O’Farrell resignation: red wine, political blood and cultural memory
In the age of digital technology, 24-hour news cycles, and anticorruption bodies with broad powers, political scandals are a constant product of the grind of greed and government.
The tone of many investigative current affairs programs and fictional political dramas is influenced by the tracking of the 1992 break-in in the Democratic National Committee H.Q. in Washington, D.C., back to Richard Nixon’s White House. In homage to the 1976 movie All the President’s Men, many investigative current affairs shows and fictional political dramas framed a “Deep Throat” within the sinister concrete gloom in a multi-story parking lot.
Few tyro reporters of the past 40 years did not dream about asking the famous Watergate Question to the U.S. Senate.
What did [fill out the accused] know, and when did they learn it?
The suffix “-gate” is often used to describe scandals involving politicians, sportsmen and other figures.
The word “gate” is often used to describe an object that has a deceptively innocent connotation but serves only to emphasize the depraved nature of corruption. Sometimes, “affair” is more appropriate. This was the case in the 1982 color T.V. affair that involved Fraser government ministers Michael MacKellar & John Moore & the alliterative affair of the 1984 Paddington bear affair that involved Hawke government Minister Mick Young. These “affairs” resulted in the loss of ministerial posts for all three men.
This is the cultural context that will help you understand Grangegate. It’s the boilerplate term for the sudden resignation last week of New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell over an unacknowledged A$3000 Penfolds 1959 bin 46 Grange Hermitage received from a lobbyist. The significance of the Penfolds 1959 Bin 46 Grange Hermitage has become entwined in the political implications of the scandal.
This heavy focus on expensively fermented wine grapes has a clear, if not alarming, reason. It is difficult to keep up with all the high-profile scandals. Some people, especially those who work in news media that are devoted to a rapid and relentless turnover of stories, have used mnemonic triggers as a way to help them remember and distinguish one scandal from another.
To create a collective memory of culture in the face of a flood of information, it is important to highlight a single aspect that represents all the bad things about political exposure. Metonymy is the communication theory term for this – using a part to represent the whole.
In O’Farrell’s story, the ritzy wine represents political influence-peddling (and duchessing) and political influence.
Those who haven’t followed the story closely will not be able to grasp it all. With time, more people will be ignorant of the story. The metonym, which has been mutated in the digital world into the meme, can still live on as another “gate” or “affair,” curiosities that are to be interrogated.
Watergate, also known as the original “-gate” scandal, brought an end to Nixon’s presidency. Ollie Atkins
What is the meaning behind the word “Grange” when it comes to “Grangegate?” Tony Abbott, the prime minister of Australia, was recommending Penfolds wine during his business trip to Asia. Grange is synonymous with New World vinous luxury. It has been used as both a gift among the wealthy and a commodity on the international premium market.
The appreciation of bottled wine is seen as a sign of sophistication and a refined palate. Shakespeare’s Iago from Othello is:
If used properly, good wine can be a familiar creature.
As a luxury item, misuse can have disastrous consequences. O’Farrell learned this the hard way.
The fact that the wine is red adds to its appeal. The French cultural theorist Roland Barthes claims that in his essay Wine and Milk, which appears in the classic 1957 book Mythologies, he argues:
Blood, a dense and vital liquid, is found in its red form.
It has drawn unexpected political blood in NSW before the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Grangegate is now included in the list of “gates” or “affairs,” which have been associated with everyday items, including 1994’s Sandwichgate and Keating government minister Alan Griffiths.
“Utegate,” involving Kevin Rudd in 2009, had a more recent and memorable folky ring. The idea that this rugged workhorse, loved by tradies and mechanics, could be implicated in an Australian political scandal caused some concern among the petit bourgeoisie. The ute that was involved in this scandal only tarnished the image of Malcolm Turnbull, then the opposition leader.
I do not intend to trivialize the topic of a political scandal, real or alleged. The issue of public integrity is not something to laugh at. The public has a difficult time discerning the truth amongst the denials, allegations, revelations, and confessions that are spread across social media and multiple institutions.
The recall is often reduced to an absurd-sounding “gate,” “affair,” or “gateway” that’s associated with food, vehicles, soft toys, white goods, or beverages. Imbibing media scandals with catchy titles and fortified headlines, like the Porter from Macbeth:
It arouses the desire, but it takes away performance.
It is a distraction from the analysis and understanding of our political environment. The antidote is not another bottle of red.