Diary

Gadfly
One out of the Boxall

We in Australia love gold more than a Saudi prince’s interior decorator. We’re the gold standard in botched vaccine rollouts and the gold standard in failing to suppress the Delta variant.

Fortunately, we’re also the gold standard in women’s swimming at the Olympics, and the gold standard in enthusiastic coaches humping barrier walls. Dean Boxall’s pneumatic reaction to Ariarne Titmus’s victory has become a viral meme so large it has eclipsed rumours of our prime minister’s supposed lack of bowel control. For those who somehow missed the remarkable footage, Titmus’s win in the 400 metres freestyle caused Boxall to emulate his childhood wrestling hero, Ultimate Warrior, and smash his groin into the barrier while screaming in joy.

As Aussies, we can all appreciate his enthusiasm. Unfortunately, we now live in a world where every action by every human is analysed for the possible offence it may cause. For Americans in particular, feeling outraged on behalf of others has become a national pastime on par with school shootings and denying their citizens medical coverage. American political reporter Laura Chapin described Boxall’s reaction as “vulgar and offensive” and said he should apologise to Titmus for stealing focus. American social media commentators also jumped online to tweet their dislike for emotions they prefer to reserve for celebrating the invasion of developing nations under false pretences.

That isn’t to say Dean Boxall is uncontroversial. There have been claims of bullying and fat shaming from the military-style program at St Peters Western Swim Club in Brisbane, over which he presides. An anonymous letter sent to Swimming Australia, that has since been supported by three fathers of former swimmers, claims children were left physically and mentally shattered by the club. Even Ariarne Titmus has, in the past, noted Boxall’s coaching style is unorthodox. “Some of the things he says aren’t quite appropriate,” she said in an ABC interview last year. “But he always says if I get better, he has to push harder, so it’s been tough.”

Perhaps that’s a strategy our political leaders should be inspired by: bully and vaccine-shame the country until we all get jabbed and our premiers and parliamentarians can collectively celebrate like Ultimate Warrior. Nothing else has worked so far.

Delta blow as protesters spread

The Delta variant is still spreading in Sydney, with a worryingly high number of people in intensive care and a rising death toll. So, of course, idiots have chosen to march through the city en masse, protesting the continuation of life. It was a veritable who’s who of anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-lockdown, anti-science, anti-fact and anti-intelligence celebrities, featuring the likes of that racist guy who got famous for five days on TikTok, a man who punched a horse, and, at a special rally in Queensland, George Christensen.

Organisers of the protest rallied around a global plan produced by a brains trust of gym instructors and Instagram influencers, responding to the call to take a stand “for five important freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of choice and freedom of health”. Ironically, by gathering in large numbers without vaccination and masks during a pandemic, those are exactly the freedoms they are putting in peril. Saying vaccines are fake during a global pandemic that’s killed 4.18 million people so far isn’t a brave act of free speech – it’s like telling a person who’s on fire he isn’t on fire. The person is still going to burn to death, and you’re the idiot who is mistaking borderline murderous delusion for a basic human right. It’s like demanding the right to assembly aboard the Titanic while it’s in the process of sinking.

Since the protest, the TikTok “comedian” has been handed a penalty infringement. The guy who punched a horse while wearing a yellow singlet with “Free speech is more important than your feelings” emblazoned on the front has been arrested, because it turns out pain inflicted on a police horse is more important than his feelings. His lawyer, Tony Nikolic, was only able to speak to his client on Wednesday, even though the horse-puncher was arrested on Saturday night. Nikolic has alleged his client has the support of an MP, while remaining coy as to who the MP is.

For his part, Christensen posted footage on social media of himself at a Mackay rally, accompanied by a Martin Luther King Jr quote, creating a juxtaposition so incongruous it’s akin to a man who claims he’s a devout Christian spending his time in seedy hotels and making “small payments” to women in Manila. George said there was nothing untoward about this, after it was detailed in Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir.

Overegging it

As the saying goes, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” It’s a journey we have seen many a hero take, from TikTok case-numbers guy, to the homeless man with a trolley who rammed a terrorist in the Melbourne CBD a few years back. The most recent example of the maxim holding true is the hero known affectionately as Eggboy. Rising to prominence for smashing an egg on a racist politician’s head, the young man became a symbol of protest after the Christchurch mosque attacks. He even donated almost $100,000 to victims of the attack. Soon we all lost track of him, hoping he would emerge once again when the circumstances called for him, egg held firmly but gently in his grip.

It turns out, however, that any eggs he throws from here on will be aimed at Covid-19 testing professionals. An Instagram post he uploaded to his account regurgitates a popular conspiracy theory about the PCR test being inaccurate. He has since wiped off the egg he threw at his own face, saying he was only hoping to “create understanding, discussion and clarity!”

You Canavan a man a grander clanger

Queensland has a long and proud history of littering Australian politics with the kind of people who make you question the sanity of the entire state. From Bob Katter to Pauline Hanson, if someone’s going to lower the bar for political discourse, they’re likely to rise from Queensland soil. Of the latest generation of Queenslanders proudly trolling their way into prominence, none holds more potential than the LNP senator Matt Canavan. When he isn’t rubbing coaldust on his face like a crazed Al Pacino at the end of Scarface, Canavan is saying things like, “We have a situation now where almost all residents of aged care are vaccinated, a large portion of older Australians have one dose, we aren’t seeing the same fatality rates overseas with this Delta variant … so why are we locking down now?”

This is remarkably inaccurate, given that almost all residents of aged care are not yet vaccinated, a large portion of older Australian’s don’t have one dose, and fatality rates from the Delta variant are horrifying.

Canavan is also against the Great Barrier Reef Foundation receiving JobKeeper payments, yet managed to stay strangely quiet on 75 of 299 ASX 300-listed entities receiving $2.5 billion in JobKeeper payments.

This week, he appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast, War Room: Pandemic. Bannon, who was last seen posing for a picture with ABC’s Sarah Ferguson, is the co-founder of Breitbart News, a far-right website. He’s also been credited as one of the architects of Trump’s Make America Great Again movement, and was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering. He was never prosecuted, however, as Donald Trump pardoned him before his trial. Bannon has also, notoriously, suggested that the chief medical adviser to the United States president, Anthony Fauci, should be beheaded.

Canavan’s guest spot on Bannon’s podcast was right after another guest who unquestioningly pushed the idea that Covid-19 wasn’t real, that the vaccines weren’t effective and that Covid-19 stands for “Certificate of Vaccinations ID-AI” (the numbers 1 and 9 correspond with A and I in the alphabet).

Bannon transitioned smoothly from that to introduce Matt Canavan, whose name he could not correctly pronounce no matter how many times he tried. The Queensland senator then claimed he’d been working to uncover a conspiracy that shows the CSIRO is training scientists working in a Wuhan lab that is believed to be behind Covid-19.

He then called scientists “Humpty Dumpty” and “like jello”, and said they were guilty of making “words mean what they want them to mean”. Which is exactly what Matt Canavan sounds like he’s doing in the unintelligible points he makes.

No word yet on whether he rubbed coaldust on his face before appearing on the podcast.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 31, 2021 as "Gadfly: One out of the Boxall".

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Sami Shah is a multi-award-winning comedian, writer and journalist.