Saturday, May 19, 2018

"Why not Australia?" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today

I spent the first thirty years of my life in Australia and the last twenty trying to stay out of it.

Plenty of local people in this part of the world regularly ask me why we are living so far from Australia. There are a number of reasons but visiting there always reminds me that it is landmass with a population that now badly lacks what I call ‘public intellectuals.’

I grew up in the Canberra suburbs seeing brainy egomaniacs like Richard Neville, Clive James, BA Santamaria (though he was also a genuine bigot) and inspirational Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating on television -- and here I mean free-to-air-TV.
But apart from someone like journalist, author and broadcaster Phillip Adams or a humorist like Andrew Denton there are now precious few deep thinkers in popular media.
The same claim could reasonably be made about the United States today where figures like Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky and perennial US Presidential candidate Ralph Nader have been replaced by a small number of quality satirists such as Jon Stewart.
Even someone like the brilliant (Canadian) writer/activist Naomi Klein has been sidelined from  being heard on a scale that her ideas deserve. The most popular networks and cable TV stations pull in large numbers of viewers who are instead fed a daily diet of polished lies and exaggerated fear-mongering.
Australia is a part of the world where talented, clever people in the creative arts industries have to leave if they genuinely desire to have a wide and mainstream audience.

Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes, Clive James, Nicole Kidman, Jason Donovan,Toni Collette, Rod Taylor, Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Tim Minchin, Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts, Sia, Rebel Wilson and Barry Humphries simply could not have achieved the high quality of what they have done by remaining in Australia.

There, sport is number one and everything else cultural is a distant second.

Self-styled Australian ‘feral futurist’ Richard Neville wrote a rare, honest assessment of Australia for Adbusters not long ago. He explained why “the lucky country” still tends to rely on superpowers such as the USA (and most recently, China) and how it’s leaders prefer being an international sycophant.

“Australians are easily distracted,” he argued. “The focus of mass media [in Australia] is shopping promotions and light entertainment: cooking, sport, gossip, stock shifts, celebrity trials, soft porn and big-ticket ‘must see’ events.”

The question then has to be why has this happened? 

I think it’s partly because there is no developed interest in real politics in Australia, as opposed to the personality/leader-rivals "slugging it out in a boxing match" type-journalism that Australians are served.

The internet should have been a factor in leading to discussion on politics being less mediocre but it does not appear to be in Australia, unlike the USA where Obama then Bernie Sanders were able to break new activist ground. Instead, the news cycle “downunder” is dominated by a merry-go-round of opinion polls about leadership -- both state and federal -- and that passes for proper political analysis.

Australians are generally not only politically apathetic.

As one anonymous (European) online poster who had lived in Australia for 12 years wrote: “Australians as a whole are quite conservative. Just look at the government they elected! I find it increasingly frustrating. It's all about family, building a house, having a garden, a big 4WD and a BBQ on the weekend with the other families talking footy, house prices and gardening/fishing... I think maybe more adventurous Aussies leave.”

Australia is a very isolated country, but not only geographically. It is rich with beautiful landscapes (particularly the underrated desert) and its people have a lot in their favour. I just don’t want to live there because it doesn’t suit me and we wanted our son to grow up in culturally-rich Europe .

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, May 2018.]


Sackerson said...

Perhaps happy people don't need to think much.

Brett said...

Maybe so but in Australia the use of prescription "happy drugs" like Prozac is going through the roof though. A few years ago the OECD ranked Australia second in the world in anti-depressant prescriptions.

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough I have similar feelings about life in England. We do have public intellectual, though - Will Self and Mary Beard immediately spring to mind.

I read someone saying the other day that someone (I can't remember who) had said that the Scottish independence referendum (held in Scotland a while ago) had been fuelled by a crisis in the identity of the UK - the Scottish wanted to be more Scottish, the English wanted to be more American. It was a comical rather than an analytical remark but it was close enough to some sort of truth to be poignant and funny.

PS thank you for visiting my blog!

Brett said...

Yes, I can understand why you'd have similar feelings about England. I lived there for a couple of years but have very little desire to visit it for a wide variety of reasons. I grew up in an Anglo household with a Geordie father and mainly British TV: The Two Ronnies, that awful Benny Hill crap and only Dave Allen to save us.

It seems to me that most public critics of society there (just like Australia) are often to be found in the role of humourists. I'm thinking of people like Frankie Boyle, Russell Brand, Stewart Lee or David Mitchell and not a single female comes to mind, though there might be a few on radio. (Polly Toynbee's work stands out though.) It's such a crucial function in a healthy democracy, that of the ever-skeptical sniping voice.

Of course, we can find serious analysis every day in The Guardian but preaching to the converted is not what's needed for genuine change.

I liked your blog because of its personal, intimate quality. It can be the best kind of thing to read. In Bob Dylan's words: "She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind. She put down in writing what was in her mind."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments on my blog! Indeed, the late, great Dave Allen. Have you seen his documentary,In Search of the Great English Eccentric? It's out there on YouTube.

Funnily enough, (as I'm sure you know) he spent some time in Australia and had a really successful TV show there.

Brett said...

Thanks for the tip on the Dave Allen doco. I will certainly give it a viewing. I think he probably found a warmer welcome in Australia than he did in England, only partly due to the large number of people with Irish family history there!

Sackerson said...

Hi Brett

Confusingly, the second comment by "Sackerson" is not mine, didn't know there was another. He thanks you for visiting his blog - did you? Bit worrying.

Best wishes

Sackerson of Broad Oak Magazine

Brett said...

To Sackerson of Broad Oak Magazine...To be honest, I'm not sure which is which, of the two of you but I have a better idea now you've said you are from Broad Oak. I did visit this one and found it excellent as well as yours:

Or maybe this is yours too? If not, then...

Anonymous said...

Aha! We are not the same. He's blogger and I'm wordpress. He's him and I'm me. I was a bit confused, too.

Brett Hetherington said...

OK, I've got it now. Phew!