Saturday, October 22, 2005
AN ELITIST SNEER AT ORDINARY AUSTRALIANS
Noted Australian playwright David Williamson recently went for a trip out of Australia aboard a cruise liner. He despised his fellow-passengers. Just one excerpt from his tirade:
"When we arrived at the huge white colossus and lined up for cabin allocation our fellow passengers gave us some misgivings. School holidays meant there were oodles of children, and the adults didn’t seem to be discussing Proust or George Eliot. But we were given a much better cabin than originally promised and all seemed set for a great holiday.
It soon became apparent, however, that all wasn’t to be plain sailing. The ship was stacked to the gunwales with John Howard’s beloved “aspirational Australians”. The dinner conversation made this plain. They aspired to all manner of things: to holidays like this, to new cars, to kitchen refits, to renovations, to private education for their children, and to practically anything made of plastic, wood or steel. The one surefire topic of conversation that connected erstwhile strangers was price comparisons.
It seems that the worst thing that can happen to an aspirational Australian is to hear that another aspirational Australian got a better price deal on their plasma TV. Value for money was the touchstone of everything, including standards of service. Any slight delay or perceived lack of utter servility by our hard-working Filipino and Indonesian cleaners or waiters was angrily pounced on and condemned. Any shore expedition that didn’t totally live up to expectations was subjected to withering criticism. Forget the fact that the rugged mountains and meandering streams of one of our ports of call were awesome; the coffee ashore was “ratshit” and the sandwiches “like cardboard”. Aspirational Australia really loves a whinge. It’s the glue of aspirational solidarity.
Not that our fellow passengers didn’t have their good points. Warmth and affection within families was genuine, and civility to other passengers was the norm. These were by and large affable people. And why wouldn’t they be? Not for them the grinding poverty of most of the world, or the devastation of tsunamis or hurricanes. The worst that seemed to have happened in most of their lives was the occasional rip-off involved in a shoddy car service.
It struck me that this cruise ship was a kind of metaphor for Australia. Cruise Ship Australia, all alone in the south seas sailing to God knows where. And in fact, like Australia, many of the passengers didn’t care where we were headed. The cruise itself was the thing. The sunbaking, the chatter, the eating, the very solid drinking, and the all-important on-board entertainment. And what entertainment: we had shuffleboard, Uno tournaments, jackpot bingo, trivia quizzes, funky jazz dance classes, quilting, scavenger hunts, and if none of these appealed you could retreat to the “legends” bar and watch replays of old rugby matches in which presumably Australia had triumphed. (They must have been old.)
At night there were island deck parties with giant conga lines shouting “Olé! Olé!” under the supervision of the lissom Shona, our activities Oberführer. There were also the nightly shows in which well-drilled Australian dancers did segments from American musicals. And if you wanted something after that, there was always a big-screen, feel-good American movie in which true love triumphed and gooiness flowed like treacle. Again, like Australia at large, no Australian song was ever played, no Australian movie ever shown, the trivia quizzes were all about American movie stars and we were offered stetsons and boot-scooting. The only thing Australian about aspirational Australia seems to be their accents.
Right-wing columnists and commentators have a habit of sneering at what they call “elites”. Elites are presumably those who are not aspirational Australians. We are urged by the columnists to accept that all wisdom resides in aspirational Australia and none in the ranks of the effete elites with their wanky interest in art, films and their bleeding-heart concern for the future of Australia and indeed the world. The pathetic “elites” should accept the ballot box wisdom of the aspirationals and stop their whining, say Paddy, Andrew, Piers and the boys. Perhaps if they spent time on a cruise ship they might start to question this belief.
When we docked at Noumeau, the one must-see item on our list was the marvellous Renzo Piano-designed Tjibaou Cultural Centre. It was offered as an alternative tour to the shopping expedition or to a day at Club Med. Not only is the building, with its soaring wood ellipses, one of the most dazzling pieces of architectural design in the world, but it was full to overflowing with the finest of Melanesian artwork. In one room alone, huge carved totems from all the Melanesian countries vied with each other, their styles wildly different and highly imaginative but stemming from obviously common cultural roots. The statement of the way art evolves and differentiates as the imagination flowers was striking.
Of the 2000 cruisers on board, barely 20 chose to see this magnificent structure and half of that number were recently settled Hong Kong Chinese. The rest were off lounging at Club Med with paper parasols in their cocktails or trying vainly to find a bargain amidst produce made in China, made overly expensive by the worst exchange rate in the South Pacific..."
Williamson then goes on to regurgitate all the usual Green/Left doom and gloom scares about the future of Australia -- showing in fact how unoriginal, ill-informed and unintellectual he is outside his own narrow world of storytelling. An excerpt:
"The problem is that the alternatives to oil just aren’t there, or even on the horizon. Wind, wave and solar energy can’t provide nearly enough, and even atomic energy can at best supply about 25% of the world’s current power needs."
That integrated technology as used in Brazil is already supplying ethanol as an alternative to gasoline at competitive prices is obviously unknown to him and I wonder from what fairy-tale he grabbed his knowledge that "atomic energy can at best supply about 25% of the world’s current power needs"?.
I could go on but what's the point? His arrogance will not be cured by facts. With my hundreds of academic journal articles in print, I think I have as good a claim as anybody to being thoroughly intellectual and I find the vast majority of my fellow Australians to be perfectly congenial people. My interests tend to be different from theirs but if that is anybody's problem I see it as mine, not theirs
A reader comments:
"One comment from the Williamson piece sums it up I think - he is disgusted that only 20 out of 2000 go to the cultural centre. He seems oblivious to the fact that the Polynesian totems he so admires were constructed for practical purposes but have now been brought to a museum to be admired -- totally decontextualising them into sterile artworks. It reflects the Left's Disney-World approach to everything. They would be happy if everyone but a few them died out and left behind their artifacts to be gathered in a giant museum for the few who remained".