July 21, 2007
The Canberra Times

John and Posh show how to crash-land in their own spaces

John Howard must now know a little of what it’s like to be Posh Spice. And she him. Although I doubt Victoria Beckham has ever heard of John Winston.

Both ventured forth this week to sell themselves in a new market. He debuted on YouTube. She on American TV. Both got savaged.

It must be tough going when what you’re flogging is just – you.  Admittedly there’s a bit of window dressing. But in Howard’s case, not much. It was John Howard, plain and simple, as Prime Minister – as he always is. Same costume. Same setting. Same static and, some would say, dour demeanour. There were no jokes, no set-ups, no wisecracks, no humour.

But there never is when Howard is selling Howard. In that sense, he’s a puritan. His sales pitch is honest, straightforward, unadorned Howard. What you see is what you get. And in a world of special effects, airbrushing and spoofs, there’s a lot to be said for truth in advertising, Howard-style – even though his foray into cyberspace left him wide open to some of the nastiest comments ever posted on YouTube.

Posh Spice on the other hand, has endured more than just nasty cyber comments about her US television debut Victoria Beckham: Coming to America, which aired this week. She’s also had some commentators gagging. ”It’s an orgy of self- indulgence,” said the New York Post. ”So out of whack with reality that you’ll sit there slack-jawed at the gall”.

Posh’s life is said to smack of ”too much fame, too much money and too much time spent believing the hype”. She is ”relentlessly self- promoting”, the Post barks. Which coming from the land that turned ”self-promotion” into an essential life skill taught in kindy – is pretty funny. But it seems Americans have no sense of humour when it comes to Posh’s surprising wit, and her very un-American self deprecating one- liners, ”Let me just adjust my face and put on my miserable pout for the press.” Or, when chased by the paparazzi and pulled over by the police for bad driving, ”I didn’t know whether to pose or get arrested.”

Sure, she’s having a lend of them, but when Posh meets a bunch of her LA neighbours, all of whom have taken cosmetic reconstruction to new heights, she’s a riot. When one dame begins doing dolphin impersonations, Posh turns to the camera with wide-eyed incredulity. ”There’s only one thing to do at times like these,” she says, ”get drunk!” It’s funny and it’s fun. And America hated it. ”She should go back where she came from,” one critic on breakfast TV screamed, ”she’ll never have any friends here”.

Which takes us back to John Howard and his lack of YouTube friends. Much of what has been posted in response to his short video message on climate change is unrepeatable. But that’s not to say Howard’s cyber post is unpopular. Quite the contrary. If you can find it.

To view the real thing may take wading through some 3800 other ”John Howard” videos on YouTube, such as ”John Howard: The complete walks”, ”John Howard’s abduction by aliens”, ”Trust me my name is John Howard”, or even ”John Howard downloads some Porn”.

Despite the distractions, somehow plenty of cyber fans are ferreting out the real John Howard. Within four days of its first posting the video had been viewed about 42,000 times; even ”favorited” 106 times.

Trawling through the comments, while mostly alarming, can also be quite enlightening. There’s also the odd sweet sentiment, ”try ur best dude, where supporting you” (sic). Noice.

But it was one of the first comments that has had most media play, ”Wait, the Libs are on YouTube now? Right, it’s officially not cool any more.”

And that’s the thing. Hanging out in cyberspace is about being cool. It’s a place of fun and irreverence, where people go to get away from the boring stuff and daily diatribe. A political policy pitch, where Howard plays Howard is just never going to cut it. But then, what’s an ageing Prime Minister to do? Just as Posh can’t help but be proudly Posh, nor can we expect John Winston to be anything but himself. Perhaps the ”You” in YouTube doesn’t apply to people such as prime ministers.

And yet American presidential candidates have cracked it. Hillary Clinton not only kicked off her race for the White House with a cyberspace video post to announce, ”I’m in”, but she and Bill have hammed it up performing a spoof of the hugely popular Sopranos television series. It’s unprecedented and until now unimaginable. For a couple of minutes America’s former president and a presidential aspirant play-act a scene from The Sopranos finale as they sit in a typical American diner, choosing music from the juke box. Daughter Chelsea screeches her car to a stop, while bumping the curb. It’s cute. And effective. And cyber surfers love it.

So, should John and Janette give it a go? Perhaps a horse-riding scene from McLeod’s Daughters? Or a spoof of Home and Away? I doubt it. Australians wouldn’t buy it.

But if the Prime Minister does intend to expand his cyber presence and his video repertoire, it might be worth checking out Family First Senator Steve Fielding’s web blogs.

Here, as intrepid reporter, the senator takes the viewer on a jolly journey of his life and times. He’s even mastered the reporter’s ”piece- to-camera” chat, while there’s crowd mayhem in the background. Fielding borrows from the best of them, opening one of his funniest videos with ”Crikey! Have a look at this.” And when one of his interviewees refers to Fielding as a ”smart-arse”, the senator erupts with laughter and beams at the camera.

It’s fun. It’s endearing. And it’s entertaining. But is it good politics? Or is it the politics of performance?

Perhaps there’s no longer any difference.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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