Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Prime Ministers’ Questions Time

Does anyone know at what point it became necessary for world leaders to comment on the activities of two-bit celebs? Hot on the heels of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown taking time out from the imminent collapse of his Labour Government to share his thoughts on Susan Boyle, the Scottish singing housewife, we now have Kevin Rudd weighing into Ramsaygate.

The events and circumstances surrounding chef Gordon Ramsay’s childish slagging of Tracy Grimshaw are irrelevant really. If he used sexist or homophobic language he’s a dickhead. I’m not interested in him, and I’ve no respect for her as the face of one of the most vile shows on television in A Current Affair.

What rubs me up the wrong way is journalists looking for sound bites from people who (in theory) have more important things to think about. Honestly, does anyone truly care what the Prime Minister thinks about Grimshaw or Ramsay? Of course he’s going to say it’s a bad thing. Anything else would be seized upon by the various parties and used to give him bad press.

He could just have said nothing but sadly Kevin 07 can’t resist a chance to prove he’s an everyman. He also seems to have inherited John ‘Fair Dinkum’ Howard’s irritating knack for dropping Australianisms into his official statements to make him seem more like a man of the people - this time calling Ramsay’s behaviour ‘low life.’ What next? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a flaming galah?

Similarly Gordon Brown. Faced with the biggest political crisis of his career and the nigh on certain end of Labour’s time in power, Gordon was on breakfast television expressing concern for the wellbeing of reality TV star Susan Boyle who collapsed after she lost in the final of Britain’s Got Talent. His concern stepped over a line when he revealed that
he had personally called Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan, just two of the shits responsible for exploiting Boyle, to make sure all was fine. "I hope Susan Boyle is OK because she is a really, really nice person and I think she will do well," Brown added – presumably with a mournful puppy dog look at the camera.

PR already has too much influence over our political systems. Politicians spend more time playing the PR game than doing the work we need of them. One cannot help but laugh at the assurances from David Cameron, leader of the UK Conservative Party that
his favourite bands include Radiohead and the Smiths. Of course they are David, you jumped-up pantry boy…

Elsewhere politicians are expected to have such populist views, tastes and opinions that their own personalities fade from view. Do we truly expect them to watch the dross that is A Current Affair, or even to know who Gordon Ramsay is? Would we begrudge Kevin had he said ‘sorry, never heard of him?’ More importantly, would it honestly affect our vote? Is this truly what we want from our leaders today: false emotions and moral outrage, on tap? And does being in touch with the public have to mean the lowest taste common denominator?

An unpleasant anti-intellectualism theme ran through the 2008 US Election coverage, with some areas of the media accusing Barrack Obama of being elitist and out of touch with the people. When it came down to the crunch the American public decided that actually, Obama was very much in touch with them, despite having a showing a preference for cellist Yo-Yo Ma over Fall Out Boy and Rihanna. It was the media who had it wrong.

In the end most politicians are chameleons who will adapt to any cultural climate to get elected and then stay there. It is up to us as a society to set higher standards for them to live up to. We should have higher expectations of our journalists, something we can demonstrate through consumption of a better class of media rather than rags like the Telegraph and Herald Sun or ACA / Today Tonight muck raking. Maybe when they stop asking the pollies silly questions they’ll have more time to hold them to account for the things that do matter.

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