it could be my frank and unequivocal thoughts on carbon taxation…or anywhere in between.

 

Your carbon tax article has been shared on facebook by 20,000 people. That’s an incredible number. What kind of feedback have you had from that piece?

It definitely hasn’t been all positive…but yes, I have had a lot of really positive feedback. That piece had amazing volumes of feedback. It had over 1500 comments. The average article that has 10,000 views might get 100 comments so it got an extraordinary amount of discussion and debate going – the comment thread on the article has about 4 miles of ‘scroll down’. A lot of this was positive based on the fact that I was saying things in a really straightforward way, which apparently is a rare commodity.

 

Right, that’s exactly the focus of my next question. Do you think the popularity of your blog is due to the fact that it articulates a progressive, no-nonsense and critical perspective, in a climate where Australian media seems be recycling and echoing the same homogenous voice throughout its major publications?

Absolutely. The voices you have at the moment are journalists who are too afraid to say anything that could be construed as tending towards one side or the other. Then you have a whole slue of right-wing journalists…well columnists, because they are not actually journalists because they don’t have to have evidences or sources, they are just having an ‘opinion’. They are, of course, the ones that complain all the time about left-wing media bias. I really resent this ‘right-wing, left-wing’ bullshit. Apparently if you think Tony Abbot is a fuckwit that means that you’re officially left wing. I don’t see why you can’t be anywhere you want on the political spectrum and still think Tony Abbott is a fuckwit simply because Tony Abbott is a fuckwit. Categorically. You could be Robert Menzies and probably still think Tony Abbot is a fuckwit. I don’t think of myself as left wing – although I’ve been called it a lot in the last few weeks based on the things I’ve written.

 

Do you think this speaks about the importance of a blog as this emerging medium itself? That given that current media doesn’t seem to be tackling these issues head on, or is taking a very tame approach, Australians are turning to blogs, seeking a more fearless, no-bullshit assessment of current policy rather sensationalistic headlines and editorials aimed at moving papers?

Yes, I think that ís the case. The newspaper business gets distracted trying to hook readers in with the most trashy and irrelevant thing it can think of. I think the reason why there was such a big response to the carbon tax piece in the beginning was that I wasn’t constrained by having to stay within the bounds of good taste of any major publication.

 

In your other pieces and, much to the pleasure of many, you’ve torn shreds of brutal eloquence off the likes of Bob Katter, Barnaby Joyce, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt and Jim Wallace with respect to their conservative, and specifically anti-gay rights, views have you had any responses from any of these people in relation to your writings?

The inside word I’ve had is that Andrew Bolt wasn’t greatly impressed by my piece and interestingly he described it as a smear campaign, which is funny because I was very clearly addressing the points he had made and not his character. Apparently dissecting his points and finding out he was talking shit amounted to a smear campaign. I can’t say I’ve had any personal correspondence from Barney Joyce or the lovely Miranda but I can only hope. As for Bob Katter, I think he would be hilarious to get wasted with.

 

Are papers constraining their own journalists or is it the journalists themselves who we ought to feel disappointed in – are they failing us in their representation of what’s happening in Australian politics?

I think a lot of journos tend to self-censor before they get told to censor. And then that carries through each level. Their immediate editor will be more inclined to censor things that perhaps their superiors wouldn’t and then the section editor will be more inclined to be cautious again. Each level of command keeps being more and more cautious with what itís prepared to put out and that contributes to the generally bland nature of the reporting you get. If the people at the bottom of the chain were prepared to be a bit more daring then they’d probably get a lot more through than they might think.

 

You’ve been known to drop the occasional c-bomb in your articles and generally aren’t adverse to profanity or confronting sexual analogie…is there ever a line which can’t be crossed?

I use profanities because I find them entertaining and I think theyíre an interesting part of language. A well-used profanity, used in an interesting and original way is yet another part of language I enjoy. The conversational tone is what I think people enjoy about Heathen Scripture. Lets strip away the corporate crap coming out of the media release and tell it how it is. As for a line ñ Iím cautious not to promote hatred or racism or anything like that. But for the most part, I know Iím using it with the right intention. But you’re still welcome to be offended.

Hate mail, do you get much?

I got a lot of angry mail in response to the carbon tax piece.  Being accused of defending the Labor Party is pretty much the most offensive thing anyone has ever said to me. No, the best one I had was a guy who told me I should be raped and strangled.

 

Check out Heathen Scripture at heathenscripture.wordpress.com.