I had a great time on Sunday afternoon at Men of Letters. It was an honour to be asked to do the gig, so thanks Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire for the opportunity.
We were asked to write a letter to “the woman who changed your life”. My letter is below. Please keep in mind that this was written to be read aloud. Also, the Randling joke is funny because Andrew Denton was in the room.
All the proceeds from MOL go towards to Edgar’s Mission, a very worthy cause indeed. If you can spare some change, please chuck it their way.
I hope you like it.
Dear Miranda Devine,
Hello! It’s me, Tom Ballard, that left-leaning homosexual ABC employee that you blocked on twitter! Hello!
Seeing as how you don’t seem to want to receive any tweets I send to you, I thought I’d get in touch by writing a letter, because you seem to like things that are outdated. Whilst you read this you can pretend it’s the 1950s – just think of me as your friendly neighbourhood confirmed bachelor!
Ah, the 1950s, when the only thing missing was AIDS…
I’m trying to picture you reading this. Perhaps you’re spread out on your golden chaise lounge on the balcony of your northern beaches home with your pet Taipan wrapped lovingly around your shoulders, occasionally sampling the delights of the small bowl on the coffee table beside you. Your favourite delicacy: babies’ eyeballs.
(That could be inaccurate, that bit. I don’t know where Miranda Devine lives. But I’m almost positive she keeps a Taipan as a pet. I say “pet”; I mean “familiar”.)
Perhaps that’s too much. Perhaps you’re reading this at your stainless steel desk in your stainless steel apartment filled with stainless steel plants and stainless steel dreams. Perhaps you yourself are made of stainless steel and this letter is being digitally downloaded into your mainframe and your maker, Dr. Devine, will shortly weld your face façade back to your mechanical head plate, returning you to full functionality, allowing you to continue to work towards the goal you have always been programmed to complete: TO KILL ALL HUMANS SLOWLY THROUGH A LONG-RUNNING SERIES OF QUESTIONABLE OPINION PIECES IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.
Or perhaps I’m completely wrong. Perhaps your conservative, ice queen demeanour is all a cover, and you’re actually reading this in your grubby Newtown sharehouse whilst sucking down a beer-bong, having just returned from a passionate bisexual orgy downstairs in your fuck dungeon, all the while fantasizing about forming a republic and recycling.
I hope it’s that last one.
However you’re positioned whilst reading this, I hope you’ll stay with it until the end, because this is important. This letter is about how, over the past 2 years, you’ve slowly changed my perspective on things, and by extension my life.
We have a history, you and I, Miranda. Prior to my move to Sydney from my home state of Victoria in 2010, I didn’t really know you existed, to be honest. I read The Age – mainly during Comedy Festival season, desperately flicking through the pages for a review of my own shows, or, as I like to call it, “old school Googling yourself” – and I only ever read the Herald Sun when I was bored in a café and I wanted to read Andrew Bolt’s opinion piece because I wanted something easy to hate. Fortunately, Bolt is no longer contained to just the print media; his special brand of poppycock has branched out into television, with him hosting his own Sunday morning political discussion show with all the confidence of an adolescent McDonalds employee at the helm of the Costa Concordia. His show’s called The Bolt Report, which is odd; I thought they would’ve gone with the original title they were looking at: Mein Kampf. Ah well, that’s the Jew-run media for you, right Miranda?
Anyway, I moved here and I got accustomed to the new lay of the land and figured out who I could hate here: people like Alan Jones and Kyle Sandilands and Janet Albrechtsen…and you. You’re very easy to hate for a gay Gen Y middle-class public school-educated son of left-leaning-parents like me, Miranda.
(Sorry if that description of myself just made you projectile vomit or something – hopefully the Taipan’s ok!)
The only thing I liked about you was your name. If the time ever comes where I relent and try my hand at drag, there is no doubt in my mind that I shall perform under the title of MIRANDA DEVINE.
So I hated you, but so did everyone in my life, so it wasn’t such a big deal. I hated you like I hate abstract concepts like famine or disease or the Logies, but hey – whaddyagonnado?
Then, in August of last year, you wrote a column entitled The Problem Of A Fatherless Society, in which you argued that Penny Wong should not be praised for deciding to have a child with her lesbian partner Sophie Allouache because, according to you, the ideal situation for a child to be raised in is an intact family with a father and a mother, and the 2011 London riots illustrate the catastrophic implications of a “fatherless society”.
I read the opinion piece on my laptop whilst curled up in bed on a Sunday morning. I was in disbelief. I know there are some pretty shitty things on the internet, but I just couldn’t believe that this monstrosity got on there. How did you do that? How did people who work at a newspaper look at the thing I presumed you created by boiling up turds and salt in a cauldron in Fred Nile’s bungalow – how did they look at that and go, “Yep! This deserves to go in people’s heads!”???
I just couldn’t work out what you were saying, Miranda. Your piece was riddled with twists of logic and contradictions and crazy claims; I’m worried there’s something wrong with your keyboard – I think someone must have replaced one of the keys with a Bullshit Button. You need to call the Daily Telegraph IT Department and get them to help you, provided they’re not too busy erecting paywalls for content nobody wants.
Your piece made me so angry that I felt like I had to do something, and that’s quite rare for me, especially on a Sunday. I attacked my own keyboard, wrote a thing, put on a jacket, set up my laptop’s camera and recorded a monologue response called Miranda Devine: What The Fuck Are You Talking About?!. Through a lot of swearing and jump cuts, I tried to communicate to you that in fact, the overwhelming opinion of the scientific community is that same sex couples are just as capable of raising happy, healthy children as opposite sex couples are and of course there’s a link between Penny Wong’s story and the same sex marriage debate and of course heterosexual people aren’t expected to hide or be ashamed of their spouses and children for fear of “offending” the politically correct twitterati and clearly there’s a difference between the social impacts of economic disadvantage and young fathers shirking their parental responsibilities and two women having and raising a child together in a financially stable, loving environment and hey also when you post tripe like this in the public sphere it can actually have a pretty detrimental impact on the mental health of young GLTBIQ youth out there, a group of young people who are up to 6 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.
I put the video on YouTube and it now sits at over 40,000 views (which means it’s actually out-rated Andrew Denton’s Randling) and I got quite a few emails from people – some amazing and uplifting and supportive and touching, some…not so much – and it got a bit of media coverage.
But despite my provision of my email address and my request for you to respond to me and explain what the fuck you were talking about, I never heard from you, Miranda. All you did was write a follow-up article in which you took one of my jokes out of context and claimed you were under attack from politically correct McCarthyists and you said your words had been twisted and I assume you were referring to my response when you described the visceral reaction to your column as “performance rage, played out online looking for more hits”, which I gotta say, I thought was pretty ballsy, seeing as how you get paid to perform your outrage on the Daily Telegraph website so that it gets more hits to increase its advertising premium.
You seem to have a bit of a problem with the gays, Miranda. There was that time in May of 2010 when you posted a link to an article you’d written about Catherine Deveney being fired from The Age. Justin Barbour, a 20-year-old openly gay university student, tweeted at your account in response, “You’ve had enough of attacking the gays for now I see. Great. Thanks.”
You tweeted back by saying, “You’ve had enough of rogering gerbils for now I see. Great. Thanks.”
So as far as I can tell, when you see a 20-year-old university student who’s openly gay, you assume he must be sticking a gerbil up his jacksey, which I think is, at the very least, quite presumptuous. You have absolutely no idea what that young man has ever placed up his anus; for all you knows, he could have a nest of guinea pigs up there, hibernating for the winter. You can’t just assume what people have had up their arses, Miranda. When you assume things about my arse, you make an arse out of you and me and also my arse.
Also – side note: you know “rogering a gerbil” is a truly bizarre idea, right? Gerbils aren’t even native to Australia. That guy would have to SHIP GERBILS IN for a good rogering and uni students don’t have that kind of money, Miranda.
You deleted that tweet and you never apologized. You didn’t stand by it as a joke or anything, you just…carried on.
This week you were responsible for a truly odious piece of work. A front-page story and an opinion piece about how the Proud Schools pilot program currently being trialed in NSW schools was indoctrinating our children into believing that homosexuality was “the norm” and that heterosexuality isn’t the conventional arrangement for human relationships. You’re scared of the “thought police” beating leftie ideas into our kids’ heads. You had the fucking gall to try to underplay the issue of homophobic bullying in schools, quoting research that in actual fact proves the exact opposite. You just blatantly misrepresented the truth and you must’ve known you’d be caught out; it’s not a matter of shit not sticking to you, it does stick to you, but then seems to just be absorbed into your armour of shit and only makes you stronger.
You showed zero compassion for at risk young people out there who may be contemplating suicide, feeling cold and isolated from their peers because of this thing they have in their head that the church and the government and history and the newspapers tell them is dirty and immoral; the kind of person I was about 5 years ago when I was growing up in Warrnambool in country Victoria and wrestling with my secret.
I didn’t know fancy terms like “heterosexism” and “heteronormative”, but I was sure as hell living it. Everyone was straight and that was that and if you deviated from that or questioned that you were fucked and it was impossible, impossible, to imagine a world where that wouldn’t be the case.
My favourite part of your piece was when you wrote: “It’s not up to academics to dictate attitudes to society via indoctrination of captive children in classrooms”.
Damn right, Miranda – only Catholic priests should be doing that! You go get ’em, girl!
Then there’s the column you posted on October 3rd which began like this:
ON the one hand, thousands of people taking to the streets of Melbourne in memory of Irish murder victim Jill Meagher was a lovely gesture.
The sight of the crowd walking in silence to pay their respects to the 29-year-old ABC staffer down the Melbourne street where she was last seen must have given some comfort to her grieving family.
On the other hand, the message of the march was ludicrous.
It was designed by assorted twitterati as some sort of “peace” march to show “solidarity” against violence, as well as a rallying cry to women not to succumb to fear.
Why does the community have to demonstrate solidarity against violent sexual predators?
It’s not as if we have to forge a new taboo against rape and murder. Do we?
Seriously. Who is for rape and murder? Is there anyone on the planet who thinks that what happened to Jill Meagher was OK?
Have we become so mistrustful of our shared values that people feel obliged to take to the streets to make a statement of the bleeding obvious, that raping and murdering a young woman is wrong. It’s a given that it’s wrong.
You then go on to blast, once again, the “twitterati” for “hijacking” the message of the march and you argue that those involved were naïve and women should still fear the night, that reclaiming it is ridiculous and we need to live in the world as it is not as how we should want it to be and you used something Catherine Deveney said for some stupid reason.
You could have written anything you liked about that march, Miranda. Anything. In the aftermath of that heart-wrenching tragedy that brought many of my friends and colleagues to their knees in grief, you could have spent your 800 words praising the truly astonishing gesture of tens of thousands of people marching in solidarity in remembrance of one innocent woman – and by extension all women who have fallen victim to sexual assault and violence – you could have spent all 800 words celebrating that and it wouldn’t have been overdone, because yes, as a columnist, you have a duty to speak truth to power and call bullshit on certain things when other people won’t, but in this fucked up world where fucked up things like Jill Meagher’s rape and murder can happen, the fact that incredible things like that march can happen is a fucking miracle and if you truly are a Christian you should fall to your knees in reverence, not cynically snide from behind your keyboard to get in a cheap shot at the “silly idealistic feminists” because heaven forbid your writing could actually elevate the national mood in this country and unite people rather than divide us.
You know what I think we really like about American politics, Miranda? It’s just so easy. The characters are huge, everything is set on this massive dramatic canvas, opponents don’t debate – they do battle. It’s Republican versus Democrat, Red versus Blue, right versus left and never the twain shall meet. It’s the place where Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter and Glenn Beck find audiences with their rhetoric of factual inaccuracies and fear mongering and their take-no-prisoners, God-is-on-our-side nonsense. There’s no such thing as a non-partisan issue in modern America; at the very least there’s a mud-slinging match about which side is trying harder to make something non-partisan.
I don’t want that crap here in Australia, Miranda. But I can feel it coming. The state of politics at the moment is deplorable, the behavior, the tone of debate – everything. But that’s the time when the public needs writers like you and Andrew Bolt and David Marr and Piers Ackerman and Michelle Grattan and Paul Kelly and Lenore Taylor and Gerard Henderson and Janet Albrechtsen to make it better and make us smarter, not just revel in the apocalypse. I don’t want blowhards in my newspapers who try to compete for who has the most dramatic point of view and who can phrase it in the most outrageous way; I want thinkers. I want people who aren’t fighting to twist every weekly event in the country to fit the ideology they signed up for. I want people with compassion who think about the effect their writing might have on reinforcing prejudices, whipping up fear, on how it might effect the young silent gay kid in the back of the classroom or the grieving family member or the partner of the politician.
And I believe you’re fully capable of doing that, Miranda.
I had a couple of jokes about you in my stand up show this year. When I was in front of a Victorian audience, I said the best way to explain who you are is to imagine if Mr. Devine and Mrs. Devine had a baby, and that baby grew up to be a cunt.
Was it a cheap shot? Sure. But KFC chips are cheap and they’re still fucking delicious.
Demonization is really easy. You just flick off that switch in your brain that tells you all human beings have feelings, cook up some good imagery, throw in a joke or two to use as a defence when people get offended and off you go. It’s easy; I’ve been doing it throughout this letter because it gets laughs.
I think you can be better than that. You’re clearly an intelligent person who is passionate about public debate, moral dilemmas and the challenges facing this country. You’re extremely well read, you’re fluent in Japanese, you’re a patriot, I’ve seen you be downright funny on Q&A and the small piece you wrote about the Salvos a little while ago was lovely and worthy without being mawkish.
But you write a lot of shit, Miranda, and it’s poisonous. You changed my life with your writing because you made me want to be so much better than both it and what it represents. I’m trying to be a better a person and not give in to the fear and the petty malice that bleeds through a lot of your work; the fear and petty malice that I see everywhere and that I know is within me.
I’m not trampling on your freedom of speech. Of course you have a right to have an opinion, to express that opinion. And you clearly have a huge readership and you get paid very well and you’ll continue your career for as long as you want to, probably.
I just want to remind you that strong, evidence-based, compassionate, soaring commentary can truly make a difference to conversations and beliefs and lives. You are privileged to do what you do, as am I, as is anyone who gets to float and discuss ideas for a living. It’s a job to be treated seriously. Through your bad example, you’ve taught me to respect that.
I saw you once, Miranda. In the flesh. That sounds creepy, but hear me out. I was at the Daily Telegraph, in the foyer, waiting to go in to do an interview. And you walked out of the hall and used your swipe card and the automatic doors whipped open and you just kept walking, straight ahead, stone-faced. A real human being just going home to her family after another day at work.
Please write back, Miranda; it’d be great to hear from you.
Yours in love, not hate,