The obsession with Victorian Premier Dan Andrews is counter-productive to good politics and governance, writes Tom Tanuki.
I have a tradition, established in 2018, of releasing videos with the most "cooked candidates" I can find in state and federal elections; candidates, that is to say, running the most "unorthodox" personalities and/or campaigns. In researching the upcoming Victorian State Election, I’ve been disappointed to detect a flattening of the usually wild discourse among the pool of fringe candidates.
A lot of them have become surprisingly uniform in their fringe-ness (and therefore a lot more boring). They’ve syndicated their fringe politics, churning out a repetitive pattern of freedom movement favourites combined with, most of all, a deep obsession with Dan Andrews. Mostly, it's just Dan fixation material.
It's rare to find a party that bears the name of the politician it wants to unseat, I think. But here we are, and Victorians get to vote for a… "Restore Democracy Sack Dan Andrews Party".
What do they do if he does get sacked, with a name like that? I worry they’ll lose a sense of purpose. All I can find that seems to pass for a policy platform from them (on a website found at a lapsed Victorian Labor domain name, no less) mentions Dan’s name a disconcerting amount of times:
‘Stop Dan from…’ ‘Draining Dan’s swamp…’ ‘Fixing Dan’s…’ ‘Dan-made crisis…’ ‘Ending Dan’s Dictatorship…’ ‘Dan’s Inner City Woke Agenda…’
Dan. Dan. Dan. I’ve many a bone to pick with Dan’s government too, and my criticisms of his government are many. But this feels less like a legitimate anti-Labor campaign platform, and more like evidence that the author is having nightly dreams about Dan Andrews.
Dan lives rent-free in all of our heads, love him or hate him. 2020 ensured that. Over the pandemic he addressed the state for 120 consecutive days, the nation’s television screens serving as branding irons searing his face (and North Face jacket) into the brain of every Victorian. We’ll never forget his head, ever again.
After this Election, when Dan wins, he will become his party’s longest-serving Premier. His government is a Labor behemoth. Dan Andrews guest stars in our dreams or our nightmares. One or the other.
Far-right Morgan Jonas’ far-right, conspiracist "Freedom Party" has been consumed from the outset by Dan. They have ‘campaigned’ outside his MP’s office day after day. They’ve defaced it, repeatedly hung placards on its windows, held rallies and campaign speeches out the front of it and draped banners over it. They fuss around it like cooked bowerbirds building a little hate-nest. The "Freedom Party" is made up of the stalwarts of the anti-lockdown movement; they’ve mistakenly confused obsessing over Dan with running an actual election campaign.
A good rule of thumb for all political parties is that one intervention order could derail your entire campaign, it is a bad campaign.
I have monitored the freedom movement since 2020 and I’m buried beneath the avalanche I have witnessed of Dan placards, Dan speeches, Dan masks, Dan impersonators and Dan effigies. (The freedom movement’s Dan-impersonating "comedian" is a truly painful act to behold.) Online, we’ve all experienced the tidal wave of pandemic-era Dan hate, too.
This was compounded by a fawning pro-Dan celebrity cult that spread about in direct contrast. Some of them make anti-Dan cookers look understated by comparison: several insane Twitter accounts spent a chunk of 2020 and 2021 gushing about wanting to have sex with Dan. It’s "Dan derangement syndrome" and it consumes his lovers and haters alike.
The visibly working-class John Fetterman’s victory in Pennsylvania’s midterm elections over the Trump-endorsed Mehmet Oz made me think of this syndrome. Campaigning in tattooed arms and Carhartt workwear hoodies, Fetterman’s style is being embraced in mainstream left politics as a breath of fresh air; he’s had his aesthetic unpacked and praised since 2020, and has even been covered in GQ for his taste.
But he was also rubbished as a "basement bum" by his Republican opponent. Part of an easily identifiable style and visage is that the wearer is easier to mock and criticise. One observation from a Professor of Sociology on the subject of Fetterman’s aesthetic stood out to me:
“If […] it’s pathologised for some nefarious reason by his critics then it’s all the more powerful.”
It’s important to admit the role that both obsessive hate and love plays in empowering Dan further. The mainstream left is very guilty of this: the preoccupation with the Cheezel aesthetics of Donald Trump fuelled what the right fairly labelled "Trump derangement syndrome", which absolutely worked in his favour. The local right should know when it’s guilty of the same problem.
Andrews’ government has amassed more than enough scandal and controversy over his eight years in office to facilitate a potentially election-changing issues-based campaign. But the fixation on Dan plays into his hands by distracting from legitimate discussions, allowing him to dismiss any critique of him as the same kind of outlandish fantasy that Dan-fixated conspiracists might peddle.
But the Australian media’s apparent with a car crash from 2013, and some conspiracy theories surrounding Dan’s 2021 fall and subsequent time off, all seem to pander more to a Dan-fixated audience than to any desire to genuinely critique his party. Everyone’s allowed to talk about these things, sure… but at the same time, we all know these angles will not topple the Dan juggernaut.
What is the intended final product of these fixations on one Dan Andrews? I wonder if it’s not even meant to be an honest critique, or even a change of government. Shrill News Corp articles about Dan’s fall don’t highlight issues: they appeal to an audience who crave Dan-centric tabloid drama. The Freedom Party’s petty office-front campaigning comes off as bad campaigning to the rest of us, but I think we aren’t the point; Jonas is only aiming to court the ongoing affections of the conspiracists he hopes to keep fleecing, and leading into new causes, after the election’s done.
In other words, I think they’ve given up, and are simply capitalising on the benefits that entertaining a shared Dan fixation provides.
I’ve only ever dreamed of a world in which we can criticise the Andrews government’s many failings while resisting the apparently overwhelming urge to either a) burn an effigy of him or b) have sex with him. But because he’s going to win, I suspect my dreams are doomed to die for a few more years. More Dan, Dan, Dan.
Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.
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