Flat White

Why it’s fine to laugh at Greta Thunberg

12 January 2020

5:00 AM

12 January 2020

5:00 AM

During an end-of-year review on the ABC’s serious definitely not tabloid 7.30, Australian celebrity and journalistic vox pops spoke glowingly about the importance of Greta Thunberg in mobilising the climate change debate while attacking the criticism of her by those evil Sky After Dark types. 

‘I wouldn’t talk about a child like that,’ they chorused following selective footage of Greta critics either expressing concern for her personal wellbeing or mocking those who are seemingly manipulating a child for the cause 

In case any viewers missed the point this was shown as a counterpoint to a grab of Greta’s ‘How Dare You!’ UN remarks with Fat Boy Slim’s motivational song Right Here, Right Now being added as heroic background jazzercise music (way to skew the story, ABC producers). 

Here’s the counterintuitive Greta marketing logic you are expected to listen to Greta and take action like she’s an adult but if you then want to criticize her as an adult remember she is only a child and should therefore not be criticized at all.  

This is not very logical but what marketing tactic ever is and in marketing terms is the checkmate moment or to use the technical professional jargon, the money shot. 

Putting aside her largely rote if important views on climate change what would the marketing campaigners have us see: here is Greta on a million-dollar yacht reducing her carbon footprint by not boarding a passenger jet There she is photographed sitting on the floor of a train like any other activist backpacker on the way to Sweden. 

These are activist Kodak Moments (which sometimes turn out not to be really what they seem – all politics and marketing disappoints in the end) with marketing and brand creation written all over them.  

With their mix of serious political issues, clever marketing and seemingly exploitable photogenic child these PR ops are uncomfortably reminiscent of those 1980s Benetton ads that used child poverty and AIDS to sell oversized sweaters that went out of fashion years ago. 

Can we look beyond the marketing, the she’s only a child tactical angst and briefly consider the Greta phenomena – as opposed to the child Greta herself? And if it is all about the cool marketing then why shouldn’t it be critiqued like any other of the seemingly endless mass marketing ploys of the 2000s like the Kardishians, planking or being selfied with untalented rich people? 

Being able to criticize or even laugh at public figures and the political machinations (from altruism to cynical self-interest) behind them used to be considered healthy for any functioning democracy but now apparently some topics or individuals are ‘too important’ for critiquing.  

Ironically in Australia, this newly invented nocriticism rule seems almost religious and at odds with some progressive commentators – often Greta advocates who regularly highlight their secular principles and scepticism when attacking ScoMo’s Christianity yet are completely unquestioning evangelized believers about the marketing of Saint Greta of the Yacht. 

Built-in Bullshit Detectors were once considered very Australian and recently deceased former prime minister Bob Hawke showed how it should work 

While many like me supported his transformative 1980s Labor-left policies, we were still able to laugh at his rhetorical flourishes and unreconstructed Aussie bloke persona. Comic great and welded-on Labor supporter Max Gillies even built a career around his pitch-perfect imitation of Hawke, and Hawke himself appeared on television talk shows alongside an in-character Gillies and laughed along with the audience 

But this nuanced ability to take your beliefs seriously while not taking yourself too seriously seems strangely lacking in the often-mirthless world of Greta acolytes that seem unable to separate personality, marketing and the political from the important issue of climate change itself.  

Like the early monks they just want to proselytise, get into their expensive Teslas and drive to somewhere in Northern Italy – probably Tuscany to self-flagellate. 

Michael Scammell’s commentary can be followed on his blog.

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