By Sophie Gobbo
We’re all aware of Australian “larrikinism” – but where do we draw the line?
If a group of “harmless” young men receive a nickname that is derived from the term used to describe an infamous group of Australian drug smugglers, and the nickname is then used by media publications on an international scale, you can almost guarantee that the coverage of the story will not represent the men, or their actions, in a very serious manner at all.
That is what can be said for the “Budgie Nine” or rather, the nine Australian men who received ample media coverage following their celebrations at the Grand Prix in Malaysia earlier in October of this year.
Shortly after the Australian F1 driver, Daniel Ricciardo, won the competition, the group of men stripped down to their tiny swimsuits emblazoned with the Malaysian flag and did a “shoey;” the act of drinking beer from a shoe (ABC, 2016). The men, who were reported to authorities and shortly taken into custody, spent four nights locked up before being discharged and cautioned by the Sepang Magistrates Court. Despite their arrest for “intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace,” (News.com, 2016) the men were released with a minor charge of public nuisance and no conviction was recorded against their names.
The nickname “Budgie Nine” was coined by tabloid newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, in reference to the “budgie smugglers” or “banana hammocks” worn by the men during the incident. It is also a satirical take on the infamous “Bali Nine” who are recognized as the nine people involved in a huge drug smuggling case from Indonesia to Australia in 2005.
As it would appear, the term was quickly adopted by multiple media outlets including The Australian, The Huffington Post, The ABC, The Sydney Morning Herald, and even Malaysia’s own New Straits Times. A general consensus of the reporting indicates that although the men came into serious legal matters, the hilarity of the situation is very evident.
The general representation of the nine men in question, as was concluded after the analysis of several articles both reporting and subjective in style, is that they are foolish and ignorant of other cultures, therefore, undeserving of the audience’s sympathy. While a minority of articles jumped to defend the men, claiming they obviously weren’t out to offend anyone (Traveller, 2016), several others affirm that their actions were so blatantly inappropriate and one SMH article in particular, goes on to explain that their privileged upbringing and wealthy dispositions are no excuse to behave so obnoxiously in another country.
After a brief overview of how the “budgie nine” were reported on in some “objective” news reports, a comparative analysis of two opinion pieces by Jacqueline Maley in the SMH and Brian McNair in The Conversation will be conducted, revealing the authors’ shared understanding of the notion that “boys will be boys” in both articles. Although, while McNair affirms this concept and is quick to sympathise with the “budgie nine,” Maley rejects the notion completely and calls for a new discourse in society reflecting “proper manhood.”
By starting with a news report from The Australian, we can begin to recognise where an implied judgement is littered around the more or less ‘objective’ report.
The story describes the nine men as “looking chastened as they left the court, with the magistrate’s warning ringing in their ears.” Immediately, this choice of wording connotes an interpretation of the men as feeling sorry for themselves and getting into trouble for their silly actions. The report also makes mention of one of the men, Tom Whitworth, passing out from dehydration,
“Whitworth, read a one-page public apology on behalf of the group to the court…Soon after reading it he collapsed in the dock with dehydration while still handcuffed to one of his co-accused.”
This intentional mention of Whitworth still being handcuffed to his co-accused while collapsing, almost makes the court hearing sound very “over dramatic” and even comic in a sense. The men are represented as seemingly helpless and this is further evident in the article when it mentions the boy’s fathers, who were present at the court hearing.
“Jack Walker’s father, John, said after the decision the group was happy to be leaving.
He said their four days in the lockup had been a big penalty to pay, and he had been surprised the matter had got that far…The fathers of three others were also in court — Nick Kelly’s father Tony, Tom Laslett’s father Craig and Brandon Stobbs’ father Patrick.”
It almost reads like the men are just “naughty school boys,” as Paul Barry worded it, that need saving from their fathers. Here then, it is clear that the general representation of the men favours a reading from the audience that suggests they are deserving of punishment for their silly act. Furthering this claim, a News.com article chose to quote the father of Jack Walker saying,
“They’re good boys” – John Walker
The father is then seen as the “parental figure” or even just the superior male attempting to help his kid out.
Interestingly enough, the author for The Australian article, Cindy Wockner, also published an almost identical story on News.com.au. Seeing as both of the publications are owned by News Corp, it’s not a shock to see the same story. However, while majority of the report is the same, she uses different wording in a number of places that slightly changes the men’s representation.
For instance, Wockner uses an alternative headline in the News.com.au article –
“Budgie Nine to face Malaysian court over ‘intentional insult’ after stripping at Grand Prix”
over the Australian’s
“’Budgie Nine’ escape conviction in Malaysian court over Grand Prix stunt.”
Just the switch between “stunt” and “intentional insult” changes the tone completely because, the term “intentional insult,” is actually being quoted from what the men were almost charged for, which is Wockner’s way of keeping her judgement out of the story.
However, this is different in the Australian article where the use of the word “stunt”, which was also used in the Malaysian’s New Straits Times piece, connotes definitions of “attention seeking” and “failed prank.” Also Wockner, while still mentioning the presence of multiple fathers of the convicted men at the court hearing, mentions that they were actually there to “support” their sons. An interesting word choice that shifts the representation of the men from needing “daddy’s help” to just simply having their fathers moral support in a time of distress.
The Australian, predominantly right-wing in terms of their political alignment, also tweeted a cartoon sketch of the “budgie nine” (as pictured in the introduction) in prison. The sketch explicitly conveys the representation of the men as immature. This can be read through the suggestion of the men sniggering at the word “penal” as though they are not old enough to deal with the alternative and serious use of the term.
Now moving into the views articles, starting with Jacqueline Maley’s piece “The Budgie Nine prove that Australian manhood is in desperate need of an update,” immediately it is expressed that Maley is in no way a fan of the “budgie nine,” through her initial sentiment,
“…might it be time to ask a question or two about the peculiarly Australian brand of homoerotic loutishness they inflicted on the people of Malaysia?”
Maley clearly assumes a likeminded audience through her interesting use of the phrase “homoerotic loutishness” as a way to describe the incident. It magnifies the ridiculousness of the situation itself by being worded in such a complex way, suggesting she expects her readers to agree with her opinion.
The argument itself, of which the claim is made clearly in the headline, “The Budgie Nine prove that Australian manhood is in desperate need of an update,” is a hybrid form of evaluative and recommendatory argument. While Maley both makes value laden judgements of the men and their “dick-sticker diplomatic incident,” she also suggests it is time we update the “model of Australian manhood.”
Maley’s first justification used to support her claim is a dismissal of the counterargument made by other articles who suggest the men were just being insensitive to the Malaysian culture,
“Many have levelled a charge of cultural insensitivity against the so-called Nine. But you cannot be insensitive to a culture you don’t acknowledge, or even notice.”
As Maley makes her audience aware that she knows what the widely held viewpoint on this this issue is, before suggesting an alternative opinion, she expects her readers to recognize that her views are well informed and credible. She also is explicitly stating the worldview under which she partakes in, which in other words is, “in order to be insensitive toward a culture, you must first acknowledge its presence.”
This matter-of-fact statement enhances the widely held representation of the “budgie nine” as foolishly immature and recklessly inappropriate as was initially discussed in this analysis.
Maley then goes on to use an appeal to popular opinion in her categorizing of the men as “White Male Privilege,”
“They are hilariously apt examples of what the internet likes to call White Male Privilege, which can be defined as the delusion that drinking beer from shoes and chanting loudly is as hilarious to others as it is to you.”
Clearly the sarcasm which is meant to be picked up on in this statement, is an indication of Maley’s detest for the men of whom she believes will also be disliked by her intended audience. She then adds to this statement with an appeal to ethics/facts that introduces the observation that Malaysia is a conservative country,
“But things became unstuck when it turned out the Malaysians, who don’t exactly hide their conservative Muslim values under a bushel, so to speak, seemed less tolerant of WMP than we are at home.”
Jokingly suggesting that it was odd that the White Male Privilege somehow didn’t adhere to the conservative values of Malaysians, Maley is getting to the crux of her issue with the “budgie nine,” to justify their poor reflection of “Australian manhood.”
It would appear however, that her most radical justification is that of an appeal to comparison, reinventing the “budgie nine” as a group of females she dubs “the Camel Toe Crew,”
“It is difficult to imagine a group of obnoxious female travellers making a virtue of their private parts while abusing alcohol – let’s call them the Camel Toe Crew – and being treated with the same forgiving fondness…”
Maley uses this as the clear point of reference for her readers to recognize that the “budgie nine” don’t deserve our sympathy, because that would surely be the case if it were women in this positon. Moreover, if that’s the example she needed to outline in order to highlight the true injustice of this debacle, then her readers should be convinced by her suggestion that Australia’s manhood truly is in need of an update.
Despite Maley’s clearly made case in her article, she does include a few potential informal fallacies such as the use of false analogy in the statement,
“But you know what they say – if you persecute someone, you only make them a martyr.
Just look at Julian Assange or Aung San Suu Kyi. Their incarcerations only enhanced their celebrity, and increased their devotion to their causes…and so it was with the nine.”
By suggesting the “budgie nine” are in similar situations to the likes of Julian Assange seems a bit ridiculous and does not completely add substantial relevance to her claim. Maley is more interested in poking the humour out of this situation so she and her like minded audience can share in the joke that is the “budgie nine.” Therefore, her commitment to representing the nine men as sad and pathetic seems to hold priority over her justifications at this point in the text.
An alternate approach taken by The Conversation’s Brian McNair in his article, “No offence, mate but…” presents another evaluative and recommendatory argument that primarily claims the punishment of the “budgie nine” and the consequential backlash has been an overreaction. McNair explicitly states this claim, while also recognising he may be voicing an unpopular opinion,
“Call me irresponsible but isn’t this, frankly, a teeny-wee-bit of an overreaction to some celebratory larking about by lads at an international sporting event?”
By suggesting he might be “irresponsible” in this comment, McNair shows that he is writing for a divided readership and is thereby recognising those who may initially disagree with him on the matter.
McNair favours the use of an appeal to popular opinion to justify the “budgie nine’s” actions by saying,
“One could argue that they were mocking their own masculinity and sending up their own “Aussieness” as much as mocking the Malaysian nation, merely by wearing such ludicrous garments.”
McNair, by suggesting the humiliation of wearing budgie smugglers as being more severe than the offensiveness of the act, represents the “budgie nine” in a different way to the majority of the media, offering the audience the interpretation of the men being harmless and good spirited.
He furthers this in the remark,
“…stripping down to your swimmers in tropical heat at a post-race party in celebration of one’s favourite F1 racing driver seems more like what Australians call “larrikinism” – boyishly bad behaviour, and in this case far less transgressive than the alcohol and drug-fuelled antics many professional sportsmen routinely get up to.”
Again, using an appeal to popular opinion here, he adopts the assumption that we shouldn’t condemn the men for displaying a truly Australian way of life; “larrikinism,” when there are much worse things they could have done. McNair then, evidently displays a worldview that things shouldn’t be taken so seriously these days. He explicitly demonstrates this in the section that reads,
“We live in increasingly intolerant times, alas, in which the long-established liberal democratic right to cause offence is under unprecedented attack..”
McNair also enlists the justificatory support of an appeal to ethics, saying that despite whatever your opinion may be of the “budgie nine,” their actions did not warrant such major consequences,
“Whatever you think of it, it is hardly the stuff from which prison sentences and international incidents should be made.”
He then sheds light on what he interprets as a more significant matter in the country, which challenges his readers to accept his opinion,
“While Malaysians get angry about budgie smugglers, their prime minister Najib Razak allegedly loots his country’s state investment fund of billions of dollars. That is the kind of offence that, if true, should really matter to Malaysians.”
This appeal to not only ethics, but negative consequences, attempts to put more perspective on the relationship between the “budgie nine’s” condemning and other important Malaysian problems. McNair begs his readers or rather, his like minded, liberal readers, to take on a role of responsibility in the recommendation,
“True liberals – by which I mean those who believe in diversity and multicultural mingling, as well as not merely tolerance but acceptance of the Other – must stand up and defend the right to offend, and the duty to be prepared to be offended in turn…”
He therefore uses the “budgie nine” as a scapegoat for his recommendation argument, in turn suggesting his readers be more accepting of their actions rather than steadily pass judgement as Maley suggests in her article.
To conclude, the “budgie nine” have had more than their fair share of news coverage following their extravagant celebrations at sporting events. A reading of several news reports found however, there was evidence of underlying judgement toward the men, representing them as foolish and immature young guys who were disrespectful in another country. A closer reading of two specific opinion pieces on the incident, Jacqueline Maley’s “The Budgie Nine prove that Australian manhood is in desperate need of an update,” and Brian McNair’s “No offence, mate but…”, demonstrate differing representations of the men although, both the authors display a shared understanding of the “boys will be boys” ideology. While McNair attempts to defend the men through his worldview of the “right to offend,” Maley rejects any such suggestions, encouraging her readers to accept the predominantly negative representation of the “budgie nine.”
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