On the politics of Joker


Over the weekend I saw Joker with a friend. The movie has been controversial to say the least. Despite the connections the commentary has had with my research interests I’ve been hesitant to write anything about it. Now that I’ve seen it for myself, boy do I have some feelings. 

But first off, I feel it is a shame that I and so many others are spending more time engaging with the commentary around this movie instead of engaging with the movie itself. As a piece of art, Joker was incredible. The movie left me feeling shaken and speechless. The cinematography was stunning, Joaquin Phoenix was mesmerising, and the script left me feeling both emotionally wrecked yet driven to discuss it with everyone I know. In short, it is a masterpiece. 

Many critics have written about the artistic merits of the film – I especially recommend Luke Buckmaster’s excellent review. But for me, it is the politics that drive my interest in this movie. 

Much has been written about what Joker is about, and a lot of it has missed the mark. I’m going to start my analysis about what Joker is not. 

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Book Review: See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill

I just finished the excellent book See What You Made Me Do by the journalist Jess Hill. See What You Made Me Do is an in depth investigation into domestic abuse in Australia, written by a journalist who has spent years covering the topic, and who brings a lot of expertise into the field.

The book is comprehensive. There are so many interesting parts, and I found the sections on why women stay in abusive relationships, alongside the section on domestic abuse in indigenous communities (and the failures of the police to deal with this in any way at all) particularly powerful. Today however I want to focus on the three chapters (chapters 3 – 5) which focus on why men commit domestic abuse.

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Gender: its value and its limitations

This is a talk I gave at a high table dinner at the ANU College Bruce Hall on Tuesday the 6th of August (republished with their permission). Thank you for the organisers at Bruce Hall for inviting me to speak. I had a great night!

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On Cloudflare’s decision to knock off 8chan

Some thoughts, somewhat unstructured, about Cloudflare’s decision to remove 8chan from their server.

1.) It seems like the decision will have no real impact, as 8chan is already in the process of working with a new host and seems like it will be back online soon. Cloudflare would have surely known this when they made the decision.

2.) Despite the praise given to Cloudflare I am heavily skeptical of their motives. Companies don’t make these decisions out of the goodness of their own heart, but because of profit motives. This was a decision based on the company’s reputation following real political pressure.

3.) If, and when, 8chan does get back online there is a real risk the space will become more radical. Many within these spaces feel as though they are outsiders who are constantly under attack. This decision will only enhance that feeling (and even bring more into the fold).

4.) While there has been discussion about banning 8chan outright, I think this is likely impossible and certainly not desirable. While I am comfortable with Governments regulating discussions that are about the specific planning of attacks, I am not comfortable with them banning entire platforms.

5.) We have to be careful to not be technologically determistic, entirely focusing on the platform culture of 8chan. Of course it plays a role, but I don’t think 8chan creates mass shooters. There are other social processes at play that a focus on technology can quickly ignore.

6.) This does not mean however we should ignore social media altogether. The evidence does suggest it has an influence in shaping radical ideas. But it does so in conjunction with other social processes. We have to think about them together.

What do networks tell us about white extremist terrorism? 

In analysis published in The New York Times last week they presented evidence of a growing network of white extremist terrorists. The article said: 

In a manifesto posted online before his attack, the gunman who killed 50 last month in a rampage at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, said he drew inspiration from white extremist terrorism attacks in Norway, the United States, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

His references to those attacks placed him in an informal global network of white extremists whose violent attacks are occurring with greater frequency in the West.

An analysis by The New York Times of recent terrorism attacks found that at least a third of white extremist killers since 2011 were inspired by others who perpetrated similar attacks, professed a reverence for them or showed an interest in their tactics.

In a great infographic the New York Times then examined the links between white terrorists, in particular showing who more recent terrorists have stated they were influenced by.

One thing stuck out to me however: these very rarely actually spoke to each other. The Times only presented evidence of two terrorists who actually spoke, where “a school shooter in New Mexico corresponded with a gunman who attacked a mall in Munich.” As the Times notes, together these two shooters killed eleven people. Apart from this however all the links presented are ones of influence. The connections are created based of readings of texts and manifestos, with terrorists citing influence from those who went before them, but not citing actual meetings, discussions or organising (one potential exception not noted in the article is the Christchurch shooter, who says in his manifesto that he got a blessing for his attack from Anders Breivik. However, as far as I’m aware, we still do not have physical evidence this occurred).  

So reading this piece I was left wondering: does this actually represent a network? If it does, what does this network tell us about white terrorist extremism today? 

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On Christchurch, lone wolves, and the threat of fascism

Following the horrendous attack on two mosques in Christchurch two weeks ago, debate has turned toward the nature of the fascist threat in Western countries. Many have argued that we have ignored the threat of a growing fascist movement for too long, and that this attack highlights the consequences of this.

This blog post is designed to provide some thoughts on these issues. Some of these thoughts are more developed than others, while others are still in progress. All are up for discussion and debate and I hope to get feedback on these ideas to further important thinking in this area.

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Be Wary of Blunt Technological Solutions to Extremism

In the wake of the Christchurch attacks, there’s naturally been a focus on the role of social media in spreading extremism.
I think it’s good that we talk directly about the impact that social media has in events such as this. Yet, I am worried about the use of blunt technical solutions — particularly the banning of users/groups — as a way to deal with this issue.

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Notes on Jordan Peterson Live

Last night I travelled to Sydney to see Jordan Peterson live. Peterson spoke in an absolutely packed theatre at the International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour. While the crowd skewed to a younger male demographic, it was quite diverse. It felt like the theatre had met the football.

I took a lot of notes during Peterson’s talk. I’m going to put in a summary of the notes below and put in some of my own reflections. Note that I was typing these notes quickly, and so there are parts of his talk I missed out. I also found it quite difficult to take notes as Peterson is a bit rambly and has a tendency to go off on tangents. I’d be taking a note from his previous sentence and then realise he’d gone off somewhere completely different and I’d lost the thread. This to me makes his appeal even that more fascinating as, in all honesty, while he has moments of hilarity and conciseness, he’s not the most coherent speaker.

Note that nothing here is a direct quote (except for a few I’ve put in inverted commas), just my reading of what he was saying. If anyone was there and thinks he was saying something different please let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

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The ALP and its disdain for the general public

I have been thinking a lot about the behaviour of the ALP in recent weeks.
At a moment when they are dominating the polls and seemingly assured victory at the next election, the ALP have conceded ground on a range of issues. They voted through a bill that will stop migrants getting access to welfare for four years, they capitulated on the data encryption bill (#aabill), the left is now saying it wont force a debate on boat towbacks at the upcoming national conference, and despite increasing pressure they are still on the fence about Adani.
For the left they continue to disappoint, disappoint, and disappoint some more.
Why? Why not take some bold stances at a time when the Government is in disarray and victory looks almost inevitable. There’s two real answers I’ve come to as to why.
First, maybe the ALP actually just believes this stuff, and we should finally, once and for all, abandonen the idea that they are some bastion of social justice who just continually get wedged into positions they hate. If even at this moment the ALP cannot spend any political capital on bold left-wing policies, then maybe we should never expect it of them.
But second, I think it really shows what the ALP think of the voting population. It’s notable that the party continue to cave on issues such as migration and national security. It harks back to the Howard era, who dominated on these issues for many years, creating a narrative of a regressive voting population that turns on parties (primarily the ALP) if they are weak on these issues.  
What recent moves by the ALP show is that they are still stuck in this era, seeing much the population as a group of ‘bigoted masses’ that they must continually appeal to through regressive social policies. They pass these policies out of fear of backlash. They view the population as a group of right-wing reactionaries, forcing them to take positions they just wish they wouldn’t have to do.
This reminds me a lot of the debate around the plebiscite on marriage equality. Again, in this instance, it was determined that the plebiscite must be opposed because the bigoted masses of the population simply should not have been trusted with a vote of this magnitute. There were fears for weeks leading up to the vote that there would be a huge no — that the real, bigoted, sentiment of the population would come out once given an opportunity. Only the elites in Parliament could be trusted with such a thing.
The problem with all of this though is that there is very little evidence that the population actually reacts in this way.
The huge vote in favour of marriage equality should be one indicator of this, but it’s true for other issues as well. While security questions certainly dominated political debate in the post-9/11 era, this is no longer true. It’s hard to remember that in 2007 for example the ALP, under the leadership of Kevin Rudd, took a radically different approach to asylum seekers than seen by the party in recent years. Rudd promised to shut down the Pacific solution and to bring asylum seekers back to Australia. He won easily.
The same can be said about other issues. Polling for example has frequently shown strong opposition to the Adani Coal Mine, alongside a continued desire from the general population for Governments to take action on climate change. Concern about the encryption bill was extremely strong during its passage — with big business, data experts and tech companies alike arguing against the bill. This would have easily been enough to back up the ALP in blocking the legislation.
In fact in each of these areas the ALP has the potential to wedge the Liberal Party quite strongly. The health and well being of asylum seekers, alongside climate change, has clearly become a concern for Liberals in more socially conscious and wealthy seats, highlighted both by the results in Wentworth the Victorian state election. Both events resulted in the loss of blue ribbon seats, with incumbent Liberals blaming the federal party’s positions on these issues, at least in part, for the results. On the #aabill, the Labor Party could have easily used the legislation to talk about civil liberties and freedom of speech, something that is notionally of concern for many more libertarian minded Liberals. The ALP could have easily used these issues to further the current splits between moderates and conservatives within the Liberals.
Yet in each case the ALP has wavered. It has done so out of old fears, ones based in an idea of a bigoted mass of the Australian public that could easily turn against them if they take any bold approaches. It has shown how weak the party is, but also how they perceive themselves, and the people who vote for them. Both portend to a worrying approach if and when they enter Government.

Facing attacks, humanties academics should embrace a debate about the value of our work

The humanities in Australia seem to be under attack. Last week it was revealed that the former education Minister Simon Birmingham had blocked approximately $4 million dollars of funding for humanities projects that had been approved by the Australian Research Council (ARC). Defending his position on Twitter, Birmingham said:

“I‘m pretty sure most Australian taxpayers preferred their funding to be used for research other than spending $223,000 on projects like “Post orientalist arts of the Strait of Gibraltar.” Do you disagree, @SenKimCarr? Would Labor simply say yes to anything?”

Continue reading Facing attacks, humanties academics should embrace a debate about the value of our work