Sunday, November 30, 2014

We don't need your stinking “narrative”

When a political writer says “this is what the Abbott government needs to do to improve its standing”, they aren't saying “it should stop lying and abandon a policy agenda that stinks”.

They're saying “the government could persuade people it's not lying, if it would just listen to me.”

I dislike it when people refer to Canberra as “the Beltway” in imitation of America, but the word does fill a gap in Australia's political slang. There is, in Australia's politics as in America's, a kind of closed-circle-insiderness that the word encapsulates.

As Victoria kicks out one government and installs another, the political insiders are cranking up their word machines and telling us that the Abbott government failed Victoria because it's made a mess of its “messaging” over the ABC cuts and the $7 GP copayment.

The obsession of political commentators with “messaging” and “the narrative” is not the application of a disinterested academic abstraction to political debate: it's a deliberate use of language to serve a deliberate end.

That end is to protect the commentator's role as gatekeeper between the government and the governed. There is no policy so toxic, no lie so brazen, no self-interest so naked that it can't be sold – if only the people in charge of the government's “messaging” can find the right “narrative”.

“Get the messaging and narrative right”, the commentators are saying, “and we will praise you. Get the messaging and the narrative wrong, and we will curse you.”

The commentators – pretty much all of them – believe that as the true insiders, they deserve the power to direct our votes and dictate our outcomes. The government is “framing” the “narrative” badly, and that, in the commentators' imagination, is why people have been gathering ever since the March in March to protest the actions of the federal government.

Why push the narrative over the truth? Because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate: people are seeing politics for ourselves, without needing to view it through the prism of the columnist.

It doesn't take much effort to find a commentator writing that people have stopped listening to Tony Abbott, nor is it an effort to find the same thing written about Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd or John Howard.

What if we are listening to the politicians, and deciding entirely without the commentators' help that a broken promise is a broken promise, that a lie is a lie, and that the “framing” doesn't matter a damn?

Australians are acutely aware of what politicians are saying to us: they're trying to lie their way out of broken promises. “No cuts to …” was unequivocal, and it doesn't matter which minister you send to stand on the tumbril and pronounce that they're not lying. “Framing” a lie in the “context” of a “narrative” makes you complicit in the lie.

We don't need the blather and bollocks to tell fact from fiction, truth from lie, or to have the political commentariat choosing our elections. We can do what we are doing: ignoring commentators trying to force-fit our understanding of facts into their framing, and make our own decisions.

Out of its political culture, Australia created a Beltway of insider journalists. That's who we stopped listening to. 

*I originally had a typo of indisderness for "insiderness". @ForrestGumpp from Twitter likes the former usage as symbolic of the narrative. I kind of agree!


David Havyatt said...

Richard the appropriate Australian slang is "The Triangle" as Parl House sits at the Apex of the Parliamentary triangle which is bounded by commonwealth and kings ave and the lake. Apart from the cultural institutions and high court at the bottom it includes treasury and PM&C with DoFAT technically just outside.

Unknown said...

Sir I salute you

Way2fargone said...

For most of my life, as an 'ordinary' Aussie I did not have a clue who or what a political journalist was. When I got really involved in following politics closely, I had to work out who these people where who took themselves so serioulsy, and assumed that everyone else did too.

It may surprise them at mostly nobody knows them or cares about them or anything they say. The ones that have the power to decide headline count, but the rest are heros in their own toilet bowls. 202

Way2fargone said...

I am sick of 'narratives'. Why do these journalists demand that gov't do their jobs for them. It is the jouirnalist's job to work out the narrative that is unfolding, and analyse it. At least that is my naive expectation.