Not Happy John

I quite enjoyed reading this book, “Not Happy John” by Margo Kingston on the plane between Perth and Sydney and then Sydney to Melbourne. Because it had lots of interesting things to say, I thought it was a good page turner. I must admit, however, there were times when I had to skip, either because Margo said what I expected her to say, or because the book has an annyoing habit of including guest writers who, in my view, just don’t live up to Margo’s fabulous skills with the written word.

When Margo said the things I expected her to say, I skimmed the book. When she said things I didn’t expect, such as revealing she voted for John Howard in 1996 because she hated Keating’s arrogance and thought it was time for a change, I thought that was genuinely interesting, especially since the basis of her argument is that in her view Howard is probably just as arrogant as Keating. I also thought it was interesting when she said, “If there’s one single Australian politician I’d choose to have representing me on a vote of genuine bipatisan importance to Australia’s future it might just be him (Brian Harradine), citing what she called his principled stands on Wik and cross-media ownership. She’d previously spoken out and wrote about her interest in Hanson, so I jumped here and there when I read that too.

One of the interesting aspects of the book is that Margo has incorporated articles from other writers, none of whom I thought had the fabulous word-skills that she posesses. So mostly I skipped the articles written by her fellow bloggers, the one exception being the bloke, Harry Heidelberg who was born (and possibly raised) in my hometown, Lismore and who went to university in Brisbane at the same time as me. I re-read every word several times to determine whether or not there was a hint about who he was. His photograph is revealed on the Not Happy John Website which was a disappointment – I didn’t recognise him at all. His central argument is interesting. He says he remains a committed Liberal voter, but is disappointed at the Howard version of Liberalism, preferring a Menzies-style approach. It’s interesting that he (and Greg Barnes, I guess) make the distinction between what they describe as genuine Liberalism and modern conservative Liberalism, since I’m not sure if that’s a genuine distinction. It’s a bit like Labor Party people who hark back to Whitlam and say that it was a different Labor Party. I know there are lots of arguments about relativism, but at the end of the day I wonder what the point is… is it really about important analysis or is it really just about self-justification?

Although I haven’t actually read Margo’s Web Diary either before I since reading the book, I was interested in one of her central arguments is that it was all about finding a common ground for those with an interest in the future Australia’s democracy. As I don’t read it, I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly an entertaining thesis. I was also really interested in her description about how she mobilised “Web Diary” readers to do research about the guest list for the Howard/Bush Luncheon. An interesting example in modern journalism which, it seems, is often ruled by the PR agenda.

As a West Australian resident at the moment, I also really enjoyed reading the story about the woman from Perth whose husband was the first Australian to die in Iraq. I enjoyed how Margo told the story of approaching Karen Middleton from The West Australian who had made contact with an initially reluctant “media player” to see if she was willing to be contacted for interview. I liked how she remained concerned for the person, recognising an issue which I also think is important… “is the story important enough to justify the impact it may have on the person”? By that I mean, I think sometimes those in the media chase a story which, at the end of the day, means little to the reader/listener/viewer (they half-watch or listen to it while eating breakfast), while an individual has had a gut-wrenching experience. Does it really matter if someone tells their story… will people really care… or is it just “fill”? Often it is justified, but I think it’s a legitimate question all journalists should ask.

Anyway, enough of me… whatever you think of Margo’s politics I think she’s a good writer and I enjoyed the book.

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