The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

Sir Les could teach potty mouths thing or two about cussin’

- DAVID PEN­BERTHY david.pen­berthy@news.com.au

A FEW months ago I had the plea­sure of in­ter­view­ing Barry Humphries in his ca­pac­ity as the cu­ra­tor of the Ade­laide Cabaret Fes­ti­val. Be­fore the in­ter­view the pub­li­cist warned that there were some con­ver­sa­tional terms and forms of ad­dress which Humphries found in­tol­er­a­ble and could see the in­ter­view come to an abrupt fin­ish.

Ad­dress­ing him as “mate” and ask­ing “how are you go­ing?” would risk such an out­come. Also, in his pub­lished state­ments prior to cu­rat­ing the fes­ti­val, Humphries made it clear that he would not be billing acts which used the f-word or the c-word in a lazy at­tempt to shock or en­ter­tain.

It might sound odd that one of Aus­tralia’s most ac­com­plished vul­gar­ists would in­sist on such deco­rum. This from the man who, as Sir Les Pat­ter­son, is fa­mous for os­ten­ta­tiously ad­just­ing his ap­pendage while ap­pear­ing on chat shows, and less well known for such golden record­ings as Give Her One For Christ­mas and 12 Inches of Les.

Humphries’ prob­lem with the mod­ern age lies both with boor­ish fa­mil­iar­ity and the rise of art­less pro­fan­ity, where peo­ple now swear not for added ef­fect or colour or em­pha­sis, but be­cause they ap­pear to be too bloody stupid to find any other words in their lim­ited vo­cab­u­lar­ies.

I am yet to meet a swear word I didn’t like but, for some peo­ple, swear­ing has now be­come an end in it­self. This is a coun­try where one of our for­mer prime min­is­ters, Paul Keat­ing, de­scribed another ex-PM, Mal­colm Fraser, as look­ing like “an Easter Is­land statue with an arse full of ra­zor blades”. As a state­ment it was el­e­gant, evoca­tive and re­ally, re­ally rude yet, in 2015, we would prob­a­bly only get the rude bit.

Mark Latham is, or was, a colum­nist who os­cil­lated be­tween be­ing gen­uinely bril­liant and mind­lessly of­fen­sive. It was worth en­dur­ing the lat­ter to en­joy the for­mer and it’s a pity he’s been si­lenced by peo­ple who make a liv­ing be­ing of­fended by things.

But we saw Latham in mind­lessly of­fen­sive mode last Satur­day when he took to the stage at Mel­bourne to de­clare that the words f--- and c--- (and bum and poo, ap­par­ently) were not only riproar­ing terms but the lin­gua franca of sub­ur­ban Aus­tralia.

I would ad­mit to be­ing qui­etly thrilled at the idea of all those bour­geois Writ­ers Week types with their hes­sian bags from the Read­ings book­store scram­bling for the door in hor­ror as the man who al­most be­came PM blus­tered onto the stage like a Tourette’s suf­ferer and picked a fight with hu­man­ity.

But Latham did him­self no favours with this potty-mouthed schoolyard rub­bish, and he de­famed the peo­ple of subur­bia who are over­whelm­ingly ca­pa­ble of mak­ing their way through a sen­tence with­out call­ing peo­ple c--s and f---wits to make their point.

It’s not the way subur­bia talks, it’s the way Latham talks, and it’s the way so many peo­ple who think they’re at the vanguard of public dis­course now choose to talk.

Colum­nist Cle­men­tine Ford be­came up­set when Sunrise dared to ask whether it was such a crash-hot idea to upload nude pic­tures of her­self to the in­ter­net.

In what was ap­par­ently an em­pow­er­ing dis­play, Ford got her gear off and wrote the words “Hey Sunrise Get F---ed” on her naked chest, be­com­ing the dar­ling of so­cial media for her “edgy” demon­stra­tion against what she called “vic­timsham­ing”.

Ford, like Latham, has plenty of provoca­tive things to say, but these peo­ple do them­selves and ev­ery­one else a dis­ser­vice when pro­fan­ity is their pre­dom­i­nant re­course.

Some­one who dis­likes the PM fires a tweet into Q&A un­der the han­dle @Ab­bot­tlovesa­nal and not one of the ge­niuses em­ployed at this lav­ishly-funded ABC flag­ship pro­gram thought twice about putting it to air. This from the same pro­gram which de­cided to give a plat­form to the trou­bled Zaky Mal­lah, who had spent much of the pre­vi­ous week nam­ing the con­ser­va­tive fe­male colum­nists who, in his view, de­served to be “gang­banged”, and still stands proudly by that con­vic­tion.

In un­char­ac­ter­is­tic fair­ness to the ABC, maybe they are sim­ply re­flect­ing the times, where gripes with the demo­crat­i­cally elected Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment are best ex­pressed with a “F--- Ab­bott” Tshirt, where Tony Ab­bott him­self will hap­pily stand at a rally filled with plac­ards say­ing “Ditch the Witch” and “Ditch the Bitch”, where so much of what passes for dis­cus­sion on so­cial media is de­voted to the bad­ger­ing of peo­ple you dis­agree with as leftards and rightards, fright bats and f---tards.

Blog­ger and ma­mamia.com founder Mia Freedman was right this week when she said that Twit­ter had be­come “a bar room brawl in 140 char­ac­ters”. She could have gone fur­ther as the squalid dis­course of so­cial media seems to be in­fect­ing other forms of mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tion, with the peo­ple who fancy them­selves as the thinkers of­ten be­ing guilty of the most un­think­ing con­duct.

It is a pity the bril­liant Barry Humphries can­not find the time to run swear­ing classes, as the art of proper pro­fan­ity is be­ing drowned in a sea of cuss-words and art­less abuse by peo­ple with no in­ter­est in ex­chang­ing ideas, only in­sults.

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