As white Australia slaps its thonged feet towards another Invasion Day of swaddling national shame with proudly-worn larrikin-certified flag capes (straight-ordered from the Red Dot catalogue – $5.99 for a “Flashing Aussie Fedora + Vest” mate? SCRUMPTIOUS) – it has been backed by the latest instalment in the annual jingoist campaign series for white men, red meat and true-blue militarism. If you haven’t peeled your eyes on the offensive material yet, the reference here is the new We Love Lamb commercial by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), which has been doing its uneasy rounds since Sunday.
Using fear, jealousy and violence as its core emotional/bonding message (pretty Australian actually), the ad shows a high-tech gear-heavy squad of military personnel (featuring Fitzy and Wippa from Nova, and Mitch Johnson and Stephen Moore from sport) heroically extracting from the far-flung corners of the globe its citizens, so they can get them back to the barbie where they belong come Australia Day. In other words, it demonstrates an extremely helicopterist method of bringing back into the fold the country’s lost sheep, just so they can eat some baby sheep under a Hills Hoist for an afternoon. The whole set-piece is brash, dystopian, hyperbolic and bizarre. The Gruen audience would probably love it.
It is also bigoted. Although they don’t really (they really don’t) compare, the ad evinces a shocking insensitivity to two minority groups: vegans and Aboriginals. Vegans, because one military agent flames some kale in a psychotic fit of despair that his mate will never again suck on one of his meaty bones. And Aboriginals because not only are there zero Indigenous Australians featured in the ad, but the extraction process goes under the code-name ‘Operation Boomerang’.
Amazing. Let’s have a corporation mockingly appropriate this ancient tool of a civilization whom we celebrate oppressing on the 26th each year; where we calendarize with VB and fanfare a punch in a still-open wound; which marks for the land’s original and rightful owners a day that glorifies dispossession, discrimination and the legacy of genocide that came with European Settlement. And now, without irony, let’s use that corrupted symbol to imaginatively organize a violent and forcible relocation “home” of the white men (because it is mostly white men), who dared leave their fellow brothers abandoned, weakened and alone at the grill. And then let’s frame it as a bit of cheeky, no-expenses-spared heroism.
It’s a laugh! We’re just having a laugh! Laugh with us why don’t you! You noncy tight-arsed PCers! You got issues mate, is that it? Come on, squeeze one out, squeeze out a chuckle, it ain’t hard! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Adding to the dismay is that coordinating the high-grade military operation is none other than SBS newsreader and fashion-symmetry iconoclast Lee Lin Chin. Recruited for some kind of token multiculturalist placement or confused dark comedy, her participation seems to suggest she has somehow let her dry kookiness and troubling ‘miniature Asian militarist’ stereotype be wildly mishandled.
One winces. Deeply. I mean, who the hell came up with that copy. And, more distressingly, why the blazes wasn’t it shut down and called out as soon as leaked out of a pen or piehole, with the idiot responsible immediately scheduled for a repeat diversity training course and/or ushered in for closed-door talks with a grim-faced superior. There must have been someone down line who was like, “hold up guys – this feels wrong”. There must have been.
MLA Marketing Manager Andrew Howie continues to defend the ad however, on both the charges of kale-bashing and racism. ‘It’s impossible to appeal to everyone’, he sighs, presumably lifting both hands in the air.
Lambassador Sam Kekovich also took up the justifier’s stance, saying in an interview with news.com.au that he’d prefer to keep the conversation free from politics this year. Which is a deeply politicized and privilege-marked way of saying he’d like to dictate the conversation, define its terms, and silence or discredit those who try to speak about the day as something other than one which is “about a bunch of people coming together around a barbecue, over some lamb, taking a deep breath, and treating people the way you’d like to be treated.” Let’s take a deep breath now ourselves, and say the word: hypocrisy.
And to the vegans? Performing his characteristic Lamb Man persona of belligerent meatism, as heard in a Sunrise interview this morning: ‘I will handle [them], let me assure you. God strike a light and if they are not happy with it, they can go and get some lamb. Like the rest of Australia’. Basically, lamb with us or leave us: a red-blooded slogan of masculinity that seeks to humorously define through exclusion the “true” Australian identity.
With some small solace, the commercial has got heat from both media and audiences, particularly the left-leaning kind. In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Jeff Sparrow writes with particularly keenness about the history of the day itself, which white Australia mostly ignored until the Howard years, when it transformed itself from a ‘timid little event’ to a militarized extravagance which ‘simply steamrolls over the response of Indigenous people to their dispossession: presumably, they too can “get stuffed”’.
As now the most complained about advert in Australian history (topping even Ashley Madison’s ‘I’m Looking for Someone Other Than My Wife’ 2014 campaign), it may be taken off the air altogether. Most viewers, however, take issue with the intolerance it displays towards those of a different lifestyle choice, rather than those of a different race.
How, meanwhile, is SBS handling this? With great reserve it seems. Whilst dubbed by some outlets as “The Lee Lin Chin Ad”, the broadcaster doesn’t even mention her name in their coverage of the controversy. Risably, where the video was previously embedded there are instead the words ‘Sorry, the video you are looking for does not exist’. The will to erase history and culpability is strong. Crisis stations, SBS staff.
PerthNow, on the other hand, is going about reassuring its readership that a News Corp Australia poll has determined most Australians (64%) were fine with it, that everything was all fine, and if we could please just get a little line of shanks going, have our own little shanksgiving, that would be great.
Words by Kate Prendergast