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Knitting up a storm in a teacup

By EJ Cook - posted Thursday, 27 June 2013

Yesterday, people were upset about the Women's Weekly running photos of Prime Minister Julia Gillard knitting a toy kangaroo for the Royal Sprog. Today, they're upset about yet another leadership change. Personality rather than policy seems to be pretty important to a lot of people right now.

I have some shocking news for these folks. Let me outline it briefly.

The PM has been knitting for years. She helped raise funds for charity by contributing squares to a Campaign Blanket made during the 2010 election campaign, and knitted a cardigan as a gift for Penny Wong and her partner's new baby last year.


Knitting, feminism, and the intellectual ability to think about economic issues are not mutually exclusive. Many people combine one or more of these. It was only a matter of time before someone got photographed for a magazine whilst doing it.

Most MPs would love to be Prime Minister. It's the top job in a workplace that is inherently competitive and populist. Most of them would be willing to go for a spill if the media and their staffers could persuade them they had the numbers.

Mainstream media like Women's Weekly and Sky News publish these stories because we talk about it incessantly, selling even more ad space than if they'd just published a story about the Prime Minister's views on how to fix housing affordability.

A photo of a woman knitting in the Women's Weekly is not shocking. If you want to see something shocking, try photos of what's happening in Syria. Or the state of public housing in remote Northern Territory communities. Or any one of a number of real problems that we as a society need to deal with.

You see what I did there? I didn't say the government needs to deal with it. We wouldn't even know if they were dealing with it, because all the media wants to talk about is who's in charge of what and whether they should be allowed to knit or wear blue ties in public. It's our society, and it is what we make it. Lately, all we've made is a mess.

Mainstream media are so scared of a future where they aren't in control of public discourse that they've lost the ability to focus on where the conversation went while they weren't looking. They can still sell advertising space based on click-bait like “Kardashians breed and then wear bikinis!”or “Eat more chocolate and still lose weight!”But whilst this kind of moronic pulp might attract some supermarket-line impulse-buy readers, it doesn't engender the kind of trust required for analysis of serious issues affecting Australians.


And no matter how many times we say we want better quality, we keep clicking on junk journalism. Our inability to stop ourselves from staring at the oncoming headlights is the reason we're in the middle of a car wreck now; media stories about support for Rudd and falling polls for Gillard have fed on each other until they cannibalised every last column inch that could have gone to discussion of the Gonski reforms that passed today, or any other policy.

It's understandable that the Australian public is pissed off right now. I'm pissed off right now. There are serious problems to be solved. But we continue to give our attention and clicks and some of us even buy dead-tree newspapers when all they publish is crap.

There is a way out of this mess. Stop reading mainstream media unless they're genuinely asking policy questions. The PM did ask them to stop writing crap, but they seem to be incapable. Because there's lots of us reading rubbish, and only one PM who asked them to stop it whilst she continued to participate in it. Just as consumer choice has driven mainstream chocolate makers to embrace fair trade cocoa, so too can consumer choice push traditional journalists to higher quality standards in the new digital media world.

There's plenty of good blogs and online-only publishers covering the actual policies in this actual election in which we will actually vote for whoever is going to make the rules around here for the next few years. If you don't know how to Google ‘NDIS’or ‘Gonski’or ‘superannuation’, ask the nearest ten year old. Share stories that make you think great idea let's try it; instead of faux outrage (read it with a faux French accent, it sounds better) about foreigners taking our jobs blah blah blah stop the boats blah blah blah. Whenever we respond to media stories designed to provoke outrage and fear, they'll continue to sell clicks to advertisers who encourage them to produce more of the same.

Anyone in advertising will tell you that decisions are made, often at a subconscious level, based upon emotion, and then justified with evidence later. And the only two base emotions that really work are hope and fear. It's kind of like the marketing version of Star Wars: the force can be used for good or evil. Jane Caro and anyone else who has been on Gruen Planet will assure you this is how it works. Problem is, we're looking for hope and responding to fear. Not unlike when I say I'm going to eat only healthy foods and then turn my nose up at a salad in favour of a bucket of chips. I have only myself to blame for my waistline, so whom are we going to blame for the state of Australian politics?

This stuff is important, folks. Let's not waste any more time on media who don't give us the information we need. Just read the ones who do talk about policy, and leave the #leadershit to the wannabes at Fairfax and News Ltd.

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About the Author

EJ Cook is a Canberra feminist, roller derby skater, and general troublemaker who tweets at @msejcook

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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