Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Straw Men

This festive season I wanted to pay tribute to straw men, those stalwarts of commentary without who many of the great debates of modern times would be impossible.

A Straw Man is like a crash-test dummy, unable to avoid whatever indignities are inflicted on it. A figure made of straw is easy to attack because it won't return blows. An attack on a straw man creates the illusion of a contest by substituting an opponent with a superficially similar yet incomparable one, and defeating it, without actually engaging with the original.

The Prime Minister Has Blood On Her Hands thundered one Melbourne columnist after a boat crammed with refugees foundered off Christmas Island, conjuring an image of the monstrous feminine from sixteenth century morality plays. That same Prime Minister demonised Australian Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Prime Time TV. Don't forget, she thundered, the wikileaks are based on an illegal act. Australian Federal Police disagreed, but the Straw Man persists.

What would happen, I wonder, if all the straw men of Australian public policy debate turned up for Christmas dinner like some half forgotten bastard child? How would Jesus go if he turned up at the Vatican asking for a birthday present? I imagine, in the waning light of Christmas day, a mob of straw men lingering but unwanted in the shadows beyond a household's happy glow. Because the twilight world of the straw man is visited often but seldom acknowledged.

1 comment:

  1. I take your point and relate it particularly to individuals who make comments under the pseudonym of 'Anonymous'. However, upon reading your post I was constantly reminded of the 1973 British film 'The Wicker Man'. Although the wicker man was just a large hollow wicker statue in the shape of a man it looked quite evil and compelling when it was set alight by the pagan inhabitants of an isolated island, who had seduced a Christian, Police sergeant Neil Howie to visit, under the pretext that a local child had gone missing. Since those on the island engaged in pagan, ritual activities in antithesis to those of Christianity, we are asked to question, which inflicts more evil, paganism or christianity? Howe, who dies a terrible death trapped inside the burning Wicker man, in fact becomes a sacrificial lamb for all those who might threaten the islanders way of life. The burning of a wicker man - a cage, filled with straw that trapped a person inside, was associated with human sacrifice. I think this ritual died out with the Druids. Perhaps there is always going to be a sense of the sacrificial if one is going to be a commentator. The notion of sacrifice being particular to both pagan and christian traditions.