World is alive and well in Australia and a gathering of the
great council of 1000 of the chattering, ‘polite’ classes,
gathered in the big house over a weekend, will not change a
unimaginable amounts of money are spent each year in trying to
hide this Third World from the ‘polite’ classes or in attempts
to distance the reality of this fact from those of us who choose
to live here.
One of the
most visible attempts to create a sense of distance between the
polite classes and the reality of poverty and dispossession is
the criminalisation of poverty. Think of any media report of the
effects of poverty and dispossession and you will find that it
is couched in the terms of criminality or delinquency.
who reside in parts of our cities and towns are very rarely
described in terms of their suffering. Sure, there are the
special features that focus on individuals who are forced to
live on the streets. Their poverty is often presented as a
battle against forces that hold them locked into a “lifestyle”
that most of us can barely comprehend.
people are not us is the first impression that has to be created
by the authors of these features. Certainly, they may have been
like us once upon a time but now they are ‘victims’. Victims of
disease – mental illness or chronic depression or alcoholism.
Victims of circumstance – a broken home or the loss of their job
or as a result of loss of capacity due to injury. Or perhaps the
most obvious, victims of birth. That is their skin colour or
One class of
victims is very rarely described. These are the ones who have
lost hope and faith in the society they have come from but must
remain part of but perhaps, all of the ‘victims’ described so
far are, in reality, victims of the society they must remain in.
What is never
described or touched on in these features is the ‘big picture’
effects of such things a neoliberal economics – we usually call
this economic rationalism - or the way laws are made by those
who believe they know best. But of course the law makers must
know best as they are usually drawn from the ruling classes
anyway. Therefore those who rule must know best.
‘victim’ is fully established as not one of us, the usual thing
for the feature maker to turn to is their immediate
circumstance. In constructing this aspect of the story of the
inhabitant of the Third World, they will present to the viewer,
reader or listener the daily activities of their subject. We
will be introduced to the ‘daily grind’ this person must endure.
However, when most of their readers, listeners or viewers see
this, they will immediately compare it to their own ‘struggle
will immediately turn to the viewer’s, listener’s or reader’s
own private experience of having to pay the mortgage, put the
kids through school, pay the bills and save for the holiday. Of
course, that these concerns are the result of the pursuit of
capital and come down to their own lifestyle choice and are,
therefore, not really comparisons at all, is lost on most media
comparison between the comfort / discomfort of them and the
Third World serves the purpose of reinforcing, in the mind of
the media consumer, the sense of distance between them and the
subject of the feature.
reality cannot be easily avoided in the daily life of the
average punter. For the wealthy it is relatively easy to avoid
simply because this group spend their lives ensuring they never
come into inadvertent contact with the ‘great unwashed’. When
they do encounter someone below their own status, it will be in
a carefully controlled and stage managed fashion. One in which
the benefit accrues to them and not those they are allowing into
For most of
us encounters with the Third World here in Australia are more
common. Most of us don’t display a callous disregard for the
poor and dispossessed. Rather, when they do occupy the same
physical space as us, we can choose to tune out and ignore them.
On one level this is a healthy thing to do as we cannot stretch
our own interpersonal resources beyond their limits. On another
level, the fact that we can choose to ignore the reality of the
‘other’ is a reflection of our own comfort.
I wonder if
the 1000 chattering and polite people who will be carefully
selected and instructed, encounter the Third World so evident in
their own cities. I know some of them have and know they know
what I’m getting at. Some of them will have experienced the pain
and entered into the lives of Third World residents and suffered
alongside them. Most, however, have no idea or have only ever
encountered the ‘other’ during a publicity shoot for some
charity or other.
For the most
part this tax payer funded junket to the big house will achieve
little other than present another networking opportunity for the
already well connected and well healed and for them to ‘tut tut’
about how bad things are and how they need to be fixed. What
will not be discussed is their complicity in perpetuating the
very conditions they find so appalling.
is that at the end of the talkfest they will release a news
statement along the lines of ‘things are bad, but we have
committed to making them better’. Other comments for media
consumption may well include ‘we need to do more’ and ‘we want
to work with government to raise the bar’. None of which means
diddly-squat to those whose reality is shaped by forces very
much beyond their control and who will not be able to see, read
or view the news anyway.
I guess you
could say I’m rather sceptical of the purpose and outcomes of
the great council of the 1000. That would be right. None of them
are experts in the fields they will be discussing. Sure, they
have ‘qualifications’ and write or comment on the issues but
none of them have actually experienced the reality they will
make grand statements on. The real experts, the inhabitants of
the Third World, will be left exactly where they are now – in
the streets, under the bridges and in the parks and gardens they
Don’t get me
wrong. Some of the great council of the 1000 are doing good work
to turn around the fortunes of the inhabitants of the Third
World. Unfortunately for them though, the weight of history is
working against them. Nonetheless, wouldn’t it be grand if this
august gathering could point their collective finger at the real
problem. But then again, if they did you and I would also have
to shoulder our portion of the blame. Maybe we’re just not ready
to accept that much responsibility yet.
not polite to point.