Thursday, December 8, 2011

Betty For Breakfast

THE SCARY thing is not, as Malcolm Turnbull asserts, that the sales and reach of “quality newspapers” are shrinking, it is that there are still quite a few people about who are prepared to pay for forest products imprinted with the thoughts of people like Elizabeth Farrelly. Sydney is home to some 4 million souls, of which roughly 200,000 buy the Silly every day. It is not all that many when seen as a fraction of the whole but it is enough to wonder, and to worry, about who might be sitting next to you on the train. If someone were to demand $2 a day to visit your home, blather inanities, demand that you pay higher taxes, insist that we can trust climate scientists always and then, just for good measure, leap onto the table and crap all over your brekkie, well that person would be sent packing by any sane household. But shockingly, to roughly 5% of Sydney’s population, that behaviour is rather appealing. The rest of us might regard Farrelly as one of the undigested corn kernels deposited on the bacon and eggs, but to the Silly’s five-percenters her thoughts and urgings are golden nuggets.

The next Silly columnist?

“Call me simple,” she urges readers at the start of her latest movement, which goes on to establish quite definitely that she is nothing of the kind, just quite, quite mad. It seems Government is our friend, although it is sometimes hard to make out that message for all the grunting and straining that went into producing lines like this:

Government is really a gardening job, pruning the intemperate growth spurts of those who'd build the world to fit those who must both inhabit and sustain it. This sculptural goodness is government's only exciting part. The rest is just gossip and horse-trading.

Or this:

Governments “are especially thus inclined when they've taken business, once their subject (in the Elizabethan sense), into the bedroom.”

At this point, even devoted Silly readers might be wondering what Farrelly wishes to tell them. She has, after all, touched on building regulations, toll tunnels, Rupert Murdoch, why the ABC is the best face of Australia, “competing private birds’ nests”, university funding, moral models and tycoons who are “not barons but priests.”

Then, quite suddenly, semi-coherent thoughts rise from the introductory miasma and she addresses her real theme, which is food labelling and what she perceives to be its gross inadequacies. If you do not read the Silly, just imagine a lunatic creature, organic cotton knickers about her ankles, depositoing something stinky in the toast rack and you will have a very good idea what the 5% is paying for. The prize nugget in this little pile is that, by Farrelly’s reckoning, the Nanny State is guilty not of excessive mollycoddling but gross neglect for not doing a lot more of it.

There is no point in further summarising her column, which proceeds to touch all the greenish bases, from monstrous Monsanto to the lining of baked bean tins. What is worth considering is why the great minds at Fairfax continue to publish it?

One theory at the Billabong is that Peter Fray, the Silly’s editorial supremo and none too coherent himself, must have run over Farrelly’s dog and offered her space on the opinion page as compensation. That he failed to recognise the greater intelligence of a squashed pooch would be another black mark on the record of his Silly stewardship.

But there is an alternate and perhaps more likely explanation, one that sprouts from Fairfax’s Fifty Grand Vizier Greg Hywood’s recent observation that the circulation of his newspapers no longer has any bearing on their commercial success. If he genuinely believes as much, then Farrelly can only occupy her pride of place in order to drive off another chunk of that lingering 5%. When Hywood has reduced the number of his customers to a big, round zero he will, by his reckoning, have the most successful media company in the land.

And Farrelly will still be mad.


  1. Bunyip, thanks for taking one for the team and reading barkin' betty's excretions.

    That's what I call true commitment.

    BTW, the last time I tried to get through a barkin' betty column I subsequently banned envirofax for good. I'd been buying the dead tree edition of the silly for at least two decades by that time.

    There's a lesson there, you onanistic plonkers...

  2. Great news, professor! The population of Sydney has reached five million, which means the SMH's circulation is edging ever closer to "the troublesome 3%", which is within a sampling error of 0%. As for Barking Betty (thanks Rabz), it's only to be expected from someone writing from a cerebral space where the facts of the outside world are just a figment of the imagination.

  3. "of which roughly 200,000 buy the Silly every day"

    ... or receive it free from the gym, coffee shop, etc...

  4. Fairfax's problems are fundamental. One of them, and I think it's sad because who wants Rupert to have the field to himself, is the delusion that Horin, Farrelly, Hartcher and the like constitute "quality product" for which there is a large market. This is the basis of Mr Hywood's strategy: we have a fabulous product, we just need to deliver it in the exciting new platforms of the future.

    It is almost impossible to overstate the the wrong-headedness of this view. One can see why they resort to it; the problems at Fairfax are so intractable, the solutions so elusive, that the those in charge take refuge in a comforting delusion. Human nature. There is also the lingering left world view that there is no such thing as a legitimate view from the right; that the bien-pensant left view is not intellectually challengeable; conservatives are bogans at best and malicious at worst.

    The reality, of course, is what the Fairfax culture can't accommodate: there are other points of view; there are intelligent, discerning, educated readers of the right who vote conservative; and that the writings of people like Elizabeth Farrelly are generally trite, derivative, unoriginal, simplistic, ephemeral, and, in tone, dismissive of those who take a contrary view. This is not the way to attract 50% of the population.

    Two delusions: the product is not nearly as good as they delude themselves into thinking it is; and a substantial portion of the population have no interest in reading stuff, the unspoken premise of which is, unless you agree with me, you're a bogan.

    Good luck, Fairfax. The last thing I want is for News Ltd to have the field to themselves, and for a proud tradition of publishing to go down the drain.

  5. Bunyip, I sometimes wunda why you persist with the fare facts news pipers? Even though they offer parodists, like you, a free feed they have long since given any contents worth the context of this blog.

    I do agree with Tom though that as Sydney grows larger the Silly grows smaller and will wither into nothing one day; soon, if that blatherin', barkin', Betty has anything to do with it.

  6. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.December 8, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    Out with this excresence on the grand old Fairfax name. The Sorry Maundering Horrid is truly a fallen angel in the media pantheon. A Betty such as this is a slur on the good name of all Elizabeths.

  7. Apart from the language and thoughts often expressed by these ‘progressives’ this is a good one to highlight due to the dull thinking on show. Give me an expert in their field any day, but don’t go out of it unless you have some facts. Farrelly, an architect I believe, might not have weird vested interests in that field (well, not often calling themselves architects anyway), but she is a sucker for the chemical and environmental sham groups.

    Her GM stuff is typical Greens I suppose but when she starts to swallow the “dangerous” and "banned chemicals” stuff – in this case Bisphenol A – she should at least nominate the groups like the Environmental Working Group fanning this fake ’scare’. I see that Bisphenol A is approved by WHO by the way and the EWG is well known as a progressive “organic foods at all costs”, trial lawyer sponsored, activist and advocacy group. “Activist Cash” shows its links -
    as well as a handy insight into its non-scientific “science”.

    Having a new grandson and seeing the parent’s fear of infection by other babies due to the freaks opposing vaccinations, I was particularly interested in seeing that EWG is in on that too.

    M Ryutin Sydney

  8. Professor, I really didn't need those mental images of "Barkin' Betty" crapping everywhere!

  9. My 5 year old daughter could write more more coherently than this woman! Don't they do "education" at Unfairfax?

  10. Of the 5% who buy the SMH, it would be a small fraction that read Farrelly. Perhaps it's around 1:20, or even less. Those who actually read Farrelly therefore would number less than 1:400 citizens. Of those, probably only around 50% would agree with her. So she's pretty marginal.

    You do make a good point, and one I also wonder about.

    Unless a person is part of the New Establishment, or is somehow sucking on the public teat, why the heck would they want to read the SMH? (or listen/watch the ABC, for that matter).

    I believe they'd either have to be some kind of masochist, or so dulled and insensitive to their own genetic and financial interests that they surely must require psychiatric intervention to get them back on track.

  11. mojo, Unrepentant YankDecember 10, 2011 at 3:40 AM

    "Call me simple."

    Nah. How about "Ishmael"?