The New Festival Of Dangerous Ideas Line-up Looks Pretty Sweet

Tim Flannery and Salman Rushdie in the same building? Bring it.

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The line-up for this year’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney just went up, and boy is it somethin’. Now in its sixth year, FODI’s upcoming two-day thinkfest will inspire plenty of concerned grumbling from audiences, as well as the odd standing ovation, the occasional he-said-something-controversial “oooooh” and the requisite number of respectful silences. It’s a bumper-crop of talks and panels — some thought-provoking, some outrageous and mostly really depressing — that will at least ensure that politicians are bumped off Q&A for a little while in favour of people who actually have things to say.

With Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste sentenced to seven years jail in Cairo overnight for the bogus crime of “defaming Egypt”,  freedom of the press and of political expression is set to be one of this year’s big themes. Headliner Salman Rushdie, himself no stranger to state censorship and oppression, will lead a talk entitled Freedom to Write, while former Pussy Riot band members and activists Nadya Tolonnikova and Masha Alekhina will be shedding light on their time in the Gulag, Russia’s infamous prisons, as well as co-hosting a talk with author Masha Gessen on fighting for what’s right and what a dickhead Vladimir Putin is.


Pictured: one (1) dickhead.

“You shouldn’t lock up people for expressing their opinion” isn’t the most radical idea out there (in this part of the world anyway), but a number of smaller events bring home the fact that we benefit from other people’s imprisonment in more confronting ways than some of the top billings. Investigative journalist and author of Slavery is Big Business Lydia Cacho will lead a talk on how, despite being illegal in every country on earth, slavery is still a vast industry, especially the trafficking of women and children for sex. Swedish journalist Kajsa Ekis Ekman will shine a similar light on the growth of child surrogacy, which she argues is a glorified form of human trafficking.

The juiciest offerings, though, is the stuff that on the surface is the most difficult to morally justify, and this year’s FODI serves it up in spades. Think gay marriage might not be the best idea for kids? Bettina Arndt and Kay Hymowitz have got it covered. Women are sexual predators? Alissa Nutting agrees with you. Feminism is emasculating male culture? Kay Hymowitz again, looking to shoot the shit. Want to hear the moral argument for honour killings? Uthman Badar’s your guy. Reckon we should let Putin do whatever he wants in the Ukraine? Tom Switzer’s right there with you. Reckon one or all of these arguments is inherently repugnant? Good, that’s kind of the idea.

If you’re looking for something a bit less heavy and morally fraught, this panel entitled “Cat Videos Will Save Journalism” is probably right up your alley — as well as Dan Ilic and the team from A Rational Fear’s laughing at the impending apocalypse that is soon to swallow us all, and the New Yorker’s television critic Emily Nussbaum arguing with Rushdie about whether TV has replaced books. On the other end of the deep-and-meaningful spectrum, John Pilger is exploring why nothing has changed in Indigenous communities since the ’80s; a panel is asking if being lonely and depressed is just the default-mode of modern life, and Elizabeth Kolbert will carefully explain how we are killing absolutely everything. Should be fun.

Also Mark Latham will be continuing to try and convince the world he’s not just an angry old man. So, hooray for that.

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas will run at the Sydney Opera House over the August 30/31st weekend. Check the website for details and tickets.