In the early 1990’s, my family migrated to Australia and settled in the country town of Albury. It was a pretty idyllic life at first, and it wasn’t until I started school that I had any real sense of racial tensions – being the only non-white kids in the entire primary school made us targets. But the thing that stands out for me the most from that time isn’t schoolyard bullying, but the national bullying and intimidation campaign of the fledgling politician, Pauline Hanson.
Hanson co-founded the One Nation political party in ‘97, and her maiden speech to Parliament was filled with anti-multiculturalism, anti-Indigenous Australian bigoted bullshit.
I would watch Hanson’s diatribes screened on the News and be filled with a sense of panic and unease – at seven years old, I was convinced this woman could somehow expel me and my family from our new home.
But then, something really cool happened. A satirist, musician and political activist, Simon Hunt, created an alter-ego for Hanson – Pauline Pantsdown. Pantsdown took the media and music industry by storm, producing the classics ‘Backdoor Man’ and ‘I Don’t Like It’, and generally ridiculing Hanson’s racism in the public sphere.
‘I Don’t Like It’ became a family favourite for us, and me and my siblings would belt out the lyrics ‘My language has been murdered, my shopping trolley murdered, my groceries just gone’ in the backseat of our family car, in fits of giggles.
I felt grateful to Hunt and Pauline Pantsdown for making me feel a little less scared of Hanson, and reminding us that not all Australians prescribed to her prejudiced beliefs.
Now, I’m really excited to be able to profile Hunt here, and to share his experiences in his own words.
First, tell us a bit about yourself – what do you do, and how would you describe yourself to others?
As Pauline Pantsdown, I’d currently describe myself as a virtual political activist who uses graphics and satire to achieve specific political outcomes, and to prompt discussion. I operate entirely from social media accounts, and try to move beyond simple “clicktivism” to engage people in both online and offline actions. I’d see myself as more of a clown figure, or the classic court jester, than a drag queen. Calls to action come along with the humour, and direct achievements of my followers in 2014 include the firing of an opera singer who advocated violence against LGBTI people; significant disruption to a right-wing anti-gay Christian conference and several venue cancellations as part of a campaign we joined against so-called “dating coach” Julien Blanc.
Pauline Pantsdown is a seminal character in our political satire landscape – why did you first decide to create Pauline?
Now that Pauline Hanson is just a B grade media celebrity, it’s almost hard to remember that she once achieved 25 percent of the Queensland vote, and caused pain to many minorities with her statements. Back then I was reacting to the pain that friends felt, trying to set up a satirical conduit for them to escape her grip via laughter. As a simulacrum of Hanson, I also hoped that I could expose the artificiality of her constructed “real Australian” persona; and her mainstreaming of racist ideas via her celebrity media image.
What did it feel like to take on the Pauline Pantsdown character, in public and during your performances? Is there a particular memory that stands out from that time?
The 1998 “fifteen minutes of fame” period was actually a lot of fun. I had a top ten single and was running for the federal senate at the same time, so it was quite intense. Lots of memories, one is World AIDS Day in an Aboriginal community on the south coast of NSW, a beautiful area where they’d just gained native title. Bunch of Aboriginal kids all singing along ‘1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, racist rubbish, racist hate’, it was like a Wiggles show.
What’s the role of political satire, in your opinion? How or why is it powerful?
I think the role of satire is to crystallise complex issues into a simple representation that still speaks about the larger story, and invites discussion. It’s about looking at things that we have already seen, but from a new angle that can bring a fresh perspective. I think the fresh perspective has a power that can invite people to think, and to rethink.
What’s life like post-Pauline? How do you think the experience has impacted on you personally?
I had a fifteen year break between my “fame” period and the rebirth of the character as a virtual activist. As an artist, I think that the 1998 Pauline project made me reassess the peculiar western divisions of high and low art, and to question assumptions of what defines creative practice – ‘art’ itself – both in terms of location and impact.
Do you think we’re in a better place as a nation when it comes to racism and bigotry now? Or do you see worrying trends still emerging?
Australian bigotry obviously continues with a specific shift towards muslims, with unreasonable connections made between people’s race and/or religion and the extreme elements of that religion. No-one asked “mainstream Christians” to take responsibility for the actions of Christian extremists in Bosnia in the ‘90s, or in Norway a few years back, yet muslims are somehow expected to take responsibility for the current actions of the fundamentalist fringe of their religion.
What about gender equality? What would be a primary concern for you in that area?
In 2014 I worked on several projects with feminist action groups and individuals, producing graphics and taking part in campaigns that were primarily about threats to womens’ choice. The main projects here were “Zoe’s Law” in NSW (Fred Nile’s ban-abortion-by-stealth law, which ultimately fell over); and the campaign against “Abortion causes Breast Cancer” quack doctor Angela Lanfranchi, as part of the overall campaign against the dangerous “World Congress of Families”. My followers and I also took part in the broad campaign against so-called “dating coach” Julien Blanc, with our specific achievements being forcing the cancellation of his Brisbane venue, and the cancellation of his booking at the hotel he was staying at prior to his deportation. So like womens’ issues everywhere, the focus is on choice, power, safety and socioeconomic opportunity.
To the people who gained some comfort and much needed laughs from Pauline Pantsdown, what would you like to say? Or what do you hope they got from your work?
I think the need for laughter is an incredibly important thing in difficult times – and times are always difficult. I hope people can use my stuff to channel anger into useful activities and discussion via the laughter. I think it was a need to channel my own anger at inequality to somewhere useful that initially prompted me to start engaging in satirical political art.
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