Threshold to the Kingdom: Art, MH17 and sudden departures and arrivals

In November 2001 I visited the Whitechapel Art Gallery in the East End of London.

In a darkened room  I watched a video art installation called “Threshold to the Kingdom” by the acclaimed British artist Mark Wallinger

It showed the gates at an airport arrivals hall opening and closing in super slow motion as passengers emerged and made their way home after a long overseas flight.

In the background, rang out the 500-year-old chant of Allegri’s ‘Miserere mei, Deus‘ – a psalm about a man asking for God’s forgiveness written to be sung in the Sistine Chapel.

Their slow movements and the haunting music transformed the arriving passengers into poised, graceful dancers, as if each movement of arm and leg were in perfect rhythm.


(A 3 min excerpt of the 13 minute art work)

I remember being completely mesmerised,  in a state of Zen-like contemplation: I saw the passengers coming through the automatic gates as angels arriving into some earthly heaven, not one full of puffy white clouds and cherubs playing harps.

This  interpretation may sound strange, but it was only two months earlier that I had walked back to work in the West End and watched with sheer disbelief as jet planes crashed into the World Trade Centre towers in New York, bursting into balls of red and orange flame, obliterating lives in an instant.

In that darkened art gallery room, I thought of people that never arrived and those they left behind in airport arrival halls.

The recent shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH 17  brought the memory of that London afternoon vividly back in my mind.

As I did back in 2001, I think now of all those bright, happy people, returning from family holidays or on their way to an exciting destination- and then gone in an instant, never to arrive at their final point of disembarkation.

Perhaps they have not disappeared, but have arrived someplace else. It is that feeling which “Threshold to the Kingdom” instilled in me so powerfully.

Daily Telegraph art critic Martin Gayford  wrote of the effect of the artwork:

 It gets its strange power from the conflation of Allegri’s soaringly spiritual music with the banal, anonymous setting of an international airport. Yes, the gates of heaven might be like this – ordinary, yet marvellous.

Reflecting on all the families and friends of the passengers of flight MH 17 dealing with their overwhelming, unbargained for grief, I remember “Threshold to the Kingdom” with ever greater poignancy.

It seems a fitting memorial to the victims of MH 17 as it was back then – in my mind – to the victims of 9/11.

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The full, haunting version of Allegri’s ‘Miserere mei, Deus:

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Why Alan Jones is talking to himself

Alan Jones playing Franklin Roosevelt in AnnieThe first time I heard radio shock jock Alan Jones, I saw him as well.

It was soon after I arrived in Australia and was living in Sydney. It was September 2004.

This bald man with a round, red face and bulging eyes would appear on breakfast TV and rant on about something or other in a condescending tone, hardly seeming to take a breath. It would all be over in a couple minutes.

I found it vaguely amusing – knowing nothing at the time about who Alan Jones was or his place in Australian media and politics.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know more about him, usually in relation to something disparaging he has said about women, the Labor party, minority groups, aborigines or  when he has bullied or and taunted someone on his show or in public (as was the case when he attempted to turn a rabid crowd outside parliament against Fairfax journalist Jacqueline Maley).

But I was also surprised to learn that he coached a successful Wallabies team in the mid 1980s to a famous Grand Slam in Europe and Bledisloe Cup win in New Zealand.

He spoke last year to Leigh Sales on the ABC 7.30 report about his opposition to Coal Seam Gas drilling and its impact on fertile farmland, a stance I support, but also defended his comments about throwing women like Prime Minister Julia Gillard into chaff bags and tossing them out to sea.

Asked how he picked his “issues” Jones explained:

“My listeners are my best researchers, so a lot of my issues are taken from the correspondence. I answer over 100 letters a day and I gain information from them.”

And who are these people who write into Jones’s show and inspire his campaigns?

I contacted 2GB and asked them to send me the media kit they send out to advertisers, which would, I thought, give information about the demographics of his listener audience.

But I never got a reply.

Then I came across a 2006 webpaper by Clive Hamilton of the Australian Institute titled “Who listens to Alan Jones?”

I emailed Clive Hamilton and asked him, if perhaps he had updated his study.

He replied: “I am not aware of any update of the information in the report, but I
doubt the analysis would have changed much. In fact, with the greater polarisation of politics what I said about Jones’s listeners is probably more true.”

With that in mind, I delved into Hamilton’s study, which is based on a range of sources and surveys including Roy Morgan research.

So who does listen to Alan Jones?

Firstly, they’re old.

“The typical Jones listener is an older Australian – 68% per cent are over 50,” says Hamilton in his report.

Secondly, they’re retiree-battlers.

According to Hamilton his listeners tend to be concentrated into two groups: “pensioners and others with incomes around the average”.

Thirdly, they are god-fearing.

“Only 10% of Jones listeners say they have no religious affiliation compared to 26% of other Australians”.

Fourthly, they vote for the Coalition.

75% of his listeners supported the ruling Coalition government at the time.

Fifthly, they’re disgruntled.

More than three quarters (77%) of his listeners believe that the fundamental values of Australian society are under threat compared to 66% of all Australians” and they believe that crime is getting worse.

As for the racist element, according to Hamilton’s report Alan Jones listeners are “less likely to believe that Aboriginal culture is an essential component of Australian society”.

Those with long memories may recall that in 1993 Alan Jones described the choice of aboriginal musician Mandawuy Yunupingu, the lead singer of Yothu Yindi as Australian of the Year as an ‘insult’ and claimed that Yunupingu only received the award because he is black.

And who can forget his comments that many claim incited the Cronulla riots including remarks like: “We don’t have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in western Sydney”.

Delve further into the research and more conservative streaks emerge.

Only 13% of his listeners believe that gay couples should be allowed to adopt children (the national average in 2006 was 37%) and nearly 50% believe that homosexuality is immoral – findings that must surely sit uncomfortably with Jones, given questions over his own sexuality.

The research also finds that Alan Jones shows incredible favourable bias towards the Liberal and National Parties, while criticising almost every policy from Labor.

A bias that has clearly not shifted one iota between 2006 and October 2012, given the parade of Coalition politicians who appear regularly on his show.

Despite his audience representing a small, polarised section of Australian society, Alan Jones still seems to think that his audience represents the views of all Australians.

And that’s because they’re so much like him – just with smaller egos and a lot less money.

Perhaps one day he will acknowledge that who actually listens to his show are grumpy old white men living on the Western outskirts of Sydney, who ring in to his show to tell him the country is going to the dogs every time someone with a darker shade of skin colour or foreign accent moves into their neighbourhood.

But I doubt it.

Just recently he ran a poll on 2GB asking whether the massive irrigation farm, Cubbie Station in Queensland, should be sold to Chinese interests.

Not surprisingly, the vote was 99% against the sale.

I listened to a bit of the commentary that followed:

“Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan…they couldn’t care less,” said Jones.

“You’ve got dopes running Canberra,” he added.

And so thinking of an image that best sums up the Alan Jones listener audience, I thought of the poster for the movie “Being John Malkovich”.

You know the one with all the people holding up a cut-out of John Malkovich in front of their own faces.

Instead in this case it’s Alan Jones.