Daily Telegraph should at least be given credit for remembering
what no one else did: that last week marked the first anniversary of Mark
Latham’s resignation from Federal politics. Prior to the altercation with Ross Schultz,
Latham had disappeared entirely from the public scene, becoming a kind of media
persona non grata. Maybe he finally
achieved the anonymity denied him by political office – the smashing of the
camera testifies clearly enough to his desire for privacy. But wasn’t his complete disappearance up to this point
a little conspicuous?
Just think back to mid-September 2005, and the media orgy
that surrounded the publication of The
Latham Diaries. After The Australian
purchased exclusive rights to publish some of the more incendiary portions of
the Diaries – effectively to
inoculate the public against what Latham consistently claimed was a “serious
book” that has “a lot to say about political science and social studies in this
country” – Latham was everywhere, albeit reduced to little more than a spectacle,
an object of the Big Brother-like
voyeurism he so detested in contemporary Australian society.
During his political career, Peter Weir’s The Truman Show provided a consistent
point of personal reference for Latham (he alludes to it throughout his Diaries and even signs off with, ‘”and in
case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night”). But the
media frenzy last September more closely resembled a scene from The Elephant Man than the benign gaze of
Truman’s viewers: News Ltd, Fairfax and the ABC were all falling over themselves
to be the first to put “the freak” on show, to poke moralistically at Latham’s apparent
hypocrisy, to draw out the bruising westie from beneath his thin veneer of civility.
This reduction of Latham’s Diaries to the ravings of a megalomaniac was incredibly effective.
He made headlines, sold papers, boosted ratings … and then vanished without a
trace. The entire strategy resembled one of Hollywood’s well-worn subplots: the villain
can’t simply kill the hero because then he becomes a martyr (and thus larger
than life in the public imaginary); he first must discredit the hero, subject him to a social death prior to his
actual physical demise.
By discrediting Latham as the maniac that almost became
PM, his Diaries were made to join the
ranks of those other great intellectual memoirs whose purpose was to justify
the activities of their authors and establish their historical greatness, but
only served to confirm a deeper insanity – Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memories of My Nervous Illness and, of course, Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
But let’s return to Latham’s beloved Truman Show for a moment. Peter Weir had the crazy idea of
attempting to include the “actual audience” watching The Truman Show within the voyeuristic loop that
constitutes the film’s theme: “I would have loved to have had a video camera
installed in every theatre the film was to be seen. At one point, the
projectionist would cut power and could cut to the viewers in the cinema and
then back to the movie.” In other words, at some point in
the film, the audience would have the camera turned back upon them so that they
could watch themselves watching the movie.
In this same spirit, what if we were to turn the
attention back onto our response to
Latham? I was sickened, in the wake of the Diaries,
by the back-patting and expressions of self-congratulation that we had not
elected Latham. But the sheer mauvais foi
of such expressions merely serves to underline Latham’s popularity as an
alternative PM throughout 2004. Perhaps the morbid fascination that gripped us
all watching Latham’s supposed descent into madness was merely a deflection
from our own earlier complicity in his rise to prominence.
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