What a year this has been. I don’t think it would be hyperbolic to say that 2010 has been the most momentous and exciting year since the dawn of time. A year in which ruction and discord ruled the political landscape, in which the least interesting election in living memory unexpectedly led to an intriguing new paradigm, which quickly became the least interesting intriguing new paradigm in living memory. A year in which the media itself came under an increasingly intense spotlight, as the ways in which we consume news continued to change, anonymous bloggers continued to abuse their vast, unfettered power with ever-increasing malevolence, and newspaper editors everywhere continued to puzzle over how to get Twitter on their fax machines.
The year was marked by heroic triumphs of the human spirit — the Australian media’s successful attempt to appear interested in the Commonwealth Games — and by demonstrations of the depths of human depravity — Jessica Watson’s publicist; both by displays of the mighty power of the natural world — the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, or in English, “Eyeful of Jokulls” — and by illustrations of how the natural world is pretty crap — Justin Bieber.
Perhaps more than anything, it was a year of surprises. Who would have thought, at the start of the year, that an election would be fought between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, or that by December, journalists would still think they were being clever by saying things such as “who would have thought at the start of the year that an election would be fought between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott”? Strange days indeed.
The Australian news landscape was, of course, dominated by the federal election, which presented voters with a stark choice: should we opt for Gillard, who proposed to Move us Forward via the Transformative Power of Education and the Importance and Dignity of Work, most of which would be accomplished through the execution of decisive, soothing hand gestures and quizzing random passers-by as to what we should do about climate change? Or should we go for Tony Abbott, who on the one hand promised Real Action in the form of possibly doing various unspecified things in relation to certain matters, but on the other hand remained unable to prevent himself looking as if he was eager to gnaw on your ankles?
In the end the voters, shockingly, did not unanimously vote for either party, instead splitting their vote, some voting one way and others voting another, in what the mainstream press agreed was an unprecedented display of craven wishy-washy indecisiveness, and more than anything raised the question: just how did the entire voting population of Australia manage to secretly meet and organise on an individual basis how each one was going to vote in order to ensure a hung parliament? “A pox on both your houses!” the electorate had cried, demonstrating itself to be much more devious and much more literate than had hitherto been suspected.
And so our parliamentarians began the long, slow, painful process of pretending to care what voters wanted. Both major parties worked themselves into a mighty Westminster lather trying to impress the three independents who held the fate of the government in their hands: a difficult task as all were impressed by vastly different things: one by better services for the bush; one by a willingness to hold hands and get in touch with your emotions; and one by the banning of Asian bananas and the feeding of homos-xuals to rooftop crocodiles.
It was a tricky balancing act, and one in which Tony Abbott, eventually failed, learning a valuable lesson in the process: the Liberal Party must work harder to connect with those sections of society who are not barking lunatics in giant hats. Gillard, conversely, triumphed with Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor by playing down the psychotic aspects of the ALP and playing up those aspects that tended to lend themselves naturally to gross favouritism towards a tiny rural minority. There was also Andrew Wilkie, who briefly did a fairly unconvincing impression of a man who might support the Liberal Party, before dissolving into giggles.
The other big story of the federal election was of course the “Greenslide”: the Greens, riding a wave of popular support across the nation, managed a whopping 11% of the primary vote, and a stunning one seat in the House of Representatives, proving that they are indeed the dominant force in Australian politics, and have a clear mandate to continue complaining about everything and demanding the government listen to the will of slightly more than one in 10 of the people.
In any event, the whole affair led to the “new paradigm” in Australian politics, which is a lot like the old paradigm except with more jokes about how Oakeshott never shuts up. The other major feature of the old paradigm is that the Opposition, despite its name, is fairly sure it is actually the government, but has been thus far frustrated in its efforts to find compelling evidence to this effect. In fact, the Liberals have not carried themselves with such a born-to-rule attitude since 1996-2007, or 2007-2009.
But even after all the excitement and hurly-burly and gripping alterations to standing orders, life had to go on, however unfortunately, and there were other exciting things happening in this country this year. In sport, for example, where we had only the third occurrence of a drawn grand final in the AFL after St Kilda and Collingwood fought each other to a standstill in the decider, Magpie captain Nick Maxwell summing up the feelings of all his players by crying like a little girl. Yet somehow Collingwood regrouped a week later to crush the Saints in the rematch, doing their supporters proud by not only ending a 20-year premiership drought, but setting new highs for off-field behaviour by professional footballers, managing to last almost 12 hours after the final siren before the first r-pe allegations.
Of course, r-pe allegations were also central to perhaps the biggest international story of the year, that of WikiLeaks and its enigmatic chief, hacker-traitor-freedom fighter-hero-terrorist-r-pist-celebrity-poet-philosopher-spy-haircut Julian Assange, who set world governments scurrying for cover by releasing to the world thousands of government documents revealing that, in essence, everything governments say is about as believable as … well, as we had all assumed it was.
A vital and fascinating debate about freedom of information in the modern world, and the limits that should be placed upon the dissemination of secret information in the name of security, balanced against the right of citizens to know the business of their government in the name of open democracy, immediately failed to be held, overtaken by more urgently pressing matters, such as whether Assange was set up in a classic “honey-trap”, whether he is a perverted megalomaniacal s-x fiend, whether America should send Sarah Palin to kidnap his son, whether he will ever “come clean” about his hair, and whether Julia Gillard should sack Kevin Rudd for telling Hillary Clinton to nuke Beijing.
It was all the most furious and passionate debate, with traditional allies finding themselves on opposing sides of the “Assange: Sleaze or Saviour?” argument, the high emotions understandable when one considers how uncomfortable it makes us feel whenever a news story crops up that challenges our worldview and forces us to think about famous people’s gen-tals. Still, we must all decide for ourselves whether Assange is a martyr to liberty, or a publicity-seeking narcissist. Most likely, the truth lies somewhere in between, as we journalists are wont to say when we find ourselves too gutless to express a proper opinion.
The WikiLeaks saga, of course, was part of the tempest that continued to beset the media world in 2010. As mainstream media organisations’ profits kept tumbling, and citizen bloggers everywhere continued to write poorly spelled rants about how rubbish the mainstream media is, and the mainstream media kept retaliating by pointing out how rubbish the blogosphere is, and the bloggers retaliated again by saying that the retaliation proved how scared the mainstream media is, and the mainstream media hit back by running exclusive photographs of Lleyton and Bec Hewitt relaxing on an island getaway, and the bloggers responded with a devastating wave of amusing Downfall parodies.
Truly, the battle was afoot, and no combatant was afoot more vigorously than The Australian, the rampaging cannibal rhinoceros of the national media jungle, which spent the year declaring war on all and sundry: anonymous bloggers, disparaging tweeters, the Green party, and occasionally, by accident, itself. The pages of the national newspaper were so full of fiery invective and ferocious verbiage that people very nearly started reading it.
Now, of course other things happened throughout 2010. Trapped miners, massive earthquakes, fatal plane crashes, violent night-time Middle Eastern naval firefights, ethnic riots, massive floods, erupting volcanoes and Korean border tensions are just some of the events that, had they happened in Australia, may have been to some extent important.
As it was, they were mostly overshadowed by the Commonwealth Games, where the plucky Indians overcame the handicap of most of their venues being constructed from ricepaper and containing more than the Commonwealth Games Association’s recommended number of feral dogs per square metre, to stage possibly the most successful Commonwealth Games since the last ones, which according to half-forgotten legend were held in Melbourne. Matching the Indians’ resolve, the Australian team also met triumph in Delhi, overcoming their own handicap of massive public funding and weak competition to win more than 6000 gold medals. Particularly inspirational was the story of Geoff “Skippy” Huegill, so nicknamed for his extremely short gestation period, who shed more than 40 kilograms to compete in the Games, winning gold in the 100-metre butterfly and proving that even the most disgustingly obese of us can dream of reaching the very pinnacle of athletic achievement, assuming we were an elite athlete to start with and the competition isn’t very strong. It was this sort of thing — a true-blue Aussie overcoming the crippling problems of First-World affluence to win a mid-level sporting competition — that really put things such as the Pakistan floods in their proper perspective.
And after all, this was a year in which the importance of a proper perspective was necessary to avoid getting overheated and emotional and reading the comments on Andrew Bolt’s blog. The uninspired, dishonest and ineffectual nature of our governments, the dominance of the rich and powerful over the poor and weak, the perpetuation of bloodshed and hatred between human beings, and aiding and abetting it all the self-imposed impotence of a news media that long ago abandoned its duty to seek truth and pursue accountability in favour of cheap trivia and craven sensationalism — it was important, in 2010, to realise that things could always be worse.
There is always a ray of hope shining through in even the murkiest of cloudscapes. There is always the tale of the miners who survived their underground ordeal; always the one politician who makes decisions based on principle rather than self-interest or mindless partisanship.
There is always, to get down to the deeper truth of it all, the cancellation of Hey Hey It’s Saturday. And in these dark times, it’s vital that we all find our own Hey Hey cancellation to sustain us.
A happy new year to you all.