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Jun 23, 2012

The decline and fall of narrative

Professor Biff Bondarchuk writes: The turmoil occasioned by recent announcements by feignstream media companies News Limited and Fairfax (even less astute readers will note

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Professor Biff Bondarchuk writes:

The turmoil occasioned by recent announcements by feignstream media companies News Limited and Fairfax (even less astute readers will note the salient elements of those companies’ names – fair facts indeed, but what is fair and for whom [concepts of equity having long been a basic tool of oppression]; and facts, of course, well, as they say in the patriarchal capitalist “classics” [note the telltale presence of the word “class”], facts are a myth) has been the basis for many self-serving narratives.

And it is narrative that we must consider first and foremost (to deploy outdated chronological terminology), before the so-called “financial” or “business model” analyses that foreground capitalism as a dominant mode of discourse, and before technological explanations that remove human agency and make us all victims of the internet; for the media — and let us not forget that the very concept of mediation is fundamentally oppressive, in purporting to fulfil a need for some form of filter i.e. censorship between two parties engaged in transactional or non-transactional forms of discourse; look no further than the essentially exploitative role of priesthood — is built upon narrative, and narrative is perhaps the oldest form of oppression after misogyny.

Speaking, parenthetically, about misogyny, there is cause, but not time and space here, to develop a thesis around representations of Gina Rinehart and the disruption she causes by failing to be coded into any traditional feminine roles, thereby causing a rerouting of oppressive narratives around her; in particular, Rinehart ruptures that most traditional tool of control of women, the male gaze: to gaze upon at Rinehart is to gaze into the abyss (one buzzing with giant iron ore trucks); do so and you will only see the abyss gazing back at you. Rinehart is thus self-located in — to use ancient and redundant epistemological and philosophical terminology — a permanent crisis of existence for those who observe her, a modern Medusa who will turn any man who gazes upon her into existential stone.

But I digress, and painfully so.

The failure of the feignstream media is first and foremost the failure of narrative. The oppressive, phallocentric, reactionary concept of narrative, which purports to order reality into a closely-structured “sequence” of “events” that have “meaning”, is a key tool of patriarchal capitalism and has been since the days of the rude hut, primitive man and campfire neoliberal economics. The claim to interpret reality both in representing it falsely as a series of coherent, interrelated episodes and in purporting to explain its meaning and significance does three things. First, it foregrounds the narrative-giver as a figure of authority, one lacking in any basic legitimacy from the community. Second, it imposes on that community the male inability to understand events as anything other than linear, sequential and goal-oriented. Third, it establishes a tool of control at the very heart of communication.

The phallocentrism of narrative is clear: its rigidity, linearity and goal-oriented focus most obviously, in contrast to the more authentic process-focus of women which seeks not to impose “meaning” or other forms of repression on reality, but allow it to develop to its own potential rather than exploit it as men feel compelled to. Men can only ever see the world as a series of connected moments moving toward a goal; they ruthlessly impose causality wherever they tread — have you ever noticed that most conspiracy theorists are men? The need to impose the causal nexus on reality, no matter how absurdly, is hard-wired into the male brain.

What we have thus seen in recent decades is an effective uprising (I make the pun of course ironically) against the millennia-old dominance of narrative as the traditional male obsession with reordering reality has been challenged by an authentic, more positive focus on giving reality itself agency to fulfil its potential. As the principal agent of narrative, the feignstream media is thus collateral damage in an altogether more fundamental conflict. In a way, the disappearance of the Page 3 girl from tabloid outlets is the true signifier of the media’s decline, the decline and fall of the most blatant symbol of misogyny heralding the decline and fall of a far more fundamental and dangerous form of patriarchal oppression, story-telling.

Where to from here? What do we construct in the ruins of narrative? We construct nothing — construction being of course yet another form of phallocentrism. Instead, we allow authentic non-interpreted, non-ordered forms of communication to develop between is, liberating us from the tyranny of explanation. The death of traditional media is but one of many moments in the gradual overthrow of misogyny. And none of those moments are sequential.

Biff Bondarchuk is a lecturer and author of Glutes of Heaven: Myth, Meaning and Misogyny in Media Representations of Kylie Minogue’s Buttocks. He owns Fairfax shares.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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