What we can learn about Tony Abbott from Degrassi Junior High

Tony Abbott

This week the Sydney Morning Herald ran a feature on marketing strategies and then two days later there was a story on Tony Abbott’s Ironman endeavours. How are these related and what does it have to do with Degrassi? Read on, intrepid Overlanders.

It’s a widely recognised fact that each generation is more media and marketing savvy than the last. For example: if my great uncle Ernie sees an ad for hair-regrowth treatment, featuring a guy in a lab coat pointing to a graphic showing arrows shooting off a scalp at odd angles, he’s likely to think ‘That chap’s a scientist, he knows his stuff!’

If my Dad sees the same advertisement (unlikely, as he only watches the ABC) he would probably be a little less trusting, but maybe think there is a chance the product could work. (He wouldn’t buy it though, because he knows baldness is more aerodynamic, and that kind of thing is important to a lot of men.) If my brother were to see the ad he would assume the guy in the lab coat is a model-turned-actor who probably has a single out on iTunes and wouldn’t give the product another thought.

The point is: generations X and Y – children of the material, capitalist world of today – know that everyone is out to sell something. They know this from the amount of Happy Meals they’ve eaten and from that song by the Zit Remedy in Degrassi Junior High, Everybody Wants Something. Which brings us, in an odd way, to Tony Abbott and his Ironman preoccupation.

To bring Tony Abbott and Degrassi together, we firstly have to look at the theme of recent media coverage of Mr Abbott. If you were lucky enough to miss the full colour photos, the leader of the opposition competed in an Ironman competition. A lot of opposition ministers have helpfully pointed out that if Mr Abbott spends all his time trying to be a bloke on a Nutri-Grain commercial, he’s not going to have any time left over to run the country. They have been telling anyone with a microphone that he has no policies. This may or may not be true, I have averted my attention from Mr Abbott in the same way my mum told me that if you ignore the kid in class who continually flicks elastic bands at you he might go away. (Tony himself is trying a similar tactic re climate change, coincidently.) But what my generation Y marketing savvy subconscious is telling me is that it isn’t about policy – policy has very little to do with elections – it’s about selling a product.

In his book Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and how to take advantage of it) William Poundstone explains how physiological theory shapes marketing:

Up until the 1970s, economic models typically assumed people were perfectly rational and well informed, it is only with the rise of behavioural economics that we discovered this wasn’t so. Behavioural economics showed that psychology plays a bigger role in decision making than had previously been thought, that consumers are influenced by the unconscious or the irrational, and are very open to suggestion.

I wonder how many generations it is going to take for the whole population to realise that politicians aren’t selling policies. Just like Dolce & Gabbana isn’t selling clothing. What they are selling is an idea, or a dream, to paraphrase Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. In one store we have Kevin in his suit with his boring haircut and his big words, in the other we have an ‘Ironman’ with few words and a smirk. Whichever Liberal strategist it was that envisaged an Ironman Prime Minister, they obviously have a strong grasp of the behavioural economics theory: last season they were selling the cricket-loving Prime Minister, this season it’s the Ironman. Perhaps next season we’ll have the NRL Prime Minister – that will be a fun campaign.

Thankfully we now have a voting generation who grew up with Snake, Joey and Wheels, and they are passing on the wisdom of The Zit Remedy to their children. These thoughtful individuals listened to the lines:

Everybody wants something / they’ll take your money and never give up

They know that the world is one big marketplace, and just like a model in a lab coat can sell a baldness cure, so too a politician in his togs can sell a political brand.

Problem is, my great uncle Ernie still votes. But for how long? (Insert evil cackle in style of Tony Abbott here.)

Claire Zorn

Claire Zorn is a Sydney-based writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been published in various literary journals and she has a particular passion for writing young adult fiction.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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    1. Apologies Gabrielle for any distress caused, just be thankful the pic above is from the shoulders up.

  1. The truly wonderful thing about the nature of human psychology, though, is precisely that whimsical, unpredictable element. For every voter who sees a virile ironman brand they like is another who sees a deeply insecure middle aged man who wouldn’t need to exercise so obsessively if he’d gotten laid more (and without angst) in his youth.

    1. All I see is sleazy old man. I’d be keeping more than an arm’s distance away if I was in the same room with him.

      Of course, my political evaluation of his, er, policies would NEVER be effected by the fact that he makes my skin crawl.

      (On another question of human psychology, is there some hidden meaning in the fact that my captcha for this comment is Mr Dowries?)

  2. There’s a link between the Mad Monk and Degrassi is there? I thought it was just a link between him and The Muppets. The only way for me to think of MM is that he’s a puppet that gets locked in a cupboard each night. The thought that he’s a living, breathing human being is just too much, it really is.

  3. Oh God, Jacinda, you’re right! I won’t be sleeping for weeks now, probably not until the election. Oh God, oh God. 2010 is buggered already. And I was so hopeful.

  4. Good article. It is a worry that the media are so keen on building up Mr A (I’ll call him that because it also stands for arsehole) because with our ‘ageing society’ there are plenty of Uncle Ernie’s out there and crikey – they hardly need to do a thing to pull Mr R (for real-disappointment) from his perch, right-wing knob that he is. Why are these middle-aged men still ruling the world? I watched the news on SBS the other night and that’s all I saw – middle-aged and older men making agreements/disagreements to fuck everything up. Aargh. I do not want to see Mr A in his lycra underpants any more; or his international cronies.

    ha! recaptcha says crooker since

    1. Clare, I too find the fact that the world is run by middle-aged men VERY frustrating. You would think that by now they would have realised that they are not very good at it and decided to let the other half of the population have a turn. Problem is we can’t find affordable/quality childcare. Hmm, I smell a conspiracy, Mr R.

  5. Yes, nice piece.

    Why is it that I find it far easier to visualise having a coffee or sharing the suburban bbq with characters like Putin or Ahmadinejad than these politicians that the ‘public’, the consumers of politicians, are supposed to think are refreshingly normal and perfect to have a beer, or portable snack, with. I’ve tried extensively, but it’s so hard to visualise an Abbott in a living room. Try, and then try Yeltsin.

    I’ll be sure to not allow my spatial-visual limitations bias my voting habits.

    An yet, would a market savvy generation be so weak-kneed at the whim of mac? It may well be such generation, though it’s one that carries on consuming with abandon regardless. I don’t see too many signs of the contrary. It would seem people want to believe they’ll get the deal despite knowing perfectly well it’s improbable (Kevin 07).


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