Connivin' Miss Jaivin
I wish I hadn't borrowed a copy of The Age from my flatmate. Then, I wouldn't have seen this article by Leunig. The piece ends, "The audience explodes, the directly hurls me through a hole into the blazing light and there is St Peter, played by Andrew Denton, beaming and waiting to unmask me - a record of my life and a large coil of rope in his arms and the two pretty little chairs facing each other one-on-one: a picture of dignity and balance." It is chillingly captioned: "This is the first of an occasional coumn by Michael Leunig that will appear in A2".
I also wouldn't have seen an article by Linda Jaivin, portenously entitled, Inspiration from behind the wire.
"Why did comic writer Linda Jaivin turn her attention to asylum seekers?" asks the introduction. "Because of a simple desire to change the world."
My reaction to this: Linda Jaivin is a comic writer? Previously, I'd only heard of Jaivin as an erotic writer who for years had been doing minor book reviews on the pages of the Fairfax papers, and appearing occasionally on boring ABC Arts shows. Her ridiculous hair-dye and large glasses may have inspired a generation of women in older-middle-age who frequented libraries and bookshops, but that's all.
But, as it turns out, Jaivin not only 'sees' herself as a comic writer, she places herself amongst the best:
There is a long tradition of comic writers making big, important political statements. Remember Aristophanes? ... In Aristophanes hilarious Lysistrata, the woman of Athens go on a sex strike in order to force their men to stop the fighting. The men grow visibly - very visibly - frustrated and the women win.
Aside from the arrogance of this claim, Jaivin's interpretation of the play is stupidly simplistic. In Lysistrata the women become just as sexually frustrated as the men; and nobody desires to end the war because of any high minded Platonic ideals about a perfect society: one of Aristophanes main complaints about war is that it pushes the price of eels up. Jaivin therefore ignores some important context - that context being the rest of the play.
As far as I can see, Jaivin makes this interpretation of Aristophanes either because she is genuinely mistaken, or because she simply wants to align herself with a political ideology. (During the Iraq war, anti-war activists arranged for the play Lysistrata to be acted around the world as a 'protest' against the war; the plot of the play coincided nicely with the anti-war stereotype that 'men' cause war, and 'women' are the peacemakers. Just for once, I'd like to see anti-war activists admit that this stereotype was first popularised by an active member of the patriarchy, at the time when the word 'patriarchy' may have had meaning).
Apparently, Jaivin wants to 'change the world'. What her aims are, it's not certain. Possibly she wants to see an end to detention centres, though I'm not sure whether she wants to replace them with anything.
The same ambiguities emerge in The Age's review of Jaivin's book:
... it is the architects and tradesmen behind a policy that doesn't give a rats about the human beings confined by it - those who callously disregard the human rights of refugees - who appear un-Australian.
It's easy to make sniping judgments like this. But of course, if you favour a system of orderly immigration - and I'm sure most Age readers would - where people's claims to refugree status are assessed, then you will probably have to have some sort of detention system. It's either that, or letting people freely into Australia, and then keeping an eye on them through police/federal surveillance, regular check ups ... neither choice is pretty.
And inevitably, when refugee claims will have to be processed by a bureaucratic system. This always takes time; no government has ever been able to make a bureaucracy work quicker. So either way, 'orderly' immigration will sometimes be a long process.
Both Labor and Liberal support detention camps, which is why the Liberal Government are simply upholding the system of detention camps that Labor put in place. Personally, I couldn't care less if immigration is orderly or unorderley, and would be quite happy for us to be overwhelmed by Asians, overflowing with Arabs, overpopulated by British, or whoever else cares to come over here.
But when I see articles like this published in national newspapers, I have to hold my nose. There's a reason why the paper is pushing this line about Jaivin's book, and that reason is not journalistic integrity: it's simply trying to appeal to the 'Let's talk about how evil detention centres are in order to feel good about ourselves' crowd. Jaivin and her publisher help to set the tone by making the claim that Jaivin is a 'comic' writer and that she 'wants to change the world'. This series of reviews published in The Age are more about Jaivin's reputation than about the claims of asylum seekers and immigrants to Australian citizenship.