Pollies get pity but Shane suffers in his jocks
It’s an analogy that’s been used before but is worth using again, chiefly in the interests of promoting that landmark cinematic work The Naked Gun as an analogy for public life.
One of the best lines in the film – apart from the scene where, during a raid on a sex shop, the lady behind the counter looks at Lieutenant Frank Drebin and says “Oh, Hi Frank” – involves a wayward ballistic missile hitting a fireworks factory and igniting thousands of catherine wheels and flame-spewing rockets in the night sky. As the crowd gathers to watch this marvellous scene Lieutenant Drebin stands in front of the rubber-neckers and says “Show’s over folks, move along, nothing to see here.”
Some years ago when Eric Roozendaal was the state secretary of the NSW Labor Party he suggested that there was an inordinate level of media interest in a story involving Illawarra Labor identity Neville Hilton, a man who can best be described as morally dubious, who when not defending the rights of the working man in the ‘Gong was also the proprietor of the Southern Belles knock-shop in Port Kembla.
It had emerged that Hilton had employed two teenaged girls at this sleazy establishment. When asked if he was aware that these wretched young girls were not of age, Hilton replied: “How would I know - have you seen them? They’re pretty filled out.”
Yep Eric, show’s over folks, nothing to see here.
The recent flurry of indignation at the treatment of former Police Minister David Campbell, where even the Premier needed a couple of tries to work out whether he had done anything wrong or not, highlighted this gulf between elite opinion and mainstream opinion as to what constitutes a story.
The difference comes down to a belief in the concept of “role models”. There have been many cases in Australia where public figures from various fields receive starkly different treatment on the basis of their professional status.
Weirdly, it’s sports stars who seem to be totally unprotected from any kind of public scrutiny, despite the fact that they pass no laws, impose no taxes, have absolutely no direct bearing on our day-to-day lives – apart from, quite unlike politicians, providing us with genuine moments of escapist joy with their prowess on the sportsfield.
Take Shane Warne.
Having a finite number of words at my disposal, it’s probably best to concentrate on just one of the sex scandals involving Shane over the past decade. (Although just because the messages were so hilarious, I’ll make a passing mention of one of his earliest scandals, where a chain of SMS messages emerged one of which read “I’m naked and I’m pouring wine all over myself.” I reckon most of us have done that by accident a couple of times by accident after a particularly torrid barbecue, bit it takes a special kind of genius to turn it into an erotic act.)
But Shane’s opus magnus in the shabby behaviour stakes will (hopefully) forever be his turn-over at the hands of The News of the World where he was caught on a secret camera wearing his black playboy undies, cavorting with two call girls, one of whom was brandishing a gigantic inflatable sex toy.
Warne, who was formally separated from his wife at the time, made some futile attempts to say that what he did in his private life was his own business, in the plaintive hope that people would stop paying attention to a story which made Frank Drebin’s exploding fireworks factory look decidedly mundane.
But that incident and others (many others) had a massive professional impact on Warne’s career, in that the stuffed-shirts who run cricket decreed that he lacked the moral fibre ever to be Australian cricket captain, despite being one of the most insanely ferocious competitors in the history of any sport, and an absolute tactical genius on the field.
The black mark against his name reflected the cricket authorities’ belief in the concept of role models. What kind of example is Shane setting to the kiddies?
It’s an absurd view. If it’s moral advice you want for your kids you’re probably better off with Bertrand Russell than a leg-spinner.
He might be a world’s best practice meathead but some years ago Sam Newman, the resident loudmouth on the AFL Show, asked Warne a very good question when he joined the players on the panel one night.
It went to the effect: “Shane when you realised you could do an amazing thing by holding a cricket ball between your index and middle finger, did you also realise you would also become the moral guardian for the nation.”
Warne sort of looked blankly at Newman and eventually said “Oh, yeah, ah, nope” and ran his hand through his advanced hair, yeah yeah, and chuckled to himself.
Warne might be a boofhead but you have to admire the strange grace which accompanies his falls from grace. Unlike many members of the political class I cannot recall Warne ever once complaining about the treatment he endures, whacking on about how nobody understands the pressures he is under; rather he just gets on with his IPL and his poker tournaments and puffs away happily on his Winfield Blues, a flawed and contented man.
There are plenty of other sports stars such as Warne who have received often unyielding public glare, regardless of the fact that nothing they do has any direct involvement on the quality or cost of our lives.
And rarely do those revelations invite the kind of debate we have seen over the Campbell saga, or the affair between Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans which Laurie Oakes chose to expose because it was not only central to her defection from the Democrats to the ALP, but her subsequent public meltdown as the private relationship was strained.
Personally I’m not sure if it’s wise to hold up politicians as role models. On the recent conduct of many MPs in NSW you would have to say it’s seriously foolhardy to do so.
But there is a widespread view in the community that they are, simply because they represent us all. And the trade-off for their influence, authority and, in relative terms, affluence is that they know their behaviour will face more scrutiny than any private individual.
If it’s a role model you want, logic would suggest that you look for one not down at the cricket nets but in the Parliament.
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