Exposing the media depiction of the inheritors of colonial privilege.
In the war of political correctness, it is hard to say whether the embers are dwindling or the sparks igniting. This polarising debate has become the undercurrent of everyday life, casting eggshells in a post-colonial, racist, sexist, islamophobic, homophobic, and transphobic world.
This is not intended to be sarcastic.
The world we live in is all of those things, but through the perpetuation of a sectarian ‘minority’ movement, the media has ensured that we continue to divide groups by their stereotypical diversities rather than human commonalities. Through an analysis of the 2013 Adam Goodes saga, the 2016 Chris Gayle saga, and the wider media in general, this article will highlight how political correctness has created a predictability in the media cycle. This predictability is seen in common characteristics of articles appealing to authority in the guise of objectivity, appealing to emotion in a plethora of opinion pieces, using analogies to suggest that Australia is a product of its colonial past, foreboding consequences for this, and many factual claims rife with informal fallacies. This code of conduct that is emerging in the plight for diversity has just created yet another divided group: The Privileged White-Conservative.
Political correctness and social movements have become currency for media outlets, with a failure to comply with “speech codes,” (Mansfield 1991) seeing companies lose credibility and revenue. This was evident in 2011, when Kyle Sandilands, an Australian radio host, cost 2DAY-FM a projected total of $26 million in response to a monologue about “fat slags”. Also, by adhering to or regulating media through this rhetoric of “speech codes” or political correctness, the phenomenon of media creating media persists. Live commentary and coverage of an event only accounts for a small proportion of media. The aforementioned cases demonstrate the incentive for the media to perpetuate and enforce political correctness in order to prolong the life of an event in the media, catering for the pressures of a daily media, to generate more profits, and avoid the potential ramifications of being controversial. It has placed the abidance with speech codes and political correctness in the interest of the media and beyond, with the careers of political, media, entertainment, sport, and social identities being placed at risk. In this, a predictability in the media cycle has emerged whereby an event occurs, political correctness and speech codes dictate an appropriate response of wider society and the subsequent backlash of the ‘Privileged White-Conservative’ determined to prove that they are not racist, sexist, or whatever agenda has been called into question at the time.
However, this defence of the ‘Privileged White Conservative’ exists outside the realm of political correctness due to the notion of post-colonialism, whereby dialogue on an issue can only be had by those directly affected and should simply be agreed upon by everyone else.
In the wake of these pivotal events, in which a representative of a minority group has been subjugated, many have highlighted or rebelled the defaming qualities of political correctness, with Caroline Marcus, a columnist for the Daily Telegraph saying,
“apparently my fair skin and “heteronormativity”, whatever that means, rules me ineligible for comment on a range of issues.”
This is reaffirmed by Waleed Aly saying in an interview with journalist for the Honi Soit, Aparna Balakumar, in 2015 that a lot of thought goes on in the production process to decide how things are said and by whom.
“I can probably be a bit punchier and a bit irreverent on racial issues. You have that licence. They’ve [co-hosts Carrie and Pete] got to be a bit more careful because they’ll be accused of being racist before I will [laughs].” (Aly in Balakumar 2015)
Clearly structural decisions in the production of media occur with respect to political correctness. It underpins the language and communication process for fear of “being branded” with “monstrous labels” (Marcus 2016) causing people to act or react in a certain way for the benefit of their careers. The representational image that viewers may associate a journalist with is now a consideration of media production evident in the BBC’s pledge that “within the next four years half its staff will be women, 15 per cent from black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups, 8 per cent disabled and another 8 per cent lesbian, gay or transgender” (Marcus 2016).
The Adam Goodes saga started in 2013 when a 13-year-old girl was exposed as “the face of racism” when she called Goodes an “ape” during a game at the MCG. Following the incident, Goodes refused to play the following game, celebrated a goal in the indigenous round with an Aboriginal spear dance, retired from the AFL, and was awarded the Australian of the Year Award. All of this helped prolong the life of the incident, but an analysis of several media articles shows that it was the media cycle, structured around political correctness, that inspired years’ worth of coverage.
An interview on the ABC’s 7:30 with reporter Sabra Lane in 2015, demonstrated how media representations and the pressures of political correctness dictate journalistic authenticity, choosing to interview Andrew Bolt, a well-known spokesperson for the ‘Privileged White Conservative’s’ and Charlie King, Aboriginal and ABC sports commentator. Under the guise of objective journalism, which Waleed Aly, a well-known Islamic-Australian journalist, says “doesn’t exist”, the media effectively constructs an ‘either-or’ argument, stereotypically; Left and Right, Men and Women, Rich and Poor, and in this case, Black and White. When seen in conjunction with the post-colonial, ad hominem notion that the media and, subsequently, wider society have adopted, the perspective of Andrew Bolt is undermined by the fact that he is a non-Aboriginal talking about an Aboriginal issue. King alludes to this phenomenon in the interview, telling Bolt and all viewers at home to “put yoursel[ves] in Adam Goodes’ position,” placing himself in a superior moral position, suggesting that they have not done so already, instinctively choose not to do so, or are incapable of doing so.
The interviewer poses a question to King first, later asking Bolt, “what’s your response to that?”. This is representative of the media cycle itself, whereby an event occurs, the opinions of figures that are symbolically associated with the victim are sought, and then a response from the symbolically challenged or opposed side is sought. This is true in the wider Adam Goodes saga itself. These media representations are furthered with King asserting that the racial slur from the young girl, as well as the continual booing that followed, is “Destroying a hero of Aboriginal people.” By using the word “destroying”, King implicates those of an opposing opinion to have malicious intent with an already established authoritative voice bestowed upon him by the ABC and wider society as a representation of an Aboriginal minority allowing him to position the audience. Furthermore, the use of the word “hero” implies that Aboriginal people are in need of saving, using the divisive imagery of heroes and villains to make an evaluative presumption of the audience and pose a one-sided choice as to which they would prefer to be associated with. It is like siege in the Game of Thrones. The army of the politically correct have gathered outside the gates of the ‘white conservatives’. Outnumbered and threatened, the obvious choice would be to simply open the gates to the outside. But the more that the integrity and identity of the people inside is threatened, the longer the siege will continue. Bolt suggests this in his article in the Herald Sun, ‘Adam Goodes lecture lets us all down,’ saying that the “whole racism industry” has created two sides, grouping together people that have an alternative view to that expected in political correctness in an overgeneralization as the “white oppressor” to the “black victim”, or, to continue with King’s imagery, villains.
In an unrelated event regarding the victimization of the ‘Privileged White Conservative’, British MP Phillip Davies said that when put in an opposing position where they have to fight to defend their integrity and identity “they vote for extremist parties, or they don’t vote at all. It’s very, very sad,” (Davies in Daubney 2015). The polarization derived from this media structure has made it so each group needs to have a representative or spokesperson that “can’t cherry-pick… positions and be left wing on some things and right on others,” (Saxon 2016). This has created further division in society, pushing groups further apart to make clear distinctions between them. This belies the effects of the politically correct rhetoric on making people choose a side, with inaction being just as bad as opposition. King continues with the theme of heroes and villains, suggesting that “there’s a lot of other people who need to do something about this,” calling on non-indigenous players in the AFL to emulate Goodes’ dance in an attempt to increase the pressures of political correctness on players to popularize the Aboriginal minority at the risk of losing their popularity.
The credibility of factual claims has diminished in this two-sided debate due to the fact that arguments made by people seen as ‘Privileged White Conservatives’ are considered ad hominem, meaning that, seeing as you are representing the accused, you are guilty yourself. Bolt claims that the booing of Adam Goodes can’t be considered racist due to the fact that before the incident where he called out the 13-year-old girl, “He was showered with honours,” being admired as a team captain and being awarded Australian of the year. It was only after the fact that the booing started. In this he attacks the causal claims that booing him started as a result of racism or, as Waleed Aly put it, “minorities demonstrat[ing] that they don’t know their place.”
A defence is manifest instinctively in response to an attack. So when Patrick Smith referred to critics of Adam Goodes as “desperate” in an article he wrote for The Australian entitled, ‘Those who boo Adam Goodes, Have the Courage to Admit You’re Racist,’ he was right. When someone is attacked, they are often panicked and indeed “desperate”, causing them to exaggerate, counter-attack, and often appear more passionate than they would have on an issue in order to distinguish themselves from the other side. Smith’s argument hinges on the post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument of the causal claims proposed by Goodes’ critics that the booing is because of singling out the 13-year-old girl, his reference to Australia Day as “Invasion Day”, or that he is a “free-kick milker”. He goes on to suggest that similar and worse things have been done by other AFL players who have received no abuse for their actions saying that the only difference is that he’s “a black fella with an agenda”. This, however, is a false comparison, as no one claimed that Goodes’ actions were criminal or worse than domestic violence and other issues prevalent in professional sport. Also, Smith continues to present the argument of the ‘opposition’ to which he simply ends with “What tosh”. His appeal to emotion and social values to discredit any opposing position continues the theme of the media positioning the audience, first of all into two halves, and then portraying those sides as villains and heroes to influence them onto one side of the argument.
The underlying appeal to emotion and moral code is the crux of how political correctness is molding media structure to position its audience in alignment with a progressive minority movement. I have to emphasise that the purpose of this article is not to suggest that minority causes are a bad thing. Their intent to achieve equality and give a voice to the voiceless should be encouraged. However, if doing so creates an emphasis on the divisions of people – attributing people to the group which they best ascribe to in your perspective – the movement will be counter-productive to the cause, a cause everyone wants to ultimately reach.
British MP Phillip Davies exposes the role of political correctness events and the detrimental effects it can have on one’s career, well-being, and popularity.
“Part of it is a warning: don’t you dare speak out, because look what could happen to you.” (Davies in Daubney 2015)
This is further exemplified in the Chris Gayle saga of 2016, whereby Gayle was defamed as a result of comments he made towards journalist Mel McLaughlin, propositioning her during a TV interview after a Big Bash cricket match. This debate was much more one-sided than the Adam Goodes saga, not because there was a more convincing premise to the argument, but simply because people had learnt a little bit more about the ramifications of opposing political correctness since the Goodes event. The live TV interview went viral on social media with the Sydney Morning Herald describing McLaughlin as “visibly uncomfortable” when Gayle suggested that they go and “have a drink later”, to which he then said what would become the dominant headline of the event, “Don’t blush, baby”. Despite an eventual acceptance of Gayle’s apology by McLaughlin and an expression from her that she simply wants to put the event behind her and move on, political correctness under the banner of the feminist movement had claimed the event as its own, with the media happy to continue to cover it in order to ‘educate men on how it is “not OK”.
Gayle himself sought to expose the media structures that were designed to use bias to take advantage of the situation to gain popularity and align themselves with the expectations of political correctness, saying
“There are double standards. All the commentary guys found it amusing – but then someone whisper in their ears and everything was blown out of proportion.” (Gayle in SMH 2016)
This accusation was supported when Network Ten, the network which McLaughlin was working for when conducting the interview, “described the West Indian batsman’s approach as ‘smooth’ in a tweet that was later deleted,” (Guardian Sport 2016)
Furthermore, it is suggested in the Guardian that it was only after seeing a large amount of online criticism of Gayle that the Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland was “prompted” to condemn Gayle’s actions.
These bias media structures are described by Dale Hughes, journalist for ABC news, as the “thirst for blood” in his 2016 article ‘Chris Gayle and our addiction to public shaming’. Synonymous with the media cycle’s role in the Adam Goodes saga, Hughes implores that the subjects of the event are no longer “relevant”.
“It has a life of its own, bypassing the individuals involved to be held as a symbolic representation of all that is wrong with sexist, patriarchal Australia.”
Hughes employs satirical devices to denounce the causal claim and evaluative presumption that all men, or even Gayle for that matter, objectify women. The assumption is that men, in “patriarchal Australia,” see women in a misogynistic way, appealing to ethical and social norms to convince men to either condemn Gayle’s actions, or they are ‘just as bad’ as him. Hughes refutes the media using Gayle as a representation of male misogyny in Australia saying that “this thirst for blood is doing us no favours.”
His use of the collective pronoun “us”, inverts the media structures establish by political correctness to characterize opposing arguments heroic or villainous, demonstrating that it is not the goal of minority groups that are often opposed, but the process of achieving that goal.
Another device he employs in order to expose the informal fallacies used to depict Gayle in this way is repetition and intensification. Gayle’s apology is described as “not enough” to change his representation as a villain, with political correctness demanding that he’s “dragged through the mud, fined, sanctioned, and sacked from contributing columns in the media.”
This is an appeal to emotion, arguing that, “although there is no excuse for Chris Gayle’s behaviour during a sideline interview,” it is clear that he has suffered enough. He rebukes the politically correct argument adopted by the media in a justification for their treatment of Gayle that an acceptance of Gayle’s behaviour would create a slippery slope for gender equality, saying that the contrary would occur, with a mistreatment of Gayle leading to a movement away from gender equality.
The aforementioned articles and their role in contributing to the existing politically correct structures of the media clearly identify a counterproductive support for minorities. The criminalization of ‘Privileged White Conservatives’ as villains and the subsequent removal of their voice from discussion due to ad hominem post-colonial notions has led to a greater polarisation in the debate of political correctness and free speech. It has seen a movement away from democratic debate to a divisive attack on the integrity of Australian tradition, inspiring escalated reactions from both ‘villains’ and ‘heroes’ to defend their honour. Causing the media and popular identities to act and react in specific ways, popularizing opinion pieces in order to generate popularity and revenue is counter-productive to achieving social equality. The Adam Goodes and Chris Gayle sagas demonstrate that trying to influence society to denounce its past, present, and ‘privilege’, will only exacerbate events.
By Daniel Caltabiano
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