Why we can all learn from the Sydney protest
Australia is the gambling capital of the developed world: its citizens lose far more per capita on this addictive habit than those of any other industrialised nation; a fifth of the world’s poker machines are based there. The consequences can be liferuining. Almost 200,000 Australians are afflicted by problem gambling: from placing unbearable stress on relationships to financial hardship to mental distress. Indeed, it is estimated that there are more than 400 suicides linked to gambling a year.
Little wonder, then, that the decision to project the barrier draw for the Everest horse race on to the Sydney Opera House has provoked such backlash, with protesters using torches to interfere with the projection, yelling: “Not for sale.” This is a public building being used to advertise an industry that already has an excessive hold over Australia.
Here is a fightback against the pernicious consequences of advertising that we can all learn from. The libertarian right complain about the interfering nanny state, infantilising a public who can make their own decisions. The problem is that more than £21bn would not have been spent on advertising in 2016 if it didn’t work, and those targeted include infants. Its emphasis on perfect-looking men and women has a damaging impact on body image; it transforms public space, such as the Sydney Opera House, into enormous billboards for private profit; and it promotes products that damage the health of the individual and lead to spiralling NHS costs that we all pay for.
It can even lead to press censorship: take the principled journalist Peter Oborne, who resigned from the Daily Telegraph, asserting it failed to properly cover a scandal involving HSBC because of an advertising contract with the bank.
Advertising drives the most aggressive values of late capitalism into every sphere of our existence. That is why the Sydney protesters may have opened another battleground in the struggle against a social order that prioritises profit over humanity. Owen Jones