Sunday, 12 August 2012

Magnussen, Seebohm, Newman and the Bloke in the "T"

With the London Olympics winding to their close, it's hard to think anyone can have missed hearing about the woes of Aussie 100m freestyle swimmer James Magnussen and his team-mates, or missed out on seeing the Commonwealth Bank advertisement featuring his hopeful smiling face. 


For those who forgot, the ad (which interestingly is now unavailable on the internet) features Magnussen out for a training run, followed by guys wearing the letters "C", "A" and "N".  They start talking him up:

"Not long till you bring home gold for Australia."

"Hope so," says Magnussen.

"Know so!"

Then a guy in a "T" joins them and starts to cast doubt on the expected gold medal.  "After all, it's not like you haven't been beaten before."  The ad ends with the "T" bloke tripping over the edge of a cliff and landing in the ocean below.

Fortunately for our sometimes tenuous link with reality, Magnussen helped us out by coming second as well as making a major contribution to the "failure" of the 4X100m relay team, which finished fourth.  Magnussen can't have helped his quest for future sponsors by being sullen and withdrawn in his poolside interview, and he was pilloried by the Australian media.

Perhaps he would have been treated more kindly if he had acted like his team-mate Emily Seebohm.  After finishing second in her 100m backstroke final, Seebohm burst into tears poolside, sobbing that she had let down her coach, parents, team and the Australian people.

It tells you something about the cruelty of our culture that we can see coming second at the Olympics as failure.  We often hear successful young Australians talk about how they see themselves as role models, giving the message to young people that they can do and be anything they set themselves to, provided they work hard and believe in themselves. 

Of course they can't.  Even Magnussen and Seebohm, hugely talented, fiercely competitive and expertly coached, could only come second.  It wouldn't matter how hard I trained or what I believed, I would never even make it to the Olympic trials.

But for the Commonweath Bank this is not about sport, it's about money.  They want you to absorb the analogy between sport and banking, to hear the suggestion that none of your financial dreams are beyond you.  The "T" has been tipped off the cliff and we can all become rich.

If you think this is true, you have obviously been living in a cave for the past five years.  The global financial crisis of 2007, the US debt crisis of 2011, the current European debt crisis, the slowdown of Chinese growth - all evidence that money is not unlimited.  Riches are precarious, and wealthy people can quickly become poor.

If you needed the message driven home, our new State Government here in Queensland can provide you with a quick lesson.  Our new premier, Campbell Newman, has long rejoiced in the nickname "Can-do" and spent the election campaign talking about his "can-do team". 

Yet ever since their election victory the "T" has been firmly in place.  Riding a self-generated air of financial crisis, the watchcry is "we can't afford it".  No matter that the crisis is greatly exaggerated, we now can't afford 20,000 of our public servants, nor advocacy services for tenants, AIDS prevention for gay men, support for women prisoners, extra support for unemployed people, a trial of the National Disability Insurance Scheme or any sensible approach to public policy. 

Perhaps the Commonwealth Bank might consider keeping the bloke in the "T" on the payroll.  He could come in handy for explaining the facts to those people whose mortgages the bank will be forced to foreclose over the coming year.

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