Month: April 2014

O’Farrell resignation: red wine, political blood and cultural memory

 By David Rowe

Reblogged from The Conversation

Ritzy red wine has come to represent political influence-peddling in the resignation of NSW premier Barry O’Farrell. AAP/Julian Smith


Political scandals, the perennial product of the grinding gears of greed and governance, proliferate in the age of digital media, the 24-hours news cycle and anti-corruption bodies with wide powers.

Constant tonal inspiration is drawn from the tracking of the1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., all the way back to Richard Nixon’s White House. Many investigative current affairs programs and fictional political dramas framed a “Deep Throat” in the sinister concrete gloom of a multi-storey car park in homage to the 1976 film All the President’s Men.

Few tyro journalists of the last 40 years have not fantasised about posing the famous Watergate question in the US Senate:

What did [fill in the accused] know and when did they know it?

Scandals involving politicians (as well as sportspeople and others) routinely attract the suffix “-gate”.

“Gate” has often been attached to an object, deceptively innocent in its connotations, that only serves to highlight the egregious nature of corruption and deceit. Sometimes “affair” works better, as was the case with the 1982 colour TV affairinvolving Fraser government ministers Michael MacKellar and John Moore and the alliterative 1984 Paddington Bear affairconcerning Hawke government minister Mick Young. All three men lost their ministerial positions in these “affairs”.

All this is essential cultural background to interpreting“Grangegate”, the boilerplate description of the sudden resignation of New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell last week over the unacknowledged receipt of a A$3000 bottle of Penfolds 1959 Bin 46 Grange Hermitage from a lobbyist. Divining the significance of the wine has somehow become entwined with the political ramifications of the scandal itself.

There is an obvious – if rather worrying – reason for this heavy focus on the expensively fermented grape. There have been so many high-profile political scandals it is hard to keep track. Many people – not least those in a news media dedicated to the quick, relentless turnover of news stories – have resorted to mnemonic triggers to aid recall and to distinguish one scandal from another.

Forging collective cultural memory while being deluged by information relies on highlighting a single detail to symbolise the whole sorry business of political exposure. In communication theory this is known as metonymy – the use of a part to signify the whole.

In O’Farrell’s case, ritzy red wine stands for political influence-peddling and duchessing.