Monday, 10 August 2009

The Emperor's New Clothes - Rewritten

This story is a take on the old Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Andersen told of an arrogant vain ruler who was swindled into thinking he’d purchased a very special suit which was invisible to anyone who was stupid or unfit to hold his position. When he wore the non-existent suit in public the frightened citizens declined to warn the ruler that he was all but naked. Only innocent children dared to declare the truth …

My original re-write dates back to 2005 and carries echoes from the past, including the spectre of a recent Australian Prime Minister and his longest-serving predecessor whom he idolised. Mentions of global capital may be interesting in today's context.

A little man walked into King’s Hall in the old Parliament House in Canberra, where his nation kept its former leaders framed, and under glass.

As usual, he halted before the impression of a wide, majestic-looking creature with stainless steel hair, black woollen eyebrows and blushing pink cheeks.

The visitor craned forward to allow the light in the stately hall to glint at an angle, just so, and his reflection became part of the artwork. Mind you, because of his height, the likeness appeared in the lower half of the glass, and even when he smiled to crisp up the image, it still looked sad.

The little man himself was unremarkable with his stiff upper lip, pea-size eyes and chaste spectacles.

Well might such a homely figure covet the charisma of a dead man.

The Prime Minister of the day (for that’s who the fellow was), visited Kings Hall most lunchtimes to buoy his flagging spirits. He was uneasy, but he couldn’t admit it. He had doubts about the road he travelled, but he was far too single minded and proud to deviate so much as a millimetre.

His was a nation of wide spaces, big cities, beaches and bush. The people came in all sizes and colours, and before the Prime Minister came to power they loved life, cared for the little bloke in trouble, and were painting a Big Picture in bright hues.

Okay, there were problems here and there, and one day the people looked over the fence to see greener grass and without too much thought, threw out the old Government. Things began to change with amazing speed.

Those of us watching shivered when the new little ruler declared: ‘I am the most powerful man in the nation! I have a driver and a long shining car. I share platforms with Heads of State throughout the world. My people love me. I know best for them, and they will trust me while I reshape their lives. Still waters and suet puddings are what they need – and that’s what they’ll get.’

Even as he spoke the Prime Minister’s eyebrow twitched uneasily, and he stumbled on the steps on the way out. But he straightened his back with resolve, and returned to his office to sign a decree which sacked a swathe of workers, mostly women. ‘Women should be in the home’ was his credo. He thought that families would understand this when they couldn’t pay their food bills, and half of the nation’s talent went to waste.

One day there came to the metropolis a delegation from the world of Global Capital. The men in suits sold the Prime Minister an Economic Philosophy: Let Global Capital make all the decisions. Become one big happy family with Big Business. Be relaxed. Be comfortable. Just sign here…

The Prime Minister read the instructions and sacked even more people and made others work part time for less money. He reduced benefits for the poor, hacked hospital budgets, decimated schools and universities. And then he went home to his wife and family, and slept soundly at night.

This land of sunshine grew dark and melancholy, and the people scowled, and scratched each other in their efforts to get to the top of the heap. They were unable to look after their children’s wellbeing, nor help them fulfil their dreams. The Prime Minister sometimes heard the howls of dismay, but squared his shoulders and pressed on.

The Minister for Health saw the sick people’s beds in hospital corridors, and the ambulances taking away the dead. The hairs on his neck rose uneasily, but he knew the Prime Minister’s new Economic Philosophy had come from all powerful Global Capital. He squared his shoulders and pressed on.

The Minister for Employment hated driving home at night because of people sleeping in the gutters. They’d lost their jobs and their homes, and had nowhere else to go. To avoid the sight, he took to staying overnight in his luxurious parliamentary office.

Under duress and in return for favours, the Minister for Technology signed more and more documents giving control of New Information Technologies to Big Business. He tossed and turned in bed at night and wondered: What will happen at the next election? Will Big Business play the game? Will they back the Government in their television programmes and editorials, and with their other communication technology? Or will they bite the hand that fed them? He worried at night, but during the day, the Minister squared his shoulders, and went to lunch with the media owners.

A red headed right wing politician came to town. To the people, she said: ‘You are angry and upset. But do you know why you are angry? It’s those others – those different looking people. They’re the problem. They’ve got your jobs, and your money is paying their pensions. It’s all their fault. Trust me. I will control them.’

And with this, some of the people felt comforted. They began walking the streets looking for anyone who looked ‘different’, and they threw stones and felt better still. Their children’s ragged clothing and empty stomachs didn’t seem to matter so much.

The Prime Minister decided he could make himself popular, and began mouthing some of the words that spilled from the red headed politician. Divide and rule was okay by him.

Not long after that the red head made a mistake and was clapped in gaol, leaving the way clear for the Prime Minister to take the spotlight again.

Then one day there was to be a Major National Commemoration March through the streets of the capital. The Prime Minister sensed that the people were growing angry, and thought a Big Parade would calm them down, especially if he was there to acknowledge the March Past. The people would forget their troubles, and the music would drown out the mumbling that was growing louder.

Ready for the Procession, the Prime Minister took his place on the steps of Parliament House and stood tall, just as he’d seen yet another Prime Minister do, and he felt very powerful. Wasn’t that old Prime Minister sacked and long gone? And wasn’t HE in control now?

Just as the bands could be heard in the distance, there came a young boy and a young girl who wore school uniforms, and perched on the steps. They waved banners proclaiming: ‘We are hungry’.

The children caught sight of the little man, stared open-mouthed and called out and waved their banners wildly, hoping to warn the politician of what they saw.

The Prime Minister chose not to look their way, and clapped his hands to his ears to drown their cries.

And as the band and the soldiers came to the steps they saw a small man standing there in white underpants and singlet. The soldiers and the bandsmen blinked as they recognised the nation’s Prime Minister. They beat their drums more loudly, and snapped a salute as they passed.

©June Saville 2008. Not to be reproduced without express written permission of the author.