I heard Radio National philosopher Scott Stephens describe the Melbourne Cup festival as Bacchanalian. Hmm. Not sure that Bacchanalian works for me. I had always associated a feast of Bacchus with, yes, debauchery, but also hilarity, pleasure and the sating of very natural desires. A life-affirming thing. A Bacchanalian party, for me, would be one that inspires, rejuvenates and refreshes the human spirit while preparing its participants for the difficulties that life is sure to throw up after the event. I’m not into “Bacchanalian” myself, but for some people such a “do” must perform a significant practical purpose.
Kitsch, cruel and fatuous?
I fail to see what practical purpose the tasteless orgy of kitsch, cruelty, gaucherie and fatuousness that is the Melbourne Cup performs. As Stephens and his program co-host, Waleed Aly, suggested, its most effective function seems to be in its demonstrating that we, as a nation, don’t give a rat’s arse about important things… but go quite gaga over stuff that is worse than pointless. We just love things that are mindless and downright creepy.
They offered, as examples, the publics’ near silence to official Government policies of abandonment of asylum seekers (who have a legitimate claim to request our assistance) on Manus Island and the rejection of the one thing that indigenous Australians sought in the Uluru statement i.e. a “Voice” to Parliament, at the very same time as they were planning what they would be doing for “The Cup.” If you would believe the press, an entire nation, most of whom would struggle to tell the difference between a horse and a bandicoot, spent Tuesday initially choosing the correct shade of fake suntan to go with their neither tasteful, nor fashionable outfit (that they would be unlikely to ever wear again… I mean, where else other than at a horse racing carnival would you wear a frilly think sticking out the side of your head) so that they could spend the rest of the day getting pissed, gambling and watching beautiful animals being flogged for their entertainment.
The media was a joke on the morning of “The Cup.” Newspapers. Internet. Television. Radio. Even the ABC’s News Breakfast program prattled on incessantly about fascinators, hats, celebrities, frocks, how eveningwear was inappropriate, how men did not have to wear socks, tips, sweeps, fashion, VIPs etc. The fatuous and mindless drivel was impossible to avoid. Scarily, much of the drivel came from the mouths of people who are normally intelligent and perceptive.
ABC News Breakfast sports presenter Georgie Tunny is a good journalist but she is also one of millions who suffer under the delusion that The Melbourne Cup really is the “the race that stops a nation.” Yesterday morning, on national television, she gushingly explained that “stops a nation” is a “literal” fact. I disagree. There is nothing “literal” about it. The expression is a painful cliché.
“Stops a nation?”
Millions across this nation find the event worse than offensive and pay it no attention at all.
Millions of others find racing boring and have no interest in what happens in Melbourne at 3.00 p.m. on the first Tuesday in November at all. I am lucky enough to live in a town where few even know the “big race” is on (though, I think I did spot one frilly thing sticking out of the side of someone’s head sneaking into an RSL, but I can’t be sure).
Millions more have an interest, but their interest is in wishing the race would be banned or made less cruel.
Still millions more have a vague interest in the “major event” but not enough to make them stop everything that they are doing.
I would add that millions more hope that their fellow Australians would pay less attention to mindless pursuits and would show some concern for events of genuinely life-shattering significance. While the Melbourne Cup is a tasteless, foolish and cruel distraction I am hopeful that it is not an indicator that most Australians don’t care about important things.
Wish it were Bacchanalian
I wish that the Melbourne Cup were Bacchanalian. If it enhanced people’s lives by momentarily turning their minds to earthy pursuits, enabling them to view the troubles of the outside world with a fresh and tolerant perspective when all the debauchery had faded I would see that it had some point. Instead, it seems to sap our spirit and turn our minds to the foolish, the vain and the selfish. But the Melbourne Cup is not the “race that stops the nation” as many say that it is. There are plenty who give about as many rat’s arses to the running of “The Cup” as our leaders give to homeless refugees.