Guest Notes

Rhetorical notes

25 November 2017

9:00 AM

25 November 2017

9:00 AM

Some decades ago in Britain a better than average advertising copywriter came up with the following rather clever slogan: ‘Tern: the unstuffed shirt company’. Sales for Tern shirts, which were previously among the more bland and unremarkable in human history immediately took off and the copywriter was rewarded with increased leisure time during which he studied the ‘cello. Apparent success all round.

Similarly in 1973 when the wheels threatened to come off the British economy, a personal friend, advertising executive the late Roger Hargreaves, sold 13 million of his rather simplistic-seeming Mr Men children’s books while simultaneously holding some 150 products on which he enjoyed ‘exploitation’ rights. He wrote the original Mr Men books during a fortnight spent in hospital having his appendix removed. However, in a Labour era in Britain in which a supertax of 97 per cent applied he was shortly obliged to move to a nearby tax haven – Guernsey – which is situated in the nearby Channel Isles.

I begin my comment on the very recent success of the Yes vote regarding SSM in Australia to suggest that the inventor of the term ‘marriage equality’ possibly had as much to do with the final outcome of the plebiscite as anything to do with the actual rights or wrongs of the whole contentious matter. After all, we also choose deodorants and cars today largely for reasons of personal preference. Advertising top guns earn their considerable rewards largely through positive sales results. Is SSM really any different therefore from other issues at federal, state and local levels which are basically won or lost today at least partly through the power of advertising? In Britain, for example, advertising mogul and art collector Charles Saatchi helped sweep Mrs Thatcher into power via an appropriately illustrated poster proclaiming BRITAIN ISN’T WORKING which referred very clearly to recent mass unemployment under Britain’s Labour party.


In the now distant days when I wrote regularly about the visual arts I very soon learned that rhetoric – which is the hyped-up language generally associated with advertising and politics – had by then also seriously invaded current discussions about art. Simply for upholding serious and generally timeless values on the practice and teaching of art I was naturally soon accused of being against ‘progress’ and of ‘seeking to put the clock back’ by would-be salesmen of seriously deficient art. That seemed to me both then and now to be simply a cheap and odious way of perverting necessary discussion. Did, say, ping pong balls hopping about in a sea of mud really represent ‘inevitable evolution’ from the great days of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Velázquez in the 17th century? I do not think I could have found many sane people anywhere to uphold such a proposition but that did not deter other art world figures in the slightest.

If a prize were now to be given to an almost entirely rhetorical argument in favour of SSM it must surely go to Anthony Albanese (The Australian, November 13). In spite of his evident and perhaps admirable sincerity does he even know what the word rhetorical means? What value may we attach, for example, to his opinion that ‘I respect the views of those who don’t agree with me on marriage equality, particularly where their opposition is based upon sincerely held spiritual views. But marriage equality is a basic human right.’?

Australia is obsessed at present with notions of ‘fairness’ which is another word which lends itself to a whole host of often contradictory interpretations. So how much fairness has last week’s Yes vote really delivered and to whom precisely? Does a favourable opinion expressed by 60 per cent of a generally well-meaning but uninformed public about a complex moral issue truly affect anything whatsoever except the possible self-esteem or otherwise of large numbers of gay couples?

I have pointed out already the significant role played by top advertising guns in framing the discussion by using highly influential expressions such as ‘marriage equality’. At the risk of being provocative what would a 60 per cent vote ‘prove’ on the following proposition: ‘Should Ned Kelly be venerated now as a true Australian hero?’ A tendency to confuse majority opinion automatically with truth never survives much scrutiny. For example what if 90 per cent of the world’s top archaeologists felt sure that a famous site existed at a particular spot but were proved later to be wrong by subsequent excavations?

Thus it is my own view that the campaign for ‘marriage equality’ is simply part of post-modernism’s well known and openly avowed aim to destroy traditional Western civilisation by eroding it from within. As such it has no more or less significance than, say, feminism – for which I feel some sympathy – or multiculturalism for which I feel rather less or so-called political correctness for which I feel none whatsoever. They are all part of what is known as ‘the long march through the institutions’ advocated by major Marxist figures of the past such as Gramsci and other hard-Left figures such as Marcuse who worked out of American universities. Knowing that outright physical revolution would not succeed the aim of such was therefore to destroy Western civilisation through attacking its soft underbelly: education, the law, culture generally, religion and, of course, the arts. So-called ‘gender issues’ are simply another key part of that process. In fact, SSM very closely resembles our recent Safe Schools program which is based similarly on highly contentious neo-Marxist theory.

Have we possibly just taken collective leave of our senses? I fear the answer, as on another recent issue, is rather a resounding YES.

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