Wag The Dog


Last week — the day after he ordered snipers to shoot dead three impoverished, uneducated, armed teenagers — President Obama unveiled his new universally popular policy: owning a dog.

His first name is Bo, his second name is Obama and he’s a six-month-old portuguese water dog.

In dog-owning, as in so many other arenas, Obama has once again upstaged his deputy Joe Biden. Biden’s wife bought him a german shepherd puppy for Christmas and his grandkids named the pup Champ. Although the canine-crazies at Politico clocked the news, even a Christmas Day press release and the revelation that Biden was thinking about saving a golden retriever from the pound didn’t keep Champ and his master in view for long.

Obama, of course, is maintaining a White House tradition of love for dogs whose names begin with the letter B. Bill Clinton squired Buddy, a golden retriever; First Dog under Bush was a Scottish terrier named Barney. There is a dark side however, to this tradition: Buddy died a mysterious death the year after his master left office and Barney was reported to be biting guests to the White House as Dubya was on his way out

Back to the House of Obama. There was only one thing missing from this heart-warming, apple-pie-flavoured, all-American moment: merchandise. So it was that mere days after his unveiling, it was announced that Bo "will soon star in a new children’s book, Bo, America’s Commander in Leash," according to the suitably excited wowowow, which adds that in the story he "puts on high-tops to play basketball with Barack Obama. Man’s best friend, indeed!"

The publisher isn’t in the mood to dilly-dally either: the launch of the book is scheduled for this week. That’s just one week after the dog walked into the White House. Champ Biden, eat your heart out.

And the excitement isn’t just for kids because there’s plenty of rubbish for adults that morons can strap to Bo’s rising star as well. The great thing about a dog celebrity is that he won’t smear your name in the press. Paris Hilton’s chihuahua Tinkerbell hasn’t once barked on record in the many years of their diamante-studded "companionship", not even when it was announced that Hilton was considering playing Tinkerbell in a film — the character from Peter Pan, not the dog. Dogs won’t complain if you make them wear pink fluffy coats, or if you associate them with new age pseudo-religious drivel dressed up as mental health advice.

Here’s a blogger who advises people on weight loss for a living offering her opinions for a happy life, "My friend and colleague, Susan K Perry and I were discussing how Bo Obama, the first puppy, rollicks on the White House lawn in a natural state of joy, exuberance, with complete abandon, essentially in a constant state of Flow!"

Here begins weight loss guru Janice Taylor’s misappropriation and abuse of the word "Flow". Basically "Flow" is a term Janice invented to mean happy. It works because she gets to title her article, "Six Ways to Flow Like Bo". Maybe it’s clever because Obama is black and cool. But we don’t really get it.

"Flow is the mental state in which a person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity; wherein time disappears.

It occurred to us that we stand to learn a lot from Bo, so together, we came up with these 1. Play Like a Puppy. 2. Sniff Out Novelty. 3. Make Mistakes. 4. Don’t Store Energy. 5. Appreciate Those Who Care for You. 6. Learn New Tricks."

Taylor elaborates on each of these gems. We particularly enjoyed the encouragement to "CELEBRATE failure!" — but we figure the life lessons embodied by a six-month-old puppy are more correctly encountered in point form.

The Washington Post has gone so Bo-crazy they’ve assigned a reporter to cover Bo. So knowing everything a six-month-old Portuguese Water Dog does all day, everyday, is now the job description of an adult human being.

That pales in comparison to this surreal comment on Bo from Karen Bates of The Root:

"Before Bo arrived, the President told the press he was going to sit down and explain to his daughters that the fun of living with a dog came with considerable responsibility. Well and fine to caper with him on the leash and get puppy kisses, but they’re also going to have to take care of what he called the "business end" of the dog.

Good for him. Because far too few of us pick up after our canines. And doing that isn’t just a manners thing, it’s a public health thing. Dog faeces is annoying if you step in it, and risky if you slip on it. But it can be downright dangerous to leave it lying around."

Good for him? What the hell is so impressive about Obama’s decision to pick up the s**t from his dog? Is Karen Bates under the impression that prior to Obama’s change tornado the First Dog used its presidential privilege to crap all over the place, leaving little nuggets of freedom in the Lincoln bedroom to remain for posterity?

What’s great about sites like Huffpo is that now that so much money is involved in blogging, it isn’t all insipid political comment and analysis. People get paid to talk about pets now.

Huffpo welcomed the dog with meandering, tepid columns of regurgitated nothingness last week: Dr Patricia Fitzgerald wrote 1000 words on how cool the Obamas were for promoting the wellness pets bring their owners; Wendy Diamond is ga-ga over how hip and jazzy the name "Bo" is ("BO!!! As in Bo Diddley, curious — when did Malia and Sasha Obama start listening to Bo Diddley?"); and finally, Huffpo‘s "Living Editor" — that’s presumably as opposed to the now-dead one who authorised the budget for this crap — Verena Von Pfetten contributed this phenomenal sentence to the discourse: "Oh, look! There’s a photo of him running with Obama! Squee!!"

If you’re ho-humming about the ridiculous drivel generated by the US media and the money they seem so happy to waste on poor content over there, rest assured that there’s plenty of it right here in Oz. Crikey.com has employed "one of Australia’s best known journalists," one Michael Gawenda, to compose a set of conversations between him and his dog Rocky. The title of the blog, you ask? Rocky and Gawenda (presumably in order of relevance).

Here’s a sample from the latest entry:

"In public, when I want him to come to me, I always call Rocky by one or other version of his name — for instance, Rock or Rockstar or even Rockette. Rocky is by now well known in our neighborhood … Some call out his name with the sort of warmth that speaks of an easy familiarity. I must admit that I find this thrilling."

Don’t worry Michael, the public is just as thrilled as you.

Now you might say this is fine as a bit of light reading — and like, why not? But it’s not light reading. The post is a veritable essay at 2100 words — lucky no-one’s counting the column inches.

Gawenda continues: "His Yiddish name is Sutzkever and sometimes, when it seems to me that the dimutive (sic) of Sutzkever best expresses how I feel, I call him Sutzie. I am not sure why I gave him this Yiddish name and at first blush, it makes no sense."

We know the feeling, Michael.

Each column makes some point, we’re told, but it’s one filtered "through the prism of the dog-man relationship".

And anyway, dog-human love has surely been adequately addressed in print. If not by the highbrow likes of eminent Antipodeans Raimond Gaita and JM Coetzee, then surely by John O’Hurley, author of It’s Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump: And Other Life Lessons I Learned from Dogs.

Such is the blogosphere, we sigh. That which has already been undertaken to reasonable lengths by philosophers and novelists and self-help pundits must be rehashed by the cavalry on the frontline of the war against information. And if the global obsession with dogs hadn’t been confirmed by the first wave of responses to the frolics of Bo Obama, controversialist and arbiter of public whimsy Miranda Devine added her two tins of Chum to the discussion.

After adopting the unusual line that climate change is exacerbated by dog ownership, after all —

"They eat food whose production is said to be environmentally taxing, are washed and debugged with chemicals, emit methane gas, cost money that could be spent on carbon credits, and they poop all over the place so that even when responsible owners use eco-bad plastic bags to clean up the muck, they leave little schmears behind on blades of grass and footpaths to festoon the feet of unsuspecting passers-by."

— Devine fesses up that she too is considering incinerating her scruples, as well as a wad of cash, and buying a dog for her son.

"So why not spend it on something cute and cuddly that brings you love and happiness? The rational case against dog ownership is watertight, yet the emotional pull is inescapable. That’s human nature."

Everything I Know About Journalism I Learned From A Dog? Wag your tail and finish every story with a nice slobbery lick of sentiment. It’s so chunky, you can carve it.

Perhaps it’s appropriate to end with a word from our very own dog’s best friend, Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull, who also has a dog blog. (Although technically, if you believe Turnbull, it’s his dogs writing the blog, not him, which kind of ups the ante for both dog-loving pollies and dog-owning pollie bloggers all over the world.)

The Turnbull family dogs, who style themselves as "the most entertaining dogs since Lassie", show the electorate the kookier side of life in Potts Point and give dog-lovers some non-party-political advice about parks, pet-care and daylight saving. Here’s a sample:

"To all humans and watch-wearing canines, please remember to turn your clocks back by one hour before bed on Saturday if you want to sleep for an extra hour, or as soon as you wake up if you want to play for an extra hour."

And perhaps here it is, finally, the future of journalism — public service announcements delivered by a pack of talking dogs.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.