Reactionary Nationlism: Cronulla Riots

“It began as a street party, as if Australia Day had arrived early.”

‘Cronulla’ is now a name forever associated with popularist racial violence. See graphic video here (where the above quote comes from). Warning: that video is not for the easily shaken. Hmm, the big political blogs in Australian are surprisingly quiet on this, although Mark has put on some links on Larvatus Prodeo. Gary Sauer-Thompson draws similar connections to the reactionary nationalism of Hanson and Howard. This may be obvious to some readers and not so obvious to others.

Firstly, on the emergence of the event. From my comments over at antipopper. Beyond the racist/alterity/po-co angle, which I don’t feel like I can say much about, the media must pay the price for the unethical part they played. This occured on two levels.

On the level of the street/beach/body, right there, on the day. How many audio mikes or tv cameras do you need in someone’s face for them to really scream that they hate wogs/lebs/whatever?

Secondly, it is a classic case of what the old moral panic theory concept of ‘deviancy amplification’. Here it is still ‘of the body’ but the affects of racist hatred (or ‘nationalism’) are distributed through ‘social body’ by the media transmission of various other (non)events. I have discussed this here with regards to sporting contexts (the recent Socceroos game) and Massumi discusses the “media’s serial transmission of fear” here.

A short section on the post-9/11 media efficacy from the “Unlawful Combatant” paper co-written with Mel Gregg (online, subscription needed):

As Paul Virilio notes, while the Clinton administration downplayed its reaction to the Oklahoma bombing and depotentialised the social efficacy of the terrorist threat, the Bush administration instead chose to promote the event, to tend a paranoid desire:

Hence the tragedy is not over, […] hence the war on terror must continue, hence the need to gloss over everything that relates to internal politics, including the prodigious scandals that are part and parcel of the miasma, and that are part of all the hocus-pocus we have to put up with in the media. All this, instead of taking a lesson from Clinton. Instead of jumping on his plane after the first attack in 1993 on one of the towers, Clinton let the thing go, he smothered it. In this instance, he followed McLuhan’s advice: if you don’t want a catastrophe, pull the plug. In other words, prevent the media from dwelling on the event too much.

Virilio argues that the Bush administration always had a choice in its response to 9/11. The event offered a chance ‘to care about the world the way it needs to be cared for’. Instead, in a simplistic and brutal reaction, war was waged: ‘the most out-dated way to handle an event of this magnitude’.

There is no difference on an abstract, but realist perspective between the media’s distribution of sporting interest-excitement affect that effects a ‘becoming-together’ on a networked local scale between various spectator and fan bodies (think about punters watching a game in a pub, if you never actually watch sport;) and the racist/nationalist interest-excitement affect distributed by the media leading up to Sunday’s riots. Anna Gibb’s has discussed part of this in terms of being an affective contagion in a discussion of the ‘affects’ of a ‘mediated’ Pauline Hanson. However, the concept of affective contagion does not capture the consistency of affective transmission. Part of this is what Massumi recently called ‘affective attunement’ (here, subscription needed). Although, also see Jon’s post on Massumi’s paper. I think Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the refrain is very useful in thinking about the territorializing effect of an affective contagion after it has ‘attuned’ affected bodies.

The refrain being captured by the media, and which organises the territory of the ‘attuned’ bodies, is exactly the same in the case of Australian sporting fans at the Socceroos game and the nationalist chants at Cronulla. Buchanan gives the simplest and most straightforward definition of a refrain I have come across:

The refrain by contrast is essentially territorial, territorializing, or reterritorializing, and it quickly reclaims music for itself should it ever become self-indulgent, which is to say repetitive merely for the sake of hearing an enchanting little phrase over again. To the ear, this distinction is actually quite sharp: music decodes, which means it tends toward the eradication of all codes, and the refrain recodes, or overcodes, which does not mean it restores order, as though music were chaos, but rather means it attempts to constrain variation by regulating it. A tune that sticks in your head and can be easily whistled or hummed is a refrain; a tune that requires more than one set of lips to whistle or hum is, by virtue of this inherent polyvocality, becoming-musical. 

For example, sporting chants such as “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” become the territorializing refrain of reactionary nationalism. In our Unlawful Combatant paper, in the context of US post-9/11 ‘patriotism’ in the War on Terror, Mel Gregg and I called this the Refrain of the Right-eous.

The concept of the refrain pertains to a sonorous territorialization, yet the effects of the media also include images. The catalyzing effect of certain icons, symbolically emblematic of nationhood, but on an affective register as effectively territorializing as any chant, is obvious. Think of any national flag or in the case of Australia, the refrain of the iconic ‘boxing kangaroo’. Others include the Southern Cross, which used by unions as much as it is used by right-wing nationalist groups and so on…

In Meaghan Morris’s “On the Beach” essay, she argues the beach is not a useful site for discussing Australian national identity because it is relatively ethnically exclusive, however it is useful for discussing Australian nationalism. Commentators often confuse Australian national identity with Australian nationalism. They are not the same thing.

The refrain of the reactionary nationalism that originally catalysed around Pauline Hanson and One Nation, was then captured and cultivated by Howard over the last decade. Everytime Howard used the refrain of nationalism in the gestural politics of migrants and refugees he consolidated his sovereign position as the populist Pied Piper playing a simple tune that can be hummed by anyone. For someone like me, who grew up as the ‘mad skip’ in a ‘mad wog’ suburb, this sort of reactionary nationalism is sickening. I hope that this decade of popularist inflamation is recognised as his political legacy and nothing else.

EDIT: This cannot become a witch hunt for a few ‘bad apples’. The reactionary nationalism that produced this violence is not confined to a few ‘neo-nazis’ or what right-wing blogger Tim Blair has called the ‘beach trash’, but circulates within popular political culture. They may not have the capacity to repress their reactionary desires, but the masses are the ones all humming Howard’s tune.

It is telling that the role of the media is absent from the timeline that Blair has cut ‘n’ pasted in his post with the focus on the txting that circulated. More important are the media reports of the txting that circulated. Are the newspaper editors and media personalities who circulate these stories that stupid they don’t realise that publishing txt messages calling for racial violence is going to have the exact same effect as receiving them on your phone?!?!?


EDIT: Just realised there is a spelling error in the title. lol… me write good…

EDIT: So I am getting some traffic from various places that have linked to me. What is interesting is the way my argument has been interpreted!

At Pajamas Media apparently I am arguing that “the riots are ultimately rooted in the failure of the Bush administration to ‘depotentialise’ the terrorist threat the way the Clinton administration did.” I can see how what I wrote may be understood as arguing that, but this is wrong.

At RWDB — J.F. Beck I am “Lefty Glen Fuller” who “blames Howard’s ‘reactionary nationalism.'” This one is a bit better, but the title of the post is still ‘root causes’.

At Tim Blair doesn’t really engage with what I am saying, which is fair enough, but he locates me in the “It’s Howard’s Fault” pile.

All of the above three links think that I am arguing like a right winger would argue. Let’s get one thing straight: I will never argue that anything is the ‘root cause’ of anything else because I realise life is far too complex to ethically argue such reductions that seek out direct linear causalities. Ok? I simply do not make such arguments.

Let me put it this way: If a band is playing, then that doesn’t mean you need to go dance; clearly most left wingers do not dance to Howard’s tune. However, just because the band has stopped playing doesn’t mean you can’t go dance on your own… or with 5,000 others all humming the same tune. Why all these people want to go dancing is far too complex a question to be reduced to “oh, it is so-and-so’s fault.” What I have argued is that the tune they were humming is very easy to deduce.



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