Perhaps if I could be arsed, I would be boldly opposed to Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival. As things stand, however, I have a very long list of things about which to be angry, and these currently include the brutal dereliction of duty by the Australian government to the former detainees of Manus, and the recent arrival to my street of a “fun” young couple who broadcast the abomination I Gotta Feeling across the neighbourhood very reliably eight times every Saturday. They work in the finance sector.
In any case, it is easy to outsource one’s opposition. If pressed, I would choose that of my friend Bernard Keane, who has some stern words for the bloodthirsty rentiers of the corporate marquees and stables. I cannot find much agreement with yesterday’s piece by the good Melbourne writer Gay Alcorn, who here takes a, “Larrikins, you’ve gotta love ‘em!” tone. I am, at best, indifferent to what now passes for larrikinism—this occurs no longer in the 1891 spirit of the shearers’ strike and seems now largely to serve as a description of private school tits who call each other “bra” while dressed in suits made from Italian textiles.
Let’s just say that there is no shortage of opinion about the carnival, and its lowest day, The Melbourne Cup. If we crave a readymade view of this cultural event, we can find a good one easily. If you fancy justification for your mild affection toward the day, for your loathing of those pesky naysayers, look to Alcorn, or to others. If you prefer an account of equicide and big brand greed, Bernard is one of your guys. If your most sincere wish is to see the questionable couture of Reality TV stars ripped apart in text, I don’t know where you go. There must be some fantastically snide fashion writer tearing up the tangerine. If you find them, let me know.
The unwitting goal of life in the famous Flemington Birdcage—the home of all the corporate marquees—seems to be death.
If I were to go to all of the bother of forming, rather than borrowing, an opinion of the event, I think I’d take a Freudian position. I have been professionally obliged to attend the event on a few occasions and to me, it reeks of death. “The goal of all life is death,” said Sigmund, when he had given up on sex in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. I’ve never managed to read this entire account of the death drive, so I don’t know if I agree. I can say, however, that the unwitting goal of life in the famous Birdcage—the home of all the corporate marquees—seems to be death.
This could be just me, of course. After all, the last time I attended the Cup was as a correspondent in 2008. Then, death was certainly on the mind of corporations, whose Birdcage structures seemed to shake a little more in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis. Many of these big-name brands were no longer in the primary business of making things or of innovating, but of raising their own company’s stock price by buying back investor shares.
Look, you’ve seen Pretty Woman. You don’t need to read no fancy-pants economics to know that Richard Gere learns to live only when he (a) redeems a quirky sex worker and (b) sees the folly of his financialisaton, and decides to build ships.
So, it felt kind of empty in brand-land that year. I am certain, if one looks close enough, the threat of death could still be seen. The wealthy corporation knows that their make-believe wealth can’t last. This is why billionaires are building island fortresses and why investment loans, particularly in property, continue to fall.
Alcorn has a forgiving view of the Birdcage. She sees it as a bit of fun, and a place for young, beautiful ladies to parade. I accept and understand this reading, especially in those years where I managed to swipe a glass of Krug. And I am with Gay on the fleeting delights of youth and youthful fashion. If one manages to forget that these elaborate pop-ups were built by criminals, and that those guests who are not celebrities or aspiring celebrities are all also rent-seeking scum, it can feel like a sexy celebration. Not, as it is, a networking opportunity for those who will cause our economic ruin.
Now, the eros has largely drained from the event, and the “big” news of celebrity misbehaviour is that the newer Paris (Jackson) wore a sponsor’s ankle boots instead of a sponsor’s strappy sandals.
Another reading, one subtler but almost as morbid as mine in 2008, comes from Andrew Hornery. The Sydney Morning Herald society columnist pokes at the near-dead event with a pair of silver tongs. He describes a place in which VIPs of quite modest prominence—Mick Jagger’s brother, Michael Jackson’s daughter, Bec and Lleyton and Dr Quinn: Medicine Woman—have their schedules, outfits and appearances very tightly controlled.
Hornery contrasts this with the visit in 2003 by the then legitimately famous Paris Hilton. Now, we can remember her as the evil origin story for the Kardashians and all empty celebrity if we wish. But, at the very least, we can remember her bad behaviour fondly. Hilton then behaved as an heiress should: like she didn’t give a fuck. While it is entirely likely she was paid a great deal to attend the event, there is no evidence at all, as Hornery notes, that she could be depended upon to behave.
Hilton, at the very least, was unapologetic. Far better to revel in one’s absurd privilege than to permit it to be concealed by deals with department stores and racing organisations. Paris may have had a death drive, but she was certainly enjoying her life along the way. Now, the eros has largely drained from the event, and the “big” news of celebrity misbehaviour is that the newer Paris (Jackson) wore a sponsor’s ankle boots instead of a sponsor’s strappy sandals.
The heiresses are less interesting. The corporations pay greater sums to ensure that this is the case. This is what happens now: companies make fewer interesting things, and produce more bullshit red tape as finance capitalism speeds toward its inevitable death. Horses actually die as a backdrop to all this mild and pretty horror, and tens of thousands return home broke, uncertain why their risk-taking and aspiration never landed them in the Birdcage.
It’s all death, this part of life. Nothing is produced here. No one will make any ships.
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