Since the internet arrived life seems to have become a firehose of bewildering events that we are forced, by virtue of possessing phones, to wrap our mouths around and drink deeply no matter how unpalatable it is. The fusion of technology and information has led to a dependence not unlike ice addiction – if you understood before how bad it would be you wouldn't have taken it up, but now that you're hooked it's impossible to go cold turkey.
This year was no exception. Barnaby Joyce repeatedly asked for privacy while being paid for tell-all interviews, Donald Trump had two summits – one with a brutal dictator who he says he loves and one with the man that corrupted his country's elections, the most successful tennis player in history got into a demeaning altercation at the US Open final and was subjected to a Jim-Crow style cartoon in the Australian papers and that's just what I can fit in one sentence without stretching the credibility of commas.
So instead of trying to cover every story flying out of the news hose, I'd like to pick three that give us a good picture of where we are at at the end of 2018.
Hit for six
First, this was the year that Australian Cricket truly jumped the shark. Struggling to remain competitive on a tour of South Africa, some members of the team decided that rubbing the ball with sandpaper was the best course of action. Naturally. When the umpires caught them, the players lied and say there was no sandpaper. The players, I assume, haven't watched much cricket. Anyone with a TV and a passing interest in leather and willow knows that at any given moment about 30 cameras are trained on the ball. Not to mention hotspot, hawkeye, the snick-o-meter and assorted other umpiring aids. Broadcasters practically have the ability to show a seagull change it's mind from 100 meters. So throughout all the lies the viewers at home were furnished with a humiliating slow-motion replay of the sandpaper being thrust groin-ward into the white strides.
What followed was a media saga that cost the Australian captain his job and Australian cricket whatever was left of its good name. There were many who thought the media put too much pressure on players, forcing them to things they otherwise wouldn't. Maybe. But the media can't be blamed for our team lacking character. An exhaustive enquiry concluded that the state of Australian cricket was cactus. Nobody needed hawkeye on that one.
"The having of a go immediately entitles the go-haver to another go, presumably leaving them with two gos."
After the captaincy of the Australian cricket team, Prime Minister is the most important job in the country. But this year Canberra again had us longing for the stability of a disgraced Stephen Smith. As Malcolm Turnbull (remember him?) struggled to make headway in the polls, the media bubble created by having Alan Jones on the radio in your com car and Sky News on the TV in the Canberra Qantas Lounge led some coalition members to think a change was in the offing.
Peter Dutton, a man whose greatest claim to fame was signing off of a Border Force policy of checking people's papers on trains, was sure he had the numbers. Polling suggested he didn't even have the numbers in his own electorate, let alone nationally. The place he needed the numbers was in the party room, where it turned out he had viewer fans than Sky News. When push came to stab, the Treasurer did have the numbers and the country had a new leader.
A marketing man at heart, the new PM knew what he needed most was a slogan. In politics, a good slogan creates a palpable sense of action without actually saying anything. In that regard Scomo came up with a beauty: If you have a go, you get a go. In the Head Sharky's Australia, the having of a go immediately entitles the go-haver to another go, presumably leaving them with two gos. It's a quid-pro-go system that promised to be a boon for the go industry.
Ironically the Morrison Government would become the first beneficiaries of its own scheme. When Pauline Hanson launched slogan of her own – It's OK to be white – with a motion in the senate, the coalition jumped on board, with two ministers proudly tweeting that their brave stand in support of white people showed just how not-racist they are. It soon came to their attention that the slogan was in fact popular with white supremacists, and they then asked for what I am reliably assured is the first ever Senatorial do-over. They wanted to have another go.
Given all of that, it is fitting that the biggest story of the year, the one that truly captured the world's imagination, was the story of a junior soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand. Twelve boys and their 25-year-old coach had been exploring the cave when a flash flood trapped them inside. A rescue operation began and the world's media descended, offering round-the-clock updates with virtually no access. With the media quite literally in the dark, rescuers could focus on the near impossible task of passing 13 malnourished people with no caving experience through a cave so precarious it would cost the life of a Thai Navy Seal in the attempt. This didn't give the media a lot to work with, but did give the Wild Boars soccer team a fighting chance of survival.
The rescue went ahead and over an excruciating few days they beat time, rising flood waters and the failing health of the boys to pull off two simultaneous miracles – the rescue and a genuinely positive news story. There's a lesson in how it happened. There were no cameras, no live-tweets, no social media strategy, no slogan. Just a group of people with expertise brought together in a spirit of cooperation and given the space to plan and execute the best possible strategy in the time allowed. What we need more of in this world is time away from the media for our best people to do their best. That's if we want to save ourselves from the cave we've dug before the firehose floods us all.
Charlie Pickering will host The Yearly on ABC TV in December.