Sexism, racism and homophobia are the big no-go topics in Australia. Justin Heazlewood, aka The Bedroom Philospher, calls it a “tyranny of positivity”.
And this ‘sunshine and roses’ view of the Lucky Country is rigidly enforced by an army of trolls. Despite the keyboard-armed opposition, the Stirring the Possum session’s panellists agreed it is the responsibility of artists to “disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed”.
Catherine Deveny has had more than the occasional run in with haters but she says they don’t bother her.
“I don’t have a thick skin,” said Deveny. “I just don’t give a shit about idiots, fuckwits, morons, trolls and losers think.”
On the opposite end of the scale, Heazlewood admitted to being deeply hurt by any criticism. He once read a comment online admonishing him for wearing flared pants on a tram.
“It threw me into a tailspin of depression,” Heazlewood said. “I started wearing dark glasses when I went out to avoid being recognised.”
Playwright Benedict Hardie says empathy has been rotting since the mid 1980s, but he is attempting to renew it through his work. The playwright relishes working in the fringes, but theatre has its own trolls, and Hardie hates nothing more than a mid-show walk out.
“I don’t care if people hate it. Just engage with it before you make your mind up.
“If you walk out you’re saying that 45 minutes of your life are more important than the four months of mine I spent creating it,” he said.
Hardie wondered whether artists could ever be really successful speaking up about something while working from within the framework of the very thing they are protesting about.
The biggest barrier to successful art/protest was the need to collect a pay check, said Hardie. While being controversial, you risk burning industry bridges that cannot be rebuilt.
Deveny disagreed, and said her advice to young comedians is to stop advertising for commercial television and radio, to stop getting on stage and speaking as though they are applying for a job.
“People don’t hire me because I’m safe,” said Deveny. “They hire me because I’m controversial.”
Challenging the status quo isn’t just a responsibility. It’s also a pay check for Deveny, who said she’s learned that being controversial just means telling the truth instead of repeating the narrative.
Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University Arts student.