Douchebag society

So unsurprisingly there has been a massive outpouring of anti-Sandilands feeling given the whole, fairly appalling display of humanity that went on this morning. If you missed it, Hoyden has a transcript as well as commentary, and other commentary can be found at a shiny new coin and on The Punch, for starters.¬† I am reluctant to provide a link to Sandilands own response on The Punch as I wouldn’t want to dignify it by driving further traffic that way – suffice to say it is self serving and unhelpful. The issue has driven at least two top trending topics on Twitter with the #sandilandsisadouche subject and Kyle Sandilands itself.

There are a number of threads to the general discussion that seems to be about the place: (a) Kyle is to blame, especially for the callous way he continued and asked the unbelievably insensitive question (b) the mother is to blame – she apparently knew of the rape (c) rape or not, asking a 14 year old on air about her sexual experiences is abusive (d) not only Sandilands and the mother but the producers and everyone involved should share the blame, and finally, the one which really just turns my stomach (e) people should just toughen up and get over it. Yes, that’s right folks, toughen up – we shouldn’t be disturbed by young girls being forced to recount sexual assault on air – we’re all soft, bleeding hearts etc. Because child sexual assault is funny!

Aside from all of that, I think the whole scenario shows demonstrates a destructive set of cultures coming together with a horrible bang. I don’t think we can blame the media for problems is society – in fact, I think blaming the media is part of the problem. But we can certainly critically examine the various impacts that a number of cultural trends are having on us.

Parenting is becoming a very public event. There is an enormous amount of verbiage out there about what is and isn’t good parenting. Parents can be held responsible for their children’s actions and google reveals a massive list of articles about parents being gaoled for their children’s truancy. On the flip-side, a lot of parenting is being pushed onto others – we need internet censors and bans of junk food advertising and schools to teach children everything from values to sex education to healthy eating. I would have thought that in all these cases, engaged parenting could and should be just as effective as external influences. And then there is this increasing trend toward giving parenting over to reality television – Supernanny, Brat Camp, The World’s Strictest Parents…..etc. So perhaps in this climate, someone might think that using a lie detector and a shock jock is a reasonable approach to parenting. One also has to wonder – did the mother do it for the celebrity, another driving force in our current reality-drive 15 minutes of fame society, or did she do it because she was bereft of support and parenting skills and didn’t know how to address what she perceived as her child’s behavioural problems? Not that this excuses her choice to publicly traumatise her child, but perhaps it starts to explain it. And I have seen at least one comment that seemed to think it was a fair enough approach to getting vital parenting information – the writer complained that the girl “deflected the question” with the statement about rape, and Sandilands was right to probe further. Yep, women cry rape at every opportunity to deflect attention from what they have done wrong….

There is also the sex angle. Clearly the radio station loves the idea of talking about sex on air. And the constant buzz around sex and girls and the frisson that ensues, leads to a saturation of sex and young women closely associated in the media. And yet, ironically, pedophilia and sexual exploitation of children is an area in which the media loves to create controversy and what borders on moral panic. While the art world is vilified over its use of girls in art, commercial radio thinks that it is OK to sexually harass a 14 year old on air? the constant contradictions in the media about children and sex are constantly there, but this is hardly new – as Billy Bragg sang a lot of years ago about newspapers¬† “where they offer you a feature on stockings and suspenders next to calls for stiffer penalties for sex offenders.”

The other interesting contributing factor is the weight that is put on shame by our society. We love to “name and shame.” We relish the shame of fallen stars and use shame as a tool against things like drink driving by publishing the names of those convicted. Here, it would appear, that the mother and Kyle and Jackie were trying to shame this girl – perhaps as a punishment, perhaps as a tool to make her modify her behaviour. But it is a long way from redemptive shaming – a long way from anything that is healing or helpful.

So in this scenario, all the individuals are culpable for the individual choices they made which allowed this to happen. But individuals don’t exist in a vacuum, and, while Kyle Sandlilands undoubtedly is a douchebag, perhaps we also need to try and understand the social forces at work which lead to the creation of such a douchebag.