It’s not familiarity that breeds contempt. It’s alienation. I first learned of Tim Minchin’s song I Still Call Australia Homophobic, supporting a yes vote in the same-sex marriage postal survey, when it was posted on the ABC’s website late last week.
Not long after Mark Maley (ABC News’ editorial policy manager) had felt the need to warn his staff that the public broadcaster did not have a policy of supporting same-sex marriage. Maley reminded his colleagues that, according to polls, about 40 per cent of Australians oppose a change to the Marriage Act that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Such advice should not have been necessary.
Nobody really runs the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster. So it was not surprising that one or more of the cliques that prevail within the organisation saw fit to defy Maley by posting Minchin’s song.
What was confounding is that they seemed blissfully unaware of just how insulting Minchin’s alienated message is to millions of Australians — irrespective of their views on marriage.
Nothing better illustrates the contempt for their fellow citizens that is felt by many members of the intelligentsia. In his song, set to the tune of Peter Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home, Minchin delivered a message that Australia was a homophobic and racist nation. He also endorsed the view that Australians are “bigoted c..ts” led by “pollie arseholes”. This is mere abuse put to music.
Later, in a Twitter exchange with The Australian’s Chris Kenny, Minchin threw the switch to denial by declaring “I comment on our international reputation for being a bit racist, I don’t assert it myself”.
This is nonsense. Any reasonable interpretation of I Still Call Australia Homophobicwould concede that Minchin endorsed the use of the racist tag. Why else get into this area in a song about same-sex marriage?
In any event, what is Minchin’s evidence for his assertion that Australia has “an international reputation for being a bit racist”? The prevailing evidence is to the contrary, judged by empirical tests. Australia has a relatively high level of interracial marriage along with a relatively low level of ethnic motivated crime.
Moreover, immigration to Australia is running at about 190,000 a year. The figure would be substantially higher if the official intake were increased or border protection were reduced.
Minchin is no doubt content, while based in Los Angeles, to write disparaging songs about the land of his birth. But many millions of foreigners would readily call Australia home if given the chance.
It’s much the same with gay rights. Many out-and-proud homosexuals and lesbians hold prominent positions in the arts, politics, the media, business, the academy and the professions. This would not be the case if the overwhelming majority of Australians were driven by homophobia. Also Australia has a relatively low level of gay hate crime.
The expatriate Minchin seems unaware that a large number of asylum-seekers successfully attain refugee status in Australia after establishing a genuine fear of persecution if they are forced to return to their land of birth. This would not happen in a homophobic society.
It’s true that there is a division in Australia about same-sex marriage. Since Labor and the Greens now intend to campaign for the yes case, it’s unfortunate that they did not agree to a formal plebiscite since this would have been the best way to test community attitudes on the subject.
However, a comprehensive postal survey should do an adequate job. Certainly this proved to be the case when Gough Whitlam’s Labor government did a limited survey on what should be Australia’s national song in 1974. Support for Advance Australia Fair in the postal vote was confirmed by a formal plebiscite conducted by Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition government in 1977.
Minchin’s musical rant overlooks the fact that only in Ireland has same-sex marriage been introduced following a referendum or a plebiscite. Elsewhere the definition of marriage has been changed by the votes of politicians or the decisions of judges.
In Minchin’s base in California, most electors voted in 2008 to eliminate the rights of same-sex couples to marry. This proposition was reversed by judicial decisions. If Minchin reckons a society is homophobic because most electors do not support same-sex marriage, then he lives in one that was homophobic less than a decade ago.
It is unlikely that Minchin’s high-profile entry into the debate will be anything other than counter-productive. As Hillary Clinton found in the US presidential election last year, many Americans with what are said to be non-progressive views did not appreciate being dismissed as “deplorables”.
This is well understood by at least some on the left.
Writing in the Crikey newsletter last Monday, commentator Guy Rundle referred to Minchin’s “whimsical pseudo-satire” as amounting to “a blast of condescension, elitism and division”.
He added: “With this sort of help, the no case won’t need to make any campaign materials: the yes case is doing it for them.”
And that’s a problem for the supporters of same-sex marriage. The more ridicule and intolerance is directed at opponents of a change to the traditional view of marriage, the likelier it is that some Australians will vote no as a reaction to being talked down to by sections of the intelligentsia.
It’s unlikely that many supporters of the no case would submit an article to the left-of-centre Guardian Australia website.
But this did not stop its editor Lenore Taylor writing a piece last Saturday headed: “We won’t be giving equal time to spurious arguments against marriage equality”. In her missive, Taylor declared that she has not heard even one “reasonable argument to say ‘no’ ”. Not one.
If the polls are accurate, the Guardian Australia’s editor has proudly declared that 40 per cent of Australians are unreasonable and irrational. Not to mention Minchin’s categories of the homophobes and the racists.
This was the kind of intellectual arrogance that had the unintended consequence of leading to Donald J. Trump becoming US President.