news

Sure we're all laughing, but why aren't we asking this question about the Packer brawl?

Is this the sort of coverage we would have given a brawl in an outer suburban street?

Imagine this scene. A ute screeches down an outer suburban street in an average sort of area. A bloke jumps out of the ute yelling into his mobile, “I am going to punch you!” another bloke bursts out his front door, red-faced, angry & ready to go. And there, in the middle of the street in broad daylight, the two of them have it out.

What would the public reaction to this scene have been? We’d have written it off as the regular Sunday afternoon rumblings of yobbos who can’t control their tempers or their inclinations towards violence. We’d have tutted our tongues, and asked, “why can’t they just behave themselves?”

The only difference between this scene & the one involving James Packer & David Gyngell on Sunday morning is the car Gyngell drove in & the fact that it happened in a fancy-pants part of Sydney.

Let’s recap. In the middle of a street in Bondi and in the middle of the day James Packer, Crown Casino mogul, and David Gyngell, CEO of Channel 9, had it out in a punch up. I’m not sure what about. (I’m not sure I really care what it was about to be perfectly honest. It’s between them and I’d like to give them some privacy. They are people too, after all.)

Since then, we’ve all been a titter with the juiciness and the scandal of it all. Including here at Mamamia. News Limited paid $210,000 for photos of the incident. On Tuesday they had seven pages of coverage in most of their daily broadsheets in every city, and this morning another five pages of coverage. In fact this morning News Limited publications were speculating about the cost of the outfits the two of them were wearing during their stoush.

The incident has been splashed across our televisions and social media feeds as some sort of hilarious celebrity moment. The public response has been to glorify in two rich guys beating the shit out of each other, practically celebrating it as the birth of a new Aussie larrikan legend.

Ah, we love it when good boys behave badly.

I understand the news value in two celebrities having a fight so publicly, this is not something that happens every day. But what I don’t understand is why we aren’t questioning and condemning this violence in the same way that we would question and condemn it if it was anyone else.

ADVERTISEMENT
Does street violence become a joke if both perpetrators are billionaires?

A couple of tradies, even a couple of first grade rugby league players, having a street brawl and we’d be crying foul. There would be public recriminations. We’d be asking questions about what’s driving the violence and finding other examples to point to an epidemic on our streets.

My husband, who occasionally spends his weekends under a rock, found out about the incident from the front page of News Limited publications on Tuesday. His immediate response was an incredulous “did they get arrested?” Nup. In fact, it took 48 hours and sustained intense media coverage and community conversation for the police to announce they would be investigating the matter.

The unspoken classism in the public rhetoric around the Packer Gyngell bust up is disturbing. Why is it okay for these two to punch on, and not okay for other people?

In a strong piece in The Guardian yesterday, Indigenous leader Celeste Liddle asks what the public response and what the police response would have been if the brawl had been between two black men? She says “the more socially privileged you are, the less severe your transgressions are perceived to be.”

Spot on.

There is absolutely nothing different from the fight between Packer and Gyngell and a whole bunch of other fights that have us crying for action to protect us from the violence gripping our streets, except the profile of the two men involved.

I’m deeply uncomfortable that in a nation that once aspired to shake off the class system of our British colonial past, we are embracing a new class system where money and celebrity mean you don’t face the same judgement and condemnation as others face. It is a new class system that makes allowances for some people for whatever personal circumstances they face, and does not allow for the same nuance for people who are not as privileged or powerful.

I would like to see us as questioning violence generally, not speculating on the price of the sunglasses one man was wearing when he laid into another. I would like it if we could treat all people equally, instead of condemning violence between two less privileged blokes and glorifying in the violence between two very wealthy blokes.

Alys Gagnon is a woman, wife, mother, social justice activist and a political junkie. She can be found tweeting “insights” from her clichéd suburban existence here