There seems to be something of a misconception abroad in Australian public life. All the talk is of government advertising — how bad it is, how much we resent our taxes being spent on it, how Kevin Rudd has finally been exposed as Satan’s rentboy, and so on — and some observers have somehow come to the conclusion that the Australian people just don’t like it.
This is by no means true. We love government advertising — in theory. What could be better than a government that was always keeping us informed of its exciting new initiatives and products? A government that was competing hard for our attention and our hard-earned dollars, that was making us laugh and making us think with slick, well-executed propaganda?
But of course, many things are good in theory. Communism, for example, or Julie Bishop. It doesn’t mean they work in practice. And sadly, government advertising has thus far not worked in practice.
We don’t mind paying for the government to spruik itself. Let’s face it, if there’s one thing that defines the average Australian taxpayer, it’s a cheery willingness to pitch in and lend a hand when the government has a project on the boil. But they have to be the right kind of ads — no more of the touchy-feely acoustic sleeping pills.
The problem thus far, really, has been one that plagues creative endeavours of all kinds: the urge to pitch to the lowest common denominator. It is the same problem that saw Neighbours dumbed down from the whip-smart, innovative slice of social realism it once was. The same problem that saw Guy Sebastian give up his experiments with atonal primitivism and harmonic conceptualism. The same problem that saw Wogboy 2: The Kings of Mykonos move away from the original concept of a four-hour epic on the life of Ben Chifley.
In the case of government advertising, of course, the lowest common denominator is the "swinging voter"; possibly the most pathetic and reprehensible species of creature in existence.
These swinging voters scuttle about the place, constantly changing their minds, weighing up competing factors, spraying their feeble-minded vacillation all over the rest of us like the great indecisive human skunks that they are.
"Ooh," says the swinging voter, in his peculiarly nasal whine, "I just don’t know who to vote for. There are such good arguments on both sides, aren’t there? There are so many pros and cons, aren’t there? It’s so hard to decide, isn’t it?"
No, it’s bloody not. It’s easy to decide. The candidates are out there every day, poncing about the place yelling about whatever pops into their heads. If you haven’t made up your mind by now which psychologically maladjusted gang of sexually repressed megalomaniacs you want to see dictating your children’s future, then quite frankly you don’t deserve to have a vote. Every election day, instead of being allowed into polling booths, you should be forced to work at Subway, so you can see for yourself how irritating it is when other people can’t make up their freaking minds.
So you can see that when tailoring advertising — which you may remember is the subject of this article — to these spineless mouth-breathers, the Government is forced to avoid anything too edgy or imaginative or entertaining, for fear of spooking the innately jittery swingers upon whom their electoral fortunes depend.
Which brings us to the upcoming ad campaign to sell the Resource Super Profits Tax. There’s been much debate over this, with the Opposition crowing that Kevin Rudd went back on his statement that government advertising was a cancer on democracy, and the Government pointing out that John Howard spent enough taxpayer money on political advertising to feed Kim Beazley for several months, and the Opposition claiming Rudd was raiding the public purse in his desperation to cling to power, and the Government claiming that the Opposition should shut its ugly face, and the political waltz continuing on and on.
But we don’t care about any of that. Just make sure the campaign is top-notch, and we’ll happily stump up the dosh. And what that means, in particular, is that when it hits our screens we do NOT want to see:
— fly-on-the-wall footage of everyday Australians boosting their superannuation with mining tax receipts;
— emotional piano noodling;
— lists of resource taxation benefits under the heading FACTS, superimposed one by one to loud metallic clangs over a freeze frame of an open-cut coal mine;
— joyful soot-faced miners shaking hands with Martin Ferguson.
And equally, there are a few things we definitely DO want to see, such as:
— Julia Gillard in a catsuit, swinging on a rope into a Minerals Council conference to scoop up everyone’s wallets and toss them into a grateful crowd of working families;
— Kevin Rudd sitting casually on a desk, saying, "As a Prime Minister, and a dad, I know a few things about cancers on democracy. And here’s one of the biggest"; followed by a cartoon interior of a human body where little Tony Abbott-shaped tumours sprout on the lungs and intestines;
— Montages of Labor frontbenchers working out to the Choirboys’ "Run to Paradise";
— Shots of a carpet warehouse with the Prime Minister screaming that he’s gone crazy.
There are other elements that could well be included, of course — long mountainside tracking shots, half-naked women in big sunglasses, Snuggies — but the main requirements are the above.
Right now, when the Government gets up the courage to shamelessly corrupt the ideals which helped it get into office by launching a major advertising offensive, we end up with sappy, vapid swamp-dribble like the current health reforms ads. Which is a damn shame. It’s always the same: pleasant, soothing voiceover; reassuring footage of friendly nurses helping smiling patients; twiddly acoustic guitar. The message, of course, is supposed to be: vote for us, the only party that can guarantee a non-threatening folksy soundtrack to your next hip replacement.
But equally inevitably, the message we actually receive is: vote for us, the only party who will put you to sleep and pour golden syrup over your face while you’re unconscious.
And yet just think of what that ad campaign could have been: a screeching siren, an ambulance rushing through a cold, rainy Canberra night. A scene of carnage and misery, a five-car pile-up. Severed limbs cartwheeling through the air in slow-motion. Screams of the wounded ringing all around. A crash zoom in to the rear doors of the ambulance, which swing open with a crashing chord, and inside, Paramedic Kevin Rudd gazes coolly down the camera, reaches out a firm, caring hand, and drawls, "We need 100cc of restructured health funding … STAT!" Blackout.
How good would that be? How confident would you feel in Rudd’s ability to transform healthcare in this country? How excited would you be about health reform?
And most importantly, how happy would you be that your tax dollars are going towards this kind of brilliantly crafted, Bruckheimer-esque endeavour?
The ball’s in your court, Kevin. You can put out dull, soporific advertising like all the other governments, or you can blow our minds. With a bit of razzle, a smidgen of dazzle, and maybe a quick demonstration by the ShamWow guy of how a super profits tax can soak up ALL our public debt, we can make our publicly funded political advertising a thing of beauty.
We’re ready to buy, Kevin. Come on and sell. After all, your prime ministership is for a limited time only.
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