We all belong to minorities, says Phil Scott, and they don’t necessarily involve race, class or cultural heritage.
I’ve been thinking about minorities. What I think is: we all belong to one. Politicians and free-to-air TV programmers talk in terms of majorities, labeling them ‘ordinary working Australians’ or the ‘18 to 35 demographic’, and make glaringly ineffective decisions on that basis, but if humans are pack animals our packs are small and exclusive.
The rise of the internet confirms it. When we got our first home computers the internet was called the ‘Information Highway’. The idea was we would have all the knowledge of the universe at our fingertips and our perspective would broaden. Also, the word ‘information’ suggests good stuff worth knowing. Now, we can see the exact opposite happened. We’ve amassed 600 friends on Facebook but we only interact with six of them. The so-called information that rumbles down the same old highway consists of pictures of people eating, or doing nothing at all, or standing with a group of strangers. We visit maybe six or seven sites regularly, half of which are porn. Good stuff worth knowing? Not exactly.
When we need to research a subject we know nothing about (we don’t want to, but sometimes we need to), we get the minimum amount of basic, unchecked data from Wikipedia. Perfect! You read a 400-page book on the same subject and some of the facts are bound to stick. Wikipedia gives you just enough to instantly forget.
In other words, we form tight little minorities with our six friends, our seven websites and our two genuine interests. (Sex and whatever the other one is.) It’s not that we don’t care about the Big Picture; the truth is, we think that’s it.
I read a perceptive piece about American politics, where the author argued that the Republicans and Democrats each functioned within their own “echo chamber of opinion”. Two separate groups with their own worldview, each tacitly assuming it constitutes the whole world. You can’t hold a meaningful debate between oil and water. Try, and it’s called Q&A. Personally we are all like the Republicans and the Democrats, but on an even more trivial scale.
Once you realise how fragmented society is, it’s no surprise that a minority issue like same-sex marriage has such a hard time. It’s not outright hostility that’s the problem: it’s the inability to give a shit about something that lies outside your group.
It has been eye-opening performing The Same-Sex Marriage of Figaro sketch in the current Wharf Revue. Here I have to say our audiences tend to be older, well informed politically but socially conservative. At my first entrance in drag, they laugh: men in frocks are acceptable as comedy. But it turns out I am not playing a girl, but a man who has to dress like a girl to keep a gay relationship secret, and who desperately wants to marry his boyfriend. When that penny drops they turn strangely quiet. Jaws slacken. I know because I can see the audience almost as well as they can see me. They’re not offended, but this is a subject they thought they’d blocked. They hadn’t unfriended Same-Sex Marriage – that would be unfriendly – but they’d unfollowed the story and limited the posts.
Well I’m sorry, folks, but every now and then, a minority has a point to make.
[Image] Phil Scott (right) with Josh Quong Tart in The Wharf Revue. Photo: Tracey Schramm
The Wharf Revue plays at Sydney Theatre Company until December 22.