In the past few days I’ve read more words written about Melinda Tankard Reist than any human should be forced to endure in their lifetime. I have been water-boarded with inanity as article after blog post after tweet clarted down from the rank ether of God’s irritable colon. It’s not that the subject matter is aesthetically repugnant to me, although Dancing Baby Jesus knows that it is. It’s just that to my addled and admittedly twisted brain they have – almost to a letter – spectacularly missed the fucking point.
By now we all know the story. Sunday Herald article blows smoke up the pencil sharpening cloaca of Australia’s self-appointed queen of the fun harpies. Dr Jennifer Wilson asks a couple of sensible and pertinent questions of the author of said piece, who responds (maturely, and to her credit) by agreeing that she had made an oversight in her article, but one made on the assumption that everybody already knows her subject is a God-molesting wingnut. The Tankard (props to Fiona Patten for the nickname) does what she does best and threatens legal action for defamation. Online world completely embraces its true essence.
What followed was kind of like one of those unpalatable scenes from a Japanese home production where everyone wants to land their wad of perceived wisdom on the stars of the show. It’s a free speech issue. Wait, it’s a feminist issue. No, hang on, it’s all about religion. Or Censorship. Or Bratz dolls. Or something. I’m not saying that these aren’t all factors, or valid points of discussion. I’m saying that these are peripheral to the real meat of the issue, the reason Wilson was right to ask what she did, and the Tankard responded so disproportionately.
Let’s just clarify a small point. This poor victim of scurrilous enquiries into her motivation has gone to great lengths to ensure she is portrayed as a ‘campaigner’ for female rights. Ignoring the ugly dichotomy inherent in that proposition, (others have covered it much better than I could, or would wish to,) let’s just look at that word ‘campaigner’. It’s a nice, strong, positive word, emoting visions of some lone underdog waging the good war against the amoral establishment. It certainly sounds much better than ‘lobbyist’, which carries the sinister overtones of someone acting as a mouthpiece of the aforementioned establishment, wielding influence and cash to achieve results favourable to their employer. Melinda Tankard Reist petitions politicians to vote for or against legislative change, as suits her agenda. She browbeats and intimidates businesses into conforming to her will. As has been made apparent, she’s prepared to use legal muscle to silence criticism from the general public. She is a lobbyist.
Now I don’t personally know more than a couple of lobbyists, but I’m pretty confident it’s a job that needs a pretty healthy cashflow. It certainly takes cash to hire a high-profile legal defamation specialist, so my question is this: Who’s paying your bills, Melinda?
As for why I ask, well, that’s pretty simple. The Tankard affects me directly. She lobbies to have things banned or removed from sale. I would like to decide whether I buy a coffee mug, or a t-shirt, or watch a movie or whatever. These are my choices to make, not hers to make on my behalf. Strangely, our tastes are probably more similar than dissimilar in this regard, but I wouldn’t presume to speak for others. I’m not qualified to do so, and unless MTR is as coy with her qualifications as she is with her affiliations, neither is she. When it comes to serious issues like abortion and birth control, it is vital that the public is informed as to who’s really pulling the strings. Keep in mind she’s dealing with impressionable children who may not be able to discern that she is possibly acting in the best interests of the Kooky Guardians of the Sacred Concrete Box or some such lunatic fringe cult, as opposed to theirs.
Of course I could be entirely wrong, but be damned if I’m wrong for asking the question, or if Dr Wilson is. What I do know is that The Tankard isn’t representative of some ‘new movement’. Her ilk have been around forever, burning books and music, acting to remove our right to decide for ourselves where we draw our pleasures, or what we are allowed to view as art. They have historically come from a position of power and money – the sort of money MTR wouldn’t seem to have at her personal disposal.
The Tankard’s recalcitrance in dealing with what should be a straightforward issue is telling in itself. If she proceeds against Dr Wilson she’d better be prepared for a long fight, because I’m throwing my hat in the ring as well, and I’m more than a little confident that she’s biting off more than she can chew. Something tells me that I am only one of many, and the dyke make well be crumbling around her fingers. The big danger of the Streisand effect is not the increase in publicity. A narcissistic self-promoter craves publicity like air. The danger is that people will start turning over rocks and uncovering scurrilous activity that had hitherto evaded sunlight. Surely any true moral champion embraces the light of scrutiny? Surely.
Time will tell. The dance is on. Caveat Emptor, swingers. Where’s my waitress?