I find myself in the unenviable position of arguing that the level of vitriol directed at Alan Jones is due to his politics, not what he said about Julia Gillard’s father. Obviously, those obtuse comments were appalling and unwarranted. However, it is not hard to find innumerable examples of complete insensitivity either ignored or given the most minuscule of rebukes. We try to convince ourselves we desire consistent standards of public decency but find all manner of excuses to initiate selective backlashes on those falling afoul of such standards. The anti-Jones campaign will only be proportional when the need for a public dressing-down is extricated from someone’s views on the carbon tax, gay marriage or the redistribution of wealth.
Two of The Chaser’s most noteworthy “jokes” demonstrate my point perfectly. Andrew Hansen’s infamous Eulogy song was criticised by a number of people but never generated even an iota of the exposure and anger as Jones’s attack has in recent days. One particular line about the radio shock jock and brain cancer victim Stan Zemanek, “…and his views were more malignant than his brain”, would have been as offensive to Zemanek’s family as Jones’ idiotic jibe was to Gillard’s. I do not recall anyone opposed to Zemanek’s positions coming forth to defend either the man or his family on a matter of human principle. This is hypocritical given that people of all political persuasions were expected to immediately condemn Jones’s jibe against Gillard. Clearly people feel justified in drowning right-wing-hack Joneses in their molten fury but insist they have the right to laugh when the opinionated conservative Zemaneks die after protracted terminal illnesses.
Even The Chaser’s far more maligned “Make a Wish” skit aimed at dying children only resulted in a temporary hiatus in the show’s production. Only a few years on, all is apparently forgiven and team is heavily involved in other projects. As they should be, because a stupid mistake shouldn’t always mean a life sentence. But I hold no doubts that these sentiments would have been borderline career suicide if expressed by an Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt. Importantly, though, these two insensitive presentations by The Chaser were deliberately broadcast to a national audience. While the relative privacy of Jones’ remarks does nothing to excuse his words, it does highlight the double standard a group of ABC comedians were held to.
Likewise, when Liberal strategist Grahame Morris called 7:30 co-host Leigh Sales a “cow” after her interview with Tony Abbott, scores of critics unleashed their salvos of anti-sexist rage (oblivious to fact that the words “prick”, “dickhead” and “bastard” are even more gender-specific). What makes this all the more perplexing is that soon after, just as Bob Carr was lambasting Alan Jones and the Liberal Party for their supposed tag-team gutter politics, his Labor associate Bob Ellis had already accused Gillard of politically-motivated, “girly tears” over the death of her father. All without left-wing condemnation. A bit rich, don’t you think? I won’t even start on the discrepancy between Labor’s frequently vague accusations that Tony Abbott is a sexist but unbroken silence on the indisputably misogynistic text messages of Peter Slipper.
Focusing once more on the ABC, regular contributor Catherine Deveny has escaped even a fraction of the flak levelled at Jones for her previous putrid comments. Apparently a non-conservative comedian can’t be as socially sanctioned for making jokes about Belinda Emmett dying or wishing her former Age editor ‘arse cancer’. To put the icing on the cake, Germaine Greer is free to accuse Julia Gillard of having a large derriere on Q&A but God save the reputation of any male Coalition supporter with an identical opinion.
I am all for readjusting the attitudes and misbehaviour of the serially obnoxious. Yet as someone who identifies as a libertarian, not a conservative or progressive, it’s plain to my eyes that both major sides of politics readily play the “act on this, forget that” ballgame. Be my guest folks, take Alan Jones’ new Mercedes away. But be prepared to give the same proverbial punch to the ego of everyone who crosses the line into vile bullying – including your own team-mates.