It’s better to take Q&A as a comment, not democracy
Why didn't the Q&A shoe thrower Peter Gray toss former Prime Minister John Howard a lamington instead?
Taking his cue from an Iraqi journalist, turned footwear rejecter, who flung his possessions at then US President George W Bush, Gray in one unoriginal act exposed the limitations of the Q&A program as an uninhibited experiment in deliberative democracy.
According to the program's website, Q&A aims to place punters, pollies and pundits together to ‘thrash out' the hot issues of the week. Think of it as the political equivalent of a WWE steel cage match.
The website also insists ‘it doesn't matter who you are, or where you're from - everyone can have a go and take it up to our politicians and opinion makers.' Gray certainly took this calling to heart, and later proceeded (perhaps in a shoeless state) to hyperbolically claim that Howard is a ‘war criminal.'
It is understandable why the format of the program, with insider politicians subjected to critical questioning by outsider citizens, would prove to be an attractive hour of television viewing for many.
With the act and consequences of political action often falling short of their objectives it is also clear why numerous people may wish to submit questions or Tweet messages that, ahem, exhort the likes of Gray to throw shoes at political panelists they don't like.
However to objectively call Q&A a successful application of Australian ‘democracy in action' would be grossly stretching the argument on two counts.
A mere 656,000 people witnessed the shoe debacle this week (for the record, I finished watching the ‘Vampire Diaries' on Channel Go! and settled in for the night browsing online). That same evening, considerably greater numbers of Australians watched Today Tonight (Seven) (1.33 million viewers), A Current Affair (Nine) (1.07 million) and The 7pm Project (Ten) (752,000 viewers).
The important point to emphasise is that Q&A does not attract mainstream attention, even though it might enjoy a ‘shoe echo' improvement in its ratings next week.
Arguably, nor should Q&A be receiving any special attention above the light entertainment options on other channels or elsewhere since, after all, the political panel will respond to questions with their normally dismissive spin.
In any case, the ‘hot issues' of today become yesterday's news tomorrow and, besides, the chances that a given individual's vote will be decisive at the next election is infinitesimal.
What Q&A tends to draw for a crowd are the political junkies, the lobbyists, the pressure group flunkies, and those with intense single?issue opinions on sometimes rather obscure issues.
The idea that Q&A should be a riotous, unabashed celebration for the intense to say whatever they want to say, and do whatever they want to do, leads to the disrepectful outbursts waged by the likes of Gray where strength of feeling, rather than consequences, are applauded.
Instead of shoe?throwing or verbal barbs expressed by the Twitterati on a television program gone awry, there is arguably a much better place to register one's intensity of preferences concerning political opinion - and that is votes for preferred candidates for the Australian Senate.
I suspect like many other Australians if I want entertainment I won't go to a current affairs program, ‘democracy in action' or otherwise. We'll keep tuning into entertainment programs provided by the commercial channels or, in my own case, watch romantic vampires followed by surfing the far more interesting Internet.