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Media snobs roast Lambie with class prejudice

Media snobs roast Lambie with class prejudice
December 4, 2014
Helen Elliott

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/media-snobs-roast-lambie-with-class-prejudice-20141203-11z1dx.html

The new senator is on a steep learning curve and it's about time we gave her a break.

Description: Jacqui Lambie is undergoing an education at a terrifying pace.
Jacqui Lambie is undergoing an education at a terrifying pace. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Mainstream media-makers and mainstream opinion-makers are, on the whole, educated middle class people. They look at Jacqui Lambie and note what's missing, not what's there. What's missing is the smoothness of, say, Malcolm Turnbull, the burnish that makes him the most digestible politician in Australia. I can't recall the last time  Turnbull said something stupid. Then again, maybe he did but delivered it with such savoir faire I didn't notice.

Class is about noticing what isn't there rather than what is. In Lambie's case, as far as I can make out, she's in politics because of a desire for change that is motivated by altruism. She exhibits energy, doggedness, openness, courage, humour. But she doesn't gleam in the Turnbull manner and her sterling qualities don't burn brightly enough to extinguish the glare of the absences.

Lambie, a public figure with power and position, is in the process of educating herself. It was encouraging to hear her say she got it wrong about the question of financial advice. That sounds educated, and brave, to me. When did  we last hear a politician admit that he or she had made a mistake with lucidity and humility, instead of the blustering rigmarole equivalent to jabbing the air with a finger? Check David Johnson, Minister for Defence, defending himself soon after the canoes comment. Lambie needs to learn fast because she comes from behind. Way behind.

The polishing of Turnbull included at least 20 years of formal education. Add to that the  fact that learning never stops. Never.

Lambie, on the other hand, has always dealt in the world of practical slog. There isn't much time for Socratic dialectic at the coal face. At  18 Lambie was in the army. An education, certainly, but, post engine-driver Chifley, not quite what we assume now in a politician, because, despite the endless complaints about the unimaginative  professional politicians, tipped straight into Parliament from uni politics, law or the unions, when we get something different we're baffled.

Education guides an individual into what one might say and what one cannot say. It's a skill, it's primary training and it's an instant class indicator. The right education teaches how to edit our thoughts, how not to speak our crude thoughts in any circumstances except the safe ones.  Remember the Liberal Party dinner where they had a menu a la Gillard? Unappetising thoughts, but the assumption was that these thoughts could be aired in safe company and under certain circumstances.

Many polished people might have had similar unrefined  thoughts as Lambie about women and burkas. And probably many women still think of men as a package in the way Lambie said  it, but they have the education, or instruction, not to speak their thoughts. Not speaking your crude thoughts is the foundation of never saying anything stupid.

There is, too, the way things are said, the vowels, the accent, the choice of words. We prize egalitarianism in Australia but still, at some level, we judge and categorise. It's a struggle not to.  And as we judge and categorise we often miss what's being said because we hear how it's being said.

We do the same visually. Clothes, as much as anything else, are about class and, as much as anything else, require an education of sorts. Clothes learning begins with three things: time, taste and money. You can get away with only two of the above functioning but never fewer than two.  Our choice of clothes is the front-line expression of how we want to be seen. Julie Bishop's figure-hugging, structured clothes splashed by an expensive brooch are deliberate and detailed. They clamour attention as they telegraph: "I am disciplined, wealthy, conservative, confident."   A great deal of time and thought has been spent on choosing them.

Lambie's unmemorable clothes shout mumsy rather than confident. She could be anyone, yet she patently isn't. In the details – hair, scarves, jewellery – and in the outfits themselves, Lambie looks as if she spends little time thinking through the effect, the message, of her appearance.

Bishop seeks attention with her clothes. She expects them to be noticed as a positive, not a negative. Breakfast presenters Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic reminded us, yet again, of the everyday sexism involved in dress. Stefanovic wore the same suit for a year and no one noticed. Or if they did, they didn't think it worth remarking on it.

It's teeth-grinding but in real life the way a woman dresses her body affects how people hear the words that come from her mouth.

And there is a gender issue associated with class consciousness. Why is it that Clive Palmer, who revels in gross behaviour, seems beyond serious reprimand? We indulge Palmer: he's silly, naughty, rude, whacky,  one of the boys.  But doesn't he say things just as uninformed, confused, conflicted and dangerous as Lambie? Why is  Palmer funny but  Lambie coarse? With  Palmer there isn't the class sneer, that curl of the lip that is always present when Lambie does something awkward. Does the noise of a man with money make us all deaf?

Lambie is undergoing an education at a terrifying pace and in a glare that is merciless. She needs space, she needs time and she needs the leeway the media good-naturedly give to others. To begin with they could cut the class sneer and start with the basic notion of respect. Those qualities of hers need airing and encouragement.  I wish her well.

Helen Elliott has worked as a journalist and book critic for leading Australian newspapers and magazines.  She was a member of The Australian Press Council.

Questions:

The focus of this activity is to encourage students to think critically.

  1. Read this article for meaning. In one or two sentences summarise what you think the article is about.
  2. Narrative voice: the article is written in the first person. Does that influence your reading of this article and the information it provides and if so why? (Think about whether the views expressed in this article would be more or less effective without the first person "I".)
  3. The author has a position, an opinion. Briefly explain what you think this is.(This is a hard question. Consider your answer to Qu 1.)
  4. Voice: the person behind the narrative voice (first person narrative) is called 'voice', the someone there who is communicating to YOU. As the author is a female, are you influenced one way or another by this fact? Briefly explain why.
  5. Does it make any difference in this case whether the voice is male or female? Why/why not?
  6. Helen Elliott says "Class is about noticing what isn't there rather than what is." What about gender then - is this article any more or less meaningful /correct because it is written by a woman about another woman?
  7. Consider the Editor's Opinion column of The West - is this male's view any more/less valid because of its gender?
  8. Context: to what extent is your context, your age, gender, where you live and what you do playing a part in how you interpret/read/understand this article? Discuss with your neighbour and then with your group.
  9. The controversy surrounding Jacquie Lambie at this time was her lack of apparent education in expressing her opinion and "class" as a politician. She was type-caste as common and compared negatively with the educated and suave-talkingMalcolm Turnbull. Is this article about males and females or about attitudes to class? Explain briefly with evidence from the article to support your opinion. (Class discussion)

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