After watching Steve Price block Van Badham’s attempts to speak about the cultural problem of disrespect to women, in what could have been a training video to teach people exactly what disrespect to women looks like, I was angry. It wasn’t just that Steve was being rude and aggressive, interrupting Van while it was her turn to speak. It wasn’t just that he used the oh-so-typical-sexist description of Van as ‘hysterical’, attempting to put her back in her place, to tell the silly woman to shut up. I am used to seeing privileged-middle-aged-white-men treating women like this, including me, all the time. No, the thing that made me most angry is that this behaviour is Steve’s bread-and-butter. This is what he gets paid to do. He is a shock jock. The ruder he is, the more controversial, the more unpleasant, belittling and unapologetic he is, the more he succeeds in his career. That made me angry, not just at Steve, but at our whole society, which not only normalises Steve’s behaviour, but incentivises him to keep it up.
If we lived in a fair and respectful society, the Steves of the world wouldn’t be paid to be nasty and rude. When we bring up our children to have good manners, to treat girls and boys as equals, to show other people, even those we disagree with, respect, and then they grow up to see the Steves of the world being paid huge sums of money to be the opposite of all these things, what standards are we setting as acceptable in our society? What behaviour are we ‘normalising’ for the media audience? What are we telling everyone watching that it’s ok to do to others?
The more shocking Steve is, the more likely he is to move up the shock-jock career ladder. The more controversial, the more likely he is to get a regular seat on TV shows like The Project and ABC’s Q and A. These shows, and other similar programs, such as ABC’s The Drum and Insiders, justify having Steves on their shows in the pursuit of balance. Steve represents the ‘right wing’ perspective. It’s not clear who is balancing out the ‘left wing’ perspective; is anyone who doesn’t yell at others and generally be insolent, grumpy and disparaging about everyone else automatically count as left wing? As I saw pointed out on Twitter recently, to really balance out the Steves, or the right-wing representatives from shady-paid-to-think-tank-organisations such as the IPA, you would need a representative from the Socialist Alliance or even the Communist Party to balance out the extreme views espoused by these so-called commentators. How often do the media have a communist on a panel, or even a self-proclaimed socialist? Very rarely as far as I can tell, and when they do have one (Van identifies as a socialist), they get hectored to the point of silence by the Steves of the world and the producers think this is fantastic entertainment. Is this balance? Is this fair?
Even if you accept this shallow procedural formulaic tick-the-box token-rude-right-winger on every panel, what do the Steves of the world show us about the way ‘right wing’ representatives are allowed to behave? I often hear the argument that the Pauline Hansons, Steve Prices, Andrew Bolts, Alan Jones, Tim Wilsons, Piers Akermans, Cory Bernardis, Miranda Devines, Paul Murrays, Gerard Hendersons and all the other myriad representatives of ‘the right’ should be given a platform to share their nasty perspectives of the world so that more reasonable people can pull them up on their views, and we can have mature conversations about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in our society. But Steve Price’s attack on Van Badham, which shut down her ability to express her very valid argument, is a perfect example of why, in practice, these right wingers always get away with doing nothing other than offending people, denigrating, refusing to be polite, refusing to back down when they’re quite obviously wrong, interrupting, never listening and generally personifying troll-like behaviour at every opportunity. And what do they get for this behaviour? Another seat on another television show or another column in a newspaper, or a highly lucrative job on a television or talk-back radio show. And what does society learn? That this behaviour is acceptable and the representatives of the ‘right’ can behave however they want because, you know, that’s just how they are. Really?
I’m personally sick of it. I’m sick of media organisations favouring this rudeness over rational, the bullying over fair, the shouting and nastiness over considered and eloquent. The media have fed the normalisation of behaviour which has led our society to assume that to be ‘right wing’ means you automatically get away with being a horrible person, but to be ‘left wing’ means you automatically have to put up with people being horrible to you, and this is just the way the world works. The more horrible you are as a right-winger, the more valued you are in the media. The more colourful, the more lucrative. It’s blatantly ridiculous.
This situation is never going to change until we have some standard of what is considered acceptable behaviour and there are negative consequences, rather than incentives, for behaving this way. I enjoyed watching The Project hosts Carrie Bickmore and Waleed Aly criticising Steve Price’s attack on Van Badham. In this interview, Steve admitted he didn’t care if the word ‘hysterical’ is deeply-sexist; he is going to keep using it anyway because, like a four year old, or Donald Trump, ‘he tells it like it is’. But the result of this interview is nothing unless it finished with one of the hosts saying ‘do you know what Steve? We’re not going to give you a platform to be rude to people anymore. We’re better than this and we don’t think it is good television to let you offend people from a privileged position on a national prime-time television show. We won’t have you on our panel anymore’. Only when this starts happening will the Steves get the message about the standards of acceptable behaviour in our society. It’s all very well for there to be public backlash, and for advertisers to withdraw sponsorship due to controversy, which I applaud. But Alan Jones still has his job. Sam Newman still has his job. Cory Bernardi still gets a spot on the Liberal senate ticket. What on earth will it take for these people to be told enough is enough? You can have a debate, sure. But there is absolutely no excuse for rudeness, put-downs, discrimination, sexism, personal-mockery and bullying. We don’t want our children behaving like this; it’s time we stopped accepting and promoting public figures who won’t live up to this standard