I was saddened to hear that Kylie Minogue, Singing Budgie, gay icon, everyone’s Neighbour, with an estimated worth of $100 million, aged just 36, has breast cancer. Sad in the way that you can never be happy to hear that kind of news about someone you don’t know, unless they’re on your schadenfreude shortlist of baddies who deserve the worst. Pop diva showgirl Kylie may be, but baddie she ain’t. The worst you can call her is disproportionately rich and cute. Describing her best asset in August 2002, she reportedly said to Marie Claire magazine: “It’s taken on a life of its own. The Sun (London newspaper) even ran a front page declaring my bum a national treasure. I really did laugh at that. It’s not like it can actually do anything, except wiggle. It does what it’s meant to do, and it’s holding up all right.”
But I was not shocked or stunned by the news, as all Australians are supposed to be, by diktat of public figures from Prime Minister John Howard to Molly Meldrum, and reporters from the ABC through Channel 7. I had a flashback to 1997 when, sitting in London one evening with expat friends, a newsflash told us Australians in Britain were shocked and stunned at the news of the suicide death of Kylie’s ex, Michael Hutchence, then 37. We were interested, sure, because we’d all grown up on INXS as much as Locomotion, and I’d once bumped into Paula Yates (bad teeth) and daughter Fifi Trixi Belle (unwashed) in a Chelsea sandpit, and tiny Kylie in a box in the Royal Albert Hall. But we weren’t moved to break into “I am, you are, we are Australian.”
The raised community awareness about breast cancer that may be a lasting side effect of Kylie’s diagnosis can only be welcomed. The cult media circus gathering around the personality rather than the health issue, however, cannot. An Australian press pack is already camped outside her parents’ Melbourne home, and the British paparazzi is said to be winging its way downunder to join them.
Brace yourself for something that makes Moulin Rouge look buttoned up. It’s shaping up to be another schmaltzy princess fashion fest - cracked Diana meets preggers Mary meets sick Kylie - with collective suspension of disbelief. It’ll be a great time to sideline a bit of serious news. Topics that really should shock and stun all Australians, like the wealth redistribution in last week’s Budget, what’s emerging about maladministration of our immigration detention regime, and the astonishing sight of the dean of an Australian law school advocating torture.
The saddest fact of today might be that all, maybe not even most, Australian brains and hearts can’t stretch too far beyond Kylie. If that’s true, let’s work with what we’ve got. In wishing Kylie luck, let’s understand her illness is serious news in a way we might not realise. It’s a timely reminder of how fragile, and ultimately useless, all the status, fame, career milestones, megabucks and other trophies on the mantelpiece can prove to be. When you’ve got cancer or any other life-threatening illness, what you need is the people who really know you to be right there. To hold your hand while you’re throwing up after treatment, and buy you groovy scarves when your hair falls out, and promise to look after those you love most the same way you do, when you’re gone. If it comes to that.
You also need everyone else to get a grip. If I were in Kylie’s medical shoes - and, at her age, I could so clearly be - I think I’d want a bit less anxious, anal focus from thirtysomethings on things we might not even live to see to fruition, like mortgage and superannuation spreadsheets, kitchen renovations on the next investment property, or debates over which private school is best for unborn children. I’d want my peers to take a few more risks so they get to live a little, and a little more in the moment. I’d want us to throw more parties, on a whim, where green fairies dance on tables and wear gold hot pants and fool around and drink absinthe and … play a whole lot more Kylie, really really loud.
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