Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Embedded journalism, war correspondence and PR farce.

datePosted on 13:52, December 10th, 2010 by Pablo

I was invited to present a paper on embedded journalism to the Pacific Media Centre conference noted below in a previous post. Not being a journalist, if offered me an opportunity to reflect on the evolution of war correspondence in the post-Viet Nam era, especially since I had witnessed some trial runs of the “embed” concept while working in the Pentagon in the 1990s and could therefore speak to the history behind the current practice, as well some of the dilemmas it now poses for the US military.

The nice folk at Media 7 decided that the subject was worth covering in a show, especially since my talk at the conference was paired up with a presentation by independent journalist Jon Stephenson on how the conflict in Afghanistan is being spun for NZ audiences, with particular reference to the use of columnist Garth George as a PR flak for the NZDF.

This week on Media 7 Jon, Garth and I were invited to discuss with host Russell Brown the subjects of embedded journalism and journalistic integrity in war. In the first segment Russell and I briefly discuss the subject of embedded journalism (as much as you can when trying to provide a synopsis of a 6000 word essay–the essay is available via the PMC by writing Andrea or David at the addresses listed as contacts on the poster). In the second segment Jon and Garth offer their very differing opinions about journalistic integrity in the coverage of the NZDF mission in Afghanistan. The difference in their views is eye-opening but let us be clear about who is who: Jon is a bonafide war correspondent who works independently of military protection in some very dangerous conflict zones; Garth is a stay-at-home columnist with a sinecure (that word again!).

On a very different note, the show ends with a nice skewering of romance novel prose done impeccably by Sarah Daniell (starring herself as the heroine/narrator/interviewer). It is quite funny. Look for the Tony Blair quote.

You can find the show here.

Depiction of masculinity in rock radio.

datePosted on 17:10, December 2nd, 2010 by Pablo

As I flip through the NZ radio airwaves I have been much humoured by the depiction of masculinity in advertising on rock radio (for purposes of definition, that is FM radio stations that feature AC/DC, Metallica, Tool, Shihad and other old and new bands that play up tempo, guitar driven, blues derived sound. This does not include Lady Gag, Madonna, boy and girl bands, Justin Beiber, Millie Cyrus, rappers and their ilk). Some of the imagery conjured in these ads is funny but disturbing, and I realise that the depiction is concocted by advertising companies selling product to a 15-35 year old male demographic. But three things stand out about the depiction of ideal NZ men in these ads.

The first is that the general thrust of the ads is framed as a negation or antithesis of an extant others–metrosexuals and women. These are not moccachino-sipping, quiche eating, emo or poncy little dog carrying (in a man purse!) financial advisors or lawyers. More implicit than explicit, the intimation is that these are mates, dudes, fun-luvin’ rascals that have to live on the edge of a PC world. But the positive message (such as it is) is sublimated under the representation of what it is not. The majority thrust of the bottom line is a negation. These are not post-modern poseurs or dandies, and they do not want to relate to chicks other than at a primal level.

The second noteworthy aspect of the ads is the objectification of masculinity. Men’s identities lie in the commodities they prefer (consumer non-durables, mostly): utes and V8s, rugby, some more rugby, league, more league, cheap alcohol, cheaper beer, red meat (ideally hunted, then cooked on a bbq), fishing gear, racy magazines, grubby clothes, stereos and farm equipment. They do not wear cologne.

The third and perhaps most interesting aspect of the depiction is its representation of “manly” values. Men are mates; hard drinking, carousing, happy go lucky, staunch (especially when drinking), fast driving, opportunistic and impulsive horn dogs working hard on the ladies. Nowhere in the depiction are there notions of honour, valour, courage, sacrifice, sincerity, solidarity (except with mates), humility, basic intelligence and knowledge of current global affairs, or interest in the needs of women, children and the family. That is a bit odd simply because the early 20 to 35 male demographic is the one that is reproducing the most (presumably a manly trait), has young families, is starting careers and otherwise has the burdens of post-adolescence crashing down on it. Yet the values being reified appear adolescent.

I have seen this type of representation on rock radio programming in Florida and Arizona. In those cases the demographic was male 15-23, simply because the size of the population allows that age group to sustain specific types of commercial music programming. I presume that there is an Ozzie variant. NZ has its own, over a wider age range.

The success of advertising campaigns based on this type of symbology appears to lie in the deep unhappiness of 15-35 year old NZ men with the evolution of society. It speaks for a desire to not only be rebellious adolescent in social perspective, consequences be damned.  It also speaks to a desire to be in another era that, however mythological represents the antithesis of NZ society today. The question is: was there ever anything remotely close to this depiction in NZ historical reality?  If not, what explains the appeal of these ads? And if it is true that there is a deep antipathy to the current social order, what does that say about prospects for assimilation of this demographic? In other words, what are the prospects of these angry and nostalgic (mostly Pakeha) young men, if indeed the advertising thrust is a window on their souls?

(Of course, I defer to Lew for a more professional interpretation of the subject).

PC priorities

datePosted on 21:06, October 12th, 2010 by Lew

The media beat-up du jour is the non-story of Te Papa Tongarewa “barring” (or “banning”, “forbidding”, other such absolute terms) pregnant and menstruating women from entry due to the nature of some tāonga on display.

Except they’ve done no such thing. The “ban” isn’t actually a restriction at all — they’ve been clear that it’s a request, not an ironclad edict; and in any case, the exhibit isn’t open to the public, but to staff from other museums. It’s an invite-only behind-the-scenes tour. And the crucial point is that the tāonga in question have been given to Te Papa on condition that this advice is given to prospective viewers. Let me be crystal clear: nobody would be barred from attending on the grounds that they are pregnant or menstruating. If someone wanted to turn up and say “bollocks to all of that, me and my unborn child are going to see those taiaha!”, it’s been made clear that she would be permitted to do so. That might be inflammatory and offensive, like farting in church or wearing a bikini to a funeral, but nobody is forbidding it. And that’s as it should be: Te Papa is our place and nobody should be barred outright. If the condition required exclusion, then that would be fair enough on the part of the owners — who can reasonably impose whatever conditions they please — but quite explicitly not ok for Te Papa, who would be better to decline the opportunity outright to maintain its public mandate.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped everyone with a platform from winding up to rage against the imposition of archaic, alien superstitions upon their civil liberties. But almost without exception, the restriction-which-isn’t-really-a-restriction doesn’t apply to them, since — as far as I’m aware — none of those objecting are in fact museum staff who would be eligible for the tour. And amongst this vicarious umbrage there’s an awful lot of squawking about misogyny and imposition of cultural values, and much more uncritical repetition of the misleading language of “bans” and such. It goes as far as idiotic and lurid suggestions about personal searches using sniffer dogs, for crying out loud.

All this has manifested as a soft and rather opportunistic sort of anti-Māori racism, where Māori are the casualties of our sticking up for the rights of pregant and menstruating women. There’s a common implication that they are the oppressive stone-age patriarchy using whatever means they can to victimise our women; and “forcing” their rude barbarian culture into our civilised and noble times. This is understandable from the usual PC gone mad crowd who’ve suddenly — conveniently — found their inner feminist, but somewhat more disappointing from those who would often be described as the hand-wringing PC liberals, people who ought to know better that it is possible to reconcile conflicting cultural values of this sort in an amicable fashion via the standard tools of live-and-let-live liberalism. And while those same hand-wringing PC liberals do rail against the worst excesses of those illiberal institutions which make up mainstream NZ society — chief amongst them the Catholic church — the response to this case has generated anger out of all proportion. Te Papa had to make the decision: take the tāonga on with the advisory condition, or not at all. Perhaps those objecting to this policy would prefer that nothing of this sort ever go on display. There is a genuine cultural conflict here, but it can quite simply be resolved: those pregnant and menstruating women who believe their right to attend trumps the request to the contrary may do so then and there. Not only are they not prevented from doing so by those hosting the tours, they actually have the right to do so should they choose, and that right should be defended. Those who do not may do so at another time which is convenient to them. The tragedy is that for most of the liberals in this battle of PC priorities, women must be given categorical superiority over Māori. They are arguing for their own culture to be imposed across the board; the very illiberalism they claim to oppose.

There are (at least) two people who are making good sense on this matter: Andrew Geddis, whose liberal argument is very close to my own views, but much better formed; and Lynne Pope who, almost uniquely among the bullhorns sounding around this topic, is a Māori woman who’s actually been on the tour in question. Neither of them have lapsed into the myopic, reflexive Māori-bashing which is the most unbecoming aspect of this situation.

The lesson for New Zealand’s liberals is this: it isn’t necessary to trample on the cultural needs of Māori to accomodate the needs of women. Liberalism itself provides tools to reconcile these differences. They just need to be used.

Update 20101018: As usual, Scott Hamilton makes good sense on this topic.

L

Unattributed paraphrasing as unspoken flattery?

datePosted on 12:47, October 10th, 2010 by Pablo

From time to time I read bloggers who complain that there work is stolen by MSM “repeaters” and repackaged under the repeaters’ by-line or in a story under their name. This form of plagarism is hard to prove conclusively because unless the repeater uses phrases word for word, s/he can claim that fortuitous intellectual coincidence rather than malice was involved.

Then I read Kerre Woodham’s column in today’s HoS. The tone is similar to the thrust of my post earlier in the week about the rise and fall of Paul Henry. That’s OK, as a number of people have taken the view that TVNZ management is as much if not more responsible than Mr. Henry for the debacle that his “insensitive remarks” has turned into.

But what are the chances that she and I would both use the phrase “bullet proof” in paragraphs specifically referring to the moment at the Qantas Media Awards when Henry decided he was invulnerable? Since her version appears five days after mine did, is it a wonderful coincidence and example of great minds thinking alike or an example of the type of repeating that other bloggers have complained about? In other words, is this Kerre’s “Noelle moment” or am I reading too much into it and being too possessive of a widely used argument and phraseology?. Readers can compare both essays and decide for themselves.

Either way, I guess I should be flattered–except that she gets paid to write things that I dole up for free.

The Rise and Fall of a TV Icon (updated).

datePosted on 15:10, October 6th, 2010 by Pablo

I am loathe to give more oxygen to the Paul Henry saga but think that I have a fair idea of the chain of events that led to his suspension and possible sacking. This is due to my personal familiarity with him as a result of my appearances on the Breakfast show. Let me explain.

When I first started showing up on TVNZ after 9-11, I dealt with Mike Hoskings (and Ali Mau) on Breakfast and either Paul Holmes or Linda Clark in the evening news interview shows. The two men have big egos but are smart, do their homework, and are mentally quick on their feet. Linda Clark and Ali Mau are all of those things without the ego. Although they swapped slots from time to time and I also have spoken at some length with Peter Williams on and off-camera, it was Hoskings who ran the bulk of the Breakfast interviews with me, especially during the early days of the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Some years later Hoskings left Breakfast and I began to be interviewed by Paul Henry. He was initially circumspect, always polite and although not as studied as his predecessor, he seemed well-prepared (in part because I tend to give producers some talking points on the subject the night before the show). His only flaw was his tendency to talk over and interrupt while editorialising about the subject rather than allowing the interviewee (me) greater reign for in-depth analysis. But that, perhaps, is the nature of Breakfast TV, which world-wide is the shallow end of the TV news pool.

Something happened, though, during the last 3 or 4 years, at a time when I moved abroad. Henry began to crack jokes, some of dubious taste, and these jokes found resonance amongst his viewers. The more positive feedback TVNZ received, the more he continued to play the role of provocateur rather than newsperson. As ratings went up the TVNZ brass gave him more rope on which to swing his shtick–a rope that he has now hung himself with. Serious interviews were gradually replaced by often funny and not-so-funny ad libs on stories presented in the half hourly news updates. By 2010 Breakfast was a bit of a morning circus, with the female co-hosts serving as straight props for Mr. Henry’s increasingly schoolboy antics.

As John Minto has pointed out, Henry is a serial offender. This year alone he has disparaged on air  people because of their appearance, mental condition, surname and ethnicity (at least twice). In each instance he targeted an innate trait rather than some aspect of the individual’s behaviour. And each time complaints to the BSA and TVNZ about his comments resulted in no more than verbal admonishments from his bosses. In fact, it is now clear that there was much of a wink and nod to these supposed warnings.

Then, at the Qantas Media Awards, he used the People’s Choice award presentation to read out a profanity laced purported letter from a disgruntled viewer which again, had misogynist and homophobic references in it. The mostly Pakeha elite audience roared with laughter. That is the moment when Paul Henry decided he was bullet proof.

His sense of invulnerability was not only driven by high approval ratings. Every Monday he was given the opportunity to interview his ideologically kindred Prime Minister. Every Monday the interview finished with some quick banter between two self-satisfied “smart guys” riding high in the polls. Although what they believed passed for quick-witted repartee was more often banal and insipid, the seeds were sown in their exchanges for the infamous remarks about the Governor General this past Monday.

In effect, although the ultimate cause of his own downfall, Mr. Henry was aided, abetted and facilitated along the way by an array of celebrities, executives, “news” outlets, politicians and hangers-on who are running for cover now that his true nature has been exposed. A large swathe of the general public also played a role in his rise, and in the particular tone he adopted as his confidence in his own celebrity grew. He therefore has reason to be aggrieved. After all, a few weeks ago he was on stage basking in the glow of popular acclamation for doing precisely the things for which he is now suspended and vilified.

I do not think that he should be sacked. A long suspension yes, but if Tony Veitch can be returned to the airwaves after his crimes, then an uncloseted bigot surely can seek redemption. The viewing audience will be the ultimate judge of that. Whatever his long-term future in TV, at a minimum a long time off air while chasten and make Henry think twice before uttering pejoratives or ridicule. The time out of the limelight may force him into the type of self-reflection that could, in fact, make him a better presenter. Or not.

What I find most personally ironic is that I was fired and my academic career ruined for writing an intemperate and unprofessional email to a student in which I accused the student of using “some sort of Western liberal guilt” to weasel out of an assignment due date. Although I was subsequently proven correct in my suspicions that the excuse was a ruse that did in fact prey on my supposed liberal sentiments, I was vilified as a racist and kicked to the curb by Auckland University. The email (for which I immediately apologised, long before any disciplinary proceedings began) was wrong, to be sure, but the outrage, public defamation and punishment far exceeded the offense (sorry for whinging about this by way of comparison, but as you can see it really sticks in my craw and I have not quite gotten over it given the grief it has caused my partner and I).

TVNZ, on the other hand, encouraged Mr. Henry’s behaviour in spite of repeated complaints about it, something that was confirmed by the spokeperson’s initial statement that he merely said what others were too afraid to say. TVNZ apparently never gave him a formal written warning, or even a serious verbal warning. To the contrary. Until things hit the fan it repeatedly defended and encouraged his boorish behaviour because it was deemed profitable for him to do so.

Thus, from my perspective, the Unite union (and other self-righteous johnny-come-latelies like Peter Dunne) is wrong in demanding Mr. Henry’s sacking even if his “crime” is egregious, and even if he is not a union member. The reason is that  the precedent his sacking would set is worse than his individual transgressions. Of course, he may have an individual contract with TVNZ whereby he serves at the whim and discretion of the management, in which case he is well and truly at their mercy–whatever his contract status, this is a particularly bad time to be an unorganised worker facing managerial scrutiny given the thrust of National’s labour reform bill.

As much as it pains me to say so given the circumstances of this case, I think that the union movement should stay out of the debate or use it as a means of reminding workers that collective membership is the best defense against individual victimisation by management no matter how famous the worker may be. After all, the employment issue here is about Henry’s job performance given his contractual obligations and the terms and conditions therein, something that should not be susceptible to public pressure or managerial attempts at corporate face-saving.

For the unions the issue should be one of contractual obligation and due process, nothing more. In that sense the union position should be akin to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defending the right of neo-Nazis to free speech. It is the principle of due process rather than the inadmissible act that is the defendable issue. Paul Henry may be a loud-mouthed, bigoted, overpaid ignorant talking head buffoon, but at the end of the day he is a wage slave living high at the mercy of his corporate bosses. It was the TVNZ paymasters, not Mr. Henry, who dictated the on-air environment in which he spoke. At any time they could have reigned him in, disciplined him or otherwise cut short his propensity to vent divisive, hateful, prejudiced or otherwise rude comments. But they did not. Instead, they encouraged and facilitated him.

Now that the public reaction is adverse, TVNZ will allow him to twist in the winds of opprobrium while his bosses figure out how to best ride out the storm. But as a Herald columnist aptly phrased it, the fault is not just with the monkey, but with the organ grinder, and it is there where the real source of blame for this debacle needs to be focused. In other words, if heads are going to roll, they should roll high rather than low.

The perils of Paul (updated).

datePosted on 13:59, October 4th, 2010 by Pablo

The flap over Paul Henry’s latest remarks got me to thinking. First, why was John Key smirking and downplaying the obvious racist content of Henry’s questions about what a “proper” Kiwi should look like? Why did Key instead not point blank admonish Henry for his remark, or at least give him the rope to hang himself with by asking him what HE thought a New Zealander looked like? Why did Phil Goff say that  the incident was “Paul being Paul” rather than put the wood into him? Why did the TVNZ spokesperson claim that Henry says what other people think but do not want to say? Is that a fact that I missed somewhere? Am I being too PC in thinking that with this latest remark Henry has truly jumped the shark? Or is the silent majority in NZ really a bunch of closet bigots for whom Paul Henry is a champion? (and if so, that is too close to the Tea Party/Sarah Palin connection for comfort). Has the turn to market egotism driven so deep into the NZ collective psyche that such remarks are considered tolerable or even funny?

For a guy about to return to NZ and seek citizenship after 13 years of permanent residency, these are more than casual questions.

UPDATE: Henry really is the bigot gift that keeps on giving. In his on-air (non) “apology” the day after his first comments about the GG, not only does he not apologise for the remarks themselves (instead he apologies for any offense they may have caused), but he then goes on to use a slur for Roma (gypsy) while saying that he is of a less distinguished background than Sir Anand because he (Henry) is of half Roma descent apparently. So the bottom line for Mr. Henry is that there are in fact superior and inferior people based upon their inherent characteristics rather than their individual merits or flaws, and using pejorative slurs is Ok so long as one can claim kinship to the insulted group. In sum: Henry uses an ethnic slur while falsely apologising for a racist question. Priceless.

Shameless Self-Promotion Alert.

datePosted on 13:09, August 4th, 2010 by Pablo

For those who may be interested, I am interviewed on the TVNZ news analysis show fronted by Russell Brown, Media 7, tonight on the subject of wikileaks. Although only parts of the interview will be aired, Russell will put the entire conversation up on the Media 7 web site (or perhaps on Public Address). The discussants on tonight’s taping are Selwyn Manning from the independent news aggregator  Scoop and investigative reporter Jon Stephenson (who is the most knowledgeable Kiwi journalist when it comes to Afghanistan).  There is some serious brain power between them. Both are hard news gathers who eschew the official spin, both are very critical thinkers about issues of public policy, both have taken on both the government and mainstream media versions of important news, and both know how to string a few paragraphs together (which is more than can be said for many in the so-called journalism fraternity). In other words, the offer great value in terms of insight and analysis, which is what I believe was Russell’s hope when conceiving the show. Hence, I commend it to you if you are not already familiar with it.

Send for The Wolf

datePosted on 09:56, August 2nd, 2010 by Lew

(Hoping, but without any confidence, that this will be my last post on the Carter debacle).

About six weeks ago Brian Edwards observed that Labour was its own worst enemy as far as the Chris Carter debacle went. As usual, he was dead right then, and that advice is still right now, with one rather chilling update: the incompetence which saw the parliamentary Labour party keep putting Carter and his misdeeds back on the media agenda at a time when they ought to have been making mileage at the government’s expense is shared by the wider party organisation. The Dom-Post this morning indicate some vagueness about Carter’s future status in the party, while two items on Morning Report (both audio) clearly indicate that Carter’s expulsion from the party on 7 August is far from assured, and that this debacle is likely to carry on well beyond that meeting.

For one thing, August 7 is already too late. Chris Carter, and by extension the Labour party’s rusted-on uselessness and venality, has now been a central topic of domestic political news for at least four of the past eight weeks, and has been utterly dominant throughout fully two of those weeks. A government can’t buy coverage like that, but Labour have packaged it up with a little red bow and delivered it to them post-paid. With the latest events, Carter’s expulsion from the party and a campaign to refocus the political media agenda on more substantive topics — like the mining backdown, 90-day bill, ACC reforms and National Standards — ought to have been undertaken with urgency. This need not rule out adherence to the principles of “natural justice” to which Andrew Little refers; these are compatible with a swift and decisive resolution in a healthy organisation with robust organisational structures, strong networks of competent people, and a shared commitment to the wellbeing of the party.

This is not really a matter of the public interest except inasmuch as Labour permits it to be. Labour needs a fixer, like Pulp Fiction‘s Winston Wolfe — an independent, dispassionate individual whose only interest is in resolving the issue quickly and quietly, and who has the mandate, ability and authority to get the damned job done. They needed to cauterise this wound back in June, and the need to do so now is all the more urgent. Further delay risks infection. That they have failed or refused to engage such a fixer shows an absence of nerve on the part of both the parliamentary and the organisational leadership and suggests that modern Labour is not, in fact, a healthy organisation with robust organisational structures, strong networks of competent people, and a shared commitment to the wellbeing of the party. And that is a matter of the public interest, because a strong opposition is fundamental to democracy and the health of the country.

Edit: I should add, if it’s not abundantly clear from the content of this post, that I disagree with Brian’s apparent endorsement (in his latest on the topic) of a “compassionate” response by Labour. While I have sympathy for Carter’s position, withstanding public and media criticism, however unjustified, without going off the deep end is a requirement of the job. In the words of a great (and recently returned!) former All Black captain: it’s not tiddlywinks. It may well be down to a choice between Carter’s wellbeing or that of the party, but Carter chose to throw himself upon the wheel, and whatever wounds he suffers as a consequence I consider to be self-inflicted.

L

Faces not for radio

datePosted on 18:07, July 13th, 2010 by Lew

A post by Janet Wilson expresses a general conspiracy theory I’ve held for a long time about why radio news is usually better than TV news: because the people are chosen for different qualities. To an extent the “beauty bias” is present in every field, and of course, even in news it is simplistic — there are a host of other factors to do with resourcing, format, training and so on. As in almost all fields — and for the same sorts of reasons — these pressures weigh much more heavily on women journalists than on men, and consequently the aesthetic homogeneity of NZ’s top female TV presenters is striking:

What Janet calls “tits and teeth” selection really matters: people instinctively trust attractive people more than unattractive people (as long as they’re not too attractive), and broadcast news is all about projecting authority and trustworthiness via a predominantly visual medium. Dress and bearing are also relevant — as is voice, which is even more important in radio. But those things can, to a much greater extent, be worked on or around.

So TV news is biased in favour of attractiveness. In general, a presenter’s job is to present — their newsgathering, interviewing and editorial skills are backgrounded to a considerable degree. So this bias isn’t entirely unjustified for presenters, but the problem is that it’s also clearly evident in the journalistic ranks from which presenters are drawn. While it does not exclude journalistic quality the beauty bias does weight against it. Because the jump from reporter to presenter is a crucial part of a broadcast journalist’s career arc, and being unwilling — or unable — to fit the pattern is an explicit and well-known limitation to advancement, it likely dissuades people who might otherwise make outstanding broadcast journalists — which society desperately needs — from entering the profession. As Janet notes, the bias also selects against experience, because while men tend to become “distinguished” as they age (strengthening their gravitas) women do not, and those who don’t retain their youthful dash paradoxically become less favoured as their screen experience increases.

A case in point on this last point has lately been evident in the most trivial forum: Breakfast, on TV One. My wife, at home with our daughter, remarked on the greater capacity of One News anchor Wendy Petrie to deal with co-host Paul Henry’s soft-gonzo screen persona while she covered for Pippa Wetzell recently: a sort of dismissive indulgence, as if of a poorly-behaved child on his birthday. The customary pairing is a classic mismatch: Henry dominates the studio while Wetzell — herself a quality presenter, as we occasionally see when Henry is absent — is often forced into the role of slightly-embarrassed fall-gal. Petrie, with close to a decade’s primetime hard-news presenting experience under her belt, is out of Henry’s league and she knows it.

Of course, she herself has the beauty bias on her side. But the question is: how long does she have left? And how many other talents have we lost — or never found — due to the dire ravages of crow’s feet, a poor hairdo, a few additional kilos, or a mismatched outfit?

(Thanks to Naly D for the link to Janet’s article.)

L

PS: I’d like to endorse Nicola Kean’s campaign to go to Columbia Journalism School, as others are doing. Go and vote for her, and perhaps she’ll do better than another well-known graduate from these parts.

Incidentally: The Gruen Nation

datePosted on 15:34, July 5th, 2010 by Lew

While I’m on the topic of Australian politics, the news that the team behind ABC’s The Gruen Transfer will be producing a series of episodes on the upcoming federal election campaign, during the campaign.

For those who’re not familiar with it, the show is named for Victor Gruen, the architect who designed the now-ubiquitous shopping mall to disorient patrons and sap them of their agency — at which moment the “Gruen transfer” is said to have taken place. It’s a frank weekly look at the nuts and bolts, tricks and traps of advertising, fronted by comedians, tricksters and advertisers themselves and you can watch it on the ABC website.

Of course, the techniques employed to sell soap or soft drink or summer holidays can be and often are equally applied to politics — the howls of those who would rather pretend it were otherwise, that politics is somehow different notwithstanding. So during the campaign is the very best time to air such a look at how the same techniques apply to political marketing. Well done ABC. I’d love to see such a thing here. This is the machinery at the sharp end of democratic consent-manufacture.

(And for interest, here’s a long article about Gruen and mall design from The New Yorker.)

L

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