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Liking Kevin


There's a view, expressed by academics and Mark Latham alike, that Kevin Rudd's years in public life have been driven by a desire to create his own media celebrity.

His rise from backbencher to the ALP leadership in the five years to 2006 was facilitated by his sustained weekly presence on the high-rating 'Big Guns of Politics' segment on Channel 7's Sunrise. 

It was here that he was able to create 'a persona seen as ordinary, trustworthy and familiar to the point of intimacy'. But he lacked the ability to work with people behind the scenes to get things done for the ordinary Australians who regarded him as their 'mate'.

In the modern age of celebrity, public esteem has more to do with media construction than ability. It's questionable whether the winners of MasterChef and The Voice are as talented as we're led to believe. They are part of a long line of TV contests that gave us the rigged quiz shows of the 1950s.

Indeed there have been questions surrounding the legitimacy of Harrison Craig's victory in The Voice last week after the humble 18-year-old had overcome his stutter through singing and won over fans.

Whether it is the judgment of a celebrity panel, opinion polls, or the number of Facebook 'likes', we rarely see performances and actions evaluated on the basis of a well researched and developed argument. There are bodies set up to do just this, but they are often thwarted by powerful media players. 

For example, on Thursday a desperate 2DayFM used a technicality to apply to the Federal Court for an order to restrain the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) from continuing its investigations into the 'royal prank' phone call that led to the suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha.

ACMA's preliminary findings suggest the radio station is in serious danger of losing its broadcast licence over the incident, but 2DayFM is claiming that ACMA is going beyond its remit. It seems the station considers it deserves its licence as long as ratings hold up, and listeners remained loyal to the station after the royal prank call.

Possibly Facebook's greatest disservice to the online community has been its 'like' button, which has become so ubiquitous that it has sanctioned superficial evaluation of individuals and their performances everywhere. I can 'like' or not 'like' a person or what they've produced without having to give a reason, let alone make an argument to justify my support or lack of support.

Collective likes or dislikes can and do have consequences for peoples lives, and they are often based on prejudice rather than rationality.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Kevin Rudd, Facebook, 2DayFM, MasterChef, The Voice, ACMA, like



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Existing comments

It's a facile world which doesn't look beneath the surface, as you point out, Michael. The world had a chance to observe Kevin Rudd's modus operandi when he was Wayne Goss's Chief of Staff and dealing with the Queensland Public Service. Reality is a good check. So many in public life need to be held up to it.

Edward F | 22 June 2013  

This is an excellent piece. Congratulations to Father Mullins. Confected 'personality', long favored in autocratic dictatorships to create a cult, has certainly become part of contemporary democratic systems. Popularity is now entrenched as a synonym for competence.

Fr John Fleming | 22 June 2013  

Kevin lost me when he was unable to clearly explain what the Resources "tax" was. I was unable to understand his explanations and in the end gave up on him after having been a supporter. His current behaviour is difficult to understand. Your piece helps with that understanding

GAJ | 22 June 2013  

Never forget...a PM who cried..used the most profane language to staff..presided over the "The Batts etc"...he leaked to the media."Et tu Kevin".,,A PM..dont think so.

john m costigan | 22 June 2013  

Thank you Michael.Yes, we have a chance,it seems, to 'voice' opinions, even 'vote' for our preferred player.It is all very easy now to be counted, to effect change; social media has given politicians other indicators or polls to rally and gather often widely dispersed individuals as they are seen as 'friends' and become 'personable'.Voters can use social media as an instrument for change and maybe feel they are able to 'poke' politicians.. a good thing in many ways. There is the danger though of glamorising politics and voters being seen as fans following preferred Celebs. Celebrity has become THE reason to follow and like, and politicians run with it.I feel South Africa has missed a chance for deeper change by idolising Nelson Mandela (wonderful man)and not focussing on establishing real pathways for future leaders from the ghettos.This is another example of THE REASON being confused with the man or celebrity.Mandela's ideas for a just society, his courage,impetus and heroic struggle seem to be lost as everything focussed on his celebrity.Being popular is not always a good thing. We must vote for real issues not personal traits.Sexism would not be an issue and racism would be seen as an historical belief, a falsehood, a mistake.We can see the instant power and gratification of social media as gambolling becomes very 'liked',so Kevin needs to be more than a smiling face to be more than a fad.

Catherine | 22 June 2013  

Opinion polls - the equivalent of the "like" button on Facebook - have become the substitute for policy analysis. Rarely,if ever, do the pollsters explain their methods and the number of people polled. Even their admission of a margin of error is a smokescreen for their inherent weakness. But they do provide some grist for the millers at the dreary workplace of parliament - except when an MP gets drunk. I have met Kevin Rudd. He is a very personable chap but he is too driven for me. He wouldn't suffer fools gladly - and, boy!, does one meet some doozies in politics. Regarding the current imbroglio, Rudd would be a fool to usurp the PM at this late stage. The Archangel Gabriel could take over thte ALP tomorrow but even he would need more than three months to turn it into an effective united political machine. This time it is the Coalition which could be led by the drover's dog and still win - even against a likeable Rudd. The only way the Australian people will learn how reactionary the Coalition is, is to live/suffer under it for three years, then they will be reaching for the "unlike" button quick smart.

Uncle Pat | 22 June 2013  

Some Australians like the fact that we have a female Prime Minister while others would prefer a man. This may affect the result of the next Federal election. From a pro-Labor point of view, it may be beneficial if Gillard and Rudd were to address meetings and television events side-by-side as often as possible. This would not be artificial as a new Labor government would certainly include the two as top Ministers.

Bob Corcoran | 22 June 2013  

Crikey, Uncle Pat! Living in Australia over the eleven years of the last coalition government must have been sheer hell for you. I hope you manage to survive the long overdue re-election of a new coalition government without the serious suffering that your imagination has conjured up.

john frawley | 22 June 2013  

one should be reminded that at elections one votes for ones local MP not for a president. polls are just hype concocted by the Media

John ozanne | 22 June 2013  

Cricky! indeed John Frawley. The point I was trying to make (and obviously not too clearly) was that if Australians change their voting habits because they "like" or "unlike" a particular leader or PM, the only way they can know whether or not they'll "like" a new PM and his/her government is to live under it in reality. My prognostication was based more on the situation in politics in Australia where the media have made "likeability" a maajor criterion for electing someone to parliament. The media have become one big Facebook. An exaggeration, I admit, but Hey! How many people are on Facebook compared to the number of subscribers to ES?

Name | 24 June 2013  

I assume that most Australians know by now that fake smiles, meaningless slogans and an ability to talk without saying anything does not produce much for our country. I hear somebody calling Kevin Rudd “fake plastic” and I I can agree. Kevin Rudd would be simple the worst choice of any Labor parliamentarians to become a PM. The Labor Party has a lot more suitable candidates than Kevin Rudd.

Beat Odermatt | 24 June 2013  

Thanks, John Frawley, for the reality check. The point I was trying to make was that the Australian media, through their reliance on polls, have become one big Facebook where "likeability" is the main criterion for acceptance. The only way many Australian will change their vote is under the reality of tough times - and not the vague promises of better things to come "if/when we get rid of this government". PS. I am on Facebook so that I can keep in touch with my grandchildren, who so far have not "unliked" me.

Uncle Pat | 24 June 2013  

Yes , John Ozanne, You are right in theory. However in the world today, with the ubiqitiousness of media we have rarely voted , except in theory, for many years. With some strong personalities like some of present independents ther is a vote by many for a local member. These are odd communities. i suspect in September, fairly or not, there will be vote against and not a vote for. And in both cases an individual will be focus. And is face book doing more than reflecting values in community. And how is it any more reprehensible than a large part of what passes for media

bpoidevin@bigpond.com | 24 June 2013  

Well said. To which one might add that polls and individual opinions now substitute for news ...

wener | 24 June 2013  

Uncle Pat, you say that ' the only way many Australians will change their vote is under the reality of tough times'. Does that mean that the cataclysmic abandonment of Labor that appears to be in train at the moment is related to tough times under this government? One consolation I suppose, Uncle Pat, is if we experience our hell in this life, that might be offset by heaven in our eternities! However, it worries me that in this last comment you can see I am no theologian!

john frawley | 24 June 2013  

A mate sent me from America a photo of a photo of a street power poll with a notice attached, "Be the first to like this poll" along with tear off little thumbs up icons. What so many here are saying is that discussion in Oz has become incredibly superficial; which always benefits conservatives bereft of policies and armed with slogans. I have a strong belief that anything which is very popular can't be much good.

Michael D. Breen | 24 June 2013  

Is there an icon for "Indifferent"? Maybe a yawning face graphic? How many more Qand A panels do we have to sit through, or other radio/tv interviews with the same, predictable line of questioning and (non)answering from Labor? Hello, people! I'm OVER it!

AURELIUS | 24 June 2013  

Between the ubiquitous opinion polls and FB's Like button, as a nation we've descended to the level of lowest common denominator when it comes to conducting sober and intelligent dialogue. I believe that the average Dane, German or French (et al) is more articulate and expressive when it comes to matters political Our pollies certainly lack the sophistication of their US counterpart. Even the obsessive Republicans seem more sophisticated. All you have to do is listen to our PM-in-waiting, Tony Abbott, who seems to mumble his way incomprehensibly through anything. In turn, we have a gullible public dominated by a foreign-owned media conglomerate. It is not only the quality of our political debate that has to improve. It is our comprehension of what our world view is that needs serious adjustment s. We have slowly but surely regressed to a time that has somehow lost its trajectory.

Alex Njoo | 25 June 2013  

Plato wrote:There will be no end to the troubles of states, my dear Glaucon, or indeed of humanity until philosophers become kings (dictators?) or until those we now call kings and rulers truly and really become philosophers." Even if we assess some of the early US presidents as philosophers the best they could achieve was to mitigate the troubles of their newly founded nation. I wouldn't expect things to improve here if our Australian politicians chose a philosopher or a theologian to lead us. If the people didn't like them (or what they did) they'd be "unliked" at the first opportunity. "sober and intelligent dialogue" (to quote Alex Njoo) would not come into it.

Uncle Pat | 25 June 2013  

After last night's comments from Labor on Q and A, I'm now officially angry. Despite my usual faithfulness to left of poltics, I'm now officially angry, peeved off. and taking this personally. And I'm going to do what any bad parent would do in the face of childish, bad behaviour - I'm going to react out of anger and give Labor a politically incorrect slap! The only problem is they will still get preferences if I vote for the Greens. What shall I do? (vote for the sex party? or socialist alliance?)

AURELIUS | 25 June 2013  

You say glibly "academics and Mark Latham" as if that adds to the point you seem to be trying to make. So what. Especially in the case of Latham. Your comments carry on the waspish and negativity introduced by abbott and the liberal party which the media have adopted in their reporting on the Labor government. No positivism. No happiness. Is the object of the media to depress Australia. Commentators in Australia remind me of those who would not dance when the pipes were played and would not mourn when they heard the dirge.

Bede Hickey | 28 June 2013  

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