*The Living Swan


The unfairly maligned Joan Crawford, with ungrateful children

After what feels like about a quarter of a century of frenzied speculation, the host of Can of Worms has, of course, recently been revealed and, lo, it is to be Chrissie Swan. Initially, this surprised me, basically because I apparently simply believe anything I read and so had been under the impression that they were going to hire Paul Henry for the post, though how much better would it have been if they could have strapped themselves into a time machine and hired Paul Henreid? The thing is, though, that while I am sure Swan will make an excellent fist of the job, and while I’ve absolutely nothing against her, as she possesses both an appealing personality and intelligence, I do find certain aspects of the mythology around her aggravating.

The three or so regular readers of Imagined Slights will, I presume, be aware of the degree to which my spirits plunge whenever I see a person in the public eye yacking on about how their children are their top priority. I should point out that this isn’t even because I invariably disbelieve them, given that Mother Nature makes us all into unpredictable beasts. No, what frustrates me is the fact that a) these people feel that they need to say all this in the first place; and b) that their saying it will be immediately be seized upon as the angle for any given media story, especially if the person avowing this sentiment is of the female persuasion. Just two recent examples of this are a Vogue cover that declared motherhood is – unlike, as I would argue, Suzanne Stone in To Die For – Nicole Kidman’s greatest role; and a Sunday Life cover story with the headline ‘The Good Wife: Why marriage and motherhood trump modelling for Miranda Kerr’. The second of these, between all the awe at the fact that Kerr deigns to descend from Mount Olympus to say thank you to people, and that the story’s author has seen ‘her eat regularly: … even frittata and bread!’ (and, yes, that is, honest to God, Sunday Life’s own exclamation mark), rushes to make it plain that this lissom young lady ‘is more excited about motherhood than modelling’.

This brings me back to Chrissie Swan, given that she is such a hearty exponent of this type of irksome carry-on. She couldn’t just have quit The Circle in favour of breakfast radio because she happened to want to do radio rather than television – no, she has to have made this decision because of her children, given that getting up at three in the morning in order to address total strangers is so awesomely family friendly. Now, there was a time when I assumed that anyone whatsoever who had got themselves into the position of appearing on television was, by definition, a total bastard because surely they had to be in order to have managed this feat. I’ve revised that opinion with the passing of the years, if only because I no longer entirely derive my world view from Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine, but I still believe that, by definition, getting on television indicates a certain level of drive and a desire for the spotlight. Even any poor soul who is currently being crucified for having the temerity to appear in The Shire must have filled out some paperwork in order to do so; they’ve not ended up on the box by accident, like those people waving at the camera in the background of reports by jolly weathermen. So, why can’t Swan just admit that she likes being on the damn television and on the damn radio, instead of feeling the need to say that, regarding Can of Worms, ‘the once-a-week filming commitment suits our family perfectly. They won’t even notice I’ve ducked out for a few hours!’ Heaven forfend she should appear actually to give a good goddamn about a high-profile television job, or as if she might actually prefer doing this type of work to stuffing some kid’s head with Oodlez of Noodlez.

Even witty feminist massive-success story Caitlin Moran has to spout about the existence of her daughters being part of her motivation: ‘…that’s why I have to change the world. I have six years to make it into a feminist paradise so my little girls don’t get screwed up’. Of course, that’s a perfectly reasonable impetus for her but she certainly needn’t list it in order that I, as a member of the public, don’t dismiss her as being some kind of emasculating screaming battle-axe, especially given that I am an emasculating screaming battle-axe myself. When it comes to feminism, I wouldn’t say that I care enormously what life is like for Moran’s daughters in the future; rather,  I’m interested in, to give merely one example, whether I personally can continue to be permitted legally to have an abortion, should I wish to do so (and, incidentally, abortion is a topic about which Moran writes bravely and beautifully in her book How to Be A Woman). What I want to know is, does the public at large really have an insatiable appetite for the my-kids-are-my-priority variety of flapdoodle, or is it just assumed that they need constantly to be reassured that the work of being a parent is no less important and fascinating than that of a Nobel Prize winner or Victoria’s Secret Angel? And all this is even without considering the simple fact that many children would become more appealing and accomplished adults if they weren’t their parents’ top priority, given that a spot of motherly or fatherly neglect can be a reliable indicator of future success.

And connected with the ‘no-starring-role-makes-me-happier-than-seeing-my-little-girl/boy-smile’ issue is the broader one of the cult of ‘normality’. I note that Worms’ co-executive producers, Andrew Denton and Anita Jacoby, declared: ‘Audiences love Chrisse because they know that, with her, they are getting a real person.’ Well, what the name of Beelzebub does that mean?  Is everyone else on television or radio some kind of hologram? And, while a vital component of real person-ness is making a point of saying at every opportunity that you’re ‘a mum’ or, better still, ‘just a mum’, I’ve noticed that another pointer to whether a person is a real person is whether or not she is a person who has ‘curves’. Now, while it goes without saying – at least for anyone who is the proud owner of an IQ greater than that of a dining-room table – that being overweight doesn’t make someone less of a living, breathing human, I fail to see why it should make someone more of one.

Indeed, I have never understood, and will never understand, the mania for ‘normality’; I have no wish to discover that a public figure is exactly like me, because, aside from anything, I’m sorry for them if that is the case.  This is an issue that first started to disturb my peace of mind at the time that One Nation was emerging, and it came to my attention that there is a section of the populace who seems to want politicians who are ‘like them’. Well, I don’t want politicians who resemble me in any way, given that I would be in the game entirely for the splendid superannuation, and whatever other perks of the job I could grab with my manicured claw, and that I couldn’t successfully mark the location of any Australian capital city on a map. In short, I think it desirable that the person running the country be about a thousand times more intelligent than I am, and I would be keen to see every other voter also subscribe to this notion.

And, while I’m at it, I will also never embrace the concept that ‘normal’ people’s stories about their lives can trump celebrities’ stories about their lives, as exemplified by Adam Hills engaging with the common man on his variety show; frankly, I don’t turn on the television to see what some other working stiff has to say. Further to this, however, watching some famous person weeping over the memory of their pater or mater does not, for me, qualify as brilliant entertainment, given that I can see someone crying on a Pampers commercial. I want to see David Bowie conversing with Dick Cavett about Whistler’s Cottage; or Joan Crawford wearing a wiglet and nailing the essence of Clark Gable’s appeal – namely, that ‘he had ’em’ (NB: ‘’em’ translates as ‘testicles’).

The thing is, if a large number of people know you and you don’t know them, you’re not normal, simply because that state of affairs isn’t normal. It’s also entirely possible that, while you may love your children immeasurably, your whole world doesn’t actually revolve around them because, if it did, you simply wouldn’t have the  inclination to host that radio show; or be the  star of that film or that television program; or have a column in the newspaper; or, generally, be taking the time to talk to the media to assure them that your children are all that really, truly matters to you. And where’s the shame in that, anyway, I’d like to know? There is no shame – or, at least, there wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the way that rather than parenting being an undervalued occupation, it now seems to be, thanks to today’s evangelical zeal towards it, the only occupation considered to have any real value at all.


18 Responses to “The Living Swan”

  1. Kbalme says:

    I just hate that “Mummery” is now an industry in itself. A friend is encouraging me to write some sort of witty blog about my experiences as a “new mum” (even the term makes me pale) but the thought of it makes my eyes get stuck at the top of my head Liz Lemon style. We are SO saturated with blogs and websites and articles about how hilarious it is to be a mum. It’s nothing but a reinvented form of poo humour. “And of COURSE, Harry did a poo in the supermarket and I headed straight for the wine aisle!” (insert understanding guffaws). I just can’t imagine what’s left to contribute in this genre. Perhaps my niche can be some sort of referential cynicism about the genre in itself. Or is that too hypocritical?

    • Thanks so much for this! It’s especially interesting to see someone who actually is a mother (which I’m not) responding this way to the ‘Mummery’ phenomenon. Judging by this comment, if I were to read a blog about being a ‘new mum’, it would be yours!

      • Elizabeth says:

        This is the most entertaining ‘parenting’ blog I’ve found (though some of it is not for the faint-hearted) ‘STFU, Parents’.

        • Thanks very much, Elizabeth! I shall have a look. I had to take out the actual web address, as I’ve found that comments with them don’t get published, for some reason.

  2. Ricky Bryan says:

    Great post! I’m a single Dad and primary care-giver to boot. It may be sour grapes but it seems the deification of the Mother has reched new heights recently and I must admit to getting a bit sick of it. Ladies you got knocked up and now you have some extra responsibilities it doesn’t make you Mother Teresa and it certainly doesn’t mean you have to justify every decision in your life through the prism of being a Mother. A confident Mum out there chasing after her own goals teaches her children other valuable lessons.

  3. Richard says:

    Well observed. It always feels like they’re trying to convince themselves more than others. To validate or compensate for vainglorious pursuits.

    • Thanks very much, Richard! Not least for your incorporation of the word ‘vainglorious’!

  4. Lily says:

    BRAVO. I meowed out loud with happiness at finally reading an honest observation. Mummery, Schlummery. I’m sick of it. It’s time air space was given to successful women who are “mothers” of furry kids and have no interest at all in the other kind. They don’t go banging on “I may be the CEO but I’m just a normal person and mother to three delightful, well-adjusted blah blah blah tabbies without whose inspiration none of this would have been possible.” No, they just get on with it. I’m a cat, with my own blog BTW.

    • Many thanks, Lily! It’s always such a delight to hear from a cat, especially one with her own blog.

  5. Jenna Payot says:

    The fact that work was described above as a ‘vainglorious pursuit’ is EXACTLY the reason working mothers feel judged by choosing to work AND parent.
    Chrissy Swan, and others, have been publically vilified for being bad mothers. No wonder they try and cut the negativity off at the pass by declaring their priorities. Interestingly, men’s choices are NEVER brought into question. And accordingly, they never have to justify their choices, publically or otherwise.

    • Thanks, Jenna! I was being flippant about ‘vainglorious’ because I just think it’s a funny word but, yes, your point about its use in this context is a very valid one, as is your point about men’s choices. I see the declaration of priorities as a phoney-baloney PR exercise, though, and it frustrates me precisely because there isn’t any shame in wanting to work (ie, do paid work, I mean).

  6. Jenna Payot says:

    I don’t think there’s any shame in wanting to work either, hell, I’d lose my mind if I was at home with my child all the time. People often raise their eyebrows over full time working mums… As if dropping a kid at child care is tantamount to abandoning them in a Bosnian orphanage. Like it or not, women who work are often seen as selfish, overly ambitious and neglectful of their Mrs Cunningham from Happy Days duties. If I were a woman in the public eye I too would want to make it clear I loved my children. It’s not right that I think
    Id have to… But that’s how it is. People are judgemental assholes.

    • I think childcare is good for children, myself – I’d imagine it develops them socially. No arguments from me re. the judgmental asshole question, either.

  7. Martin says:

    But could Paul Henreid handle “Can of Worms”? Surely he’d just bring a lot of perverse European culture to the table be completely out of his depth as to whether government needs to stop childhood obesity.

  8. Gillian says:

    This piece is exactly what I have been thinking lately. People forever justifying the choices they make to all and sundry. One day someone with family to care for will say “I chose it because I bloody LOVE it”… And we will all be gob smacked.

    • Many thanks, Gillian! Yes – it would be great to see less of the justification malarkey.

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