It seems almost churlish to discuss a show like Q&A, as it is a show that itself thrives on meaningless, hollow discussion about discussion about discussion. The occasional forays into actual policy debate are quickly scuppered by unopposed repetition of mistruths, mind-numbingly banal spin and all-round narcissism.
This was perhaps most clearly demonstrated this evening, when, after approximately 45 minutes (give or take…I have an awful memory) of Concetta Fierravanti-Well’s feverish, unhinged rhetoric about the carbon (dioxide *sigh*) tax we were treated to what I counted as the second actual policy question of the night. Credit to the lady who asked the question, as I (and I’m sure many others) was genuinely taken aback by such a stimulating question about the Swiss government’s drug (specifically heroin) policies. It quickly took on a provincial tone as the panel related it to the medically-supervised injecting centres in Sydney. On that point, John Della Bosca hit the question out of the park, offering a passionate defence of the NSW government’s policy and of the broader harm minimisation approach to drug use. As Tony Jones gestured to Grahame Morris for his thoughts, it became clear that the tone was about to be lowered once more (Morris had earlier made a gratuitous reference to Della Bosca’s private life).
Rather than a meaningful discussion of a complex social issue, we were treated to the absurd as Morris invoked the slippery slope argument (never a good start) to outline what he perceived as the logical inanity of the project. What are we going to do about the paedophiles, he asked? Paedophile s*x rooms, I suppose, is the implied answer. Afterwards, I oscillated between thinking that this was a genuine, bizarre position held by Morris and that this was a disingenuous, toxic association deliberately peddled by Morris to further debase the debate. I’m not sure it matters. I realise I’m picking on the Liberals on the panel a little, but they just happened to be the two who grated. Had I began the blog before last week’s show I could have railed about the inanity and general intellectual vacancy of the ALP’s Jason Clare.
The point is, at the first sight of meaningful, enlightening debate, Q&A is debased. And it is not always so explicit. On a show that routinely features at least two politicians (always one each from the ALP and the L/NP) and usually pads out the panel with members of the media or public intellectuals we are rarely treated to anything beyond yet another medium for the usual suspects to trot out their droning, repetitious, shallow lines. Occasionally, a guest like Tariq Ali is able to cut through the bullshit, but it’s rare. This is the most banal form of debate. And I use the term “debate” only out of convenience. It’s so banal it’s not debate. It’s a back and forth. It’s a chance for people who already have the chance (over and over) to repeat what we already hear and we already know.
The concerning thing is, Q&A is an allegory for our democracy. I used to take solace that we in Australia were at least somewhat removed from what the French intellectual, Jean Baudrillard, terms ‘pure simulation’, that infects American politics.
For as long as I can remember, US politics has been about postulation and identity. The eternal struggle to seem like whatever politicians are meant to seem like. Australian democracy is now equally detached from reality. Deep political discourse is almost non-existent in the mainstream media and where it does exist it is rarely more than a simulation of depth. Usually in the mould of Paul Kelly-type posturing where events take on meaning only because we’re told they’ve taken on meaning.
This is Baudrillard’s hyperreality as politics. It is irreality. It is the reduction of politics to the constant battle to make things seem political. Glib slogans and simulated meaning has long been a feature of politics generally. But, I fear that any remaining referent to reality has been lost. We are truly plunging the depths of political discourse in this country. It’s as if shows like Q&A exist only to remind us that politics actually exists. The only problem is the show fails monumentally in this task. A show guised as a representation of participatory democracy is pure simulation. It is neither participatory nor democratic. The audience asks the questions they’re expected to ask (they don’t exist outside the discourse) and where a question actually cuts through, it’s meaning is quickly hollowed out by the banality of repetitious, simulated political discourse.
Q&A doesn’t remind us that politics exists. It reminds us that politics in Australia has no depth, it is pure banality.