The standard Australian soap opera

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According to Scarlet E Jones, the big part of the problem with Australia’s politics is that we like ‒ maybe a bit too much ‒ a little bit of drama?

Australian media: all colour and movement signifying nothing?

Jennifer Hewett's appearance on ABC Q&A on Monday night (10/6/13), and her comments regarding the continuing “soap opera” that is the Labor leadership drama, got me thinking about the whole concept of the soap opera in politics and just what this really reflects on the mentality of the voting public and media alike.

Society has always loved a drama.

The Romans had the Colosseum ― the Flavian Amphitheatre, which embraced within its dramatic walls the mighty Gladiatorial re-enactments of legendary battles and mythological drama.

Fifty thousand people salivating for the taste of blood.

And so, it seems, do we still ― to this very day.

While we may generally mock the trailer-trash and unethical parenting style of Honey-Boo Boo's mother June, most of us are quite happy enough to tune in and watch.

To laugh. To mock. To jeer. To criticise.

Honey Boo-Boo and family. (Image courtesy Daily Mirror.)

When one of our celebrities marries a big Hollywood star (think back to “Our Nicole” and Tom Cruise) we feel a sense of national pride. We beam with jingoistic joy. Lamb roast had never before been so popular.

But the minute there is a whiff of marital instability in the media, it is then that we collectively notice the Botox, the secret lovers, the nannies, the shame!

And then we turn our backs and focus on the next “It” girl. (Shout out to Asher Keddie.)

Yes, the evil truth is that Australians love a bit of gossip. And while it may seem like a bit of light-hearted entertainment, when it comes to the constant media cycle focussing on politics and the ever constant “leadership spill” rumour mill, what is really at stake here? What are the voter's intentions?

In the media, we constantly see the PM portrayed as a back-stabbing, red-headed clown, with a big nose and even bigger posterior. Even the likes of  feminist Germaine Greer, have been reduced to the kinds of people who spend their spare time having a cuppa with the girls and bitching about the shape and cut of someone's jacket.

And in the interest of fairness, let’s not forget to mention Tony Abbott and his big ears, his monkey-like appearance and his budgie-smugglers. He is constantly portrayed as Gollum, snatching at every chance for his “preccccccious!!!!”

(Image: Tumblr)

Then we have Kev. Bless him. Always walking past the camera at (in)opportune moments. One has to wonder whether he really is staging a coup, or whether it's simply a few supporters whispering sweet-nothings into the mainstream media's ear?

It is, after all, what the media wants to hear and share with the captive audience. It's high drama! It's entertaining! It is also very tiresome.

The constant chatter now is about another leadership spill. About how poorly Labor is doing in the polls and how consistently the dissatisfaction with the Gillard Government has been reflected in the polls.

However, in retrospect, we see the LNP and Labor at 51-49 on a Two Party Preferred on two consecutive occasions in November 2012 in Newspoll ― the Murdoch-owned poll and so the only one that seems to matter to Australia’s mainstream media. We have also seen Gillard with a very hefty lead as preferred PM over Abbott at many times in this same unaccountably revered poll.

The fact is ― the polls undulate. They ebb and flow and much of this is in relation to the latest media beat-up.

There is no doubt that Kevin Rudd has a large number of supporters and Julia also has a similar number of detractors, but there was ‒ and is ‒ no doubt still a similar disharmony within the LNP.

There was a single vote in the spill that enabled Abbott to snatch the leadership from the white-knuckles of Malcolm Turnbull. If it had been the Coalition leading the hung parliament, there may well have been similar leadership challenges and rumours constantly circulating. And a close look at Tony Abbott's personal rating in the polls would tell you that it would be highly likely we'd have seen a similar soap-opera.

The comments being made about Labor consistently dying in the polls are not entirely fair or an honest depiction of fact ― but it makes for a good bit of drama.

Menu at a Liberal Party fundraiser.
Alleged menu at a Liberal Party fundraiser for Mal Brough in March.

Perhaps the question voters ought to be asked by Neilson, Morgan, and Newspoll should be:
“Which do you prefer, big ears or big arse?”

“Should Abbott have his ears pinned?”

Or perhaps:
“Do you think Gillard has had a bum-lift?”

Surely not questions such as whether the government you vote for should have costed policies on the table?

Or policy directions regarding the fate of asylum seekers and the dubious ‒ and potentially diplomatically disastrous ‒ proposal of “towing back the boats”.

Policies regarding the future of our education system; or the fate of Gonski; the NBN; the NDIS; of potential funding cuts.

Policy about how we maintain our 9A rated economy.

What of the future? Is the future so well-guaranteed we can sit on our comfy sofa and watch the ensuing drama whilst dipping a biscotti into our Frappacino?

On the same episode of Q&A, Tony Jones asked  of Craig Emerson, “Why are you being smashed in the polls?” This in spite of the AAA rated economy and the positive, progressive reforms which will make future Australia, an even more enviable nation.

The answer could well be this.

We want a fight. We want gossip. We crave the soap opera.

After all, Neighbours has been running for almost 30 years...

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