These past few weeks, melanoma only the spotless mind could avoid contamination. Grubby news of a grubby man has spread with more force than swine flu. Now, prescription for his sins, pathopsychology and possibly for ours, the 2DayFM broadcaster hitherto known only to appalling people is now known to all.
Insult is Kyle Sandilands’ stock-in-trade. For a decade, he has been paid well to say nasty, ignorant things about anyone within his nasty, ignorant ambit. He has upchucked some of the nation’s worst radio from an expensive pit of folly. If tabloid print and television are to be believed, it seems Sandilands will soon suffer radio silence. And this follows his release from a prominent role on Ten Network’s Australian Idol.
”Enough is enough,” has become a familiar rebuke where Sandilands is concerned. In July, Sandilands participated in a prime-time radio stunt with a 14-year-old-girl. As insidious questioning revealed, she had been the victim of sexual abuse. Sandilands’ producers had selected the wrong subject for a polygraph. Not that there is ever a right 14-year-old candidate for public interrogation.
This week Sandilands made an inane crack about beloved Australian actor Magda Szubanski. In a perfect example of pot calling kettle fat, the ample broadcaster suggested Szubanski attend a ”concentration camp” to bolster her well-publicised weight loss.
When asked for comment, Szubanski handled the moment with her usual poise. Australian tabloid media, however, did not.
”Enough is enough,” they cried, in one form or another. In a moment, they’d produced a perfect storm.
Even the most imprudent public figure knows not to make light of sexual abuse or the Holocaust. Or, for that matter, of Magda Szubanski. What Sandilands said was unforgivable. But the overexposed broadcaster has been offering unforgivable rot for years. Boasts of sexual conquest, cruel listener competitions and habitual taunting of ”fat chicks” were regular features of his program. Sandilands provided sufficient ”enough” to be sacked and shunned years ago.
It is this moment, however, that Australian commentators and consumers have seized on to show their displeasure. It is curious that enough is now, finally, enough.
The censure must have been a shock to Sandilands. He has been getting away with this vile sort of shtick for years. Understandably, he used what was left of his air time to claim he was the target of a ”witch-hunt”.
Refiguring Australia as a sort of electronic Salem armed with ignorance and pitchforks and himself as a helpless naif might be a little purple. But Sandilands is a witch, of sorts. He was certainly the target of a cut-and-paste journalism that knows its audience reasonably well.
Recent years have seen the rise of our appetite for blood. Or, at the very least, for a vulgar blood. And there are few media cadavers as vulgar as Sandilands’.
I have loathed Sandilands fairly studiously for some years and have no wish to elevate his nonsense. Nonetheless, the assault on his slight talent must be read in a context that includes great artist Bill Henson and great satirists The Chaser.
We’ve become more inclined to object to material on the grounds of our imagined good taste. We’ve become more united in our idea of that which is crass. Even our Prime Minister is eager to remark on the vulgar misdeeds of the pop culture.
In this latest iteration of the cultural cringe, we recoil from anything tactless. When the work of The Chaser and Henson was imperilled, we risked a real loss. Sandilands’ departure per se is, of course, no loss.
This is not, by any means, to equate Henson’s chiaroscuro nudes or Julian Morrow’s whip-smart satire with cheap jokes about ”fat chicks”. It is, however, to point out an emerging aesthetic conservatism. The progressive view of Sandilands’ dismissal holds that, post-Howard, we’re less reticent to tear conservatives a new one; that we’re entering a golden era of pluralism and we simply will not stand for those who pick on the infirm. But we can’t dodge responsibility for Sandilands’ long, and very painful, success. We made him and we bought him. Asking for a refund is the cheapest sort of conservatism.