It has been brought to my attention that the rename Victoria suggestion I made in these pages two weeks ago was thought by some Speccie readers to be a heavy-handed attempt at irony, and that much of the enthusiasm I expressed for the actions of Australian anti-racism protestors in that column was deemed less than heartfelt. How fortunate, then, that a copy of that particular Speccie found its way – for the first time in the magazine’s history, as far as we know –into the offices of the Victorian Greens party and onto the desk of the recently elected but yet to be confirmed Greens Senator, Lidia ‘don’t call me Australian’ Thorpe. And how fortunate for the Black Lives Matter movement that Ms Thorpe, who has since picked up the torch which I like to think I lit and carried it to Canberra, is no more susceptible to irony – or any other form of humour – than everyone else on the far Left.
But it is always a good idea to question the sincerity of people who publicly identify with popular causes, and especially so when the expression of their support doesn’t cost them much. One reason ‘taking a knee’ has spread around the planet faster than any virus is that the slogan which inspired it, being a statement of the bleeding obvious, is unlikely to encounter strong opposition. Another is that, like the re-tweeting of that slogan, it is a quick and, for most people, easy gesture. None of which, it’s worth remembering, could have been said about its inaugural televised performance. Indeed, the first public figure to make a political point in this way, San Francisco 49er Colin ‘don’t call me American’ Kaepernick, did so in the knowledge that it would outrage a large proportion of the many thousands watching and might well terminate his career. Kaepernick’s knee-taking was no quick curtsey, either; it was sustained for as long as it took everyone else in that stadium – including all his team mates of colour – to stand for, sing and then applaud their national anthem. Or, to give it a more grimly contemporary context, about half the time it took the knee of Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin to end the life of George Floyd.
Every December for hundreds of years, devout Catholics have converged on a church in a northern suburb of Mexico City to celebrate the Festival of the Virgin and light a candle to Her blessed memory. To demonstrate the depth of their faith, many of these pilgrims do not wait until they are inside the ancient Basilica before prostrating themselves, but literally crawl the last kilometre along steep and unpaved streets and alleyways, thereby sustaining multiple cuts and bruises and despoiling expensive suits and dresses purchased especially for the occasion. It seems to me that Western public officials and corporate leaders who are keen to signal their anti-racist virtue but do not wish to leave themselves open to the charge of disingenuflexion could take a cue from this. That is, instead of merely taking the knee to show their BLM solidarity they should consider keeping it: rather than adopting the pose for a few seconds for photo-calls and press conferences they should assume the full-on kneeling position before leaving their homes each morning and do their best to maintain it throughout the discharge of their itineraries. There would be some practical hurdles to overcome, of course; gents’ toilets would need to have Toulouse-Lautrec-level plumbing options installed, and the control panels in lifts would also have to be lowered a couple of feet. But in most outdoor civic spaces committed knee-keepers would have access to wheelchair ramps, and nobody would object if such true believers availed themselves of the kind of protective pads that skateboarding has made such a common sight in our parks and suburbs.
It would be nice to think that by being obliged to view the world from this reduced perspective, people in positions of authority would be less susceptible to the hubris and sense of entitlement that are so often the accruements of power. Unfortunately, history has shown us that for every fictional Tyrian Lannister there is a factual Napoleon and that Randy Newman knew what he was talking and singing about when it comes to short people. While few of us would go as far as agreeing with him that the vertically challenged have ‘no reason to live’, Australians don’t need to be reminded that Queen Victoria herself stood just shy of five feet tall in her embroidered silken socks and it is not unreasonable to suppose that her diminutive stature may have contributed to the insatiability of her conquests and the cruelty of her rule. All the more reason, then, to expunge her from our collective national memory.
As Mark Latham reported in these pages recently, not all gestures made in sports stadiums need be as serious as Colin Kaepernick’s. But given the unfamiliarity of Harold Shipman, Britain’s most prolific murderer, to most Australians, it’s hardly surprising that his life-size cardboard likeness was allowed to occupy a seat in the stands for the duration of an entire Dragons game recently. I do not know if the identity of the wag who did this has been established, but I can’t help wondering if it was the same person who, during a lunch break at an Ashes Test at Lords some years ago reduced the tourist section of the crowd to helpless laughter and the vast majority of poms to mystified silence by somehow persuading a stadium official – perhaps by claiming a medical emergency – to repeat the following announcement several times in a perfect post-war BBC accent over the public address system: ‘Could Mr Ivan Milat please come to the Information Desk.’ While few countries may ever again risk putting up statues to their national heroes, the man or woman responsible for that would surely be a refreshingly uncontroversial nomination for an Order of Australia.
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