So in the midst of a snap COVID related lockdown (no friends over, don’t leave the house, don’t travel more than 5 Kms from your house etc) I saw the following tweet from Dave Graney, a Melbourne musician who I have seen perform a number of times. He is a good entertainer and a very snappy dresser. Two admirable qualities.
The immediate context of the tweet was a series of questions Leigh Sales, host of the Australian national broadcasters flagship current affairs show, the 7.30 report, asked the man responsible for the lockdown, Daniel Andrews at a press conference. Sales grilled the Premier about why Victorians were locked down, what was the justification if he had confidence in his government’s public health response. She acted like a journalist questioning public policy. All good.
But, there was a wider context.
In 2020, Melbourne, a city of ~5 million people experienced one of the world’s longest lock-downs as a result of the COVID virus spreading from government-run quarantine into the community. Folks living in Melbourne were subjected to a barrage of media mostly from News Corporation’s Herlard Sun with (actually pretty clever) headlines like DAN MADE DISASTER. With businesses closed, curfews, and high-anxiety it was a long lockdown winter filled with walks around the same block, sourdough baking, and a cocktail hour that got earlier and earlier every day.
Rather than get angry at the government, most Melbournians pulled together with a British in the blitz type camaraderie. Twitter accounts announced the time of Dan Andrews daily press conference. People let off tweetstorms about what type of jacket Dan was wearing and what this might mean. Someone made some soft furnishings featuring the Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, they were selling online.
It was I guess kind of beautiful, the community committed to a single purpose to “Stay safe, stay healthy”, “beat the spread”, and so on.
But, because social media is mostly bullshit, and the media is largely all bullshit, the community split into two camps; the Dan Stans who would hear nothing against our glorious leader, and the Dictator Dan crew, who thought Dan was, well, a Dictator. Fed by trolls, it was a polarised
debate shitfight. There was no nuance, there was no hope of any discourse about whether a curfew was overreach or consideration that limiting your civil liberties to keep you safe was a little fucked up. You were either for, or you were against.
So this is what I wandered into when I innocently and I thought politely, asked Dave Graney:
And that’s when I was told unequivocally that it was Melbourne bashing, and there was to be no questioning or criticism of a public health policy impacting almost 7 million people. To do so was Melbourne bashing and how dare they.
Twitter agreed with Graney and his comment to me got more than 100 favourites ❤️ and I got 2. No surprises there. Graney is a fabled entertainer and I am just another dickhead with a twitter account.
A few days later, Australia’s Dave Milner published a critique of the media response to the third lockdown in The Shot.
Yes, only five days, a blip in the grand scheme of what 6.5 million stoic warrior Jedi viking ninjas have already copped – but the damage is cumulative, the wounds constantly salted, and not a single soul in Melbourne did anything at all to deserve this. Not one. Not again. Not now. And yet…
Lockdown 3: This time it’s personal. He followed up with:
Having been denied an interview with Dan Guevara for 7.30, she was perceived by many as having co-opted a significant chunk of the public-facing time of our health officials, during the middle of a health crisis, for content and a line of questioning Victorians have had more than enough of.
Now, it is true that the Murdoch Press has a partisan agenda that favours the conservative side of politics and hate Dan Andrews with a white-hot passion. They would do anything to try and bring him down regardless of the policy involved – health, education, economy, infrastructure. It’s all up for grabs. What they publish in print and online is more a political diatribe rather than considered, thoughtful journalism.
However, it seems that according to the collective (un)consciousness of the Melbourne tweeterati, that any public health policy related to COVID is beyond the reach of journalists and citizens. The implication is that to question policy made in response to a health crisis is anti-Victorian, anti-Melbournian, and gosh darn it, unpatriotic.
It is a strange thing that the left/ liberal side of politics has conflated any criticism or questioning of public policy in relation to COVID/ health made by the state government in Victoria as a personal, vindictive, and callous attack against their own identity.
Is it because lockdown was really hard and they want their (our) pain and suffering to mean something? Probably.
Is it because any policy in relation to health is now beyond question? That seems to be the implication which is kind of disturbing because what would stop a malicious government from declaring a health crisis and then restrict our liberties to keep us safe. Now I am not saying the response to COVID is malicious. Rather, the idea that any policy made by a government should be open to question. Surely as citizens and community members, our role is to hold those who make decisions that impact our lives to account.
Accountability has to mean something. Anything else is just giving up.
Let’s not forget that it was the Andrews government that stuffed up the initial response to COVID with a faulty hotel quarantine system that resulted in 18,000 infections, 768 deaths, and a broken economy.
Governments and those in power should be held to account regardless of their politics. Cute throw rugs, cheeky cushions, and a pithy tweet ain’t gonna cut it.
Or, perhaps the real answer is that the social media bubble has polarised us so that now we are all narcissists mainlining a stream of self-justification and self-realisation that leaves us with no capacity to break from how we define ourselves, our identity.
Getting really worked up and earnest about some critical analysis about the deprivation of civil liberties is not very different from getting worked up about the freedom to practice religion, employers rights, or analysis of political donations. If political concerns are constantly displaced by biopolitical concerns like race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or location then soon we will have no voice at all.