AS a last minute outfit it was a great idea.
Work had finished late and I only had two hours to get to a mate’s house in London. The only space I had to create my ensemble was in one of the few train carriages I’ve been in that didn’t smell like body odour. The occasion? Australia Day! My costume? I dressed up as a detention centre for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. Did I think, ‘hmm maybe I’ve gone too far’? A little bit. Until I saw a story from Crikey.
Crikey’s Matthew Knott captured the mood of the recent asylum seeker coverage in Australia with the headline — ‘Search for our hottest asylum seeker: Zoo overboard on smutty spread?’.
Zoo, an Aussie men’s magazine, recently ran a competition ‘to find Australia’s hottest asylum seekers’. Knott assumes it was a way for Zoo to make cash.
“It’s a question tormenting men’s magazine editors around the world: how do you get noticed, and make a buck, in an era when the smutty content you specialise in is only a mouse-click away?” asks Knott. “Well Zoo has got attention!”
Zoo has come under some serious attack since for the use of asylum seekers as fodder for the market. Comment streams from fans, haters and readers alike are positive and negative. But what has surprised me most of all is that the magazine seems to have been targeted more than any failed foreign policies, or even the politicians who have failed to prevent or at least stem the flow of asylum seekers. Why is no one recognising (or criticising) the flawed policy development that creates asylum seekers in the first place?
While I do not personally support Zoo and what they have done, and I’ve never actually bought a copy of Zoo, I find it pretty amazing the amount of flak they have gotten. Could the reaction be because asylum seekers are a taboo topic? And more so, that talking about asylum seekers is a far greater taboo altogether?
Take my case for example. The images drawn on my make-shift ‘detention centre costume’ depicted shark infested waters, people throwing children overboard when their boats burst into flames and then protesters stitching their mouths shut. I turned up to see my Australian friends at their party (eagerly awaiting their reactions) but they all looked at what I had done and greeted me with the overall response — ‘you’re still just a dick in a box’. But was that in effect missing the very point of the whole exercise? The reason why I chose to go as a detention centre was because of the way they are featured in Antipodean news bulletins, and the way everyday Australians are depicted as a result. It seems to be a case of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
I obviously don’t have all the answers but I do think it’s a major issue that all Pacific leaders should care about and talk openly about. Australia can’t just be seen as some sort of border protection for the rest of the region. Pacific politicians need to deal with what is likely to become a problem for all countries in the area. Zoo’s coverage of this particular issue is tacky but at least they are not trying to score votes out of it.