Knights and flags and anthems and Taylor Swift on the radio. Happy Australia Day!

Australia Day Sketch - Edited

Seriously, Happy fuckin’ Australia Day. That weird holiday when people across the country are able to cover themselves in the Jack and Cross (a slang term for the Australian flag I just invented at this moment) without automatically being judged as racist bogans, parading how fair dinkum Aussie they are in a bizarre parody of national pride ripped heavily from July 4th episodes of American television.  Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie! and all that. I’d sooner deck myself in the green and gold, but that’s me.

The lead-up’s been a particularly strange one this year. It’s always a bit of a political wank, as both sides of whatever line you happen to be watching cloak their own ideas of “what it means to be Australian” (or some such crap) within the language of patriotism and nationalism. There were the usual articles about how for the Indigenous community Australia Day, the anniversary of the convicts being disembarked from the First Fleet (and, in the mature-rated history books, the crazy, drunken orgy that followed), is also the anniversary of the beginning of the bloody White European conquest of the continent. Some better (passionate arguments made quite reasonably, by members of the Indigenous community and supporters with proven records fighting for aboriginal rights, for a less culturally insensitive date), some worse (social media hipster liberals ’embarrassed’ by displays of national affection on a culturally insensitive date). But a lot of the air time seems to have been taken up by other controversies (loosely using the word here) this year.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten raised the old Republican debate in an Australia Day eve speech, reckoning that it’s about time we thought about cutting ties with the English Royal Family and figuring things out for ourselves. This is at odds with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s reintroduction of rewarding people the government likes with knight and damehoods. One winner was (now) Sir Angus Houston, former Air Chief Marshall of the RAAF and Chief of the ADF, recently in charge of the search for MH370 (by all accounts a top bloke deserving of the right to put ‘Sir’ in front of his name). Another winner? Prince Philip. I shit you not, Prince Philip, the goddamn Duke of Edinburgh is now a Knight of the Order of Australia. ‘Cause he served in the Royal Navy and is the titular Duke of Edinburgh of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to be a Knight of the Order of Australia, it just seems like pretty small change compared to some of his other titles. Given His Lordship’s (or is it His Majesty’s? Royal Highness’?) sense of humour, I’d like to know what his reaction was when he was informed. Apparently it hasn’t gone down well with Mr Abbott’s own government who, aside from not all sharing his monarchist leanings, are upset that he’s disregarded his own word to use the honour to award prominent Australians (rather than foreign royals).

At the same time, the old argument about the need to change the flag to one that doesn’t give prime position to that of a foreign country did the rounds (as it always does this time of year). While I’m partial to switching to some version of the Eureka Flag, a pattern with some real history and meaning beyond ‘won a magazine competition about a century ago,’ but I don’t expect we’ll see a change any time soon. Unless the Kiwis change there’s first. Fun stuff.

Then of course there was the joy that came from a proposal by the National Australia Day Council encouraging all Aussies to get up at noon (Eastern Daylight Savings Time I’m assuming) and sing the two official verses of the national anthem. Personally, I wanted to kick the shins of whoever came up with that jingoistic tripe. Not only do Australians have a long, storied history of disrespect, flippancy and irreverence for such displays (the ANZACs of the First World War, for example, had a reputation for refusing to salute no matter how hard their British officers tried), but we had to endure the long-winded complaints by pseudo-intellectual lefties like myself telling people exactly why it was such an un-Australian suggestion. We needn’t have bothered worrying. Nobody gave a shit, and nobody sang the anthem.

But the real controversy, the real issue that rocked the nation, was Taylor Swift’s inclusion then exclusion from Triple J’s Hottest 100 list. The Hottest 100 is an annual cultural phenomenon in Australia, receiving millions of votes and listened to at any party, pub or gathering worth a damn. Run by the major public youth broadcaster, it tends to act as a cultural litmus test of what is relevant that extends across genres, leaping from punk and heavy metal to dance and hip hop. Given that the Js are listened to by the kind of folk who eschew commercial radio for being too commercial (and are unable to recognise a tautology when they say one) there was plenty of anguish over a campaign started on Buzzfeed to get Shake it Off by Swift onto the list. Seriously, people were not fuckin’ happy, which only fuelled the anti-hipster fires. Triple J remained relatively mum over the issue, finally announcing before the broadcast that she had been disqualified because of the Buzzfeed campaign (and a social media bandwagon jump by KFC). And again, people were not fuckin’ happy. It was probably the right decision by Triple J, who couldn’t let the lovers and haters get away with “troll[ing] the polls” lest it set a precedent. I don’t imagine Swift is shedding any tears over her disqualification, she certainly doesn’t need the press like so many of the other artists on the Hottest 100 list, and it really was an act of trolling. Still, while I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Tay Tay I don’t hate her, and it would have been a bit of a laugh if she managed to win. It certainly wouldn’t have been as bad as last year when Royals by Lorde was beaten for the top spot by Riptide by Vance Joy. Lorde was bloody robbed.

Christ, are other countries’ national days like this?

The News Last Week (18/8/14)

It’s that time of the week again, when I look at the things that caught my eye in the seven days past. Where shall we begin?

Pleasantly, I think. Microsoft has sealed a deal with Square Enix in which upcoming game Rise of the Tomb Raider (the sequel to last years fantastic Tomb Raider reboot) will be a limited exclusive for the Xbox One (also popularly known as the Xbone). The game will eventually be released on Sony’s Playstation 4, but Microsoft is not unreasonably hoping that this will boost sales of the Xbone which have been trailing the PS4 at a rate of 3 or 4 to 1 (depending on who you listen to) since it adds another proven franchise to their stable of exclusives. As an Xbone owner and someone who loved Tomb Raider, I can’t say I mind the news.

It took two days and a public rebuke from PM Tony Abbot, but Joe Hockey finally got around to actually apologising for his ‘poor people don’t own cars’ remark. I don’t know about you, but the apology still came off as a bit of an attention-seeking woe-is-me whinge. No Joe we don’t think you’re evil or have evil intent towards disadvantaged folks, and you’re honestly just making yourself seem more out of touch with the concerns of average Australians. But I’ve already talked enough about this.

A medical clinic in West Point, Liberia, was attack yesterday by an apparent armed mob. The clinic was home to 29 people (9 of whom died some days ago), who were being given preliminary treatment for Ebola before they were due to be sent to a hospital. 17 of the patients mingled with the crowds and left while the remaining 3 were forcibly removed by relatives. There are also reports of bloody mattresses being taken- wait, seriously? I know they think their President’s full of shit and this whole ‘epidemic’ is made up but you’d think someone would go “Y’know what? Let’s not touch the things covered in body fluids that might be infected with an incurable disease that spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Just in case…” It really shows how serious an absence of trust in your government can be in times of legitimate crisis, and this isn’t even the only case of patients being busted out by their relatives, or the only country where such distrust is posing a significant health risk.

Then there’s Ferguson, USA. What a nightmare. The shooting of an unarmed black male named Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer when he had his hands up and was surrendering, triggered protests (and riots) that were responded to by officers in armoured vehicles, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Things look like they’re getting a bit better since the Missouri state governor Jay Nixon put Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson in charge of the situation, an African American officer who marched with the protesters when he arrived in a well-meant and well-received symbolic gesture. Tensions are still high, something that all involved seem to understand, at least from the perspective of a white bloke on the other end of the world.
Edit: I’m not even gonna pretend I’ve got any perspective on this issue, just hope that it gets sorted more peacefully than it’s been so far.

ISIS (ISIL? The Islamic State?) has finally gone and convinced US President Barack Obama that they need to be broken, and American air power has begun supporting Kurdish soldiers and militia (why haven’t we given these guys a country yet? They’re tough as Israelis) as they push towards the stronghold of Mosul. In other good news (extremely relatively speaking), US personnel found fewer refugee Yazidi on Mount Sinjar, which was being besieged by Jihadist forces. While the situation is still atrocious, a great deal of aid had managed to get through and air strikes had successfully allowed many of the refugees to escape, so it wasn’t the humanitarian nightmare some were expecting.

PM Tony Abbot got in a bit of hot water over remarks about Scotland’s independence that did not go down well, saying “I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and that the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.” I understand why the Scots aren’t overjoyed, and it seems a lot of Australian opponents breathed a sigh of relief that he could stuff up internationally after his recent run of serious foreign policy success (*cough* MH17 *cough*). Personally, I don’t think it’s too bad. He’s not the only leader to tell Scotland to stay in the Union, he’s just the bluntest (and using language I’d normally associate with the Super Friends). And I mean, it’s Tony Abbot, a man about as subtle as a kick in the budgie smugglers. Should we have expected him to wink at Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and make a crack about not contributing to the rising divorce rate? I don’t think he should have weighed in at all, but since he’s an outspoken monarchist I’m not surprised that he did.

In an interview with SongFacts.com KISS bassist and frontman Gene Simmons told people suffering from depression “Fuck you, then kill yourself.” As you can imagine, and especially with the news soon after of Robin Williams suicide, this did not go over well. A number of people have responded with variations of the theme ‘Gene Simmons is a douchebag who needs to pull his head out his arse’ (Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx probably said it best with “I don’t like Gene’s words. There’s a 20-year-old kid out there who is a kiss fan and reads this and goes, ‘He’s right. I should just kill myself.'”) and Australian Radio station Triple M took the step of removing all KISS songs from their playlists. Simmons has since apologised on twitter for his remarks, but a lot of people are still unhappy.

And with that, let’s leave it and see what happens this week.