The Noble Victim, a cartography of absolutism.

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Ah, the ABC this morning.

Click bait, aimed at provoking transphobic hatred from all corners. Whoever made the decision to choose this story has a lot to answer for.

Here’s the intro:

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That’s right, Mara was locked up for 23 hours a day because she’s transgender.

We’re told that Mara is terrified, alone and scared in prison.

One week in, another inmate calls her a ‘faggot’. She punches him and is placed in ‘unit one’ (solitary).

Now we are told something different, that Mara was placed in solitary because she punched another inmate, not “because she is trans”. This would have happened in a women’s prison too. Likewise, the fear, confusion, terror, alienation, sadness and drug withdrawal. This article is not exactly an exercise in balance.

Obviously this story violates the ABC’s editorial policies that require it to accurately report facts. ‘Mara is placed in solitary because she is trans gender’ is not true. The editorial policy makes a clear distinction between reporting or editorialising and crusading. Clearly, this is the former.

However, I am not interested in the explicit misrepresentations in this story. What I am interested in how these stories come to be made in the first place. What causes a journalist to write such tabloid crap? Year 11 creative writing at Cremorne St Patricias College for Ladies has a lot to answer for.

Mara is positioned throughout this story as a victim. Her background is described. It is harrowing (assuming it’s true). Her prison experience is detailed as something extreme, which of course makes you realise that the authors aren’t aware that being strip searched and called names is a bog standard part of the prison experience, no matter which one you go into.

Mara is described as wholly innocent, without culpability, a complete victim of her circumstances. It reminds me of the simple binary moralising of the ‘Noble Savage’ discourse that occasionally pops up – describing people whose very existence is noble and unblemished, spiritually superior, higher-than-human.

The noble savage idea is a dangerous one – it positions some groups of people as so different they’re not really human, reinforcing the idea that some people are irreconcilably different. It has extremely serious consequences for indigenous people and groups who try to forge claims for compensation or recognition, because it delineates which claims are legitimate and which are ‘outside the frame’.

Mara’s victimhood operates on a similar, simple set of binaries. Her past experiences render her unable to be responsible for any of her negative actions. Her bad behaviour isn’t her fault. Consider the language in the article:

Mara’s relationship was turbulent. She was convicted for assaulting her partner.

All in the passive voice, as if she was just standing there in the self check out at Woolies minding her own business and then got convicted for assault.

The article deviates from the details of her incarceration in ‘unit one’ at the critical moment: when we would otherwise hear why she’s actually in there. There is no discussion of Mara’s victims, simply the ‘turbulent’ relationship.

Mara’s victimhood status denotes her as having a childlike innocence. She is absolved of wrongdoing. It’s a form of holiness. The parallels with Christian puritanism are overwhelming.

An accurate representation of Mara’s situation would do her better service. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that being a trans woman in a men’s prison is not a good scenario. Australia was actually one of the first countries in the world to recognise this and make some arrangements accordingly, but of course, it’s not a perfect solution. Mara would struggle in a men’s prison, and would be considered too dangerous to be placed in a women’s prison. It’s a simple logic – the justice system has privileged the rights of female inmates (in a women’s prison) over Mara’s individual rights. Mara gets the raw end of the deal. There should be improvement in the arrangements for trans gender people in the justice system, and we should all advocate for that. This article doesn’t do that, it simply states that Mara should not be in a men’s prison.

How did we get here? How did we get to the point where the ABC will sensationally lie in the opening paragraphs of an article in order to create their blameless, Disney child-victim, to obviate and sabotage any real chance of sensibly discussing a real problem?

Social media increasingly polarises people. True story. As a consequence, there is now an entire generation of young adults who’ve grown up with the idea that culture can be neatly ascribed along very simple, binary lines. It’s the Disney-fication of morality. You see it all the time in the debates around BLM, feminism or trans politics – anything that is nominally cast as an ‘identity’ issue (when, in my view, is mostly likely a structural class issue, but that’s for another day).

Of course there are real children who actually are real victims of their circumstances (child soldiers blowing each other away with fully automatic machine guns, teenaged girls being abducted into fundamentalist military groups to produce babies).  We see these victims when they turn up in Australia, battered, emotionally ruined, unable to speak English. They are widely pilloried.

To be clear, childlike, innocent victimhood is for some and not others.

So who makes these decisions? Who trivialises stories and agendas like Mara’s, with such sycophantic, polarised, misrepresentative, sensationalist rubbish?

No doubt the authors/producers of Mara’s story felt like they were doing her a favour. They’ve been had, in the truest sense of the term.

What’s most clear of course, is that the ABC chooses to publish this ‘content’ at the zenith of funding crisis, when hundreds of staff are losing their jobs. This expensively produced feature article appeared on the main ABC news page, demonstrating to even the most left of ABC audiences that if this is the calibre of one-eyed, crusading, hysterico-drama the broadcaster is cobbling together it could probably do with a bit a trim, if we’re honest.

So who made the editorial decision to run this and why now?










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