Yesterday, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison grew angry with a journalist at a press conference he wanted to use to portray his Road to Damascus on the sexual assault and harassment scandal dogging his heels in recent weeks.
Morrison had been accused of being tin-eared and clumsy in his responses to questions about rape and sexual misconduct, and to mounting criticism from women about a misogynistic culture in politics. The anger and frustration of women, caused by inaction from mostly male politicians on the issues raised led to a very high profile public demonstration outside Parliament House in Canberra.
Now Morrison wanted to show that he finally ‘got it’, or so most media commentators say. But the press conference didn’t unfold the way he planned, and he was confronted with yet more incidents of sexual misconduct—a staffer masturbating on a woman MP’s desk! A man so crass and stupid he recorded himself doing it, and then shared the video with colleagues.
Worse, a journalist from the usually reliably friendly News Corp platform, Sky News, challenged the PM whether he had lost control of staff in Parliament House altogether.
And that’s when we got a glimpse at the raw, angry, bullying Scott Morrison he so carefully tries to conceal behind the deliberately confected ‘daggy dad’ publicity profiles of the cook, the handyman, the footy supporter. More Alf Garnett than Jerry Russo.
Morrison’s record of dismissing questions he doesn’t care for, and his refusal to accept responsibility for anything at all, make it pointless to analyse his behaviour by adopting conventional yardsticks of professional integrity. Or those ‘highest standards’ of behaviour demanded of MPs in parliamentary policy, but so visibly ignored by so many that the policy stands out only as a symbol of hypocrisy.
We need a more primal yardstick to comprehend Morrison’s behaviour. A psychological one. A Freudian approach comes readily to mind.
The angry Scott Morrison is an antithesis of his carefully confected public image. In anger, he becomes all juvenile id—the schoolyard bully, hissing threats at you that he calculates to be hurtful, shameful, and damaging.
And what is hurtful, shameful, and damaging in Morrison’s imagination?
You’d be aware that in your own organisation that there is a person who has had a complaint made against them for harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet, and that matter is being pursued by your own HR department.
So, it has to do with toilets, and sexual harassment, and being found out or exposed.
Toilets are places in which we daily re-live our Freudian infant anal fixation, and where even the most puritan of men touch their penises, perhaps adding a re-experience of our Freudian early childhood fixation on our genitals? A place of shame and guilt for some? Of furtive self-gratification for others? And of a release of the monstrous primal urges of an unconstrained id?
No matter what other meanings we might find, Morrison’s words convey to us how he conceives of the shameful. A sexual assault carried out in that place, with those possible associations. An assault on a woman, in a women’s toilet, but not that far away from the other great taboo: homosexuality, and ‘cottaging’, being homosexual encounters in toilets.
Furtive, shameful, and socially disgraceful? Depends on perspective. The segue to homosexuality is compelling because of Morrison’s high profile homophobia. And because it fits with another powerful metaphor that rests easily around Morrison—that of the boys’ school bully, and of a particular culture, discussion of which has long included many recollections of a menacing undertone of sexual abuse.
The extended overlay of psychoanalytic clichés also fits because the accusation by Morrison turned out to be completely false, meaning he invented it. He imagined the worst aspects he could think of in a horrendous combination. To hurl as a threatening insult at a journalist in a moment of only tenuous self-control and personal discipline. A moment when a picture emerged of a man not constructed entirely by his own marketing spin.
One has to wonder whether this prime minister acts regularly on the basis of stereotypes produced by a disturbed imagination, driven by his Freudian id.
Do all women really only represent ‘Jenny and my daughters’? Does that mean there’s a nascent Madonna-whore complex there as well? Some women are just ‘sluts’ in comparison with the idolized ones?
By extension, then, are all men either bewdie-bonza-mates-blokey-tradies … or threatening ‘eshays’ and ‘poofters’?
Are all non-Caucasian ‘foreigners’ no more than the 1960s caricatures in the White Australia of Menzies?
The possible list of perverse stereotypes is endless.
Anyone could poke Freud at anybody else, and come up with alarming, surreal vistas of delusion and psychosis. The very accessibility of Freudian metaphors, however, has led many public figures to be quite guarded in how they conduct themselves publicly, and how they manage their own emotions, especially anger.
Morrison, often called ‘Scotty from marketing’ because of his endless appetite for cheesy, narcissistic sales pitches, seems unaware of how much he contradicts his own propaganda at moments of stress and anger. Allowing glimpses at a schoolyard bully, a head prefect type who demands obedience, but who doesn’t inspire it with his juvenile temper tantrums and facile threats.
All bullies are plagued with a nagging inferiority complex. They put down others to mask their own inadequacies, and they rely on a coterie of sycophant lackeys to ‘pile-on’. But when their victims fight back, and the sycophants instinctively back away, so does the bully. Still spitting and hissing insults and threats, but already defeated by the defiance that reveals the victim as the more commanding presence.
Is that what happened here?
If we extend the bully metaphor further, with whom did Morrison pick his fight? The political editor of Sky News, Andrew Clennell. Normally Morrison would see anyone from a News Corp platform as part of his coterie of sycophants. Former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull are credible commentators on News Corp’s partisan support of the Morrison Coalition’s right wing extremism.
So, the prime minister wasn’t bullying some isolated, ‘common enemy’, but a former ally. Is that why his temper-driven threat-insult failed so spectacularly? Because he forgot he needs the coterie to succeed as a bully at all?
Or is it that Morrison has already lost his coterie for failing to prove he’s the biggest dog on the block once too often? For not being able to bully his victims without the support of the sycophants?
Enough of the suppositions for now. One lingering question presents itself that no one has addressed so far. Given the primitive nature of the Freudian instincts explored above, could it be that Morrison’s outburst hints, subconsciously, at suspicion or knowledge of an entire class of sexual assaults and harassment not yet uncovered?
Could it be that sexual assaults and misconduct by men, perpetrated against other men, in and around Parliament House, exist in parallel with the misogynist kind?