It seems that admiring men with balls is back in fashion if the eulogising of Kerry Packer is anything to go by. Even feminists are waxing lyrical about Kerry having the right genitalia for the job.
Journalists and commentators have been falling over themselves in search of fitting epitaphs for a man who was, after all, born to privilege and power. Indeed, they’ve been giving every appearance of hanging out their shingle and touting for employment in the new court of Packer; bullying has been excused, attack dog tactics held in awe and the exercise of power (for his own ends) over politicians apparently worthy of deference.
And this in egalitarian Australia.
Family jewels and dynasties notwithstanding, Channel Nine is “Still the One”, because Packer, like his mate John Howard, understood that ordinary Australians don’t give a toss about politics. What they want is entertainment, infotainment and sport.
Packer had us read nicely - when we turn on the tele it’s not to tune in, it’s to chill out. He catered to his audience not out of respect, not because he was an ordinary bloke or a man for all seasons, but because it suited his political and economic ends to do so.
Apart from Sunday and (very) arguably 60 Minutes, Packer wasn’t into quality programming; he had no interest in the public interest, taking what the public is interested in to new depths with shows that include Funniest Home Videos, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and Celebrity Makeover.
If you want to amuse yourself to death then Channel Nine’s the place to do it. But it would be unfair to blame all of our ills on Kerry.
Commercial reality dominates our media. Advertisers are interested in markets that deliver an audience to their product with large audience share the measure of success, and to maintain it, winning formulas are repeated and repeated again. What we end up with is a media that is parochial and populist, commodified and devalued and the public sphere as a place of ideas, sacrificed to the imperatives of the marketplace.
One need look no further than our newspapers whose tabloid liftouts are little more than shopfronts for advertising - renovation, real estate, eating in, dining out, investment, travel, cars, technology, sport, weekend getaways, fashion, and shop-till-you-drop special editions.
But our most consumable commodity is celebrity.
We seek them here, there and everywhere: fabulous nobodies to stargaze include anyone royal, there are soap stars, particularly those whose life resembles one of their scripts, and don’t ignore sporting heroes, who, if behaving badly, beget even bigger headlines than their strained groin. There are glam models, naughty gangsters and offspring of people, famous, for just being, well, famous.
We get to meet them in trashy mags, we get intimate with them on radio, up close and personal on news and current affairs, talk-shows, lifestyle everything’s and in newspapers. We want to know what they wear, what and where they eat and more important than all of the above, who they’re getting it off with.