Last week, Tim Blair posted an entry to his Daily Telegraph blog at 3am. In it, he mocked a push from ABC employees for domestic violence leave provisions in their enterprise agreement. The target of the mockery was unclear: was it domestic violence leave in general, or ABC employees for needing domestic violence leave? Satire is dead.
Obviously, this was a bad decision. Obviously, that sort of thing shouldn’t be published. Obviously, this caused an outrage about media standards.
Chris Kenny decided that Blair’s brilliant satire needed defending. In his column in The Australian, Kenny argued that we need contrarians and that the outrage was an attempt to censor Blair. Do we really need these ‘contrarians’?
I’m on the same side of the political fence as Chris Kenny and Tim Blair and yet I find it difficult to disagree with them more on this issue. Conservatism is the side of social values. For decades, our side of politics has criticised degenerate, antisocial behaviours, and defended the mos maiorum of tradition. Mocking domestic violence campaigns does not uphold this tradition.
But we can dig deeper into Kenny’s defence. Is there an inherent value in ‘contrarianism’? There’s a psychological aspect to positioning yourself as a contrarian: you get to deflect (potentially valid) criticism of your behaviour as an attempt to silence the person who goes against the ‘group think’ and who is brave enough to declare that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes. But more often than not, it’s used as a justification by shitty, terrible people to avoid having to reflect on whether or not their shitty, terrible opinions have any place in a civilised society.
Blair’s ramblings were offensive. They offended people. He was unable to provide an explanation for why he should be allowed to offend people in the way that he did. There was no social benefit to justify why he offended so many people. Kenny does not raise any social benefit as a defence of Blair’s brand of contrarianism. Instead, he points to the good of being a contrarian as an end in itself.
Let us not forget that Chris Kenny sued the ABC for ‘satirically’ presenting him sexually assaulting an animal. He was offended. He felt (correctly) that the ABC should not allow such offensive material to be broadcast unless it had a good reason for doing so. He received an apology and a settlement.
So why is Blair’s satire different? Because Kenny likes the fact that left wing people were offended and upset, but does not approve when he is offended and upset.
This isn’t a problem restricted to Kenny but part of a wider problem with conservative commentary in Australia. The most prominent conservative press published the rantings of a 16-year old boy about ‘feminazis’. It also published an article claiming that George Pell was the real victim of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse. It published Photoshopped pictures of ALP politicians dressed as Nazis.
We don’t need this ‘contrarianism’. We need intelligent, reasonable, and insightful conservative commentary to lead public debate. Sledging domestic violence provisions is antithetical to this.
Examples like this demonstrate, yet again, why we need better regulation of Australian media. It’s clear that media companies cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.