Sunday, 4 September 2011

Ozzie Cultral Cringe

Good old Ozzie Cultural cringe.

I read this piece this morning and found myself in some agreement with the author (Nick Bryant) who seems to be a Pommie "come to gods own earth" to observe our politics. However I think he's missed the mark on an important aspect.

Personally I think that observations from outsiders can be valuable, and with the English being so culturally similar to us (compared to say the Chinese) it can be quite insightful. The relationship between "mother England" and Oz-tray-ya has been a fraught one, at times a good mother son relationship, at other times the sort which would have the police remove the children for their own protection (should such exist between nations). None the less it is within this frame of reference that we see the basis for the "cultural cringe" which was once so commonly discussed and effected life here in Australia. I think Henry Lawson's quote from that above reference sums it up nicely:
The Australian writer, until he gets a 'London hearing', is only accepted as an imitator of some recognized English or American author; and, as soon as he shows signs of coming to the front, he is labelled 'The Australian Southey', 'The Australian Burns', or 'The Australian Bret Harte', and lately, 'The Australian Kipling'. Thus no matter how original he may be, he is branded, at the very start, as a plagarist, and by his own country, which thinks, no doubt, that it is paying him a compliment and encouraging him, while it is really doing him a cruel and an almost irreperable injury

Clearly Henry had it first hand as well as any of use ever had it dished out.

Now getting back to Nick's article, he suggests that previously the Britts thought of Australian PM's as "rougher around the edges, with prodigious drinking capabilities, and a penchant for giving the entire country a day off at times of national celebration" (wonder if he's thinkin of Bob Hawke?). I think Monty Python thought the same thing:

With the PM Quoted as saying to the Queen:
"It's hot enough to boil a monkey's bum in here, your Majesty," he said and she smiled quietly to herself. "
sums it up nicely really.

Nick observes that a couple of changes have occurred in the Labor party, firstly that Kevin Rudd differed from the stereotype and was "well briefed but with the personality we associate normally with Nordic prime ministers or EU agriculture commissioners" and "the Rudd phenomenon was a personality cult without a personality" (hardly a truer word spoken if you ask me).

This then extended to surprise that we'd then get a female PM citing the reaction of "Strewth, there's a sheila running Oz" was how my former paper, Britain's Daily Mail, described her rise.

It is of course interesting that she managed to take power (from Kevin Rudd) rather than be elected. Nick seem to think that we've moved from Cultural Cringe to Political Cringe, which is possible but I don't think its the real explaination of the issue.

Instead I think that its exactly the same thing which drove the Cultural Cringe and made manifest by a significant change of fortunes (and I mean money here) of a demographic of the Australian population: the bogan.

I think if we look to the Wikipedia definition of Cultural Cringe as "an internalized inferiority complex which causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries. It is closely related, although not identical, to the concept of colonial mentality, and is often linked with the display of anti-intellectual attitudes towards thinkers, scientists and artists who originate from a colonial or post-colonial nation" that we go a long way towards understanding the issue.

Add to this Isacc Asimov's quote:
Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.
which dovetails nicely in with the way of the Australian Bogan. Looking closely at that above definition of Cultural Cringe we see the theme anti-intellectual emerge. Others too have made the observation that this is key to the things Bogans like. Another author (who specialises more in satirisation of these observations observes:
Anti-intellectualism the bludgeoning device the bogan deploys against the nerds of the adult world. It affords the bogan the opportunity to validate its poorly-informed opinion on complex issues, by stating that a lifetime of studying the subject at hand actually serves as an impediment to any ivory tower elitist’s analysis.

The bogan believes its knowledge of the ‘Real World’ (which is limited to Today Tonight, explosive domestic arguments, and last summer’s trip to Dreamworld) trumps the intellectual’s access to the university’s considerable research resources and decades of wide reading within the field. This is because the Bogan is a moron, but yet can’t stand to be wrong, even about things it only has a passing interest in.
I feel that the mining boom with workers being paid well over double the national average, has had a large hand in this. Combined with the destruction of manufacturing and its replacement with housing construction as some sort of "industry" has meant there is a rise of highly paid "tradies" who have essentially sub high school education and some training in an area like Plumbing, brick laying, household electrical wiring or simple concreting. This pool of "skilled workers" are now earning significantly more than the factory workers of the 50's and often more than the well educated and once previous holders of the middle class.

The Bogan is now representative of the new middle class in Australia.

A number of social and media factors has combined with TV education (along the lines of "Australia has Talent") to form a group who no longer have any inferiority, consider themselves fantastic, and have a misshapen view of how much they know.

This is the reason we now have what Nick identifies as Political Cringe.

I believe that this is the reason we have the constant polling on popularity, the need for twitter updates per second on political identities and the absolute lack of analysis of what politicans do or parties do.

As the ignorant are running the nation now in the manner of "Australia's Got Talent" I wonder when we'll have $1.95 SMS your vote on "who's most popular PM" ?


awarrumbungle said...

The pollies definitely do talk to the bogans (in a slow drawl). The 'new' power in Australia?. There's no votes in the top end of town.

obakesan said...

I guess you've noticed the way Julia speaks then ;-)

Jao said...

Didn't realize that you had tea-partiers too ;-) Always loved the Bruce sketch BTW.

Joshie boy said...

Interesting reading as always - I always have a bit of a cringe listening to Nick's pieces on BBC R4 here in the UK. Outsiders opinions are always interesting, but sometimes it pisses me off the way this guy portrays Australia to the Brits in the classic us - vs. - them manner. Ah well at least he does something to give Australian issues coverage over here!

obakesan said...


I know what you mean, and it shits me being labeled as a "colonial" when I visit the UK too. I must say however there are some stout reasons for the label, even if I feel it doesn't apply to me so well.

I am of the view that our political system is broken here but I just don't know what to fix it with ... Nevile Shute had an interesting idea in "In the Wet" ... check out the multiple vote section:
I dunno, I just wish we'd run a different direction with the ball back in the 50's but I guess that was just wishful thinking.