Ed#436 Hitting the High Notes

9 July 2013 Alan Attwood

Ed#436 Hitting the High Notes

When I heard that actor James Gandolfini had died recently I immediately sent an email to a friend. “Heard the news about Tony Soprano?” I asked. And even as I hit ‘Send’ I realised that Gandolfini, 51, was already inextricably linked with the part he had played in the TV series The Sopranos (1999–2007). It was the actor who died, not the character, but even if he had lived and worked for several more decades, for a great many people he would always have been Tony Soprano, the mob boss with a complex and often contradictory set of values.

I’m not an avid TV-viewer. But The Sopranos sucked me in. And I still find myself using some Tony sayings – especially his standard response to an apparently intractable problem: “What are you gonna do?” In these five words there’s a mixture of stoicism, acceptance and the search for an answer…which, of course, is what a quiz is all about.

Yes, it’s back: The Big Quiz, now as much a part of the Big Issue year as our Christmas edition. As before, all questions are drawn from editions sold in the year thus far, giving a deserved advantage to regular readers. The first question, not in the quiz, is: Why is Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, the quiz cover girl? To which the simplest answer is: Why not? She’s in the news, everyone loves a baby, and a quiz is the perfect way to pass the time in those tedious weeks and days leading up to a birth. This particular pregnancy, of course, has been more closely watched than most. And the birth itself (due mid-July) has been planned with the thoroughness of a military operation. What is she gonna do? Well, she will have her baby in St Mary’s Hospital, West London, where the child’s father, Prince William, was himself born. Rooms in the hospital’s maternity ward are equipped with a safe, TV and the internet – which means that if we get her a download card (now available from vendors), the Duchess of Cambridge could have a crack at the quiz online.

Meanwhile, the question of what they’re going to do in Canberra has become less clear-cut, due to the latest bout of Labor Party bloodletting. Out, Julia Gillard; in (again), Kevin Rudd. That party-room coup is old news already. Once formalities were concluded, attention immediately shifted to analysis of what the leadership change would mean to the coming election, the date of which was thrown into doubt at once.

While stirring stuff for political junkies and media outlets, the machinations and manoeuvring within the Labor Party has become increasingly depressing to anyone wishing for the governing party to be focusing outwards rather than inwards. Too often it has seemed that policy has been secondary to personal vendettas. In what turned out to be one last act of brinkmanship, Gillard insisted that the loser of the latest showdown walk away from politics. Now she must do so. How different might recent Australian history have been if Rudd had followed this same course after he was rolled as leader in June 2010? Instead, he stuck around, playing Banquo’s Ghost to Gillard’s Macbeth, and increasingly upstaging his successor. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has had to do little more than avoid stuff-ups to look and sound like a preferable alternative PM.

There are times when politics and politicians rise above petty day-to-day stuff. You can often see and hear it in the personal speeches MPs make when they retire; also in events such as the national apology for forced adoptions – delivered by PM Gillard last March and then totally overshadowed by Rudd’s farcical challenge-that-wasn’t.

What are they gonna do? Much better. Please.