The perception of trust

Election day in Australia, 2013.  Bleak atmosphere at the prospect of Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister.  I try not to slip into depicting him as a lizard man, but truly, when someone’s behaviour and speech and er, what I will call policies are sub-human, it’s hard not to.

It’s also an incredible day where I live, ocean views, bright white sunshine, beloved doggies.

The real, or something.

Whatever happens, I am lucky.  I am grateful to live where I live, to be in Australia.  And I can also be angry about the things that are fucked up, unequal, polluting, idiotic.  The short sighted destruction.

I haven’t watched TV for a long time, except for a brief period of two years, which finished about a year ago.  I have also not been reading print media.  I access SBS World News, Sydney Morning Herald, ABC news, The Guardian and the Huffington Post on apps and websites, and the various responses to political news on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.  And, oh boy.

Still the revulsion.  Still the nausea.

By Michael Leunig

So my thesis (stick with me here) works with the concept of self-branding.  The branding of artists who also perform and/or say things that are politically critical.

As avid readers may know, I received some strong critique of my thesis by examiners.  Rolling with it, and getting into doing the revisions now, I know that there is further I can go with my theorising, even as I would like to be done with it.

Perhaps, perhaps one of the reasons it has been hard to grasp what I am saying is …


Perception of an artist.  Perception of a politician.

The good ole massaging of spin and brand and polls.  The PR of the wavefront.  The logo-ifying being more important than the real.  (What is the real, the old philosophy student part of me asks …)

So, there is the branding.  We can point at it.  We can see the brand of The Greens, their logo, their front, their profile pictures, their signs on telegraph poles on the road.  On websites, Facebook, news grabs of Christine Milne’s face.  There are artefacts, some tangible, like banners volunteers string over the highway overpass, and some virtual, as I change my avatar on Facebook to ‘This Saturday I’m Voting Greens’.  

(All of these examples for all of the other parties, too, but I literally am so revolted I don’t want to study them. Which is possibly part of the problem).

Then there is the knowledge that this branding is a part of the fight to secure votes for their candidates who say they will enact certain policies. (Ok, basic, but this is me trying to break it down through media fog and despair).

So here comes trust.

Trust that they will (to whatever extent) enact those policies, that my vote will put in the Parliament someone who will at least fight for and speak for, for example, no coal seam gas mining, climate change action, equal marriage recognition.  

Trust is slippery, or at least nebulous.  A therapist and anyone who has done some psychological reflecting can probably say: look, ultimately, we don’t know what’s going on inside anyone else.  We don’t know what they will do, what they think.  (Hey, the self can be enough of a mystery).  So trusting that someone will act a certain way is …

What is it?  Gut?

Gut and judging their past behaviour against their speech and their branding.

So.  The branding weighed up with the ‘real’.  Or what, for example, Tony Abbott has done as a member of Parliament and Opposition Leader versus what he is now saying in his attack ads.

I read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and my partner is currently reading Naomi Klein’s No Logo.  So lots of chats about this.  

In Pattern Recognition, the super-instinctual, gut reaction to branding is the main character’s great strength and vulnerability.  In No Logo Klein writes of how corporations and conservatives co-opted the idea of fighting for representation from activist groups, how the public sphere becomes the battleground for perception.

In some ways you could say all of this has already been so (for example, if giving feedback to a paper and saying ‘but what about when that held true for 1950s politicians, or for reggae artists, or whatever).

But surely the saturated war of perception is new.  Even if it isn’t, let’s still look at it.

But how to get outside of it to look at it?

Or look at it from where we are, inside of it, because who gets outside of it?

So, I guess that has been my approach with the thesis, look at some branded artefacts from artists, and online branding and some performances and tracks.  I can never ‘capture’ it all.  

Maybe there’s a need to let go of the idea of being able to ‘be outside’ and make an authoritative interpretation.  Look at the things themselves, as an inspired colleague says.  


Ok, but then if we (still with me?) go back to politicians: it matters.  It matters if the things themselves, if their branding and their speeches and their how to vote cards, it matters if they correspond to new mining approvals.  It matters if they will lower the low income tax threshold again.

Who to and why?  Well, ok … maybe that gets us off the topic of branding.  It matters to me because those things matter to me (and, ooh, maybe 10% of Australian voters, I guess).  Because I have a core sense of ethics, that I then use to make judgements about fracking and equal rights for LGBTI people and the lives of refugees. 

Which is not to say that I am a perfect ethical person (ooh, there I go with the introspecting:))

But there is something that I am measuring the branding against.

Maybe this is what I haven’t been able to articulate in the thesis.  Because the something isn’t just some reasoned, conscious barometer.

I guess I can be aware of the ways that I may measure branding against my gut/ethics/own research.  And then I could say that this will be relative, that I am not pretending that my measurement is the objective, ‘outside of it all’ view.

But no no, there’s also this part that I haven’t gotten too yet (it’s fine if you need a break).  The tone war of Leunig’s cartoon, the sense of overwhelming branding fog and counter commentators and bullshit soundbytes leading up to election day.  The endless Borges library of MC brands that intertextually reference each other. The swamp, miasma.  Even if it is a bright white shiney day listening to the roadworks and the birds and gazing at the ocean in the real, I know that the fog is there.  Even as I haven’t delved much into Facebook and media yet today – at least start the day with some yoga and feeling good – I know this shit is swirling around.

So there’s this sense of never getting to the real about the politicans.  Even if I vote in a certain way because of my gut and because of seeing research coming out of real coal seam gas wells and the passionate sense of equal rights for humans, I can’t ever be free of the brand.

In relation to them, anyway.

Although, I can sit here and think that Christine Milne is a real person who has whatever ethics and thoughts and principles she has, she is not just a part of the wavefront of green triangles and slogans.


Hoo.  Ok.  I have probably gone around in circles.  Maybe someone else can tell me if I have or not:)

My partner and I are kicking off a business that will come from, for me anyway, this core of ethics, this gut response to living.  We are researching the ethics and sustainability of various products and their manufacturing.  Then we will sell those products.  And I do feel good about what we will do and why.  And as we enter into branding our biz, I guess it’s just … a feeling sense of staying close to, acting ‘from’, the ethics as the driver.

The wavefront being tethered to the core.