A series is returning to our screens claiming to show us the authentic side of politicians while overlooking their histories of corruption and immorality, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.
ELEVEN YEARS AGO, ABC TV first broadcast the television series Kitchen Cabinet, hosted by presenter Annabel Crabb. On Tuesday 15 August 2023, Crabb returns with another season, this time featuring Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, among others.
The series is based on the crude confection that politicians are more likely to relax into being their “authentic selves” while preparing a meal in front of a TV crew with a host who, in her other role, is a political journalist.
Crabb also claimed that she wanted to “humanise” the politicians involved.
At the time, I wrote:
‘I’ve never doubted that politicians are human. No other species so vilely manipulates its fellows in the blind pursuit of power. Watching them eat, drink and pretend they’re revealing their “real” selves does nothing to humanise them, given that humanise means to make more humane, “a state characterised by tenderness, compassion, sympathy for people and animals, especially the suffering and distressed.”’
Perhaps what is most widely remembered is the 28 October 2015 episode in which Crabb pals up with former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Social Services Minister at the time. It’s useful to note that the illegal Robodebt scheme was introduced this same year, on Morrison’s watch.
Around the time Crabb was busy “humanising” Morrison, he was failing in his ministerial responsibility while misleading Cabinet as to the legality of a scheme that was to cause enormous suffering to hundreds of thousands of people, including 2,000 people who died after receiving Robodebt notices.
Perhaps it is Crabb’s intention to normalise, rather than humanise.
Morrison cooked up a Sri Lankan curry and declared that he really didn’t care what people thought of him, perhaps the only truthful public utterance we’ve ever heard from the man.
Crabb found him “good company” as well as “funnier and more relaxed than I was expecting”.
Of course, in Crabb’s defence, it can be argued that she, like the rest of us, was unaware of the breadth of the monstrosity that was Robodebt and Morrison’s key role in it.
“The best way to get to know someone,” Crabb chirps in the promo for the new season, “is in their own kitchen”.
The Morrison episode certainly puts that unhinged delusion to bed.
If ever there was an argument against a show such as this, Morrison made it in spades.
Given that her guest this season is Peter Dutton, a man whose bone-chilling sadism, racism and abhorrent cruelty are widely known and recorded, we can be forgiven for assuming that Crabb doesn’t give a damn about the dark side of her guests and how it affects the vulnerable, over whom they exercise an inordinate amount of control.
“So I can ask, for instance, how Peter Dutton feels about being likened to a potato, or how his traumatic experience in the Queensland Police changed him as a person.”
She could ask, for instance, why he claimed rape victims imprisoned by him on Nauru were “trying it on”.
Or why he had to be forced by a court to allow a sick child imprisoned on Nauru to come to Australia for treatment.
Her determination to normalise sociopathic politicians is deranged.
Why does the national broadcaster see its role as a mission to “humanise” politicians who have done everything in their power to dehumanise entire sections of humanity for votes?
“Isn’t it a bit of a bummer that sports and rorts rhyme?” Crabb asks a laughing Bridget Mackenzie.
Crabb is adept at using humour not to satirise, but to minimise. It can’t be so bad if we can have a good laugh about it together over lunch, can it?
As I also wrote back then:
Ms Crabb has long experience in media and must be more aware than most of how people adapt to the presence of cameras. So for her to make the claim that Kitchen Cabinet is politically necessary because it shows us what politicians are like and thus helps us better understand their policies, is, quite frankly, a steaming pile of monkey poo and insulting to our intelligence.
As for what they are like... I think I could binge-watch Kitchen Cabinet for a decade and still be no wiser about what any of its subjects are like. Indeed, I learn far more about what they are like from the policies they espouse than I could ever learn from the personas they present at dinner with Annabel.
Thirteen years on, I really cannot put things any better than I did then:
[Kitchen Cabinet] is presented to its audience as having educative political significance, when in fact it has none. It will, its presenter assures us, inform us as to the characters and motives of our politicians, thus adding to our understanding of the decisions they make. No, it won’t. With very few exceptions, we already know what they’re likely to decide: it’s on that basis that we do or do not vote for them.
This is dumbed-down politics, masquerading as important and relevant because it’s on the ABC and presented by one of that organisation’s senior political journalists.
Which is, actually, shameful. It really is.
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