Confessions of a grumpy old man


Richo and Jones on Sky News set

It is becoming common to describe people who offer political, economic and cultural comment in the mainstream media as Grumpy Old Men. It is a nice insult that warms the hearts of those of us whose commentary is confined to the fringe media.

They have learned nothing, we think, forgotten nothing, have nothing new to say but come to every topic with minds made up. They are jaundiced, reactionary, pompous and are read only by other Grumpy Old Men, particularly by those in government (much to our secret envy).

And though the mainstream commentators include women and people who are relatively young, we happily judge that their writing, too, wears the musty robes of dyspeptic male gerontocracy.

We, of course, are different… ‘But, wait a moment’, my inner self interrupts, ‘Are you really so very different? You are also of a certain age; I suspect that most of your readers are also of a certain age. And you are undoubtedly a man.’

‘But, even so, I am still different’, I assert to myself. ‘I am a knight in shiny trousers, independent in judgment and motivated purely by concern for the public interest. Whereas they worship at the shrine of plutocracy, receive their messages from the economic high priests, and predictably criticise politicians for fiscal cowardice in the face of misinformed public opinion.’

‘And at whose shrine do you worship’, my guardian scold demands.

‘Well, I suppose I worship at the shrine of personalism. I might be said to receive my messages from Catholic Social Teaching, and I predictably criticise politicians for conniving with conventional economic ideologies and their beneficiaries.’

‘So, a different message, it seems’, my judicial self says dispassionately, ‘but the same delivery by interchangeable Grumpy Old Men. And the same lack of rapport with the contemporary Australian audience that thinks in text messages and images and lacks any taste for reflective reading or argument.  

‘OK’, I concede to my alter ego, ‘I may be a Grumpy Old Man. But what is so wrong with Grumpy Old Men speaking to other grumpy Old Men who share their convictions and intellectual style? After all preaching is mostly done to the converted. And doesn’t it need to be if our convictions are unpopular, whether, for example, we are appalled by the brutal Australian treatment of asylum seekers or by the craven abandonment of the Medical Co-payment. People need encouragement to keep holding unpopular views.

‘Of course, if we can make the argument to a wider audience, or to a smaller, more influential audience, that is all the better. And better still if we can persuade the authorities to change their policies.’

On a roll I declare, ‘We Grumpy Old Men have something to offer to public discourse, too, particularly our skills in argument and rhetoric. Writing to persuade people is a craft, and it should be encouraged, particularly in a culture where more informal and briefer forms of communication are in vogue. It helps deepen public conversation.’

And, craftily appealing to the pretensions to learning of my interior interlocutor, I insist, ‘there can be much to learn from exchanges between learned Grumpy Old Men, even at their most Grumpy. Jerome and Augustine going head to head with icy politeness and distilled rancour could teach even modern columnists a thing or two.’

To blot out the sound of silent scepticism, I rush on, ‘There is Grumpy and grumpy. There is surely a difference between offering reasoned criticism of another’s position and attacking by explicitly, or by innuendo, their good faith, their character or their intelligence. The latter appeals to schoolboy debaters and to strong haters but it narrows the possibilities for reasoned and reflective conversation.

‘That is real Grumpy. Why, even you’, I say to placate my doppelgänger, ‘tell me how dead set boring you find attacks on Cardinal Pell and Prime Minister Abbott. The conversation soon becomes like the frustrated barracking at a football match between two inept teams, full of ritual abuse, and fed by resentment at having to waste time being present at such rubbish. And that’s the kind of stuff you expect from the commentators in mainstream media. Those pestilential haters are the real Grumpy Old Men.

If I hoped for solidarity and mercy from my inner alias, I was mistaken. Amid the deafening sound of one hand clapping, he asked quietly, ‘And you never descend to that? ‘No, never!, I declare passionately, ‘Well, hardly ever…’

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.



Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Alan Jones, Graham Richardson, media, commentariat, political opinion



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Existing comments

I guess it is not so bad being referred to as a grumpy old man, but it does become an issue when you are also considered by those younger as being "male, pale and stale"

John Smith | 18 March 2015  

We grumpy old men have the time to research sources and think issues through, evaluating contrarian positions .... ,unlike our esteemed younger colleagues who - however clever and well motivated - are understandably busy and sometimes distracted by their relationships and careers. It's a great blessing conferred on us , and we need to try to live up to it. Fr Hamilton, you are an inspiration to us all in the wisdom and compassion of your writing.

Tony kevin | 18 March 2015  

We "knights in shiny trousers" are more likely to question other people's assumptions. We have seen past certainties crumble and their adherents regarded as naïve or even absurd. We are entitled to be sceptical and our grumpiness may even be prophetic

Peter Fitzroy | 19 March 2015  

I think the TV series "Grumpy Old Men" has a lot to answer for. Now we are stuck with a phrase like "Dead White Males" which was used to disparage much of the canon of Western Literature. Both clichés seem to me to be tired and meaningless. Age should not necessarily mean you become a bitter and continually critical and carping individual. There are many men (and women) of age, not necessarily public figures, although some are, who bring a sort of Second Spring of light to most matters they deal with because of their maturity and tolerance. The current Pope would be an example as would the Dalai Lama. Given the obstacles that both face in their respective spheres, they could both well have thrown in the towel and given up. I suspect the fact they believe in something, or rather what they believe in, not being a totally materialistic faith, has given them a living centre point from which to move. They are both what I would call transformed men. Many men in that age bracket are not transformed and are moving on with the same outworn mental and spiritual impedimenta they accepted in their youth.

Edward Fido | 19 March 2015  

Now this has made me grumpy.

Peter Goers | 19 March 2015  

When I want an honest opinion of my many faults and few virtues I can have a conversation with my 27 year old son. It goes something like this: Me: "What book would you like me to buy for your birthday?" Him: "Nothing you would choose for yourself." Me: "Do you think of me often?" Him: "Who are you again?" Me: "When are you visiting next?" Him: "I'm busy for the next five years". Ah, the joy of an honest conversation! Just kidding (I hope).

Pam | 19 March 2015  

I don`t think you are grumpy at all; and age is neither here nor there. Please continue to bring us your refreshing and Catholic-critical analysis of the too-frequently morally dire public events in this country.

Eugene | 19 March 2015  

Thank you Tony Kevin for your insightful reflection upon this discussion. I agree. And like you, I wish to express enormous gratitude to Fr Hamilton for his ongoing inspirational, wise and compassionate writing.

Robert Van Zetten | 19 March 2015  

I like your almost quote from G and S and of course your articles are always confirming. M.

Mahdi | 19 March 2015  

Bravo! Bravo! Andrew. Loved the use of "pestilential" when considering that epidemic pestilence causes so much human death and suffering.

john frawley | 19 March 2015  

Andrew, you are definitely not grumpy. You are good natured and balanced. Grumpy old men (and women) are those for whom everything becomes a problem and they go on and on about it. They do not see the positives in change or things that they don't agree with. Unfortunately the world loves to hear about problems - solutions are not front page material. We have too many politicians at the moment who are "Grumpy Old Men". It is time for them to hand over to constructive non grumpies.

Peter Anderson | 19 March 2015  

I hear you, my brother...! And, speaking as one who is not a media commentator in mainstream or fringe media, but only posts on other people's articles, I'd have to say you're right on the money for us, too. "The conversation soon becomes like the frustrated barracking at a football match between two inept teams, full of ritual abuse, and fed by resentment at having to waste time being present at such rubbish. And that’s the kind of stuff you expect from the commentators in mainstream media". We're like that, too, grumpy men or grumpy women on a variety of Catholic sites. It's important to be charitable, rational, civil and open to adjusting your opinion. If you don't believe me,you're a slave of the corrupt hierarchy/dissident neoProtestant, and you should leave the Church, you idiot! (LOL)

Joan Seymour | 19 March 2015  

"Conversation" - you use a great word there. People llistening to each other, expressing their own opinions rationally and assuming the rational good-will of the other. No contempt or name calling. I've been known to fly into an online rage with writers with whose opinion I basically agree, because of the sneering and contempt of the way they express that opinion. I respond in the same vein. No-one dies, but the Kingdom isn't promoted either. Hurrah for Eureka Street, where we may talk without shouting or sneering (even though some of us are strongly tempted)!.

Joan Seymour | 19 March 2015  

Old men have plenty of reasons to be grumpy. Either every thing that was once considered perfectly stable is changing, or is outdated and not changing at all when it needs updating. George Bernard Shaw, fed up with the irrationalities of English Spelling, left, in his will, a considerable amount of money for the improvement of the spelling of English words, such as the '-oulds' or the '-oughts'. Not one word seems to have been improved. The 3 'Bible' religions, claiming to worship the same one God, are locked into their own particular interpretation of what this means and seem to close their minds to any recognition of any appreciation and acceptance of mutual cooperation, peace or harmony. As Bob Hawke reminded us recently, quoting his father, 'If you accept the Fatherhood of God, you must accept the Brotherhood of all men'. And presumably the sisterhood of the women?

Robert Liddy | 19 March 2015  

Excuse me, Andrew, for interrupting your conversation with your alter ego. Judging from your articles you have not become a grumpy old man and I thank St Ignatius for that.
But re-myself: the 'old man' part is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see. The ravages of time are manifest on my wrinkled brow and in my shuffling gait. But the 'grumpy' part? That I can keep under control when in polite society but in the privacy of my own home, (whether listening to the wireless, or reading the paper, or watching TV, or surfing the net for articles on religion, politics, economics et al), then the grump materialises. I become sullen, ill-humoured, crusty, crabbed, splenetic, intractable, glum, grim and finally grum. I grumph and harrumph till I'm almost out of breath. Then I laugh at myself; write a letter to the editor, email the radio or TV station, or comment where comments are sought in the blogosphere. Where would the media be without the reactions of grumps? Boring, I say, and bankrupt.

Uncle Pat | 19 March 2015  

It all depends on what you are grumpy about. Shaking your fist at the "elites" as you drive home in a 100K fringe benefit to your mansion qualifies you as a hypocritical grumpy old man.

andreP | 19 March 2015  

Thanks Andy. The label GOM is a kind of put down when what is said is unpopular. It plays the man/woman leaving the content abandoned like a beached whale. None the less we have much to be grumpy/concerned about, death, lessening of youthful health or relevance, being invisible and managing change at an anxiety provoking rate. But as some commentators have said we do have some experience and perspective. These days when governments are looking for revenue it is worth considering how the immense human capital of the cadre facing relevance deprivation might become seriously relevant again.

Michael D. Breen | 20 March 2015  

The GOMs of today should think themselves lucky that they can still retire before the dementia sets in. Spare a thought for the next wave of GOFs (farts, to be more gender inclusive), who were starting out in the workforce when super was just being introduced, and especially the ones who dared to be adventurous and took gap years, volunteered, work overseas and didn't plan financially for their future retirement.

AURELIUS | 26 March 2015  

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