Budgie-nine

As you have likely read and possibly endeavoured to forget, nine Australian nobles face court in Malaysia today. If not: a herd of Hooray Henrys, among them an adviser to the Minister for Defence Industry, planned the sort of exercise normally performed by the inner-city “latte sippers” they doubtless despise. Their semi-nude dance would have gone unnoticed in Australia; there are times you can’t change trains at Flinders Street Station without the obstacle of a burlesque flash mob. But these important men craved a newer, more attentive audience.

Any Western person of means who plots to synchronously strip down to his scanties at a public event in a conservative nation has hope of hostile attention. Those charged truly minimised the risk of not causing offence by throwing a little flag desecration into the mix. Their “budgie smugglers” were printed with Malaysia’s Stripes of Glory. The crescent of Islam was on the arse.

The Foreign Minister has reminded all travelling Australians to observe local law and custom. But these persons were never going to heed such advice. Their choreography was performed in defiance of both DFAT and basic manners, a fact even acknowledged by The Australian, which reports that several of the dancers had studied international relations at a very nice school.

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This brief moment of reason at the Oz may soon be shattered by Caroline Overington, a person newly pledged to defend “freedom” for those who have it in most ample supply. In recent months, this courageous enemy of elites has defended the freedom of 60 Minutes to film the abduction of a child, the freedom of the state to rip clothing from a woman and the freedom of a well-known, well-paid author to speak without the burden of criticism. Over on Twitter, Cazza looks to be gearing up for another tussle with those elites who believe in dumb stuff like national sovereignty. The men, she says, are “fabulous” and should be regarded not as bell-ends who arranged their own diplomatic trouble. Anything else, she says, is “class war”.

This is, of course, the line at The Daily Telegraph, whose front page blares, “Free the Budgie Nine” and is addressed to “Our dear recalcitrant, humourless Malaysian friends”. This, perhaps, marks the first time the paper has made positive use of a Paul Keating quote, but is the hundredth time this week it has managed the Overington trick of making the powerful seem oppressed.

Look. I don’t give two figs about these dickheads, or their tedious morality tale as it plays out in local press. Heck, even if they are punished in Malaysia, they will return unchanged. I attended Sydney University tutorials with conceit of the type and have personally tried to torture it away. If my long, long remarks on Deleuze can’t break a person, a few days in a KL Watch House won’t.

Really, the only interesting thing about this shemozzle is the way it so starkly reveals the bias of News Corp. Their inversion of “class war”, which recasts the powerful as put upon, is starting to smell like the shit it is. The Tele can bleat for all the La-Z Boy advertising it is worth that these men acted in the best traditions of the shearers’ strike, or whatever. But its readers are at some point going to reject the idea that a bunch of puffed-up tools in matching togs represent our larrikin spirit.

Cazza, of course, says, like the Tele, that class is imaginary. “Class war” is “super boring” and the fact that these men were of the rentier class means nothing but “good for them”. That it is only the rich who can afford both to attend and affront a racing event in Malaysia is, apparently, beside the point.

These men are not acting in the working-class larrikin tradition. Theirs is not just a scaled-up version of impromptu streaking at the G. Men who pooled their money for an affordable fine at a Test were, for many years, not simply tolerated, but applauded. I remember my dad lifting me up at the SCG so I could see Geoff Marsh tap a bare bum with a bat. Geoff smirked. We cheered. This was a mild ritual that reminded us of the terms of our own statehood. It didn’t piss on someone else’s.

That Cazza and co can get all hot under the plunging collar about exporting ideology via religious dress but so warm about the imposition of Our Freedoms in a customised Speedo makes no sense to me.

But I’m a “politically correct” “powerful” “elite” who seems such acts not as freedom, but as liberal interventionism in the form of lycra. So News shouldn’t listen to me.  The curious thing here is that News is no longer listening to its key advertising demographics. Who have been pretty clear that one of their grievances is with the rich.

The cry of Tele readers is ugly and racist, but it’s anguished all the same. It conflates foreign investment with “foreigners”, but it does manage to occasionally spit out the initials TPP. To imagine that One Nation et al will continue to simply blame Muslims and remain supportive of those who can afford to impose an inauthentic “larrikinism” on other nations is not the sort of isolationism they are demanding. I am delighted to report that the Tele has got it wrong.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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