Editor Jeff Sparrow opens Overland
’s 208th issue with a quote from George Orwell: ‘The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.’ Sparrow is, of course, drawing parallels with contemporary Australia, our newspapers and the people who run them. However, Sparrow goes even further to say, ‘In place of dominance by the dishonest papers of the past, we may very well be confronting a future featuring no newspapers at all’.
Jonathan Green’s essay, ‘The End of a World’, continues this thought with an imagined Australia in 2025:
‘After a decade of litigation, controversy and arrests on both sides of the Atlantic, the non-Murdoch equity holders have taken control of the News Corporation business.’ Green tells us that, ‘ The Australian was among the first Murdoch papers to close’. Fairfax follows, the Monday to Friday format abolished long before that, shrinking The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald to tabloids, which go through several revisions, continuing for a while as weekend print editions before, finally, the printing press stops printing and the publications become solely digital, viewed ‘on the new range of foldable tablets’.
Green tells us that this might become a reality, given that none of the broadsheets make any money. He explains that the old model, ‘high sales, cheap cover prices, vast advertising and lofty content,’ is finished and goes on to debunk the popular view that the internet killed serious journalism. As Green finishes his article the question remains: without quality journalism what will become of us, the world, ‘its victories never savoured, its villains never held to account’?
Reporter turned author Alex Mitchell writes his essay, ‘Fatal Obsessions’, about the early Murdoch years, telling us how the media magnate bought Sydney tabloid The Daily Mirror ‘for the bargain basement price of £600 000, with another £1.6 million to be paid over six years,’ and how Murdoch, ‘…beefed up the coverage and added a Page 3 photograph of a young women in a bikini, usually at Bondi Beach.’
We hear from flamboyant crime reporter Bill Jenkins who, in his autobiography, says, ‘Murdoch liked me because he liked the knock-about type of reporter. He used to say to me sometimes: “Bill, why don’t you go and talk to some of your criminal contacts and get a good story?”’ The anecdotes that follow basically illustrate what Mitchell says at the end of page 11: ‘[Murdoch’s] brash editorial approach was supported by a posse of hard-nosed editors and eager journalists who would do anything and go anywhere for Rupert’.
We learn that Murdoch got the idea from The Sun to use police officers as, ‘freelance or full-time informers’; that he hired former Sydney detective, Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell, a rugby player known for being exceptionally tough, to protect Murdoch’s property after brawling broke out between rival shearers; and, during Murdoch’s expansion into the UK, that then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave him ‘the unlimited use of the police force to protect scabs and violently crush picket lines,’ something which cost tax payers more than $10 million.
Following the phone-hacking scandal in London 2012 Murdoch said, ‘I take a particularly strong pride in the fact that we never pushed our commercial interests in our newspaper,’ something which Canberra author and journalist Robert Macklin responds to bluntly. ‘Truly, the mind boggles,’ he says. ‘The evidence is overwhelming that the Murdoch press has assiduously peddled their influence with politicians the world over to gain business advantage.’
Anwyn Crawford presents an interesting essay on fat, privilege and resistance – a response to Jennifer Lee’s article in the previous issue – in which she discusses how, ‘for perhaps the first time in history, fat is regarded as physical attribute of the poor’. But Crawford discusses much more than size: she comments on the 1950s and 60s, noting how it became a sign of middle class success to ‘eat branded foodstuffs while growing one’s own produce was a sure sign of poverty,’ and highlighting that now, ‘it is the poor who are left to their Wonder White while the middle class knead sourdough’.
If all the billboard images of skinny women advertising perfume and underwear were replaced with images of fat women, she says, it would not constitute a victory, because women would still be being objectified for the purpose of promoting a sale. ‘I am much more interested in how radicals across the world – whatever their bodies – can work together at escaping these intertwined visibilites: the imagelogic of capitalism, the coercive gaze of the state,’ Crawford writes.
Rebecca Giggs’ essay about gender and genre, ‘Imagining Women’ argues that ‘Themes that might be considered quaint and localised in women’s writing are cast as synecdochic and political in books by men’. Giggs tells us that literary agent Sophie Hamley had described how she ‘had encouraged some of the women writers she represented – specifically those working in crime fiction – to publish under their initials rather than their full names’. By doing so, Hamley argued, more books would sell because the readers and reviewers would not have their purchasing decisions and criticism framed ‘by the femaleness of the author’.
Giggs’ article explains that ‘Discrimination in publishing will not simply be corrected by the printing of more work by women’ but that ‘the structures that enable discrimination need to be engaged with’. And so we look at nonfiction, an important form that ‘destablishes gendered notions of authorship’ and ‘also destablishes gendered notions of authority’. Giggs finishes her article by writing: ‘In nonfiction might be found a set of tools with which to begin loosening the screws, and shaking the building’.
Malcom Harris writes ‘Twitterland’, a relevant and interesting article on Twitter, its uses, its implications and how it works culturally and politically. Bruce Mutard follows with a remimagined graphic story inspired by Elizabeth Jolley’s ‘Paper Children’.
Jennifer Mills’ ‘Architecture’ is a short story about an architect who travels to Shanghai for a job. The protagonist is confused because she doesn’t know how she was hired; her boss, Mr Wang, explains that he found her on Facebook, that all the professionals in Australia are connected because it is so small and that he finds people by looking at who they know. The protagonist spends her days planning the building’s for Mr Wang’s city. Mills’ prose is almost dreamlike, the tone surreal, something represented in Mr Wang, who has an infinite amount of money and time. By the end we realise that the city will never be built, that it will stay empty, that both characters need it to, that ‘There is no function to this work except its destiny of growth’. A joy to read.
The fiction continues with Davide Angelo’s ‘Double Tap’, a story about New York, Osama and the fragility of humanity; and Jannali Jones’ ‘Blancamorphosis’, the tale of Jon Dootson who ‘Woke up in the morning to find he’d been transformed into a long, skinny white man’. A contemporary Australian story that comments on entitlement, privilege and one’s sense of ‘home’, ‘Blancamorphosis’ is well-written, engaging and captivating.
The poetry, typically, is of a high standard though I particularly enjoyed ‘Bonds’ by Cassandra Atherton, which had great pace and made me shiver a little.
As usual, Overland editor Jeff Sparrow has put together an exciting, informative journal that helps people decode the cultural and political discourses of the day.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5
Overland #208 Spring 2012
Edited by Jeff Sparrow
Paperback, 96pp, $14.95
O L Society Limited