Victoria's deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen doesn’t look much like an African gang member, but I guess in a pinch she’ll do. Especially when the culture war grift, like the rest of the economy, just isn’t paying like it used to.
Doctor Van D, you may recall, ruined everything for The Captain Cook Fan Club’s 250th birthday party by tweeting an unflattering comparison of Cap’s arrival down under with COVID-19.
Cue transgressive Liberal Party performance artisté Tim Smith’s courageous interpretive dance routine as a tiny chirruping arse cricket shaking his angry mandibles at the sky. Smart people know that Smith’s insect disco inferno of declamatory outrage, like the novel coronavirus which now inspires so much of it, is best dealt with by social distancing. Extreme social distancing. Hence the crush of complete fucking numpties who immediately piled on, most of them from the OpEd pages of the Murdoch press and the green room at Sky News After Dark.
Of course Peter Dutton had a swing. The claymation horror spud whose department released hundreds of infected cruise ship passengers onto the streets of Sydney, appeared on breakfast television to hiss in fluent Parseltongue that:
"It'sss pretty obviousss in the middle of a pandemic the sssecond highessst medical officer in the ssstate of Victoria ssshould be concentrating on the people of Victoria and the crisssisss asssociated with COVID-19…She isss unfit for that office and ssshe ssshould go."
No questions for Dutts about whether it might’ve been a pretty fucking obvious idea to stop a cruise ship full of raging plague spreaders docking in the country’s most populous city. You know, ‘in the middle of a pandemic’. And while we’re at it, maybe don’t invite everybody on board to have a bit of zombie shamble around town and lick a few fucking door handles should the mood take them.
But that’s breakfast TV for you.
The offending tweet, sent from van Diemen’s personal account, on her day off, probably took twenty or thirty seconds to write. The howling piss-blizzard of performative stupidity that followed chewed up the better part of all fucking week and was entirely fabricated by the usual suspects for the usual reasons.
In the case of Smith and his Victorian Liberal colleagues, it looked exactly like an attempt to seize back the narrative and some sense of relevance from the doctors, scientists, public servants and Daniel Andrews who had taken control of the state’s pandemic response and done a pretty good job of it.
For the grifters in the Murdoch boiler rooms, it was a chance to indulge one of their favourite kinks; beating the shit out of an uppity woman for extra clicks and hard-to-find ad revenue. Huzzah!
For Morrison and Dutton, sniping at van Diemen did nicely as compo for having to share power with Andrews and all the other state leaders who initially defied them on the general lockdown and who continue to frustrate the shit out of them on the issue of school re-openings.
It was telling, I thought, that they poured so much fire into a minor skirmish on the far fringes of their favourite forever war. Dutton called out van Diemen’s ‘culture war debates’ and Smith her ‘culture war crap’, both of them demanding she be sacked not because she’d fucked up the pandemic response, like Scotty from Marketing almost did that first weekend he insisted that he was going to the footy; but because dissing Captain Cook really hurt them in the feels.
If the Nobel Committee handed out a prize for egregious hypocrisy, the horror spud and his noisy little friend the novelty cicada would’ve had to share a pay day in Oslo this year.
Assuming anybody gets to go to Oslo this year. Perhaps they could Zoom in?
Anyway, hopefully it’ll die down this week, because all the grown ups declined an invitation to co-star in a cock punching video.
And, in a way, you could almost feel sorry for these trolls, if they weren’t such terrible human beings. The pandemic has shattered nearly fifty years of neo-liberal orthodoxy about the primacy of the market as a mechanism for dealing with everything.
The virus reminds us we are all intimately connected. We are not drifting motes of atomised humanity, or gross, unthinking factions waiting only for the electrical shock of history to surge into conflict with each other. Those things are elements of the human condition, for sure, but not its entirety. When your political philosophy and operating principles boil down to setting each of us against the other, however, you risk finding yourself stranded in moments like this.
It must be more than tempting to fall back on the old certainties—divide, distract, inflame, enrage, and frighten—even as they they fail you.
Or perhaps especially when they fail you.
(JB’s note. Yes this is an extra column. Yes it’s free. And you can feel free to share it around. One of the nice things about having my own column is that I can write whatever the hell I want whenever the hell I feel like it. And this nasty little episode really pissed me off.)