Whiteness takes itself very, very seriously, even — perhaps especially — when it’s trying to be funny. No one illustrates this point better that “Lambassador” Sam Kekovich, who spent the Howard years delivering comic rants to the nation on behalf of the Meat & Livestock Association (MLA) in which he proclaimed that it was “unAustralian” not to celebrate Australia Day with a lamb barbeque.
In recent years, the MLA has attempted to reposition itself in order to target a younger and more diverse market than the old-school white Australia that had previously been their mainstay. Lee Lin Chin fronted a campaign in which a vegan’s lamb-free dinner-table was torched to a cinder by an Australia Day SWAT team, the 2016 Australia-Day-campaign-when-you’re-not-having-an-Australia-Day-campaign reimagined white settlement as a friendly beach barbeque in which boatloads of immigrants were welcomed to the country by friendly and hospitable and not-about-to-be-massacred Aboriginal inhabitants.
Lamb, of course, was the main course. Kekovich continued to make cameo appearances, but the message was clear. His brand has had its day.
Hot on the heels of the near-miss of Hanson’s “it’s OK to be white” motion comes news of an apparent falling-out between Kekovich and the association that he symbolised for so many years. The association has complained that Australian Conservatives Senator Cory Bernardi has breached its intellectual copyright in a Facebook post in which Bernardi announded that “the Lambassador supports the Australian Conservatives”.
Bernardi is attempting to raise money to televise an advertisement in which Kekovich announces (or rather rants) that “it’s time for a better way”: the Australian Conservative way. Meat & Livestock Australia’s general counsel Clare Stanwix says that MLA regards Bernardi’s use of the term “lambassador” as “an extremely serious matter” and has issued a cease-and-desist notice.
White fragility in Australia is looking particularly…fragile.
Hanson’s success in having the Senate almost pass her now-notorious motion (insert toilet pun here) seems to have come as more of a shock to white people than it was to most of the less-OK citizens of Australia. We already know where we stand. Our expectations are lower.
That’s not to say that we expected the motion to come so close to succeeding, when it started to circulate on social media some days before the vote. We thought that it would provide another opening for Liberal-National Party members to illustrate their “less racist than Pauline Hanson” credentials.
But no. Apparently, our elected members of parliament don’t recognise a Nazi symbol when it’s staring them in the face. (For the record, guys, the swastika isn’t just a Hindu good-luck symbol.)
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Cory Bernardi also voted in favour of the motion, although afterwards he told Sky News that he “didn’t think much of the motion”. However, “it was factual and I’m not in the habit of going against voting for facts”. And certainly not in favour of voting against whiteness Kekovich, whose post-football career has rested on symbolising whiteness, was a natural ambassador – sorry, “Lambassador” – for Bernardi’s brand.
Meat & Livestock Australia may have traded in Kekovich for a younger, more-inner-city-latte-sipping-demographic, but they weren’t about to let the Lambassador go without a fight. Bernardi has responded by denying that the term is exclusive to Meat & Livestock Australia, stating that he has no intention of being “rammed into submission”.
Meat & Livestock Australia is hardly in a position to take the moral high-ground in regard to the appropriation of intellectual property, given its “Lamb Side Story” campaign which appropriated Leonard Bernstein to feature “the extreme left and right wing commentators represented as Broadway musical style street gangs — a satirical commentary on our current divided political climate”. Kekovich had a cameo role in that ad, in which he (of course) ranted to a hapless fence-sitter to “get off my fence”.
Rants have been Kekovich’s trademark since he first aired them on the ABC’s The Fat. He is nonetheless a beloved national figure because we’re all meant to assume that he doesn’t really mean it. Bernardi and Hanson have also managed to slip under the radar (while of course remaining in the spotlight) because of a national willingness to see them as basically as comic figures, using the Senate as their stage for an alt-right pantomime.
But maybe it’s time for the rest of us to take whiteness as seriously as it takes itself.