Before Rupert

Many public figures are fated to be remembered for a single incident rather than a lifetime’s work (think of Gough Whitlam’s ad-libbing outside Parliament house, or his nemesis’s trousers, forever lost in Memphis). Often, almost perversely, it is one event that stays in the mind. For Keith Murdoch (1885–1952), that phenomenon was the so-called ‘Gallipoli letter’ of 1915. Most Australians know about the young journalist who wrote a letter exposing the Dardanelles campaign as a disaster where soldiers were dying in their thousands due to incompetent British leadership. The allied armies were soon evacuated. The ‘Anzac spirit’ was born.

However, Murdoch’s role was darker, more nuanced, and far more interesting than the legend . . .


See my review of Tom DC Roberts’ Before Rupert in this month’s issue of Australian Book Review.



Svelte Ladies of the Mail


We all have our guilty pleasures, don’t we?

The chocolates in the kitchen drawer? Gorging on a box-set drama? Checking out, or perhaps it’s real estate porn that takes your fancy? My own guilty pleasure is more shameful still. It’s the Daily Mail.

The  Daily Mail is a phenomenon. The most popular news site in the world, with almost 200 million unique visitors a month. A pioneer of the infinite scrolling page; the more you scroll, the more articles are pulled in to keep you engaged (a recent printout of the entire homepage came to 8.6 metres before it expired at last). Content is familiar from the UK print edition: attacks on the European Union (ie, foreigners); exposés of benefit cheats (are there any other kind?); quirky characters (lovable, English tradition), and a vicious personal campaign against the Labour Party leader (see how comical he looks trying to eat a sausage sandwich). It is the newspaper of Little England. This would not explain its global popularity however.

In the online version, a third of the front page is taken up by prominent ‘non-stories’ featuring paparazzi images of (usually female) actors having coffee, taking children to school, shopping, or emerging from a gym. (The last is a favourite; the victim is likely to be without makeup and dishevelled, in contrast to their red carpet versions.) The stories are minutely-focused on the actors’ bodies, and written in a bizarre, faux-admiring tone. Some examples :

  • Alessandra Ambrosio shows off her legs
  • Lindy Klim shows off her super-fit frame
  • Eva Longoria shows off her petite frame
  • Gemma Arterton showcases her slender frame
  • Karlie Kloss shows off her ultra lean physique
  • Bar Refaeli displays taut tum
  • Anna Faris shows off her athletic legs in shorts
  • Lynda Carter, 63, looks youthfully svelte
  • Ms Holmes shows off her svelte frame
  • Amanda Seyfried displays her svelte physique
  •  Kirsten Dunst displays her toned arms
  • Erin Holland shows off her assets

And a special prize to . . .

  • Rene Russo, 60, discusses her bipolar disorder on morning show while looking stunning in white.

You would never guess from these headlines that they mostly describe actors in their everyday clothes, irritated at someone making a few dollars by intruding on their privacy. You would never know that the paparazzi even existed. As a word-cloud analysis shows, simply walking along the street is re-interpreted as ‘shows off . . . showcases . . . displays . . . flashes . . . reveals.’ There is also a bizarre obsession with the word ‘svelte’, as a sort of ‘can’t-think-of-anything-else-to-say’ weasel word to insert. The avid reader can even buy clothes identical those the stars are wearing: each story includes a ‘FeMail’ section where they can click’n’buy online.

In the use of language to grotesquely distort perceptions, the Mail is in a class of its own. Have a look for yourself. You know you want to . . .