The Mardi Gras floats on money

I took a train into the Sydney CBD today. It was emblazoned with a WorldPride poster that stretched the length of the carriage. When I stepped out at Wynyard, posters everywhere celebrated diversity and inclusion. Shop entrances had huge mats with the Progress Pride flag. Every step of the building I entered was a different colour of the rainbow.

The media here is saturated with LGBTQI+ celebrations. Old fellas reminiscing about the bad old days. The joy of being trans. The boring normality of gay families. The exuberance of Saturday’s Mardi Gras parade with floats sponsored by Coles, Fetish Australia, Deloittes, Google, Meta, Dykes on Bikes, Tiktok, American Express, Qantas, the Order of Perpetual Indulgence, and more.

The Australian Prime Minister marched in the Parade, the first PM to do so. “It’s unfortunate that I am the first, but this is a celebration of modern Australia ... a diverse and inclusive Australia,” he said. “We need to be a country that respects everyone for who they are.”

But it was a remark by a lesbian journalist on the ABC, Patricia Karvelas, which pulled it all together for me. She wrote in an article headlined: “Sydney's WorldPride and Mardi Gras shows how far we've come, but there's still a distance to go”.

As Sydney celebrates the annual Mardi Gras parade and festival, as well as World Pride, all eyes are on Australia and the diversity on display. From Kylie, Qantas drag queens and Optus rainbows, the pink economy was pumping like never before.

In a culture where economic success is king, the glitter and spectacle were all the evidence you need that Australia has made its mind up about support for the queer community.

It would be a mistake to read too much into Karvelas’s remarks, but does pornographic vulgarity really prove that the LGBTQI+ lifestyle is a healthy part of Australian culture? Or that it is ethical? Or that it deserves government subsidies? Do floats sponsored by consumer-screwing corporates demonstrate a concern for the disadvantaged and marginalised?

Perhaps I grew up in a different era, when the Aussie battler doing it tough in the burbs, sweating to support a wife and kids and pay a mortgage, was the touchstone of national economic success – not excess and extravagance. I wonder if the organisers of the Mardi Gras have ever thought of queer community outreach to Bankstown or Blacktown. Perhaps they would be interested in a local parade.

I don’t think that George Orwell will mind being dragooned into this debate. These lines from his essay “Such, such were the joys” express his disgust at a society which worships economic success:

There never was, I suppose, in the history of the world a time when the sheer vulgar fatness of wealth, without any kind of aristocratic elegance to redeem it, was so obtrusive as in those years before 1914 … From the whole decade before 1914 there seems to breathe forth a smell of the more vulgar, un-grown-up kind of luxury, a smell of brilliantine and crème-de-menthe and soft-centred chocolates — an atmosphere, as it were, of eating everlasting strawberry ices on green lawns to the tune of the Eton Boating Song. The extraordinary thing was the way in which everyone took it for granted that his oozing, bulging wealth of the English upper and upper-middle classes would last for ever, and was part of the order of things. After 1918 it was never quite the same again.

Will Mardi Gras last for ever? I think not. The festivities are government-funded entertainment for a privileged elite who live in inner City Sydney, work in inner City Sydney, and rave in inner City Sydney. As soon as another 1914 arrives – and it will – the party will be over.

Here’s a positive suggestion. Organise a March for Families in Blacktown or Bankstown. Aim at getting 100,000 mums, dads, and kids to show what Australia is really about. Invite Patricia Karvelas to cover it for the ABC.


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