WAY BEYOND SATIRE
by Rowan Dean
Wilkinson Publishing, Melbourne
Paperback: 281 pages
Reviewed by Hal G.P. Colebatch
I have had the pleasure of reading collections of articles and essays published by Tony Thomas, Andrew Bolt and now Rowan Dean, all published within a short time of one another.
If not a Golden Age, it is at least a Golden Moment in Australian journalism: three collections of splendid writing and three oases of sanity and refreshment in what at times seems a desert of madness.
Those who know the magnificent job Rowan Dean has done as editor of The Spectator Australia, and his razor-edged columns in The Australian Financial Review and the Courier-Mail, should leap at this compendium.
Dean called his previous collection of columns Beyond Satire. With so much of the elite (a Freudian slip – I almost put “Eloi”) and policymaking institutions captured by madness, this succeeding collection may truly be called Way Beyond Satire.
The major conservative party in Australia has been hijacked by a life-long leftist who seems bent – I mean this seriously – on deliberately ruining it, along with ruining the economy in pursuit of the phantasmagoria of renewable energy, a multimillionaire seemingly bent on destroying his compatriots’ standards of living. Then there is that gentlest of soldiers, General Morrison, mincing about on high heels and deploring the horrid use of the term “guys”.
There is Gillian Triggs, slurping up her river of taxpayers’ gold, about whose squawking no more need be said. There is a Leader of the Opposition whose mentality is mired in the century before last, Bourbon-like, nothing forgotten and nothing learned. And there is the thug-loving Andrews Government.
But here we have Rowan Dean, one of the small band of white knights taking a stand against the madness. Like the late great Michael Wharton (“Peter Simple”) of the London Daily Telegraph, he has valiantly turned the left’s weapon of satire against itself.
There is something heroic about this attempt to further ridicule such ludicrousness. But how thin and frail is the dividing line between Mr Dean’s inspired creations and reality!
The Greens are one unfailing mine of material: “A Tasmanian Greens Senator decides that the real problem in the world today is people who insist on using the word ‘terrorist’. Another Green – the leader, no less! – explains the best way to combat terrorism is by us all ‘coming together’ and rejoicing in our ‘multiculturalism’.”
Then there are the protestors against Australia buying Japanese submarines in 2014, found, according to Dean, on a beach, “starved of relevance and desperate for any original ideas” and unaware that World War II had ended 69 years before.
This book is a tonic, showing up the present madnesses in all their pathetic shabbiness. Dean has presented us with a treasure house of truth, fantasy and wit.
Satire and reality alternate like blink cards.
The Australian National University, in obeisance to the climate-change superstition, and Australia’s alleged role in it, divests itself of stocks in energy companies, presumably hoping the seas will cease to rise following the political assassination of Tony Abbott (they were not rising anyway), and the planet begin to cool forthwith (though the latest studies show the temperature has not risen in 20 years).
A piece of debris and suitcase washed up on a beach and deemed to be from the missing Malaysian airliner MH370, becomes: “The world was stunned and thrilled to hear that a fragment of Labor’s economic credibility had been washed up an a remote Indian Ocean island, which, according to experts, could actually be a fragment of Labor’s missing economic credentials.”
Then there is the “lengthy speech” by Malcolm Turnbull: “The Lab … sorry, I mean, the Liberal Party, has the right values. What Mr Abbott has not succeeded in doing is translating those values, values like ‘loyalty’ and ‘commitment’ …” Turnbull’s office actually did send out a real booklet explaining how he had, though apparently not very well, learnt about “loyalty” from his father.
There was 2015, the year of the over-trustful Tony Abbott’s knifing, and the year of the continuing Abbott derangement syndrome, and Turnbull’s floundering for a three-word election slogan to suggest he actually believes in something: “deeper yet shallower”; “profound yet obvious”; “philosophical yet self-evident”; before hitting at last on “continuity and change”.
Amid the madness, Dean’s own voice is heard in flashes of sense: “Weirdly, much of the discontent appeared to focus on the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, the striking but largely unknown Peta Credlin. Ms Credlin was said to be bossy, pushy, thick-skinned, too close to the Prime Minister, didn’t suffer fools, too demanding, etc. All of which struck me as exactly the qualities anyone in the private sector would kill for, in a right-hand man, or woman.”
There is a spoof (but very close to reality) Q&A segment of mindless minions hysterically applauding the mention of Turnbull’s name and the suggestion that he might succeed to the leadership. The Orwellian people’s court atmosphere of the ABC’s now grotesque bias is captured perfectly.
Then there is how to carve a pumpkin into a human rights commissioner: “See if you can capture that truly scary look of self-righteous, sanctimonious, taxpayer-funded self-importance and sneering pomposity … ask people to contact you if they are ‘offended’ by it [and you may be able to] completely destroy their lives for ‘racial hatred’.”
But in the final passage of the book, written just before the shocking death of Bill Leak, the jester casts his mask aside:
“The author of this book [Bill Leak’s Trigger Warning] urges all Australians to demand the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act before we lose our liberty, our freedom to express ourselves creatively, politically and satirically, our beloved Aussie larrikin sense of humour – and our souls. The criminalisation of free thoughts and creative expression for supposedly causing offence and insult is, quite frankly, way beyond satire.”
No one who cares about Australian politics and society, or has a taste for gallows humour, or, in the end, for what Chesterton called “the innocence of anger” as the worst Prime Minister this country has ever had drives it and his party over a cliff, can afford to miss this brilliant, lashing, coruscating book.