In the past week, both the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald, the Murdoch and Costello duo enveloping Australia’s media landscape, did hit pieces on Friendlyjordies. This resulted in a number of things, the most ironic being the skyrocket of attention someone can get from being on the front page of a national paper. But for all the transparently hostile spin towards Jordan, there is one criticism I saw in the online response to these pieces that I thought worth noting: Friendlyjordies is not the be all and end all of political thought.
I’m not going to waste time defending Friendlyjordies from the stuff in the Sydney Morning Herald piece. They quote a bunch of anonymous and very questionable sources, accuse him of racism (against Italians?) and sexism (this perhaps has some merit, but I’ll leave it to others to dive into that discourse), and try very hard to link Labor and Helen Dalton – big threats to the Liberal/National coalition – to him. The implication being Labor must either denounce Shanks publicly or be considered complicit in his more controversial words and actions.
As NSW Opposition Leader, Jodi McKay, and Dalton have both said, however, what they support is his interest and involvement in tackling corruption and environmental issues. Both have made it very clear that they’re only stake in this is bringing those concerns to a wider audience, and McKay went as far as to say she did not exactly approve of Shanks’ style and that her only involvement with him was their interview discussing the corruption of the Berejiklian government.
While the Sydney Morning Herald does briefly mention the accusations against NSW Nationals Leader, John Barilaro, that Shanks’ video details, they – and the subsequent response – were very light on covering those sections, preferring to pick out quotes and sources that, at best, dismiss him as crass and just a phenomenon of social media. To their credit, they did put Shanks’ response to the question of why his content has appeal to younger people: “Because I’m not the Sydney Morning Herald”.
What appears to constitute the Australian “left” also seemed intent to latch onto this article, with some wondering why Friendlyjordies is getting so much attention. There was even one comment I saw accusing him of being part of the “establishment media” that he claims to fight against, simply because he is extremely pro-Labor. You could argue that if our media landscape were like the US’, where you have half the media off the rails for Trump and the rest championing the Democrats, but we have such a skewed media bias towards the Coalition that, rather damningly, and outlet that paints Labor positively kind of does come across “anti-establishment”.
I am not a Labor fan, but I think it is foolish to ignore or downplay Friendlyjordies’ impact simply because he is. A fair portion of his content is dedicated to drilling in the message of Coalition corruption and ineptitude, with Labor being presented as his viable alternative. They objectively are better than the Coalition, despite their flaws, and that is the scope of what I see Friendlyjordies’ role to be – countering the narrative of the current mainstream consensus. Convincing people to vote for Labor instead of the Coalition is worthwhile, and I’ve talked with a fair few people who have had their minds changed and opened to new possibilities as a result of his videos.
Friendlyjordies has been able to lead a large audience to engage in political matters, at least on a national level, but he is not the only authority, nor the best. I think the best way to look at his work is not as an end in itself, but as a steppingstone to a more critical approach to Australian politics and beyond. Watching his content might give you some good insight, but it is then the viewers’ prerogative to venture deeper. Friendlyjordies counters the mainstream media narrative, so go find other outlets – Independent Australia, Michael West, the countless independent journalists and smaller groups out there.
To take it to its extreme, my personal experience went much further than that. I started watching Friendlyjordies in high school and, at his recommendation, bought and read Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman. I doubt anywhere near enough of his following has done so, and I doubt even more that many of those who did dug deeper, and what do you know, I consider myself an anarchist now. Friendlyjordies doesn’t even go near socialism (unless you consider support for the Union movement “socialist”), but for me he was loosely the base I built upon to get there.
I do not mean to argue that Friendlyjordies is the best or only way to reach those viewpoints, but that if he is approached properly and if his viewers adhere to his advice of critically analysing media and political content, it is one path. I wonder whether he’d admit it (probably not), but part of that is analysing his own biases, specifically the fact that he is ardently pro-Labor. Recognising the value of his work is great, but recognising its limitations is arguably more important. The criticism of Friendlyjordies I agree with is that his ego is being (fairly, I suppose) boosted and therefore his views have become very concrete. The concern that follows is the sections of his audience who also become resolute and immovable, being unable to expand their horizons and accepting reasonable criticism.
Given the divisive nature of online discourse, I don’t expect these two camps to make amends any time soon, even if they do share some of the same goals. I think we need to see Friendlyjordies for what he is and do our best to connect the divide between him and the more dedicated of his followers and those who look beyond Labor for a solution. Someone on Twitter called me a “shitty anarchist” for holding this position, but the way I see it, you aren’t going to grow a movement or convince people of your more “radical” views if your default position is to alienate them and gatekeep your circle of political thought.
Engagement was Friendlyjordies’ success in pushing people from the Coalition to Labor. Engagement is how we can succeed to pushing people further to create more positive change in the long-term. Diversify your reading, read more, and question everything. It’s a journey everyone is on at different stages – we need to keep an eye on the goal and acknowledge others’ positions along the way.
Liked this? Read Friendlyjordies Tapping at the Mainstream
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