Sunday, November 6, 2011

Steering The New Journalism

AS the Centre for Advanced Journalism’s new director, Margaret Simons will be required to report at least once every two months to the steering committee, whose job it is to examine “activities and resources”. They could be very interesting meetings, given the presence of the Parkville Asylum’s Professor Barbara Creed, whose interests are at some remove from what the man on the Clayton omnibus might regard as the normal concerns of work-a-day journalism education – straight-bat accountings of the day’s events, commentary and opinion clearly labeled as such and, if time permits, perhaps a few pointers on the reporting of what transpires in courtrooms.

Professor Creed may well take a passionate interest in those practical topics, and let us hope that is the case, as the temptation for the steering committee to veer into po-mo cultural criticism from a feminist perspective, her stock in trade, might produce quite a few distractions.

Picture the possible scene. There is Margaret Simons, earnestly making the case for instructing students in the art of placing fraudulent stories in conservative magazines, when some chance remark prompts Professor Creed to digress. It might be no more than an innocuous reference to the wolfish Rupert Murdoch’s ravaging of the Australian sheeple, and how the low standing of the Gillard government is all that jackbooted propagandist’s doing.

“Wolf? Wolf?”one can almost hear Professor Creed cry. “Why, that settles it! Before we send our graduates into the world they simply must be immersed in Phallic Panic, my study of horror films and the transgressive erosion of patriarchal penis reverence.”

A work of fearless insight, Professor Creed won the praise of cineaste Anneke Smelik, a reviewer particularly taken with the book’s revelations about Freddy Kruger. The uneducated may see that the villain of Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels as no more than an example of Hollywood schlock, perhaps absorbing the series’ one and only message as a reminder that it is unwise for the nubile to shower, as the hacking generally begins not long after the hot water has begun to flow. Professor Creed goes much, much deeper: 

Creed “claims that [Kruger] ‘reveals the dysfunctional nature of the patriarchal family unit’. Freddy is a male spectre, but his most uncanny characteristic is that he keeps the souls of his victims trapped inside his body; he is, as it were, pregnant with his victims. This makes him also a womb monster and not only the image of the bad, castrating father. 

If Margaret Simons has a jot of sense, and her progress through academia suggests that to be the case, she will secure the steering committee’s support by announcing her admiration for another of Creed’s breakthrough analyses -- “Freud’s Wolf Man, or the Tale of Granny’s Furry Phallus”, which explains cinema’s many werewolves as metaphors for the animalistic savagery that surges just below the skin of your typical man.

You can get a preview of the book here, including the chapters on Dracula as “menstrual monster” and Professor Creed’s thoughts on bestiality in Fear of Fur.

None of this will be of much interest to members of the public who have given up on mainstream journalism in general and newspapers in particular. But for soon-to-be graduates whose hope it is to secure positions at Fairfax or the ABC, it might be a good idea to swot up on the topics and perspectives that so fascinate their teachers

UPDATE: If discussions about the education of journalists do get waylaid by too much talk of monstrous male pregnancies, Margaret Simons can look to the second of the steering committee's three members, Associate Professor Adrian Little, to get the chatter back to basics In addition to heading the University's school of Social & Political Science, he is, without a doubt, the go-to man for clear, uncluttered writing -- one of those skills some journalists must still find quite useful.

Here is the abstract of a paper, co-written by Little and Michael Crozier, "Disagreeable democracy: Deliberation, conflict and communication in contemporary democratic practice".

In recent decades Western democracies have been tested by diverse and competing societal demands, generating a range of legitimacy issues, often described as the democratic deficit. Prominent among the scholarly diagnoses of this situation is the idea of deliberative democracy—an appeal to rational procedures of deliberation based on the normative horizons of inclusiveness and consensus. This paper considers the general assumptions of the deliberative democracy model and asks whether certain grammars of political expression are foreclosed by these assumptions. For instance, does the emphasis on rational deliberation too easily discount the role of expressive and embodied modes of communication in current democratic practice? Does the norm of rational consensus miscast ‘conflict’ as simply communicative failure without considering the constitutive role it may play? The paper investigates these types of questions, critically unpacking the theoretical manoeuvres involved and their implications for political analysis. The argument of the paper is that in order to provide a more adequate account of the political for contemporary conditions, both on analytical and normative levels, there needs to be greater attention paid to the ongoing role of conflict transformation, expressive modes and disagreement in modern democratic polities.
 If you enjoyed that, the 5,000-or-so words that follow are even more enlightening.


  1. Ms Simons engaged in fraudulent behaviour in 2009.

    Will it be ethical to subject her Centre for Advanced Journalism (can you believe it) to the same sort of attack?

    Perhaps a concerted and sustained campaign to trip up Ms Simons and the CAJ over the next several years is now in order.

    It shouldn't be too difficult to make her look very foolish. She seems to have a head start.

  2. It's all so inbred!! The clones producing more clones. Worse than the madhouse that was Olympus!!!!

  3. The Creed extract about Kruger makes you think that it would be perfect for the old Private Eye section "Pseud's Corner".

    M Ryutin

  4. Five thousand more words? No thanks! A random flicking through the dictionary would give one the same disconnected result. Why do post-modernists resort to this gibberish? Their contorted drivel certainly looks grand and if read aloud can burn out the synapses after about three paragraphs (presuming they use them). Useful ploys when attempting to cover up the fact, that there is nothing in the context which even pretends to add to the sum of human knowledge.

  5. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.November 6, 2011 at 7:50 PM

    Creed and her ilk are not writing to communicate. As her name hints, and as Little and Crozier (the latter another name with a nuanced hint) so ably demonstrate, they are writing the latest version of the theology of irrelevance. Let me obscure that for you: they propound a circumlocutory distillation of post-modern exegesis upon exegesis. In other words, there they go again, up the proverbial cloaca.

  6. How disappointing to discover that the hilariously titled "Freud's Wolf Man, or the Tale of Granny's Furry Phallus" is premised on a young boy's inability to differentiate between a wolf's tail and penis. Despite that, I must confess to enjoying Creed's description of the young lad's parents fornicating wolfishly.