Culture

On Mark Latham And Australia’s Waning Patience With Angry Old Farts Everywhere

For an Old Fart, psychological security depends on a set of reliable constants: sun rises, sun sets, girls play with Barbies, babies are swaddled neck-to-toe at all times, forever.

UPDATE 17/8/2015: Today Mark Latham resigned as a columnist for the Australian Financial Review after Buzzfeed reported that @RealMarkLatham, an ostensibly anonymous Twitter account that frequently abuses prominent women, is run by Latham himself.

Latham’s AFR columns frequently caused controversy for his opinions on women, feminism and post-natal depression, but Latham has expressed himself more forthrightly on @RealMarkLatham, publicly abusing figures like transgender Army speechwriter Cate McGregor.

Given Latham’s fall from grace, here’s a look back to an earlier piece wondering why people ever thought it was a good idea to give him a platform in the first place.

When I was a kid I was mildly obsessed with gag Hallmark birthday cards for men of a certain age. Done exclusively in a garish cartoon style, featuring caricatures of grey blokes with hairy shoulders and scowls, these cards were my introduction to the world of Old Fart Jokes. Old Fart Parking Only! Old Fart: Seen It, Heard It, Can’t Remember Any Of It! Better an Old Fart than a Young Shithead!

Not having had an Old Fart for either a father or grandfather, I couldn’t quite imagine the kind of person these cards were talking about. They seemed to convey a defensive identity based on purposely refusing to engage with the world. As I learned more about Old Fart lore, it became clear that the Old Fart is a position of social insecurity: Old Fartism can be found in people of any age or gender, but it is most prevalent among those who have lived in a world where their viewpoint and interests were reflected by default, to the exclusion of other subject categories. The winds of egalitarianism destabilise the topsoil of their privilege, exposing the bedrock of unthinking arrogance on which their experiences are based.

Which brings me to Mark Latham. Writing this week in the Australian Financial Review, Latham gets stuck into the greatest threat to society at large: Inner City Lefty Feminist Mums, who are on a dastardly mission to raise obese, disobedient children and politicise ancient traditions like Barbie. I suspect he’s trying to have himself nominated for next year’s Ernie Awards.

“You get up in the morning and go to the toilet: for the Greens, that’s an act of politics,” he writes. “By standing at the urinal, men exercise the power of patriarchy, while women are forced to sit – a vulnerable and submissive position.” This is such a classic display of Old Fartism that I’d like everyone reading to jot it down, take it with them to Christmas lunch and see whose weird uncle says the same thing first. Winner gets a biff round the ear and that pair of dodgy toenail clippers out of the cracker that grandma didn’t want.

Later on in Latham’s piece he refers to No Gender December, a campaign against rigid gender stereotypes in toy marketing, as “a political sect that extrapolates the simple, everyday parts of life into wacky sociological conspiracies.”

Derryn Hinch, who has been an Old Fart since the time of his birth at age 57, also put in a good showing over the weekend, when he bullied television personality Yumi Stynes’ six month old baby for disrespecting the dresscode of the Paddington Bear movie premiere: “She was wearing only a nappy,” he wrote, outraged. “The daughter – not Stynes. Although nothing would surprise me.”

Back in his day people held children’s film premieres in the high esteem they deserve, and mothers with young children were kept mummified in lace in an airing cupboard until the child was of age. (“I’m not in possession of the required shits to give to defend my decision to dress my daughter in nothing but a nappy,” writes Stynes in Daily Life today. “She’s a BABY.”)

These views illustrate a key marker of Old Fartism: accusing others of reading too much into things, of over-complicating the simple facts of the world. For an Old Fart, psychological security depends, in part, on a set of reliable constants: sun rises, sun sets, girls play with Barbies, babies are swaddled neck-to-toe and pushed around in Victorian perambulators until age 7, etc. Any attempt to question why these things are so is met with hostility, and accusations that the questioner is a conspiracy theorist or cultural terrorist, out to destroy the valuable traditions our forefathers won in backroom poker during the war. The idea that daily practices and behaviours might be the result of material or historical conditions is laughed off as an obvious result of communism, feminazism or eco-fascism.

This is, as I mentioned last week, a reactionary rhetorical tactic intended to shut down debate. “Heh,” chuckles the Old Fart. “Imagine being the kind of Extreme Lefty who dares to think the state of the world doesn’t arbitrarily and, in my opinion, correctly reflect the naturalness of my superior social position!”

Latham, for instance, sees utterly basic cultural criticism as irrational trash, and this is reflected in his attempts to make fun of it: The Greens believe the toilet is political! Hilarious!

Where does Latham live, tied up in a garbage bag on the moon? Of course the toilet is political. The conditions under which we’re permitted to relieve ourselves are highly culturally variable, subject to innumerable taboos and customs. Hygiene, privacy, sex segregation, grooming: having a wee is deeply political.

It’s political for trans people, in that they are frequently harassed there on account of their gender. It’s political for people with disabilities, whose existences are impacted by the lack of accessible toileting facilities, making it harder for them to live fulfilling and dignified lives. It’s political for people with continence issues, which is why those nightmare lefties down at that hotbed of radicalism, the Department of Social Services, produce a resource called the National Continence Management Strategy. It’s political for parents and children, who must guard against “poo explosions” to Derryn Hinch’s satisfaction, or risk being labelled a threat to public health. (How funny would it be if some patriotic young tyke unleashed a torrent of shit on Derryn Hinch, though.)

And yes, it’s political for women! Ladies’ loos are notorious for being inadequate, which is why the queue snakes out the door as there are multiple stalls free in the gents’.

Why does Latham find this idea so entertaining? Probably because, as an Old Fart, his right to piss in peace has never been systemically impinged upon by Derryn Hinch or anyone else. He literally can’t imagine that toilets might be a site of political struggle. For him it’s been a cruisey 53 years of strolling to the urinal, unzipping his daks, shaking twice for Texas and getting back to the tough work of losing winnable elections. Good for you, mate, but it’s not that easy for everyone.

Upon this basis he dismisses all kinds of social reflection and agitation for change as nonsense. Sarah Macdonald, who wrote the piece that set Latham off, suggests that perhaps mums are assigned an unfair share of emotional and organisational labour in the home. Latham finds this, and the idea that mothers might resist unequal demands by changing their parenting practices, ridiculous:

“In trying to avoid the “dad is fun, mum is mean” stereotype, Macdonald admits to having “avoided homework [assistance] for years”, while her “kids have stopped learning their instruments”.”

Making a conscious effort to praise little girls’ positive traits that don’t involve their physical appearance, thereby encouraging them to value themselves for reasons apart from their looks? Raving mad:

“But then they slip back into old habits, such as when “a mother coos ‘you’re so pretty’ to her baby daughter” or “a father comes home and starts ‘fun time’ ”. For any parent inclined to talk about their daughter’s appearance, the answer is clear: call her ugly.” 

Quotidian dismissal of efforts to make the world a slightly nicer place is grating coming from someone who seems to revel in his position as a stay at home father. Latham is ascending to Bob Katter levels of Old Fartism here — and Katter has set a high bar by declaring that this Christmas his younger relatives will be receiving guns if they’re boys, and dollies if they’re girls. Pew Pew!

The only mercy revealed by Latham’s late-life career change to old-school gender reactionary is that he doesn’t have the political power to implement his backwards ideology. He’s now Australia’s official Old Fart in Chief, sitting on the front verandah, yelling at the neighbours’ little shits that they can have their tennis ball back when they apologise for waking him up with their joyous peals of laughter. Okay Mark! Sure thing Derryn! See you down the bowlo after lunch!

Eleanor Robertson is a writer living in Sydney. Her work appears regularly in The Guardian, Daily Life and Frankie Magazine. Follow her at @marrowing for crap jokes and drunk tweets.