What will future civilisations make of Sam Newman and his quest for free speech?

I reckon that the study of antiquity must be a real pain in the urn. Much of what the classical scholar has to go on is a collection of objects or texts. I mean, proceed with your analysis of the pre-modern period, and do help us all understand the mistakes of dead civilisations—even though we’re bound to make them anew. But, there must be questions that arise with the appearance of every unearthed artefact, like “did anyone really take this statue of the sewer goddess Cloacina housed in a Roman loo that seriously?”

Future scholars could ask this of sewer god, Sam Newman, and I don’t know if they’d come up with a satisfying answer. If they were to read only the work of “writer” Rita Panahi, they would think of Newman—a man whose only positive contribution to the culture has, in my view, been this homage to the very great WikiLeaks supporter, Pamela Anderson—as an important champion of free speech.

The Panahi “article”, in brief, describes a recent on-air silence by Sam Newman not as the work of a big steak lunch—which would have been my bet—but as that of a “pervasive culture of political correctness and identity politics”. Newman himself tells Panahi that he felt the “outrage brigade” had compromised The Footy Show. Panahi welcomes the return to the program of Eddie McGuire, apparently, the only instrument able to release Newman from the yoke of The Sensitive Left etc.

That we could have glimpsed freedom in a man like Sam who so rarely utters what could pass as a thought might well seem amazing, to our descendants.

None of this makes much sense. First, if Sam is such a redoubtable rascal, I don’t see how any more Eddie or any less Eddie could serve to modify him. Surely men who Speak The Truth don’t need the host of Hot Seat to help them do it. Second, to suggest that Nine, whose revenues tend to narrow quarter on quarter as is currently the case for all television networks, would put the complaints of the “politically correct” above profit is inane. TV is raking in a fraction of the dough it enjoyed in the pre-streaming era and if board members feel that a reality show called My Big Fat Genital Warts would bring them into surplus, they’ll make it.

I tried to think about Panahi, Sam and his liberating pal Eddie in the context of posterity. What will future scholars make of twenty-first century Australia? Unless there are non-Panahi relics available to them, there is a very real chance that you and I will be remembered as terribly stupid. That we could have glimpsed freedom in a man like Sam who so rarely utters what could pass as a thought might well seem likely, if amazing, to our descendants. As likely as the idea that Romans genuinely believed that an icon of Cloacina could stop their bogs from getting backed up.

I am no scholar, of the ancients or of anything much. But I really don’t think a civilisation that went to all of the trouble of actually planning and building sewers could genuinely believe that a goddess governed their flow. Our Lady of Toilets was just something you put up in your lav out of habit. Sam Newman, I believe, has much the same function as this classical toilet decoration. We built the means, allegedly, for free speech. This worn symbol of it won’t stop it up.

Many people for many good reasons object to the content of The Footy Show, a rusty artefact whose jokes can be carbon-dated to the 1970s. They say that the program is offensive and disrespectful to people in already marginalised social categories. While I have no argument with these claims, I do agree with Panahi that protest of the program is foolish. I do not agree with Panahi that protest of the program has been, as she claims, effective. At least to the extent that it made Newman, as she claims, “genuinely aggrieved”.

Yes, there are those who enjoy what Newman  says, or facetiously mumbles or lazily represents. But they are not a class growing in number.

You can’t have your freedom cake and shove it in your freedom-speaking cake-hole, too. Either the “outrage brigade” is effectively silencing persons like Newman for short periods, or even, as has been the recent claim in Quadrant, silencing satirists permanently, or they are a minority whom no one takes seriously, least of all Sam Newman, or a network with a very long history of serving up shit.

These arguments are perplexing to me. If I, for example, claim that the media scorn heaped on Yassmin Abdel-Magied seemed inconsistent with her influence, or even the public interest in this moderately popular figure, then I am enacting “political correctness gone mad”. The young lady, they say, should toughen up, shut her mouth or risk being run over by a vehicle. If persons of Panahi’s world-view propose that cartoonist Bill Leak’s life was ended by persecution on Facebook, then they presume themselves to be uncompromised champions of free speech. This logic holds that Abde-Magied is someone who must bear the consequences of her actions—in this case, seven words on Anzac Day which urged her Facebook followers to consider victims of wars other than that Great one—whereas Leak is someone who suffered the fatal consequences of a group that is—what?—both sufficiently powerful to claim a life and culturally out-of-touch enough to represent almost no one.

The thing I do envy about scholars of old artefacts is that they get to work backwards from cultural things. They say that this bit of broken pottery tells us about the society from which it arose, and they do not make the opposite case. Those who object to The Footy Show, I think, would do well to heed this habit. It is, in my view, not an influence on a living culture so much as it is itself a relic of an old order that is dying.

Also evidence of this death is the writing of Panahi and all those who stand up for Sam Newman as an icon of free-flowing sewage. Sorry, speech. Yes, there are those who enjoy what he says, or facetiously mumbles or lazily represents. But they are not a class growing in number.

There is a new order waiting to be born, as I am sure a scholar of antiquity will tell you there was at many times in Roman history. In this time-between-times, we can see the old toilet statue imperilled, and there are those attendants who try to keep her in one piece. And then we see the emergence of the new, still confused about where this “freedom” thing will go, certainl only that it should not be confined to spaces as small as mediocre shows on network television.

Sam Newman and those advocates who confuse him for freedom are crumbling. Something new will be erected in their place. Until that time, we will see Eddie McGuire act as scaffolding, I guess. And await that era where historians will no longer think of us as dolts polishing false idols.

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Channel 9’s Melbourne The Footy Show cast with Newman third from left. Source: Channel 9.

33 responses to “What will future civilisations make of Sam Newman and his quest for free speech?

  1. Alien Archeologist’s Report. Year 2500.
    Continent: Australia.
    Artifact sample date: 2017
    Cultural synopsis: Broad distraction over indenty issues; fixation on principle-thinking; exponential increase in socio-economic inequality; elite plugged into AI / VR while robots killed the working class; elite then drowned by floods while distracted by AI / VR; small band of deserters were unfortunately killed by break-out of nuclear war between other post-flood States.
    Current status: Extinct.
    Formulation: Lack of perspective thinking and integrative thinking, failure of separative feeling management, general lack of stewardship, inability to form functional solidarity preventing crtical-mass low-level thinking and feeling (and the consequent actions).

  2. I gave up watching the Footy Show the night Sam Newman dressed a blow-up doll as Caroline Wilson and molested it (an act he’d obviously spent time rehearsing). The fact that Newman wanted to wear a dress in some parody of the AFL affairs drama – something in which most media had already been disturbingly intrusive – suggests he was shut down because his “performance” might just have gone over the legal edge. Certainly decency would have had nothing to do with it. The man is as anachronistic as his surname.

  3. Sam is the only reason I (occasionally) watch the AFL Footy Show. Take that whatever way you wish because I don’t care. However in saying that I also note that Panahi writes sh*t 99% of the time & this is an example of that 99%. Sam get’s paid a lot of money to be controversial so if the network wants to filter him it’s up to them. Sam can still say what he likes in private or out on the road if he wishes and he can deal with the consequences.

  4. Compared to the NRL footy show in Sydney the AFL show in Melbourne is as boring as bat shit, there is no entertainment usually only 2 players guests , the same format has used for many years , Sams mailbag and street talk need I go on , so it needs either a whole new format and new panel members Bec Madden can stay she is great or dump it because Sam Newmans work is so boring it hurts , But we must remember Sam Newman has influence at GTV9, he has been on TV in different things for years, so he knows people of influence , the guy is a millionaire , Yobbo or not , he has made money , so you have give him points for effort because he has little talent except for the Nous to do things that appeal to people who like that yobbo way!!You see them every week at the games!

  5. There’s this thing it’s called ‘context’.
    It’s not as if YAM’s the first target of Outrage Inc/disproportionate roasting. Lest we forget Tone’s ‘creepy’ wink? Or Tim Hunt’s ill fated ‘jokette’? Or Even Sonia Kruger’s outburst.
    Panahi’s certainly no fan of YAM, but her defence of Sam & criticisms of YAM are hardly an endorsement for the abuse & silencing of YAM or others.
    Of course you can choose to accept YAM’s comments as an innocent cry for help rather than a deliberate provocative dig but that’s your choice & not fact which by the way suits your angle/Panahiphobia.

    1. I agree that these moments of outrage are not confined to either the progressive liberal or the cultural right.
      I have written about every moment you have spoken of, insisting that fixation on the claims of an individual is a fool’s errand.
      I guess you have not read these, which is fine and understandable. It is not, however, understandable that you can read an article and respond to it without seemingly not having read it.
      I do not have a particular problem with Panahi. She is just another average writer working within the very limited framework of ideas that News Corp deems suitable for its diminishing audience. In the case of her defence of Sam Newman, her argument was interesting to me in that it was so full of holes. To ask us to feel that a man who has clearly not been silenced has been silenced is ridiculous.
      As for Ms Abdel-Magied. I do not mention her in relation to Panahi. I simply describe the coverage she has gained. For, my goodness, a Facebook post, available to a limited audience and one which she removed and immediately apologised for. Seven words. None of them particularly offensive, other than to those who retain their “black arm band” view of Australian history and feel they need to hold on to a commemoration of a long ago war while rarely considering our participation in ongoing ones. As News Corp has often said to people who ask for days of Aboriginal commemoration “why don’t you get over it? Why are you so sensitive to things that happened in the pas?”
      For days, News Corp attacked her on its front pages. For seven words. And, why? Because she was being chucked a few hundred bucks a week as a short term contractor at the ABC? Get off the prawns. The woman was recording links in a non prime time magazine show. Hardly a goldmine.
      Andrew Bolt has also accepted money from the ABC. I imagine, for his heavily promoted program, a good deal more. So what? What’s the point?
      My point was clear. Those who champion free speech for some and not others are hypocrites. I champion it for all. I clearly say that I think protest of things like The Footy Show is pointless. I agree that the “wink” was ridiculous and wrote (coincidentally, as I believe Bolt did) that Jon Faine’s raised eyebrow was just as “offensive” as Abbott’s wink. Which is to say, not at all.
      To characterise my writing as the knee-jerk liberal progressive response to such matters is not to read it.
      Think through your own attitudes to “free speech” and see that there are many who are actively coerced into not speaking at all. Sam Newman isn’t among them.

      1. Helen, I’m a fan of your writing so yes I’ve read most of it & read your outrage one too.
        Not agreeing with views is not the same as understanding them.
        Of course your point is free speech for all but your implication of Panahi’s hypocrisy because you feel Newman has retained his speech more so than YAM is what I object to. Your comparing apples & oranges in context. Newman’s persona, role & indiscretions are incomparable to YAM’s. Its The Footy Show remember?
        Of course if you isolate & water down stuff to “its only 7 little words” its harmless enough but you insult YAM’s intelligence & anyone else with a grip on reality.
        Money chip much? Lack of income isn’t a get out of jail free card for wilful public vengeful provocation.
        Hardly a fringe dweller. The “most feminist religion” catapulted YAM into mainstream. Most likely the ‘touch up’ she received didn’t go down well & she was smarting for some insensitive cultural payback. Knowing she was on the radar & the McIntyre fall out she pulled the trigger.
        Take a stick, walk into a dog’s home and start poking away. When the dogs start snarling call the keeper over and point: these dogs are seriously dangerous, they need to be put down.
        & voila poor ol YAM & very bad Australia. Cue more disunity, discontent & a gratuitous counterproductive misuse of the refugee cause to boot.
        But if its ok for you……….

        1. Also, Im sorry you feel that ANZAC day’s value is so limited.
          But for most of us its a personal reminder of the cost of war not glorification of it.
          My son has had ANZAC vets at his school since the early years retelling the horrors not glorifying them. The film Gallipoli is a staple alt most schools. The nationalism narrative is just another convenient but largely untrue angle stereotyping all of us over a few. Racism much?
          Growing up in Australia as a first generation immigrant child the last thing I would do is endorse service for my children or war. & as I recall most Australians were opposed to the Iraq invasion but had no say.
          & yet you castigate News corp writers for simplistic stereotyping?
          Projection overload.

          1. Anzacs? At your son’s school?
            I was led to believe that the last Anzac, Alec Campbell, died in 2002. A man who, according to several storied publications, said at his death bed, “”For god’s sake, don’t glorify Gallipoli —it was a terrible fiasco, a total failure and best forgotten”.

        2. PS
          Its not that i’m ‘offended’ rather protective.
          Like most who grew up in hindsight of the Vietnam war I highly value the anti war message & will be damned if I allow that to be hijacked in favour of facilitating disunity.

          1. Sorry, they were WW2 vets in their 80’s. But given ANZAC day is now a commemoration for all our vets now its much the same. The point is our personal loss is often more powerful.

      2. Exactly, my problem with a large majority of Australians. I agree with YAM. Australia’s obsession with a failed battle is a nonsense, also I agree we need to rename Anzac Day.& move on & acknowledge all the people that have lost their lives in wars & peacekeeping efforts overseas. Thank you for calling these dinosaurs for what they are, Bill Leach was always in the same category as Sam Newman, they’re far to strident in their belief sets, & for whatever reason (Sam) still insist on hanging onto this sexist, racist & childish humour, (Leach often did in his cartoons) I also don’t believe Eddie McGuire has got the pull or the charisma he once had, so Ch9 could be on a hiding to nothing here. Could be just another case of rearranging the deck chairs as their media ship slowly sinks, Ch9 seems to be joining the other behemoths of media in this country, that have refused to accept change was & is inevitable. That it is far too late to really do anything about it, even if there was a willingness to follow ABC & SBS’s lead in providing more platforms to access media. Unfortunately the powers will need to be dragged kicking & screaming for this to happen.

      3. I’m a little late to this due to “work commitments” and domestic service as an equal household partnership but enough about me. If Helen you believe in free speech for al then you would conflict with YA-M as she describes herself as a Muslim first – a religion that like most has a multitude of flaws not the least of which is massive restrictions on free speech. Like most immigrants or children of immigrants from the third World they are overly represented in the scientific or technical studies area and there are scant of these people in the liberal arts or the Humanities broadly speaking.
        I have come to the conclusion that YA-M is a patronising loud mouthed boofhead, a female yobbo of the Islamic faith – witness her love of cars and sports – with a nasty vindictive rich streak of hatred for anything that is European and White and dare I say, male. She cherry picks the good points of Islam yet won’t critically analyse or acknowledge the negative aspects of Islam. the “feminist” nature of Islam was the first offense when you witness the second class nature of women in Islamic societies but the conflation of Anzac Day with human rights abuses was I think a bridge too far for many.
        I’m happy to continue the debate.

        1. Ms Abdel-Magied’s politics are not mine. We have different world views. That her view is one that I might find less authentically “freeing” than mine has nothing to do with free speech.
          How did you formulate that argument? That advocates of free speech can only support people who they believe to be speaking freely?
          And, who are these free people? You?

  6. Helen, I get you don’t like Rita Panahi because she promotes conservative, that is non-left wing, points of view. Fair enough.

    You like Yassmin (Islam is feminist) Abdel-Magied who gets a fat lump of taxpayers $$ for her lack of influence. Fair enough.

    Interestingly, there was a storm of defence for Yassmin (Sharia Law is alright by me) Abdel-Magied when she aired her shallow opinions.

    Even more interesting was the deathly silence from feminists when Peta Credlin was repeatedly attacked by the media for wild and unsubstantiated rumours about her purported influence over Prime Minister Abbott. She was also attacked publicly by lefties for difficulties falling pregnant.
    Also the deathly silence from the same narrow minded cohort when Julie Bishop has been attacked publicly, however unfairly.

    Clearly, a woman has to be a leftie to a feminist. And to be a feminist means she must also renounce any non-left views she holds.

    I know what future historians will think.
    They will look at Sam Newman and Yassmin Abdel-Magied and think our civilisation was screwy around the fringes… but at least they had free speech.

    1. 1. I do not dislike Panahi, whom I rarely read. I found her argument in relation to Sam Newman and free speech ridiculous enough to merit critique. I would also say that she is not, by any means, conservative. I would also say that left points of view are not covered widely in media. Progressive liberal ideas are. Left ideas are not. There’s a large difference.
      2. I do not especially like Ms Abdel-Magied’s politics. I find her particular brand of liberal progressivism to be very different from my own. By the way, have you seen her tax return? I am confident, as a former ABC employee, that her remuneration was scant. Big dollars for a non prime time hosting gig are not paid.
      3. There may have been a “storm” of defence, but this was in no way proportionate to the wide coverage this young woman received on the front of major newspapers.
      4. There have been many, many articles written by liberal progressive feminists in support of Credlin. For example, http://www.smh.com.au/comment/feminists-should-speak-up-about-credlin-and-the-creeps-should-close-their-mouths-20160310-gnfkn4.html and https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/01/whatabouttery-is-plaguing-feminism-and-peta-credlin-is-its-latest-victim
      5. If you have genuine interest in critiquing feminism, as I do, you should know that mainstream feminism is not “left wing”. It is far easier to defend your position if you can agree to some basic and broadly accepted definitions.

      1. 1. If you think the media doesn’t cover much left opinion try finding conservative or Right points of view in the YourABC/The Guardian/Fairfax cartel. Interesting how they interview and quote each other almost exclusively. Ever wondered what an echo chamber sounds like? Just watch or listen to YourABC’s, ‘The Insiders’, ‘QandA’, ‘The Drum; ‘RN Breakfast’, Jon Faine’, etc. etc…

        2. Yassmine AM also acquired federal dollars for her involvement in an ANZAC commemoration committee.

        3. Not convinced on this. Maybe. She should have known better and I think she did

        4. Both Left and ‘Progressive’ views are aired widely, and almost exclusively inhabit the ABC (TV, radio and the net). This also is the case for Fairfax and The Guardian.
        A couple of token articles in the SMH and The Guardian standing up for Peta Credlin was not sufficient.
        The public hatred expressed in both Left and ‘Progressive’ media, let alone from the nut-jobs on Twitter, for her on a daily basis over so many months was a clear demonstration that the much professed greater depth of humanity they believe they have cornered, is actually shallow.

        This same shallowness was evident in the hate-filled debates around the 1200 refugee seekers who dfrowned at sea. Both Left and ‘Progressive’ media commentators such as David Marr and Fran Kelly showed they cared less about this appalling tragedy than their precious ideology. In my view when ideology gets in the way of the sanctity of human life, ideology needs to bugger off. (By all means, let’s do all we can to help the people in the distressed countries they come from).

        5. As a 53 y.o. male I have grown up with the man-bashing which is the staple of the feminists of the ‘Progressives’ (a 1984-esque appropriation of language). Combined with so much misinformartion, rank exaggeration, egotistical posturing and a dearth of useful information about how to actually get on in the world, feminism has lost so much of the credibility that late 19th/early 20th century suffragettes gained for women.
        My very bright, articulate and resilient daughters would gain nothing from feminist public debate as it has been for the last 50 years. This is sad so I direct them to the sciences and music instead and the ongoing deveopment of their already formidable communication skills. As young women in a few years time, living lives according to feminist/progressive ideology would do nothing but turn them into victims; everything wrong in your life is the fault of men (men still rule the world so you’ve got no chance).

        1. How kind of you, a 53 year-old man to ‘direct’ your daughters away from ‘sad’ feminism because it will make them believe only men can direct them.

    2. I think the thing is, the women you talk about apart from Abdel-Magied, have been more than a little outspoken towards other people not just those of the media & in the other parties in Parliament. Apart from Peta Credlin’s inability to get pregnant which is largely irrelevant, but as I understand it she spent more time with TA than she did her husband that may be the first clue around her inability to fall pregnant. Having said this, I would suggest that media in this country is far too patriarchal,
      (even some of the females are caught up in it as well) the comments you make should extend to Prime minister Gillard who was the unfortunate recipient of the most vitriolic & unnecessarily slanderous of comments. Which shows there’s a long way to go in respect of any participation by those who are female let alone those that happen to come from a different culture or society. They’re fair game for the old boys network that lives with the attitude that “we’ve given you safe haven & everything that comes with it, you don’t get to comment or change the direction our society is going in, as your not Australian enough.” (?) There always seems to be a hidden agenda, behind the seemingly happy go-luck social mask of the ” lucky” country, that trips up the unwary, & overly confident, those who are game enough to pop their heads over the parapet of public opinion, only to get them shot at, by the snipping of truly uneducated & ill informed observers, that know little of the outside world, & resists any alternative views.

  7. Interesting.
    The point of free speech is that it must be free.
    To have a democracy you must have free speech.
    To have a good life you must have democracy.

  8. Future civilisations may realise Sam Newman is closely related to the ‘Cloaca Professional’ excrement producing installation at MONA, Hobart. Indeed it may even be his lovechild, although the identity of the hapless surrogate is as yet unresolved.
    I feel a canal 9 series coming on.

  9. Ouch! I thought I just got my manhood slammed by the descending toilet seat but it was just goddess Helen giving vent. Long may she reign!

    1. Love it Timbaler, one of those should do the job nicely. A small statue of a small-minded person, in a pose that is more dignified than he deserves.

  10. As I understand Bolt, Tim Blair, et al, their grievance is not that “cartoonist Bill Leak’s life was ended by persecution on Facebook”, ie by negative thinsg said by private individuals, but that Leak’s death was hastened by the stress of being reported to and investigated by the Human Rights Commission, a government body that possesses a number of coercive powers conferred by law.
    Maybe Leak deserved it, but it’s a whole different order from stress from “people are disagreeing with what I say and that’s a violation of my freedom of speech.”

  11. There’s a fundamental (excuse the pun) law of physics which suggests: If you hold things in and keep feeding stuff in, eventually the container will explode. My only question is: Is Sam going to explode one day and cover the Footy Show dais with shit? Or has that
    already occurred and indeed he is already an empty vessel?

    Funnily enough, in the Doctor’s surgery today, I was subjected to that terrible travesty of broadcasting, Ray Hadley, who spouted
    a nonsense about coal-powered power stations, Japanese efficiency quotients – essentially spouting the Gu’mmint and coal lobby line.
    I couldn’t escape, you understand, because I didn’t have access to the controls. I idly wondered if the “Cash for Comment” rules still apply.
    If so, Ray should be taken off air. Mind you, so should Sam, Eddiface, and the whole motley crew, that right-wing rabble which cynically seeks to control the public agenda on thought.

    1. …as opposed to the left wing media rabble – YourABC, Fairfax, The Guardian which cynically seeks to control the public agenda on thought?

      1. As opposed to the Right wing Murdoch media which seeks only to enlighten the public and exert no other influence whatsoever hey Brett?

      2. Let me ask you a question Brett how many Left wing shock jocks in this country have their tentacles in the government’s pockets ? Try none. The ABC is no more left wing than any other media body, you just want it to be so you have more to bitch about, or are able to prove that in your mind that the right wingers are hard done by/misunderstood, the reality is most of them are self righteous wind bags, that are largely ill informed, and will continue to keep Australia in the dark ages, destroying the chances for the future generations to come. Have you bothered listening to the likes of Pauline Hanson George Christensen, Cory Bernardi. et al lately ………

  12. Where can I purchase a small statuette of an angrily constipated Sam, blocked up with all the things he’s not allowed to say, that I can place in my toilet?

    1. You’ll find it in the plumbing tools section at your local hardware store. In between the toilet plungers and the tap cocks.

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