The first time I saw artist Mike Greany's Malcolm Turnbull GIFs, as equally bewitching and morbid as they are, I remember immediately thinking about that episode of The Simpsons. The one where Bart makes a $900 collect call to Australia to ask which direction the water drains in toilets, and has to be booted by our Prime Minister as restitution.
When I ask Mike if this classic ep served as inspiration, he laughs and says it didn't. "Although our entire generation's sense of humour is derived from The Simpsons back catalogue," he admits. "So I wouldn't be surprised if it's a subconscious influence."
Rather than a place of nostalgia, Mike says his series of GIFs came more from a place of anger—he believes Turnbull is being portrayed in the media as a moderate, while pursuing a conservative agenda. With it looking less and less likely that Australia will give Turnbull the boot at tomorrow's election, VICE sat down to ask Mike about his controversial series of Turnbull kicking things.
VICE: So Mike, tell me how you came up with this idea?
Mike Greany: It was three years of seething frustration and a desire to become part of the political conversation in a slightly more meaningful way than tweeting dumb jokes at politicians on Q&A. The first GIF I made was of Turnbull "kicking the poor." It worked out as such a simple and visceral metaphor that I thought the idea could be expanded into a series.
What were the big issues in this election you wanted to highlight?
So far I've done GIFs focusing on the poor, asylum seekers, the NBN, LGBTIQ Australians, and the environment. I was hoping to get a chance to make some about cuts to Medicare and education as well, but alas, it seems I've run out of time.
Even though they're in a cartoonish style, your GIFs are pretty violent. Did you want to shock people?
The violence I think was something that really became the point of the whole experiment. The message I wanted to send with these GIFs, in an admittedly irreverent and simplistic way, is that our government is brutalising people. The cartoonish violence in the GIFs is a direct response to reading about the violent, destructive policy that the Libs have been implementing, or trying to implement, over the last three years.
How have people responded to the series?
Fairly positively, though to be fair, I only really see responses from inside the progressive echo chamber of the internet that I've inadvertently carved out for myself. When GetUp! shared the Great Barrier Reef GIF (which depicts Turnbull kicking a clownfish to death) I had to chuckle a little bit at one viewer's disappointment that she "couldn't show this to her grandchildren." I'm not really expecting these GIFs to change anyone's opinions. But it's been comforting to see people use them to express their frustration with the state of things.
I think a lot of young people feel pretty disappointed in Malcolm Turnbull because they thought he'd be different to Tony Abbott. What did you think of Turnbull before he became PM?
I was always a bit sceptical about Turnbull's "progressive credentials." I mean, the guy is still a member of the Liberal Party, and still voted in favour of all of Abbott's policies. I remember watching the Lib spill and being really conflicted. On one hand it was, and still is, immensely satisfying to see Abbott booted off the top spot by his own party. But, ultimately, the idea that the Libs would get a bump in the polls and have a less unhinged salesperson fronting their regressive policies was terrifying. You really just can't beat a lunatic eating an onion like a hand fruit to make people pay attention to all the awful things the Liberal Party are trying to get away with.
The message I wanted to send with these GIFs... is that our government is brutalising people.
The GIF you made of Peter Dutton and Turnbull kicking a refugee while Bill Shorten watches from the background—that one really struck me. Do you think Bill Shorten is a better option than Turnbull?
As far as refugee policy goes, no. I think both major parties are conducting themselves in a manner that's going to be really fucking hard to explain to our children one day. That being said, I would rather see Labor running the show than the Liberals. Better yet, a Labor minority with the Greens making up the balance would be the best case scenario.
If Malcolm Turnbull wins, do you think he'll give Australia the boot?
Sadly, yes. I can't see Turnbull changing his ways anytime soon. My assumption is that as long as he's in the captain's chair he'll keep pandering to the far right of his party.
Okay last question because I know you need to get back to making one last GIF before the election. What role do you think cartoons, art, and satire play in keeping politicians honest?
I think that the ability for humour to open up people's minds to the idea of having a conversation about politics is really powerful. There's a bit of a wall I see in a lot of people that goes up the moment any serious political discussion starts: It's boring, it's controversial, it's all a waste of time, all politicians are the same etc. But if you can pique an audience's interest with humour, or captivate them with a piece of interesting visual communication, then that defence is harder to put up. Hopefully the next step is that people pause and question why they are engaged or why they're laughing. As far as I'm concerned, if these GIFs help to give someone pause to think about the fact that there's an election on at the moment, that seems like a win. I'm just hoping that come Sunday I get to make a GIF of Australia kicking Malcolm back.
See more of Mike Greany's work here.
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