Some years ago, I asked a colleague how our old boss was doing and they replied that he’d been moved on from his position as editor of a major newspaper and was now working in upper-middle management suffering from “relevance withdrawal”.
“You see him wandering around the editorial floor wanting to be taken seriously, but his time has past,” they said.
Reading some of Catherine Deveny’s Tweets after her sacking this week, I noticed she later used that forum to describe the reasons for her dismissal as “about gender, class and relevance deprivation”.
This is a term borrowed from former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans, who said he feared “relevance deprivation syndrome” when confronting a life after government and politics.
Deveny obviously likes the term, having also used it in one of her columns to describe the cast of Hey, Hey It’s Saturday as “middle-aged, white men with relevance deprivation”.
It got me thinking about what is relevance and who decides? …
Relevance is defined by my good mate The Macquarie Dictionary as “bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand; to the purpose; pertinent”, so it seems obvious that what we consider to be relevant is supremely subjective.
For Evans, relevance was all about making a difference in international affairs; for my old boss it was moving and shaking in the media world day to day; and for Deveny, I guess it’s commenting on issues closer to her heart, such as gender, equality and social justice.
The conceit of a term such as “relevance” is that a person decides what’s important to them, then denotes people who don’t agree as “irrelevant” or “suffering relevance deprivation”.
This was very much the case in the ’60s when “relevance” became something of a buzzword, meaning roughly: “How much does this topic matter to my social concerns?”
While issues such as racial and sexual equality, world hunger, poverty and drug use held the attention of so many people young and old, subjects such as rugby league salaries, entry into nightclubs, the cost of cigarettes and real estate and dieting were probably not considered “relevant”.
Try telling that to a 25-year-old today.
So many mornings, I look at the front pages of newspapers and media websites and find them “irrelevant” to my life.
This sensation deepens exponentially when I go into a large newsagent and look at the hundreds of glossy lifestyle magazines and hipster publications and genre periodicals – all absolutely irrelevant … to me.
I look at something like Fashion Week and just shake my head at how pointless and vapid and self-congratulatory it is, but then, sitting in my flat at the beach with my newborn daughter, I’m probably suffering from “relevance withdrawal”.
Having been to Fashion Week more times than I care to remember and going to the parties and the shows and having the same four conversations over and over and over again, I’d say the same thing about most of the attendees.
It’s ice skating, it’s cake decorating, it’s completely irrelevant to the sort of developmental issues that I find fascinating and pertinent to living an examined life.
The thing I’ve discovered, and I hope Gareth Evans did, as well as my old editor, is that the only person to whom your life has to make sense is you.
Relevance pretty much ends six inches in front of your face and is best summed up by one of the great Venn Diagrams of the internet.
Have a good weekend, Liars.
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