Talkback radio, anti-elitism and moral decline: A fatal paradox?
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Perhaps no public force is understood to produce tangible political consent more convincingly than populist talkback radio presenters. They have been key agents in popularising conservative ‘anti-elitism’, in which sections of the professional middle class—rather than the corporate and aristocratic rich—are targeted as the privileged enemies of ordinary people, traditional values of fairness and justice, and common sense. Their cultural power and political influence grew rapidly from the mid-1980s, in response to the industrial disenfranchisement and social insecurity that accompanied the rise of neo-liberal economic policies and globalisation in Australia. In virtually every instance the personal circumstances of these often wealthy broadcasters—as for conservative ‘anti-elite’ commentators and intellectuals generally—are consistent with the broad socioeconomic profile of the very ‘elites’ they demonise. How then to understand their continued ability to posture as the scourge of privilege—to craft, as their distinctive professional and commercial artefact, a public consensus with ‘ordinary people’? Taking as a case the familiar conservative discourse that ‘lefts’ and intellectuals are responsible for declining moral standards, this paper argues the ability consists in three principal assumptions: the generality of the listenership; the naturalism of the production; and the authenticity of the presenter. Each of these can be contested in ways that suggest how the paradox in populist talkback can be understood as an Achilles heel of the wider contemporary right-wing triumphalism.
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