Apparently, everyone but you, me and those signed up for monastic silence is talking about our nation’s bold anti-terrier laws. While this publication has no wish to (a) shatter your vow of ignorance re a pair of undocumented toy dogs or (b) play down the importance of national biosecurity as much as Johnny Depp’s bad acting did, it retains its commitment to pose an important question that arises here and in assorted cultural matters. To wit: “what the actual fuck?”
Why have two high-income companion animals been so widely discussed? What does anyone hope to know but in turning over in this bunkum?
Of course, there are plenty of modern, simple answers to this difficult old problem of epistemological doubt. One is “people are stupid”. Another not-unrelated one is “it involves glamorous stars and has an audience”. Of course, both these things are true.
But a third answer, which I imagine has already been proposed somewhere else on the internet, is a slightly more fulfilling one: a story that has privileged and wilfully ignorant Americans at its centre plays to a national anxiety that has been changing shape since the time of ANZUS.
When Nationals MP, and now the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce threatened the lives of Boo and Pistol, he spoke, I think, for many older Australians. This is not to suggest that the slaughter of adorable Yorkies is something I’d buy a ticket to. It is, however, to suggest that those of us who were born to a time of Cold War have some fairly fearful memories of the US. There are many people, say, 40 and above, who, however realist in their approach to foreign policy, feel a little ambivalent about Those Yanks who come over here with their packets of nylons, military installations and self-serving trade agreements. Or, indeed, with their adorable dogs.
For the younger kids snoozing up the back, this isn’t a revulsion that derives from stupid xenophobia alone. It has at its basis a real historical unease. Much as it owns all the organs of the world, the US owns our arse, and some of us born before 1980 don’t feel so great about it.
When notable toddler Kyle Sandilands threatened the reputation of Barnaby Joyce he spoke, I think, for many younger Australians, many of whom think we should just be cool about our borders.
Although Sandilands is my age, he and I seem to have come to midlife from parallel universities. The Sandilands reality, which has perhaps been tweaked with a little ideological Botox to keep him artificially fresh for his young fans, sees sovereignty as a bore.
Chiefly, we have one reaction of the Joyce sort which sees that Australia must hold fast to its borders and identity and another of the Sandilands sort which sees such acts of protection as a harmful and vintage intolerance, hopes for a rabies-free island notwithstanding.
While the Australian interest in animal quarantine is perfectly rational, it happens to be bound up in Joyce’s person with some very irrational views on other forms of border protection. So, just to be tediously clear, Joyce is a “wanker”. (Apparently this is a permissible thing to publicly say.) But, so is Sandilands. His slavish love for our US overlords does not belong on breakfast radio but would be better placed inside Christian Grey’s sexy dungeon.
Joyce’s nativism is horrid. But, so is the uncritically “global” acceptance of any damn thing Those Yanks send over here by private jet or envoy.
Yes. You are right to be impatient with me. I have said that this matter, like other tedious matters, does not merit the weight of serious analysis. Yet, here I am, talking about the generational divide, border security and international trade vis-à-vis a pair of fluffy dogs. Who even am I? Some sort of earnestly deluded Fairfax columnist who writes about the urgent need for more Strong Women on TV?
Look. As much as I’d rather walk around a media landscape that has far fewer mountains of muck built from stories about Johnny Depp and his dazzling partner, the reactions to this story, it seems to me, are quite interesting for the fears and the hopes that they lay bare.
It’s fairly interesting, I think, to observe in this case how older Australians retain their attachment to national identity while younger Australians, who now have a range of other cultural identities to try on, see such a thing as a yoke.
It’s also fairly interesting for me—perhaps not so much for you—to
wonder if I’ve gone completely potty in ascribing so much importance
to a story about effing Johnny effing Depp.
Next week, please join me again as I sincerely restate the importance of more Strong Women on TV.