What larks! A group of angry activists in New Zealand, aka the Queer Avengers, has glitter bombed Germaine Greer.
It couldn’t, as Paris Lees argues today in Diva, have happened to a more deserving woman. For la Greer’s track record of spouting bilge on trans subjects has few equals.
Meanwhile, the Avengers’ habit of taking direct action against the most egregious offenders when it comes to anti-trans hatred is rapidly giving to New Zealand a reputation – possibly well ahead of what it deserves – as a no go, no nonsense sort of place, which could well teach the rest of us a thing or two about campaigning.
Or could it?
Throwing stuff – subverting things
There is, allegedly, a long tradition in the anglo-saxon world, of throwing muck. From ink tipped over Prime Minister Edward Heath, to eggs hurled at Cabinet Ministers (Michael Hesseltine and John Prescott, to name but two), fast forwarding to our very own Rupert, pied before a select committee for just generally being a nasty deceitful piece of work that was, well, just asking for an eyeful.
Actually, its not an especially anglo-saxon tradition. The Europeans were at it all through the 60’s, developing their very own situationist approach – which was mostly about undermining established political and economic assumptions through direct action designed to subvert what they stood for.
That is not quite the same as later campaigns, by groups like the Young Liberals (Stop the 70’s Tour) and Fathers for Justice. These, from quite opposite ends of the political spectrum calculated that direct action that caused maximum disruption would eventually, however much government claimed the opposite, cause the authorities to think twice about whatever it was they were doing and either stop it or talk about it.
Nor do I think that some of the more recent hurlings have anything to do with either of these traditions – subversion or compulsion. Nah! Hurling eggs and throwing pies are a lot more to do with a general feeling that that smug git of a politician (or media owner) could do with taking down a peg or two…and a plateful of foam is just the way to do it.
The case for direct action
So is such direct action a good thing or bad? Personally, I am all for it, providing it meets various criteria. I was brought up in the very heart of the Young Liberals in the 1970’s: direct action was not so much optional add-on, as implicit in an approach that saw community involvement and rising-up against the powers-that-be as the ultimate goal.
As situationism, action must work: that is, it must subvert, must create some degree of inversion of the established order and, at the same time, lead people to ask questions.
I think Glitter-bombing Greer more or less fit those criteria. It was largely harmless. It generated oodles of debate around a specific issue. And it targeted, precisely, someone with enormous positional power and privilege in the only way that most ordinary folk can target such a person: through ridicule.
Ditto other direct action. If it works, then there is a point to it.
The danger of bullying
But hark. What about the alternative perspective? I seem to remember around the time of the attack on poor, defenceless Rupert, some folk objecting that, however dressed up, this was assault, pure and simple. It was a criminal act of aggression and not one that any fit campaign ought to be associated with.
And while such voices are a bit more muted in respect of the current incident (glitter, I guess, is assumed to be a less noxious substance…though if it gets in your eyes, I’m not so sure). Still, there are worries.
In part, I suspect that is a generational thing. Just as us hardy old-timers used to cross the roads by ourselves at the tender age of 7 (surely enough to have social services pay a visit nowadays!) and inhabit houses without central heating: so our take on politics was possibly a bit rowdier, more robust. More rambunctious, even.
Has politics moved on?
So while I know where I stand on this incident, I know, too, that there are those who have problems with it. And I sign off with a question: have we moved on from that sort of direct action? Is it now, like cigarette-smoking and casual domestic violence, something we see as genuinely harmful?
And therefore something that ought no longer to form part of the modern day political lexicon?