PIZZA IS AN ASSEMBLAGE, in the philosophical sense that it is a collection of individually discrete items, brought together and consisting of a unified whole, that can be understood at many levels simultaneously—grouped ingredients and whole-of-dish. It exists as the platonic ideal of a round, baked flatbread with toppings, as a process of putting-together, as the embodied final outcome which is this evening’s dinner, and as mistake: incorrect pizzas with inauthentic aspects make Italians mad. I make dough, I put ingredients on it, I bake it, I photograph it for my neglected blog; at which point has the pizza come into being?

And so to understanding electorates. Chris O’Regan recently noted Judith Brett being very patient with the political journalists taken by the phrase ‘Quiet Australian’, for what’s a catchy phrase but a semiotic tool to bring a concept into being? At some point recently there’s been a devolution of our ability, as a society, to distinguish between assertions of political and civil concepts—what anyone says is the constitutive arrangement of society, and what is actually there. And, because this is Australia, in our usual fashion, we are getting other countries’ half-baked politics at second hand, and decades late.

Assemblage, assertion; you take a selected group of people and interview them, or choose a few electorates and the particular MPs for them, or you choose an issue that a well-paid think tank has done PR about; with a semiotic wave you can bake all these into a cheesy whole, and serve it up. Whether you have a set of specific ingredients or whether you have an assemblage that actually means anything depends entirely on ideology, a thing we are, it seems, completely unable to identify any more.

The Silent Majority of political fantasy is an assemblage of assertions about who people are and why they involve themselves. Nixon moulded the alliance of noisy silent revanchist put-upon majority, people who wanted nothing more than to be left alone as a dominant group, and we’ve been busily raking over the contradictions ever since. The late 1990s were notable for the furious mutual frotting of political journalists and staffers about Howard’s Battlers, a group notable, in retrospect, both for not existing (lower and higher income deciles voted, throughout the era, largely along their income lines as always), and for the cultural and economic cynicism of the era in which anyone who could shovelled tax breaks and free money towards themselves as fast as possible: legally if they could, out of their employees’ pockets if they must. And now, the Quiet Australians, a conveniently non-existent assertion that does nothing except back in culture war viewpoints nobody pretends to imagine are widely held. The category is unprovable explicitly; by the time a person expresses a view she or he is no longer Quiet, any attempt to actually demonstrate empirically the presence of Quietness amongst a sample leads to the negation of Quiet Australianness itself. As an Italian mad about food would say; che cazzo fai, whatever that is, that’s not a pizza.

Or, because there’s always an Achewood for it: ‘you don’t have that car, you have a picture of that car. How long have you been awake for? You should drink some liquids’.



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