*An ‘Age’ Old Debate

I appreciate that it must seem that I am way too late to get on board the opining-on-Catherine-Deveny-getting-sacked-from-The-Age bus. Even I would have thought so, were it not for my having just read the recent article by Deveny herself that came to me by way of the ABC’s website The Drum, by way of Crikey, and is headed ‘I’m tough, but I’m sacked and I’m heart broken’. On the left-hand side is, for some reason, an image of Deveny looking as cheerful as though she’s just made it to the finals of Jeopardy, and on the right, one of Bindi Irwin giving two thumbs up. This was noteworthy enough in itself but then, as I read the lengthy piece, I found that Deveny had such arresting things to say that I could refrain from commenting no longer.

After the preliminaries, which kick off with ‘Fellow Australians, if you are reading me now, it means I have been murdered’, Deveny posits the question of why she writes. It seems that she recently realised, out of the clear blue sky, when looking down at her seven-year-old son asleep in her arms, that she does it for her children. She itemises the many gifts that her writing will give her three young sons but among them are that it will allow them to grow up reading the books they want to read and being able to ‘say what they want to say and hear what they want to hear’. Now, whether you liked or hated her columns, I am not entirely clear as to how they were the only thing standing between us and the abolition of free speech in this country, so all this did trouble me mightily. A little later in the article, Deveny at least confines things to a smaller scale, and tells us that she writes to make money to buy her kids their pyjamas and so forth, and to be at home for them when they’re sick: ‘For my beloved Age to drag my corpse through their paper for hits and circulation while I am on the phone cancelling the trip to Wet’n’Wild I’d promised the kids was soul destroying’. She notes piously, ‘The only thing I ever wanted to be remembered as is a good mum.’

I have to say, I feel overcome with bone-deep weary and disgusted boredom whenever people start using their kids as justification for why they do things that others find questionable. In a situation like this, when you’re in a pickle over allegedly being offensive to society at large and hurtful to at least two people specifically, reminding everyone that you yourself have children whom you pride yourself on feeding always seems to me the laziest of short cuts in attempting to grab the moral high ground. Furthermore, I don’t doubt that providing for her children and being available for them was an element in why Deveny became a columnist but, geez, aren’t there other ways of working from home? It’s like when Vivien Leigh turns to prostitution in Waterloo Bridge; could she really not just have got a job in a shop? I was taken aback, too, by the firebrand herself playing the only-ever-wanting-to-be-remembered-as-a-good-mum card that is so popular with celebrities. It never cuts any ice with me, as, to my mind, if you seek out an occupation the desired aim of which is to make you a public figure, ipso facto you want to be remembered for your work or why are you doing it? And, anyway, what’s so wrong about wanting to be remembered for something other than being a good parent? Where’s the shame in admitting that you might have enjoyed having an Age column not only because it helped put food on the table and because it allowed you to say some things that you thought needed saying, but also because it guaranteed heaping helpings of exposure, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t mind being ‘controversial’?

Regarding Deveny’s Logies Tweets themselves, her analysis of what she meant by them doesn’t quite add up for me. Frankly, Bindi Irwin gives me the horrors and I am most disappointed when I can’t just side automatically with anyone making a slighting comment about her. The Deveny one, though, to me just didn’t make any sense. She rages that ‘On the Logies catwalk Bindi Irwin was the only one not dressed in anything remotely provocative which highlighted the one-dimensional reality of the relentless sexual objectification of women of the media’. Well, first of all, if it’s such a problem for women to be dressed ‘provocatively’ on the Logies red carpet, as we’re, presumably, all supposed to be in purdah, and Bindi was the only one who wasn’t, why take aim at her? And, second, what’s even the logic? What is it that’s supposed to happen if Bindi gets laid soon that would then make this joke work as a hilarious satirical comment on ‘raunch culture’? Then, regarding the McManus and Wife comment, Deveny tries to give it profundity, as well as transform it into proof of her own sensitivity, by claiming that she sincerely looked at Tasma Walton and hoped she doesn’t die soon, because Deveny herself is ‘constantly aware of death’, which, of course, none of the rest of us are. And then, just when you think things can’t get any worse, she whips out a WH Auden quote. Catherine, don’t you think this fine poet has already been ill used enough by the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral?

All I can say to the above justifications regarding the Tweets is ‘Oh, come now.’ It goes without saying that I don’t live in Catherine Deveny’s head, but it seems to me that these are the sort of off-the-cuff comments that you make to friends while watching an awards show, and that can seem the height of wit to you, and possibly even to the friends, while you are making them. As you’re not penning your PhD, or even writing a column, you simply don’t put a lot of thought into what you’re saying. In the heat of the moment, something can seem wildly funny to say solely because it’s ‘outrageous’. So, if you see a child star who is reputed only for wholesomeness, you quip that you hope she gets laid soon; if you see a man and his new wife after the high-profile death of his first one, you crack wise that you hope this wife doesn’t die soon, and the room, with any luck, erupts into a roar.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Catherine Deveny should have been sacked for her Logies Tweets. No doubt, some people found them hilarious and others found them tasteless and unfunny, but the whole idea of Twitter is that people elect to follow you or, perhaps, to follow the Logies Twitter discourse, so it’s caveat emptor, as far as I’m concerned. In terms of the people who were the subject of the Tweets, Deveny has apologised for any hurt she may have caused them, which is all she can do. Having said that, though, it’s now time for her to take it like a woman, acknowledge that committing these throwaway-sounding-but-likely-to-be-highly-offensive comments to a public forum was perhaps not the wisest idea, and stop with all the martyrdom. I mean, in the article about which I am writing, Catherine Deveny compares her sacking from a broadsheet newspaper in cozy old, Most Liveable City That Has Ever Existed in the Cosmos, Melbourne with an honour killing. Goodness knows I hate ever to get all earnest, but that I really do find offensive.

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