no more cheap shots

Cheap shots and barnacles

Thursday 19 May 2022 6:13 PM

One of the less inspiring features of public discourse nowadays is the prevalence of cheap shottery. It's one more of the detractions of social media that seems to have had a washback effect on some traditional media. Cheap shots are a barnacle on the hull of substantive critique. As barnacles may slow the ship, a sound argument encrusted with cheap shots impedes its impact. 

Is this a riddle? So far it might be. So let me be clearer and contextual. The Trump / Biden presidential tussle of 2020 rightly attracted volumes of commentary. But as substantive arguments such as questions of character took shape and became established in commentary and debate meme creators and wannabe cartoonists swung into action with a deluge of schoolboy level mocking of the two candidates, especially Trump. Quotes or visual footage taken out of context are a favourite of the cheap shot genre. Others are plays on the subject's appearance or generic teasing or mocking in terms that could apply to anyone at all the writer, artist or poster doesn't like. The boo and the hiss of politics, if you will. 

Apart from lowering the tone and quality of the public discourse and diverting attention from the major to the inconsequential, the greater threat posed by a flood of cheap shottery is that the real substance at the heart of public analysis, the weighty matters that ought to determine political outcomes, are forgotten, lost, or ignored, or simply dismissed in toto as nonsense, without consideration.

And so to Australian Federal Election 2022. My Facebook feed is a handful of substantive opinion pieces inserted at intervals in a deluge of memes, photos and video clips, depicting heavily photoshopped images and doctored videos mainly of Scott Morrison. A more modest number of Anthony Albanese. The ensuing comment threads say little about policy but plenty about ... nothing. Except how we long to see the back of the man we least like. It's a two-dimensional version of a public tarring and feathering.

In the hours left to election day, let's scrub off the barnacles of cheap shottery and get back to policy.