More Bruce Everett at the Global Atheist Convention

A guest post by Bruce Everett

Day two – Friday: Canapés and Entrées…

The official story was, I’m told, that the canapés were a part of some kind of standard package. This apparently counted against all the forms filled out by ticket holders, marking ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ (or whatnot).

I wasn’t around at the Global Atheist Convention in 2010 to compare, but I’m told there were similar issues then with vegetarian food. I can’t honestly say I was irked, myself, but there were grumbling veggies with grumbling tummies in earshot, that made their views apparent.

(Please note, I absolutely do not attribute the cause of this gastronomic mishap to any of the volunteers from the Atheist Foundation of Australia – I know full well some of the effort from behind the scenes, put into accommodating vegetarians. Nor incidentally, was the catering staff at the public end responsible.)

David Nicholls gave a decent opening address to the convention.

Things are changing, inevitably, with young faces like Jason Ball’s all over the place, but it’s worth noting where all of this came from. A reflection on the history of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, delivered from our bemulleted, rural, South Australian Prez, breathed life into the legacy of the older generation. I swear I could smell home brew, pottery, Brut 33, and old letters to the editor.

(I’m originally from rural South Australia, and I once also sported a mullet, so I’m allowed to stir; the Prez is one of my own people.)

Kylie Sturgess and Lawrence Leung took to the stage to MC the event, demonstrating the perfect mix of joviality and professionalism. A cocktail should be named after these two (a task that would have been satisfying, to have been able to see being put past The Hitch).

Mikey Robbins started strong, and I was glad to see him, 1990s throwback that I am, but I can’t help but think his stride was interrupted, somewhat, by what, I don’t know.

Ben Elton… Oh, Ben. Poor sexually repressed Ben.

Apparently, the idea of people with shaved nether-regions having oral sex offends the man’s sensibilities. I know Dawkins has been nominated the atheist pope, but he’s just too liberal about respecting other people’s sex lives – since when has he issued edicts about what consenting adults are and aren’t supposed to do with their tender bits?

Ben Elton; pope of atheists, or pope aspirant?

Aside from that, and a journey through what seemed like recycled material from 1999 (‘hey kids, how about those spam emails?’), Elton still seemed funnier than I can remember, since his appearance in a Comic Relief in the 1980s. The whole genital jeremiad was tied together into something approaching religious satire near the end of the act, but I would have liked more religious material, if only to reduce the appearance of old filler.

Stella Young, I didn’t know you, and I didn’t know I loved you; you were awesome.

Somehow, tying things together in a religious context towards the end of Stella’s act didn’t raise the issues I had with Elton’s performance. Getting to know how Stella views the world, prior to the introduction of religion, was a bit like getting to know the cast of Alien before introducing the eponymous monster – you were made to care when the proverbial hit the fan.

And not in some patronising, wishy-washy way, either. That was half the point, the way people pretend to be enlightened in their treatment of ‘the other’ – instead treating them like children or fashion accessories. I pity the wanker who tries to talk down to Stella.

I think I’m going to be dragging the concept of use-mention distinctions into my critique of performance art, where gender epithets rear their heads. Stella dropped the c-bomb; she used the term ‘cripple’. She mentioned ‘c**t’ when telling a crowd member they looked like they’d have preferred that term instead.

I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with this either, but at the very least she wasn’t calling anyone, one, or using the term insincerely or in a cowardly way (which would be bad art). I’m not going to fault it.

(I suspect use-mention error may be the perfect rebuttal of choice to those Internet misogynists claiming that a feminist mentioning the word ‘cunt’ in any analysis, is morally equivalent to when a misogynist uses the term by calling someone ‘cunt’. It isn’t equivalent, and I’d like to nominate use-mention as a technical distinction worthy of greater use in these discussions.)

I was told, when asking some local comedy fans, that aside from the c-bomb being a common staple of Melbournian comedy, that recently, there’d been local controversy over the use of the word – and subsequent pushback from comedians. Apparently they need to stand up to the oppression of being criticised, or something, the poor souls.

I’m not entirely sure of where I stand on the use of gender epithets in the arts, across the breadth of contexts that is. Was it in-character? Was it satirical? Was it pure gender hatred? What does this say about the sincerity of the artwork/artist?

However, as far as healthy scepticism permits, I’m quite sure where it is that I stand on Jim Jefferies’ use of the term. I loathe watching people calling other people ‘cunt’.

Yeah, Jim, you’re edgy. You shock. You push envelopes – the same envelopes, over and over and over again. Aside from becoming very predictable, very quickly, losing whatever shock value it had like some cheap chewing gum rapidly losing an initially strong flavour, what the audience was left with, ultimately, was a jerk who treats domestic violence like suitable trolling material.

‘…remember not to punch women…’

‘…saw off my mum’s breast…’

(I paraphrase).

Dude started edgy (aka cutting-edge misogynist), but by the end of the gig, sheer repetition degenerated Jeffries’ material into misogynistic Dad jokes. He should swap that Prisoner style jacket for a cardigan and a copy of the Herald Sun.

I’d hate to think that Jim Jeffries has to burn up audiences like a starving beard-neck at an all-you-can-eat, just to maintain the appearance of his material being fresh. I say this because the guy’s not talentless at all. When you stripped back the shock-misogyny, what you were left with is possibly the most talented comic of the night – easily beating out Ben Elton.

Marion Maddox (the believer on the next day’s politics panel) would call this out the following morning; atheists don’t get to criticise religious misogyny from the same platform they spew misogyny from themselves. While I wouldn’t say there’s grounds to say Jeffries was representative (and I’d call false moral equivalence on comparing a misogynist comedian to the women-hating antics of most religions), Jeffries as a choice of entertainer is more than wide-open to criticism.

The GAC started with the explicit mention of how feminism was aligning more closely with atheistic objectives, something that this convention’s line-up was supposed to demonstrate. I’m not saying Jeffries should be censored. What I am saying is that his trade should have been plied elsewhere, perhaps off with the rest of the comedy wankers in Melbourne– he didn’t belong on this stage, and I didn’t enjoy paying for a gold ticket to see him.

Yes, I do know this is a freethinking community. I do know that there will be differences. But is it worth having a central theme of the convention crossed so thoughtlessly by someone who’s there as a crowd warmer?

What’s next? George Pell giving us the comedic stylings of why child abuse is funny?

Stage-time is a finite resource where John Stuart Mill’s opportunity cost comes in to play, unavoidably restricting the range of views that can expressed. It’s not wrong for freethinkers to prioritise in these circumstances

Is it such a crime against freethought, and so out of line with our cause, to have ‘haw haw, violence against women is funny’, off the agenda?

~ Bruce


  1. Kylie Sturgess says

    Thank you Bruce – I don’t drink alcohol but I ‘d raise a glass to what you said. I did have a brief online conversation of shared opinion s with Stella about how sexist content after (as you noted!) the explicit statement about pro-feminism, which was echoed by many other speakers throughout the convention both implicitly and explicitly, some mentioning the ‘jokes’. I think that the point was made, heard and I hope, remembered.
    I also hope my vegetarian pro-comment was heard; some people have dietary requirements due health, not just due choice to be vegetarian!
    thanks again for your review, blog entries are a great way to get an idea if how it went. Kylie S.

    (Could I have a ‘virgin’ cocktail named after me? Wahhh!)

  2. says

    Ditto about blog entries. Many thanks for these, Bruce!

    Consider yourself toasted in a glass of orange juice, Kylie. (At QED I kept being much more thirsty than in want of even wine, so I would order a glass of orange juice-with-water. This was viewed as a bit shaming. Well I was thirsty!)

  3. says

    Holy shit. I made it through almost 3 minutes of that.

    So the people organizing the GAC included him why, exactly?

    Fucking hell. It’s great that “the movement” wants “women to feel welcome.”

  4. sansha says

    I have no idea why he was chosen although tweets and such in response to complaints indicated that we should understand the joke and that it was clever satire of misogyny. I didn’t see anything that lead me to think it was satire. I was again left with that bad taste of ‘can’t you women lighten up/ take a joke’ response to our calling out the horrendous sexism.

  5. sansha says

    I think a number of the comics may have misread the audience, from Mikey Robbins’ refence to ‘the bitch on the sat nav” to Tom Ballards joke that “Christians wearing a crucifix is like Jackie O wearing a rifle badge”. I think perhaps there is a sense that because we are not constrained by the preachings of the bible or the church, we have no mroal compass and anything goes, whereas of course that simply isn’t true and atheists will find misogyny and brutal attacks on parents of dead children unpalatable.

  6. says

    Just so, and it’s so telling and infuriating that so many people think “woohoo, freedom ‘n rebellion, anything goes, woohoo – bitches cunts fucking slags!!” It’s so infuriating and depressing that rebellion equates to vomiting hatred all over women.

  7. says

    I’d be even more depressed about it if I hadn’t just returned from QED and Moving Secularism Forward, where it was not like that. (Well, there was that Lionel Tiger talk…But the audience was not what you’d call receptive.)

  8. sansha says

    It certainly wasn’t like that at the last one either. Of course both comedians on opening night last GAC were female. The Chasers were good at the dinner (and male!) so we can also do better here.

  9. says

    Remember it, Kylie? It’s in my draft of the next post!

    Which incidentally, may be delivered to Ophelia when I get the chance to nab some wi-fi at a suitable train station as I cross the countryside back to Adelaide. I’m off to see Stedman-PZ-Cannold tonight.

    My Wi-Fi blackout will commence within the next few hours though, so I guess I’ll see you all on the other side. That being Adelaide, not Hell. Although I’m told they’re both holes (John Safran says so), so the mistake is understandable. 😛

  10. Elvira says

    I found Jim offensive and nasty. His comic timing was excellent, but having gone off and looked more at his other work, I see nothing at all that indicates that he respects women.

    But let’s think about the context in which he was presented. Two years ago, the GAC came roundly under fire for having only token women’s representation, a women’s panel, and two featured speakers across two days. They have clearly worked hard and had many more women thinkers presenting. We had the stimulating Eugenie Scott, the inspiring Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Leslie Cannold’s sharp strategising and a great political panel. Atheist women in history were acknowledged, from Hypatia to Vashti McCollum. And Kylie Sturgess – what a woman! She seamlessly held together a very diverse lineup.

    However, this was marred by the opening night. What we had was two men making dick jokes, the fabulous Stella Young, and then a misogynist rant, with a few insults to religious folk thrown in. It didn’t come across as a great way to welcome and celebrate women’s contribution to atheism. It didn’t make me feel comfortable or welcome. It put me on the defensive from the get go.

    Jeffries might appeal to some audiences, but let them go to him. I paid a month’s rent to be at the atheist convention, and I’m upset that I had to sit through his awfulness. He’s a terrible choice for a diverse crowd in a movement that is still proving it can welcome, honour and celebrate women.


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