I don’t know if it’s a consequence of my recent encounter with melancholia, but I can’t recall a time when I’ve been less engaged with politics around an election period.
The word melancholia reminds me of the 2011 Lars von Trier movie of the same name, an apocalyptic tale of planetary collision, inspired by the director’s post-depression insight that those of us stricken with this disorder behave with far more calm than do others when subjected to stress.
Why this is a surprise to anyone is beyond me. We aren’t calm. We just don’t care enough to get excited. I don’t know how von Trier missed that difference.
When I consider the current political scene I do so with low levels of enthusiasm, and a good deal of despondency. David Horton articulates some of my ennui here, in describing our choices as between the lesser of two evils, that is, an ideological extremist on the one hand, and a man lacking all belief (other than in himself) on the other. In this faux presidential race, we have little to compare beyond the personalities of two white middle-aged men, both of whom, to me anyway, have all the appeal of a three-day-old boarfish.
I have no idea where they got the notion that repeating a word three times imbues that word with magical magical magical qualities qualities qualities.
I feel some sympathy for those obliged to earn their living autopsying seemingly off-the-cuff comments made by one candidate or the other, in a desperate effort to manufacture meaning. At the same time I am fed up to the back teeth with the hours of “analysis” of one sentence, usually Tony Abbott’s. I am of the belief that everything he says is determined by the focus group du jour and that there are no “gaffes.” If he is sexist, that is because he is dog whistling sexists. Which is not to say it should not be remarked upon, of course it should. It is a sad situation, when in order to win an election a candidate must resort to sexism and xenophobia, but what is even more alarming is the willingness of potential leaders to capitulate to what is least desirable in the human.
Fed up with it all, my interest was briefly aroused by a kerfuffle at Sydney University over featuring female genitalia on the cover of Honi Soit. Just because I can, I’m going to link you to the Mamamia account of how university educated women don’t know their vulvas from their vaginas. As will be clear to anyone who looks at the uncensored collection, these are vulvas on display, not vaginas, though the women involved set up a Twitter hashtag to deal with the fall out that read: #vaginasoit.
They’re following on from our globally acclaimed Convoy of Cleavage, I thought, momentarily emerging from my lugubrious state mildly pleased to have been an inspiration to women.
It is alarming, though, that so many among us do not know the correct names for the female genitalia, adding weight to the women’s claims that we need to be more upfront about our bits. Who would ever call a penis testicles, or vice versa? Add to that the opinion of the university’s vice-chancellor that the cover of vulvas is “demeaning to women” and we have, in one fleeting moment, been granted a view into the abyss to which female sexuality is cast by, erm, the patriarchy. An abyss of ignorance, contempt and desperate desire.
In their defence, the women cited an occasion on which Honi Soit featured a flaccid penis on its cover and nobody gave a toss. So to speak. Fair enough. Radical women must not be subdued by social conventions that insist a flaccid penis makes a more acceptable magazine cover than a series of resting vulvas.
Lars von Trier used Wagner’s (much-loved by Hitler) Tristan und Isolde prelude as the soundtrack for Melancholia. In his post screening interview in Cannes, von Trier lost his head and claimed to be a Nazi as a joke, he later protested, a joke that saw him banned from screenings for a period and roundly castigated for his sense of humour. Like the Honi Soit women, he crossed a line.
In politics, the masters and mistresses of spin have co-opted the innocent (if at times stupid) crossing of lines, and turned it into strategy. When Abbott is sexist, when either man is xenophobic, they are crossing lines and offending many of us, just as many were offended by von Trier’s Nazi references, and the sight of vulvas. However, politicians cross the lines because research has told them that below those lines dwell the voters for whom there are no lines beyond their own self-interest. There is no innocence or even stupidity left in such border crossings. It is cold and it is calculated. It cares not what havoc it might wreak. It wants only power.
Politics. Melancholia. And, vulva vulva vulva. It’s magic.