“I love acting, it’s so much more real than life”, quipped Oscar Wilde 150 years ago.
“Give a man a mask and he’ll say what he really thinks”.
He could have been talking about trolls. In fact, he was talking about trolls. 150 years on, social media has given the world a mask to say anything. To say what it really thinks.
Has Covid unmasked Australia?
Mateship, egalitarianism, tolerance, toughness, the fair go, down-to-earthness (if that’s even a word) …. for over 100 years Australia has defined itself by these admirable qualities. Crocodile Dundee, The Dish, Muriel’s Wedding and, of course, The Castle.
Are we still Crocodile Dundee? Are we still The Dish? Do we still have ‘the vibe’? Are we Muriel? Or are we more like Muriel’s father Bill?
Let’s be honest with ourselves – what does lie beneath?
There’s an old communist joke, “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything”. In other words, it’s not the rules that matter but the ones who apply the rules. As pointed out before, the very word ‘bureaucracy’ gives the game away. Bureaucracy is derived from two words – ‘bureau’ from the French word for ‘desk’ and ‘kratos’ from the Greek word for power, hence ‘bureau-krat’, ‘desk-power’.
And there’s the problem. Authoritarian governments are very open about this, they don’t try to ‘hide the ball’ as the Americans say, but democracies like ours are a lot more squeamish so they try to sugar-coat their authoritarianism with lines such as ‘we’re all in this together’.
There is no doubt Australia is becoming more divided. Are you vaxxed or vax-free? No-one ‘agrees to disagree’ anymore. Patriotism – the love of one’s country, used to be a no-brainer. Seventeen-year-olds lied about their age in order to enlist so they could fight in World War I.
Everyone was proud to be Australian. Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars. From the time you could talk, dobbing was considered the most un-Australian thing you could do. Police Commissioners now tell people to dob in their neighbours.
Around the time of Oscar Wilde, but across the Channel in France, the cartoon character Monsieur Prudhomme was rapidly becoming a social phenomenon. M Prudhomme carried a large two-edged sword – one edge of the sword to defend his country against its enemies, the other edge of the sword to attack his country if it stepped out of line!
This is needed today as much as it was then.
We are being tested. Will we be found wanting?