A few weeks ago, I got back to Brisbane after a 2 month overseas holiday and picked up a copy of that week’s Time Off magazine (with Cat Power on the front cover) to find out what shows were coming up in the next few weeks.
When I got to that week’s edition of Fred Negro’s Strip (see above) I had to stop in disbelief.
My reaction was immediate.
“What year is this again?”
Fast forward a couple of weeks and Street Press Australia (SPA) (Time Off’s publisher) posted an article on their website and share it via social media– INPRESS RESPOND TO SOCIAL MEDIA STORM OVER COMIC STRIP. On first impressions it sounded like I wasn’t the only person less than impressed by that week’s comic strip but on closer inspection I found that Inpress (the street press magazine that SPA publish in Melbourne) gets a different and larger cartoon than Brisbane each week, Fred Negro’s Pub.
I’m not sure if Melbourne got to see the same cartoon as was published in Brisbane in a previous edition of Inpress or whether it will get to see it in a future copy. As a crop of the Inpress strip published last week was used as the lead image in its response to the alleged SOCIAL MEDIA STORM’, it suggests that the following strip was the one offending Inpress readers in Victoria.
In a way, actually seeing Fred Negro’s Pub in full, together with the recent comments I’ve read on the matter) helped provide an answer to its obvious appeal and, dare-I-say-it, some justification for its content. It’s an in-joke in the Melbourne music scene and a badge of honour to be included in it. You haven’t made it until you’ve been drawn in an episode of Fred Negro’s Pub. Presumably this extends to acceptance (or possibly even expectation) that if you’re female and involved in Melbourne’s music scene or a friend/acquaintance of Fred Negro, you’re likely to be included in a state of undress or with the emphasis on certain parts of your body. Some might call it flattery. Context is everything, which is why I can start to understand Fred Negro’s Pub working in Melbourne and why publishing the same comic strip wouldn’t work in a Brisbane publication.
However, this doesn’t excuse the comic strip that was published in Time Off, which was crass and embarrassing. I can’t think of a single mainstream music magazine in the UK that would have published anything like it in this day and age. It does little but reinforce the stereotype that Australia is an uncultured backwater or the adage that Australia is like Britain in the 70s.
However, the worst part of this sorry saga is the response by Street Press Australia’s Group Managing Editor Andrew Mast. You would expect any claim of sexism against an organisation would be treated seriously, no different from any claim of racism or homophobia, but Inpress’ response in treating the matter as some big joke is extremely condescending and arrogant. In fact, the response essentially looks to portray Inpress as being somewhere between an innocent party (“It would seem our sin was to invite discussion” and the victim of the whole episode (“the ‘pitchfork & torch’ brigade came banging on the door”, “the topic… led to one of the paper’s publishers getting abusive phone calls on a private line from complete strangers”) rather than looking to properly address a customer’s (as in someone who reads their paper) or client’s (as in someone who pays for advertising) concern that something that they published was sexist and that they were offended by it. Instead of a considered and measured response, Inpress’ answer was to throw the discussion over to social media and let mob rule dictate its retort.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Street Press Australia’s response was a reaction to Inpress’ weekly Fred Negro’s Pub comic strip, not the Fred Negro’s Strip published in Time Off. Are any Inpress readers able to shed light on whether the edition of Fred Negro’s Strip published in Time Off has previously been published in Inpress or any of Street Press Australia’s other papers?
If Street Press Australia is still inviting discussion about sexism in its papers, I would like to let them know that I think Fred Negro’s Strip included in Time Off #1611 is sexist.
I would welcome their explanation as to why it isn’t and why they considered it appropriate to be published in their paper.