I cannot claim to be a fan of Catherine Deveny. I cringe whenever she has a tv appearance, performed with all the sophistication of a 14 year old MLC student standing at Glenferrie Station and screaming out “CUUUUUUUUUNT!” just to shake up the suits. I’m not a fan of her writing or humour and find most of her arguments to be simplistic, illogical and badly executed.
But she’s an attention seeking pest that delivers to brief. She is hired for her ability to polarise opinion and, no matter how sloppily it is done, consistently shocks a reactionary audience that begs for indignation, perceiving apoplexy as a cardio workout. She delivers what is asked of her and has spent innumerable time developing herself as personal brand, the celebrity of spite.
One of the areas Deveny hones this is on Twitter. Her bite-sized chunks of bile target everyone and anyone. Over Anzac Day, she stirred controversy with her incendiary attack on what she perceives as a misogynistic, battle-hungry culture of rapebots braying for carnage.
And then she picked on Bindi Irwin and Saint Belinda Emmett at the Logies via Twitter.
Great bastion of intellectual discourse and near-Scandinavian logic, Neil Mitchell savaged her “bitter, pointless humour” on Twitter. Apart from proving he has never read Twitter in any depth, Mitchell may be surprised to learn that “bitter, pointless humour” is responsible for 60% of tweets on Twitter, the remaining 40% spent deconstructing the dreaminess of Justin Beiber’s bangs.
Deveny was not hired by the Age to tweet. She was not using an account registered as representing the Age’s view. The twitter account was for her own use to promote her work as a stand-up comedian and writer, as well as a platform for her particular style of commentary. A style that the Age paid for, a style that the Age often profited from.
As of yesterday, Catherine Deveny was sacked from the Age with Editor-In-Chief, Paul Ramadge, opining that “We are appreciative of the columns Catherine has written for The Age over several years but the views she has expressed recently on Twitter are not in keeping with the standards we set at The Age.”
What is exceptionally curious is that Deveny had not deviated from her usual schtick-rationalised-as-atheist-feminist-discourse. She was sacked for being her consistent self on Twitter, not for work submitted for publication to the Age. She in no way defamed or slandered either the Age, it’s staff or any of the celebrities attending the Logies. She did not attack the race or gender from either group. Even curiouser, Deveny’s tweets didn’t accuse performers of having sexually-transmitted diseases, unlike Wil Anderson’s posts from the same event.
This raises a few interesting “standards”.
Your employer apparently owns your online identity: if you put your voice online under your real name, expect to be monitored and penalised if you transgress any written or unwritten rules. The hark back to pseudonyms for anyone wanting to engage with online opinion is not too far away.
I love the smell of outrage in the morning: From the same Age article, it was claimed 200 responses were received by 6:30pm yesterday. To put this in perspective, measure the 200 responses against the population of Victoria, the ratings from the Logies and then match that against Catherine Deveny’s followers on Twitter. Basically, a lot of people who didn’t watch the Logies and don’t follow Catherine Deveny felt outraged enough to protest a woman’s observations they don’t read on a tv show they don’t watch. Nothing churns the bile in our bellies or fires the blood in our veins like outrage. Ironically for Deveny, her ability to do that well lead to her dismissal. Which leads us to…
Pitchforks will always be wifi: to borrow from Charlie Brooker’s analysis of the Jonathon Ross/Russell Brand/Andrew Sachs affair, the public has been drilled into interactive-response expectation through years of talent shows, online polls and talkback – when something displeases them, they believe they have the power to remove people from their jobs. If we can choose an Idol or potential Supermodel, we can control who else we want in media and entertainment.
The Andrew Bolt paradox: Andrew Bolt’s controversial views on immigrants, academics, politicians, social classes and other individuals who flare his nostrils with indignation are regularly broadcast online, radio, tv and in print. Additionally, he is given the sheen of a hardened journalist which promotes an air of credibility and authority. Going through archives of his work in those formats, Andrew Bolt has published material which, though doesn’t idiotically ponder on the sex life of a ubiquitous 11 year old, does impugn his targets with increasing ferocity and decreasing factual basis. And yet he still has a job.
So what’s Catherine Deveny’s problem? She was a brand formed by the print media’s need to combat online media’s popularity, only to fall to earth singed from using online media to deliver 140-character jokes. I am no fan of Deveny but the problem isn’t with her, it is with the broadcasters and the audience for seeking to control what they should not.