Sunday, May 10, 2009

Chris Berg, Poker Machines, choice, the right of clubs to take your money, and twits twittering

(Above: tired of losing cash in the pokies? Try a game emulator to bore yourself shitless without losing a cent).

Don't you just love the righteous indignation of freedom loving members of the libertarian commentariat.

Cue Chris Berg, freedom fighter and research fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs, and editor of the IPA Review, and his valiant defence of the right of everyone to play poker machines to their hearts content. (Road to hell is not paved with poker machines).

After centuries of paternalism, anti-gambling activists perhaps need a change of attitude. Even if you don't enjoy the pokies, others do.

Well I'm all for getting rid of paternalism, and stuffy wowserism, so let's expand that a little.

How about this? After centuries of paternalism, anti-homosexual and anti-sex activists perhaps need a change of attitude. Even if you don't enjoy rear door pokies, or getting off with hookers, or indulging in a gay marriage, or using a condom, or having the right to an abortion, others do.

But of course when it comes to actual matters of personal and sexual liberation, the right suddenly fold up like a pack of tents in need of the nearest Christian revivalist centre.

I don't want to sound all neo liberal here - respecting individual choice and the right to have a blow job is so Clinton 1997 - but for the most part, people do things because they want to.

But you suspect that Berg likes to talk the talk of the working classes, but has never really experienced the joy of walking the walk. Even the liberty he purports to defend sounds suspiciously like consorting with zombies, at least the way he phrases it:

... it's easy to disdain those who spend Saturday night pulling a lever in a suburban pub — their vacant look, their robotically repetitive movements, their apparent joylessness ...

Wow, bring me a silver bullet or a stake, it sounds serious.

Berg's way around this is to compare playing poker machines to the vacant stare of people watching movies (funny he didn't use video games or roaming the intertubes before they get so full of horseshit they'll collapse). 

Geez, he must really go to some bad movies, if the comedies he watches produces vacant looks rather than laughs, or the action sequences robotically repetitive reactions, or a silent, empty staring as the punters shuffle from the show displaying apparent joylessness. Perhaps he watched the latest Star Trek? Oh come on, even that's not so bad, though not nearly so much fun as Galaxy Quest.

But then you do a little research and you see he twittered just awhile ago that "On reflection, The Parallax View is such a wonderfully nihilistic film". Say no more, he stands revealed as a twittering twit of the kind who'd twitter about an Alan J. Pakula film, rather than Wag the Dog. Can't bat, can't bowl, and can't catch. Almost sounds like Tim Blair.

As a consequence, saying that Victorians "lost" $2.4 billion at the pokies last financial year makes about as much sense as saying Victorians lost $2.4 billion at the cinemas. Perhaps the critics of poker machines could grant that people who go out of their way to play the pokies derive at least some small benefit from doing so? As much as it enjoys the revenue from taxes on poker machines, the State Government doesn't force anybody to play.

Yippee, well there goes all that righteous right wing indignation about dole bludgers laying about doing nothing. It seems mindless wastes of time are whatever you like to do, and that's just fine with the commentariat. After all, nobody's forcing a hippie to take a toke, and if they legalized marijuana, think how much the government could enjoy the revenue from taxes.

It's probably no worse than having a fag or two, and smokers are another much maligned breed:

Anti-tobacco activists appear to believe smoking is the equivalent of being stabbed in the face by a cigarette company — every cigarette is doing you damage — but few community leaders go so far as proposing the complete elimination of smoking, as they do with the pokies.

Perhaps it's like that old anecdote about the academics who have never met anyone who voted for John Howard — pretty much everybody has tried a cigarette, and most people have friends who regularly smoke, but who could be so tasteless as to enjoy gambling with a machine? Certainly not anyone I know.

Poor Chris Berg and his chums. Valiant defenders of the rights of the humble working class to piss their money against the wall, and not one of them actually knows a member of the working class who actually plays a poker machine.

Is this satirical levity, or typical commentariat condescension? Who knows? But I'm guessing he knows fuck all about the working classes or about poker machines. And I'm guessing he's not not got a clue about the way people can develop a serious addiction to the machines, or the way clubs - addicted to the revenue they bring - long ago gave up the notion of community, the original basis for clubs, and instead got a self-fulfilling taste for revenue from machine junkies.

I first got the taste for true addiction when our school librarian would spend her sports afternoon locked in the golf club playing the pokies, putting her salary through the machines while we went out for a round of golf (so much better than boofhead cheerleading for the jocks). Did the club attempt to stop her? No way, so long as she kept shoveling that precious coinage down the club's throat.

As a counter balance, my father was always tinny, and though he never won a big jackpot, he'd invariably end a round with the machines ahead of the game, which used to send the rest of the family, and my mother in particular, into a rage of envy.

But did poker machines enhance working class life? Not really, and it got worse as they took away the lever - about the only physical activity - and worked hard to turn the clutch of machines into a diary farm that milked the punters like the new pump models, without even the decent pleasure you used to get from groping a cow's teats (think battery hens wired to drop a trickle of cash eggs into the hands of the clubs).

So sure the pokies can be a tool of satan or a harmless pastime, and like most potentially addictive activities, seen from the outside they can be a take it or leave it proposition.

But you suspect that Berg is like those typical ponces and personal responsibility gits who don't really give a fuck about the wretches who end up out of a job, and totally fucked in their personal lives as a result of their addiction. And then complain when they end up on welfare or on the dole, or otherwise littering the streets, like my old librarian teacher, broken and abandoned.

The funny thing of course is that addicts, as opposed to the take it or leave it types, are actively hooked on the idea of getting rich, aided and abetted by the noises, the limited but dazzling color and movement, and the machine drenched, isolated environment, which actively works against socialization or interaction with others. There's a science to this, now cannily exploited by clubs, and if you want to see how it works, try playing a poker machine on one of the video game emulations going around the web. Bet you last two minutes before you give it away, because it truly is as boring as batshit and about as much like watching a movie as having sex with a doll is like fucking.

Meantime, Berg and his ilk have the satisfaction of their retro perversity, which boldly involves thumbing their noses at paternalistic do gooders who are generally left to pick up the pieces.

Humbug and clap trap, and in the service of the clubs and the poker machine industry, and he's only right about one thing. Better to be a poker machine player than a twitterer about the nihilism of The Parallax View. 

Next time I'm caught by some right wing member of the commentariat playing the machines 24/7, instead of helping build this great nation, I know where to send Berg. 

Down to the Goulburn Soldiers Club where he can experience a real poker machine player, and the vacant look in their eyes, and let's see the twits twitter together about their mutually satisfying social interactions as they play the pokies together:

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