(Lexicology, semantics and discourse) During the catastrophic bushfire season, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison was labelled “ScottyFromMarketing” because of his unrealistic spin and use of marketing slogans. He repeatedly referred to the fires in simplistic terms as a “natural disaster” — because “that is what they are … natural disasters”.
During a press conference, the PM said that “the best way to respond is the way Australians have always responded to these events” and “we cannot control the natural disaster”. Yet firefighters and scientists note that this fire-season was unprecedented and was not “natural” as per usual. In terms of semantics, the focus on “natural” downplayed and minimized the problem of climate change and the term tries to minimise the need for a meaningful response. It is deemed offensive to the negative face needs of experts.
(Lexicology and discourse features) During his 2020 New Year’s Eve message, the Prime Minister admitted to expecting bad news from NSW and Victoria regarding the bushfires. Using rhetorical features such as an appeal to patriotism, he praised the “wonderful Aussie spirit” as if it were a solution to climate change: “But one thing we can always celebrate in Australia is that we live in the most amazing country on earth and the wonderful Aussie spirit that means that we will always overcome whatever challenges we face,” he said. “That we will always look optimistically into our future.” He also encouraged the Australian people to learn from, and be inspired by, the “great feats of our cricketeers”. The PM added that “there’s no better place to raise kids”.
Again, such a comment was offence to the negative face needs of the numerous families huddled on beaches, trying to escape raging fires.
Once again – the purpose was to downplay any real need to implement real policies to combat climate change.
(Semantics and discourse/rhetorical features) Morrison’s analogy between a plumber and a prime minister juggling family duties during a weekend was deemed to be offensive to the negative face needs of those struggling with the loss of their homes during the fire season. When asked about his decision to holiday in Hawaii during the height of the season, Morrison said: “We all make decisions … we all seek to balance our work-life responsibilities and we all try and get that right.”
This attempt to protect his own negative face needs was deemed to be highly offensive to the face needs of those in bush-ravaged communities as it had the effect of downplaying their tragic circumstances.
From a semantic perspective, another analogy was deemed to be just as offensive: “I don’t hold a hose”. Even though he does not hold a hose many commentators believe that he should implement climate change policies.
Once again, the attempt to protect his own negative face needs had the effect of ignorance the problems of a burning country. (“Whether it’s on a Friday afternoon and you decide to take that extra plumbing contract and you said you were going to pick up the kids, or something at my level, these are things you juggle as parents.”) Comparing the tragic fires to just one of those things that you “juggle as parents” (like a plumber) was considered not only in poor taste but to hedge and fudge their own Government’s inadequate preparation to the bush-fire season.
According to Don Watson, author of Death Sentence: Public language is the language of public life … “It is the language of leaders more than the led, the managers rather than the managed.” (1). It is the “language of power and influence”. It veers from “shapely rhetoric to shapeless, enervating sludge”.
“We use language to deal with our moral and political dilemmas, but not this language. This language is not capable of serious deliberation. It could no more carry a complex argument than it could describe the sound of a nightingale.” (28)
“To the extent that it is moulded and constrained by opinion polls and media spin, modern political language is the cousin of the managerial and just as alienating.” (8)
“Every day we vandalise the language, which is the foundation, the frame, the joinery of the culture, if not its greatest glory, and there is no penalty and no way to impose one. We can only be indignant. And we should resist.” (8)
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