Stephen King once wrote that horror and humour were two of the most difficult story forms to master, because funny gone wrong is almost always horrifying, while a bungled horror story runs the risk of eliciting shrieks of laughter in place of terror.
It didn't take long for the narrative threads of "Death Cult in the Suburbs" to unravel and the snickering to begin. And so we find, a few weeks after September's terror raids, that the mystery sword that featured so prominently in everybody's fever dreams of jihad come to Martin Place was not in fact the mighty blade of slashening; woe be unto the infidel. It was just a plastic toy, according to its owner. A replica artefact, as common in Shiite Muslim households as sun-faded happy snaps of Pope St John Paul II in the homes of Polish Catholics.
I guess it's a lucky thing the raids only turned up a plastic sword then. What if those 800 cops had found a toy light sabre? The headlines would have screamed "ISIS develops terrifying Stars Wars capability". The SAS might have been despatched to Tatooine.
There was always something dodgy about the scale of those raids, especially given the thin pickings they seemed to turn up. Very few arrests and now a prime piece of "evidence" negated. Advertisement
Note the air quotes around the term "evidence", though. The sword, which promised such horror in so many published, shared and retweeted photos, never made it into court.
If all the world's a stage, it was a prop and the hundreds of citizens whose homes were raided weren't even players. They were extras. Not even bit players, like the sailor whose story of being attacked while in uniform, perhaps because he was in uniform, was revealed as a bizarre fantasy, but only after that story had turned the crank on tensions a few notches further.
There's something at play here that isn't as simple a narrative as good v evil. For instance, in the month that Daash killers cut the heads off three captives on the internet, our Saudi Arabian allies publicly decapitated eight for various crimes including adultery, apostasy and sorcery. Woe be unto you, Harry Potter.
Our particular malady is not even a politics as theatre, however. Although Tony Abbott and the media are playing the terror card for all it's worth and more, there are legitimate security issues buried somewhere beneath the witless hysteria, fear-mongering and click bait.
It's fraught and complex, and the pity of our current derangement is that it not only prevents us from seeing this and dealing with the threat, it aggravates the condition.
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