Review: Rise of the Ruddbot
Thursday, October 28 2010
If there’s one thing I know about Annabel Crabb, it is that she is enviably and entertainingly astute. She is the Queen of “Zingers”; in one analogy she can perfectly encapsulate the strength—or weakness—of a seminal Australian public figure.
In Crabb’s latest book, Rise of the Ruddbot, we are acquainted with one of her most figurative “zingers”. The Ruddbot is a highly automated political machine, but he does come with faults; he is prone to garbled language, including the repetition of “End the blame game!” and a fondness for too-short trousers, but this is by no means the pinnacle of Crabb’s vigorous scrutiny of personality.
Rise of the Ruddbot is a marvellous collection of Crabb’s political columns published between June 19, 2007 and December 24, 2009. It is essentially a snapshot of the atmosphere within Australian politics immediately before the steamrollering of Rudd, and the sudden ascension of Julia Gillard to the leadership of Australia. What makes this book even more fascinating is that it was released just one week after the prime ministerial backstabbing took place. While some would regard this coincidence as unfortunate (and indeed, there is no mention of this event in the book), I find that having the advantage of hindsight only serves to highlight the startling prescience of Crabb’s observations. Take, for example, her assessment of Julia Gillard, published on February 21, 2008: “She is loving government, and has quickly established herself as the government’s political assassin-in-chief”. Couple this with Crabb’s intimate understanding of the machinations of parliament and the Australian political system, and a long history with many major Australian politicians, and you suddenly realise what a potent political satirist you have on your hands.
Not only is this book a shrewd observation of political comings-and-goings, it is also classy and eloquent humour writing (contradictory thought that may sound). Absorb the sheer visual and aural power of ideas such as Julia Gillard flashing her “Blue Steel” face to the enemy in parliament, or the mandate that a large bell should be rung every time Malcolm Turnbull’s giant ego gets in the way of his ability to sound honestly humble:
“ ‘I have learnt that you cannot achieve anything working by yourself.’ DING-A-LING-A-LING!”
In most cases, Crabb’s satire is elegantly executed, and in a surprising departure from most semi-humorous political commentary, Crabb manages to find the Achilles’ heel of her subject without humiliating them any more than they have done themselves. She is poking fun without taking the piss, allowing the reader to feel less vindictive while laughing at someone else’s follies. While she may depict Kevin Rudd as robotics personified, you get the distinct feeling that this not anything more offensive than what Rudd himself may, with hindsight, eventually admit.
But in other terms, this book is also quite true to the reality of everyday political life. For one thing, everyday politics is dull; Crabb gets so bored at some points that she starts timing the length of Rudd’s epic parliamentary speeches. In one article, she details how a single question-time response received an incredible twenty-eight minutes of the Ruddbot treatment.
And while she may satirise them, Crabb is certainly empathetic to politicians in general; she duly covers the complexities of political life in the technological age, where a single quote can become a major blunder when it is transmitted, out of context, to every media outlet in the nation. We tend to have a one-second attention span towards national topics, and in that one second, reality can be lost. How can we possibly see these individuals, who backtrack on their sacred Emissions Trading Schemes, or spend far too much time parading around in budgie smugglers, as anything other than their two-dimensional media profile or party tagline?
Perhaps as a party to the very industry that makes this possible, Crabb seems to focus on the human character in general, and quite clearly has compassion for the people she is paid to analyse. She details Kim Beazley’s genuine passion for politics, as she does with Turnbull, although his ego and stubbornness eventually cost him the leadership. Even Tony Abbott is made less repulsive by Crabb’s admiration of his sometimes-hilarious tendency to speak with less tact and more bluntness. In fact her afterword is almost entirely devoted to the defence of this rare species of human, the Australian politician, slandered by the public at almost every opportunity and crushed by overwhelming media pressures to within almost an inch of their political lives. In the end, Crabb can “appreciate the fact that they still do a job that is in many ways crummy, depressing, lonely and weird”.
Once you’ve read this book, you might begin to understand what she means. Her columns are the antithesis to venomous political debate. Crabb’s “cruel to be kind” analysis of Australian politicians actually serves to humanise them. And that can only add interest to the bizarre world inside Parliament House.F
Rise of the Ruddbot by Annabel Crabb (Black Inc., 2010)