Did you know that Pauline Hanson is not only an ultranationalist who seeks to throw everything she doesn’t understand into a bin of flaming turds? She’s also a person, just like you and me. This humanity was the preoccupation of a documentary that aired last night on SBS. In Please Explain we learned that Hanson came up hard, has been treated callously by men and that what she lacks in understanding of nearly everything, she makes up for with good knowledge of deep-fried, battered foods.
Look. I don’t give a shit. I don’t care about the private lives of politicians generally, and I care even less to learn the backstory of an isolationist menace. I don’t want to know if Slobodan Milošević was nice to kittens when he wasn’t busy inciting Bosnian genocide, and if H F Verwoerd ever took time out from classifying people into Apartheid categories to play popular songs on the tuba, that’s really no business of mine. Nor is it of yours, if what you hope to understand is a particular and ugly political climate. But such understanding was the ambition of this beautifully shot, irrationally conceived film for television.
We should say that director Anna Broinowski is a very decent filmmaker with a good eye for unusual women. In 2004, she made the good documentary Helen’s War about her anti-nuclear aunt, Dr Caldicott. Forbidden Lie$ was the justifiably profitable 2007 account of author Norma Khouri’s undoing. Broinowski is tops when her subject has done something more unusual than become a prominent nativist in a time of economic downturn. Pauline is doing something that is, however brutal, very commonplace.
Political jingoism is an old story, and it frustrates me greatly to see it approached in a putatively fresh way. It is not only history where we can find leaders who, naively or cynically, turn the fury working class people have at their working class lot into the false solidarity of racism. It’s in the effing present. Europe is almost now as full of racist politicians as it is of bad discos, and didn’t Nigel Farage do a marvellous job of taking a white British class battered by the austerity rent-seekers demand and blame it all on the foreigners? Isn’t Donald Trump making strides with his anti-bank, anti-migrant two-step? And, haven’t we been brilliantly distracted in Australia by twenty years of a “debate” that has as its topic the brown bodies of the world’s real underclass? John Howard’s “battlers” really believed that those greedy foreigners who so selfishly fled airstrikes endorsed by our government had come to pinch our stuff.
This shit is not new. Which is not to say it oughtn’t to be discussed; it must be discussed. But that discussion must not revolve around a predictable product of history in a sundress.
I don’t know why anybody thought that a sympathetic portrait of a racist might change the mind of a progressive.
I don’t need a look into Pauline Hanson’s white and dull unconscious to tell me what I already know: racism is the work of the elites. They hand it down to the people to whom they’ve denied an education and a living wage and say, “go and blame the brown people for taking your money and your social services and your dignity”. Or the Jews. Or the indigenous Australians. Or the Mexicans. Whoever is the bad-taste of the month, blame it on them, not us.
The intimate link between hardship and racism is briefly addressed in the first few minutes of the program. A narrator mentions the effects of globalisation on those who would become Hanson’s constituents, and there is some discussion about how the ALP disowned its base. Which it totally did. Then, we slip into a tragicomic portrait of a bigot who is not, as is largely the case on SBS, lampooned, but painted in a sympathetic light.
Jesus. Why? Sympathetic TV portraits of migrants don’t work to change the minds of racists, so I don’t know why anybody thought that a sympathetic portrait of a racist might change the mind of a progressive.
I understand and almost respect the work of artists and journalists who urge the liberal class to understand the illiberal impulses of others. Press gallery veteran Margo Kingston, who is charming when she appears in this documentary, is one such reporter. In 1999, she published Off The Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip to make the case that the core frustrations of One Nation voters are economic and legitimate. With Hanson’s re-emergence, Kingston has again attempted to explain the social mechanism that produces racism. “I’ve always believed (the impatience progressives have with you) was about class,” says Kingston to Hanson in the doco and, of course, she’s right. Just as a white underclass wrongly blames a brown underclass for the work of the investment class, a progressive class blames a white underclass for the work of the investment class. If you’re with me. The point is: no one is looking at the persons and entities who really benefit from all this hate.
I mean, yes, it’s instructive to remember how journalist Tracey Curro was one of many to take a cheap and easy shot at Hanson by throwing her a word that no one raised in poverty is likely to have learned. And I suppose if every other liberal feminist on Twitter is entitled to write 15 articles about how her views are legitimised by the death threats she’s received, then Hanson is, too. But, come on. The world is actually burning, and we’re pausing to ask Pauline for a little gasoline.
Poor white people in developed countries are turning to bigotry. This won’t be corrected by a flock of Curros pointing out their spelling errors. But, it won’t be corrected by personal, implicitly liberal, documentaries like this one. The message is: if only we understand the racists, then we can cure them with our reasonable conversation.
Yeah, nah. The racists don’t really care if I’m nice to them or not. The racists care, as we all do, to experience economic justice.
I believe that Margo Kingston and the makers of this documentary want to make the case for a broader discussion about economic justice. But, they end up making only the case for cultural justice for Pauline Hanson.
Economic justice is no longer a core progressive aim. It has become the work of isolationist crazies. This is a fact that the very great Glenn Greenwald discussed in detail last week and one borne out by Donald Trump’s convention statement that supporters of Bernie Sanders, an endangered progressive animal who hunts economic equality, “will join our movement, because we will fix his biggest issue: trade.”
The terrible thing is, Trump has a real basis for this claim. I mean, of course he’s not going to fix trade, and if the TPP doesn’t pass in the lame-duck session before his election (it’s a real possibility) then Trump, the lying faux-socialist prick, will not veto a future identical trade agreement. But, with Sanders deposed, he’s currently the guy talking about economic justice.
I believe that Margo and the makers of this documentary want to make the case for a broader discussion about economic justice. But, they end up making only the case for cultural justice for Pauline Hanson.
What will that get us? And how is this plea for “respect” and better morals any different from the ones that enrage bigots? Don’t tell me to “respect”, like that will change anything. This “it all starts with a positive attitude” shit is exactly what is so repulsive to so many of us about progressives.
For as long as liberal progressives continue to believe in large number that “calling out” racism in individuals is a top priority, people who haven’t jobs, hope or dignity will be swayed by a woman like Pauline or a man like Trump who promises the lot.
And, no, idiot. I’m not saying Vote For Trump Nation. I’m just one of many, like Kingston or like David Frum in The Atlantic last week, who knows that there’s a reason large numbers of poor white people worn down by life will vote for racism.
The underemployed American living in the Appalachian ghetto does not vote for a candidate like Clinton who insists that they use respectful liberal language and pretend that the ugly America they live in is great. The underemployed Queenslander who can’t afford to run an air conditioner does not vote Green. They vote for the person who promises them dignity and a wage. And, with the Australian progressive class currently more preoccupied with “calling out” racism in individuals than calling billionaires to heel, that’s Pauline.
While I do not believe that racism is derived entirely from wealth and its lack, I do believe the economic case Kingston and producers of this film attempt to make is crucial to consider. I just wish they’d actually considered it, instead of letting a woman incapable of considering anything beyond her own persecution talk shit.