12 Nov 2006, Comments Off on The Stinky Camembert of Multiculturalism meets the Whiskas of Wimminism

The Stinky Camembert of Multiculturalism meets the Whiskas of Wimminism

Author: Helen

Australia’s living treasure has definitely. lost. the plot.

Where to start? As I’ve said before on the Balcony, Leunig has a problem with women. His Little Battler is always a man. Women are only portrayed in relation to the Little Battler. Although some of them are sympathetic, the threatening slut/whore/nag is never far away. (The irresistible slutbag stripper, the woman with the wolf vagina, the absent mother in the Baby in Child care Centre cartoon.)
What do you get when you allow someone whose skills are in cartooning and the production of coffee-table compendiums of cartoons and Beautiful Thoughts to write prose at length in the opinion pages? It’ll be a lottery. Kaz Cooke, for instance, because her books are more than just coffee-table, and because she is a good critical and rational thinker, comes up with good stuff. Leunig comes up with stream-of-consciousness, which, because it’s obviously not informed by any feminist reading or serious thought on the subject, is just a regurgitation of the patriarchal cliches he’s learned at his mum and dad’s knee – and he contradicts himself, as well as facts and logic, at every turn. And half-truths and life damaging memes are nurtured and spread.

Now, I know I’ve posted before on the positive need for raving ratbags as a kind of cultural yeast, if you will. (And, weirdly enough, I’m in agreement with him there.) But let’s be clear that our Greatest National Treasure is one of them. Let’s not take any of his ravings as a serious prescription for future social reform.

If you think raving is too harsh a word, read the first few paragraphs on the dreaming sea-turtle – which might, at a pinch, make it into the cute-and-lovable category- then this:

At some stage well into the journey you may notice a deluge of advertisements for drugs that help men to get erections, and you may find the city adorned with photographs of naked and semi-naked young women on billboards and magazines, and on the television you may see music clips featuring a continuous throbbing smorgasbord of models and dancing girls thrusting their oiled breasts and wet lips and glistening bottoms at you and groaning and clawing and stroking frantically between their legs – the place where babies are born from – and all around you will notice images of attractive, willing, hot, horny, pre-orgasmic, aching-for-penetration women gasping into the camera for you, urging you to realise how plain, frigid and dull your wife or partner is – and still the erection drug advertisements roll in on your email device along with promises of penis enlargement and you think “what the hell is going on out there?” – and you read stories of drink spiking in nightclubs, and the glamour of raunch culture and the swinging, gang-banging footballers, the sexual abuse of children, the raping, the date raping, the digital raping, and you will see the drunken, gobbling tongue kissing of the masses in the street at night and the men’s sex clubs, peeping booths, pussy parlours and brothels popping up like toadstools galore in the city where your mother and grandmother walked you in the sunshine and fresh air in your lovely little bonnet and bunny rug.

…the fuck??!…

If you feel like a turtle far from the sea and conclude that your society seems to have some sort of deepening hypermanic sex madness that makes you sad and amounts to yet another vital ecosystem in trouble and decline, it is at this point that you may be finally achieving some measure of sexual maturity. Thus you are disqualified from forward-looking, positive-thinking, aspirational Australia and you become another negative, lost soul who worries that your children are growing up in a nation that is in deep psychological trouble and you will be told that it is YOU who has the sex problem.

And it just goes downhill from there, as the basic premise (once we’ve waded past the great oceangoing turtle) is that Sheik Hilaly is just speaking commonsense, and using “earthy” language to say it- yeah, thanks Michael, do you have a cat? Shall I just step into its bowl now, or later?…and society, including women, are all complicit in it. And because the majority of us criticise Hilaly harshly for it, as we think is his due, Michael calls that fascism or Gleichschaltung— actually, just Pee Cee Gorn mad again.

I call it freedom of speech working tolerably well. But what would I know? Let’s face it, we’re all sluts.

Sometimes a religious figure, such as a mufti, makes a sermon about human nature, rape and the general sexual madness – a bit like parents do to their children in private: “Look after yourself, take responsibility – there are some dark forces and crazy people out there who will destroy you if you’re not careful.” But the mufti uses ripe, rustic language, earthy metaphors and unpleasant ideas. He is set up and set upon by a national newspaper and told to shut up and resign. The Prime Minister chimes in. The mufti is denounced.

Now, I know I am going to fall into the trap of letting my whitehot rage take over, so that the Leunigs of this world can intone, “oh but those feminists, they’re all so angry!” But it’s impossible not to be a bit, arrh-hmm, annoyed at reading once again this unconcious patriarchal soup. Who is responsible? Is it impossible for him to conceive of a world where men might take responsibility for their own actions? I guess not. And is Michael so unaware of the fact that feminists (as well as many socially conservative women) have no love, no love at all for these stupid billboards and fashions that rob our kids of their innocence and serve us up like, well, plates of cat’s meat. Who is responsible for those? You want to go after the advertising industry, or would that conflict with your need to sell graphic art?

And there’s this. Which I didn’t have time to blog, but Gary Sauer-Thompson did.

All women are familiar with the commando-like instructions they have received over the years from well meaning friends and family; Don’t go there, don’t go there alone, don’t go there after dark, dress this way, don’t dress that way, do this and this and that if you’re locking / unlocking your car, where to park…

We’re weary of it. It is not our responsibility to bear alone. We can’t make the trains safe, but we can instigate a national conversation with our boys: Girls and women, like you, have the right to mobility. Both men and women can be attacked, but women do not have a special responsibility to spend their lives like some kind of ninja commando in order not to be attacked.

Is Michael even aware of the facts on rape? that most rape victims are raped by people known to them? that rapes occur against people in modest clothing, women over 80, people in their homes, or in nursing homes? We can stunt our lives to appease the Hilalies and Leunigs of this world until we’re cowering in our rooms, and we still will not be a hundred percent safe. I know most of you already know this. This information has been out there for years. To continue to push the She Was Asking For It line indicates a deep ignorance and lack of reading on the topic.

And there’s this second strand in the stream of consciousness, that us progressives and wimminists are imposing a bland, fascist, conformist ideal on everyone by denouncing people like Hilaly, who are the steenky Camembert in the great feast of life! We’re the ones who are actually ruining multiculturalism!

(I’m confused! According to the usual SheeBoltStrocchiVines, we’re all too pee cee to stand up against unsavoury Muftis because we’re too hamstrung by our love of multiculturalism, but Leunig reckons we’re ruining it!)

Personally, I like my swamis, muftis and bishops to use rip-roaring colourful language, to be full-flavoured, overproof and offensive – crucifiably so…
…And I must say it (offensive and patronising as it may be) but I like my immigrants with a lot of terroir, as they say in winegrowing circles, and displaying the idiosyncratic flavours and characteristics of where they have grown up. I remember when an Italian who smelled of garlic was regarded as deeply offensive. I want my new Australians to be abundantly or even outrageously where they’re from – the full bottle. How else should they be if not themselves? Imitation Anglo-Celts? Should they be like Sandy Stone and John Howard? No, no, no! A thousand times no.

Yeah, and I like my “immigrants” with a sprig of parsley.

Colourful, perhaps offensive, traits are so much more interesting in a sideshow.

This is a health issue. We need all the variety and bold and mysterious flavours we can get, surely – the organic diversity of ideas, herbs, recipes, natural yeasts, strange music, strange words. We need that, don’t we?

What’s that banging noise? Oh, it’s the heads on the desks of all the progressives and feminists who have copped flak from the rightwing opinionistas for years because of their commitment to diversity. The same progressives and feminists who Leunig so despises. The same ones who have battled the Howard-right assimilationist rhetoric.

The famous politician, culture warrior and pre-emptive war person Adolf Hitler had an eye for enchanting language and interesting words. He cleverly adapted the technical word “gleichschaltung” to describe an ideal state of personal, cultural, political and economic alignment…
Fascism is the stronger word but gleichshaltung seems more appropriate to describe the thing we have come to know as the globalised, homogenised, new Australian value system.

Now that’s an interesting thought, Michael. We have had quite a few actual fascists move here after WWII. Most of them are dead or dying now, but just as a thought experiment, could you try and imagine what it might have been like if, like ripe Camembert cheeses, the fleeing Nazis had been encouraged to give full rein to their fascist stinkiness? and would you object so strongly if we called them on it?

It’s like trying to do a demolition job on Gormenghast, trying to craft a tight and logical riposte to that article. By Golly, I’d love to see Kaz have a go.

Update 13/11: The conversation continues over at LP.

Comments (0)

  • ah – so you’re the one who still reads Leunig.

    Not me.

    I think he’s a bit of a drip.

  • david tiley says:

    I can’t read that article all the way through. So what I am moved to write is not based on a close analysis of the text.

    You point back to Gary Sauer who posted Leunig’s rudey daughter cartoon. In it, a skimpily clad girl tells her frightened father that she can safely dress like this, because she has freedom. He is invoking the complicated sexual stuff between fathers and daughters, and the parent -child stuff about kid’s risk taking and innocence.

    But then we look at the way in which he has drawn the girl. He is also producing an image which says a) she is provoking trouble and b) she should pull her head in and c) the frightened conservative is right, and is called a “mufti”. His sympathy is clearly with the father, not the daughter who is the person actually at risk. For me, the image goes straight back to Albert Tucker and his horrified wartime paintings. They are more sophisticated than Leunig, because they refer to a sense of the world turned upside down, but he too paints feral, threatening women.

    On one level, I think the picture illustrates your point about Leunig’s lack of knowledge about feminism, or any conceptual understanding about culture, rather well.

    We start with a complex domestic moment, driven by its feelings. Then he takes it out into the public sphere, and its meanings become overtly political. The mufti is dragged in. She wants to ride the train. She talks about freedom.

    (There is another issue about public modesty, which he is referring to here – there are limits we would all agree on about the extent of sexual behaviour in public places, and it includes display. But he is not going far with this one.)

    Each time he gets into trouble, he can argue – and sometimes does – that the particular frame can have an innocent reading. And it can.

    Then he comes out in print, and describes what he thinks, and we conclude he is orbiting Pluto and that some of his antennae are damaged.

    In face, his position on the mufti mirrors his problem. He claims he has the right to artistic self expression, and that his intentions are noble. We argue that he has to take responsibility for the reading of his work by people who are hostile to women and freedom. (Of course, we also suspect that he too is hostile to women and freedom).

    He is making the same argument on behalf of the Sheik. He uses earthy language to say something true. We say the Sheik has to take responsibility for the reading of his words. Words that articulate contempt for women, and actively promote that contempt.

    In a context which the rest of us think is explosively loaded – male Muslim fundamentalists.

  • Hmm, yes, Leunig is very problematic in many ways. Great when he sticks to the whimsy, but then he gets these urges to snipe at society from the safety of his organic and home-schooled property in the bush. I wish he’d stick to the whimsy.

  • saint says:

    Full credit to you for plowing through Leunig’s drivel Helen. Given his behaviour and rantings in recent years I am never sure if Australia’s living yeast culture has gone rancid or is just wanting to infect us with his smug contemptuousness. One this is certain: the guy has baggage.

  • YouRAllFcked says:

    It strikes me that you ALL have baggage!

  • Butm, but, you’re a lefty, and as we all know that means you heart Leunig. Right?

  • Kate says:

    I can’t even read the extracts, but huzzah Helen for being so righteously angry and articulate.

  • Cristy says:

    Great post Helen. Have stolen some of it (with attribution) for LP.

  • shula says:

    What Saint says.

    I used to enjoy the work of Leunig’s sister, Mary, though. She was edgy. What happened to her?

  • tigtog says:

    Well said, Helen. I’ve loved me some Leunig work over the years, but every now and then he just goes batshit doolally.

  • ThirdCat says:

    Helen, what a great post. Thanks.

  • Helen says:

    Will reply when time…
    Yes, what did happen to Mary? anyone know?

  • mary leunig was really interesting in the 80’s.
    Lots of suburban gothic imagery.
    They wouldnt get a publisher who would touch them now.
    Lots of raw sex, and fantasies of infanticide..
    waay more controversial then Micheal.
    I like the way both of them think and hapy to engage with them both.

    Batshit doolally keeps it all real though. Keeps us thinking of him as a real three dimentional man, with hang ups and loose thinking, not some holy prophet worthy of worship.

    Bit like Vonnegut, and M Scott Peck really.
    Lots of good stuff, and some really wacky stuff, for good measure.

  • TimT says:

    This is a great post, and I love that closing metaphor about trying to do a demolition job on Gormenghast. Reckon with a few minor changes you could send it into The Age, though that might hurt Leunig’s delicate feelings …

    I haven’t seen Kaz Cooke’s cartoons for ages; they were great! I second the call for a Kaz Cooke riposte.

  • Helen says:

    Thanks all… Really want to join this conversation, but things are so damn busy at the moment. It’s very annoying. Tim, that was very complimentary thank you, but I;d have to strip the swears out for the AGE consumption wouldn’t I.

  • I’m with you on Mary. I’ve been keeping an eye out for her for ages, but nothing seems to be happening. Maybe we should do a campaign to bring back Teh Real Leunig?

  • peacay says:

    I must have been about 10 when my sister gave me (I think) the first Leunig book which I loved to death. Ampersand Duck is right about the whimsy, which I had thought of as so much more back in the day. They still move me, those curls and sad eyes and sketches of loneliness.

    But I’ve never really kept up with Leunig’s newspaper work or at least, when I’ve occasionally seen his cartoons in recent times they had the air of a well beaten dog, having gasped their last breath sometime in the distant past. {And I admit ignorance about the negative portrayals of women Helen mentions – just because I’ve either never noticed or haven’t been exposed enough..probably the latter}

    That strange phenomenon called fame often perverts sane thinking. I can generate some sympathy at times for the insular worldview that their predicament brings. But I can’t maintain that attitude when ego trumps logic or commonsense or what have you and people like Leunig believe that their twisted thoughts deserve to be foisted on the public.

    What a complete dickhead. And it’s that sophistry – the internal contradictions Helen points out – that most grates. Don’t come out and say that you are a sexist inbred feckwad; couch it in smiling, nonchalant language to entice the reader towards your idiotic views. For some reason I’m reminded of, you know, the undeclared between-the-lines racism that still pervades this country —- not so overtly offensive that it ever gets much of a smackdown but nonetheless pernicious, insidious and ultimately the most harmful type of warped thinking. Leunig you spineless gorm, retire!

  • kate says:

    Well done Helen, cut out the swears and send it to the Age. Personally, I couldn’t get past my own swears to say anything articulate. It’s been that kind of week (or several) where I see misogyny and respond with ‘Oh for fuck’s sake!’ rather than anything clever.

    I didn’t read any kind of full translation of the Sheik’s speech, and I don’t know who did the translations we got in the papers (and I’m a cynical type), but didn’t he say he was only arguing that muslim women should keep their scarves, not trying to impose head gear on the rest of us? That would imply, if you go along with the modesty prevents assault argument for two seconds, that either it’s ok to assault non-muslim women, or that head covering would not protect us (so we needn’t bother), or that muslim women are more likely to be assaulted (and therefore need fuller protection).

    It was all very strange, but the Sheik was photographed with his adult daughter, who wears a scarf (not a face covering, more the sort of thing my Granny wore out on windy days) and make up. So maybe the way he talks is more conservative than what he actually imposes on his own family.

  • phil says:

    At the risk of drawing a bit of fire can I suggest that, based simply on the excerpts relayed here (I haven’t read the whole article), that it’s a kind of amateurish attempt to represent in prose what he normally does in cartoons? That is to say, it’s utterly over the top because normally a cartoon gets its impact from being an exaggeration in one way or another, and that what he’s trying to do here?

    That said, he’s certainly no Patrick Cook who has both the whimsical-but-underlyingly-cutting cartoon down pat, along with a fine ability with words. So maybe Leunig should stick to whimsy. I certainly wish I still owned my 1970s direction-finding duck T-shirt.

    But I do still have the Mary Leunig “No place like home” from 1982. I always thought that, in this book at least, there was a suggestion that the fine line between madness and deep insight was a bit finer with her than with Michael.

    Maybe he’s moved on…

  • Laura says:

    Mary Leunig was amazing. I remember a drawing of hers which showed a mother sitting on top of a washing machine in the spin cycle, enjoying the vibrations.

    When I was ten we lived in a house that belonged to Michael Leunig – it was on the same piece of Daylesford land that his parents and three sisters (and their families) also lived on. I don’t remember much about Mary but her children were great fun. They lived in a mudbrick house.

  • Helen says:

    That is interesting Laura! I don’t remember the one with the washing machine but I remember a few of her cartoons which were rather bleak. I must keep an eye out in 2nd hand book shops.

  • Armagnac Esq says:

    There was another cartoon along the same lines recently. Something to do with ogling women and feeling no attraction for his wife.

    Which is I think the saddest part of it all.

  • Little Red says:

    Funny too that he should advocate ‘escaping from the drabness and oppressiveness of worldly values’….um hello! I would think that escaping the despair of rape came far before that of political correctness on the scale of what modern humans need…..And you are right, sounds like he is so very stuck in the grizzly confines of his conditioned mind, almost to the point that it just reads like an adolescent bite-back after a hot girl didn’t give him the time of day. So whose wilting soul is it exactly?

  • R.H. says:

    Wooh!- lookee here!- look what happens when an old reliable recants, breaks down. Well golly, some people do develop, you know? They find the WHOLE TRUTH. But maybe Leunig (the yuppie’s bard) needs some feminist indoctrination, do you think? To put him right!

    And the Sheik never articulated his contempt for women at all, his contempt is for a degenerate society, that’s all. A perv show.

  • R.H. says:

    Once you enter university you never get out. LP are a bunch of snotty schoolkids. Forever.

  • genevieve says:

    Well, I don’t know. There’s a good hearty, provocative kick against uniformity at the end of that article about the mufti and I have to say I can see where he is coming from there – if I have to go into one more mall and see hordes of people in the same cheap Chinese clothes walking around like sheep, I’m going to get a bit mulish about celebrating difference too I think. I’m not sure this article is really about women at all, more about PC ness – surely Leunig is not the first to have a problem with that. South Park, anyone?

  • Helen says:


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.