12 November 2011

Bigger than Mark Textor

Every Saturday, Mark Textor writes a column for The Sydney Morning Herald , and every week it is rubbish. Textor has been all over the world and spoken to interesting people, yet all he can do is offer insights into his own piss-poor self. What is he trying to say in the latest one? That although he fights the conservative corner he has a sneaking affection for the left? That might be what he's trying to say, but what he's really saying is two things: first, he's so awesome that he can't get over himself; and second that his whole modus operandi doesn't bear scrutiny even from himself, and it evaporates as soon as he starts looking at it.

The idea that ordinary Australians are beset by elites does conservatives no favours. Labor was at its weakest when it raged against "Mr Menzies and his wealthy friends". By playing the politics of envy it forfeited its chance at shaping the postwar future and had no answer to communism. Labor has only become competitive in Australian politics when it sets that rubbish aside.

At least, though, wealth can be defined. I think of the way a dictionary might define 'elite':
a group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group
Then I read Textor's cod definition of 'elite':
We think of the academics, the writers, artists, the Melbourne Club folk, the members of the pulpit politics clergy. Even human rights lawyers.
Speak for yourself: I've rarely seen such a harmless bunch in my life. The Melbourne Club might have been a big deal in 1951 or 1881 but it has little impact on Australian life in 2011. Academics have awesome power in an uneducated society, less so now. Do people selling jewellery or watercolours at Mindil Beach Markets really exude serious clout? As for "the pulpit politics clergy", I don't know what Textor means and neither, it appears, does he.
For a bloke like me, from the suburbs of Darwin, they sound like an awful little group. Their type would be decked within five minutes in one of my favourite Darwin pubs. Two minutes in the old Dolphin Pub.
Apparently Textor wants you to take him at face value. He's the son of an NT policeman; I doubt he spent much time at the Dolphin or any other pub, or even glides by them in his stretch limo on rare visits. If this piece were published in the NT News he'd be called on it. For the effete readers of the SMH, a line like that adds swagger and colour to a life dedicated to turning powerless fear into powerful rage and avoiding the consequences of doing so.

The rest of the article describes how Textor had to go to Eastern Europe to find decent and good people working away at jobs that weren't lucrative, but about which they cared deeply. For a bloke like him from Darwin, it is unclear why he didn't slide on down to the Royal Darwin Hospital and watch the nurses stitch back together people who'd been decked at Darwin's pubs. For a bloke like him from Darwin, it remains unclear to him why people do any job that pays so little and from which you can only draw non-material satisfaction.

People in the caring professions can draw heavily upon non-material issues such as community benefit and care for others, assuming that it counts for more than it does for blokes like Mark Textor. What is unclear is why it grates on blokes like Mark Textor as much as it does.
In fact, I'm an atheist
There are many solid intellectual cases to be made for atheism, but blokes like Mark Textor don't make them. This leaves blokes like Mark Textor vulnerable to the two main arguments that religious people make about atheists:
  • they can't imagine anything bigger than themselves; and
  • when you don't believe in something, you'll believe anything.
Guilty on both counts. When Textor runs a focus group he believes he has aggregated the collective wisdom of that group, which enables him to screech at elected officials that he knows more about their electorates than they do. Textor's belief that artists and human rights lawyers run our country is every bit as well-founded as other people's belief in Cthulhu or Yahweh. By failing to acknowledge anything more awesome than himself (whether notions of community and humanity, or a divine presence above and beyond), this bloke from Darwin is a sadly diminished little man.
The thing that struck me about [Jan Carnogursky] this former associate of the "elite" was that he had fought for true democracy, he had earned his stripes. He had done what he'd done for the right reasons.
What a sucker, eh? Carnogursky's opponent Vladimir Meciar presided over the asset-stripping of Slovakia's few assets. People who do that sort of thing truly deserve to be considered elite, marrying political power to economic power. To do that sort of thing in a society like Australia, it is necessary to engage someone like Mark Textor to pump out the FUD and skew the debate. The idea that people might presume to engage in politics without paying him or his brother-from-another-mother Bruce Hawker for the privilege is what it means to be "fiscally clueless". It is necessary to get people to regard public debates with the sort of incredulity Mark Textor applies to people who actually participate in them for no direct personal benefit:
And what is an actor "risking" apart from a fragile ego in criticising a political position on immigration, or a chief executive doing the same who doesn't live in a suburb affected by social change?
Why would an actor, or anyone else, care about the sort of society they lived in? You can't get it through to Textor so don't even try (this lack of ability to understand others and their motivations counts against Textor's perceived reputation as a political strategist).

Where is "the suburb [un]affected by social change"? Seriously, where? Which electorate is it in?

This too does Textor no favours.
But one thing is for sure. Whether they're annoying, patronising, paternalistic or not, I'm glad the elite exist. I don't like them, and I disagree violently with most, but I like that they are there, somewhere.
All the adjectives in the second sentence can apply to, say, Alan Jones. The rest of that final paragraph reads like the work of a man floundering. Textor has set up a straw man and, in knocking it over, it has fallen on him and pinned him down to an unsustainable position. He's too proud to ask for help so he needs to start by saying that the imaginary group against which he and his imaginary friends have been violent mightn't be so bad after all. It's both feeble and funny, this projection of pomposity onto others and a complete misunderstanding as to where power lies in society. All the great comics show their appreciation for that truism - Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Andrew Bolt - and now a private man who wants to exert public power from a weakly defensive mindset has stumbled into their ranks.

Maybe he does have such contempt for SMH readers that he'd write this shite, and you do yourself few favours by reading it - except to understand what sort of mind lies behind the focus groups, policies and communications of the Liberal Party and his other clients. Textor is so caught up in his imaginary constructs that he can't present to his clients an accurate picture of what is going on out there. He's testament to the idea that travel broadens the mind but he still has to work on the idea that other people matter even if they don't give you money.

Update 14 Nov: Another example of Textor's work is here, strangely unacknowledged by Coorey. CrosbyTextor are in charge of Qantas' public and regulatory perceptions. After the debacle of the board trying to sell the airline to private equity companies in 2009, and now this, it must be said that any further triumphs by Textor and his crew could be fatal.


  1. And (as a generalisation) the elites he criticises don't seem to run around telling people how awesome they are. Or feel the need to demonstrate how awesome they are by accumulating lots of stuff.

    Which might suggest that the fulfillment they get from their lives gives them the inner security and self esteem Textor lacks.

    No wonder he doesn't get it. If he did get it, he'd be an even smaller man than he is now.

    (Oh, and I do like the Darwin pub test of worthiness. Would write off most Australians, I would think).

  2. Ignoring your advice I unwisely went and read the article. God it gave me the shits - particularly the archaic Australianisms to prove how un-elite he is... "decked"... Jeez.

    I do get sick of people like Textor - so much power, so much wealth - referring to others as 'elite'. Just who have the power in our society? Just who are the 'elite'? It's certainly not the artists, actors and academics Textor finds so annoying.

    Reading the article was probably not a good way to start a Sunday morning.

  3. Mark Textor at the Dolphin! Now there's a sight I would have loved to have seen. He seems more the sort you'd find drinking at the sailing club on Fannie Bay.

    I grew up in Darwin too and I can just imagine a young Marky push polling the predominately Larrakia clientèle of the Dolphin.

    Gammon is a kriol term you'll still here widely used in the Top End and one that aptly describes young Mark.

  4. You are a joy to read. Thanks

  5. Alphabajangodelta13/11/11 12:47 pm

    That is a wonderful way to test whether one is elite or not - enter the Dolphin.

    Textor offers an anachronistic 'Wake in Fright' vision in which the effete schoolteacher loses their mind in the alternative world of the untamed masses. But 'Wake in Fright' was followed by 'Last of the Knucklemen' in which a quietly crafty city bloke bests the old roustabout bruiser - a metaphorical passing of the 'Wake in Fright' era, if it ever existed.

    A passing that Textor seems to have missed. The so called elites he chides are caricatured relics of the old industrial period, when most worked manually and the clergy, artists, academics and indolent capital were easily ridiculed. Horne's 'second-rate people' sharing the 'luck' of the ordinary bloke.

    That Textor can craft a serious political advisory service on the basis of a caricature that is so dated defies either common sense or logic. So he's more likely pandering/marketing to a particular segment that imagines itself conservative as a point of distinction (though is actually more liberal*) against the social democrats or eco-democrats and mistakes fantasises about the 1960s for an intellectual framework. Either way Fairfax is getting a poor deal. If you had one of the nation's top political advisors in your oped stable you'd expect better insights than those presented here. "Sir, you are no Karl Rove".

    *By the way his last column displayed this confusion - arguing that changing the constitution to recognise Aboriginal Australians (a liberal/progressive move if ever there was one) was actually a conservative stance, thus forgetting the essential conservative suspicion of attempts to deliberately re-craft social arrangements.

  6. mehitabel: the country is held together by a thin tissue of do-gooders, while the people Textor represents are the hangers-on.

    PB: it was a skidmark on my Saturday too, I blog in part to get stuff like this out of my system.

    Anon: I can just imagine!

    Thank you Jan.

    Alpha: I saw Textor at work in the 1999 NSW election. I thought he was a frightened little worm as a person and a strategic non-entity even then. I think they are looking for a counterbalance to Mike Carlton and Textor ain't it. Maybe CT isn't going so well and he needs the pocket money, who knows. I'd hate to shout the bar at a Darwin pub, unless it was a mythical one.

  7. So often these sprays are projection: to get validation from "real" people, he makes up a cast of foes he imagines will get their approval, but the jokes on him.

    They'd call him a bullshit artist in that pub or any other the minute he described his job.

  8. Another interesting piece. I read Textor's article too. A complete load of self serving crap but I don’t think that this diminishes the importance of recognizing the real holders of hidden power on both the left and the right (the real elites) and knowing what they are up to.
    John Quiggin wrote in a short Online Opinion piece nearly a decade ago. "Of course there is an Australian elite. In fact, there is more than one. Business wealth commands one sort of power, central position in political machines commands another, and senior office in the public service yet another." Political parties have always tried to identify their opposition as the people’s enemy. Labelling them (untruthfully or not) as one sort of elite or another is just one way of doing this.

  9. I'm another person who's going to call bullshit on Textor's extravagant claims about Darwin pubs, even though I've never been there as an adult.

    I've spent more time in watering holes up and down Queensland and Northern NSW that is good for me. But in my experience, people go to bars for quiet drinks, not for brawls. Fights are unwanted, and anyone starting one would be told to leave, never to return.

  10. ewe2, Peter: there should be more of it.

    Doug: when I blockquote I link to the original article, do the same please.

  11. Sorry
    It was a fair while ago and the rest of the post didn't seem particularly relevant to this discussion but here it is. http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=1691

  12. Just where DID Textor 'grow up' - if he ever has? He's been seen with pollies from both sides of the political spectrum and - you're spot on - he's one of the most politically and socially-confused people I've ever come across. If Mark ever entered the Dolphin, it was holding onto his father's trouser legs. It closed down well before he turned 18. His 'connection' with it is to show that he's 'mixed' with all kinds of people - Indigenous, working class non-Indigenous and non- Anglo members of business 'elites'. Sorry about the inverted commas but how better can I describe the cliched existence of a Mark Textor. He mixes with families of Turnbulls, Costellos and even Snowdons. He's definitely part of an eclectic elite. Apart from writing hogwash for the SMH, MT as part of the Crosby household mixes with very prominent Jewish businessmen but is not really as moral as they are and so has to constantly reinforce his waning self-image. Thank you Andrew, What a boost to MY self-image your critique has been - even though I remain anonymous!