7 May 2012, Comments (1)

There’s a Denialist in there, and a Chair as Well

Author: Helen

This makes me sad. Noni Hazlehurst was a regular morning companion when our daughter was little – our favourite Play School presenter. She always seemed like a good sort, intelligent, not ditzy like the people on Hi-5. I know she has to move on; I don’t want to typecast her as a children’s presenter forever or anything like that. I’m sad because a loved and trusted actor is lending her wit and warmth and credibility to a play which simply recycles every tired cliche in the wingnut climate denial playbook.

I guess it’s futile to complain about trolling in the context of theatre. Theatre is ipso facto trolling; that’s its job, to present ideas in a dramatic way to get people talking over their pinot noir at interval – I get it, that’s why it’s called drama. But this seems more trollish than most.

Here’s Hazlehurst in her own words:

Hazlehurst says she’s tired of the “playground politics” that surrounds the climate-change debate, which is one of the reasons why she chose the role of the fast-thinking, plain-talking Cassell in The Heretic.

So, what are these “playground politics”? Is it the way in which the ABC and Fairfax are continually encouraging climate scientists and climate change deniers to share the sandbox equally, as if their claims have equal weight? The way in which rightwing columnists jeer like eight-year-olds at the scientific community with epithets like “warmenist”? What?

“In the increasingly divisive political climate, she [Cassell] doesn’t lie down but stands up for what she believes, which are the scientific facts,” Hazlehurst says. She admires the play’s refusal to paint issues — or people — in black and white.

Oh, really. So the playwright, Bean, is merely refusing to paint issues or people in black and white? Let’s have a look. The hero, Diane Cassell, is a “feisty” university lecturer who is suffering harassment at work – Just like Galileo! – because she has discovered that sea levels aren’t rising and she refuses to recant. (A martyr!) She “stares down death threats”, even though recent events have shown that it’s the climate scientists who are more likely to cop the death threats.

She also drives a gas-guzzling Jaguar XJ8 and proclaims that “Green” is the new religion for our “narcissistic” age…”You’re a denier, right?” asks one character…”I’m agnostic on anthropogenic global warming,” Cassell retorts, “but if you can prove to me there’s a God I’ll become a nun quicker than you can say ‘lesbian convent orgy’.

O Hilarious.

Cassell’s daughter is an anorexic who appears to have no intellectual credibility, and the student Ben, an environmentalist, is “smart but loopy”. The Wikipedia synopsis, above, shows that all or nearly all of the climate change-supporting characters are given disordered behaviour to perform to show what flakes they are compared to the “objective” Cassell. Oh, and of course, Cassell’s boss, Kevin, is out to suppress Diane’s findings (Galileo!) because he’s trying to get a research grant…

The characters may not be “black and white”, but it seems the climate change deniers are portrayed in more attractive colours, and green is portrayed as silly, irrational, wrong. Scientific facts my arse; the description of this play reads like a game of Global Warming Sceptic Bingo. I’m sure you could fill in most of the squares just with this review and the Wikipedia entry.

I find it particularly telling that the playwright, Richard Bean, has to invent an organisation to send death threats to Diane – the “Sacred Earth Militia” – whereas if he’d been describing the real world, of course, climate change scientists are being threatened by real people. And there are no shortage of organisations devoted to climate change denial.

The fact that Andrew Bolt thinks this play is “turning a climate sceptic from a pariah to a hero” should be enough to trip your bullshit detector. “Maybe we should book out the theatre,” he writes. that’s not exactly an inducement to go – imagine a theatre packed with Bolta’s commenters. How does an icon like Hazlehurst end up in such company? Where is the Noni who defended Cate Blanchett when she was pilloried because of her carbon ad?

I look in vain in that article I first linked to to find a coherent story in Hazlehurst’s response to the play. Let’s try again.

“Cassell is not a saint but has strengths and weaknesses [and] all of the characters have a lot in common. What’s at the heart of the play is the way that the connectedness between humans is all we have,” Hazlehurst says.

That’s a lovely sentiment, but I don’t see what it has to do with the fact that it’s clearly denialist pabulum, straight up. The least harm it can do is simply to reinforce the prejudices of a mostly well-off and conservative audience.
DISCLAIMER: For those who will want to jump in with “writing about a play I haven’t seen”: No, I won’t be seeing The Heretic, because I can’t afford MTC tickets at the moment. I’m responding to the ideas put forward in the quoted article, as well as other reviews online, some of which I’ve linked. The overwhelming evidence of these is that The Heretic presents climate change denial in a favourable light and that the tropes described above are in evidence. If you have seen the play, you’re welcome to put forward any evidence that this isn’t so.

Comments (1) »

  • Kath Lockett says:

    That makes me very sad too.

    Still she was married to that over-acting, true-blue Aussie pillock from Wolf Creek whose name escapes me, so I always had a few doubts as to her sanity.

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