Friday, February 04, 2005

Mardi What?

(Please forgive me for the absence of new posts yesterday; I was too caught up in the giddying thrills of legal publishing to remember to have a life.)

Apparently, everybody has an opinion on Mardi Gras. No surprise, so do I. Until 2003 MG was my Mecca. As an Adelaidean living in a city whose queer visibility was largely limited to a rainbow flag in Norwood and an annual picnic (although to be fair, the Feast festival and Pride march which began in '96 and '03 respectively are great credits to what can otherwise be a conservative, oversized country town), the concept of marching down Oxford Street to the cheers of 600,000 queers and breeders was very romantic. Unfortunately, by the time I marched ('04) God had decided to throw Fred Nile a bone and answered his repeated prayers for rain. It pissed down, and at one point a gale blew that almost lifted dancing drag queens off the ground and into the air a la The Flying Nun. Marching was something I'm glad I've done once but I'm in no mad rush to do it again. Now, like most of my sorority, "going to Mardi Gras" means I'll be going to the opening, a few movies and stage shows where frontal nudity is involved, and paying an extortionate amount of money for the post-march party ticket.

Men I've spoken to who are old enough to remember the Mardi Gras march from its late 80s/early 90s glory days are convinced that MG has lost it; that it's dying a slow death in the face of dwindling funds, lack of interest and general identity crisis. Some say it's too offensive, others say not offensive enough; some say it's become too straight, others too commercialised. And some say it's just too damn boring. Television won't touch it anymore (not even Aunty, although I think Uncle Alston had a lot to do with that) and the crowd numbers each year, although fluctuating madly in estimations (the RRR like to say 20,000 max, while promoters speak of 500-600,000) are definitely getting smaller each year.

I feel conflicted about some of the MG floats. Some of them are fairly aggressive, albeit when they are targetting particular individuals like Nile, Franca Arena, Howard etc they all in my mind deserve it. But when decent moral folk talk about how flagrant and disrespectful the parade is, they highlight what is probably fair enough hypocrisy whereby we can have a laugh watching Nile's giant head on a giant stake, but if the RRR held a parade that had, for example, Rodney Croome or David Marr or whoever impaled on a giant phallus (not that I believe the RRR has such imagination), there would probably be an outcry from us, with Gary Burns filing a lawsuit and the Anti-Discrimination board ruling in our favour.

Then again, people forget that the parade was borne from civil disobedience. The brave men and women who were assaulted by police in the original '78 march weren't trying to be polite and politically correct; they were protesting the then-Draconian laws that kept them, their community and relationships under thumb. And while a lot has changed for the better since then, particularly in state laws that govern queers' relationships, we're still living in a country where the only "reform" our federal government has offered in the last nine years is to ban us from getting married and adopting children from overseas (more on that news story as it comes to hand). Politicians, religious leaders, Murdoch columnists and radio shock jocks are still getting away with spewing the sort of homophobic shit that, were the same sentiments levelled at racial minorities, would rightly put them out of a job or at least in a lot of trouble.

I believe the current political climate still begs an annual big march of both celebration and protest, but obviously less and less people believe this with each new year. The march has a history of homos themselves opposing its existence. Patrick White dismissed it as "entirely unhelpful" while Christopher Pearson, Professor Allan Flint and other sad homos trying desperately to hide their sexuality behind the purple drapes so they may be accepted into the gentlemen's club have also had choice words on the subject. So, like gay marriage, it's going to be hard to push an agenda when we're not all united behind it. There are still some misguided souls who believe the "softly, softly" approach is the best way to go to achieve our rights; just wait for the nice well-meaning heterosexuals to give us what we want because hey, it's happening everywhere else in the world so it must be inevitable here. As Romy White wisely pointed out: "Yeah Ramone, that'll happen."

Sydney should pull its finger out long enough to see how Melbourne is getting it right. Midsumma has all the elements of an entertaining, intellectual festival of ideas and artistic expression, with a cherry-on-the-top march that is generally positively viewed and reported, even by toilet paper like the Herald-Sun. The messages get across, everyone seems to have a laugh and the horses aren't frightened. Sydneysiders need to learn that, sometimes, size doesn't matter. Having said that, I can't wait for the opening in Hyde Park tonight.

PS - Philip Ruddock - the architect behind the marriage ban, the man who pisses on our families and our ability to raise children and who refuses even to contemplate the option of queer civil unions - offering a message of support in the MG guide while on the next page his boss "is unable to provide a message"? As Heather Mooney wisely pointed out: "OK Ruddock, fuck off!"


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