Crikey’s media critic Dr Stupid has been keeping a Stuart Littlemore file and this week on Crikey opens it up for all to see.
Once I even saw Littlemore aboard a Sydney train, and was delighted to note that he seemed to maintain the same kind of icy hostility towards commuters as he does towards journalists. Noisy children were instinctively silenced by his presence. Before I had a chance to get him to autograph the book I was carrying (a tourist guide to the museums of Leningrad) Littlemore somehow vanished. I have no idea where he went; we were between stations, and he’d been hemmed in at the end of a crowded carriage.
Littlemore is possessed of dark powers.
People are sometimes confused by my open and complete fascination with Littlemore, mistaking it for agreement with his views on society and the press. Ha! Littlemore is so often wrong about these things that I’ve given up counting (more on this later). I could care less about what Littlemore has to say; who needs a QC’s opinion on anything, unless you’re trying to stay out of jail?
It’s his personality which is compelling. You could magnify the psychological flaws of Captain Queeg a thousand times over and still not have a character as richly complex as Stuart Littlemore. He’s a one-man soap opera. Strange tensions roil within him.
Sometimes they erupt. My favourite television moment of all time – right up there with the famous suicide footage of Pennsylvania treasurer R. Budd Dwyer, who killed himself with a .357 Magnum at a 1987 press conference – is Littlemore’s magical self-destruction during a Lateline broadcast in 1997.
I didn’t watch Lateline much that year (Jennifer Byrne was the host, and who can stand her awful voice?) but I made sure to tune in for the fateful Littlemore appearance. Littlemore faced off with American lawyer/publisher Stephen Brill, who was about to launch Brill’s Content, a magazine which would investigate the US media.
The pair got on well – at first. Then Littlemore became over-confident, lashing out at journalists and the host. Brill denounced him: “You sound more arrogant than the most arrogant journalist I’ve ever met.” Veteran Littlemore observers had been waiting for this moment for years. How would Stuart react?
He reacted perfectly, at least so far as I’m concerned. Littlemore instantly turned on Brill – they’d been kissing up to each other only moments earlier – and slammed him as a merchant of greed. Then Littlemore bluntly denied that he earned any money from his Media Watch appearances (he later claimed he was being “ironic”). Byrne was rendered almost silent during the bitter exchange, and was later reportedly abused by Littlemore at a media event.
The press claimed that Littlemore had been blasted to smaller, bloodier pieces than Lord Mountbatten, but they missed the point. True fans follow Littlemore not because he is wise or clever, but because he is so abundantly convinced of his own wisdom and cleverness, no matter what the circumstances or evidence. Imagine being the cop who pulls Littlemore over for speeding:
COP: “Mate, I’ve got you at 120 kmh in a 60 kmh zone, on the wrong side of the road, with no headlights on, at 11.00pm. What’s your excuse?”
LITTLEMORE: “Goodnight to you.” (Drives away)
Arrogance is an underrated quality. Television execs and advertisers don’t understand it and keep giving us nice guys like Kieran Perkins and Rove McManus. Who needs them? What sort of questions would you ask Perkins if you got stuck next to him at a dinner party? Wouldn’t you rather hang out with Warney? As for Rove – he actually apologises when guests say something controversial! Don Lane would’ve personally thrown an obscene guest off the set.
Balanced personalities offend me. If I want decent, civilised, boring company, I’ll join the stupid Australian Democrats and chat about trees. For entertainment, give me a headcase every time. Littlemore delivers.
For example, take the last couple of his shows. Last week’s was a special treat, with Littlemore attacking a range of people almost as wacky as himself – the obsessives from the Institute of Public Affairs. The IPA had held a small gathering to draw attention to bias at the ABC (not an issue which really needs attention drawn to it, given how blatant it is, but whatever). Littlemore went them like a growly dog.
His arguments, such as they were, were amazingly weak. Littlemore mocked the number of people who’d appeared to hear the IPA, as though that somehow diminished the IPA’s position. He ridiculed the speaking style of the IPA’s Michael Warby, as though that influenced the facts. He pilloried Paddy McGuinness for an error in pronunciation, as though it had anything to do with the issue.
Robert Manne, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, applauded Media Watch for the coverage – apparently unaware that Littlemore’s show is called “Littlemore”, because the host believes the Media Watch title has been devalued by Richard Ackland and Paul Barry. Sally Loane, also in the SMH, cheered the “forensic” demolition of the IPA’s claims, which indicates that Loane isn’t familiar with the term “ad hominem” (although she may shortly learn the meaning of “redundant”, as soon as Miranda Devine joins the SMH).
Throughout the whole 15 minutes, Littlemore attacked big business, the “big end of town”, various right-wingers, and conservative ideas. At the end, he concluded – man, this was a beautiful Littlemore moment – that there was no lefty bias at the ABC. Res ipsa loquitur, Stuart. The thing speaks for itself.
Yet throughout the show, Littlemore – who must have understood the flimsiness of his position, and the weight of evidence of ABC bias – betrayed not a moment’s doubt. He’s magnificent! The other day a Kiwi friend dropped over to watch some old tapes of 1980s cricket matches. In one of them, New Zealand tailender John Bracewell edged a ball to first slip. Although the ball was caught around knee height, Bracewell stood his ground, and argued with other players and the umpire. My friend turned to me and said: “Littlemore!”
On Monday, Littlemore tackled Dick Smith and other opportunist-patriots. He’s been on Smith’s case for years, mainly over how much money Smith makes – as though QCs starve in the streets. Oh, the smugness! It was smothering, in a beautiful, caramel-like way. Littlemore was obviously proud of his program’s brilliant research (it was in the papers last year) which revealed that the Foster’s “I’m Australian!” ad campaign was of Canadian origin, although he missed another chance to score some points – the actor in the Canadian ad he so adored has recently moved to California. So much for commercial patriotism.
And he didn’t attack the music industry’s claims to pure Australianess over parallel CD imports, or the latest moans from book publishers, or the ABC’s own claims to keep local culture safe from foreign intrusion. C’mon, Littlemore! Rev it up!
Oh, there’s me getting all concerned about accuracy and thoroughness and all. I’m happy to take Littlemore just as he is – flawed, cranky, a little bit nuts, blind to his lefty inclinations. I’m a fan. See you again, Stewie, on Monday night at 9.15pm.