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Henson versus Hanson Land

By Tony Phillips
Created 06/10/2008 - 20:45

Henson versus Hanson Land
by Tony Phillips [0]

As I woke on Sunday to the changed clock I foolishly turned on the radio and was suddenly transported into a world of foofaraw. A bevy of Labor politicians and me-too Liberals were railing again in moral panic about that artist/fiend Henson actually being invited to a primary school in his quest for possible models. Had the clock actually gone back, like 50 years? Or just 4 or 5 months?

The Sunday Age even headlined Victorian Premier Brumby conducting a “probe” over the matter. Such behaviour certainly seemed alien to me. Like the PM I felt “horrified and revolted”. But not by the event but by this media report.

Briefly I contemplated the possibilities of succession. Could the inner suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, the civilised world, get out of this starkly Hanson Australia and make it to a Henson one? By civilised I mean civil, tolerant, secular and lacking in respect for ignorance. Able to distinguish between different spheres of human activity, knowing something about such human activities as art, and lacking in prurience.

This would not do of course, it was the heights of arrogance and ignorance to think it would. The inner suburbs are by no means uniformly civil, in fact possibly less so these days since the cost of entry is so high. Nor have I any reason for believing the middle and outer suburbs, and the regions, don’t have plenty of people who would also flee a Hanson Australia given a chance.

Yet this was another Hanson type phenomenon, the absolute downside of democracy with its race to the bottom. Populist poll driven politicians, yelling in chorus behind the pack, terrified of producing any sort of leadership for fear they might incur blame. A similar logic was evident in the United States all last week over the Wall Street bailout. In the Henson case it’s not about pollies appealing to the majority, the majority is in all likelihood made up in small part by those appalled at the philistinism and witch-hunting, and a larger group to whom the issue is of little real concern one way or the other. They see it precisely as a foofaraw. However, since Henson’s photography has been associated with “children” and “sex” it is a red button issue for the mass media and has resonance in swing voter land. This is an area that, if not exactly contiguous with Hanson land, overlaps with much of it. These are votes both sides of politics want and, as we can see, are willing to stoop down very low to get.

So Henson is vilified for pursuing his art and the rest of us disgraced just to pander to probably less than 10% of the population, the hysterics, the damaged, the ignorant and the superstitious. Led of course by the moralizers and wowsers always ready to demand a restriction of our freedom to their standards. As David Marr pointed out on Radio National on Monday morning [1], the issue of protection of children, which is a real issue, is one that the moral police gravitate to because it is one of the last areas where their demands might be heard. In such cases of moral panic the liberalism and the democracy begin to part ways as a media fed mob mentality rises.

What to do? Well first we can keep railing at ignorance, though it’s a never ending task. Second, turn the guns of liberalism on the outrageous remarks of the politicians. Henson has done nothing wrong under the law and for lawmakers to be carrying in this manner is actually an appalling dereliction of their role in our political system. Indeed arguably undermining of it. They need to be called on this, every one of them.

Apart from that, I note the big thing pollies all understand is votes, unfortunately only as geographically distributed. They need to be focused by the emergence of a Henson group of voters, who will be resolutely not voting for illiberal cretins in future elections. Which I guess brings me back, not very enthusiastically, to the inner suburbs. Perhaps we can hope that these seats can become much more marginal in future. Preferably they should be in danger of being a major-party-free-zone. For this to be effective it will have to include Liberal as well as Labor seats, otherwise the result will just be a return to the wedge politics on race and other Hansonisms so profitably pursued by John Howard. But I certainly don’t want to vote for the kinds of dickheads I heard making puffery on the radio on Sunday morning and I hope there are very many currently on both sides of the big Party divide who will agree.

Further reading

Marr in the SMH Monday 6 October http://www.smh.com.au/news/entertainment/arts/bdavid-marrb-rage-ignores-some-facts/2008/10/05/1223145173119.html

Peter Craven in The Age Monday 6 October http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/no-nudes-today-zealots-rule-ok-20081005-4udi.html

A report of Julia Gillard’s frankly embarrassing interview on the ABC website http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/10/05/2382327.htm

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