When the dinner party conversation is flagging what a relief it is to have one of the guests throw all caution to the winds and get into a bit of serious character assassination. Outrageous claims are mixed with intriguing conspiracy theories and bizarre links are made between apparently unconnected events. Who would dare spoil the fun by asking for real evidence or questioning some of the assumptions.
Alan Jones provides this sort of entertainment for a living. He does it very well, and clearly we can’t get enough of it if his salary, is anything to go by. To survive, Alan needs to continually unearth material and figure out how to turn it into controversy hence entertainment. The Balmoral Beach parking issue was a corker in that respect, but it was decent of Alan to leave it until his mate and paid parking advocate Dom Lopez was no longer mayor.
All good clean fun you might say – but I wonder. We pride ourselves for being the clever country that is forever finding creative ways of adapting to new challenges. We taxpayers fork out an enormous sum to keep our universities going – universities that are committed to the core to the values of critical thinking, systems thinking, logical reasoning, scientific method and the rational pursuit of knowledge. To have high profile public figures junk these values can hardly be contributing to our intellectual advancement.
Alan’s piece on parking employs all the stock-in-trade tricks. Don’t let facts get in the way of a good assertion (for the record Alan, Mosman Council had no money with Lehman Brothers and the entire Council, not a small subcommittee unanimously approved the extension of the GM’s contract.). Make no distinction between someone making a claim about a breach of the code of conduct and it actually being proven. Rely on sweeping generalisations rather than take the trouble to seek out the truth (are all long serving staff members really past their use-by date?). Assign motives that suit your story whatever the actual motives were (the GM contract was extended to ensure a smooth transition to an elected mayor and give that new mayor a role in the selection of the next GM). Ridicule, don’t engage or debate.
On balance I believe what Alan does in stirring up a bit of outrage is pretty harmless. Our system of education, if nothing else, has equipped us with the ability to separate entertainment from serious intellectual endeavour. If Alan Jones and all the other shock jocks and ‘trollumnists’ can make a few bob by forming partnerships with vested interests and trashing enlightenment values in the process, so be it. It’s all part and parcel of market economics that on balance seems to be the best system going.
In a letter to SMH on Feb 3 2011 Paul Ellercamp from Gymea put it beautifully “We are encouraged to “diss” our leaders also because we are conditioned by shock-jocks and trashy tabloid media, such as programs that masquerade as as current affairs shows on commercial television. Admit it or not. many of us take what they preach as gospel, when most of it is ill-informed, ignorant, superficial, bigoted and specious claptrap designed to entertain by catering to our ignorance: to drive revenue through ratings rather than to be truthful. We must take our blame for this ungovernable country. We are all in this together.”
Now Alan Jones has moved on to address Climate Change. This article by INSW Science Faculty journalist Bob Beale is a nice antidaote.