Diary Australia

Notes from a Media tart

14 December 2013

9:00 AM

14 December 2013

9:00 AM

One of the drawbacks of writing for a magazine as esteemed as the Spectator Australia is that you are assumed to be a person of some vague intellect with informed opinions to match. This is, of course, complete nonsense, but it does make you extremely attractive fodder for today’s equivalent of the Hyde Park Soap Box — the political chat show. Chat shows come in a variety of different political hues ranging from ABC to Sky, and involve a bewildering array of different names and hosts. But the basic formula is the same; half a dozen current affairs and/or cultural topics, each dissected with all the forensic precision and excitement of a team of med students hovering over a warm corpse laid out on a cold slab.

Thanks to the ridiculous and fanciful requirement of the ABC to pretend that they are a ‘balanced’ news organisation by presenting ‘mixed’ views, when of course they have far more important things to do such as saving Australia (and the world) from climate change, I find myself being invited onto radio and TV shows as the ‘conservative’ columnist — aka the fascist right-wing bastard who is de rigueur on any self-respecting panel. ‘You’re perfect for our quota,’ explained one wag to me, ‘you make up for about eight lefties in one go.’

Weirdly, as I repeatedly attempt to point out but nobody believes me, I think of myself as a perfectly normal, pragmatic realist devoid of any particular political affiliations, who is simply drawn to the conservative side of politics because thus far the Libs seem to make more sense and do fewer acts of brazen stupidity. This argument gets me nowhere so I’ve given up on it and now just accept the right-wing tag. Nonetheless, it’s worth pointing out that many of the opinions I have wildly expressed over the last two years, only to be greeted with sneering disbelief by my host and/or other panellists before being ritually carved up and devoured by the snarling, salivating beasts of Twitter, are now accepted as pretty accurate by those same individuals. Namely: the AWU slush fund scandal is a proper news story; Tony Abbott is not a right-wing Thatcherite; Julia Gillard did not do a very good job; Wayne Swan was a goose of a Treasurer; Kevin Rudd was an earwax-munching dysfunctional psychopath.

One of the dangers of wandering from chat show to chat show is that eventually the Chaser team will sit up and take notice. The phone call came through one afternoon in late August. It took a moment or two for the penny to drop. The Chaser try to pretend they’re not the Chaser any more but instead call themselves the Hamster Wheel which is odd enough but because this was during the run-up to the election they now called themselves the Hamster Decides. But they still couldn’t fool me. I knew a Chaser when I heard one.

‘The boys have written a sketch, and they’d like you to have a small part in it,’ was how the producer ever-so-diplomatically put it. Now, having spent many years trying to persuade actors to do things they didn’t really want to do (I had to persuade Paul Hogan that just because his character didn’t know that people spit out wine during a tasting didn’t mean he himself was a ‘moron’, and I had to persuade Joel Edgerton that his character telling a girl that ‘her big bum took the emphasis off her face’ didn’t mean he himself was ‘sexist’) I knew a set-up when I saw one.

Obviously, if the Chaser have written you, personally, into a sketch, it’s pretty clear at whose expense that joke will be — and it won’t be theirs. Still, after overcoming my initial terror and consulting my manager/spouse/ font of all wisdom (‘Of course you’ll do it!’ said Sarah without hesitation) I found myself being officially labelled a ‘media tart’ during a funny five-minute skit we filmed over a couple of days. Some people may find ‘media tart’ derogatory but quite frankly, after several decades of being regularly derided as an ‘advertising wanker’ I wear the new tag with pride.

Which leads me to the best bit about being a media tart, courtesy of being a chat show right-wing ranter, courtesy of writing columns for the Speccie and the Fin. It’s the people you meet.

Over the last two years I’ve been absolutely thrilled, humbled, honoured and hugely entertained by meeting and spending a few stolen moments during commercial or news breaks with a vast array of political figures, journalists, editors, comedians, writers, TV hosts, cartoonists, hairdressers, shock jocks, camera operators, producers, actors, publicists and — not to forget! — fellow panellists. Those watching the sometimes passionate debates, with differences of opinion being tossed around like rag dolls, will be relieved that, to a certain extent, Political Panel Shows are a bit like World Championship Wrestling. We thrash about, flay our limbs and hurl each other’s comments through the air, and jump on top of them, and twist them in a headlock when they come crashing down on the mat. But we’re all perfectly civil to each other after the show is over, as together we bandage our wounds and massage bruised egos over a glass of chardy and a slab of camembert, waiting for the next bell to ring.

Speaking of which, I must dash. The Speccie goes to print in a few hours time, but I won’t be at my desk. There’s a Bill Leak exhibition of his portraits I don’t want to miss and then it’s off to Sky News for the Paul Murray Show.There’s no rest these days for your average media tart.

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Rowan Dean’s Beyond Satire — Julia Caesar & the Kevin Sutra (Connor Court) is highly suitable for last-minute Christmas pressie purchases. You can follow Rowan Dean (if you feel so inclined) on Twitter @rowandean

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