Bastards, the lot of them

April 5, 2008

Fridge Magnets are Bastards: An A-Z Rant About Annoying People & Useless Things in the Modern World

By Mark Dapin

HarperCollins, 2007, 262 pp, $24.99 (pb)

What do corporate CEOs, creationists, Holocaust Deniers, citizenship tests, War on Terror fridge magnets, management jargon, fake Irish pubs, private schools, Alexander Downer, John Howard and Paris Hilton all have in common?

They are, to the grumpy middle-aged lefty, Mark Dapin, all bastards.

In Fridge Magnets Are Bastards, Dapin's eclectic mix of people and things that annoy and outrage features such stand-out bastards as Alexander Downer and other "private-school-educated multi-millionaire sons and daughters of conservative politicians" like Philip Ruddock, the former minister for barbed-wire detention.

The tough, deprived schools these silver-spoon-in-mouth battlers had to struggle through — like Geelong Grammar — irk Dapin for being the transmission belts of privilege, snobbish private schools subsidised "with taxes paid by people who send their children to public schools" because the rich pay little tax and the super-rich no tax.

It is odd, observes Dapin, that private schools should be allowed to call themselves "private when they attract more taxpayers' money than state schools — but perhaps you need a taxpayer-subsidised private school education to understand it".

Schooling "choice" is choice for the rich only, as was Work Choices, under which workers could "choose to bargain away a lifetime of weekend penalty rates in exchange for something of equal value, such as a matchbox, a piece of string, or anything from the $2 shop".

Power and wealth is where bastards congregate, prominent among them being property developers and their corrupted puppets. The NSW ALP is "a political party largely funded by property developers", unlike the NSW Liberal Party, which is "a political party largely funded by property developers", though you could be forgiven for confusing the two.

More glamorous but no less bastardous, is the "sheer, vacuous waste" of Paris Hilton, an icon for the transmutation of wealth into celebrity fame — "every appearance she makes is an argument against obscene privilege, private education and inherited wealth".

Meanwhile, back at the fourth estate, the "fright-wing" columnists and their talkative cousins, the "hate-radio" jocks, create a diversion by scaring people about crime and people from other cultures, especially criminals from other cultures.

"Week after dreary week, they are given the space" in the "liberal media" to "complain that they are silenced by the liberal media" from tackling the "elites" in the culture wars. Their elites are not the people with "rich, influential parents", but academics, historians and political commentators "who are against racism and in favour of universal social welfare".

A special category of bastard is the office bastard, particularly personnel ("Human Resources") managers, the bosses' police force — people "from another world — probably the planet Zogo, who gave us performance reviews, team-building weekends and other management fads".

Another species of white collar bastard to watch out for are financial planners, "who pretend to be planning your finances, when they are, in fact, using your finances to plan theirs".

There may be a quibble about Dapin's celebration of "lads" boozing to excess, and more than a quibble about one corner of bastardry (exploiting the images of semi-naked women) not explored by the former editor of the "men's magazine", Ralph, but when Dapin does take off the kid gloves, this heavy-hitting but self-deprecatingly witty believer in "a world socialist state, without poverty, racism, or 'marketing gurus'" delivers a good old-fashioned socialist rant against the rich and other deserving bastards.

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