Although it was rejected by the Your Country Your Call mandarins, my proposal for Mandatory Clown Suits for Social Welfare Recipients was picked up down under.
But could it work in Australia?
Trade minister Simon Crean has challenged marketers to come up with a way to capture Australia’s strengths as a place to invest. “The lucky country” doesn’t quite translate across cultures. The country is basically a huge desert with some quarries in it on the end of the Earth, full of things that can kill you. So you can see why people ask precisely what it is Australians consider themselves lucky about.
But “the happy country” would surely translate seamlessly across cultures. It’s so happy, people would say, there are clowns everywhere.
It’s easy to remember, travels well, rings true, is portable and lends itself to great imagery so has the elements of a great marketing slogan. The first day it went into effect it would make television headlines around the world as CNN and others flocked to our cities to film the clowns getting their suits.
Centrelink offices could be decked out with circus regalia, making them much cheerier places to visit.
Hugh Green, the blogger who first proposed the idea on the Your Country, Your Call website set up by the Irish President’s husband, suggested it could be sponsored by captains of industry.
So business leaders like Gerry Harvey could pick up some clowns each morning and have them working on the front line, keeping them trained and connected to the workforce and also entertaining children while the parents go spending money and further stimulating the economy.
That blog post elicited the following response:
Was there a point to the article? Again, the original post seemed a pretty clear dig at the idea of government soliciting policy ideas from the public. In a comment on his post, the author even noted that “I’ve been reading the proposals in more detail this morning and I have to say that it renders my stab at something satirical entirely redundant.” Colgan seems to kick off with a little stab at Tony Abbott’s “thought bubbles”, but after his “clown suits for dole bludgers” proposal he just seems to throw it open to other zany ideas rather than driving home a solid point.
It seems like maybe this was an attempt at end-of-week satire that fell a bit flat, but I do wonder about the undertone of meanness that crept into it. The comments on Colgan’s piece seem to have gone in a lot of different directions – some treating it seriously, whether approving or disapproving of the idea, and others running with new satirical policy ideas. I’d be interested in what others thought of it – was there a point I was missing? Was it satire that missed the mark? Did you find it funnier than I did? And was the digging at those on social welfare a bit much?
I’ve received a few comments and a couple of e-mails none too happy with the proposal, including this one:
I genuinely cannot wait until you lose YOUR job. Seriously, delicious anticipation of your utter humiliation and degradation as you languish pointlessly on the dole, unable to find any meaningful work whatsoever – it’s clear from this article you are ill suited to any form of living within society and once we’ve got your policies in place, you’ll be throw to the dogs. Have fun!
And there seems to be genuine confusion about what the original intention was. So I’d like to clear this up. I posted a response on the Crikey blog, which I reproduce here, with the usual corrections for typos and that.
Thanks for pointing out that the intent of the original post was satirical, a consideration lost on some of those who have contacted me about it. I’d like to emphasise that I originally wrote it in response to the outrageous suggestions that were getting made by some of the contributors to the Your Country Your Call website, which, as is the tendency in recession-era Ireland, had demonised people in receipt of social welfare payments. In so far as I had a point, it was to oppose the idea that individuals can blithely cook up happy-clappy solutions to devastating social problems, which seemed to me the basic principle of the YCYC initiative.
Reading the ‘dole bludgers’ headline to Mr Colgan’s piece, I find it hard to work out whose side he is on in this, but I think it highlights a deeper problem: what originally appears as an attempt as social critique can be taken up and transformed into something a bit more insidious. For instance, I’m sure most people are familiar with the film The Full Monty from the late 1990s, in which you have a group of unemployed Sheffield steelworkers who are forced to perform a striptease in order to regain a sense of self-worth after the humiliation of unemployment. Not a great film, but the message of that film was marketed and reproduced, stripped of any irony, as ‘being on the dole is fun! All you have to do is humiliate yourself!’ So I regret very much if my original proposal might have sparked something along these lines.
I didn’t know anything about The Punch website when I started getting hundreds of hits from it the other day, but having checked this morning after posting on the Crikey site, it looks like it’s owned by News Corporation. And so is Fox Searchlight pictures, which was the distributor of The Full Monty. That figures.