Friday, March 10, 2017

About Bill Leak

There are sufficient numbers of people of Left inclination on Twitter saying that Bill Leak was smart and funny in real life to make me not doubt he was more likeable in person than his recent years' cartooning output would indicate.  And it is not a good look for anyone to be celebrating his death as the means of ending that output.      

What those people should wish for is that he were alive but that his work showed more thoughtful, subtle and diverse opinion than the narrow, bitter, and quite extreme Right wing, culture war politics that they routinely did in the last few years.

He had become a tribal hero of  those who you could say are the Australian equivalent of the Tea Party Right - a group who I am frankly pleased to see not get its daily endorsement that their views are widespread and reasonable.    I really did intensely dislike his recent output for that reason:  foolish people are not best served by public endorsement or incitement of their foolish views.   But do I wish it ended this way?  No. 

As some have noted on Twitter, too, one can surely resent the editorial guidance of The Australian for never pulling him back.   I doubt that even his tribal admirers could often describe his recent work as witty - I think they were more inclined to laugh in delight their views were being endorsed in an over the top way - and in a (little read) national paper!  Brilliant!  (/sarc).  That's not the same, in my books, as smart, witty cartooning.

It remains an open question as to whether his personality, judgement or political views were changed by the serious head injury he suffered some years ago - it seems his work was just politely dropped (by the likes of The Insiders) when it became more extreme, rather than anyone who knew him wanting to talk openly about why he had gone that way. Perhaps, in coming months, we might learn more about whether that incident really did seem to have personality changing effects...

Update:   I had forgotten that Leak had written in 2012 that he knew that critics were saying he had gone strongly Right wing after his head injury, and denied it.   I am curious as to what people who knew him well are prepared to say (apart from Right wing commentators, who clearly have no problem with his continual Muslim baiting, for example), but I guess it may be some time before we'll hear.

Furthermore, the Right wing meme is around that the stress of the HRC complaints (all dropped or dismissed in relatively short time, and nearly 3 months ago) caused his heart attack.  He clearly did complain about the stress of it all:
"It shows what a farcical process this is. I've got News Corp backing me legally. But if I was a private citizen, this would have cost me an absolute fortune," he told The Australian.
"She has put me through a month or so of incredible stress. She never met me, she doesn't have to justify anything she does. No one asked her any questions and it doesn't cost her a cent. As a consequence my life has been thrown into utter chaos. And at time when it just happens to suit her, she just decides this could turn into a bit of a hassle, so she can withdraw it."
Look, I just don't understand this - I have read elsewhere that he moved house once due to Muslim death threats - now that I can understand being stressful. 

But being stressed out by complaints lodged by distant complainants about an aboriginal themed cartoon when you have the full backing of your employer to legally fight said complaints?    No, I actually don't get that.

I'm sorry, but this reminds me too much of Andrew Bolt's martyrdom over his columns - in both cases, I think the complaints could have been resolved easily with good will (a "sorry if any offence caused, but it was not done with racist intent" style apology from Leak, and correction of errors in Bolt's case), and they could have been free to continue to complain about what they perceive as the HRC interfering with their work.   I also entirely understand Leak being unhappy with the HRC inviting complaints. 

But really, I find the stress complaints from deliberate provocateurs hard to sympathise with.

Sorry if that sounds like a criticism of Leak too soon - it's partly a statement of puzzlement.  But, to be honest, if we're all going to agree that Left wingers and their stupid "trigger warnings" idea is a matter of pandering to people's exaggerated sensitivities too much, I don't see why some on the Right should be free of the same criticism.

Update:  Richard Fidler talking on Radio National about his long friendship with Leak was interesting.   He says Leak was once one of the most Left wing guys he knew, and his politics did change, although Leak would claim they hadn't.   Nonetheless, Fidler was very sad about it, as are many Left leaning journalists.    There seems no doubt about his charm and wit as a friend, which in a way makes some of his work all the harder to understand....


not trampis said...

I wouldn't judge him on one racist cartoon and he was undoubtedly used in the HRC matter.

Steve said...

Homer, it is hardly just one cartoon that I found extreme, unfunny, and (to put it mildly) unhelpful to the public discourse.

Jason Soon said...

all the lefties I know or follow on twitter or FB were lamenting his death. anyone celebrating it must be a complete prat

Jason Soon said...

the CIS launched his book just a few days ago, Barry Humphries attended

Steve said...

Barry Humphries and Leak shared antipathy to political correctness, no doubt. But I can find humour in Humphries style; rarely could I see it in Leak's recent works. (And Humphries does not spend time on targets such as sexuality or Islamic issues, whereas Leak seemed quite obsessed with them, of recent years.)

Steve said...

Ken Parish, I note, could not find bring himself to offer twitter condolences.

not trampis said...


given I do not read fake news and therefore the Australian I have not seen his cartoons only seen one

Jason Soon said...

well there's a big difference between not offering condolences and celebrating.