7 May 201012 May 2010 Main Posts On Deveny’s dismissal: you’ve tapped into the wrong outrage Jacinda Woodhead Let’s be honest now: is there anyone who truly believes Catherine Deveny was advocating for or supporting paedophilia? The only crimes we can charge her with are bad taste and an inability to judge public reaction, hardly hanging offences. What other commentators have failed to grasp about the whole debacle are the sinister implications of Deveny’s firing, and the problems this poses for the position of ‘the writer’ today. Alongside the increasing commodification of the author is the idea that authors are a brand, and as such, are expected to build their brand name. They’re thrust into the world of social media, websites, endless self-promotion, celebrity and accessibility. They have to be ‘themselves’ (the reason they were hired in the first place) while promoting their talents, idiosyncrasies and opinions, and within reaching distance of their thousands of followers. They are effectively private contractors who no longer have the support of their institutions or the conditions that go with this. The privatisation of corporate responsibility – shifting risk from corporations and government to the individual, in this case, Deveny – is what employment in this neoliberal economy demands. Because what Age columnists say on their own time, according to Age policy, belongs to that paper. So are we to reason that working for a corporation (in Deveny’s case, this involved one column a week) means that corporation owns the writer’s time and what they produce in this time, all 24 hours of every day? So what is it they own? Well, an author’s voice apparently, as well as self-expression, creative control, opinions and attempts at humour. The things about humour is, it occasionally fails. Even when the entire press team of the President of the United States has vetted the joke: These demands on private contractors (aka journalists, commentators, writers) regarding responsibility and production are unreasonable and disproportional to a writer’s salary and their employee accountability. The media is now scrambling to convince everyone that a writer’s Twitter feed, regardless of what it contains or who reads it, belongs to the company they work for for X hours per week. What does this say about any other piece a journalist writes for a publication outside one they are employed by or contracted to? What exactly is the scope of a columnist? Are they also in the Age’s employ when they’re sleeping? Commuting? Drinking? Attending social events? If this is about what the Age identifies as its ‘brand’, how do they explain Miranda Devine, who advocates the lynching – with all its racist implications and agitation for violence – against environmentalists? Can we subsequently assume everything an Age columnist says is Age editorial policy (and Devine a mouthpiece for the Islamaophobia and racism of the paper)? This outrage over comedic paedophilia is a faux response. If people are so genuinely outraged, why aren’t the DHS and their cost cutting front-page news? A 16-year-old girl dies from a drug overdose; a victim of sexual abuse who was in state care for most of her life, yet the heartbreaking story disappears after one day. If this outrage is honestly about protecting the children, it’s time for some more honesty: we mean the good children; the ideal middle-class child; the one uncorrupted, innocent when it come to sex, murder, violence and the cruel realities of the world. What is the line that writers, artists and provocateurs are not allowed to cross? Because it’s not racism, homophobia or other general fear and warmongering. It’s not Devine, with her Muslim fixation: There is a new wave of sophisticated, articulate Islamic fundamentalists trying to spread the word among moderate Muslims in Sydney. Young men, wearing regular clothes, with neatly trimmed beards, broad Australian accents and fluent in Arabic, they appear to be fully assimilated, second-generation Australians. It’s not senior Age writer Julie Szego, and her similar fetishisation: His admirers point to his progressive interpretations of Islam and advocacy for Muslim integration into the West. His critics accuse him of double-speak and trickery. I admit to hearing alarm bells on seeing his name. Ramadan describes the problem in Britain as one of “violence”. Presumably he means the surge in violent attacks against Muslims in recent years. It’s an ugly trend, but surely context — the attacks being partly a response to Islamist terror — is relevant here? The terrorists might be few; but their atrocities, would-be atrocities and apologists are not. Merely stating these facts does not equate to condoning anti-Muslim violence or blaming the victim. It’s not Bolt, with his inherent mistrust of the Sudanese: A state school principal has also told me how very hard she’s found it to integrate the African students in her school, given how few of them have any English or much respect for authority. What makes her challenge worse, she says, is that she has so many of them, leading then naturally to form a “gang” rather than be forced to assimilate. We can ignore all this, as we usually, do and shout “racist” at those who point out that we have a problem. But we need to rethink just how – or even whether – we resettle immigrants whose culture is so very, very different. And it’s not Ackerman, with his take on Australians stranded in Lebanon and his insights on the Middle East: And while the coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald goes out of its way to blame Israel for belligerence, intransigence and even, most laughably, for a lack of “proportionality” in its response to aggression, it must not be forgotten that this current crisis was triggered by a Hezbollah raid into Israel and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. This is not a war of Israel’s making. This is part of the ongoing jihadist war to dominate the world. These are all examples of writings produced during work hours. Doubtless, these writers still have jobs because they were upholding the paper’s brand when they produced this propaganda. So writers beware: upset middle-class moralism and that’s it, your job’s over. In this day and brand and economy, you can be sacked for displaying bad taste on your night off – yet, not for inciting a riot. Or perhaps the line Deveny crossed is the same line Greer crossed: the Irwin family. Maybe Australia is in need of a locally-born royal family. Jacinda Woodhead Jacinda Woodhead is a former editor of Overland and current law student. More by Jacinda Woodhead Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 24 February 202317 March 2023 Main Posts Final Results of the 2022 Judith Wright Poetry Prize Editorial Team Overland, the judges and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation are thrilled to announce the final results of the 2022 Judith Wright Poetry Prize. 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