Friday, February 23, 2007

Jonestown, by Chris Masters

The most stupid thing about Chris Masters’ Jonestown is the fact that the ABC commissioned the damned book in the first place. Right from the get-go it looked highly improbable that ABC Books would be able to publish this 450 page pot shot at Jones. A public broadcaster taking on a popular and highly influential public broadcaster was never going to wash. Can you imagine? Every one who ever cried ABC left wing bias would have their proof. So you wonder, why bother commissioning it in the first place?

As for the book itself, Masters claims his aim is not so much to take Jones down, as to goad the public into making Jones more accountable. You could have fooled me! The whole way through the book Masters takes every opportunity to go to town on Jones. You couldn’t really call this a balanced biography. Masters gives Jones his due where necessary, but for the rest of the book Masters has a go wherever possible.

Then there’s the question of Jones’ sexuality. Masters seems intent on outing him as a homosexual, with a prediliction for young sporting men. At some stages in the book Masters almost seems to be claiming that he knows more about Jones’ sex life than Jones himself does. Like, at one stage it's announced that at a certain period in Jones’ life he was probably attending gay saunas. Yet Masters never explains where he gets this info from – no footnotes or anything. Plus Master is quite fond of saying ‘as far as I can tell’, ‘it seems’ and so on, yet doesn’t bother to back up his speculations.

The only really concrete evidence that Jones is homosexual is the relationship he had with the young gay hustler Marcus Schmidt. There are letters between the two. Schmidt has even written an unpublished book about his relationship. But even here it doesn’t seem like there was any sex, just a bit of groping. Poor Jones. What a loser. He hooks up with a hustler and doesn’t even get any sex!

The parts that I felt should have been really compelling – Jones’ political influence and the cash-for-comment affair – didn’t really grab me. Here was an opportunity to really show Jones’ pernicious effect on the country, its politics and democracy. Yet these parts were written in a way that presumed you already knew the bare bones, and extra explaining wasn’t necessary.

What a shame. I really like the way Chris Masters writes. This could have been an excellent book if Masters had pulled back and avoided putting Jones down at every opportunity. My God, let Jones do that for himself. You only have to quote him and he unravels. (I loved the bit where Kim Beazley called Jones a liar, after Jones said that the Labor party’s policies had been pulled from their website – an utter falsehood.)

Here’s my fave quote from the book:

‘When Alan Jones rushes from the fourth estate of the media to cross the line into one of the formal estates of government, too often he meets an eager politician scurrying to cross the line in the other direction. If we could sit democracy in the stands to observe the spectacle, it is hard to imagine the majority applauding. But the majority do not see and the majority do not listen.’

How true. After all of Jones’ scandals, he still retains his audience. But why he is so popular, and wields such power with politicians, is a mystery.

It’s a good thing that a book like this has been written. I just wish Chris Masters had handled it differently.
(A last note on the chosen picture for this entry. I know, I'm a hypocrite, after chiding Chris Masters. But I couldn't resist the picture. It popped up after a google search.)

No comments: